London Tube Maps

Early Geographical Maps of Underground Companies

The evolution of London's iconic Tube map is a story of innovation and design that revolutionized our navigation of this intricate transit system. In the early days, London's transport system was a patchwork of independent companies, each with its own map.
Early London Tube Map
In 1908, the first common map of the entire network was published, using different colours for each line against the background of a geographical map. This approach, however, made the map visually cluttered and challenging to read. Additionally, to maintain clarity in the central area, lines in peripheral areas had to be truncated. 

Octolinear Maps of the Underground

Harry Beck, a London Underground employee, recognised that for underground travel, the exact geographical locations of stations above ground were irrelevant. What mattered most was showing the sequence of stations and the directions of the train lines within the underground system. He produced in his own time a simplified, diagrammatic map with lines running vertically, horizontally, or at 45° angles. This style is known as octolinear due to the eight possible directions from every single point.  
Henry Beck Tube Map 1933
Beck's map quickly gained popularity when it was experimentally introduced to the public in 1933.
Over the next few decades, Beck persistently updated and refined his design, in an ceaseless quest to strike the perfect balance between clarity and accuracy, while creating a visually appealing and informative map.
However, in 1960, Harold Hutchinson, the Underground's publicity officer, decided to personally take over the design.  
Tube Map 1960 Harold Hutchinson
Hutchinson produced a map that was poorly balanced, with crowded areas (e.g., Aldgate's name had to be split in two) and other areas significantly enlarged. On the positive side, he introduced interchange symbols that allowed multiple lines to pass through a single circle. 

In 1964, Paul Garbutt, also working in his spare time like Beck, produced a map that "rescued the design."
Paul Garbutt Map London Underground 1966
Garbutt adapted elements from Beck and Hutchison's work, adding his own vision of the network centered around the Circle Line, depicted as a "thermos flask." Garbutt continued to update the Underground map for about twenty years. 

Over the last few decades, more and more elements, such as DLR, trams, and fare zones, have been added on top of the existing design, without elaborating a new comprehensive vision of the network. This approach has made the map visually cluttered and incredibly difficult to read. As a result, many alternatives have been proposed, ranging from minimal adjustments to more comprehensive redesigns, all with the aim of "rescuing the design", once again.
Among the many alternative maps proposed, Mark Noad has suggested a more geographically accurate map, which brings us back to the beginning of this story.

External Links: Official Octolinear Tube Maps

External Links: Alternative Octolinear Tube Maps

Cameron Booth's Tube Map Transit Maps, 2016
Jonathan Farrow's Tube Map L. Raynolds, The Londonist, 2018
Jug Cerovic's (London Traditional) Tube Map Jug Cerovic Architect, 2020
Max Roberts' (Elizabeth Conundrum) Tube Map Newsletters n.75, Tube Map Central, 2020
Mike Hall's (with Elizabeth Line) Tube Map thisismikehall, Behance, 2020
Peter Ryden's (Future) Tube Map Project Mapping Central, seen March 2021
Kenneth Field's (with Elizabeth Line) Tube Map Cartography, 2022
Mark Noad's (Mark Two) Tube Map, 2023
Tube Map Mark Two (last picture on this webpage) - Copyright © Mark Noad, 2023: Reproduced with permission. Official Maps of the London Underground (including designs by H. Beck, H. Hutchinson, P. Garbutt) - Not copyrighted or Copyright © TfL: Reproduced under the exception that this page is for non-commercial research or private study. The reproduction here of Official Maps of the London Underground is only for educational purposes to illustrate the evolution of the design.
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