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Tube map

The Tube map is the commonly-used name for the schematic diagram used to represent the lines and stations of the London Underground. (The railway system is also called the tube due to its narrow tunnels and small, circular carriages.)

A diagram rather than a map, it does not represent geography but relations; it in fact distorts the positions of the places considerably.

It was designed in 1931 by an employee of the then London Transport, Harry Beck[?], who realised that because the railway ran mostly underground, the actual physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another: only the topology of the railway mattered. This approach is similar to electrical circuit diagrams[?]; while Beck never stated this was an inspiration for his diagram, his colleagues points out the similarities and he once produced a joke map with the stations replaced with electrical circuit symbols and names with terminology: "bakelite" for "Bakerloo" etc.

To this end, Beck devised a vastly simplified map, consisting of only named stations, and straight line segments connecting them; lines ran only vertically, horizontally or at 45 degrees.

London Transport were initially sceptical of his proposal (it was an uncommissioned spare-time project), and tentatively introduced it to the public in a small pamphlet. It was immediately popular, and is now used throughout the London Underground on poster-sized maps and pocket journey planners.

The design is instantly recognizable as representing London; it has featured on t-shirts, postcards and other memorabilia. One of a series of publicity posters for the Underground showed a photograph of the lines of the map squeezed out of tubes of paint: The Tate by Tube, whilst in the Tate Modern itself hangs the artwork The Great Bear by Simon Patterson[?], a parody of Harry Beck's original design where the station names have been substituted by those of famous historical figures.

Several alterations have been made to the concept over the years, in particular the problem of marking stations with interchange with surface trains was never resolved to Beck's satisfaction. The map was taken out of his hands towards the end of his career. However, recent designs have skilfully incorporated changes to the network (such as the Jubilee Line Extension[?]), while remaining true to Beck's original scheme.

The basic design concepts, especially that of mapping topologically rather than geographically have been widely adopted for other route maps around the world.

A facsimile of Beck's original design is on display on the southbound platform at his local station, Finchley Central[?].

Besides getting around London, a tube map is a great help for playing Mornington Crescent.

Further Reading Ken Garland, Mr Beck's Underground Map (Capital Transport, 1994): ISBN 9781854141682

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