Amazing & Extraordinary London Underground Facts – Book Review


I spotted this book in King’s Lynn library and of course had to take it out. Here is the front cover:



The book is crammed with interesting information,  and covers every line in detail as well as going over the history and some of pre-history of London Underground. I am very glad that I did borrow it, and have enjoyed dipping into it on a regular basis while it is in my possession. However, I have some…


I am going to start with the coverage of the East London line (which was still part of London Underground when the book was published although it is not now). In covering this line Mr Halliday states tat the Brunel tunnel under the Thames is the oldest object on the system having opened as a pedestrian tunnel in 1843. I have no quibble with his dating of the tunnel, but the stations that now form the northern end of the High Barnet branch of the Northern line opened as main-line railway in 1842, one year earlier than the pedestrian tunnel.

When covering the Central line Mr Halliday fails to mention that original eastern extension of that line beyond Liverpool Street did not end as it does today at Epping, but continued to Ongar (this is another former main line railway incorporated into London Underground, and opened in that guise in 1856). This leads me to another minor area of disappointment:


In talking about the early history of the Metropolitan Mr Halliday mentions the Brill branch and the envisaged extension of this branch to Oxford but does not seem to consider that by opening up connections at both ends this could actually have boosted the use of the line. Similarly, when mentioning the former Aldwych branch of the Piccadilly line he does not consider the possible use of this under-used branch as a starting point for an extension into southeast London and west Kent. As mentioned above I regard the failure to even mention the stations beyind Epping on the Central line as inexcusable, and this too could be a discussion point – in my own post on the Central line I have advocated an extension to Chelmsford and another connection to mainline railways. Nevertheless, for all these issues I conclude this post (apart from some more pictures) by restating that this is a very useful and interesting little book.

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Off the Rails (Book Review)


This post is about a book I spotted in Fakenham Library after work yesterday and have thoroughly enjoyed reading.


London Underground dominates this story, as all the crimes happen at London Underground stations. As the story develops, it becomes clear that there are two different cases on the go, the one involving the mysterious Mr Fox that starts the action, and another involving a group of students at University College London (UCL).

One of the group of students is introduced to readers as a classic rich, spoilt brat. The latter part of the characterization is absolutely spot on, but it turns out that he is not nearly as rich as he pretends to be. His arrogance is such that he talks about crimes which include on legal terms one count of manslaughter, two of murder and one of attempted murder as “things that needed to be done”, showing no remorse at all.

The choice of names for the two key detectives (Arthur Bryant and John May, giving a partnership of Bryant & May) is more than a little cheesy, but that is my only gripe.

The author has done considerable research on London Underground, and makes only one tiny error, in describing North End as a closed station – in point of fact it was excavated at platform level but never actually opened.

This book is a superb read and I shall be keeping my eyes open for further books by this author.


Mr Beck’s Underground Map


I recently put up a post about the book “No Need to Ask!”, which deals with the development of the London Underground map before Henry C Beck. Today I deal with the the other half of the story of London Underground’s maps, as told in “Mr Beck’s Underground Map”.


This picture from the back of “Mr Beck’s Underground Map” illustrates one of the problems that showing London Underground on a geographical map has – the vast spread of the system which means that any such map has to be huge for the central area not to be hopelessly compressed…

Since some distortion is therefore virtually inevitable in order for the central area of the map to be usable, the question then arises of how to make the map work.


Henry C Beck, an engineer and very skilled draftsman, decided that it was time to abandon any pretence of geographical mapping for London Underground. Here is a preliminary sketch…

Although Mr Beck’s employers did not think the public would accept anything so radical, he kept on at them until they agreed to the experiment, using this map…


The original Beck Map (postcard - not featured in the book).
The original Beck Map (postcard)

Not for the first or last time, public support for something radical had been grossly underestimated, and the map was a big hit almost from the moment it first appeared.


As well as extensions, new lines and on occasion cut backs, methods of representing things changed down the years, as this series of pictures shows…

An early effort to further emphasize the central area by thickening the lines there (from 1935)
An early effort to further emphasize the central area by thickening the lines there (from 1935)
Metropolitan and District both green, indicating their links and their separateness from the rest of the system.
Metropolitan and District both green, indicating their links and their separateness from the rest of the system.
An experiment with 60 degree angles.
An experiment with 60 degree angles.
At the other extreme, using angles of 45 and 90 degrees only.
At the other extreme, using angles of 45 and 90 degrees only.


The appearance of the Circle line for the first time.
The appearance of the Circle line for the first time.
Minimising the use of diagonlas.
Minimising the use of diagonlas.

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A speculative 1994 journey planner showing some potential extensions (the Jubilee and East London line extensions have happened, with the latter being subsumed into London Overground).
A speculative 1994 journey planner showing some potential extensions (the Jubilee and East London line extensions have happened, with the latter being subsumed into London Overground).


Schematic diagrams are now used worldwide to represent public transport systems. This was Mr Beck’s own effort with the Paris Metro (circa 1946)…





Mr Beck’s Underground Map can be obtained from the London Transport Museum for £12.95.

London: A History in Maps


Another Christmas present, with just enough connection to the theme of this site to be worth including.


Of course, given the length of London’s history, even in a volume of this massive size (bought for me by my aunt Helen), there were only three maps that tied in with this site. The book is magnificent, covering 2,000 years of history with a series of beautiful maps. The entertaining speculative effort entitled “Londinium Underground” not withstanding, the first railway station in the capital was Euston, which opened in the 1830s, and the earliest section of London Underground, now to be found on the Hammersmith and City line, opened in 1863. In London terms this is very recent.

The Maps that I choose to share are this effort from the Great Central Railway Company, which was devised for advertising purposes:


This one, showing stations in Middlesex:


And finally the 1907 Underground Electric Railways of London map:



Three Detective Stories Involving London Underground


This  post can be viewed as a companion to the one in which I looked at Sherlock Holmes‘ (lack of) involvement with London Undeground.


These are two novels and one short story, all of which I either have out on loan or have had out on loan from Norfolk Libraries. In two of the three cases London Underground is central to the the development of the story while in the third the murder takes place in an Undeground Station.


This is the title of a book by 1930s crime writer Mavis Doriel Hay. The murder itself takes place on the stairs between the ticket office and the platforms at Belsize Park station (of which there are many – only Hampsetad on the entire system is deeper) and all the action is set around this section of the Northern line. The story has many twists and turns, and is a thoroughly good read.

The front cover, showing a 1930s train (that shade of red was known because of its use at that time as "train red")


A diagram showing the layout of Belsize Park station that appears in the middle of the book.


Although unlike the other two books featured in this post the story does not directly involve London Undeground the murder that is the fulcrum of the story takes place in Piccadilly Circus Station.

Remarkably this is a murder mystery in which the murder does not take place until half way through the book, and yet the book is never slow or plodding.



This is a short story by John Oxenham, contained within a compilation of such published under the title Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, assembled and edited by Martin Edwards. This particular story is the second in the novel. Until the very end all of the action in this story takes place on London Underground or at destinations to which trains which can boarded at London Underground stations travel (this designation is necessary, because one incident involves a London & North Western Railway “Outer Circle” service). One other point about station names: the station referred to in this story as Charing Cross is now known as Embankment, the station now called Charing Cross being a fusion of two former stations (more about this in a future post). The northern section of LNWR’s “Outer Circle” (the “Inner Circle” being today’s Circle line) is part of the line that is now the nucleus of London Overground – from Willesden Junction, the extreme point of the system covered in this story it curved round to Broad Street (one of  two main line stations that fused to make today’s Liverpool Street).

The key protagonist (other than the murderer) is a journalist with The Link, who follows the story from the moment it breaks with the first crime, and nearly ends up becoming another victim of the killer.

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I got all of these books from the library, but for those who prefer to buy:

Capital Crimes

Capital Crimes can be purchased from book depository (free worldwide delivery) for £7.64

Murder Underground

Murder on the Underground can be purchased from book depository  (free worldwide delivery) for £7.64

Murder in Piccadilly

Murder in Piccadilly is available from book depository (free worldwide delivery) for £7.64


Another Example of Mr Beck’s Triumph


This little post is a simultaneous coda to the posts about The Beck Map and Esoteric Maps.


I spotted this on twitter, courtesy of one Gary Walker who was publicising a book promotion website, look4books. This alternative version of the map and logo appears on a t-shirt, and the original image which is reproduced below as well can be viewed here.



Hats off to Gary Walker for such a creative usage of a variation on the world’s best known map and logo, and credit to Harry Beck all those years ago for coming up with such a successful meme.