Mr Beck’s Underground Map

INTRODUCTION

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”.

THE PROBLEM WITH STANDARD MAPS

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.

THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND

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.

THE CHANGING SHAPE OF THE MAP

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.

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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).

THE BECK MAP GOES INTERNATIONAL

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

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AND FINALLY

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

The Beck Map

INTRODUCTION

When a young engineering draftsman named Henry Beck suggested a new, simplified way of displaying the London Undeground Network his superiors were initially disinclined to take such a radical step.

THE GREAT CHANGE

Until Mr Beck finally got the go ahead from his employers, and his creation was unveiled to the public in January 1933, all maps showing railways of any kind were just ordinary maps with the routes superimposed. 82 years post the great unveiling schematic diagrams like those devised by Beck rule the roost not just in London but in every city that has a significant public transport network, and geographical route maps are produced only as souvenirs for enthusiasts.

Beck experimented with his design many times over the years, even going so far on occasion as to not show the line of the Thames, but this proved to be a bridge too far.

For a comparison, the first picture below is of a facsimile of the 1926 London Underground Map, while the second is a facsimile of Mr Beck’s first effort…

 

The 1926 London Underground Map.
The 1926 London Underground Map.
Possibly the single most influential map produced in the 20th century - the original Beck masterpiece.
Possibly the single most influential map produced in the 20th century – the original Beck masterpiece.

This map showing envisaged extensions shows one of Beck’s style changes…

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IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST…

 

While the facsimile of the 1933 original does not appear to be available, the 1936 version is available here at £15.99.

The facsimile of the 1926 Map can be ordered from the London Transport Museum (same source as the other) for £15.95.

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Meanwhile, smaller versions of these and many other maps can be found within the covers of Ken Garland’s masterpiece “The Beck Map”, which can be obtained from bookdepository.com for £12.95.

The Spread of London's Underground

Also, Tim Demuth’s The Spread of London’s Undeground can be obtained from bookdepository.com for £8.94