Tube 150

The London Underground turns 150 years old today. The first stretch of the world-famous network opened on the 9th January 1863 between Farringdon and Paddington – the first subterranean railway in the world. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, describes the network as “arguably the best, and most iconic, underground transport system in the world”.

Since the first stretch of track was opened, then known as the Metropolitan Railway, the network has expanded to 12 lines. Carrying 1,107 million passengers a year and serving 270 stations, it links central London to Surrey, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire.

Google have decided to celebrate the occasion with one of their clever Google Doodles which got me thinking about the many, often weird and wonderful variants of the London Underground map.


The original maps of the underground were often city maps with the lines superimposed, but as well as being visually complex, this produced problems of space, as central stations were far closer together than outlying ones. The modern stylised Tube map evolved from a design by electrical engineer Harry Beck in 1933. It is characterised by a schematic non-geographical layout (thought to have been based on circuit diagrams) and the use of colour coding for lines. The map is now considered a design classic; virtually every major urban rail system in the world now has a similar map and many bus companies have also adopted the concept.

This website has a good collection of tube map variants – some useful, some silly and some weird. I am sure there are many others out there but here is a small selection.

The realistic geographical map shows what the system looks like if drawn accurately.




The upside-down version. Looks very familiar at first glance but look again.




There are many useful (and strange) themed maps covering London restaurants, pubs, cheese and biscuits, anagrams but all took their inspiration from a work of art in the early 1990’s by Simon Patterson called the Great Bear where each line takes on a particular topic such as philosophers, footballers, scientists, actors etc.


The musical map is another good example of the themed map where each line represents a musical style or taste. Where lines intersect you could argue that the artist could fall into the mixed genres of the intersecting lines.

Happy Birthday London Underground.

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