Mind The Gaps

This is a rendering of what Zone One of the London Underground map would look like if it was geographically accurate (the whole thing is here). It’s not a new idea, the original Tube maps were done this way but the system had fewer lines back then and looking at the messy spaghetti above makes me appreciate the brilliance of Harry Beck‘s famous 1931 map even more.

Beck was an electrical draughtsman who based his map on circuit diagrams and his genius decision to ignore above-ground reality and strip it down to its need-to-know basics influenced the maps of almost every subway/ metro/ underground system in the world. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose the single greatest piece of graphic design ever (but why would you do such a thing?) I’d probably choose that.

The design of the map has evolved over the years (and inspired several different interpretations) as the Tube system has got bigger and more complex, my personal favourite version is the 1986 map because it symbolizes my travels around the city during the time when I felt that London really did belong to me and I was taking full advantage of all it had to offer, especially at night. I should have a poster of this on my wall with the title “Good Times 1986-1992” underneath.

One criticism of the Tube map is that it distorts the actual locations of some places in the city and the distances between them. Tourists can emerge from a station having no clue where they are or that they could have more easily and quickly have walked to get where they wanted to be — Leicester Square to Covent Garden for example. But I don’t care about the bloody tourists — serves them right for standing in the way everywhere — one of the best things about being a native of a big city is the feeling that you have some secret knowledge not available to outsiders (like where to get a drink after 11pm) and while Harry Beck might have brought logical order to the city’s unfathomable sprawl, London does not reveal all its beautiful complexity that easily.

Download: Sunny Goodge Street – Donovan (mp3)
Download: King’s Cross – Pet Shop Boys (mp3)
Download: Mornington Crescent – Belle and Sebastian (mp3)

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  1. davyh says:

    I still get confused by the Jubilee line extension, and it not going through Charing Cross any more. Decades of programming and drunken autopiloting.

    The ‘Tube system has gotten bigger’? Tut tut.

  2. Phil says:

    By far the most wondrous station on the Tube is Fulham Broadway. Saturday afternoons consited of Northolt to Notting Hill Gate on the Central line, change to the District Line for Earl’s Court then a few stops on the Distric’s Wimbledon spur to Fulham Broadway. I don’t live in London any more but the journey and the lines and stations of Harry Beck’s map will be burnt into my brain forever.

  3. Simon says:

    I have within a few clicks access to plans showing not only the proper route of the lines, accurate to a matter of inches, but also street level plans showing what’s directly above those lines, including other tunnels, gas pipes, electric and phone lines.

    I may work within the Tube. I say no more on that.

    But yeah, the 1986 map. I’ve still got my copy of the A-Z from that year, with locations for job interviews, parties and potential girlfriend’s addresses marked up.

    Meanwhile, the building I might have worked in for the company between 1994 and 2003 had a giant print of the Great Bear in the lobby. Old Street, which is my old manor, was renamed Sid James on it. Which was quite fitting for a dirty old man like me.

  4. londonlee says:

    I preferred the old Fulham Broadway station (I would wouldn’t I?)

    Davy, is that a dreadful Americanism? Been here so long I can’t tell anymore. “Fixed” it.

  5. Simon says:

    Oh and by the way, I’m not hiding some big secret. Just don’t like to make definite statements online about work and the like. You never know who is searching!

    I did once freak my parents out though, when I was first working there. Went home for christmas, fell asleep on the sofa and was talking in my sleep about the plans of the tube I had seen. In my sleep I was also talking about how there were monsters down there.

    Given that one of the things I did have to do for one project was sign the official secrets act, which my parents were aware of, they didn’t believe me when I said it was just a dream. My mum was wary of travelling underground for years after!

  6. davyh says:

    I love that you will actually remove dreadful Americanisms! Bless.

  7. davyh says:

    PS: Found this re. Simon’s ‘Bear’.

  8. davyh says:

    Sorry, try again – this

  9. Porter says:

    Nice post. Were you often out looking for a drink after 11?

  10. LondonLee says:

    Oh yes, I knew where to go though.

    Used to meet a lot of American kids in pubs desperately asking us where to go after hours. Wouldn’t tell them though.

  11. dickvandyke says:

    Great idea for a question on University Challenge t’other night: Piece of (popular) music played. Be-scarved swots had to name each song title (which was also a tube station), singer/band, and the line that the station is on.
    I recall that they were Warwick Ave, Mile End and Mornington Cres (above). They didn’t do very well at all.
    We could have a field day between us setting questions like that. Avoiding Waterloo and Baker St .. probably.

  12. Simon says:

    Drinking after 11, blimey Id forgotten that problem. Hanway Street behind Oxford Street was the place, the Spanish Bar, a quid to get in then normal drink prices. God, hadnt thought about that place for years.

  13. LondonLee says:

    Hanway Street had The Troy Club and the Costa Dorada for after-hours (and flamenco!) and there was (is?) a bar under the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road that stayed open ’till 2am.

  14. Duncan says:

    The Troy Club is still going! And it hasn’t changed – a living room with a tiny bar in one corner. A friend of mine once jumped out of the first floor window backwards to demonstrate a move that Lara Croft did in Tomb Raider. Amazingly, he didn’t hurt himself.

    The Pheonix (under Pheonix Theatre) is also still going – although you have to become an annual member to enter after 11.00pm.

  15. Simon says:

    Costa Dorada, was that the Spanish bar’s proper name?? Yeah, flamenco. Was the Troy on the other side of the street next to the record shop?

    A mate of mine works in the theatres in the West End and goes to the Phoenix quite often. Nice little bar.

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The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com





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