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The History of the London Underground Map (Hardback)

Colour Books P&S History > British History Transport > London Transport Transport > Trains & Railways World History > UK & Ireland > England > London

By Caroline Roope
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 32 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781399006811
Published: 16th August 2022
Last Released: 12th December 2022



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Few transportation maps can boast the pedigree that London’s iconic ‘Tube’ map can. Sported on t-shirts, keyrings, duvet covers, and most recently, downloaded an astonishing twenty million times in app form, the map remains a long-standing icon of British design and ingenuity. Hailed by the art and design community as a cultural artefact, it has also inspired other culturally important pieces of artwork, and in 2006 was voted second in BBC 2’s Great British Design Test.

But it almost didn’t make it out of the notepad it was designed in.

The story of how the Underground map evolved is almost as troubled and fraught with complexities as the transport network it represents. Mapping the Underground was not for the faint-hearted – it rapidly became a source of frustration, and in some cases obsession – often driving its custodians to the point of distraction. The solution, when eventually found, would not only revolutionise the movement of people around the city but change the way we visualise London forever.

Caroline Roope’s wonderfully researched book casts the Underground in a new light, placing the world’s most famous transit network and its even more famous map in its wider historical and cultural context, revealing the people not just behind the iconic map, but behind the Underground’s artistic and architectural heritage. From pioneers to visionaries, disruptors to dissenters – the Underground has had them all – as well as a constant stream of (often disgruntled) passengers. It is thanks to the legacy of a host of reformers that the Tube and the diagram that finally provided the key to understanding it, have endured as masterpieces of both engineering and design.

If you're an Underground buff (or feel the need to impress or even annihilate one), you need this book.

NetGalley, Gudrun Nobelmann

As featured

Tramways & Urban Transit, Light Rail Transit Association - December 2022

"… it is well researched and authoritative (There are 12 pages of references and a bibliography as well as an index) …"

York Model Engineers Newsletter

A book all Londoners -and others- should read. The Underground has been well served by Harry Beck’s map and its derivatives.

The Journal for The Society of Model & Experimental Engineers - Volume 31 - Number 5 - October 2023

"This is a thoroughly enjoyable and readable account of the Underground and its iconic map."

West Somerset Railway Association

As featured in the article: Going Underground

Homes and Antiques

"A book all Londoners, and many others, should read."

Friends of the NRM Review - Spring 2023

"Highly commendable"

Oxfordshire Family History Society - Oxfordshire Family Historian, Volume 37, No.1, April 2023

This extraordinarily well-illustrated book is much more than its title suggests........This is a very important contribution to how we understand what the London Underground has given to the metropolis, much more than just its internationally recognised ‘map’.

The Historian – Autumn 2022

"This is certainly a good read........By all means buy the book."

IMCoS Map Journal, Issue 172

More books have been published on this subject than any other railway map; this one sheds a different light. The more general reader will understand how its creation and development came about, in context with the growth of the Underground system. It also follows the careers of Harry Beck and Frank Pick.

Trackside magazine

One could be forgiven for wondering if there was anything new to be said about the London Underground map. However, this excellent and entertaining book takes the whole story of the creation and expansion of the Underground network and shows how maps of the system have had to develop and change as the network became more complex and difficult to understand.

Early maps showed lines on a topographical basis but as the author explains, the need for subterranean passengers to be linked to points of reference above ground gradually became les and less relevant as the system expanded. However, it was not until 1931 that Henry Beck (‘Harry’ only to his friends and associates) produced the first sketch of his Underground diagram and it would take another two years before it was adopted and went into print.

The book goes on to look at the subsequent changes that were made to Beck’s diagram (not all for the better) and also describes the changes that have taken place to the Underground network. Some of the personalities who played major parts in bringing these changes about also feature – particularly Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick, whose philosophy of ‘fitness for purpose’ influenced so much in LT design matters.

A fascinating book covering not just the history of the Underground map but of the Underground itself. Recommended.

Backtrack Magazine

Review as featured in

Highlight: 'This is a great reference work on a subject that I certainly never realised had such a big story behind it.'

Railways Illustrated

"A book Londoners and anyone interested in design should read."

The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers - York Model Engineers Newsletter, March 2023

"To those of us whose interests extend beyond London's tramways this is a fresh and well-presented account, fostering new insights."

Tramway Review - March 2023

The author specialises in social history and genealogy and this is reflected in her presentation. She has drawn on a wealth of readily available material, reflected in the length of her included four page bibliography supplemented by seven pages of notes. Additionally, she has ranged far and wide to obtain related material from a considerable variety of secondary sources that sometimes provide new insights into the less obvious implications related to the expansion of the system.

Railway and Canal Historical Society

If you’re like me and you feel like your life won’t be complete without gaining knowledge about London Tube to use in very random conversations, this book is perfect for you! Well, you could also be a fan of transportation or maps and like it!

NetGalley, Gabriela Gorniak

"The author's quality research ensures a good read."

Steam World - November 2022

Read here

Waitrose Weekend - Issue 632

This book is far more involved than the title would suggest. It is in fact a history of the London Underground itself - from the very beginnings, through many intercompany squabbles and bickering, all the way though the amalgamation and onto the present day.

To sum up, this book is a fantastic piece of research which is easy to follow and understand throughout. Well worth a read in my opinion.

Bradford Railway Circle

As featured in

Who Do You Think You Are

"I can recommend this book."

Tramway and Light Railway Society - Tramfare

As featured in

The Guardian Weekly

Some of the remarks in the book are funny, such as why people needed to move fast to get on or alight. There are details on advertising at the tube. There are also details on how the tube was advertised and why it opened new stations, which is fascinating. Even fares are talked about and one approach in the 1920s is very similar to what kind of fares are promoted these days, 100 years later. For me the book deserves 5 stars, without any doubt.

Read the full review here

Coffee and Books

Featured article: The Lines of Beauty

The Observer

I do love London themed books and books about trains, so what better than book to read than one about the London Underground! I know the London Underground well having spent many a happy time travelling the Tube on days out as a child and then later in my adult years! This book is based specifically on the map, but it does carry so much other information about the different lines, stations and events which have happened in the Capital and on the Tube over the years. Starting right back at the beginning when the Underground was only just being formed, this book is a plethora of facts, figures and interesting information not just about the Underground in general but also about the people who worked on it.

NetGalley, Sharon Hunt

The London underground map is known throughout the world and is a true icon of design. This incredibly well researched book delves into the history of the map from the early beginnings of the underground system up to the current incarnation based on the classic design introduced in 1933 by Harry Beck. In the early days the individual companies produced their own maps, some of which used existing street maps overprinted with the underground lines in a different colour. Others were more graphical but all were more or less to scale. As more lines were opened things became complicated and there was considerable rivalry between the companies, some showing other lines in a much fainter colour. 1908 saw the first real attempt at a complete map of the system and soon pocket sized maps were produced. When the Underground Electric Railways Company of London became the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933 things settled down and this was when the Harry Beck map was seen for the first time. The only major change came in 1961 when an amended design was introduced giving more information including an index of stations. Subsequently this has been updated as new lines and extensions have been opened. This is a fascinating read and with the bibliography including 52 books, 12 journals and 68 newspapers and magazines it can justifiably be called the definitive article. Recommended.

LNER Society

I write this review having only ever been on the London Underground once in my life, and yet I have always found it to be fascinating if not mesmerising transport system. When you don’t come from an underground transport system area, it always staggering the layout and construction of something so huge, yet you can’t really see most of it. This is a really well laid out and researched book by the author Caroline Roops who has combined history and detail with modern-day details that will engage the reader. The book even explains a number of disputes amongst officials of the underground system, who wanted things their way against other people's opinions. I loved all the different little stories throughout the book which helped give a story and character to the various parts of the underground. This is a fascinating book and very well worth the read by an author who has done a great job in writing it.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

This is a very special book which not only looks at the history of the London Underground Map but also gives much more interesting details of the London Underground in general. Written in a very easy readable style, Caroline Roope leaves no stone unturned in her research which looks at the notorious rivalry between Sir Edward Watkin (Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway) and James Staats Forbes (Chairman of the Metropolitan District Railway) amongst many other notable personalities of the day.

A first class book and highly recommended to not only London Underground enthusiasts but also anyone interested in the history of railways.

Peter A. Harding, Branch Line & Light Railway Publications

As featured in

The People's Friend

This is a book that I shall keep and refer to many times. I really do recommend it for anyone with an interest in transport history – and not just London: Roope has some shrewd comments about the nationwide Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

NetGalley, Colin Edwards

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Although entitled “The History of the London Underground Map”, this is the story of so much more than the iconic Tube Map, which originated almost one hundred years ago. The Map, or more correctly, Beck’s Diagram of London Underground stations and lines naturally plays a prominent role in this book. Sometime foremost, other times retreating to the background as other characters enter, play their roles and depart. The Map, which first makes an appearance midway through the book, constantly evolves, in one form or another until present times. This is the story of what became a complex and ever expanding system we now know as London Transport. The author, Caroline Roper, has done an outstanding job of bringing this story to life. The people, culture, politics, economics, changes to society and global events. In many ways this book is the story of London and the surrounding areas since the middle of the 19th century.

This book was a real pleasure to read, greatly exceeding my expectations and will be warmly recommended to family and friends, in fact, to anyone who has travelled in London or would like to one day. This book will make a journey in London, be it for business or pleasure, a much richer and satisfying experience.

The book begins with a heartfelt introduction to the London Underground and the magic it provides; a passenger may travel and emerge somewhere new and not quite know exactly how far, or where, indeed by what means they have travelled. The Map of course is the ever-present aid; a trusty companion to London travel, representing 150 years of design, engineering, expansion and so much more.

The early chapters provide a scene of London during the mid-18th century. A growing city, lacking efficient public transport. We are introduced to the businessmen and engineers who had the skill and tenacity to envision a better life for the people of London. The author takes us on a journey with these people plus the technology, politics, and economics as competing transport companies plan, build and run some of the first underground railway systems in the world. Key participants, often prominent businessmen of the day, are portrayed with honesty, even if some of the wheeling and dealing is not always on the right side of the law !The author presents people and their activities with warmth, respect and occasionally humour.

This is not a massive book, with some 200 pages of text , however the author manages to convey much of the history surrounding London’s Underground system. The people responsible for the underground are fascinating, but we also learn of geography, technology, politics, London’s population and economy. World events often play a role in London’s Underground, such as global depressions, wars, population growth, demographics, work & leisure and indeed the makeup of the workforce itself. It seems that London Underground frequently plays a role is enabling or at least helping London to survive and grow come what may.

One major theme is the disjointed nature of the various lines as they were planned, grew and were extended. The author conveys the competition and animosity between the various train operators during the early years of building and running various Underground companies. Unsurprisingly travel, fares and connections between the lines was complex. Hence the need to provide the commuter with assistance. Publicity in the form of maps, posters and station information helped with navigating the complexities. The government of the day encouraged mergers and thus integration, resulting in a somewhat coherent system. As the 19th Century closes, various maps had been generated to assist passengers. Still, the iconic map we know today was still decades away.

The author takes us on a fascinating journey of not only train line expansion, but many other related issues and outcomes. Ticketing, timetables, steam versus electric engines, urbanisation, commuter suburbs, branding, advertising, art, culture and leisure pursuits to name a few. The importance of Art was particularly important to key Underground managers over the years. Not only Underground branding, but station design, posters, publicity and other artistic or cultural issues are covered throughout the book.

By the 1930s we have Beck’s Map of the Underground as a constant companion to travellers, which continues in updated form until the present day. As new lines are developed and governments of the day influence and participate in managing the Underground system, the Map constantly changes, with Underground employee Beck remaining significantly invested in his creation until his retirement in the 1970s.

The final chapters continue the story of the Underground, including the Map, until the present day. We learn of the Underground’s economic decline as car ownership increases as well as the demise of railways outside of London, new tube lines, commercialisation of tube-related designs, fatal accidents and incidents. Always in the background is Beck’s Map, constantly evolving as new lines and stations are added to the network. The simplicity and elegance of the original map remains, although it is severely tested by the abundance of information it is trying to convey. Indeed, alternative unofficial maps sometimes provide a better, clearer, more coherent view of the Underground system than the official London Transport map.

The book concludes with the opening of the latest expansion, the Elizabeth Line, which of course necessitated a new Map, a new version of Beck’s enduring, iconic, much loved Diagram.

As well as Notes, Bibliography and Index , the author also includes many figures such as historical prints, photographs, artwork, promotional & advertising material and of course maps.

A fascinating book, likely to be of interest to anyone travelling on the London Underground. The history and information in this book will enrich passengers journeys and cause some reflection or admiration for how it came to be. And where it may go in the future. I wish the author and publishers all the very best with this wonderful, engaging and informative book.

NetGalley, Lachlan Finlayson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I first took an interest in history of the London Underground map and typeface as a design student and have a small amount of knowledge about the topic already, so I was thrilled that this book covered so much I didn't know. It is a pretty dense read. I actually loved this and came away having learned a lot. It is clearly extremely well researched and the author's passion for the topic is evident throughout. The result is a wonderfully insightful and comprehensive guide to the history of the London Underground network.

I was expecting the book's focus to be solely on the history of the map; however, this book actually looks at the entire history of the network, spanning its inception, construction. I think it's a richer read for exploring the wider history to understand and explain decisions.

Fascinating subject, I'll definitely be recommending this one.

NetGalley, C Gordon

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first visited London as a tourist, I fell in love with the city and it’s transportation system. Having lived in mid sized Canadian cities and having visited Toronto throughout my life, I was confounded by the choices. I soon discovered the magic carpet that the London Underground Map provided. I could plot out ways to get from point A to point B easily. And if it required a change of line, that too could be planned by using this wondrous thing.

It was not until I returned and lived there for three years that I learned the map and the topography of an area often had little in common. I learned that often, rather than backtracking on a different line, I could climb out of the pit and walk a short distance to something that was so much closer than it appeared. While that knowledge made my journeys simpler, it never eliminated the awe I had for that little map that opened up an exciting world for me. Over the years, when friends would go to London for the first time, I would do them up an itinerary based on what they wanted most to see and where they could piggyback one thing with another.

I had no idea of the work that went into creating the cartographical miracle. I always love stories about the history of the tube, especially during WWII. When one plummeted to the depths either in the lift at Russell Square or the escalators atKing’s Cross, the tube has been an adventure. What I did not know was the painful evolution into Beck’s icon that made navigation a breeze. Jigging around with it was not often an improvement. It’s simplicity and ease of use could never be exceeded. In fact, some attempts complicated things for the commuter.

In my most recent visits, I have travelled more by bus than tube, partly because of difficulty climbing stairs and mostly because I enjoy the views while going from place to place. But if I was going to travel a distance across London, I would still head to the tube. Whether I would be able to make sense of the changes to the map is another question. New lines and the Cross-Link create so much additional information that I suspect it is more difficult. All the more reason to admire the work of Beck and to long for the simpler days. Five purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

According to Caroline Roope the Tube Map fundamentally lacks key mapping elements such as topography and urban detail, but what it does is to encourage a mental map of London, one that exists inside the passenger's head allowing them to traverse the city, much like London's cabbies achieve when studying The Knowledge.

The beauty of its design is, as Caroline Roope says: It is as much at home hanging on the wall of a modern art gallery as it is stuffed in the pocket of a London commuter. The flexibility of the Tube Map, and its capacity to grow and adapt along with the city it represents, has inspired numerous interpretations of what it means to traverse the metropolis.

The History of the London Underground Map takes you through a very accessible history of the London Underground, in addition to the development of its iconic map. This book is an essential addition to anyone interested in the development of London's Underground system and its famous map.

NetGalley, David Styles

As featured in

Who Do You Think You Are

About Caroline Roope

Caroline Roope is a freelance writer, specialising in social history and genealogy. She contributes regularly to Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineBest of BritishDiscover Your Ancestors Periodical and Discover Your Ancestors Bookazine, writing on social history topics as diverse as Scalextric to Victorian cross-dressing. Following an MA with Distinction in Heritage Management she spent over ten years working in the heritage and museums sector, for small scale independent charities as well as the National Trust and English Heritage and is published academically in the International Journal of Intangible Heritage.

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