London Transport
Maps

Last updated 10th April, 2012


Much has been written on the cartography and Digram of London Transport maps, but nothing (as far as I am aware) about the maps’ covers. The pages in this section are my attempt to partially fix this omission by illustrating the covers (and listing the print codes, where known) of as many different LT maps as possible.

Below each illustration, the cryptic number below the date is the print code. It is normally found on the bottom corner of the back of the map (when folded), and is deciphered as follows: the first group is the month and year printed; the second group is (I believe) a document reference number; and the third group is the number of copies printed. The letter M is shorthand for 1,000—the same as the Roman numeral—so 150M is equalivalent to 150,000. (R) indicates a reprint (and the very rare (2R) a second reprinting), and I believe (A) was used to indicate “Additional”. From the late ’60s onwards Nº 1 denoted the first reprinting, Nº 2 denoted the second, etcetera. When a date is in grey, there was no cover date, and the print code publication date is used instead.

Print code on a Tube map Print code on a Green Line map
Typical print codes, as found on the back of an Underground and Green Line map of the 1950s.

A good selection London Transport maps is often available on ebay for the collector interested in adding to their collection.


Two different catalogues of London Transport maps have been published over the years. The first go-round was edited by Les Burwood and Carol Brady and entitled London Transport Maps: A Concise Catalogue. It went through three editions; being updated in June 1983 and 1992. Eight years later, Anne Letch compiled her first Collectors’ Guide. Revised and expanded in 2004, I hope that we can expect a new edition sometime in the not-too-distant future.

London Transport Maps: A Concise Catalogue; 3rd ed.
London Transport Maps
A Concise Catalogue
Les Burwood and Carol Brady
96 pp., Walnut Tree Publications, 1992
London Transport bus & tube maps: A collectors’ guide; 1920–2000
London Transport bus & tube maps
A collectors’ guide; 1920–2000
Anne Letch
48 pp., Nebulous Books, 2000
£4.00, no ISBN
London Transport Maps & Guides: A Collectors’ Reference Guide; 2nd ed.
London Transport Maps & Guides
A Collectors’ Reference Guide
Anne Letch
84 pp., LBRT, 2004
ISBN 09542 62840

Three excellent books have been written about London Underground maps. The decriptive text below comes from the synopsis on each book’s back cover.

No Need to Ask!
No Need to Ask!
Early Maps of London’s Underground Railways
David Leboff
80 pp., Capital Transport, December 1999
£12.99, ISBN 18541 42151
Mr. Beck’s Underground Map
Mr. Beck’s Underground Map
Ken Garland
80 pp., Capital Transport, December 1994
£9.99, ISBN 18541 41686
Underground Maps After Beck
Underground Maps After Beck
Maxwell J. Roberts
112 pp., Capital Transport, July 2005
£18.95, ISBN 18541 42860

“The Underground map has come to represent a distinctive image associated with London. The unified system of today began life as a number of separate companies, beginning with the Metropolitan Railway in 1863. Under the influence of American finance, the first groupings of companies appeared in the early years of the twentieth century and maps showing the different lines as a unified system began to appear.

“Before the famous Beck diagrammatic map appeared in 1933, maps of the Underground railway were produced in many different styles. Prior to co-ordination of publicity, individual companies would often show their own railway much more prominently than others, sometimes omitting ‘competing’ lines altogether. This book – a companion volume to Mr. Beck’s Underground Map – illustrates the development of the many attractive and unusual maps used to describe and publicise London’s Underground railways before the diagrammatic approach simplified a complicated and expanding system.”

“The first few years of the 1930s were not good ones for the Underground. Speaking at the annual general meeting in February 1932 the Chairman, Lord Ashfield, was moved to say that, in the face of economic stagnation, particularly affecting the travel patterns of the better-off: ‘There seems no way open to us to stimulate the movement of traffic just at present. Even our publicity service seems temporarily ineffective as a means of building it up.’ It became worse still financially as 1932 proceeded. All departments had to contribute by making economies and reducing salaries for the Directors and all staff.

“Frank Pick, the Underground’s autocratic managing director, had previously dismissed in 1931 a suggestion emanating from a junior draughtsman, Harry Beck, for a different approach to mapping its railways using an easy-to-follow diagrammatic method based on straight lines. Influenced perhaps by the circumstances of 1932, he was persuaded to give it a try.

“It was liked by the public, though no-one has ever attempted to measure its commercial value to the Underground. The map’s successors are still with Londoners today, and its principles have been used in many other cities and countries.”

“The London Underground is one of the most important rail networks in the world. In a single day, as many people travel on it as on the rest of Britain’s railways put together. To help them find their way, over 15 million Underground maps are printed every year, descendants of Henry Beck’s groundbreaking design, first published in 1933.

“A diagrammatic map for the Underground is essential but hard to design. Good maps guide people in the right direction, contributing to the efficiency of the system; the worst will be hard to decipher, even sending people the wrong way. However, the best maps don’t just summarise the essentials of the world with clarity and precision, they are attractive in their own right.

“This book picks up where Ken Garland completed his work (Mr. Beck’s Underground Map) to take the story of the map from when Henry Beck’s services were dispensed with, to the present day [2005]. Based upon extensive research of London Transport archives and at the London Transport Museum, this book surveys the major changes that have taken place over the years, and the reasoning and political background that led to them.”

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