We have a real gem for this week’s Bookmarks post – London Underground Maps – Art, Design & Cartography by Claire Dobbin.
It’s hardly possible to imagine London without its underground system – and equally impossible to imagine this underground system without the classic map which guides its millions of users.
This book takes you on its own journey – from 19th century origins to the 21st century future.
Chapter 1 covers the early history and mapping of the London Underground. The first line was opened in 1863 – it was actually steam trains that ran along these early tracks which came as a surprise to us – electric trains being introduced much later, in 1890. Another quick snippet of trivia is that the now ubiquitous term ‘tube’ for the whole of the underground system comes from an early nickname for the Central London Railway which was known as the Two Penny Tube.
The early maps aren’t to be overlooked. There’s some stunning work by artists such as MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill and it also has to be remembered that Harry Beck didn’t start with a blank canvas before producing his famous 1930s design. He took ideas & influences from this earlier mapping such as line diagrams and distinct colours for individual lines.
However, there’s no denying the importance and brilliance of the map originally devised by Beck in 1931 and first published 1933 (there’s a story there too, as it was rejected on its first submission). Chapter 2 charts the map’s development – its geometric design and the abandonment of geographical accuracy.
The various versions of Beck’s map are very interesting – its continuous evolution being essential as new stations were built or design tweeks put into practice.
In addition to reproducing the maps, the book also has some great examples of promotional posters and historical photos showing stations, travellers and artwork in situ.
Chapter 3 explores the continuing legacy of Beck’s design and its influence over other transport maps. Also its branding, souvenir value and wider influence over the art world in general.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book and can highly recommend it.
It adds so much background to the subject without ever being dry or unapproachable.
…and if you’re one of those people who has to hop on & off the tube regularly, this book will really help you see the places with fresh eyes.
The book’s launch ties in with the Mind the Map exhibition that opened last week at the London Transport Museum – the author, Louise Dobbin is Senior Curator there. The exhibition, with accompanying events programme, runs until 28 October 2012.
[Many thanks to Lund Humphries for the review copy]