Friday, 3 April 2009

A quote about the London underground map

Taken from Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island:

'the London underground map. What a piece of perfection it is, created in 1931 by a forgotton hero named Harry Beck, an out-of-work draughtsman who realised that when you are under ground it doesn't matter where you are. Beck saw - and what an intuitive stroke this was - that as long as the stations were presented in in their right sequence with their interchanges clearly delineated, he could freely distort scale, indeed abandon it altogether.'

'Here's an amusing trick you can play on people from' outside of London 'take them to Bank Station and and tell them to make their way to Mansion House. Using Beck's map [...] they will gamley take a Central Line train to Liverpool Street, change to a Circle Line train heading east and travel five stops more. When eventually they get to Mansion House they will emerge to find they hace arrived at a point 200 feet further down the same street.'

'Now take them to Great Portland Street and tell them to meet you at Regent's Park (that's right, same thing again!), and then to Temple Station with instructions to rendezvous at Aldwych.'

Pictures of a street performer taken on Oxford Street, near Oxford Circus tube, on a Friday night


  1. it is a marvelous piece of art indeed...

    Though you're probably right that Beck applied the theory to the underground system of London, the map is based on the theory of graphs, as developed by Leonhard Euler, and presented in his paper on the Seven Bridges of Königsberg (1736).

  2. When I read these words by Bryson I was just in London and found them so true! Even with a good map of the city or asking for directions on our way to somewhere ... WE GOT LOST ... above. While we didn't have any problem to go from a point to another of the tube map. Our problems always started once we were up outside...
    P.S. I liked "Notes from a small Island", just finished reading it last night and wrote a post about it in the afternoon.