Early Underground map surfaces

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The Independent Online
A 1909 map of the London Underground (above) has been found among old files and envelopes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, writes David Lister.

The map, as a piece of graphic design, makes a fascinating contrast with Harry Beck's elegant schematised 1933 grid map, which is still in use (left). The 1909 version shows the stations imposed over a street map.

Although the various railway lines are colour coded, they wind according to geography, and give a literal representation of distance. The stations are shown by solid discs centred on the lines, while interchanges are represented by larger, often complex interlocking discs. The typeface and the text, which is rendered in capitals of varying sizes, adds to the visual clutter.

The map also includes stations which have ceased to exist, including St Mary's, Down Street and Dover Street, and marks the site of the Franco-British Exhibition at what was later White City. The V & A archives show the then director of the museum, Sir Cecil Harcourt-Smith, received the map with the words: 'Do you think we need more than two of these hideous maps, one at each of the main entrances?'

Margaret Timmers, deputy curator in the prints and drawings department, said: 'Beck's map has become an icon but this has its own charm and you would know where you are in relation to the street plan.' The map will be displayed in the print room.

(Photographs omitted)

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