While lots of attention is focused on the 150th anniversary of the London Underground dominating the calendar next week, there are in fact two other significant anniversaries this month.

Just like buses, you wait for ages, then three anniversaries arrive at once!

The first anniversary is slightly hard to pin down the exact date, but it is known that at some point in January 1933 London Transport printed 700,000 copies of its latest map leaflet, and sparked a revolution.

This was the first mass print-run of Harry Beck’s iconic tube map design — although it is not technically a map, and neither was it the first time such a design had been seen.

In fact, the schematic diagram — as the map is formally known — was a common sight on the mainline railways who had long adopted the technique. In addition, the simplified layout was already in use inside tube trains for each individual line.

It was actually a draughtsman working for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), George Dow who can be rightly credited with the concept of a schematic layout for railway maps and his designs were swiftly adopted by the steam trains of the time.

Back to Beck – his major improvement on the mainline rail maps was to take it one stage further and equalize the distance between stations – so the central section is much larger than reality and the suburbs shrunk.

That subtle but clever change meant that more of the map could be printed onto a smaller pamphlet, much to the relief of passengers facing otherwise unwieldy large fold-out maps.

He started work on the new diagram in 1931 and a short test run of just 500 phamplets was handed out in 1932. It was however in 1933 that London Transport decided to accept that the design was a good one and printed the first mass-market run of the new layout.

This month, the Harry Beck inspired design is 80 years old.

Just don’t call it a map.

The second anniversary is rather more somber, for on the 25th January 2003 (10 years ago) a Central Line train crashed into the tunnel wall at Chancery Lane tube station.

The crash took place just before 2pm and resulted in 34 injuries, but fortunately no fatalities. There were about 500 people on the train when the rear four carriages derailed during the accident.

An investigation found that derailment was caused when a motor from underneath one of the carriages detached as the train was approaching the station from the east. As the motor fell off, it blocked the railway track and caused the train carriages to “jump” and derail as they passed over it.

The derailed carriages travelled towards Chancery Lane station hitting the sides of the tunnel walls and damaging the carriages, including ripping off one carriage door at the rear.

In fact, just 20 minutes before the accident, the control centre had been notified that the train was making an abnormal sound, and although staff on the platforms couldn’t confirm this, the decision was taken to empty the train just one stop later – at Holborn so that it could be taken away to  find out if anything was wrong.

Although no one was seriously injured (apart from one broken ankle), the biggest impact was the uncertainty as to what caused the derailment as the trains were only 10 years old and the bolts securing the motor in place that failed had been checked just two days earlier.

The entire Central Line and Waterloo & City Line (which used the same trains) was suspended while the investigation was carried out.

The Waterloo & City line did not reopen until February 18th.

The Central Line remained closed until March 14th when a partial service resumed at the edges of the network following modifications to the trains. Services along the entire line resumed on th 12th April, however it took until the end of April to fully restore the line to full capacity.

And of course, the third anniversary this month is the impossible to ignore 150th anniversary of the opening of the Underground railway.


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  1. Stephen Bird says:

    If the January 1933 date is correct, the original Harry Beck map would have been issued by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. The London Passenger Transport Board was created by an Act of Parliament of April 1933, becoming effective on 1 July 1933.
    Presumably the Metropolitan Railway would have cooperated in the production of the map, which only includes their electrified lines (i.e. not beyond Rickmansworth).

  2. Stephen Bird says:

    I don’t! It was your use of the name “London Transport” as the issuer of the map several months before that organisation existed that I was querying.

    • IanVisits says:

      Ahh, you see I was writing for the general reader not the train nerd ;), so I am comfortable describing the organisation by the common-use names rather than trying to keep up with the various arcane name changes that took place during its history.

  3. TOLA ADENLE says:

    Congratulations, Brits for this gift to the world, and thanks Ian for trying to set the record straight AND Stephen for the English typical attribute of never wanting to take oneself too seriously!

  4. Maccath says:

    I have a copy of an old version of the Harry Beck ‘map’ with pride of place in my living room above the fireplace. It’s interesting to look at the old stations, and pretty too. 🙂

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  1. […] mentioned a couple of months ago that this January marked the 80th anniversary of the introduction of the now familiar tube map, and […]

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