The joy of detective work

I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again: it pays to be public about your tube geekery. Only weeks ago it resulted in the delights of the Embankment map, this week it’s gifted me an old map discovered while clearing out a father’s belongings. With no date on it, it was ripe for a bit of detective work…

As I mentioned with the Embankment map, there are plenty of clues to the age of a tube map – you just need to find them and start sorting through them in order to come with a date window. So, for this one (which is a corker) I’m going to give you the map first and let you play. If you want to try and work out the date yourself, go ahead! The process of deduction I went through will be shown below the photo, so feel free to maximise the photo and get busy with all your accumulated tube knowledge and the aid of Wikipedia. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun!

Here’s the map:

Antique MapOk, it’s not brilliant quality – I blame the unfortunate combination of iPhone & artificial light.

When I first opened this up, my first observation (mainly just because of how I unfolded it) was that we were looking at the network before the creation of the separate East London and Hammersmith & City Lines – both were still in the beautiful purple of the Metropolitan Line. But, as I looked, I saw plenty of other matters of interest that could help me with the date.

  • Missing lines are a MASSIVE indicator of age. What’s missing from this map? The Jubilee and the Victoria Lines – immediately (once you’ve checked the date of the Victoria’s opening) you’ve gone back decades.
  • Are any lines longer or shorter than they are now? The Piccadilly Line is pre-Heathrow; the Central carries on up to Ongar; the Metropolitan goes all the way to Aylesbury; and the Bakerloo includes Watford.
  • Is there anything else completely random that takes you by surprise? In this instance, I was taken aback by the inclusion of Finsbury Park as a branch on the Northern Line.
  • Are any lines different colours compared to modern maps? See above for the ELL and H&C, but on this map the Waterloo & City is white, not teal.

Once you’ve got your list, it’s time for the vortex that is the Wikipedia London Transport portal. Simply looking up the name of a line or a station will answer most questions about dates – its reliable thanks to the hoards of geeks who update the articles. And thus, I was able to establish these key facts:

  • The Victoria Line opened in 1968.
  • Hatton Cross (the precursor to the Heathrow stations) opened in 1975.
  • The Epping-Ongar extension closed in 1994.
  • The Metropolitan extension to Aylesbury closed in 1961.
  • Finsbury Park left the Northern Line in 1964 (ready for the Victoria Line).

Thus, I was able to arrive at an latest possible date of 1961. Could I get any more specific? Well, while Googling the colour of the W&C Line, I discovered a rather fabulous website that chronicles the changes of the tube map, complete with as many examples as possible. There wasn’t a map published in 1961, so it was a choice between the 19561958, 1959 and 1960 versions. My deductions continued…

  • 1958 and 1960 had ‘River Thames’ written on the river, mine did not.
  • 1956 was labelled ‘Railways’; 1960 ‘Underground’ – mine was the latter.

It therefore seemed clear that what I held in my hands dated back to 1959. A map that was over half a century old!

1959 Tube Map

It’s a special thing – not least because it’s one of the last to have actually been designed by Beck (1960 was his last – apparently London Underground disagreed with his proposal for how to insert the Victoria Line). It’s also special because it’s been annotated. My friend Sally’s Dad clearly used it well, noting down times and prices on its cover and obliterating Shoreditch station. (For good reason, apparently it was ‘often closed’ – Wikipedia doesn’t get more specific about why, unfortunately.) It’s a real map, used for actual travelling, and for that reason I utterly love it!

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