All posts by London Transport Museum

Thameslink: a history through the city

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Our latest exhibition Untangling the Tracks takes a closer look at the Thameslink Programme, a major project to increase capacity, improve connections and provide greater reliability on the Thameslink route. Work started in 2007 and stations were rebuilt, new infrastructure developed, tracks and signalling replaced, and 115 new trains were ordered.

But what is the history behind the only north-south mainline railway to cross London?

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Engraving depicting the construction of the junction of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway and Metropolitan Railway, circa 1866

The origins of the Thameslink route date back to 1866 with the opening of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway’s (LC&DR) extension over the River Thames. This was despite a Royal Commission ruling in 1846 that railways should terminate at the edge of the city, as it was believed this would help alleviate congestion on the city’s busy streets.

The LC&DR extension travelled north along a viaduct and through the new Snow Hill tunnel to Farringdon, where it could connect with the Metropolitan Railway, and onwards to King’s Cross and St Pancras.

The construction of the extension through the crowded city caused huge disruption, as is clear from an engraving from the time. It is possible to see here how the course of the line changes from viaduct to tunnel.

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Print showing the construction of the Snow Hill tunnel, 1861-62

The Ludgate Hill viaduct was famously depicted by Gustav Doré in London: A Pilgrimage. Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street are shown heaving with people and traffic while a train billows smoke from the viaduct above.

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Ludgate Hill, from London: A Pilgrimage, 1972

Along the line stations were built at Snow Hill, Holborn Viaduct and Ludgate Hill. Snow Hill station opened in 1874, but passenger services through the tunnel stopped in 1916 (the station had been renamed Holborn Viaduct Low Level in 1912), terminating at Holborn Viaduct station instead. Ludgate Hill station closed in 1929, and only freight services operated through the tunnel until 1969.

In 1986 work began to bring the north-south route through the city back. New Thameslink services started in 1988. Although Thameslink trains follow the same route today as the original LC&DR trains, the viaduct at Ludgate Hill was demolished in 1990 and replaced by a tunnel. Holborn Viaduct station was also closed in 1990, replaced by the nearby City Thameslink station.

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Ludgate Viaduct just prior to demolition, 1990

The new Thameslink services were busy with commuters, and soon overcrowding on the line had become an issue as passenger numbers in London and the South East increased. The recent Thameslink Programme has revitalised the route, adding greater capacity, and trains now serve destinations from Sussex and Kent to Bedford, Peterborough and Cambridge.

Our Untangling the Tracks exhibition is open until May 2020. Visit to discover how the Thameslink Programme transformed one of the oldest railway networks in the world, through interactive displays and games, mixed media and miniature station models.

Celebrating 150 years of the District line with our new Poster Parade

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Throughout 2019, Transport for London and the London Transport Museum are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the District line. As part of the celebrations we are featuring twenty District line related posters from our outstanding poster collection in a new Poster Parade on display from 28 June to 19 September 2019.

Map of the District line in 1871

The District line opened in December 1868. Then known as the Metropolitan District Railway, it was the second underground passenger railway in the world after the Metropolitan line. Initially running only between Sloane Square and Westminster, seven more stations opened during the first year. The intention was to join up with the Metropolitan line at either end, forming an ‘Inner Circle’ linking all London’s mainline termini. However, rivalry between the two railways meant that the Circle wasn’t completed until 1884.

The District expanded its services to the western suburbs during the steam era to Hammersmith, Hounslow, Ealing and Wimbledon. But when the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes first took an interest in the railway in 1899, it was in poor financial shape. Yerkes took over the District in 1901, and through his influence the Inner Circle and District were electrified.

The poster Light, power and speed by Charles Sharland features one of the new trains that were introduced during the electrification of the line. Electrification greatly improved conditions in the sections running underground, and the company promoted their new trains as offering comfortable, modern and technologically advanced travel.

Light, power & speed, by Charles Sharland, 1910

In addition to the District line, Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) owned many other underground railways, including the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Hampstead (now part of the Northern line) and Central lines. To encourage off-peak travel the UERL used posters to promote destinations which could be reached by their expanding network. For the western section of the District line this meant attractions which are still popular today, such as Richmond and Kew Gardens. At the time Sudbury Town and South Harrow were promoted as rural destinations, easily reached in time to see a gorgeous sunset. Though originally served by the District line, these stations were transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.

Kew Gardens, by Irene Fawkes, 1923

At the eastern end of the District line, services from Whitechapel to Upminster opened in June 1902. The District Railway also ran through trains to the popular seaside resort of Southend. The Upminster Windmill and the Canvey Lady in Southend were both familiar local landmarks at the time, and whilst the Canvey Lady was pulled down after the Second World War, the windmill survives and is now a listed building. The process of electrification was slower at this end with Upminster served by steam until 1932, and Southend until after the Second World War.

Upminster The mill, by M A Carter, 1924

Today the District line is being transformed once again, with air-conditioned, walk-through trains introduced on the line in 2014, and the Four Lines Modernisation programme due to deliver a new signalling system by 2023.

Check out our online exhibit on Google Arts & Culture to learn more about the history of the District line, and visit the Poster Parade (28 June – 19 September 2019) at the Museum to see our stunning posters up close.

#MyJourneyToPride – Collecting LGBTQ+ experiences

By Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

London’s transport brings people together, especially for major events like the Pride weekend, which this year is taking place on 6-7 July. As part of a new collecting project, we are looking for people to document their journeys to Pride in London and UK Black Pride 2019. We are inviting video diarists to record their feelings and thoughts throughout their journeys, and we are also encouraging people to take part in the project by sharing their photos and videos on social media using the hashtag #MyJourneyToPride and by tagging @ltmuseum in the videos, photos and text that you want to share.

Ride with Pride vehicles, 2015

If you’re making your way to Pride or UK Black Pride then let us know what is exciting about your journey. How does the atmosphere change as you get closer to the events? Are you seeing more people heading the same way as you? What does it mean to see more flags and rainbows and banners in London? We want to record the social side of the story that objects don’t convey by themselves.

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Rainbow crossing, 2015 

The stories that you record and that we collect will help enrich some of the material we already have in our collection like banners, posters and the first ever rainbow crossing. A great deal of material we have in the Museum that represents the LGBT+ experience is focused on the stories of members of staff, and we would like to invite passengers, pedestrians and participants to make their lived experience a part of the history of transport in London too. The experiences of non-binary and transgender people are under-represented in the Museum’s collection at the moment and we would particularly welcome material that is more inclusive of all genders.

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Ride with Pride poster, 2015

This year it is as important as ever to take to the streets to take a positive stance against violence and discrimination targeted at the LGBT+ community. London Transport Museum will offer space to preserve and record the thoughts, feelings and experiences of people travelling to Pride in London in 2019.

Please consider a few things if you are keen to take part in the project by tagging content for the Museum to see:

  • Crowd shots and groups are fine to film or photograph with verbal consent, but please don’t film or photograph individuals close-up. This especially applies to young people and children
  • Please don’t share and tag footage that might enable people to locate your home
  • Stay safe, please don’t put yourself in danger and only film/photograph when you feel comfortable

Travel safe, have fun and be proud! 🌈

Social Stations – A contemporary collecting project

By Susanna Cordner, Documentary Curator

When I first told friends that my new job at London Transport Museum would involve seeking out social stories about transport, a common response was to ask, Can you find out who keeps the plants at Kew Gardens station so neat? Or Who writes the ‘Thought of the Day’ board at Oval? and other questions along those lines.

I could see there was a strand here: a set of social stories based on the individuals or groups who, through projects and interventions great and small, are making the most of spaces at stations, and making an impact on the staff and passengers who pass through.

A lot of the narrative around transport tends to focus on the means, modes and methods of travel. Before any discussion on what form of transport you use and where it allows you to go, comes a place, a stop or a station. These stops and stations act as both defining pillars of the local area and gateways to a wider world. This makes them a particular breed of public or community space, ripe with opportunities to engage and relate to local need.

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Customer Services Assistant Glen Sutherland with a poster ‘Thought of the day’ at Oval station, 2012. Photo by Stephen Berry from London Transport Museum’s collection. Ref. 2012/56080

I set up our Social Stations Documentary Curator collecting project to celebrate the ways in which these community and grassroots projects are reclaiming, or re-calibrating, spaces at stations for public and/or environmental benefit. Whether simply boosting the mood of passers-by or actually contributing to the local economy and culture, these projects link local people to a local need, and make the most of previously underestimated public spaces which are experienced every day. They can also contribute to your sense of space and community even when you’re en-route.

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Energy Garden’s community gardening at Overground stations
Some of the most exciting moments as a curator come when you can give a new understanding to an object in a collection, and in so doing use it to tell a different story. Through contemporary collecting, you have the opportunity not just to help shape how the present will be remembered once it becomes the past, but also to make people reassess the world around them now. As a result, contemporary collecting involves a lot of conversations, consultation and observation. This means that some of the sources contemporary curators use to gauge a subject and its significance are a little more informal, and perhaps more social, than you’d expect.

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Mural by Aliza Nisenbaum depicting Victoria line staff at Brixton station

For this project I’ve spent a lot of time on messaging boards and social media feeds hunting out the truly local projects that don’t get the credit they deserve on wider platforms. I found the majority of examples we’ve explored because someone had shared a post or comment saying the difference a detail like this makes to their day.

We look forward to sharing some highlights from this collecting project with you soon, and invite you to get in touch with us if you know of a local project you think we should capture, by emailing us at documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk.

Out and about on London’s transport network

Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link. Our project LGBT+ Linking Lives aims at collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. 

In this blog Gonzalo de Ana Rodríguez – Transport for London employee and member of OUTbound , TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network – shares how London transport has shaped his relationships and experiences. 

Gonzalo at his first Pride with TfL in 2015

As a transport planner and TfL employee, London’s transport network is the main theme of my career. But London is also the city where I have forged my identity as a gay man, and its transport system has been the silent witness to that personal journey. The staff network group OUTbound is the vehicle I use to reconcile those two elements of my identity and to reflect on the role that transport plays on people identity journeys.

I have numerous memories of London’s transport in key moments of my (gay) life. The day after I realised I was gay – at age 24 – I got on the Piccadilly line at Turnpike Lane to go to university like any other morning. It had been a surprise, but it did not change who I already was.

It was a bus journey in London that started a deep friendship that is now the most important in my life. My friend and I got on a bus at Regent Street to go to a dance ball. During the journey, I told him about my bittersweet experience of coming out to my family, while he sat and listened attentively. At the time, he had not gone through that himself yet, but months later not only did he tell me that my story had inspired him, but it was also obvious for both of us how important that journey had been for our eternal bond.

Gonzalo and his friend Davide doing a paso doble at the 2016 UK Fun Competition in the Rivoli Ballroom

It was a Tube journey that took me down to Highbury & Islington for my first same-sex ballroom dance class, which completely turned my life upside down. Since then, ballroom dance has become central to my life and my identity.

Another very special and exciting moment was when I came across Olympic diver Tom Daley on an eastbound Jubilee line train at Canada Water station. His mediatic coming out a couple of years earlier had coincided with my own realisation of being gay, and he was very inspirational to me at the time. In fact, I took the opportunity to thank him for that then and there! Funnily enough, a few months ago I saw him again on the Jubilee line.

Gonzalo and Tom Daley

London transport interacts with my queer identity in many more ways. This is the network that takes me to dates and nights out; to LGBT venues; to the parade formation area to join my OUTbound colleagues on the TfL float at every Pride parade.

Beard and makeup: Gonzalo’s way of redefining masculinity at Pride 2018

But the Tube also takes me to work every day, where I can give something back to this network which is so important to my identity and to others. Thanks to OUTbound, I can even do so from a place of authenticity and bring my whole self to work, because TfL strives to make every customer and employee feel safe, and we are encouraged to be authentic on our network and in our offices.

Documentary Curators at London Transport Museum want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in people’s experience in London. You can submit your stories to us by emailing documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk.

Commissioning art posters for the Underground

By Michael Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum since 1998. Michael was one of the judges for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration competition.

Transport for London and its predecessor organisations have been commissioning art posters since 1908, the first acknowledged art image being No need to ask a P’liceman by John Hassall.

No need to ask a p’liceman, by John Hassall, 1908

Frank Pick, appointed Publicity Manager for the Underground Group of companies in 1908, quickly set about applying high standards of advertising content, presentation and display on the stations. Pick recognised that low standards of adult literacy, static passenger revenue and station environments overcrowded with poor quality signage and advertising were destroying clarity. Good design in all its forms would help build a brand that symbolised quality and reliability, and of course stimulate more passenger usage.

Pick presided over commissioning art and design posters for use on London Underground and (from the formation of London Transport in 1933) on buses and trams. The images commissioned were primarily intended to inform passengers of events, places to visit, safety and behaviour messages as well as sometimes to add interest and intrigue to entertain and educate the travelling public.

Say it Underground with a poster, by Christopher Greaves, 1933

The variety of artists and designers commissioned, their artistic style, their experience, their gender and their reputation were of lesser importance than their response to the brief they were set. In a period where the only accessible media were posters, newspapers and magazines, the poster reigned supreme as a mean of mass communication and there was nowhere better for posters to be displayed and their simple messages understood by millions than on Underground stations.

It is acknowledged that the ‘golden age’ of posters ran between 1920 and 1939 (the period between the First and Second World Wars) and so many fantastic images by internationally renowned artists such as Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Freda Lingstrom, Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer were posted on the Underground.

Power – the nerve centre of London’s Underground, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1931

During the 1960s the importance of the art poster declined.  More people owned cars and televisions which in their different ways replaced the use of public transport for visiting cinemas, dance halls, shopping and days out in London or the countryside. There were more pressing priorities for the use of funds than producing ‘pretty’ images.

The art poster largely fell out of use from 1976 until 1986, when a new and enlightened Director of Marketing, Dr Henry Fitzhugh, was appointed and he revived the art programme with some stunning commissions including Tate Gallery by Tube and Highgate Ponds.

The Tate Gallery by Tube, by David Booth of the agency Fine White Line, 1987

With various intervening twists and turns of fortune, I was invited to carry on the tradition in 1998. I am a passionate believer in great poster art and its power to please, annoy or be hated, but never to be ignored!

We have a limited budget for poster commissioning, so it is with great care that we choose artists and subjects. The annual list of subjects reflects what are important objectives for London Transport Museum, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Artists and designers we employ are drawn from the huge array of illustrative and design talent that London hosts. Photographic commissions are largely avoided to differentiate the overwhelming output of that medium from the far less used illustrative approach.

Once a topic and appropriate artist is agreed, meetings take place to explore ideas, formats, budgets and timescales for delivery and display and a full written brief is issued. The chosen artist is invited to submit a series of rough sketches and suggested colour palette and a further meeting takes place to explore the final options for production. When the artwork has been delivered, the next steps are to employ in-house designers to format the artwork into a poster with the approved text and logos ready to submit to Transport for London and City Hall in time for approval.

Continuing the great tradition of commissioning art posters, we also host the biennial Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition, in parternship with the AOI. This year’s exhibition, London Stories, is on display at the Museum until 14 July 2019. The winning poster, London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood, will be displayed across the Underground network.

London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood

Art posters still engage millions of London Underground customers and doubtless persuade some to take additional journeys to featured destinations. These posters are sold in London Transport Museum’s shop to raise revenue to support its charitable objectives, and as we purchase appropriate copyright in perpetuity, we can assure these images will be available for the public to enjoy, and the Museum to use, for ever.

I am so proud to help maintain this ancient, honourable, but still wonderfully relevant job!

Love your line – Museum Depot Open Weekend

By  Georgina Dobson, Public Programmes Manager

It’s all hands on deck as we gear up for our Museum Depot Open Weekend – Love Your Line on 27 and 28 April.

We are very proud of our Museum Depot in Acton, a huge building spanning over 6000m2 which serves many purposes. It houses 98% of our collection, sees groups of volunteers working on vehicle restoration projects, and it’s where our curators keep our heritage bus fleet operational, manage collection acquisitions and maintenance, and oversee the movement of trains for heritage vehicle outings.

Three times a year we throw the Depot’s doors open and invite visitors of all ages to come in and explore what we like to call our treasure trove. Our Open Weekends are best described as mini-festivals, offering a huge variety of fun and interactive activities, and opportunities for London lovers, transport enthusiasts and design geeks to spend an enjoyable, informative day out and have a good ‘nose around’ the 300,000+ objects in our collection.

April’s Open Weekend it’s all about tube lines, specifically the Victoria, Jubilee, District and Overground lines. What’s there to know about a tube line? Well as it turns out, quite a lot! Three of these lines are celebrating (rather important) birthdays: the Victoria line its 50th, the Jubilee its 40th, and last but not  least, the star of the show – the District line, who turns 150 this year!

You might ask how the Overground made the cut, being the youngest by far, and not technically a tube line. As with many things in London, as soon as you delve a little deeper you find there’s a rich history to discover. For instance, the Thames Tunnel built by Sir Marc Brunel is the first ever tunnel successfully constructed under a navigable river. The Overground running through it it’s a vital connection between north and south London. The tunnel celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2019, and guest speaker Robert Hulse, Director of the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, will be on hand to tell us more about this remarkable tunnelling project.

Ask people what’s their favourite line and they will not only give you an answer, but also a catalogue of reasons and often, quite movingly, the memories that lie behind them. The same goes for those who have spent their lives working on the lines. We are delighted to be welcoming some of these people to speak at our Open Weekend.

There are also many stories to be told from the periphery of the lines, in themselves places of opportunity. Mathew Frith from the London Wildlife Trust will talk about the animals and flora that thrive on seemingly inhospitable urban linesides; Agamemnon Otero of Energy Garden will speak of the communities who create flourishing gardens around Overground stations.

It’s not all talks however.  Colour psychology specialist Karen Haller will make you look at the tube map in a different way with association games, and Geoff Marshall will host a live World Cup of Tube Lines competition.

For those looking for a more hands on exploration of the lines, there are creative activities for our younger visitors in the Family Zone – with special mini tours of the Depot, badge making, dressing up, and soft play. Not to mention the chance to ride on a heritage bus or feel like a giant on our special miniature railway.

Visit our website to see the full programme and book your tickets, and see you soon at our Museum Depot!

Bus Fare: Stories of the London Bus

London buses are one of the city’s most recognisable icons. As well as a vital component of the Capital’s infrastructure, they are equally embedded into its culture. They have been written about, sung about, joked about, filmed, painted (and painted on), and celebrated in myriad ways.

In the book Bus Fare – Collected Writings on the London Bus, social historians Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr have curated a collection of newspaper reports, technical and transport journals, guide books, diaries, letters, poems, novels and non-fiction pieces, combined with freshly commissioned articles and interviews with leading Londoners of today. This anthology aims to capture the unique relationship Londoners have with their most important mode of transport – the bus!

On 21 March 2019, Travis and Joe will discuss the book at the talk Bus Fare: Stories of the London Bus.  Here is an excerpt from the introduction to whet your appetite.

‘Garden seat’ type horse bus (ca. 1881), London Transport Museum’s collection

To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a comparable attempt to draw together the diversity of writing on the London omnibus between the covers of a single book. This is not altogether surprising, as buses have been justly described as the Cinderella service of London’s various transport systems; despite carrying nearly twice as many passengers as the Underground, the bus network features far less prominently in public consciousness. Buses are just there, carrying their 2 billion passengers a year, generating little attention or fuss.

The surprising revelation of this project, however, has been the realisation of quite how many writers, including those with considerable literary reputations, have been drawn to write about the humble bus. Who would have thought an anthology that embraces such exalted figures as Dickens, Woolf, Morton, Hardy, Kipling, Bennett, Self and Sinclair could possibly be directed at such a workaday subject? Indeed, these writers display such an expert knowledge of buses and their operation that they sometimes even play a significant role in narrative and plot, rather than merely featuring as background colour.

B340 B-type motor bus (1911), London Transport Museum’s collection.

What is equally revealing about collecting together this material is how richly and vividly it portrays the daily experiences and discomforts of bus passengers and bus crew alike, creating a seamless unity of experience across nearly two centuries of London life. For although buses have undergone so much change over their long history – from horse drawn to motorised; from open to roofed top decks and staircases; and from private operation through public ownership and back to private again – nonetheless to read these accounts is to be constantly surprised and delighted at how recognisable and familiar so many of the details are of a journey on a Victorian omnibus compared to today’s version of the same.

It is also delightful to learn that the personal knowledge of bus routes and destinations and times that Dickens and Woolf and Bennett possessed a century and more ago were just as precious and hard-won an acquisition for the dedicated Londoner as they are for contemporary metropolitans.

RT-type AEC double deck bus (1954), London Transport Museum’s collection

Join Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr at the talk Bus Fare: Stories of  the London Bus, on Thursday 21 March 2019. There will also be readings by special guests John Grindrod, author of ‘Concretopia’; Patrice Lawrence, award-winning YA novelist, and novelist Rowena Macdonald. And we will be screening Joe Bloom’s short film ‘Ahmed Serhani, A Portrait: London’s Friendliest bus driver’.

Bus Fare, published by the AA, is available to buy in our shop. Travis and Joe will be signing copies of the book after the talk.

The event is part of the series In Their Own Words, celebrating our latest exhibition, Poster Prize for Illustration 2019: London Stories.

Does transport shape our experiences?

Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it connects us and allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link. 

Our project, LGBT+ Linking Lives, aims at collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. We want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in people’s experience in London.

In this blog Andy De Santis – Vice Chair of OUTbound , TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network – shares with us how London transport has shaped his relationships and experiences. 

Who doesn’t LOVE TfL designs?!

Even before working in transport, I could already understand its importance to the LGBT+ community. When I arrived in London, I initially met a varied group of friends on LGBT+ websites. We were an odd mix of people, from quiet guys in suits to the leotard-wearing nonchalant extrovert. We’d meet up at different venues every weekend – a welcoming break from our exhausting work life. This was our opportunity to be ourselves, free of shame or judgement as we got inside the Tube laughing and enjoying being together.

I don’t drive but I like to pretend I do!

Do you remember what it was like before the Night Tube? After a night out, everyone would drag themselves along to the bus stop to catch their night bus, like tired zombies in the night – ruined make up, dirty clothes, sometimes the stench accompanying someone who had partied too hard!

But the night bus was a place of freedom. Sexuality, race, gender, nothing mattered. Do you remember the big groups? They’d usually be the loudest ones, screaming as if to tell you they’d had such an awesome time. I also remember when they’d start singing – on a couple of occasions others on the bus would sing with them. This bizarre sing-a-long is perhaps what I miss the most from that time. Although I was a bit shy at the time, just hearing everyone around me singing was mesmerising. People united in song, all declaring how they had a good time.

Me and Judith, a very visible and proud bisexual, showcasing our rainbow lanyard.

Oh, the good times… all the connections, and that’s what transport does, isn’t it? It connects communities and people. I volunteer with a service helping LGBT+ people struggling with addiction and some come from outside the city, as support isn’t available in small towns. I could tell you many stories about me, but I’ll skip the “when I got the bus/train/tram”. Most of my experiences wouldn’t have happened without public transport. Transport connects us to people we care about. Isn’t it funny how we take that for granted?

Write to  documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk if you would like to tell us your story about the role of transport in your LGBT+ life and experiences in London.  Visit our website to learn more about the LGBT+ Linking Lives project.

District line: a history in maps

The District line has turned 150 years old, and we are celebrating its past, present and future throughout 2019, as part of TfL’s District 150 celebrations. In this first blog installment, our curator Simon Murphy unravels the history of the District line through maps from London Transport Museum’s collection.

Westminster Bridge station on the first section of the Metropolitan District Railway, 1868

Ref. 2019/680

The oldest part of what is now the District line opened on 24 December 1868, from South Kensington to Westminster. This map was hand-drawn as an exact record of the railway and where it ran. It was standard practice well into the 20th century to use existing, commercially produced street maps of London and simply print the railway line on top, usually in red. Maps of this period were large and functioned as street maps as well as railway maps, but as they got smaller they had to be simplified.

Extension of the Metropolitan District Railway from Blackfriars to Mansion House, 1871

Ref. 2009-11501

As the title in the top left suggests, in the early years the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railway companies worked closely together. Four Metropolitan directors sat on the District’s board, and trains for the District were initially provided by the Metropolitan. It was expected that the two companies would merge on completion of the Circle line, but relations between the two companies soon soured, and they became bitter rivals.

District Railway map of London, 1876

Ref. 1984-51-761

The bright colours and bold sans serif typeface of this map make it look quite modern, despite its age. When unfolded, these maps could often be more than a metre wide, but they were still considered ‘pocket size’. Note how the river and a tangle of local railways is bursting out of the left-hand side of the frame! The company’s operating name no longer includes the word ‘Metropolitan’, but has been shortened to the District Railway.

Improved District Railway map of London, 1884

Ref. 1992-658

After much rancour, and with Government intervention, the District and Metropolitan Railways eventually co-operated over closing the gap between Aldgate and Mansion House to complete the circle. On top of the feud between the two directors, James Staat Forbes and Edward Watkin, both companies were struggling financially at the time. They were more interested in tapping profitable suburban traffic than in collaborating to provide an intensive urban service. Nevertheless, the ‘Inner Circle’ finally opened for public service on 6 October 1884.

Cover of the pocket District Railway map, Jubilee edition, 1887

Ref. 1984-51-760

The District Railway was a prolific publisher of London maps in the 1870s and 1880s. For Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, they replaced the usual images of local landmarks with a royal portrait and scenes of Britain’s glorious Empire. Benjamin Franklin’s maxim ‘Time is money’ features around the tunnel entrance at the bottom.

District Railway miniature map of London and environs, 1900

Ref. 1996-5849

Despite being half the width of the earlier folding maps, the District’s first ‘miniature’ maps were still quite cumbersome. This series of maps was originally designed by W E Soar in 1887. Additions and extensions were added to the design as they were built.

District Railway poster map, 1908

Ref. 1996-5849

This map is about the same size as the full-size Tube maps seen on stations and platforms today. Large maps like this were displayed outside District Railway stations from 1908. The District, and the three new deep-level Tube lines opened in 1906-7, are shown in bold lines on a simplified and slightly distorted map of London. The black lines represent the Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) system. Other railways are indicated with faint grey lines.

First Underground-branded pocket map, 1908

Ref. 1983-4-2

This map showed all the underground railway companies on the same map for the first time, branded with the UndergrounD logo. It was prompted by the opening of the Franco-British exhibition at the Wood Lane exhibition centre in 1908 (you can see it marked on the left-hand side) which was hugely popular and attracted large numbers of visitors to London. The 1908 London Olympics was held there too. The Head of Underground publicity, Frank Pick, coordinated the production of the map, using a different colour for each line. The District has been green on all colour maps ever since. The UndergrounD brand with the capital U and D was another of Pick’s ideas.

Pocket Underground map, 1930

Ref. 1992-85

Fred Stingemore was a talented photographer, designer and artist who worked in the Underground publicity office. His elegant design was used from 1926 to 1932. It simplified the geography of the system, enlarging the central area and doing away with the street background completely. The dotted lines show the new Piccadilly line services that opened in 1932, running alongside the District in the west.

First diagrammatic Underground pocket map, 1933

Ref. 1984-51-204

H C Beck was a draughtsman working in the signalling department when he designed his first ground-breaking Tube map in 1931. It was initially rejected, but Stingemore encouraged him to make some changes and try again a year later. This time it was accepted, still somewhat reluctantly, but when finally issued, it was an instant hit with the public.

The map today: pocket Underground map, December 2018

Ref. 2019-131

Remarkably, pocket Tube maps today are the same size as Stingemore’s three-panel maps of the 1920s, albeit with a fourth panel for the key to lines and other information. To fit the furthest reaches of the Overground into the same space, the central area has shrunk again, and text is much smaller. The District has shrunk too, as many western sections originally opened on the District are now only operated by the Piccadilly line.

We will continue to celebrate the District line’s 150th anniversary all throughout the year. Visit our website for more information about the District 150 celebrations.