Tag Archives: Underground maps

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

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.