Revel In London History At Bed Time

13th Sep 2021
Revel In London History At Bed Time

Few things are more iconic than the London Underground. Whether it’s the ‘Tube’ nickname derived from the shape of the deep tunnels first bored in the early 20th century, the distinctive blue banner sign across the red circle, or the map itself, this is a design loved, repeated and emulated a myriad of times.

For some, this interest can extend to filling their room or even their entire home with memorabilia and iconography associated with the Underground, perhaps alongside images or models of other distinctly London things like red buses, furry-hatted Buckingham Palace Guards, Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

If you are one of those people, you might want to include this in your décor by adding a London underground duvet cover to your bed. This carries a representation of the famous Tube map as it covers the central London area, or, as locals would know it, Zones 1 and 2.

Some might ask where the popularity and familiarity with the Tube map came from in the first place. After all, one is unlikely to see duvet covers, towels or T-shirts bearing the map of the Glasgow Subway, the Tyne and Wear Metro or the Manchester Metrolink.

Part of the answer, of course, is the same as all those other distinctive markers of London: Simply by being part of the one of the world’s most famous cities, the underground map enjoys a familiarity thanks to the city’s high profile.

However, that is not the whole answer. Dating from 1863, London may have the oldest underground metro system in the world, one of just three in existence by 1900s (Budapest and Glasgow both started in 1896), but its mapping became convoluted, as was the case for many rail maps.

London had a much bigger issue with this than the other systems. Glasgow, despite many plans down the years for an expansion, has, unlike every other underground system in the world, never added to its original 15-station route (imagine London with just the Circle line). Budapest has added to its original line, but even today the city only has 52 stations with just three interchanges.

In London, things were different. As new deep tunnelling techniques created more lines the network expanded, interchanges proliferated, and the map got harder and harder to follow.

Then came a man called Harry Beck. An electrical draughtsman, Beck used the idea of a circuit board to design the iconic map we know today. He presented his idea in 1933.

Beck reasoned that as the trains were underground, it made no sense to create a map based on the actual scale and shape of the system. Instead, he decided, what really mattered was knowing where and how everything linked up as the various lines criss-crossed each other. So his schematic map was born.

London Underground’s publicity department initially rejected the idea as too radical. But a trail print run proved so popular with the public that it was soon adopted.

Of course, the exact form of the Tube network changed over time as some old stations have closed, whole new lines have been established, like the Jubilee line (opened 1979 and then extended in 1999), or even removed from the network entirely (the old East London line now forms a section of London Overground that’s actually mostly underground).

Despite all those changes, however - and more on the way with plans to extend the Bakerloo line in south London - the basic design format of the map remains unchanged.

That has not stopped others copying the idea or devising their own versions of the Tube map, which are equally handy for getting round Paris, Moscow or Tokyo; although New York seems to want to still use the sort of geographically-confusing sprawl of spaghetti Harry Beck has spared Londoners for the last 88 years. There are even websites that let people design their own fictional Tube maps.

Perhaps the simple reality is that because London got there first, both in building an underground and then creating a map that makes navigating this subterranean network simple, it has a status that nobody else can match.

All that means your London Underground duvet has an iconic quality no other city can match. What is more, as it is reversible you can enjoy it either side up.

Best of all, however, is the fact that it will provide you with comfort and rest, in contrast with the noise and crowds common to the experience of actually travelling on the Tube. It all means you can sleep peacefully and dream of your next trip to London.