Before I went to England, I read two books focused on the subterranean world of London, sewers and hidden rivers and the vast network of Tube tunnels, developing a fascination that I’ve had since college:
Those books led me to The Lure of the Underground, a weekly walking tour by London Walks. Except that this tour isn’t just walking, it’s hopping on Tube trains and visiting different stations while learning the history. I took the tour on my second full day in London, hoping that it would help me get comfortable with the practicalities of using the system — it worked!
I first learned about the map of the London Underground in a computer science class to illustrate the concept of abstraction. Harry Beck, an electrical draftsman, used circuitry as his inspiration to design the original map in 1933. The map ignores conventional map features like geography and distance to focus on lines and stops.
Of course, abstraction isn’t reality, so there are places where you would take two trains and a half hour to get between stations that are two blocks apart if you walk.
I learned on our tour that when a Londoner is asked to draw a map of the city, the result, invariably, looks more like the Underground map than it does like the real map. Of course, for Londoners, having the Underground map in your head is useful every day.
Are you a fan of the London Underground?