MapCarte 15/365: Wonderground map of London Town by MacDonald Gill, 1914


The mapping of London’s Underground rail network predates the classic maps by Harry Beck but as significant features of the landscape the stations play a central role on this beautifully detailed and humorous map from 1914. Drawn by MacDonald Gill, the map was not designed for navigation or any functional use but, rather, as a story of a range of countless incidental details of London’s attractions.

The map was commissioned as an attempt to overcome the perception of the underground as overcrowded, dirty place with train services that were frequently late. The company was losing money as the trains were empty at weekends. The map, then, was central to a re-branding effort and presented a somewhat impressionable, romantic vision of train travel in an attempt to lure passengers to use the service. Hung at every station, it mixed topographical inaccuracy with a cartoon style and became extremely popular. It also became the first poster to be sold to the public and the tube to this day has a strong connection to artistic works.

Gill himself went on to design the official Underground maps between 1920-1924 and has another association with the tube in his tutor, Edward Johnston, who was himself commissioned to design the now famous letter form for the network.  The map is full of pithy stories and invites people to engage with the landscape proving that detail is often key to making a good map.

There’s a fantastic article on the history of the map including a hi-res version that allows you to explore the map in detail on the BBC web site here.

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  1. Pingback: MapCarte 266/365: Wonder map of Melbourne by John Power Studios, 1934 | Commission on Map Design

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