Monday 19 February 2024

Confusing Cartographic Colours

Harry And The Amazing Technicolour Tube Map

It is not generally known that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were very dedicated London Underground enthusiasts. When the idea of a map including national rail lines ...
... was mooted, Andy and Tim were aghast with the complexity of too many colours; and they set about writing a musical based on the life of Harry Beck, 'inventor" of the iconic diagram.
Unfortunately the promoters thought that such a story would not be "commercial" and the idea was dropped. Some of the songs were re-written and became part of an LP record and later a show, believe it or not, about an obscure character from the Book Of Genesis in the Bible.

There have been suggestions that the original book and lyrics should be revived, particularly now that transport for London is intending to change the distinctive Overground orange for multi-coloured lines.

fbb has been able to obtain the lyrics for this re-write and up-date of one of the original songs.

Harry's map was elegant,
it looked so fine
The tasteful style was
the ultimate in good design
And this is why it caught the eye
We all would stop and stare

Harry loved his map of many colours
In a class above the rest
It really was the very best
Such a stunning map of many colours
How he loved his map of many colours

It was red and yellow and green
and brown and blue

London Transport
weren't too pleased with what they saw
They had never
seen a style like that before 
But now this map
Had filled a gap
They gave it just one try.

And when posters graced the scene
The bosses turned a shade of green
The astounding graphics 
took the biscuit
From Metropolitan to the District
It was handsome, it was smart
It was a gorgeous work of art.

But the redrawn map of many colours
Does it now have just too many colours?

It’s now red and yellow
and green and brown
And scarlet and black and 
ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and 
chocolate and mauve
And cream and crimson and 
silver and rose
And azure and lemon and 
russet and grey
And purple and white and 
pink and orange

It's just too cluttered 
and tough for me and YOU!

So what is all the fuss about?

A year or so back we were told that the Overground lines were to be given separate names ...
... but the orange colour of the lines on the map would stay the same. For those less familiar with the London rail set up, here is a chunk of the Overground map showing several of the indistinctly separate services.
See, all orange! Confusing, innit?

But then came the announcement that the lines would get new names and new colours.

So, here we go.

The Watford Line (a name used since before the flood) ...
... is to be known at the Lioness line. A silly name that may well become more meaningless if the footy playing girls start being beaten!

The frequent suburban servicep from Liverpool Street to ...
... Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford, (known on-and-off as the Jazz Service) is to be the Weaver line.

The Gospel Oak to Barking line (always called Goblin) ...
... will become the Suffragette line.

The East London line with its multiple destinations ...
... becomes the Windrush line.

The West London cum North London lines ...
... takes the strangest of all the names, the Mildmay line. The Mildmay Hospital, after which it is named isn't even ON the line!

Which leaves the tiny illogical offshoot from Romford to Upminster which ...
... has to have a name. Why? 

It is called the Liberty line.

Actually, fbb thinks these names are all poor. They have been chosen mostly to be "politically correct" but they have no geographical or historical justification whatsoever.

It would appear that there is to be no "consultation" on the names.

Many commentators have offered suggestions, so fbb will add his few ramblings to the mix, adding a few more.

The City branch of the Northern line - Angel
(colour as close to gold as possible)
London Underground have been threatening this Northern line split for years.

The Circle, Hammersmith and City 
and Wimbledon lines
become the City Link

East London lines - Circle East

North/West London lines - Circle West

Gospel Oak to Barking - Goblin

Liverpool Street lines - Jazz

Watford line - Bakerloo
There is some sense in making the Watford line part of the Bakerloo - especially if there is a decision to extend Underground trains from Harrow and Wealdstone to Watford again!

Romford to Upminster - Emerson Link 
coloured as the Elizabeth Line line.

Thaneslink - no change of name.

Next to tackle is the knitting that is the Docklands Light Railway. The routes actually operated by real physical trains are complicated and there are timetabled "short workings" on two of them. Perhaps the best starter is to use the TfL "official" map. So we have:-

Lewisham to Stratford via Bow OR  to Bank

Woolwich to Stratford via West Ham OR to Bank

Beckton to Tower Gateway.

Other cartographic enthusiasts offer routes D1 to D8 which seems excessive in detail and confusing in colour. Multiple blues are, again, applied to all 8.

Should something like the Overground change be considered?

Then there is the Croydon Tram network of four routes.

A Simple Solution?
Go to Paris. 

Direction signs for all public transport are thoroughly consistent wherever you are. Here are some samples.

M is Metro (lines 1 to 14), RER is cross-city suburban trains (lines A B C D E) with the other letters (e.g. H, K) denoting SNCF suburban routes from Paris termini. 

BUS services are shown in rectangles ...
... and in the centre of the city, colour coded and even internally illuminated at the stops.
Further out, you have trams, currently numbered T1 to T13.

In London we would have :

U - Underground

S - Frequent suburban
     Crossrail 2 ???

other "S' lines can be added as appropriate.

T - Tram (wil we ever get any more?)
     T1 to T4 in Croydon

D - Docklands
      D1 to D5 ???

Slowly but surely, the older names can quietly fade away. 

It will never happen because the present Underground names are so interwoven into the capital's psyche that removing them will be impossible and very unpopular.

Maybe a subtle approach might work.

ANYTHING but the new Overground names!

 Next London blog : Tuesday 20th February 


  1. Goblin will always be the Goblin line. And D.C. Electrics is a much more durable name for the Watford line than a transient ladies football team.

  2. The Liberty line have a sound historic and geographic relevance: it runs entirely in what for centuries was the Royal Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower, and which is commemorated locally in the naming of a school and two shopping centres. Probably also (coincidentally) alludes to the politically very distinct, very un-London , outlook of the area too.

    Most of the other new line names are much less fitting, and Lioness is preposterous

  3. Fortunately "Thameslink" has replaced "BedPan" in popular parlance! I think that "DC Electrics" made sense when it was basically the only electric service north of the river - not so sure today.