Posted on

The Edwardian origins of the tri-fold tube map: fit for the waistcoat pocket

At the entrance of any modern Tube station are racks of passenger maps, free for anyone who needs one. The familiar format is very practical. Each map folds out to reveal three panels. It fits easily into the pocket and can be unfolded, even at platform level, without being carried away by a sudden gust of air, and without the user jabbing his neighbour in the ribs during rush hour. Small wonder that this has been the standard format since Fred Stingemore’s series of maps of the network were introduced in 1925. There were a couple of false starts, and we are left with the usual questions of who devised the format and when. I’m going to propose David Allen and Sons, in 1909.

David Allen & Sons was a general printers established in Belfast in the mid 19th century. They are not known as makers of Underground maps – this seems to be their only one – but they are known for their posters, including some very striking WW1 recruiting posters. I read recently in Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends that Kim Philby was tasked with ghost writing the centenary history of the firm for William Allen, ‘a very boring book about printing, ink and paper’. I checked, and unfortunately Philby/Allen makes no mention of our map. However, if you’ve read my recent posts about the Evening News, George Philip & Son and the introduction of colour to the London tube map, you’ll have some idea of how influential individual printing firms were in the design of pre WW1 Underground maps, before design was brought firmly in-house by the Underground Group in the 1920s. David Allen & Sons might quite easily have originated the three panel format and approached the UERL with the idea. Such an original proposal would explain why this appears to be the firm’s first foray into printing pocket tube maps (although the London Transport Museum holds a number of posters the company printed for the Underground Group and its predecessors). A lukewarm response to the map would also explain why it remained David Allen’s only tube map…

The map has traditionally been dated to circa 1911, for example by Leboff and Demuth (No Need to Ask, p. 56). The example we currently have in stock is unusual as it was issued by the Metropolitan Railway, which was not part of the Underground Group. The cover is therefore a variant, advertising the opening of Dollis Hill Station – which took place in October 1909. It seems reasonable to assume that a station would only have been advertised as ‘new’ for six months or so, giving us a date of late 1909 or early 1910. A year or so won’t transform our understanding of the evolution of the London Underground map, but it’s worth noting.

At 11 x 15 cm David Allen’s map is amongst the smallest ever issued to passengers. It may have fitted perfectly into an Edwardian waistcoat pocket but, with the best will in the world, it’s difficult to read. Similar problems affected MacDonald Gill’s tri-fold map of 1921, and the Met’s British Empire Exhibition Map of 1924.

Stingemore’s maps were a fraction larger (12.5 x 15 cm, soon increased to 14.2 x 16,6 cm). Even then, it was sometimes necessary to use arrows to link names to stations, but the format was viable. David Allen & Sons may not have got it quite right, but they were onto a winner. The huge and unwieldy District Railway maps, mostly approximately 65 x 105 cm (also mounted on linen and sold, rather than given away) had just given way to free paper maps, typically folding into eight panels. With the right design, tri-fold maps were a logical step forward.

View all available passenger maps

[Updated 23/09/16]

The number of states of this map keeps on rising, which is very encouraging. Following on from Einar’s comment, my friend Winfrid de Munck has written with details of these ‘nifty, very-much-ahead-of-their-time, tri-fold maps’ in his own collection. Both were issued by the Central London Railway and both refer to Bishopsgate rather than Liverpool Street (so both are pre-November 1909), but one has a dark blue border and the other’s is light blue. Here they are:




So we can now confidently assert that there are at least three states of the map itself (leaving aside the covers) produced before and after the renaming of Liverpool Street, which suggests that it had a longer life span that one might have thought.

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of Winfrid de Munck

4 thoughts on “The Edwardian origins of the tri-fold tube map: fit for the waistcoat pocket

  1. Hello Tim,

    A very interesting map, this one! I have a copy, and the map side is like the one you write about. I certainly agree with you that when they wrote about Dollis Hill being “new”, they probably also meant it!

    There is another interesting thing about the map: Bishopsgate is here called by its current name, Liverpool Street. That change took place in November 1909, I think. So it should be safe to date the map “not before November 1909”? The end date is more open, but Stamford Brook is not in the map, so before February 1912, at least. Other clues?? I don`t know.

    There is also another, earlier version of the Allen map; have you seen it? The border of that one is light blue. It does NOT mention Dollis Hill, so it is from before October 1909. Liverpool Street is called Bishopsgate. I do not know when it was printed, but since the White City exhibition area is called Shepherds Bush and not Franco-British Exhibition, I assume it is from after October 1908; 31/10 1908 being the last day of the F-B Exhib. So it was used for less than 1 year.

    Kind regards


    1. Thanks Einar, this really helps to pin it down, giving us at least two issues of the map itself, printed between November 1908 and January 1912, with the second of those issued after November 1909. A vast improvement on ‘circa 1911’. It also reveals that the response to the Allen map was favourable enough to warrant a second issue, which I find interesting. It’s become a very scarce map, but it can be so difficult to gauge the numbers printed and circulated from the number of survivors. I’m sure that we see some of the Edwardian green-bordered UERL maps a bit more often because they were protected by being tipped into guide books, and as far as I know the Allen map was always given out separately.

  2. One more thing:

    David Allen & Sons actually contributed more to the Underground maps than these first card issues: The last 4 of Stingemore`s Card maps, SC9 through SC12, were printed by the same firm. (At least that is what it says on my copies!) Philby definitely ought to have mentioned the company in connection with underground maps!

  3. Thanks Einar, this is very interesting. What we could all do with is a full-on carto-bibliography: names of all known draughtsmen and printers, and identification of the different states of each map, with details of line openings and closures, name changes, changes in colour scheme or to other decorative elements… the works. I’d love to see an attempt to record the full range of overprints too. Not that I’m in any way knocking the painstakingly compiled reference material which is already available (which would be the basis for anything new, and for which I’m always grateful) but let’s hope that someday someone will be crazy enough to take the job on!

    Thank you for reminding me about David Allen’s involvement with the last few Stingemore maps. Mind you, it supports what we’ve been discussing lately: before WW1 a new printer often brought a distinctive change in style, but after the war they seem to have been printing what they were given. Control of map design had been brought firmly in house, hence there is little to differentiate David Allen’s Stingemore maps from those printed by Waterlow and Sons. The same could be said of the Met. Just think of the 12 panel ‘Metropolitan Railway and Connections’ series, mostly issued 1921-33 and printed by Waterlow and Sons (naturally) but then Hanbury Tomsett & Co, Ltd; Knapp, Drewett & Sons, Ltd and Crescens, Robinson & Co, Ltd. And possibly others, but the point is that they are stylistically very similar – the printer changes, the map doesn’t. Like the Underground Group, the Met seems to have brought its design in-house.

Comments are closed.