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Mapping The Might Have Been

The moment you make a map there's a fairly good chance that it will be out of date. There's nothing wrong with this; anyone who works in the cartography or mapping fields will tell you that one of the biggest challenges in making maps is not making the map, it's keeping it up to date once it's made. Geography is constantly moving, changing, flowing thing.

One of the most fascinating aspects of old maps is not so much looking at what's changed since they were made, though that is fascinating enough, but of what might have been but then never was.

Regular readers of this blog may have worked out that out of all the maps there are, my favourite is the London Underground Tube map. A browse through the London Tube Map Archive shows just how much the Tube network has expanded and contracted over the years and how stations have changed not only in name but sometimes in position as well. But some of these maps also show what was planned but which was never realised; as Trent Reznor once put it "all the what abouts, the might have and could have beens". Take a look at this map of the network from 1938.

1938 Tube Map

The lines marked under contruction are part of what was called the New Works Programme and some of them that are shown on the map did get built. The eastern and western Central Line extensions were completed, though only as far as West Ruislip in the east and not to Denham as planned. The extension of the Bakerloo line from Baker Street to Stanmore was also built and now forms part of today's Jubilee Line. But the Northern Heights Plan, the criss cross of lines branching off from the Northern Line never reached completion. The extension north of Edgware, the link between Edgware and Mill Hill East to Finchley and the extension to Alexandra Palace from Finsbury Park via Highgate were all finally dropped in 1954.

2004 Tube Map

There's a strange parallel between 1939's Tube map and one produced by Transport For London in 2004, showing how the map would look in 2016. A scaled down version of Crossrail is currently being tunneled underneath central London, but there's no sign yet of the Cross River Transit linking Brixton and Peckham with Camden, nor is there any sign of the West London Transit linking Shepherds Bush with Uxbridge via Ealing Broadway. Heathrow Terminal 5 on the Piccadilly Line was built and now links to Paddington but as part of the Heathrow Express and not Crossrail and there's no sign of the Metropolitan Line linking Watford and Watford Junction.

As a closing note which will probably be only of interest to my Teddington readers (Hi Ed !!), a branch of Crossrail was also planned to start at Kingston and link with the main Crossrail route somewhere west of today's Ladbroke Grove station, taking in Teddington, Twickenham and Richmond along the way. In the light of today's spending cuts and economic climate, it sadly looks like the scope of the network envisaged back in 2004 will never be fully realised, consigning 2004's map of the Underground network to the same level of historical curiosity that 1938's map has today.

Map Credits: London Reconnections and The London Tube Map Archive.

Gary Gale

I'm Gary ... a Husband, Father, CTO at Kamma, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user