Finchley: Who was Harry Beck?

First appeared in the December 2009 issue.

By Bardia Khorshidian

Henry Charles Beck, better known as Harry Beck, is the man responsible for the design of the current London Underground network map. This achievement is extremely noteworthy, since his map is not accurately representative of the geographical locations of its constituent stops and stations. Beck’s map is topological – a simplified map which eliminates unnecessary detail such as scale and distance between stops, while maintaining the overall relationship between stations.

Beck’s design has remained largely unchanged since its original publication in 1933. A copy of his original map can be found on the southbound platform of Finchley Central station, alongside a plaque in his memory. Another plaque, organised by The Finchley Society in 2003, adorns his former residence at 60 Courthouse Road. Finchley Central was Beck’s local station, despite the fact that he lived just a stone’s throw from West Finchley station. This is because West Finchley station, which opened in 1933 for LNER steam trains, was not served by London Underground trains until 1940, well after the publication of Beck’s map.

Beck went on to design two versions of a topological map for the Paris Metro, but his designs were rejected. His London map has been recognised as a design classic, and can be found emblazoned on a vast range of merchandise peddled mainly to tourists, on the streets of London and even on the internet. The map is synonymous with London and is now recognised the world over.

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