London Transportation Tips by CatherineReichardt
London Transportation: 1,801 reviews and 1,623 photos
Harry Beck's original Underground map
Phew! Having finally summed up the courage to write up Phyllis Pearsall, who developed the iconic London A-Z streetfinder, it's now time to move onto Harry Beck, originator of the equally iconic London Underground (Tube) Map.
The mild mannered Harry Beck - who worked for London Transport - received a paltry 5 guineas (£5.25) for developing what was arguably the most influential transport map of all time. 'His' map was published in 1933, and has since served as the template for virtually every other metropolitan transport system ever since. Challenged with trying to depict an extremely complex system in 'user friendly' terms, the leap of logic that Harry made was to dispense with physical realities such as distance and drection, and instead focus on the spatial relationships between stations.
This was a spectacularly bold - but very necessary - departure from previous methods of presenting information. Beck's map was a case study in topology and allowed travellers to understand how the increasingly complex web of Tube lines interacted without being burdened by irrelevant information in the dense network of stations within central London.
I have a passion for poster art, and to this day, one of my favourite London Transport posters - and that's saying a lot - is of the London Underground map depicted as snakes of oil paint squeezed out of tubes (if nothing else, you've got to love the pun!).
Having read a reasonable amount about both of these individuals, it is tempting to speculate on how these two cartographic trailblazers would have got on, particularly given that they were exact contemporaries. Phyllis was priveleged, entrepreneurial, dogged and pushy, whereas it appears that Harry Beck was an unassuming 'back room boy' and just wanted to do a good job ... at best, I suspect that Phyllis would have happily welcomed the hardworking Harry into her employ, and I have little doubt that they would have disliked each other!
If you're interested in this subject, might I recommend that you consider buying 'Mr Beck's Underground Map' by Ken Garland as an imaginative memento of your time in London? This terrific book tells the story of the Tube map's evolution, including numerous illustrations that document the various map incarnations over the years. This is available from the fabulous gift shop at the exceptional London Transport Museum, and would be a fascinating addition to anyone's coffee table!
It is a very rare traveller that is not overwhelmed by the sheer size and sprawl of London, and even Central London - which contains the majority of the 'first division' tourist attractions - is large and spread out. Such is the scale that even detailed tour guides struggle to present street maps in a legible format, and chances are that if you're staying for more than a day or two, you'll end up buying your own copy of the London A-Z streetfinder.
The A-Z is as typical of London as red buses and black taxi cabs, and EVERY Londoner has at least one - usually several - lurking around the house. The cheaper version (which was my Bible as a student in London) has the original black and white layout, which has a distinctive sketchlike quality, but is in fact highly accurate and manages to present a staggering amount of information in a manner that is detailed but useable. The A-Z also debuted the groundbreaking grid reference system (alphabetic on one axis and numerical on the other) that has been used by thousands of city maps ever since.
The A-Z in itself is extremely interesting, but even more fascinating is the story of its creator, Phyllis Pearsall. Phyllis was the daughter of a map publisher - Sandor Gross - a flamboyant Hungarian who had made (and later lost) his fortune by preparing maps that were used by newspapers to illustrate the conflicts of the First World War. She was well educated and studied as a portrait painter before entering into an illadvised marriage to a friend of her brother whom she subsequently divorced.
Astonishing though it may seem, the original A-Z maps were compiled solely by Phyllis herself, who spent a year walking and mapping London's 23,000 streets (with a total length of 3,000 miles, although she must have walked several times this distance) just before the Second World War. She transcribing her surveys at night and then handed them over to a single draftsman (a long suffering Mr Fountain) to prepare the proofs for printing.
She established her own company (the Geographers' A-Z Map Company) and self published the guide in 1936, coining the catchy name 'A-Z', which most copywriters would give their eye teeth to have come up with. It was initially difficult to generate interest in such a book, but - quite literally having done the 'hard yards' - Pearsall was at least as persistent a marketer as she was a mapmaker. Eventually she persuaded (one might speculate, browbeat) the book chain W.H. Smith to take 250 copies, which she delivered in a wheelbarrow, not being able to afford more conventional transport. And, as they say, the rest is history ...
Like so many who seek to 'demystify' complex arts and professions, serious cartographers regarded Phyllis' work with contempt and disdain, and she was alleged to be a spy providing information to assist the Nazis in their invasion.
Unlike Harry Beck, who developed London's other cartographic icon, the London Underground Map - and was paid a risible 5 guineas (£5.25) by London Transport for his troubles - at least the entrepreneurial Phyllis got rich on the proceeds of her endeavours, although her workaholic tendencies meant that she never fully enjoyed her wealth. She was involved in a plane crash in 1945 which left her with injuries that would have killed off lesser mortals, but despite this, she lived to the age of 90.
Because of the subsequent proliferation of A-Z products, I have found it impossible to determine how many editions the A-Z has been through, or how many copies have been sold.
Nicholas Crane claims in his Map Man TV programme that all A-Z maps include a fictitious 'trap street' that does not exist in reality so that the company can identify breaches of copyright - an innovation that carries all the hallmarks of the commercially minded Mrs Pearsall!
If you would like to know more about the unique Mrs Pearsall, may I suggest that you consider buying "Mrs P's Journey" by Sarah Hartley, a novel based on her life? It's a colourful romp of a read (even if slightly cavalier with the truth, if certain reviewers be believed), and ideal holiday fodder for that long haul flight, especially if London is your destination!
This last trip to London was the first time that we have used the Stansted Express, and I must say that we were very impressed.
The service runs every 15 minutes between Liverpool Street Station in Central London (connecting to the Central, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines) and the service also stops at Tottenham Hale in North London which connects to the Victoria Line. From Liverpool Street to Stansted takes 46 minutes (about 30 minutes from Tottenham Hale), and both the time and cost of using this service is much less than any other transport option to Stansted. It is also more predictable as it avoids the uncertainty associated with roadworks or heavy traffic
The service from Liverpool Street begins at 04:10 in the morning (there is also a 03:40 service on a Monday) and the last service departs at 23:25
From Stansted to Liverpool Street, the service begins at 05:30 in the morning and the last service departs at 00:30 (with 01:00 and 01:30 services on Sundays).
At the time of writing (January 2011) second class open (ie. not limited to a particular day) tickets for an adult were £21 for a single and £29.70 for a return (with kids tickets costing £10.50 and £14.85 respectively), so it's definitely worth buying a return rather than two single tickets. If you book online (see website below) you can save up to £2, as well as the hassle of queuing for the ticket office.
From the station, it is a short walk into the terminal building, and the entire route is undercover.
Once upon a time when I was a girl, there was the Red Bus Rover - the day pass that allowed you unlimited access to London buses and all the magical possibilities that went with that.
This was superceded by the Travel Card, which allowed you unlimited access to the London Transport system for the duration of your stay - all you had to work out was which zones you wanted covered (the more zones, the more expensive) and how long a period the card should be valid for. And then the Oyster Card was introduced and things got more confusing ...
Essentially the Travel Card gives unlimited access to travel within selected zones for a set period of time. By contrast, the Oyster Card is a 'pay as you go' system which is not limited to a particular time period. I am not going to try and explain the complex details and conditions of each in any greater detail or take credit for someone else's work, so instead I will happily direct you to the website detailed below, which gives a simple, easy-to-use comparison of both options. It's then up to you to decide which meets your needs more closely ...
As most foreigners will know, Londoners spend a good amount of their time queueing and get very shirty if people are perceived to be queue jumping!
One place that London commuters spend a lot of time queuing is on the escalators linking the Tube to surface. Just in case you are worried about the etiquette, never fear, it's the same as driving: Brits queue on the left hand side (adjacent to the posters on the wall) and pass on the right!
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