Cover image: 150 Years Underground

150 Years Underground

On 10 January 2013 the Tube (London Underground) celebrates its 150th birthday. The section of today’s Metropolitan line between Paddington and Farringdon opened on 10 Jan 1863 as the world’s first underground railway. We thought we’d take the opportunity of this anniversary to post a few teaching ideas and links relating to the Tube and other mass transport systems around the world.
Curriculum links
Geography – maps, transport History – World War II, London, social Art and Design - art and architecture of stations
This video clip could help introduce your lesson:  

About the Tube




  • The classic diagrammatic map that helps people to find their way around the Tube system is based upon an initial design by Harry Beck. In 2006 it was voted as one of the top three 'iconic' designs of the 20th century in a BBC poll.Exploring the London Tube map can be one way of getting KS3/4 students to learn about different types of map and how to use/interpret them. You could also get students to think about how the map influences their understanding of an area – size, layout etc.For KS4/5 students they could think about how Tube stations have influenced the areas around them – compare the Tube map with other maps, satellite images and other data - what has developed where?For primary, the Tube map could be a good introduction to using map keys – as it is quite simple and used for journey planning. For the very little ones it could be used for learning colours and numbers with the different zones.
  • The classic Tube map has become so well known that many people have created their own versions.In 1992 the artist Simon Patterson produced a work called The Great Bear, replacing the station names with the names of famous people such as philosophers, saints and actors. This is one of the best-known examples of the Tube map being played around with, and the ideas behind it are explored in an interesting blog post.Since then, lots of other alternative Tube maps have been created, many of which have been collected on the Londonist website (warning: not all of these are appropriate for use in class!). Interesting/educational examples include:
Perhaps your students could come up with their own versions of the Tube map?

Mass Transit Systems around the world

Metro Art and Design

  • The Metro Arts and Architecture web pagehas some great pictures and background information about the design and beauty of mass transit systems around the world. Some of the nicest image galleries are:
    • London Tube stations - featuring a range of architectural styles from the very modern back to the iconic stations from the 1940s and '50s as well as late 19th century ones.
    • Paris metro - featuring nice Art Nouveau touches such as the station entrances.
    • Stockholm Tunnelbana – many stations have been left as ‘rock caverns’; also 90% of them feature works of art and the town council has an allocated budget to maintain these.
    • The Moscow metro and St Petersburg metro both feature gorgeous, palace-like stations, complete with chandeliers.
    • The Tashkent metro stations are rather gorgeous too.

The future of mass transit?

There are claims that within the next 10 years a new Maglev vacuum tube system could transport you around the world in just six hours. Find out more on the Digital Trends website. The picture at the top of the page is by Sprengben on and used under a Creative Commons licence.