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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): the heart of geography
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Mapping London - present maps

“The city is a machine for teaching people to be city-dwellers. But first it necessitates submission, which it extracts by means of its scale, but also its complexity, its confusions – its tangle.”

Key question

  • What do maps of London 2014 tell us about the city?

Subject content areas

  • Locational knowledge: London Underground and the relationship to central London. Key locations along the network
  • Place knowledge: London as a city. Central London and key tourist landmarks
  • Human and Physical Geography: Transport and communications. Tourism from other parts of the world. Landmarks in the city of London
  • Geographical Skills and Fieldwork: Opportunities for fieldwork for schools based in London. Internet research. Google Maps and Google Earth being used for 3D visualisations



Show a London Tube map as a starter – this could be an image, or you may have the map as a leaflet or printed format, or as an app on a mobile device. The map was first developed in 1931 by Harry Beck, and is based on electrical circuitry. The actual orientation of the lines on the diagram does not match the actual routes of the lines, or the position of the stations.

The map has gone through a lot of changes over the years, as can be viewed on this animation. Go to the Doug Rose website.

Watch this short video, which shows the differences between the underground map and the real topography. Go to the Fourthway website.

This distortion is something that we have become accustomed to as we look at the map of the Underground.

Share any underground stories that students may have.

Does it matter that the underground map does not match the actual locations on the surface?

Could also show them examples where the tube map has been changed to show other things such as the Great Bear, or this Sony music example. Go to the Ads of the World website


What kinds of maps are there which attempt to show London?

Explore this Pinterest board:

  • Which of these maps do you think are the most successful in representing London?
  • Which of these maps would you find most useful when exploring London today?
  • Which maps do different groups of people need? Are there groups of people who are not represented here, or who might have difficulty moving through the city?

Thirdspace Activity

Richard Bustin is a Geography teacher at Bancroft’s School in Essex. He has written some materials related to the way that people experience cities in different ways depending on their own circumstances.

These different ways are summed up in the Thirdspace presentation, which has been created as part of the unit.

Use this to explore the different ways that London is experienced by the people who live there. Depending on your school location and the personal experiences of students, there will be different levels of engagement with the city.

Questions for discussion:

  • Does London still welcome those seeking to improve or change their lives?
  • How do maps change our perception of the city?

Use the Role Cards sheet to guide discussions on the maps which these people would use most often, or find most useful.


One of Richard’s ideas is that the experience of London will be different to tourists than it will be for residents. Each year millions of people are added to the permanent residents as tourists.
If we look at the top ten most visited UK attractions, most of those are also in London. Go to the Telegraph website.

This word cloud represents the ideas that around 30 geography teachers suggested when they were asked what things they would most visit if they only had a short time in London.

Mapping London lesson 3 wordle
Create one for your own group, using one of a range of word cloud generator options that exist e.g. TagCrowd, Wordle, Tagxedo

You may also be aware of an app for your tablet that will do something similar e.g. WordFoto, WordPack

Extension activity

Although a little fiddly, this website allows students to create their own tube lines with stops which they name themselves. They could make one to sum up their learning ‘journey’ through the unit, for example. Got to the Beno website

Additional reading

Go to the Geographical Association websites.

Mayor of London

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