When did maps first appear in England?
The Town Plan
The Rise of the County Map
The Industrial Age
All at Sea
When were road maps invented?
Mapping the Rocks
The Ordnance Survey
Colour printing arrives
Maps below ground?
The Streets of London
New Directions

  This brief history is a bringing together of maps from many internet sources. The magnifying glass icons lead to enlargements for detailed study. For more information on a particular map, an image search on the name will reveal my original source pages which existed in December 2008.

When did maps first appear in England?

  The earliest maps produced in England were the religious world maps or in Latin mappa mundi. Probably one of the most famous is the Mappa Mundi which is displayed in Hereford Cathedral and was drawn around 1300 AD on vellum (a single calfskin). It was intended to include all known places but also to be instructional and include historical information so the shape of the land is more artistic than realistic. It is centered on the city of Jerusalem as the religious heart of the known world, east is to the top and the British Isles are tucked down on the bottom left of the map (see enlarged picture). It measures 1.58 by 1.33 metres.

Mappa Mundi, Hereford

  An earlier map from around 1000 AD is found in Sir Robert Cotton’s seventeenth century library which is now in the British Library collection; the map shows the Roman provinces in detail and, as usual, Britain is again relegated to the bottom left corner of the map. The green button links to a traced copy with the names printed and easier to read, dating from around 1836.

The Cotton Map

  Bound in between the Topographia Hiberniae and the Expungnatio Hibernica in Gerald of Wales codex is a map of Europe. The important cities of Rome and Constantinople are shown but also an indication of the British Isles with the rivers Thames and Severn and the cities of Ebor (York), Lincoln, London and Winchester. It measures 67 by 45 cm and was drawn around 1200 AD.

The Gower Map

  Brother Matthew of Paris (ca.1200 - 1259) was an English chronicler, a Benedictine monk in St.Albans Abbey from 1217 to 1259. His maps include a mappamundi, a London-Rome itinerary, a schematic diagram of the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England (Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia and Suffolk) and this map of the British Isles.

The Matthew Paris Map Enlarge

  The map bought by collector Richard Gough for a half-crown (one-eighth of £) at a sale of antiquarian Thomas Martin’s collection in 1774 is probably the earliest known map of the British Isles in existence. It is drawn on two pieces of vellum and measures 115cm wide by 55 cm high. It dates from around 1360 and curiously has east to the top of the map. It does not show roads but routes are given by straight red lines between towns and cities with distances in leagues (the distance a person, or a horse, can walk in 1 hour of time - usually about 3.5 miles or 5.5 kilometres) given in Roman numerals. The coast of England is well rendered and the compiler knew the main carrier routes, their intersections and the way they related to the river systems. It seems to show the most accurate detail for areas the troops reached during Edward I’s military expeditions into Wales and Scotland.

The Gough Map Enlarge Enlarge Enlarge

There are four basic groups of symbols representing settlements: houses, towns with and without walls, cathedral cities and monasteries with crossed spires and castles with towers and/or crenellations.

The Gough Map buildings

Queen’s University has created a ‘Gough Map Viewer’ at http://www.qub.ac.uk/urban_mapping/gough_map/

  The craft of cartography was boosted by the Italian invention of printing maps from copper plates in 1473, while advances in scientific learning helped the Dutch and Flemish to become the masters of map making by the late 1500’s. Martin Waldseemüller published a map of the British Isles in 1522 in his in Cosmographiae Introductio.

Waldseemüller - British Isles Enlarge

Angliæ figura is a manuscript map from the Cotton Library dating ca. 1540 and shows latitude and longitude based on a meridian west of the British Isles.

Angliae figura Enlarge

  The first map printed from copper-engraved plates known of Britain is Britanniæ Insulæ, drawn in 1546 by George Lily. He was a Catholic, exiled by Henry VIII to Rome, where the map was printed as an illustration for a book on the British Isles written by a Roman bishop.

Lily - 1546 Enlarge

  Gerardus Mercator, actual name Gerhard Kramer, (1512-1594), the Flemish cartographer, published this map of the British Isles in his 1595 world atlas, Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura. Incidentally this is the first time the word ‘atlas’ was used as a description. One further edition was published by the Mercator family in Duisberg in 1602 but, in 1604, the copperplates for the atlas were sold and in 1606, Jocodus Hondius introduced a revised edition of Mercator’s atlas but included this map from the Mercator plates. This particular map appeared in the Latin edition of the Mercator Hondius Atlas of 1613.

Mercator Map Enlarge

Les Isles Britanniques : qui contiennent les royaumes d’Angleterre, Escosse & Irelande, distingues en leurs principales provinces, subdivisees en leurs shireries, ou comtes, tire de G. Cammdene, Chr. Saxton, I. Speede, T. Pont, R. Gordon, et de I.B. Boazius’ was published in 1673 by Nicholas Sanson. In 1683 it appeared in Description de tout L’Univers.

Sanson Map

The Town Plan

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  Town plans were slow to appear in England as most towns were so small as to make a plan unecessary and it was the sixteenth century before plans began to appear in books. They were woodcuts and show views with buildings shown in elevation. This is Norwich in William Cunningham’s surveying book of 1558.

Cunningham - Norwich

  William Smith’s 1568 map, Brightstowe, vulgo; quondam venta, florentissimum Angliae Emporium. was published in Cologne by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg in 1588. From the book Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Towns of the World), which took Braun, the editor, and Hogenberg, the engraver, over twenty years to produce. It was issued in six volumes from 1572 to 1617 to complement Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas. The sheep are a reminder that Bristol was an important city for the British wool trade.

Smith - Bristol Enlarge

  The ‘Agas’ map is the earliest printed map - or rather map view - of London. The Guildhall Library in London, the Public Record Office and Magdalene College, Cambridge hold the only three known impressions. They were printed from a set of eight woodblocks and published in 1633. The map is based on a larger map printed from copper plates in the 1550‘s. The date of the first printing of the ‘Agas’ map can be fixed between 1561 and 1571 from topographical evidence. It is almost certainly not by Ralph Agas but his name has been associated with the map for centuries. In fact its designer and engraver are unknown. It is believed to have been commissioned by Queen Mary.

London Enlarge Enlarge

This is a map by Ralph Agas of Oxford published in 1578.

Agas’ Oxford Map

The Rise of the County Map

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  Counties were the important administrative area in the sixteenth century and the first English printed maps were a County Series by Christopher Saxton, a Yorkshire estate surveyor born in 1542. There were 34 maps surveyed and engraved between 1573 and 1577 and published in a bound volume in 1579. Two government ministers Sir Thomas Seckford and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, commissioned the maps for state use. There is no standard symbols key and no lines of latitude or longitude; also no routes or roads are shown. In fact the main feature is his curious ‘sugar-loaf’ hills. However Elizabeth I seems to have been satisfied and, on July 20th 1577, granted Saxton a licence for the exclusive publication of the maps for a ten year period. This is Herefordshire engraved by William Hole in William Camden’s ‘Britannia’ 3rd Latin edition 1627 based on Saxton’s map. Camden died in 1623 but editions of his work (in English) continued to be published until 1722. It was the first descriptive survey of the British Isles.

Saxton - Herefordshire Enlarge

  The first estate maps were essentially diagrams accompanying written descriptions. These were supplemented by enclosure maps which showed areas of communal land to be enclosed by agreement and from 1590, with improved surveying tools, these were drawn with greater accuracy. From 1770 Parliamentary enclosures had legal authority. This is an early map of the Charterhouse estate in the parish of Broad Hinton, Wiltshire in 1616 showing large, open fields divided into tenants’ strips, and some more recently enclosed fields to the left.

The Charterhouse Estate Map

  Three men, John Norden, William Smith and John Speed, worked on updating Saxton’s maps adding roads and a key. John Norden, a Somerset estate surveyor, invented the triangular table of distances that is still familiar today at the back of road atlases and also overlaid a grid with reference numbers and letters so you refer to the square where a feature appeared. In 1625 he began publishing a series of county histories with maps - England, an Intended Guyde for English Travailers incorporating roads for the first time and his mileage tables, explained thus:

The use of this Table.

The Towns or places between which you desire to know,
the distance you may find in the names of the Towns in
the upper part and in the side, and bring them in a square
as the lines will guide you: and in the square you shall
find the figures which declare the distance of the miles.
  And if you find any place in the side which
will not extend to make a square with that above, then
seeking that above which will not extend to make a square,
and see that in the upper, and the other side, and it will
show you the distance. It is familiar and easy.
    Bear with defects, the use is necessary.

Invented by JOHN NORDEN


The reworking of survey data brought up some curious anomalies. There is a story that Saxton missed out the name of the village of North Burcomb on his Wiltshire map of 1576, John Speed added ‘query’ to this point, and Robert Morden around 1700 took this as a village name, ‘Quare’.

John Speed portrait

  John Speed’s Jacobean atlas, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was published in 1611 (First Edition) in London by John Sudbury & George Humble. It could be bought in black and white or hand-coloured which added about half as much again to the price. Further editions followed in 1616 and 1627. It was based on Saxton’s surveys but improvements included the marking of Hundred boundaries and the inclusion of town plans. The engraving was carried out by the Flemish engraver Jodocus Hondius Senior (1563-1612), a leading engraver and mapmaker in Amsterdam who had lived in England from 1583 to 1593. The county shown in the examples below is Herefordshire; the three versions show very clearly the difference a good hand colourist can make to legibility and presentation.

Enlarge Enlarge Enlarge

  The next map is from the 1616 edition of John Speed’s map of the British Isles. It is based on Saxton’s England and Wales, the 1591 Hondius map of Ireland and Mercator’s map of Scotland. Uniquely it includes panoramas of London and Edinburgh, reflecting the recent Union of the Crowns. Also shown are two ancient coin portraits of Britannia and Cunobelinus. The seas are full of monsters, sailing ships, and animals of the realm while cherubs with geographical instruments support the mileage scale in the lower left corner and the Royal Arms appear at upper left above the image of London. The attractiveness of Speed’s maps always made them best-sellers.

Speed 1616 GB Map Enlarge

  John Speed produced this world map in “Prospect Of The Most Famous Parts Of The World” first published by George Humble in 1627. This was the first world atlas produced in England and is full of interesting details including portraits, the elements, constellations and eclipses. California is shown as an island and this fact was copied on many subsequent maps.

Speed 1626 World Map Enlarge

  On Lewis’s Map of England and Wales of 1640 is this illustration of the General Post Office in London from where all distances from London were measured.

London Post Office

  John Seller’s map of Surrey in 1695, probably surveyed by John Oliver, was published in an atlas, Anglia Contracta, or a Description of the Kingdom of England. These maps were some of the first showing longitude using St Paul’s Cathedral in London as the prime meridian.

John Seller’s Surrey map Enlarge

The Industrial Age

A Plan of the River Tees and of the intended Navigable Canal from Stockton by Darlington to Winston in the Bishoprick of Durham is a fine example of the engraved maps needed to impress investors to join the project. This was published in 1772 in the Gent Magazine and is based on a survey by Richard Whitworth.

Whitworth’s Canal Survey Map Enlarge

  The Manchester Ship Canal was a little larger. Thirty-six miles (58km)long it was built to link the industrial centre of Manchester to the port of Liverpool and still operates today (2010). It was designed by civil engineer Sir Edward Leader Williams. However an important local landowner, Sir Humphrey de Trafford, opposed its construction and work only began two years after his death. This was the final approved plan and Queen Victoria officially opened ‘The Big Ditch’ (its local nickname) on 21st May 1894.

The Manchester Ship Canal Enlarge

All at Sea

  Coastal guides for seafarers first appeared around 1528 with Robert Copland’s translation of Pierre Garcie’s Le Grant Routtier as The Rutter of the Sea which included soundings, wind and tidal flows around the south coast of England. This developed into the Portolan chart. However Mercator’s new map projection of 1569, designed to assist sailors, was eventually used in Sir Robert Dudley’s Arcano del Mare or Secrets of the Sea. This was the first atlas published on Mercator’s projection, the first sea atlas to cover the whole world. Dudley, the son of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, was a political exile from England at the time. The maps were engraved by Antonio Francesco Lucini and was first published in 1646 in Florence and a second, enlarged edition appeared, posthumously, in 1661.

Dudley Map

  By 1675, John Seller’s ‘Atlas Maritimus’ or the ‘Sea-Atlas’ included more practical and accurate charts showing compass points and bearings. ‘A Chart of the Brittish Chanel’ by John Seller Hydrographer to the Kings Most Excellent Majestie (King Charles II) makes an interesting comparison to the Dudley map. As the King’s Hydrographer, Seller was granted a 30-year privilege giving him a monopoly on publishing nautical atlases in England.

Seller’s Atlas Maritimus Seller’s Chart of the Brittish Chanel

When were road maps invented?

  People had always written down itineries for journeys between cities and Matthew Paris was the first to draw a strip road map for the route from London to Rome. However John Ogilby from Dundee (1600 - 1676) took this idea and developed it into a complete set of strip maps for the post roads of England and Wales. He published these in Britannia in 1675, a 300-sheet volume with map pages 34 by 46cm, using a map scale of 1 inch to 1 mile. It was dedicated to His Majesty Charles II, who in the previous year had made John Ogilby ‘His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographick Printer’ with a salary of £13.6s.8d per annum.

Ogilby - 1675 Enlarge Ogilby Road Map Enlarge

In the Delineation or Decyphering these Roads upon Copper-Sculptures:

1. We have Projected them upon imaginary Scrolls, the Initial City or Town being always
    at the Bottom of the outmost Scroll on the Left Hand; whence your Road ascends to
    the Top of the said Scroll; then from the Bottom of the next Scroll ascends again, thus
    constantly ascending till it terminate at the Top of the outmost Scroll on the Right Hand,
    as by the Succession of Figures representing the Miles, mostly plainly appears.

2. The Road itself is express’d by double Black Lines if included by Hedges, or Prick’d Lines
    if open; but if the Road be describ’d altogether by Black Lines or Prick’d Lines throughout
    the whole Plate, then the Distinction aforesaid of Encl’d and Open is omitted.

3. The Scale by which the said Road is Protracted, is according to one Inch to a Mile,
    or the 63'360th. Part of a Mile; the said Miles being exprest by double Points, and
    numbered by the Figures 1, 2, 3, etc. Each subdivided into 8 Furlongs, represented
    by the single Points included between the said double Ones.

  Thomas Kitchin drew and engraved a set of road maps in Kitchin’s Post-Chaise Companion through England and Wales which was published by John Bowles in 1767. The maps were originally prepared by John Senex in An Actual Survey Of all the Principal Roads of England and Wales. He printed and sold them at the Globe in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street in 1719. They were updated and had additions by Kitchin.

Kitchin - 1767 Enlarge

  In 1741 surveyor Thomas Badeslade and engraver William Toms published Chorographia Britanniæ, a county atlas dedicated to the Prince Regent, later George II. Now useful notes were appearing. This is the 1742 edition.

Enlarge Enlarge

  In the 1700’s, few new surveys were carried out and, following the passing of England’s first copyright law which discouraged copying of earlier maps, the newly-formed Society of Arts instituted a competition to encourage new map production in 1759. By coincidence the last great county mapmaker, John Cary, produced his first engraved plan in 1779 and published his The New and Correct English Atlas whuch was completed in 1809. It was so popular that a Cary became an essential household reference book. This is his ‘A New Map of Hampshire’, from 1801 at a scale about 2.5 miles to 1 inch.


Mapping the Rocks

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  In the early nineteenth century one man turned mapmaking in a new direction. From a simple marking up of a map of the area around Bath, an Oxfordshire land surveyor, William Smith, produced the first geological map of the whole of England based on maps engraved by John Cary. Smith wanted a scale of five miles to the inch and John Cary agreed to bear some of the costs of production. The base map, 188 by 266 cm (74” by 105”), was printed from 15 separate copperplate engravings each 61 x 61 cm (24” x 20”) in size. The geology was water-coloured by hand by colourists, often girls, under Smith’s direction; difficult work because of the shading used. He made continual corrections and modifications as copies were produced. Around four hundred were produced from 1815 to 1817.

Smith - 1815 Enlarge Enlarge

William Smith also produced the ground-breaking Geological Table of British Organized Fossils which served a detailed legend for the geological map. It was a coloured engraving, it measured about 38 by 45 cm and sold at the time for 1s.6d.

His story is brought vividly to life in Simon Winchester’s book The Map that Changed the World.

  Another famous map was published in 1854 in Dr John Snow’s book On the Mode of Communication of Cholera. There was a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 and by mapping the deaths (shown as short lines on the map) and studying their distribution he concluded that the Broad Street Pump, one of thirteen water pumps in Soho, was the likely source deducing that cholera was a water-borne disease, not carried in the foul smell of sewage as most people, including Florence Nightingale, believed. Interesting to note that the majority of those who died became ill on one night, the 31st August, and died one or two days later. The brewery had it’s own water supply so no deaths were reported from those working there.

Snow = 1854 Enlarge

  Specialist maps began to appear in the eighteenth century. Britannia Saxonica was drawn by Robert Morden, engraved by John Sturt and published in the edition by Edmund Gibson of Camden’s Britannia published in 1722.

Morden - 1722 Enlarge

  By the late nineteenth century they were fashionable. German mapmakers produced the British Isles and its Religious Divisions in the Historisches Handatlas by Dr Carl Spruner and Thomas Menke. It was published by Justus Perthes in Gotha, Germany in 1879. The map sheet is dated 1876. The main map shows the religious divisions of the British Isles from the beginning of the 13th century to the time of the Reformation. Inset upper right are the divisions in Anglo-Saxon times and lower right is a map of Britain showing the religious divisions since 1543. The seats of Archbishops and Bishops are shown together with major cathedrals, churches and monasteries.


  Moving briefly north of the border, the Clans of Highland Scotland were mapped in 1899 by Thomas Johnston and Colonel James Robertson for their classic book, Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland. The map is reproduced here courtesy of Alastair McIntyre from Toronto and his amazing Electric Scotland website.

Clan Map Enlarge

  In 1938, the Air Ministry released a series of maps for use by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) which covered England, Scotland and Wales. These maps were used throughout the Battle of Britain and included military locations such as firing ranges and beacon lights providing information for night navigation. This is part of a set of four digitised at 4 times the enlargement reproduced here by Scott Gentile and available to buy from A2A Simulations Online Store.

Air Ministry Map Enlarge

The last major event in the development of English maps was the formation of the Ordnance Survey.

The Ordnance Survey

Top of the page

  The Ordnance Survey, England’s government-funded official mapping agency, had modest beginnings. William Roy of the Royal Engineers was one of the officers tasked to produce a survey of Scotland following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6. He tried to persuade Parliament to authorise a survey of the whole of Britain but funding was not forthcoming. However he was later employed by the Royal Society to survey the relative positions of the two observatories in Greenwich, London and Paris. When this was completed, a Trigonometrical Survey of the Board of Ordnance was formed in 1791 to extend this triangulation survey to the whole of Great Britain. The first base line was measured by William Roy on Hounslow Heath in 1784. From the ends of this line bearings were taken to a third point to make a triangle, each of whose new sides was a new base line. The triangulation process was repeated until a network of triangles covered the country. The principal triangulation stations were chosen about 30 to 50km apart with secondary statione around 10km apart. The sides of triangles varied from 10km to over 100km, the largest being those linking Britain to Ireland and France. Bearings were measured with Ramsden’s 3-ft theodolite which was destroyed by bombing in World War II but a second instrument made in 1791 is in the Science Museum, London. The Principal Triangulation by the Ordnance Survey used some measurements taken in 1790s and many more between 1840 and 1860. The whole was recalculated and published in 1858.

  This is a modern trig. station, a concrete pillar with a metal insert on which to set the theodolite. A hole down the centre of the pillar allows a plumb-bob to be set on a hidden metal point which is fixed into matural rock or concrete at ground level.

Trigonometrical Station

  The first maps printed were at a scale of 6” to 1 mile (1:10,560) for military use along the south coast of England but half this scale elsewhere. The final published maps were at a scale of 1” to 1 mile (1:63,360), as William Roy had originally proposed. They used a series of simple local cylindrical projections called ‘Cassini’ projections which are straightforward but do introduce north-south distortions to the country. The southern half of England and Wales was mapped by 1815 and the work was finally completed in 1874. Here is the 1852 one-inch Series 1 map of Lancashire in the north-west of England revised to show the Midland Railway line which replaced the ‘Little’ North Western Railway line from Lancaster to Poulton in 1874:

OS Map Enlarge

  Tithe maps were prepared following the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836. This act replaced tithes paid by farmers to the Church in kind, that is a tenth of a corn crop, a tenth of the lambs born each year and so on, with a tax based on the value and type of land farmed. This needed accurate field boundary maps but the scale to be used was not fixed although 1” to 4 chains (1:3,168) and 1” to 3 chains (1:2,376) seem the most widely used.

Tithe Map Enlarge

  Anyway this was no help to the ‘Ordnance Survey’ as it had now become known. They were coming round to the idea of 24” or 25” to 1 mile (1:2,640 or 1:2,534) as being the most useful for land purposes. Then in 1853 an International Statistical Conference in Brussels recommended an international standard of 1:2,500 which curiously was the scale chosen for the Napoleonic survey of France. (This is equivalent to 25.34” to the mile as a point of interest!). This was the time of the railway boom and increasing industrialisation for which maps were needed and Britain at this time had the most detailed maps of any world country. Here is another example from Lancashire, Series 2, dated 1893:

OS Map Enlarge

  From 1887 coloured maps gradually replaced the earlier black-and-white versions. These three examples show the various ideas that the Ordnance Survey tried out:

1. Brown dotted shading and contours in feet above the assumed Mean Level of the Sea
at Liverpool, which is 0.650 of a Foot below the general Mean Level of the Sea ...

* Derby: 2 miles:1 inch, 1907

2. A more subtle ‘Hill-shaded’ North Mayo Road Map reduced from the 1899 One-Inch Map

* North Mayo: ½ inch:1 mile, 1914

3. A ‘Layers’ shading for the South Mayo Road Map reduced from the 1902 One-Inch Map

* South Mayo: ½ inch:1 mile, 1914

  The Ordance Survey produced different maps during the World Wars. The military produced a few 1;20,000 maps at the time of the First World War and by the 1930’s a set of maps at 1:25,000 had been produced. The grid references used today were first created for military maps in 1919 and a Modified British System was used through WWII. A committee devised the present National Grid in 1938 based on using the international metre. It’s point of origin is south-west of the Scilly Isles.

  When it became clear that another war was looming the OS rushed out a ‘Special Emergency Edition’ of the 1:10560 County quarter sheets in 1938 for Air Raid Precaution (ARP) planning and not sold to the public. These maps are rare now and you can see where new houses have been added as unshaded strips.

1938 ARP map Enlarge

  In 1936 it was decided to begin a retriangulation. England and the south of Scotland were completed by 1938, but war delayed the surveying and it was only finished in 1952 and the Seventh Series maps using the data were first published in 1962. Now OS uses metric map scales — 1:1250 and 1:2,500 for Land Registry and planning purposes, 1:25,000 (Explorer series) and 1:50,000 (Landranger series) for generl mapping. Two new developments are widely available custom-made maps centered on any given location and the use of the earth-orbiting satellites of the Global Positioning Network for surveying. Since 1998, Ordnance Survey has set up around 160 Active Network Stations all over the UK.

Colour printing arrives

  By the end of the nineteenth century, colour printing had begun and was successfully applied to maps by John Bartholomew. His son, John George Bartholomew (b 1860), a founding member of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and later appointed Cartographer to King George V, included both colour-printed maps and town plans in his Royal Atlas of England and Wales around 1895. The pages measure about 42 x 32 cm.

John Bartholomew’s Cornwall Map, 1898 Enlarge  Bartholomew’s Town Plans, 1895 Enlarge

  Charles Booth, a successful Liverpudlian businessman, was minded to test a politician’s claim that 25% of Londoners were living in poverty. Using Stanford’s 6” to one mile (1:10,560) Library Map of London and Suburbs and a small team of researchers he set out to survey poverty and produced one of the earliest examples of ‘social cartography’ using colour overlay. His data came from reports of School Board visitors who visited households accompanying police officers on their beats and from the police notebooks. The first survey covered just the poor East End area of London but he extended it to cover central London and published it in four sheets in 1891 entitled Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889. (His results showed nearer 35% lived in poverty).

Charles Booth’s The Descriptive Map of London Poverty, 1889 Enlarge

  John George Bartholomew’s Half Inch to the Mile maps were first published between 1919 and 1924 and are probably most attractive maps of England. This map was cloth-backed for serviceability and was the rambler’s companion around the Lake District with it’s height contours beautifully coloured. It measured 52.5 x 80 cm and is reproduced courtesy of the Bartholomew Archive. The Half Inch series was produced up to the 1970’s

J.G.Bartholomew’s ½-inch Lake District Map, 1924 Enlarge

Maps below ground?

  The Unified London Underground appeared on a 1908 postcard produced by the map printers, Waterlow & Sons. It included the Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL), Central London, Great Northern and City, Metropolitan and the City & South London Railways.


  In the Karl Baedeker’s GREAT BRITAIN Handbook for Travellers, 7th Edition, published in 1910 in Liepzig, was included this map of London Railways.

Baedeker Enlarge

  Harry Beck produced a truly original diagrammatic map of the London Underground, first published in 1933, which has been a model for similar railway systems in cities around the world.

Beck - 1933 Enlarge

Sadly increasing complexity of the lines and the loss of the strong vertical element has meant that the current ‘Tube’ map is more colourful but less readable and less memorable. As an aside, Londoners have always wanted the river included as a physical feature to relate to but twice this has been abandoned and then reinstated. It seems that the original Beck design approach is still valid today and probably reached it’s peak of clarity and comprehensiveness in the 1987 map.

  It is impossible to leave this iconic map without a mention of the classic mixed-up names puzzle using it. You may find it easier to print out the Puzzle Page image and study it at leisure. When your solving power fails, you can print out the Answers Page to check. Only a born Londoner will solve it completely. (In passing, ‘nabk’ is the yellow edible fruit of the spiny buckthorn shrub, Ziziphus lotus, from North Africa.) And for the record the author has always remained anonymous.

Puzzle Page Answers Page

The Streets of London

  Phyllis Pearsall’s map is justly famous although cartographer’s still tend to look down on it because of its cheap and cheerful presentation. Her map was and still is found in almost every London household. The London A-Z was born in 1936, not the first street atlas but the most comprehensive covering more than 23,000 streets, mews, squares, avenues and alleys. In addition it was up-to-date, fully-indexed and pocket-sized. With the help of drughtsman James Duncan, and working from a bedsit in Horseferry Road as her office, Phyllis had spent more than a year walking the streets of the city researching the map data. Publishers showed a remarkable lack of interest, so she founded the Geographers’ Map Company and published the A-Z Map of London herself. Printed in black and white on cheap paper it sold for one shilling (5p in today’s currency).

When war broke out in 1939, all maps at a larger scale than 1 inch to 1 mile were banned; Phyllis became a civil servant at the Ministry of Information and, to keep the business going, she published war maps of the various battle fronts. The classic black & white book continued after the war up to the early sixties. In colour and at enlarged scales it is still a best-seller today.

1936 atlas cover 1957 atlas page Enlarge

New Directions

  A whole new world of mapping has opened up in recent years. On the railway theme this lively map is of the Beer Heights Light Railway, a 7” inch gauge working model, which opened in July 1975. It’s locomotives are 1/3 full size and it forms part of ‘Pecorama’, a tourist attraction in Devon. The map is designed for single use within a defined area as it specifically includes information needed by a day visitor. From a map point of view, it has no north-point, scale or reference grid as all are considered unnecessary for the purpose.

Beer Heights Light Railway Enlarge

And dynamic maps have transformed information sources. Here the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has presented a colourful snapshot of British farming in 2006 in terms of: Cattle Cereals Labour Pigs Poultry and Sheep.

DEFRA cattle

  Once a recognised grid was applied by the Ordnance Survey, specialist societies could use maps to record data. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland surveys native plants and plots their distribution in tetrads (2 km squares). This is where you can find the native English Bluebell in spring at the present time.

English Bluebell distribution Enlarge

  As a postscript, a completely different view. This is a Venn Diagram showing the connections between the elements of the British Isles. It is correct for 2016 - as for the future ...


British Library English Maps: A History  Catherine Delano-Smith and Roger J P Kain, London 1999
Antique Maps of the British Isles David Smith published by B T Batsford, London 1982
Lancaster University Library - Lancaster Historic Maps at http://libweb.lancs.ac.uk/lancastermaps.htm
Dr. Cecil J. Schneer, University of New Hampshire. Articles on William Smith at http://www.unh.edu/esci/wmsmith.html
The Bartholomew Archive is at http://www.nls.uk/bartholomew/index.html
The University of Glasgow at http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/library/
More maps from Genmaps at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~genmaps/index.html
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