Tag Archives: london maps

Inside Out/Outside In

Boundaries, these days we are all subjected to them: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3, it just depends on what side of a border that you reside.

So how about Kent being on the north side of the Thames? North Woolwich, which of course, lies on the opposite bank, was for more than 800 years, technically a part of Kent. The Woolwich Free Ferry and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel did their best at connecting both halves. It started, as often the way, with William The Conquer, who gave Hamon de Crevecoeur in 1086 both banks, and in all likelihood rights of charging river traffic.

It wasn’t until 1965 that North Woolwich was transferred to the Borough of Newham, but we still have two places called Woolwich.

Or being a London borough but outside the M25. North Ockendon is inside London, but outside the M25, while South Ockendon, a short walk away, is in Essex and outside the M25.

So just how many live inside the M25 but outside of Greater London? According to estimates, about one million, living in 21 districts which straddle the M25. When describing infection rates it might be a psychological buffer zone but not according to cartographers.

Image creative commons, but including Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright

Postcode should be pretty localized, we have after all ‘postcode lotteries’. When they were first introduced on New Year’s Day 1858 London was divided quite logically into 10 segments: EC, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW. Less than a decade later there was talk of changing this logical sequence, NE London found its way to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and S London migrated northwards to Sheffield, where they remain to this day.

Just as oddly, Havering, Hillingdon, Barking, Dagenham and Sutton are not London postal districts even though they fall mostly within the M25, but Sewardstone in Epping does, despite being nearly 12 miles from Charing Cross, outside the M25, surrounded by a forest and having been given the postcode E4.

Streets with the same name

Whilst on The Knowledge you are expected to memorise every road within a 6-mile radius from the Charles I Statue in Trafalgar Square, clearly an impossible task.

To compound the problem, some roads with dissimilar spellings (Britten Street, SW3 and Britton Street, EC1) are similarly pronounced, others are pronounced differently from their spelling (Beauchamp Place, SW3).

But, by far the hardest to learn is the roads with identical names. The famous Abbey Road has a little brother in West Ham. The delightfully named Water Lane is to be found in four locations: E15, EC3, NW1, SE14, while unsurprisingly Gasholder Place, SE11 is uniquely named.

Royal male chauvinism abounds with four King Streets: E13, EC2, SW1, WC2, the latter two a stone’s throw apart, while Queen Street has only two examples: EC4, W1.

A scan of my Geographers’ A-Z gives me many other examples of identically named thoroughfares, these are just the ‘As’:

Abbey Gardens: SE16, W6
Abbey Street: E13, SE1
Abbotsbury Close: E15, W14
Adamson Road: E16, NW3
Addington Road: E3, E16
Albany Mews: N1, SE5
Albert Road: E16, NW6
Albion Mews: N1, NW6, W2
Albion Street: SE16, W2
Alexandra Street: E16, SE14
Alma Street: E15, NW5
Alpha Place: NW6, SW3
Angel Court: EC2, SW1
Angel Mews: E1, N1
Appleby Road: E8, E16
Atlas Mews: E8, N7
The Avenue: NW6, SE10
Avenue Road: NW3, NW8

Geometric London

I once thought that the Great Pyramid of Gaza was at 756ft x 756ft the same dimensions as Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but alas as pyramids by the laws of physics need to be absolutely square and that London square is clearly not those perfect dimensions. The Circle Line never lived up to its name, as being not exactly a circle, nowadays it doesn’t even travel in a circular direction.

So, leaving out ‘squares’, we start with the largest rectangle in London Lincoln’s Inn Fields measuring 821ft x 625ft, closely followed by Grosvenor Square or Grosvenor Oblong at 680ft x 530ft.

The smallest rectangle open to the public is Pickering Place barely large enough to have 4 tenements along one side.

The definition of a circle is that all points in the same plane must lie at an equal distance from a centre point. I’ve found very few true circles, so the largest appears to be the Inner Circle, Regent’s Park at 1,082ft diameter or at 330m diameter, curiously makes it one kilometre in circumference.

At the other end of the circle, so to speak, is Percy Circus just off King’s Cross Road, which by my calculations (I didn’t get out a tape measure) has a diameter of 246ft. It also has the unwelcome distinction of once hosting Lenin and his wife Nadia at No. 16.

For my oval, I have to point you in the direction of London’s most famous – the Kennington Oval a street surrounding the world’s famous cricket ground at 345yds x 230yds.

As for the smallest oval I’m going for Finsbury Circus, for amongst many contenders it actually is a perfect oval at 148ft x 115ft. Located near Moorgate Station on the site of the old Bethlem Royal Hospital from which the pejorative term bedlam originates.

What constitutes a triangle? Well, anyone who has sat through a tedious geometry lesson will know there are numerous examples of that shape. So rather cheekily I’m going for the Shoreditch Silicon Triangle, as the largest with Old Street (65yds along one edge), Great Eastern Street (468yds) and Shoreditch High Street (574yds), all measurements approximate.

As for the smallest triangle, its no contest from an area I know well. The Triangle, Palmers Green measuring not much larger than a substantial garden shed, but famous if only for the departure point of a number of buses.

Back to the question of squares. Manchester Square at 300ft x 280ft almost makes it, while the larger Belgrave Square 636ft x 665ft falls short by 29ft. Parliament Square seems a strong contender but has rounded corners.

So my selection of perfect squares, admittedly I’ve not tested the theory, are in no particular order: Chalcot Square; West Square; Soho Square; St. James’s Square; and Stockwell Gardens.

The A-Zed of London

I was flicking through a facsimile of Phyllis Pearsall’s Geographers’ London A-Z, first printed in 1938 before World War II bombing and post-war redevelopment. Boasting that it contained 23,000 streets, ‘9,000 more than any other similar atlas’ and priced at 1/- or 5p at today’s money.

Using the book’s title as the starting point the first street in their index is Abbeville Road, SW4 and the last that Phillis found on her supposed 12-month trudge around London was Zoffany Street, N19, given as 16E:36 which wasn’t to be found on those coordinates given, or anywhere else I could find. Also were 31 pages set in 8pt of LCC street name changes, all very confusing.

Roll on nearly 80 years and my, now digital A-Z Navigation Master, reveals that both of these streets at either end of the alphabet have been eclipsed by later contenders, and within a nanosecond, my device points me in the correct direction.

Digital speed

The single keystroke gave me the first street in London as Aaron Hill Road, Beckton.

Beckton is renowned for its vast sewage works and what was once the world’s largest gasworks. Just around the block from Aaron Hill Road stands a surviving Victorian street of workers’ homes, that’s Winsor Terrace, but that’s very much atypical from its near neighbours.

In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation moved in and started transforming the area into a huge housing estate, of far lower density than you might expect today. But Aaron Hill Road is of slightly later vintage, carved on the edge of an industrial estate in 1999, along with its neighbour Angelica Close.

On one side of Aaron Hill Road are the back of warehouses, occupied by logistics companies like TNT. A warren of three-storey blocks with courtyards is to be found on the south side of the road, each grouped around spaces for cars rather than anywhere a child might play.

The architecture has little to commend itself, and unsurprisingly a 2-bed flat on Aaron Hill Road sells for around £300,000, but this is, of course, London.

Who, or where was Aaron Hill

And who was Aaron Hill? A quick search, something unavailable to Phillis Pearsall finds that 400 years ago he was a poet and dramatist, renowned for his adaptations of Voltaire. His first Newham connection is that he married an heiress from the ‘Great House’ in Stratford Langthorne, close to where West Ham station is today. His second Newham connection is that after retiring from public life he came to live in Plaistow, then a ‘pleasant rural village’ on the edge of the Thames marshes, where he enjoyed reading, writing and doing the garden. Devoid of adequate gardens the road named after him lacks adequate horticultural challenge, but I’m sure Aaron would be pleased to have bequeathed the first street in London.

As the other end of the alphabet, and at a price range of £1,600,000, is Zulu Mews, Battersea SW11. Zulu Mews is a relatively recent construction, squeezed into a gap beside a railway viaduct in Battersea in 2010.

When Alfred Heaver laid out the Falcon Estate in 1880, the terraces of Rowena Crescent were set back at a discreet distance from the railway to give residents some peace. But the land is much more valuable today, so the scrappy dogleg behind their back gardens is now filled with ten sleek modern terraced dwellings.

It may not come as a surprise to hear that this is a gated development to seal off Zulu Mews from the hoipolloi. Similar to Aaron Hill Road in that the architecture is hardly ground-breaking, but the rising street has an almost Mediterranean feel, with pristine shrubs potted outside front doors in lieu of an actual garden. Each house has an integral garage, even if at first glance they don’t look large enough, bedrooms and utilities are downstairs, then above is an open plan living/dining/study area. Gardeners need not apply because the only outdoor space is a roof terrace on top of the garage, amusingly smaller than the residents of Aaron Hill Road enjoy.

You can also get a good view of these expensive properties from an Overground train, immediately to the north of Shillington Park. A long drab brick wall rises up, deliberately windowless to shield out the rattle of trains, and daubed with graffiti along its entire length. How the residents must deplore the scribble on the other side of their luxury bathroom wall, and not being able to do anything about cleaning it off.

Why Zulu Mews?

And why is it called Zulu Mews? All the original streets on the Falcon Estate commemorate British Army victories which took place while the houses were under construction, including Afghan Road, Khyber Road and Candahar Road. The list also originally included Zulu Crescent, but that name proved too bloodthirsty for some of its residents so within a couple of years was it was renamed Rowena Crescent.

When the new mews development was slipped in behind Rowena Crescent it was gifted the original Zulu name as a nod to the past, and perhaps in recognition that society’s no longer quite so squeamish.

Had the developers not chosen to name their mews development after a war that the British army was nearly defeated at Rorke’s Drift, and made famous by the film Zulu starring Michael Caine, who lives nearby, Zoffany Street would have been the last street in the London A-Z, and indeed in every edition since 1938 . . . but where would be the story in that?

Dead boring

It’s the stuff of a science fiction writer’s dreams. Excavating in London one finds something buried that should have remained entombed forever.

In the late 1950s, BBC Television transmitted the Quatermass trilogy, culminating in Quatermass and The Pit, in which a dangerous object is unearthed at a building site in Knightsbridge (of which later).

[B]ringing this film genre up to date the 2002 film Reign of Fire has London Underground construction workers penetrating a cave in which a hibernating dragon is awoken.

This year Crossrail, Europe’s largest construction project, of over 26 miles of tunnel beneath London should be completed, in a city which has after two thousand years has many buried secrets.

The Black Death of 1348-49 wiped out half of London’s population and put such a strain on traditional churchyards two new internment areas were created. “No Man’s Land” was located just outside Smithfield and its annex at Spitalfields which is was reported swallowed over 50,000 souls.

The plague of 1665 was for London much worse. At least 68,000 people perished, that was out of a population at the time of half-a-million. To put that into context, should it occur in modern London it would equate to 800,000. With London having grown exponentially in the succeeding years since the Black Death, by 1665 it was now one of the world’s largest cities. The cramped and unhygienic living conditions, coupled with one of the hottest summers London had known, meant that plague spread fast, and this was not helped by the culling of cats and dogs who had helped keep down the rat population, the carrier of the infected fleas. Although recent research has hypothesised that humans were the main culprit of the plague’s spread.

Within just a few months, with graveyards overflowing, plague pits were sunk in Fulham, Gypsy Hill, Tothill Fields, Westminster and Kensington – the site of the fictionalised Quatermass Pit. Another, the Great Pit of Aldgate, measured 40ft x 15ft and was 20ft deep which consumed 1,114 bodies within a fortnight.

In modern times when the Piccadilly Line was being constructed, in a scene reminiscent of Quatermass, workmen found that the section between Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations had to be rerouted to avoid a plague pit, this has resulted in the line swerving dramatically.

Modern Aldgate station is built above the Great Pit of Aldgate, while at Green Park during tunnelling for the Victoria Line the boring machine ploughed straight into an unmarked plague pit. On the Bakerloo Line at the south end lie two tunnels; one exits to the line at Elephant and Castle, the other to a dead end to stop runaway trains and behind the end, wall is another plague pit.

The majority of records for the location of burial pits are piecemeal and parochial. Most parishes had to resort to larger pits simply because of the sheer number of bodies they had to dispose of. These pits can be traced in the parish churchwarden’s accounts, where payment for digging was recorded. A rather illuminating if gruesome map has been produced by Public Grief Junkie.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 17th February 2012