Tag Archives: london maps

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 more 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.

Next month tunnelling commences on CrossRail, Europe’s largest construction project, to bore over 26 miles of tunnel beneath London, a city which has after two thousand years 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.

Order out of chaos

[O]n CabbieBlog there are currently 180 posts and by far the most read has been a short introduction to London’s maps, so you might say that today’s contribution is back by popular demand.

In any city as large and diverse as London is maps can help you find your way around, and probably the most famous of these is Harry Beck’s tube map, although another use of mapping is perhaps less obvious, but these are often of far more use. These are maps that can be used when order has broken down to show the causality and how that order might be returned.

Morgan's Map of 1677

Morgan Map 1682
On Sunday 2 September 1660, the Great Fire of London began reducing most of the City to ashes, and among the huge losses were many maps of the city itself. The Morgan Map of 1682 was the first to show the whole of the City of London after the fire. Consisting of sixteen separate sheets, each measuring eight feet by five feet, it took six years to complete. The map is based on the first detailed and truly scientific surveys of the City, Westminster and Southwark, which had been underway since immediately after the Great Fire in 1666. For the first time the layout of buildings was shown vertically, and on the basis of mathematical calculation rather than pictorially, as had previously been popular. William Morgan’s beautiful map, on a scale of 300 feet to the inch, completed in 1682, symbolised the hoped-for ideal city.

John Snow Cholera Map

Snow Map 1854
In the nineteenth century, there were several outbreaks of cholera in London. One could awake hale and hearty, develop diarrhoea, vomiting, agonising cramps and by teatime succumb to delirium and death. In the 1849 outbreak, a large proportion of the victims received their water from two water companies, both of these water companies had as the source of their water the river Thames just downstream from a sewer outlet.

Dr. John Snow plotted the distribution of deaths in London on a map. He determined that an unusually high number of deaths were taking place near a water pump on Broad Street. Snow’s findings led him to petition the local authorities to remove the pump’s handle. This was done and the number of cholera deaths was dramatically reduced. The work of John Snow stands out as one of the most famous and earliest cases of geography and maps being utilized to understand the spread of a disease. Today, specially trained medical geographers and medical practitioners routinely use mapping and advanced technology to understand the diffusion and spread of diseases such as AIDS and cancer. A map is not just an effective tool for finding the right place; it can also be a life saver.

Abercrombie Plan

Abercrombie Map 1945
The Blitz of September 1940 had a shattering impact on London and its inhabitants. On just the first night of the attacks, 7th September, over 400 civilians lost their lives and 1,600 people were severely injured. Out of this destruction emerged the idea of reconstruction. Straight away innumerable newspaper articles, pamphlets, books, exhibitions and films called for the British Government to begin to prepare for when the conflict would be over. Whilst British forces were fighting throughout Europe, Africa and other parts of the world, exhibitions such as Rebuilding Britain in July 1943 began to set out a new agenda for architects and those concerned with the built environment.

At the time, Patrick Abercrombie was one of the most authoritative figures on modern town planning. The best known study that Abercrombie and his team of researchers completed was for London and after two years of research, he published The County of London Plan in 1943. Significantly, it recommended the establishment of several new towns on the outskirts of London, relieving congestion in the city’s central areas and to stop suburban sprawl. Its bright red indicates the areas of London that contained industry at this point in 1943, as you can see, there is a significant amount of red concentrated around the Thames just east of the Isle of Dogs – before the war there was still much heavy industry concentrated around the East End. The map was regarded as key to the argument for reconstruction.

Dying for a drink

John Snow
The next time you find yourself in Soho, go to Broadwick Street where at one end you’ll find a village pump, while standing on the junction with Lexington Street is a pub rejoicing in the name John Snow which looks inviting for a swift half in this pub that takes its name from one of London’s forgotten heroes. In 1832 London was to experience a brand new epidemic imported from India, a disease which would strike fear into every person in the Metropolis.

Cholera became known as ‘the poor man’s plague’, with a mortality rate of 50 per cent and most victims coming from poor areas of inner cities the disease was dismissed by the well to do as a consequence of “the Great Unwashed” as William Makepeace Thackeray dubbed them.

[B]ut then cholera began to strike in middle class neighbourhoods too, making it truly a disease to cause panic. One could awake hale and hearty, develop diarrhoea, vomiting, agonising cramps and by teatime succumb to delirium and death.

Now contagion became a national obsession, and incredibly between 1845 and 1856 over 700 books on cholera were published, most expounding the common belief that it arose from impure air, blaming a miasma, or any smell, and in Victorian London there was no shortages of miasmas.

Surmising that ‘All smell is disease’, the founder of the workhouse, Edwin Chadwick managed to keep the scientific establishment off the scent (if you’ll excuse the pun) for two decades declaring if you removed the smell, cholera would go away.

The miasma theory had just one serious flaw: it was entirely without foundation, and one man alone identified this fact, his name was John Snow.

Born in York in 1813 and having a father who was common labourer served him well in terms of insightfulness and unlike his colleagues he did not blame the poor for their own diseases. Snow had studied medicine and became one of the leading anaesthetists of his day, attending Queen Victoria’s eighth childbirth while administering chloroform a dangerous and virtually untried practise.

Snow spent his spare time trying to understand where diseases came from; why for instance was the rate of cholera six times higher in Southwark than neighbouring Lambeth, if the infection was carried by a miasma? Furthermore if smells caused disease would not toshers, flushermen and nightsoil handlers be the most frequent victims?

Snow collected recorded cases in a scientifically robust manner making careful maps of the outbreaks. He found the people of Lambeth drank water piped in from clean sources outside the city, whereas neighbouring Southwark obtained its water from the polluted River Thames.

In 1854, a particularly virulent outbreak hit Soho. In a single neighbourhood around Broad Street (now renamed Broadwick Street) more than 500 people died in 10 days, making it, as Snow notes, probably the most devastating occurrence of sudden mortality in history, worse even than the great plague. The toll would have been higher except that so many people fled the district.

The conclusive proof was in finding a victim of cholera who lived in Hampstead who liked the Broad Street water so much she had it delivered to her door.

Snow managed to persuade the parish council to remove the handle from the water pump in Broad Street, after which cholera deaths vanished.

His finding were rejected by the establishment and at a Parliamentary enquiry he was asked ”Are the Committee to understand, taking the case of bone-boilers, that no matter how offensive to the sense of smell of effluvia that comes from the bone-boiling establishments may be, yet you consider that it is not prejudicial in any way to the health of the inhabitants of the district?”

It is hard now to appreciate just how radical and unwelcome Snow’s views were at the time, he was detested from many quarters, in part, probably because of his humble beginnings.

In 1850 London had a summer heat wave and the ensuing drought prevented waste being washed away. Dubbed “The Great Stink” as the Thames grew so noxious no one could stay near it, Parliament had to suspend its sittings and it was only this disruption to Members of Parliament that gave rise to giving London fresh water and sewers.

Snow never got to see his assumptions vindicated, dying from a stroke during the Great Stink at the young age of 45. At the time, his death was hardly noted.

So raise your first glass in the John Snow Public House and toast the hero who has made it possible to drink the water and well as beer in London.

Hexagonal London


[F]earful those cabbies might take their customers for a proverbial as well as a literal ride by overcharging; in the middle of the 19th Century a slightly fanatical Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries published a scheme for a hexagonal London.

John Leighton suggested that the old borough boundaries should be altered to conform to a honeycomb pattern. Within a five-mile radius of the General Post Office all the sprawling, differently sized boroughs were to become hexagonal-shaped areas, 2-miles across. There were 19 altogether with the City in the centre of the honeycomb. Each hexagonal borough would be identified by a letter, and the letter as well as a number would be painted or cut out of tin-plate to be visible day and night on lamp-posts at every street corner.

It takes aspiring London cabbies up to five years to acquire ‘The Knowledge’. Only if they know their way around the 25,000 streets in a 6-mile radius from Charing Cross (and along 320 main roads within Greater London) will they be licensed to drive one of London’s iconic black cabs. The Public Carriage Office Examination System is reputed to be the hardest of its kind in the world, and this speaks to the complexity of the British capital’s road grid.

That complexity, and the cabbies’ Knowledge, put passengers at the risk of being overcharged, the Victorians feared.

The proposal for a hexagonal London is described in London as It Might Have Been, a book by Felix Barber and Ralph Hyde, also detailing plans for a giant pyramid to house the remains five million dead Londoners, and a scheme to erect a structure in Wembley to dwarf the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Of the two maps shown here, the one the left shows the Metropolitan Parliamentary Boroughs as Constituted under the Act of 1855, centred on the City, and shown with their subdivisions (St. Pancras, for example, is divided in N, S, E and W). The result is a veritable hodgepodge of miniscule fiefdoms.

The map on the right presents a more regimented view of London, re-divided in 2-mile hexagon-shaped boroughs, centred around the City in three concentric circles.

Six boroughs in the first circle are numbered thus (clockwise from the top):

  • 1 Islington
  • 2 Bethnal Green
  • 3 Southwark
  • 4 Kennington
  • 5 Westminster
  • 6 St Pancras

Twelve boroughs in the second circle are numbered thus (clockwise from the top):

  • 1a Hornsey
  • 2a Hackney
  • 3a Old Ford
  • 4a Poplar
  • 5a Deptford
  • 6a Peckham
  • 7a Brixton
  • 8a Battersea
  • 9a Chelsea
  • 10a Marylebone
  • 11a St John’s Wood
  • 12a Kentish Town

Eighteen boroughs, unnumbered, are in the third circle (clockwise from the top):

  • Tottenham
  • Stamford Hill
  • Leyton Essex
  • Forest Gate
  • West Ham
  • Blackwall
  • Greenwich
  • Lewisham
  • Forest Hill
  • Norwood
  • Balham
  • Wandsworth
  • Fulham
  • Kensington
  • Paddington
  • Willesden
  • Hampstead
  • Highgate

Many thanks to Frank Jacobs for permission to reproduce this strange tale and whose site StrangeMaps contain a veritable feast of well, strange maps and Simon Austin at Kosmograd who takes this original hexagonal idea to produce a contemporary hexagonal map of London shown below.

Don’t ask me I’m lost too

[M]aps define an area in more than the most obvious of ways. They define the landscape and the people that live within it. They allow us to make sense of its complexities. None more so than in London, so here are CabbieBlog’s top three London maps:

a-zThe A-Z
Born Phyllis Isobella Gross in East Dulwich on 25 September 1906 her father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and her mother was an Irish Italian Roman Catholic suffragette. She was educated at Roedean School, a private boarding school near Brighton, which she had to leave when her father’s cartographic company collapsed.

She travelled all over Europe from an early age and then became an English tutor in a small school in Fécamp Brittany. Later, she studied at the Sorbonne, spending her first few months in Paris sleeping rough. At the age of 16 she married Richard Pearsall, an artist friend of her brother. They were together for eight years, travelling in Spain and living in Paris, but she left him in Venice while he was asleep, without telling him anything. She did not remarry.

By 1935, she had become a portrait painter, but while on her way to a party, she tried to follow the best available map of the time (a 1919 Ordnance Survey map). She discovered that this map was not up to the task, and ended up getting lost on her way. Following a conversation during this party, she conceived the idea of mapping London.

The next day, she started mapping London. This involved walking the 3,000 miles of the 23,000 streets of London, waking up at 5 am everyday, and not going to bed until after an 18-hour working day.

Throughout the walking, she was also drawing up the first A to Z map. Phyllis did all of the proof reading and design work herself, and drew up the map with the help of a single draughtsman. They founded the Geographer’s Map Company and in 1936, a year after the project begin, 10,000 copies of the first A to Z were printed. Initially, it proved hard to sell, but finally, WH Smith agreed to take 250 copies which she delivered in a wheelbarrow. It was a runaway success.

london-tube-mapHarry’s Map
Prior to Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map, the various underground lines had been laid out geographically, often superimposed on a road map. This had the feature that centrally located stations were very close together, and the out of town stations were spaced apart. Harry had the idea of creating a full system map in colour. He believed that passengers riding the trains weren’t too bothered about the geographical accuracy, but were more interested in how to get from one station to another, and where to change. Thus he drew his famous diagram, looking more like an electrical schematic than a true map, on which all the stations were more or less equally spaced. This form of map has been copied around the world for various transit systems.

Because Harry’s map has no relevance to the geographical positions of the stations above, take a cousin from out of town to Bank station and tell them to make their way to Mansion House using Harry’s map. They will gamely take the Central Line 4 stations to Tottenham Court Road, the Northern Line 3 stops to Embankment and back on the District Line for 3 stations to reach Mansion House.

In the meantime walk the 100 yards down Queen Victoria Street, go into one of the fine cafes in Bow Lane, enjoy a leisurely coffee and then cross the road to meet your exhausted and perplexed cousin.

monopoly20game20boardPass GO and collect £200
The history of Monopoly can be traced back to the early 1900s. The version we see today was born in the early 1930s, and named Monopoly. Sold by Parker Brothers and its parent companies, the first English version featured many of London streets and has come to symbolise the wealth and poverty within London. You can even go on ‘Monopoly’ Monopoly cab tours of London if your pockets are deep enough.