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Time Travel Explorer Blog

Eddies in the Space-Time Continuum

by Bill Visick 16. November 2011 08:41

I'm sorry to report that the Time Travel Explorer team has been trapped by this phenomenon, although unlike Arthur Dent we do at least know who Eddy is. One side-effect of the temporal turbulence is that while we think we've been working hard, it might easily appear that this blog has been untouched for months.

Over the summer a straightforward exercise to streamline the app and enhance the time travel engine, as well as to scrape the barnacles off the bottom of the blog, has turned into an extended period of silence. I'm pleased to say that is now behind us and all systems are go.

We have been able to introduce a couple of major enhancements to the app which you will have discovered if you've installed the recent versions. Firstly, the size of the initial download has been drastically reduced from over 300M to about 10M. This makes installing it much easier, to say nothing of testing new versions, while all the map, image and audio data remains available to be streamed when needed or downloaded in bulk. We hope this makes life easier for everyone.

More excitingly we've been able to tweak the time-travel engine so that it is now possible to slide between any combination of maps, not just the two that were previously available. Sounds simple, wasn't! It's switched on as usual in Settings and you set your time destination by dragging the slider at the bottom of the screen. Then sit back and enjoy as the maps slide from one to the next. The stop button (bottom right) halts time travel at any point and you can move backwards or forwards:

By judiciously enabling or disabling the maps that are displayed in Map Manager, it's possible to time travel between any combination of maps. If you zoom right out, this is a really good way of seeing how London has grown and the centre has shifted westeards from the City. Here it is in 1682 (more on this map to come):

And now...

That's it, really. We think it's pretty cool. More to come, provided the Vogons don't get us.

The Polygon: where has it gone?

by Peter Watts 19. April 2011 13:52

What's the Polygon?, somebody asked me, the other day.

I had no idea.

It's marked on old maps next to Euston Station, they said.

So it is. Look.

In 1799, it stands almost alone at the edge of London, a distinctive shape surrounded by half-built streets and fields.

By 1830, London has appeared around it and the Polygon's distintive shape now sits in Clarendon Square. The empty land just to the left is Rhode's Farm. It will very soon disappear beneath Euston station, one of the many stations to appear along an east-west axis in this part of north London, transforming the area for ever,

In 1862, the unmistakable shape of the Polygon now sits next to the red lines of Euston. Its presence already seems to give Somers Town a new, cramped, more uncomfortable atmosphere.

And now? Like so much of London, all that remains of the Polygon is its name, preserved in memory by Polygon Road. The building itself has disappeared beneath the gargantuan Somers Town estate - one of a string of council estates to be constructed in this hinterland land north of the Marylebone/Euston Road that collectively form the largest estate in Europe.

So what was the Polygon? Was it a theatre? A police station? Some futuristic entertainment palace for Georgian Londoners?

Fittingly for Somers Town, the Polygon was a housing estate, a Georgian building with 15 sides and three storeys that contained 32 houses. It was demolished in the 1890s, by which time Somers Town had become a cheap and run-down neighbourhood, almost entirely because of its location. Railways were loud and smelly places, and they depended upon cheap labour - and that combination was a killer for an area's aspirations.

Two of the most famous residents of the Polygon were William Godwin and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Another former Polygoner was Charles Dickens, who lived at No 17 in the 1820s shortly after his father, John Dickens, was released from debtors prison. Dickens later made the Polygon a home for his 'Bleak House' character Harold Skimpole, and he in turn may well have been modelled on Godwin. 

Mapping street names: knaves, brewers, Gazza and kebabs

by Peter Watts 14. April 2011 16:03

London's street names are changing all the time. To take one example, let's look at a single street in Soho.

On John Rocque's map of 1746 it is marked quite clearly as Knaves Acre. What a fantastic name!

It is at the eastern end of Brewer Street and leads on to what is marked Old Soho Street but is now Wardour Street. Brewer Street itself was originally known as Wells Street, but was renamed after two breweries - Thomas Ayres and Henry Davis - opened there in the 1700s.

In John Strype's survey of London in 1720, he writes: 'This Knaves Acre is but narrow, and chiefly inhabited by those that deal in old Goods, and Glass Bottles.'

A name as fine as this was sadly never going to last, and by 1799, Knaves Acre had formally been renamed the far more sober and less interesting Little Pulteney Street.

Pulteney was Sir William Pulteney, a landowner who had purchased the estate in the 1660s. It was named Little Pulteney Street to differentiate it from the nearby Great Pulteney Street, then as now a nondescript street in the unfashionable end of Soho.

It remained Little Pulteney Street for a long time after: here it is seen as such in both 1830 and 1862.

 

But at some point thereafter - most likely between the wars - a decision was made to simplify London streetnames, and dozens of Littles disappeared forever. This website chronicles the vast number of lost street names we have in London. Now Knaves Acre/Little Pulteney Street is simply Brewer Street, its proud history as a place where people dealt in bottles all but wiped from the memory.

Or is it?

Rather wonderfully, it was at this exact end of Brewer Street - at No 4 in fact - that Paul Gascoigne purchased London's most infamous kebab in 1998. It was 3am, he was tired, emotional and with Chris Evans and Danny Baker, and he never played for England again.

Once a Knaves Acre, always a Knaves Acre.

Mapping Museumland: London's forgotten exhibition.

by Peter Watts 8. April 2011 09:28

We now take the cluster of museums in South Kensington - the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A - somewhat for granted, but they are all relatively recent additions to the London landscape. Here's that part of London as recently as 1830, when there was very little sign of inhabitation in the area south of Hyde Park. Brompton was best known for its market gardens and nurseries - you can see them marked on the map below - and these had a reptutation that made them known across Europe. These had been established in the 1600s, but were not to be around for much longer.

In 1851, the Great Exhibition opened on the site, transforming this hitherto quiet corner of London. When the Crystal Palace was take down and moved to Sydenham, it was almost immediately followed in 1862 by the International Exhibition. That is the structure that dominates the Stanford map of the same year.

Sometimes described as the 'forgotten exhibition', this covered a site of 23 acres - four times larger than the Great Exhibition - and almost six million people came to see a curious collection of objects housed in a huge domed building. Exhibits included telescopes, organs, lighthouses, obelisks, pickles, furs, dolls and statues. Also on view was the groundbreaking 'folding furniture' - a bed, six chairs, armchair, two sofas and gaming table that could somehow fit inside two wardrobes.

The building was meant to be permanent, but was pulled down at the end of the decade as the government baulked at the cost of preservation and decided the site would make an ideal location for the Natural History Museum, which at the time was crammed into the British Museum. Part of the fabric was taken away and used in the construction of Alexandra Palace.

Alongside the International Exhibition site you can see the South Kensington Museum, which had opened in 1857. Built by William Cubbitt, this was nicknamed the 'Brompton Boiler', in reference to its utilitarian design of long galleries covered by corrugated iron. Housed in these factory-like conditions were a variety of competing museums - the Museum of Manufacture, the Museum of Construction, the Museum of Animal Products, the Food Museum, the Education Museum, the Economica Museum, the Museum of Oriental Art and the Museum of Patents. These were eventually pulled down in 1889 when the V&A was constructed, and the Brompton Boilers were taken to Bethnal Green and re-erected, now covered in bricks, as the Museum of Childhood. The contents of the Brompton Boilers were divided between the V&A, the Science Museum (1913) and the Natural History Museum, which opened in 1881.

Which brings us to South Kensington as it is today.

Crossing the river: how bridges changed London maps

by Peter Watts 24. January 2011 11:57

I mentioned in my previous post the importance the building of new bridges had on London's topology, and that clearly be seen in the following sequence of images.

The first shows the bend in the Thames before Waterloo Bridge was built. This comes from the John Rocque map of 1746, at which time Westminster Bridge was being built and was soon to open. Until Westminster Bridge was completed in 1750, London had just the one bridge - London Bridge - between the City and Putney making large tracts of marshy south London almost completely unvisitable to North Londoners (no jokes please).

While the impact of Westminster Bridge can already be seen in the form of the main road that leads from the southern bank towards Newington, there are almost no buildings at all on the south side of the river, and the area around what will soon become Waterloo is almost completely unused.

This was even more pronounced in 1799, with the area leading from Westminster Bridge becoming denser and the road larger and more priminent, lined with houses and shops, while nearby Waterloo - even though Blackfriars Bridge had gone up in 1769 - is still all fields. 

That was to change abruptly with the arrival of Waterloo Bridge in 1817.

This map of 1830 shows how quickly the building of Waterloo Bridge effected the surrounding area on the south bank, as it rapidly became inhabited by roads, shops and houses. Many bridges were built across the river at around this period, including Lambeth Bridge in 1862, Hungerford Bridge in 1845 and Southwark Bridge in 1819. The jewels of south London were suddenly available to all. 

The railway lands of South London

by Peter Watts 17. January 2011 15:20

The Great Fire and Blitz did their damage, but it can be argued that nothing changed the topography of London quite as much as the railways. From 1836 these industrial interlopers began to arrive in London, the first in Bermondsey and Deptford, causing houses to be demolished and huge tracts of London to become divided by high-rise red-brick arches carrying trains above the streets.

North of the river, the stations were kept out of the centre by Parliament and developers and were slung instead in a great line from Paddington to Liverpool Street, like the new gates to an old metropolis. But in the south, they encroached right up to the river, often taking root in land that had only recently been inhabited. Here you can trace the arrival of the station at Waterloo, on land that in 1746 was almost completely unoccupied.

Here is the same land in 1830, now more densely occupied thanks to the explosion of bridge-building that allowed traffic to cross the river more easily than ever before.

By our next map of 1862, the station has arrived, plonked messily in the middle of the map with railway lines shooting off it. 

It's these lines that would have so much impact on South London, which to this day can resemble a face that has been slashed and scarred by raised arches, embankments and bridges. The area between Waterloo and London Bridge around Southwark Street is particularly bad. See the map of 1862, with just a single east-west line, and compare it with the spider-web of lines on a modern map.

 

This vast network of interlocking and overlapping lines goes a long way towards explaining why some people find South London so confusing and alienating. The railway line create dead ends where none should be and force the roads to take confusing shapes to find their way through bridges and arches. Felix Barker and Peter Jackson wrote in 'A History Of London In Maps' that 'with the excitement of children laying out nursery tracks, prodigally financed companies spread networks so liberally that by the end of the (19th) century maps resembled cats' cradles.

But there are some benefits to this South London railway land. The huge number of railway arches can easily be transformed into cheap commercial space, granting parts of south London around Vauxhall, London Bridge and Waterloo a night-time economy that people are happy to cross the river to take part in.

Unmapped: why Ordnance Survey tried to hide the Post Office Tower

by Peter Watts 18. November 2010 10:22

Post Office Tower

 

Thanks to Rocque, Horwood and Greenwood, London mapping was already an established art by 1848, but despite some extravagant detailing, none of these commercial cartographers took accuracy quite as seriously Ordnance Survey. That’s because the OS were a military body who made their first maps (of the South Coast) in anticipation of a French invasion from Napoleon, so considered forensic accuracy to be their martial duty. Their staggeringly detailed maps of the capital took two years to produce and the results were remarkable, if completely unusable for the average punter, who really didn’t need to know the size and shape of every single office within the Bank of England – unless they were preparing the mother of all bank jobs, that is.

The OS also cartographers wanted to incorporate height differences into their maps – something that even the likes of Wren had ignored in his post-fire map – so they set up a succession of highly placed ‘control points’ or ‘observatories’ from which they could view the streets of London from above to better gauge its hills and valleys. One such vantage point was placed right on top of St Paul’s Cathedral, which must have provided an extraordinary viewing point over London in the days before tower blocks and skyscrapers. Other high points selected for this process included natural hills and factory chimneys.

Ironically given its supposed accuracy, Ordnance Survey later became best known for an absence of one particular high point. For years, the unmistakable – and unmissable - Post Office Tower was deliberately left off OS maps because it was deemed to be an ‘official secret’ and therefore of such great military importance nobody was allowed to know about it even though it had become one of the most recognisable buildings in Britain as soon as it was opened by Tony Benn, and had even appeared in early episodes of Doctor Who. It did not make it onto OS maps until well into the 1990s, by which time the tower was more than 30 years old.

Rediscovering London's Rookeries

by Peter Watts 24. September 2010 15:51

As Matt writes in the previous post, one of the great joys of old maps and the TTX app is that they give you the opportunity to virtually explore streets of London that no longer exist. These streets will have disappeared for all sorts of reasons – fire and Blitz being uppermost – but some will have been taken out for what can only be described as social cleansing.

 

These were the Rookeries, the slums of Victorian London, mazes of narrow streets, courts and alleyways that housed London’s poorest citizens. There were half-a-dozen in London, nests of poverty, crime and disease, where families slept ten to a room and criminals could evade police by simply knowing which alleyway to escape through and which cul-de-sac to avoid. For a good read on the Rookeries, try Sarah Wise’s ‘The Blackest Street’, about the Old Nichol slum in Bethnal Green.

 

Victorian planners decided the best way to deal with the Rookeries problem was to remove them from the face of London, and so set about an extensive road-building programme that simply drove huge new roads right through the middle of the worst Rookeries. One such scheme was in Bloomsbury and you can see how it worked by using the TTX app and switching between the modern map and the Greenwoods’ one of 1830, focusing on Tottenham Court Road station.

 

Here, between Great Russell Street and St Giles High Street, was one of the most infamous Rookeries, the St Giles’s Rookery, which the Victorians swept away by building New Oxford Street. Although the streets of the Rookery ceased to exist; the poor simply moved a little further south, to Seven Dials, so the Victorians tried it again by building Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

 

You can see slum clearance in action in other part of London using the TTX app. Try exploring the area around what is now Victoria Street for evidence of the Rookery around Westminster Abbey, or the junction of Aldwych and Kingsway, which was intended to destroy the Rookery around Hollywell Street, the centre of the Victorian trade in pornographic literature. Pornography, of course, was never sold on the streets of London again.

Maps: they are what you make them

by Peter Watts 15. September 2010 10:47

One of the first things you learn when you start to take a more than passing interest in cartography is that maps are about much more than mere geography. Every mapmaker has to make a decision about what to include and what to leave out, making each map a subjective view of what the cartographer considers important.

 

For an idea of how this works, think about drawing a map of your home area (and see Londonist's gallery for examples). Do you show pubs? Cinemas? Museums? Churches? Schools? Do private roads get included? What about those go-nowhere roads that are in housing estates? Where do you choose to place your boundary? Do you show bus stops? Shops? Restaurants and takeaways? Alleyways? Public toilets? Every decision you make reflects your own interests, what you consider to be important and the information you feel needs to be passed on. It isn’t any different for the pros (or the people who financially backed them).

 

Take John Rocque, for instance. His elegant map of 1746 (available on the TTX app) was made to reflect ‘the view of his middle and upper class contemporaries – that their London was the new Rome... In such maps, there was no room for the poor, the danger, sickness and grime that is the focus of much contemporary writing about London.’ (‘Mapping London’ by Simon Foxall.)

 

Even Edward Stanford’s map of 1862 (also available on the TTX app), which is considered to be one of the more politically neutral maps available as it does not exaggerate particular features or types of information, makes a pretty bold statement by ignoring the entire Isle of Dogs, deeming it not central enough for his tastes despite the importance of the docks at the time to the London economy. Even today, generations of South Londoners are treated the same way by cartographers who insist that London stops at the Thames.

Free Time Travel walk around Westminster - Saturday 18th September

by Bill Visick 14. September 2010 12:13

To celebrate the launch of Time Travel Explorer in the Apple app store, join us for a 2 hour guided walk around Westminster including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall.

  • Explore the origins of "the Minster in the West" and see how it is linked to the City of London
  • Experience the way in which the area has developed over the centuries - and what still remains of the original buildings
  • Travel through time using old maps on your iDevice

Tour provided by Sue Mayne, certified Blue Badge Guide

Meet at 10:00 on Saturday 18th. underneath Big Ben, opposite Westminster tube station.

IPhone not necessary, but if you have one make sure you've installed the app - Time Travel Explorer - Pro version recommended, low launch price still maintained.

Please register here to confirm your attendance, places are limited and there is lots of interest