Time Travel Explorer Blog

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.

Old-school Mapping At Stanfords

by Matt Brown 10. September 2010 15:41

GPS, the Internet and hand-held devices have revolutionised the way we use maps. If you've already downloaded Time Travel Explorer, you'll be more than aware of the possibilities that digital technologies have opened up for the map fiend. Sometimes, though, nothing beats the experience of pouring over a crisp paper copy. If you want to get your hands on some original cartography, I can recommend one house of charts above all others: Stanfords.

This topping shop in Covent Garden specialises in maps, atlases and travel guides of all kinds, proudly claiming the distinction of ‘world's largest stock of maps and travel books under one roof'. But don't take my word for its charms; ask Mr Sherlock Holmes. The savy detective knew a thing or two about cartography, and relied on the shop for an Ordnance map of Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles (although Watson mistakenly records the name as Stamford's).

The shop predates even Holmes by several decades. Edward Stanford (1827-1904) learnt his trade as assistant and later partner to map seller Trelawney Saunders at number 6 Charing Cross, a short stroll away on what is now Whitehall. The company fragmented in 1853, and Stanford took on sole ownership, putting his name above the door. The resourceful young man, still in his mid-20s, capitalised on Britain's imperial expansions with his own spot of empire building. He acquired neighbouring properties and set to work commissioning new and detailed maps of every corner of the globe. In 1873, a printing works was purchased on Long Acre, later to become the headquarters of the company that I and thousands of other Londoners know and love to this day.

One of Stanfords' most successful works was the 1862 Library Map of London, widely hailed as the most accurate of the time (you can see just how clear it is by opening the Time Travel Explorer - it's one of the featured maps). The business also provided charts for the Cabinet War Rooms, to help Churchill plot his way to victory in the Second World War. At the other extreme, Stanfords also produced tiny toy atlases to populate Queen Mary's dolls' house. I noticed that one such example is on display at the current Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library, right alongside the world's largest atlas. (I also recommend tracking down the fabulous dolls' house, on permanent exhibition at Windsor Castle.)

Stanfords remained in family hands until 1947, when it was sold to George Philip & Son. It has since de-merged to once again trade under its famous old name. Make sure you pop inside next time you're in the area.

Stanfords can be found at 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden. A more detailed history can be read on Stanfords' own site.