Time Travel Explorer Blog

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.

London's first lido

by Peter Watts 15. March 2011 11:43

Just behind Moorfields Eye Hospital off City Road is one of those London streets with an intriguing name. It's called Peerless Street, and a clue to the origin of its name actually lies in the name of one of the streets it ajoins - Bath Street. For here in Clerkenwell, just north of Bunhill Fields and adjacent to the unmappable confusions of Old Street roundabout, sat London's first public swimming pool.

The Peerless Pool opened in 1743 and can be seen in tremendous detail on our first Time Travel Explorer map of 1746.

This was the first open air pool in London for 'all gentlemen lovers of swimming and bathing'. It was fed by a nearby spring but there was a problem. The pond had been known as 'Perilous Pond' for three hundred years thanks to the number of people that had drowned there. However, a jeweler called William Kemp was not concerned. He converted the pond into a pool 170 feet long and 50 feet wide, filled the bottom with gravel and, in a stroke of marketing geniusm renamed it Peerless Pool.

The pool was advertised as a 'place where gentlemen could without danger learn to swim' and was a great success, surviving for more than 100 years.

Here it is in 1799, almost unchanged although with encroaching buildings hinting at what was to come. The pool is actually the body of water on the right with the distinctive semi-circular knob on the end; the water marked as the pool was a fish pond (as seen in the more accurate 1746 map) filled with carp and tench for anglers. The area also had a bowling green and dressing rooms.

By 1830, things were starting to change. Joseph Watts took over the pool and built Baldwin Street over the fishpond. However, Peerless Pool was still in regular use, even if it was now increasingly hemmed in.

Onward to 1862 and it's just hanging on, although its days are clearly numbered. Whereas the map of 1746 had shown Peerless Pool as a bucolic spot in the countryside with barely a house or road in sight, the view from poolside in 1862 is very different: streets and houses are all around; to the south looms St Luke's Hospital For Lunatics and the bowling green is now covered by almhouses. 

Which brings us today and those suddenly tell-tale names, Peerless Street and Bath Street, all we have remaining of what can rightly be considered London's first lido.

'Thank God for the quiet grave'

by Peter Watts 3. February 2011 10:00

So far on this blog we have concentrated on the ways in which old maps allow us to see the ways in which London has changed, but now let us consider how it can sometimes stay the same, for centuries. And where better to start than a graveyard, the ‘quiet grave’ spoken of by Keats in the blog title.

St George’s Gardens in Bloomsbury, close to the Foundling Museum, was once the burial grounds of two churches - St George-the-Martyr in Queen Square and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St George, Bloomsbury. These days they are a peaceful and well-tended spot, containing little of note other than a Chapel of Rest, a statue that used to belong to the Apollo Theatre on Tottenham Court Road and – for fans of Iain Sinclair – a decent-sized obelisk in one corner. The burial grounds were said to have been laid out by Hawksmoor, and he is also believed to have designed the monument for Robert Nelson, who was the first man buried here in 1715.

Then, St George’s Gardens were a spot on the very edge of the city and these were the first London burial grounds to be laid out at a distance from their church. As can be seen in the map of 1746, they were in the middle of fields north of London with barely a building in the sight. The two burial grounds lie at an angle, adjacent to each other – and today a series of stones down the centre shows how the cemetery was once divided into two parts, one for each of the two churches that shared the space.

Fifty years later, in 1799, strikingly little had changed and the burial ground was still adrift amid the fields of soon-to-be London.

Skip forward to 1830, though, and we are looking at a different picture. Bloomsbury was now very much in evidence, with streets surrounding the burial grounds on all side. Still, though, they retain their distinctive shape and were almost certainly still in use - most central London burial grounds were only closed in 1850 when the Burial Act led to the construction of the giant cemeteries at Nunhead, Kensal Green and elsewhere. It's believed St George's carried on burying the dead of London until 1855. 

After closing, many burial grounds were simply built over, but St George's survived. Here it is in 1862, almost completely unchanged.

In 1885 it was converted into a park, but most of the graves and memorials were left intact. And here it is today, a serene scene of familiar constancy for almost 300 years, while London has changed all around it. People often find graveyards to be a peaceful retreat from the modern world, and this could be one of the reasons why.

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.

Men Behind the Maps: John Rocque

by Matt Brown 12. November 2010 17:23

The earliest map on Time Travel Explorer London is also one of the most famous in the capital’s history. The John Rocque map of 1747 was far and away the most detailed up to that time, surpassing many of those that followed. Unlike earlier maps, the Rocque charts show the innumerable alleys and courts as well as the main thoroughfares. It stands as one of our greatest sources on the early Georgian city.

But who was John Rocque? His early years are a little shady. We know he was born no later than 1709, when he moved to London from France with his parents and three siblings - a family of Huguenots fleeing religious persecution on the continent. ‘Jean’, as he was originally known, seems to have taken to horticulture as a young man, and produced plans and diagrams of several notable gardens in the south-east in his 20s and 30s while living with his brother Bartholomew, himself a landscape gardener. He built up a solid reputation as a cartographer and engraving, working from premises in Great Windmill Street, Soho.

His masterpiece came in 1737. The map of London took ten years to produce, and was carried on 24 separate sheets. It is a work of both beauty and clarity, as can be readily seen in Time Travel Explorer. As well as recording the centre of London in great detail, it also stretches out to regions of farmland and hamlets that we now think of as relatively central parts of London. To the North, much of Bloomsbury and Kings Cross are little more than fields, with the River Fleet still flowing openly down from Hampstead. West, and Knightsbridge is shown as ‘the Five Fields’. South of the river, villages such as Newington and Walworth are surrounded by open country. While to the East, development is limited mostly to the ancient tracks of Old Kent Road and Mile End Road.

The map’s success led to Rocque’s appointment as cartographer to the Prince of Wales in 1751. He went on to construct maps of other cities, counties and the whole country. He married twice, first to a lady known as Marthe, and later to a Mary-Ann Bew. The latter carried on the family business after Rocque’s death in January 1762.

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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.