Capital Idea

Maps are both decorative and lend a wonderful historic insight — none more so than those of London

Maps offer the perfect way to gaze uponLondon from a bird’s eye perspective. Although the Thames has barely changed, the city has rapidly evolved and developed, from the Tudors to the Windsors. The maps differ in scale, style and scope, but they all share the common desire to render the chaotic city intelligible, in order that even a stranger could navigate London’s labyrinthine streets — a wish that is repeated in many of Victorian city plans’ titles. For the budding collector with an affinity for the city there is vast array spanning four centuries available. They can be subdivided into specific styles, types, and themes ranging from grand 18th-century town plans to those of the London Tube.


The first place to start when looking at maps of London is the first printed map of the city: Braun and Hogenberg’s magnificent plan was first published in their seminal town book Civitates Orbis Terrarum, 1572. London is depicted in birds-eye view from the south looking north. Above the plan is the title in Latin flanked by the royal and the City of London’s arms. In the foreground are four figures in traditional Tudor dress, together with two cartouches with text. The text on the left hand side is a paean to London, which is said to be “famed amongst many peoples for its commerce, adorned with houses and churches, distinguished by fortifications, famed for men of all arts and sciences, and lastly for its wealth in all things”. The text to the right deals with the Hanseatic League, which is praised for its global trade and its “tranquility and peace in public affairs”, and names their trading hall in London, known as the Stillard.

The royal barge can be seen gliding along the Thames alongside numerous ferrymen and sailing vessels. On the south bank of the river is the new district of Southwark, with its theatres, and bull and bear baiting pits. To the left is Westminster, connected to the City by a single road – with Westminster Abbey clearly visible. To the north of Westminster, cows are depicted grazing in open fields.

Although published in 1572, the plan is clearly based upon information gathered some years earlier. St Paul’s is shown with its spire, which was destroyed in 1561; the cross in St Botolph’s Churchyard is shown, although it was destroyed in 1559; and York Place, so named in 1557, is given its old name ‘Suffolke Place’.

The view was most definitely derived from a 15-sheet; city plan, of which only three plates have survived. The original plan was probably commissioned by the Hanseatic League, at sometime around 1550, hence the praise heaped upon the League in the text on the plan.


The most famous cartographer of 18th-century London was John Rocque; a French Huguenot who settled in England, where he published over 100 maps, plans and road books between 1734 and his death in 1762.

Rocque’s business of surveying and map publishing occupied various premises in London. At first he was at The Canister and Sugar Loaf in Great Windmill Street, Soho, an area popular with French emigrants. He later moved to Hyde Park Road, a section of Piccadilly, then a centre for dealers in garden statuary and fountains. He described himself as living next door to the Duke of Grafton’s Head, the statuary yard occupied by John Cheere, before taking up larger premises on The Strand.

‘The most famous cartographer of 18th-century London was John Rocque; a French Huguenot who settled in England, where he published over 100 maps, plans and road books between 1734 and his death in 1762’

Rocque’s town plans were surveyed by trigonometrical observations from towers and other tall buildings and by checking the results with instrumental measurements of angles and distances taken on the ground. He created two iconic plans of London in 1743, one on 24 sheets depicting the built-up area of London (followed by a 16-sheet map surveying London covering an area from Hampton Court in the west to Woolwich in the east, and from Harrow-on-the-Hill in the north to beyond Bromley in the south — 247 square miles in all.

A new generation of cartographers followed on from Rocque’s tradition in an effort to keep up with the rapid expansion of the city, including Richard Horwood and Christopher Greenwood.

Fan maps
Maps of London are not confined to the traditional format of an engraved sheet of paper — there are fascinating instances of maps of the city in unusual forms, including a folding fan and with embossed details.

Folding fans have their origins in Japan and were brought to Europe with the increased trade in the 15th and 16th centuries when they were highly prized for the delicate designs of the sticks and guards in ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell. The livery charter for the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers was established in 1709, and the art form became immensely popular, particularly with the incorporation of printed designs for the leaves, making them more widely available. Examples of fans with printed maps of London, include one version featuring wood and bone sticks with a map of the city by Richard Bennett from 1760.


George Michael Bauerkeller introduced an interesting twist to the traditional map sheet when he published his plan of London in 1841 that combined coloured lithography and embossing. The plan shows each locality in a different colour and features built up areas raised in white, similar to the technique of Braille. Extending from Islington in the north to Kennington in the south and from Kensington High Street in the west to the West India Docks, with an inset of Greenwich at a smaller scale.

In an advertisement in The Sporting Magazine advertiser Ackermann announces its publication: “The Buildings are raised, and, with the Railroads, Parks, Squares, &c. appear very prominent. The Parishes are also distinguished in delicate tints., and the entire arrangement is so remarkably conspicuous that, whether for the Visitor or the Office, its utility will be generally acknowledged.”

Bauerkeller went on to published around 35 embossed maps of cities around the world, including Mexico City, Vienna and Paris.


At the turn of the 20th century, Edward Stanford (1827-1904), a highly-successful publisher known for his accurate maps of London, produced an unusual map of the parish and historical borough of Chelsea.

A thick black line denotes the outline of the “Union, Parly. & Met. Boro. Bdy.”. Chelsea was made a borough in the London Government Act of 1899, which divided the city into 28 metropolitan boroughs and the city of Westminster. Previously, local government had been overseen by the parish of St Luke’s Chelsea, which is also labelled on the map.


The London Tube map is an icon of the city. Its neat colouring and linear depiction belies the complexity of the underground web of tunnels – a perfect example of distilling order of out chaos. This map is the work of the engineer Harry Beck, who designed it at the age of 29 in 1933.

Beck’s work was an updated version of plans designed and drawn by Frederick H. Stingemore, a draughtsman working for the London Underground. The plan went through 11 editions between 1925 and 1932. The first editions hoped to simplify the network by compressing the outlying lines in comparison to the intricate and congested central area.

Although distorted, the plan still follows the general geographical layout; however, all ground detail has been omitted, including the River Thames. This evidently led to some confusion, as from the third edition the river was reinstated.


Charles Booth’s London poverty maps provide an exciting collecting niche

On April 17, 1886, aided by a small number of volunteers, the social reformer Charles Booth (1840-1916) set off on foot in the East End of London to conduct preliminary enquiries into the living conditions and occupations of its local inhabitants.

Every street, court and block of buildings was to be examined and analysed with the first poverty map covering Hoxton, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Mile End Road and Limehouse. The colouring of the map depicts, by street: “The Lowest Class. Vicious, semi-criminal” (black); “Very Poor, casual. Chronic Want” (blue); “Poor. 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family” (light blue); “Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor” (purple); “Fairly Comfortable. Good ordinary earnings” (pink); “Well-to-do. Middle class” (red); “Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy” (Booth’s highest class) (yellow), which didn’t appear on the first map.

Booth was not only concerned about impoverishment but also looked into its alleviation. In 1899, he published Old Age Pensions and the Aged Poor: A Proposal which set out his thoughts on state pension prevision. It would, however, take another nine years for his ideas to reach the statue book, when the Liberal Party passed the Old Age Pensions Act, in 1908. Even then Booth’s recommendations were not fully adopted, with pensions set to be means tested rather than universal, which didn’t come into effect until 1946.

The London School of Economics (LSE) retains the archive of Booth’s original research and interview notebooks, numbering over 450 in total.


How do you know if a map is worth pennies or thousands?

Most maps and prints printed prior to 1870 were printed without colour, using black ink. However, many publishers added colour (typically watercolour, but occasionally gouache) shortly after printing and before the maps or prints were bound or mounted on linen for sale. The term ‘Original colour’ is often used to describe colour added by the publisher from a known palette at the time of publication; while ‘Contemporary colour’ describes colour added at, or around, the time of publication by a colourist other than publisher, typically using a palette different from that usually associated with the publication. ‘Modern colour’ refers to colour added within the last 30 years.

Identifying Value
Value is a function of the desirability of subject matter, historical importance, condition, beauty, age, size and rarity. While there is no set formula, each of these factors plays a role in valuation.

Printed material, almost by definition, was produced in some quantity. In all but a few instances, any given printed item will have been offered for sale more than once over the years, meaning that there is the ability to evaluate prior sales as an indicator of value. In most instances, there are recent sales and current offerings which a dealer or collector can look to in order to provide guidance on valuation.

Chart your own path
For a new collector it is a good idea to focus on what interests you. Whether your theme is regional, historical, genealogical, or an artist or author, finding a theme that you like will help you to focus on creating a unique collection. One of the exciting parts of collecting antique maps and atlases is that there are discoveries being made every year, with new maps being appreciated for the first time.

Many collectors are conducting their own pioneering studies within their collecting themes. The number of specialist map collecting books has grown exponentially in the past 20 years and will continue to do so. Finding an unrecorded map or identifying previously unrecorded or under-appreciated information on a map is one of the great joys of collecting. Some of the smallest and seemingly nondescript maps yield some of the most significant discoveries. There is a vast amount of scholarship yet unwritten and fascinating thematic studies yet to be conducted.

May Geolot is a specialist at London-based Daniel Crouch Rare Books which stocks a number of original London maps, including some mentioned in this article. Prices range from £350 for Stingemore’s map of the London Tube to £10,000 for Stanford’s map of Chelsea. For more details go to