Historical London Atlases and Maps

Having indicated in a previous post the wide geographical range and subjects covered by atlases and maps held at Marylebone Library this the first of two blogs focusing on London maps.

An historical map is usually viewed in isolation but it is worth realizing that

“a map contains layer upon layer of information, enabling intricate connections to be recognised and made”
– from Simon Foxell’s ‘Mapping London

This fascinating book uses over 150 maps as illustrations to a number of themes relating to the development of London, including transport, health, the rise in population, changing administrative boundaries and ending with several futuristic visions for the redevelopment of the city and using historically published maps for these themes.

The acceleration of London’s physical growth in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries was generated by the rise of rail transport which linked formerly separate settlements to the centre.

London Railway Atlas, by Joe BrownThe London Railway Atlas graphically illustrates the growth of railways and later London Underground network to the newly constructed suburbs.

Use this atlas to date the opening and in many cases the closure of specific lines and stations. It also includes recent developments such as the Dockland Light Railway and the Croydon Tram networks and also anticipates the route and stations for Crossrail 1.

Current road layout is often governed by natural and human geographical features. A 19th century housing development layout may be confined by the original field boundaries and so not laid out in a formal grid system. Even within the regimented Marylebone area street grid, the sinuous path of Marylebone Lane and northern end of Marylebone High Street stands out. Reprinted in Roque’s map (see below), these roads existed prior to the area’s late 18th century urban development and this sinuous route followed the course of a “lost watercourse”, the Tyburn brook which flowed south to the Thames from Hampstead.

Map extract from John Rocque’s 1741 plan of the Cities of London and Westminster.

Map extract from John Rocque’s 1741 plan of the Cities of London and Westminster.

This map extract from John Rocque’s 1741 plan of the Cities of London and Westminster (A to Z of Georgian London) shows the Marylebone pleasure gardens, now occupied by Beaumont Street and Marylebone Library. Note the urban encroachment from the south around Wigmore Row (Street).



The second map extract is taken from Richard Horwood’s survey 50 years later (The A to Z of Regency London). Urban expansion using the current grid road layout had now extended northwards over the former fields from Wigmore Street.

Map extract from Richard Horwood's The A to Z of Regency London

Map extract from Richard Horwood’s The A to Z of Regency London

Beaumont Street (bottom left corner) and the adjacent streets are now depicted together, with Regents Park to the north. Richard Horwood and successors took 20 years to complete this London map, mainly due financial problems and the fact that it was difficult to maintain pace with London’s rapid urban growth. Interestingly the compilers of the map were caught out by anticipating a future development which was never completed. John Nash’s original development plan for Regents Park and Regent’s Street included Regent’s Circus as shown on this map extract. Only the southern part of the circus, Park Crescent situated at the north end of Portland Place was built.

These two map extracts were taken from a series of historical London atlases mapping the Elizabethan city to the development of Edwardian London. Several other historical London atlases can also be found at Marylebone Library reference collection.

This post has only touched upon a few of the historical maps depicting the Westminster area. For anyone who has caught the historic maps bug, why not use your Westminster Libraries membership to consult the Westminster Archives Centre maps and plans collection. A study of these maps could be combined with the use of Westminster street and buildings’ images from the centre’s collection of over 70,000 prints, photographs and original artworks.



Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.