diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 25, 2006

London: A Life in Maps
British Library: 24 November 2006 - 4 March 2007

You can tell an awful lot about the history of London from its maps. Not that there were many London maps to begin with, because they weren't needed. But the British Library has amassed an enormous collection of London maps from the last 500 years or so, and their new cartographic exhibition makes for fascinating viewing. I thought I'd better visit on the first day before it gets too popular, because it surely will.

The exhibition is divided into eight sections, from the old walled City to postwar suburban sprawl. Inbetween you get to watch the capital expand, gradually at first, then with increasing speed towards the docks in the east and the prestigious estates to the west. See how quickly ye olde London was wiped from the map by the Great Fire, only to be rebuilt in ten years flat. Watch the fields north of Piccadilly sprout streets and squares and mansions. You can even track the River Fleet as it evolves from stream to ditch to underground sewer... or maybe that was just me. Some of the maps are bloody huge, which is great because it means you can get up close and inspect the really small detail. Many of the earlier maps are more pictorial than planar, but they're all equally beautiful and intricate in their own way.

Bow 1825What many visitors seem to do (and I'll confess to being no exception) is to pay extra special attention to the place where they live. It helps if you live somewhere fairly central, of course, and I'm fortunate that Bow often crept onto the very easternmost edge of certain maps. I was able to trace Bow first as a medieval village on the banks of the Lea, then a tiny 'town' surrounded by grassy meadowland, and finally a suburb swallowed whole by expanding London. If you'd have been wandering around the exhibition with me I'd probably have bored you silly by pointing out every time I spotted precisely where my house now stands, and you'd probably have done the same.

It's just my sort of exhibition, filled with frame after frame of cartographic porn to salivate over. I'm sure I'll be back for another visit at a later date, just so I can stare again at the million and one details I overlooked the first time. But in the meantime there's plenty to view from home. The free exhibition guide folds out to reveal a high quality print of Richard Newcourt's pre-Fire London map of 1658, which is gorgeous. I was also inspired to buy a copy of the book accompanying the exhibition, as did a surprisingly high proportion of departing visitors. At £15 a time (£25 hardback) the British Library have a worthwhile moneyspinner here, and very lovely the book is too. And if you can't get to the exhibition yourself, or can't get there yet, there's an excellent website to explore complete with images of several of the maps. It's based on a virtual Google map, of course, and there are some real gems tucked away on there. You've got three months to get your A-Z out and find your way to the British Library to see for yourself.

London: A Life in Maps (admission free)
London: A Life in Maps - virtual exhibition
more reviews of the exhibition
Old London Maps (explore 16th-19th century London in detail)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream