Sunday, 15 September 2013

The London Mappers: Thames Festival Talk

Stephen Walter 'London Subterranea' (2012)
After spending a virtual week in the troll-inhabited unmannerly wilderness of the internet, Friday took a turn for the civilised and I entered the world of maps and the City of London. As part of the Thames Festival 2013, Renaissance expert Jerry Brotton and map dealer Daniel Crouch told a cartographic story of London and its iconic river, from the first printed map of the city to recent artistic attempts at mapping the capital.

Jerry opened with statements regarding the different directions in which his and Daniel's experience of maps go. From a renaissance studies point of view his focus is the 'idea' or philosophy of maps, with emphasis on depicting the civil v barbaric. He is also interested in how maps define our identity or even imagining how the early moderns used maps. Daniel's interest is the materiality of maps - how they are presented aesthetically or how rare they are. This duality should have made for an illuminating partnership.


Jerry continued with a description of London's space from AD200 where the walls protected the population. The outline of London Wall, from Tower to Barbican is apparent on the parade of maps from 1560s onwards. This amazing feature has shaped our City for hundreds of years, even as the population overspilled in the 1600s. Even then, he questioned whether the walls were ever totally breached because maps continue to show the dense city v the 'independent villages' of Westminster, Southwark, Islington etc. Even now, Stephen Walter's map shows the city of London as the most busy on a subterranean level.

He then introduced the first London map by referring to Jacopo di Barberi's 1500 woodcut of Venice. This demonstrated the improved surveying technology and actual map making, as well as the political interest in producing images like this; all maps have an agenda. Venice sat within East and West, independently trading with both and this showed how wealthy and important the city state was. This map is drawn from a birds eye or oblique perspective view. Jerry then introduced Leonardo's 1502 ichnographic map of Imola which was created for Cesare Borgia to show how it could be invaded. This plan view of the town has a very modern O|S feel to it. Already we have seen maps used for trade and war purposes.

He claims that the first London map was produced by Georg Braun in 1572 for an atlas of notable worldwide cities. It combines both a plan and oblique view, written and illustrated and the captions enable the historian to identify why the map was commissioned. Wealthy Hanseatic alliance traders, based in Cannon Street were celebrating their success in driving trade to London. This demonstrates the cosmopolitan nature of the city and the importance of external trade. A second edition of this map shows the Royal Exchange which is politically and economically significant. [Daniel said that Sir Christopher Hatton was responsible for this building but as the grasshopper symbols denote, Sir Thomas Gresham was actually the man to thank - if I have misunderstood, feel free to argue the point!] This colourful map shows the densely packed walled City which emphasises the green space of Southwark and Vauxhall.

Now having done some research on this, it seems that this German map was based on an earlier copper plate map. As this website says,

There are few maps of sixteenth-century London, and all seem to relate to or derive from a copperplate map made in c. 1550, of which just three plates are known to survive, now in the Museum of London. A reduced version of the copperplate map was included in a folio volume published in 1572 by Braun and Hogenberg. A woodcut version, with some amendments, was published in the seventeenth century.
Several new maps were made in the second half of the seventeenth century. Wenceslas Hollar* began a large-scale and very detailed map in c. 1658, but never completed it, publishing only one sheet, though he may well have drawn on his work for the map he produced of the city shortly after the Fire of 1666.
The map by Ogilby and Morgan of the city rebuilt, in 1676, was a new, large-scale plan (100 ft to the inch, or 1:1200), and unlike its predecessors a ground-plan rather than a map-view. Ogilby and Morgan's map does not go far beyond the city, and Morgan's map of London in 1682, at 300 ft to the inch (1:3600), gives a better sense of the spreading metropolis. On a smaller scale, and less accurate, but useful for a wide overview, is the map published by James de la Feuille of London c. 1690.

So I am being very careful with these lecture notes because Brutton and Crouch seem to have given such a general lecture as to be fairly hopeless. They have raised some good introductory notes and provided some interesting source material but I am a little concerned.

There were some observations regarding the political spin doctoring of maps pre and post restoration of the monarchy. For instance the accurate scaling of the Ogilby 1676 showed the extent of royal property in the City - 'the King's Wardrobe' had been destroyed in the fire. The comparison between that one and the Morgan and Lea 1682 map is incredible - Jerry and Daniel called this map 'a torrent of superfluous decoration' and it is clear that it had royal approval. The physical statue of Charles I on horseback had recently been reinstated in Westminster where the regicides were beheaded and his appearance on this decorative map is symbolic; royalty was back.

Maps between 1700-1890s focused on the expansion into the suburbs - this was enabled by proliferation of roads, bridges and railways. For example Horwood 1799, Greenwood 1827 added more and more data. The Victorian obsession with measuring and classifying created thematic maps -  Charles Booth most famously. The changing social - poverty and ethnographic - aspects of London were being mapped for various purposes. Maps apparently supported legislation introducing the old age pension. I would like to spend more time verifying this as no other references were given. More negatively, a map of Jewish East London was used to introduce Aliens/anti immigration sentiment and legislation. Although fascinating to social historians now to see the changing population, I wonder whether it would be possible given the sensitivity of this type of data, to map population by religion/race etc now to help future researchers? Perhaps the production of the map says more about the attitudes of the time, than the actual data does?

The final few maps were Beck's iconic tube map design from 1933, the Blitz maps from 1944 and Stephen Walters 2012 subterranean London. The Blitz accounted for most of the recent London changes in architecture - gigantic holes have been filled with new buildings and it is these that have been knocked down and rebuilt over the past few years. Is this because modern buildings don't have the permanence or value of the older buildings? To replace St Paul's Cathedral, Mansion House, Covent Garden etc would be unthinkable but some of the city 1970's monstrosities?

To end these notes (on a somewhat disappointing lecture) on a high note, the image of the evening was the Stephen Walters map. The images the lecturers used were terrible so the full force of the fun, intelligence and imagination of his art wasn't felt until I investigated it online. To zoom in on where I live and see rats, Hades, runes (for Nick Hawksmore St Annes), the Black Ditch and 'the true soul of Lud' reminded me again, how much I love maps. But not for their inherent beauty and design but the layers of history they contain. As Jerry concluded, London has not so much sprawled outwards but downwards; it goes deep, deep underground to be discovered as archaeological space. And there I am, back in the wild wilderness of untamed London land again.

*Hollar and Chris Orr lecture. Fascinating stuff.

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