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Perambulations around London

Perambulations around London

Antique maps of the environs of London generate mixed emotions among dealers and collectors. When the extent is simply too broad - 21, 25 or even 30 miles round the capital - one can be left with the feeling that the detail of the built-up area has been sacrificed, without gaining a greater understanding of a recognised administrative area, such as a county. On the other hand, when maps extend 10, 12 or 15 miles round Charing Cross they are often on a scale which provides fascinating insights into the small towns and villages which were swallowed up by London over the course of the nineteenth-century. If your interests lie north of Regent’s Park, south of the Oval, west of Hyde Park or east of the Tower then the typical Georgian or early Victorian map of ‘London’ isn’t going to be terribly helpful. You’ll need something like this:

That’s in the here and now, but what about when the map was first made? As you may have gathered, maps of this nature were produced in different guises by many of the leading map-makers of the day. Successful map-makers reworked the same material and presented it in different forms for different markets, but there clearly was a general market, and every now and again we are given another clue which helps us identify another aspect of the intended audience for these maps. In this case it’s in the title. "The Pedestrian’s Companion. Fifteen miles round London" was drawn by William Ebden, engraved by Sidney Hall and published by M.J. Godwin in 1822. It was hand-coloured at the time, dissected and laid on linen so that it could be folded and carried in the pocket. This example displays signs of use, but it is quite a scarce thing - a search on COPAC turns up just a single institutional example, in the British Library. It isn’t mine any more either, as it was purchased this morning by my friend Laurence Worms. He’s quite happy for me to talk about the map in general terms, but do visit his own superb blog to learn more about Sidney, and and his wife and fellow engraver Selina Hall. William Ebden, who drew the map, is also worth following up. David Smith wrote an excellent article for Imago Mundi (Vol. 43, Issue 1, 1991) in which he describes “Ebden’s impressive county maps” as “typical of the best produced for English county atlases in the early nineteenth century”, ranking with those published by Cary, Darton, the Greenwood brothers and others. This is a very nice map and it catches London at an interesting moment, just before the coming of the railways, but it’s the target audience of ‘pedestrians’ which I find so intriguing. One tends to think of rambling as being a rather recent pastime, perhaps late Victorian, or even twentieth century. And there are, indeed, numerous surviving maps and guides from that period, many published by London Transport and the various railway companies - who obviously had a commercial interest in encouraging the use of their services for leisure pursuits. However, the idea of escaping from the London smog for a breath of fresh air and some country living is much, much older. Take the example of Finsbury Park, now on the border between TfL’s Zones One and Two. When it was laid out in the 1860s it was still surrounded by fields, but it had been a place of recreation for Londoners for at least a century. Old Hornsey Wood Tavern stood on the site, where one could enjoy a game of cricket, a spot of fishing in the New River, rabbit or pigeon shooting, a drink and of course some fresh air. One can imagine a map like ours being used in planning this or similar excursions.

Nor is our map entirely isolated. Isaak Tirion’s map of London and environs was published in Amsterdam in 1754:

His source, credited, was John Rocque’s much larger survey, which Rocque himself merely describes as covering “the country near ten miles round”. However, Tirion specifies that his map covers London and environs “gelegen ruim een uur gaans”, over an hour’s walk. Considerably over an hour’s walk in some cases, at my pace anyway, but the point is made. A pedestrian’s map was not altogether alien even in an age when Knightsbridge and Chelsea were small villages, and most of Hyde Park was surrounded by countryside. 

Edited to add (29/11/13): A gently admonishing message in my inbox from Laurence advises me that “there is more, so much more”. He’s talking about the 1822 map engraved by one or other of the Halls, of course. I’d idly wondered who the publisher M.J. Godwin was, and so had Laurence. I don’t think either of us had seen the imprint on a map before. The difference is that Laurence then went and found out … "It’s only Mary Jane Godwin, formerly Clairmont, née de Vial (1768-1841), translator and bookseller – the “monstrous stepmother” herself" writes Laurence. That’s the wife of philosopher William Godwin and stepmother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The Godwins opened a bookshop in 1805, according to ODNB, and began to commission works under the M.J. Godwin imprint a couple of years later. They specialised in children’s books and a quick trawl through institutional holdings does not immediately bring any other maps to light, but I have a feeling I am going to have to search a little harder. Can it really be a one off? 

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