Rain Stops Play: A Brief Visit to West Norwood Cemetery

Remember when we were all worried about freak weather? Back in February we’d arranged to meet our friend Laurence Worms for a tour of West Norwood Cemetery, which is especially rich in dead members of the map trade. Opening in 1836, it was the second of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ to be built, and Laurence estimates there are 40 map-makers and engravers residing there; as he co-wrote the definitive Dictionary of British Map Engravers, he knows where the bodies are buried better than anyone. Unfortunately Storm Dennis picked the same weekend to brew up what Wikipedia is pleased to describe as ‘one of the most intense extratropical cyclones ever recorded’. We all got a soaking, and the ground was too sodden for us to stray from the main paths. Before retreating to the pub we did find Charles Pearson, who campaigned tirelessly for an underground railway in London for a quarter of a century. He calculated the yard-by-yard cost of demolishing London on the surface and argued passionately for going underneath, building a subterranean railway to bring fresh food as well as commuters into the heart of the city. We handled one of his early plans about 18 months ago, a map of a proposed Farringdon terminus for a railway worked by atmospheric pressure: Pearson died in 1862, a matter of months before the Metropolitan Railway opened. It’s fair to say that London would not have enjoyed the benefits of the world’s first underground railway without him.


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