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Date updated: 15/09/2020

The Project

The Metropolitan Map collection is a major collection of maps which form part of the core collections at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). They are mainly printed and are an important source for documenting the history of London and its environs. The aim of the project is to catalogue the maps in order to make them easily available to researchers.

Here project archivist Amy Proctor tells us about the London Thematic Maps. This covers a wide range of topics including infrastructure and transport, schools, leisure and London’s expanding population, and Amy has taken the opportunity to look across all our collections for examples of these interesting and informative maps.


Thematic Maps

A thematic map is one where the primary interest lays not in the information contained in the base map on which the theme is plotted, but in the theme that is being highlighted on the map. The Metropolitan Map collection is particularly rich in maps covering a range of topics such as transport, including roads, railways and canals; local government and services; and social maps conveying information about the London population, mainly charting London expansion and development from the mid-1800s onwards.

London administrative boundaries

One base map of particular note in the thematic series showing boundaries of various authorities and organisations is ‘Stanford’s Library Map of London and its Suburbs’, created by Edward Stanford and first published in 1862 (with many subsequent updates and later editions); the map was described by the Royal Geographical Society as ‘the most perfect map of London that has ever been produced.’ Its creation was initially prompted by the need of the Metropolitan Board of Works (established 1855) to have an accurate survey of the area under its jurisdiction, but it was subsequently used by railway companies and later London local authorities such as the London County Council and other organisations to assist in the development of government and services to the population of the capital (examples of its use include SC/PM/TH/01/01/017-018). Stanford also published a series of ‘Local Government Maps’ at a scale of 2 inches:1 mile (1:31680) which was also extensively used by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council (SC/PM/TH/01/01/002-00). Though Stanford’s map was dominant, his rivals also produced similar maps such as that by G. W. Bacon published in 1913, which highlighted the boundaries of government departments, local authorities and supply companies (SC/PM/TH/01/01/038-055), and formed part of his series of ‘Citizens’ maps.

London infrastructure

The late nineteenth century saw a surge in metropolitan improvements including the building of railways, canals and sewers which altered vast parts of the City. The pace of development was rapid, illustrated by comparing two maps: one of the earliest maps showing the public sewers within the City of London published by the surveyor Richard Kelsey in 1841 (SC/PM/MB/01/01/104 and COL/PL/01/165/1/016) and a later map published in 1854 showing that 250 new sewers had been constructed between the two dates (SC/GL/PR/GP/LA/005/K1306698). Many of the maps relating to infrastructure were created for official purposes, such as those used by the Royal Commission on London Traffic (SC/PH/TH/01/19).

London services

Maps illustrating a range of London services survive, sometimes these were stimulated by parliamentary request, such as the many produced showing the areas of supply by the competing water and gas companies, and there are several examples in the collection of the ‘Davies’s New Map of the British Metropolis’ being adapted for such purposes (such as SC/PM/TH/01/09/001). Others were created to help plan services. One example is the School Board for London (SBL) maps. The SBL was inaugurated in 1870 and was tasked with creating elementary school provision across London. The SBL maps, based on Edward Stanford’s ‘Library map of London and its suburbs’, plot the sites of schools and the extent of school districts. They were used to identify areas where educational provision was either lacking or had become oversubscribed due to population increases. Similar maps were prepared showing the provision of hospitals (SC/PM/TH/01/12) and were used in making decisions about where new facilities were required.

London people

The population expansion of London is illustrated in a series of maps recording the density of population in the census years (SC/PM/TH/01/15); poverty in the East End of London is shown on a map compiled by the visitors’ reports of the School Board for London in 1889 (SC/PM/TH/01/16/003). There was also a steady increase in demand for more tourist and leisure maps. Visitor maps often included not only street indexes, but also information about the location of places of interest such as music halls and museums, as well as providing tables to enable the visitor to calculate Hackney Coach fares; within the collection there are several examples published between 1900 and the 1950s (SC/PM/TH/01/22). And for those in London who desired an excursion further afield, a number of maps were produced such as G. W. Bacon’s, ‘Fifty Mile Round London Road and Cycling Map’ (for a 1910 edition see SC/PM/TH/01/24/007).

Access to the collection

Detailed descriptions of the full range of the Thematic Maps in the Metropolitan Map collection can be viewed on the LMA Collections Catalogue with the parent reference SC/PM/TH. Additionally, there are many other thematic maps across the archival collections, particularly within the records of London’s Local Governmental Bodies such as the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW); London County Council (LCC) and the Greater London Council (GLC). If you are unable to visit LMA to consult the maps, a selection from across the LMA collections can be viewed on Collage: The London Picture Archive.