Last year the BBC released a documentary series entitled The Beauty of Maps. Episode 2 explored William Morgan’s remarkable Map of London (1682) which was produced after the Great London Fire of 1666. This was the first time the whole city had ever been surveyed, drawn to scale, and depicted with such detail. But the BBC documentary also notes the significant omissions of Morgan's map including features like prisons and other examples of the blight of London’s “low life”. View video clip of Morgan’s Map of London.
In the following century John Rocque produced a larger and more detailed new map of London (circa 1746) that had a similar sanitized view of the city. The surveying and cartography took about ten years to complete and was printed across 24 sheets. While the purpose of the map had everything to do with the execution of an accurate survey it also expressed to the world the grandeur (and size) of London as a world city. Again the features of the map sought to omit the presence of London low life however both maps had a significant influence on English cartographic map production of the time and for ages to come.
Image courtesy of Adam Matthew Education
Emory University Libraries recently added to its collection a database of materials focusing on street life in Victorian London entitled London Low Life: Street Culture, Social Reform, and the Victorian Underworld. The collection includes an interactive map that overlays historic maps of London (1801-1900) on current map data provided by the OpenStreetMap project. Users can search place names on the map and change the transparency of the historic map to compare the historical image with present day.
Another mapping feature, Tallis Street Views, allows the user to explore street level engravings of block facades by linking map symbology with a viewing window. The collection also includes fast literature, posters, advertising, playbills, ballads, broadsides, penny fiction, cartoons, chapbooks, street cries, Swell’s guides to London prostitution, gambling and drinking dens as well as tourist guides, and the manuscripts of George Gissing. Points of interest, population data, and landmarks are also presented via the interactive map. This project exemplifies how archival resources can be brought together in meaningful ways. The London Low Life database is an exciting assemblage of maps and other digital artifacts that can be useful for research or just plain browsing the underbelly of Victorian London.
For more information on using historic maps in research contact Michael Page, Electronic Data Center, Emory University Libraries
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