The (Offset) Streets of London

It’s time for another look through my old map collection, and this time I thought I’d finally get round to the map that actually inspired me to start this blog in the first place. On the front cover, it looks just like a normal petrol station road map, illustrated with generic tourist images (just so you know you’re in London, there’s Tower Bridge, a Beefeater, and a Routemaster bus).

Esso London front cover

Front Cover

The back cover shows the coverage of the series. London is the only city that has been mapped in detail – the other sheets seem to be smaller scale touring maps.

Back cover

Back cover

Looking inside is when it gets interesting, though. Street maps are generally produced in two styles – cased street symbols and centred labels, as seen on European-style street maps, or North American-style maps where labels are offset from thinner, single street features. The former style is prevalent among web maps from across the world, as I couldn’t find an online example of streets with offset labels. See below for a print map excerpt from 2000, with the same area on a web map.

Paris Michelin

European map

North American print map

North American print map

North American web map

North American web map

This London map is different though; it is a map of Europe, but done in the North American style. I’ve never seen a British street map that looks like this before. When you look closely at the labelling, there are a lot more interesting details. It has clearly been done by hand, as the spacing and font sizes are quite inconsistent. For example, Brushfield Street has been broken up so the letters don’t overlap the street underneath, but Artillery Lane is evenly spread along the street, with some letters clashing with the side streets below.  On Bishopsgate, however, the underlying features have been broken, so the label is surrounded by white space. The Houndsditch label has also been spaced out, with other labels placed in the spaces.

London detail 1

London detail 1

On example 2, more labels have been squeezed into the spaces between the characters of  Monument and King William Street. You can see text going right up into the Ls of William.

London detail 2

London detail 2

Example 3: again, Upper Thames Street has been stretched along the length of the feature, with other labels in the spaces. Note also, Bankside Power Station, or, as it is known today, Tate Modern.

London detail 3

London detail 3

Marshalsea Road, on example 4, has more feature masking.

London detail 4

London detail 4

Example 5 shows how the junction at Holborn Circus is masked, but Ludgate Circus is not. The gridlines are also broken for Farringdon Street Station, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and the GPO. Charterhouse Street shows a mixture of feature masking and character spacing to fit the label in.

London detail 5

London detail 5

In example 6, the street labels mostly have extra spacing between words so the two parts of the name line up across the terraces. Other streets have spacing between characters to fill the feature, as above. The U of Queensbridge Road seems to have fallen in the canal though, which is a bit unfortunate.

London detail 6

London detail 6

Lots of character spacing in example 7, especially Leonard Street and Epworth Street, and lots of labels in spaces, especially City Road.

London detail 7

London detail 7

And in the last example, we can see the date of the map, 1959. Also of interest in this corner is the Surrey Canal – I didn’t know there was a canal running through the middle of Camberwell. Unfortunately, it has now been filled in and forms part of Burgess Park. This blog offers more detail and laments what could have been had gentrification reached this part of town a bit sooner.

London detail 8

London detail 8

On the reverse of the map, the whole of Greater London is shown at a smaller scale. It’s not as interesting as the street-level map, so I’ve just included a view of how the docks and Greenwich looked in 1959.

London detail 9

London detail 9

The last item of interest here is a tube map by one H. C. Beck. It looks quite different to modern tube maps, with fewer diagonals and station names fully capitalised. A quick look on the London Tube Map Archive shows it to be a monochrome version of the 1958 edition.

London tube map

London tube map

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