Maps the way I like it

Every morning I wake up at 8am. I listen to the Today programme for 10 minutes. I so my ablutions and get ready for the day, which takes about 30 minutes. But every day, I still leave the house at 9am. The cause of the 20 minute delay is a set of maps on the way to my bathroom.

There’s a modern A1 sized London A-Z map which is like the whole A-Z on one sheet of paper. Right next to is is a smaller map, going as far west as Chelsea, as far North as Camden, as far south as Battersea and as far East as the River Lea. It’s from 1835.

Every single morning, something cathes my eye, and I’ll stand there looking at the two maps, trying to see what changed. It’s endlessly fascinating to see how new streets have followed the alignment of several older smaller streets. It’s interesting to see what survives still, and what’s completely gone.

Today’s comparing and contrasting led me to realise that the exposed part of the New River in Angel is now covered up by Colebrooke Row. In addition, what used to be the New River pond is now New River Head, it would seem, near Exmouth Market. The street I work on was there in 1835 and Battersea High Street wasn’t built in 1835, but then there was no Battersea to speak of to need a main drag anyway.

Other things I’ve found out:

Victoria Station and the tracks leading up to it used to be a canal and a canal basin.
– There’s a Euston station shaped plot of land just on New Road (now Euston Road). It matches the footprint of the station and the ‘throat’ the confluence of lines from the west coast main line on the station approach.
– There’s a St Pancras shaped plot of land further down. If someone wants to make something happen at Kings Cross, they’ll have to knock down a few buildings first. Plus ca change and all that. Thank you, residents of Bloomsbury who lobbied to keep trains from coming further south than the New Road; if they hadn’t we might have had the Central Station common to other cities. Then again, because of the need to stop at New Road, we got the Tube to link them up and bring people into the City. Swings and Roundabouts? I can’t quite decide.

I’ve been looking nearly every single day for 3 years, and everyday I find something new. It’s odd, because unlike some Blog 7 contributors, my own real explorations of London in the same period have been limited. I know places in London through maps much more than I do, and probably ever will on foot or by bus.

It’s no surprise really – when I was a teenager, I used to pore over a bus map of Manchester ever day imaging what life was like in such far flung places as Carrington or Poynton (answer – full of footballers). I used to study the Manchester A-Z in preparation for 4 hour bike rides around North Manchester like a taxi driver doing the knowledge. I came to know the streets better in my head than I could, or wanted to, in reality. Plus ca change and all that.