Map of the Month: March 2023

Published March 3, 2023
Updated Sep. 26, 2023

Our March Map of the Month is this 1880s “City of London Directory Map” by William Hill and Leonard Collinridge. It depicts the rapidly growing metropolis of London in detail, including the city’s wards, important buildings, parks, and its impressive new underground rail system. 

1880s map of London with color-coded wards, rail lines, and multiple landmarks and significant buildings
City of London Directory Map, ca. 1880, W.H. & L. Collindige

Throughout the 19th century, London grew from a modest city into the largest city in the world. The center of this growth was the part of the city now known as “Old London”, a bustling and historic center around which a multitude of suburbs developed. Toward the end of the century, this central part of London was full of important buildings like banks, churches, stores, and hospitals. Many of the buildings and public spaces on this map are now recognized as iconic parts of historic London. Many of these spaces have also played significant roles in the cultural traditions of London. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral and surrounding gardens next to several government offices in Castlebaynard Ward
St. Paul’s Cathedral and Castlebaynard Ward magnified

One of the most iconic buildings depicted on this map is St. Paul’s cathedral. It is one of the largest churches in the world and the location of many events and celebrations held by the royal family, the most famous of which was the wedding of King Charles III and Lady Diana Spencer. Construction on this cathedral began in 1675 and was finished in 1710. It was built as a replacement for the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral that was destroyed in the Great Fire of London 1666. Rather than reconstruct the old cathedral, it was decided that a more modern cathedral should be designed instead, which resulted in the current cathedral’s English Baroque style design. It is known best for its massive dome, which made it the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1963 before modern skyscrapers surpassed it. In addition to the cathedral itself, this map also marks the statue of Queen Anne located in the cathedral’s courtyard. The statue honors Queen Anne as the reigning monarch at the time of the cathedral’s construction. The current statue is actually a replica constructed in 1886 after the original 1712 piece was defaced and damaged multiple times. 

Flora of the Victoria Embankment and Temple Gardens depicted in great detail
Victoria Embankment and Temple Gardens

The incredibly detailed engraving of this map is one of its most impressive features. There is much attention paid to conveying as many landmarks of the city as possible, down to the incorporation of individual trees and other foliage throughout London’s parks and gardens. One of the best examples of this are the trees shown along the Victoria Embankment near Temple Church and the Temple Gardens. Construction on the Victoria Embankment was completed in 1870 and by the time of this map’s publication it had already grown quite popular for its beauty, likely explaining why it is displayed prominently on this map. It was also considered a novelty at this time because for a short time (1878-1884) the lamps on the embankment were powered by electricity rather than traditional gas power. Although the lamps were transitioned back to gas power later, the Victoria Embankment became the first street in London to have been powered by electricity. 

London Bridge over the river Thames with one underground rail line running on either side of it and the site of the Old London bridge denoted to the east
London bridge and nearby rail lines magnified

This map also provides details on the city’s rapidly growing rail system, including its relatively new underground rail lines. The second half of the 19th century was a time of great modernization in London, and nothing displays these modernization efforts better than the London Underground. In 1863, London became the first city in the world to have an underground passenger rail line with the construction of the Metropolitan Railway. When it first opened to the public, the Metropolitan Railway used steam locomotives to pull wooden passenger carriages and it only ran one major line. However, after the positive reception it received from the public, the lines were quickly expanded across the city. They are shown on this map as red lines that run throughout all the popular parts of Old London and often intersect, much like the lines of modern underground rail systems. 

Intersection of five rail lines depicted under a street level intersection on the boundary of five different wards
Intersection of rail lines and wards magnified

The modernization of London’s transportation system did not stop with the construction of these early lines. Soon after this map’s publication, construction began on the first of London’s  “deep-level lines”, which opened throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. London’s underground rail system has historically been an area of technological development and that tradition ensued through the 20th century. The Metropolitan Railway continued to expand over the years and was operated until 1933, at which point it underwent a conglomeration with other independent rail companies to form what would become the modern London Underground. Many of the original tracks and stations shown on this map are still used in some of the most trafficked lines of the Underground today, such as the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines. Today, the London Underground serves approximately 1.35 billion people each year and generates a great deal of revenue for the city all thanks to its rather humble beginnings in the 19th century. 

Finsbury Circus park and Moorgate Street Station, Broad Street Station, Bishopsgate Station, and Liverpool Street Station all connected by rail lines
Finsbury Circus and nearby rail lines and stations

We hope you enjoyed our March Map of the Month! This map and its accompanying details are now available to view in Drawer 110 of our 3D Explorer application. To request a high resolution scan of this map or to schedule an appointment to view the collection in person, please submit a service request to the Map and Geospatial Hub. 

     - Kelsey Kerley, Map and GIS Assistant