At the British Library

Peter Campbell

The exhibition at the British Library telling the life of London in maps is a grey affair.[*] So it should be, for the walls and cases are necessarily packed with old engraved plans and views, and with surveys penned in neat, spindly lines. Some are worn and stained, in the way much used and very large documents get to be. Many are very rare. If your family muniment room happens to have a map of London made up of 14 engraved sheets with Houndsditch spelled ‘Unsdiche’ and the kennel for the lord mayor’s hounds labelled ‘Dogge hows’, you could well have the holy grail of London mapping. It is the first map in which the plan is a proper vertical view (even though the buildings are shown at an angle). It dates from around 1555 and no printed copy exists; three of the copper plates were preserved because pictures were painted on their backs, but all other information about it comes from later maps which, on the evidence of the surviving plates, must derive from it.

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[*] The exhibition closes on 4 March.