Category Archives: Maps

Mind The Map at the London Transport Museum

Ever since the British Library’s London map exhibition in 2007, London museums have learnt to love cartography. The Museum of London’s Hand-Drawn London was a highlight of 2011, and now the London Transport Museum has joined the cool kids with a brilliant new Mind The Map exhibition.

This traces the relationship between transport and maps over the past 150 years or so and offers a brilliantly edited selection of material from the archives. The exhibition space at the museum isn’t vast, but the way it has been used here is superb. The twin focus is on the work of McDonald Gill and Harry Beck. Gill created the Wonderland map, a gorgeous, highly detailed map of London aimed at transport users. Here’s one of his, for Hyde Park.

The exhibition features a number of maps created by Gill – the brother of sculptor Eric Gill – and also this fascinating unfinished map of Temple, showing his working method. He begins with a serious flat plan of the city, before building up layers of impeccably detailed architectural illustration. Then on top of that go the speech bubbles, puns and references that make his maps so fascinating. Please excuse my poor photography.

In this section there are other decorative maps that were used by LT to promote different areas of London. Here is one featuring Cheam, where I grew up.

The Beck part of the exhibition is also brilliantly done given how much has already been done on the man who created the modern tube map. A personal highlight was this sketch from the London Transport staff newspaper in 1933, in which Beck gently mocks the popular notion that he got the idea for his diagrammatic map from a circuit board. He has redrawn his tube map as the interior of a transistor radio, thus creating the first mash-up/spoof of his iconic design and pre-dating The Great Bear by several decades.

Speaking of which, the LT Museum have commissioned six new pieces of art for the exhibition, and they are all great, which is quite unusual for these things. Simon Patterson has updated The Great Bear as Saptarishi, Jeremy Wood has created a new ghost map, tracing his movements through GPS and there’s a marvellous ‘Proustian’ map of London by Agnes Poitevin-Navarra.

My Ghost

Most exciting of all is Stephen (The Island) Walter’s new epic undertaking, London Subterranea, a stunningly detailed map of the London beneath our feet, executed in stark black and white and crammed with information and folklore.

When I talked to Walter a few years ago, he expressed a keenness to put The Island behind him despite some interesting related projects that had been suggested to him. I’m delighted that he has since decided to return to London mapping, as he is a master at it. I’m told he’s now working on an A-Z, which will incorporate The Island and London Subterranea.

Other highlights include a copy of the infamous 2009 tube map that omitted the Thames, a gorgeous 1932 enamel map from a station wall and a copy of Finchley Central by The New Vaudeville Band. There’s also a brilliant book by curator Claire Dobbin that accompanies the exhibition. Go see it!

Mind The Map opens 18 May until 28 October 2012. 

London’s football gangs: 1972

 I’ve mentioned Chris Lightbown’s article on London football gangs a couple of times before, but the piece itself hasn’t been available since it was first published in Time Out in 1972. The section on West Ham was reprinted in the excellent 2008 anthology London Calling, but the full article has been confined to libraries and private collections. Until now.

It is a fascinating read. This is the first time football fan culture had ever been seriously discussed by the press, and it offers a remarkable view of life on the terraces from the terraces, free of any moralism or finger-wagging. It is a thorough and very funny piece of writing, and is probably the first time terrace legends such as Mick Greenaway and Johnny Hoy (although he is called ‘High’ here) ever saw their names in print. It’s analysis of where the different clubs draw on their support is particularly great. 

The writing is very much of its time and place - complete with mention of ‘heads’ and ‘coons’ – and also paints the picture of a time when London terrace culture was very different: the Shed was as loud as the Kop, Arsenal had the most aggressive fans in London and Spurs were just a joke, on and off the pitch. Only West Ham’s identity appears to have remained more or less the same, although older Hammers would doubtless question that.

It is a cracking piece of work. Enjoy.

Art of Mapping at Air Gallery

The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery in Mayfair is the latest exhibition to take mapping as its inspiration. It consists of 34 contemporary works that are based on maps, some more loosely than others.  Among those familiar to map freaks will be Grayson Perry’s Map of Nowhere.

Stephen Walter, who created the magnificent, possibly definitive London map, The Island, also features with two different works, Isle of Dis and Down River.

Maps of cities dominate (perhaps a little too much), and London is heavily featured. Prominent is Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear, perhaps the first map to mash-up Beck’s Tube map and deserving of praising for that, even if I’ve always found the Bear map itself rather dull.

I was, however, fascinated by Jeremy Wood’s My Ghost, which used GPS to map nine years of movement around London, creating a spidery thread that created an approximate outline of the city’s streets.

My Ghost

Jeremy Wood's My Ghost

It reminded me of a similar project undertaken by London cab driver Richard Cudlip. Similarly, I liked Rob Good’s Two Cities, which reproduced a stencil of the south-east of England shorn of anything manmade, and mounted powerfully on stainless steel.

Two Cities

Rob Good's Two Cities

There was something in both these maps about landscape and the way humans interact with it which is best expressed through contemporary art. Many of the maps seemed to promote this similar sense of alienation with the city, making it a stark contrast to the Museum of London’s recent Londonist-inspired exhibition, which emphasised the way areas of a city can become as familiar to us as our own bodies.

Stanley Donwood’s London was a more colourful and less ambitious version of The Island, emphasising that where Patterson’s Great Bear introduced a concept others could better, Walter has created something that will probably never be matched.

Stanley Donwood's London

The last London map was Nigel Peake’s XXXIV Crossings, which was a lovely stylised look at London’s various river crossings, overlapping chaotically. Nigel has created a lovely book on a similar theme, featuring London’s bridges drawn in various ways.

Nigel Peake's XXXIV Crossings

Away from London, I also loved Susan Stockwell’s Jerusalem, which reconstructed a map of the British Isles out of recycled computer components, and Emma Johnson’s Dislocation: Time And Place, for which she had taken a pair of scissors to a map, removing streets and parks and then reconstructed it in  an overlapping 3D effect, like a pop-up plate of paper spaghetti.

The Art of Mapping, curated by TAG Fine Art, is at Air Gallery on Dover Street until Sat November 26.

Curiocity: London unfolded

Another day, another London-themed map-related projected. Curiocity is a rather lovely tiny ‘mapazine’, that combines a magazine with a map and folds up into a cute – and curious –  little package that costs just £2.

One side features a stack of London-related trivia, including a loosely-mapped Charlie Chaplin walk around Lambeth, a ley-lines walk from Parliament Hill to Tower Hill and a ‘route’ from Hampstead tube to the mixed bathing ponds written out ransom note-style and snaking over five columns. There’s loads more, including bits on the Seven Noses of Soho and a game involving pigeons. It’s witty and it’s whimsical, both of which are obviously very good things indeed.

On the reverse is an entirely unusable but rather interesting map showing the history of London’s orbital road networks, a fascinating story which can be studied in detail here or in even more detail here.

Curiocity is available in a few choice London locations, including Stanfords, the London Review of Books Bookshop, the ICA and the Wellcome. It also has a website and is a more than welcome addition to the London publications landscape.

London’s mapping renaissance

The growth of online mapping – as seen by the excellent London Mapping website, which collects some of the best digital maps around – has not meant the end of paper maps.

Image of Untamed London

I’ve mentioned Herb Lester‘s lovely themed maps before with reference to their 1960s map of London’s West End, Wish You Were There, and they continue to add new maps to their range, branching into different cities and themes while maintaining an impeccable eye for design. Untamed London, for nature-lovers, is their latest offering.

I’ve also finally got my hands on the Museum of London’s Londonium map and it is hugely impressive. This has been produced by MOLAS, the Museum of London Archeological Service, and is a huge map of the City, with the Roman topography superimposed over a plan of the contemporary city – a little like a paper version of the technology used for the Time Travel Explorer app.

Key Roman finds are listed, with an explanation of what they are and how they can be accessed, while the reverse side has a potted history of Roman London, with many illustrations. The map is printed on good thick paper so won’t tear easily (a constant problem for frequently folded paper maps), and works beautifully as both a decorative item and a practical plan for hunting down the existing remains of Londonium.

It costs just £6.25 and should it prove to be a big seller – which I imagine it will – I hope the Museum can persuade their friends at MOLA to produce more maps along the same lines.

One for the Olympic Park at around this time next year, perhaps?

London accessories

I fear this purchase may mark the moment when future biographers decided I tipped over into self-parody.

Next stop, a manbag version of this. I’m sure it can be done.

District Moquette Handbag

Nature: an apology

I was born in Epsom, one of those places on the fringe of London that mark the very boundary of the city, the point at which tarmac gives way to soil. As the picture below shows, just a few hundred yards from my road, Hookfield, the country begins in all its greenness.

This never much interested me in my youth. I was always more attracted by town than country. Nature passed me by. When I moved into the city proper, I took little notice in the pike or herons I saw from my boat on Regent’s Canal, or the ring-necked parakeets and woodpeckers I later found in Brockwell Park. If somebody told me they saw a badger in Regent’s Park or a cormorant on the Thames, I cared not a jot. And who needed peace and still when you had Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park nearby, even if I rarely actually bothered to go there.

A month in the Scottish Highlands changed that. For the first time I was able to observe hedgehogs, adders, shrews, woodmice, weasels, deer and eagles in the wild, and see traces of badgers, pine martens and wildcats. The sheer scale of the country was extraordinary, from the peaks of the Munros, to the endlessly unfolding glens. It was eye-opening and life-affirming.

Returning to London was difficult. I had previously viewed the city’s numerous parks as pastoral paradises. Now they seemed liked scratty scraps of green, a sad imitation of the real thing. The battering noise, smell and greyness of London was overwhelming.

But nature is still here, if we look for it. It’s there in the foxhole that occasionally appears at the bottom of my garden. It’s there in the resilient, remarkable weeds and visiting birds, as lovingly chronicled in Richard Mabey’s essential London wildlife book ‘The Unofficial Countryside‘. It’s there in Tales Of The City, the blog of Mel Harrison, in which she charts encounters with owls, snowflakes and brambles. It’s there in Herb Lester’s Untamed London map, which records those places ‘where nature still runs wild in the big city.

As I walked home from taking my daughter to nursery this week, along the horrible, traffic-clogged hill that takes cars from Herne Hill to Camberwell, I heard a faint, familiar sound as I passed a bus stop. It was the chirruping of a grasshopper. I stopped and looked and found it on a hedge. It looked at me, quite unmoved, before continuing to sing (or stridulate) defiantly. We gazed at each other for a minute, while commuters bustled past on foot and in car, and then quietly, and more contentedly, I went about my way.

Small is beautiful: maps and models in London exhibitions

I’ve written before about my dislike of blockbuster exhibitions so was interested to read this piece by Stephen Moss the other day about how the age of the blockbuster may be coming to an end.  It may be wishful thinking, but support for his view comes from some surprising places.

Ken Arnold, the creative force behind the Wellcome Collection, recently told me that ‘Blockbusters are a depressingly greedy way to view exhibitions’. Arnold criticised the idea that any institution would want to cover a subject so definitively it left no avenues for others to explore, and also bemoaned the very experience of a blockbuster, which is often so unfulfilling for the spectator, who is shunted in and out on a timed ticket, having only seconds to view key works of art from behind a throng of tourists and daytrippers.

Small exhibitions might not get the column inches and posters on the tube, but they are often far more thoughtful, unusual and creatively curated. There are two crackers on display in London at the moment, and I’ve reviewed both of them. The Petrified Music of Architecture at the Sir John Soane Museum is a wonderful collection of tiny Victorian models of European cathedrals – I wrote about it for the New Statesman.

The Hand-Drawn London exhibition at the Museum of London is even better. Curated by the Londonist website, it features 11 idiosyncratic maps of London drawn by locals, and is one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen for a while. I reviewed it for the Independent.

Go and see them both.

Secret London: the Mail Rail

A group of Urban Explorers have managed to get inside what some people consider the holy grail of subterranean London – the Mail Rail. This is the mini-underground railway that used to take letters along tracks to different station/sorting offices located deep beneath London streets.

The Mail Rail stretches from Paddington to Whitechapel and is still more or less intact, despite having been mothballed nearly a decade ago in 2002. Silent UK managed to gain access and then explored the full length from the track, investigating and photographing nine stations along six miles of track.

Read the lot here – it’s an extraordinary story.

You can watch a film about Mail Rail here.

Maps round-up

A quick post on maps. I have a small piece in the Independent about the Museum of London and Londonist’s forthcoming collaboration, Hand-Drawn London. This exhibition, opening on April 21, features maps drawn by Londoners.

I submitted a map drawn by four-year-old daughter of her daily walk to nursery, but it was harshly rejected. I have reproduced it here.

I have also been posting fairly regularly on maps at the Time Travel Explorer blog. Recent posts have included one on London’s first lido and another on London’s forgotten exhibition.