The Green Room asked Tim Bryars, expert in antiquarian and historical maps, books and atlases, to start a conversation on the history of 3D mapping of central London where it all began. Tim Bryars has appeared in BBC documentaries on mapping and mapping London.
The history of 3D mapping in general and the mapping ofLondon in particular.
I can well believe that the Silvermaze 3D map of the West End is a labour of love, just as it has been described on the Covent Garden Street Site. It’s clear and elegant, and best of all it gives a sense of the city as it really is.
We’re used to making a clear distinction between two-dimensional maps or plans (think A-Z) and views or pictures, but in actual fact the creators of the Silvermaze map are getting right back to the roots of map-making. Many of the earliest maps also try to convey a sense of place.
In the church of St John In Madaba, Jordan, is a truly stunning sixth-century mosaic map of the eastern Mediterranean world. One could be forgiven for assuming that the jumble of rooftops is pure artistic licence, but the major public buildings are in their real locations, and the shady colonnade lining the main street is just what we’d expect in a Roman city. The earliest known depiction of London is also Roman, and also in 3D.
A golden medallion struck in the late third century for Constantius I (father of Constantine the Great) shows London as a walled-city, with a female personification of London kneeling in the fore-ground in supplication and thanks for the deliverance of the city from the usurper Allectus. These are both well-known images, easily located on Wikipedia.
If we leap forward a millenium into the year of printing with moveable type, we find that the earliest printed maps of London were also three-dimensional ‘bird’s eye’ plans. The 1572 map used by Braun & Hogenberg to open their ground-breaking and monumental city atlas of the whole world (Civitates Orbis Terrarum) and the larger survey traditionally attributed to Agas were both directly derived from the ‘copperplate map’ completed in the late 1550’s. We don’t have the whole thing, we don’t even have a single printed example, but incredibly three of the original engraved copper plates have survived, enough to give us an impression of what the map was like. It was almost certainly made for German merchants of the Hanseatic League who wanted to curry favour with Bloody Mary, so although the buildings and details of daily life (such as the pegging out of linen in Spitalfields) give a tremendous sense of what sixteenth-century London was like, the map-makers have deliberately down-played the halls of their English rivals, the City Livery Companies. Never believe everything you see on a map! (The Silvermaze map aside, of course.)
In theory, the main difference between a map and a view is that a map can be used to navigate by, with streets or other landmarks clearly labelled. There are plenty of examples of 2D maps where, as an aid to visualisation, the map-maker includes vignettes of general views or public buildings. However, now and again they try to bridge the gap more creatively.
The greatest Victorian carto-view of London, for my money, is John Henry Banks’ Balloon View, published to mark the Great Exhibition in 1851 and showing the Crystal Palace in its original Hyde Park location. Finely engraved on a monumental scale, it’s the closest forerunner of the Silvermaze map that springs to mind, although the pictorial plans issued with the ABC London guides at the turn of the twentieth-century are also contenders. Similar maps were published by the Geographers’ Map Co. Ltd. right into the early post-war period. One’s eye is drawn at once to the sharply-defined blank space, marked as the approximate area destroyed by enemy action 1940-41 and covering a third of the City. On the ground one would have been confronted with a blitzed wilderness of ragwort-choked bomb sites; wooden signposts the only (and essential) clues to the line of ancient streets.
I couldn’t finish without mentioning MacDonald Gill’s London Wonderland map, commissioned by London Underground in 1913. Though whimsical and chaotic, with a serpent in the Serpentine and historical figures (such as antiquary John Stowe) mingling with Londoners of Gill’s own era, it’s still undeniably a three dimensional representation of London. One could argue that it inspired a whole host of other artists. For example, L.G. Bullock’s Children’s Map of London (sold in aid of Great Ormond Street hospital from the late 1930s onwards) carries strong echoes of Gill’s work, both in the calligraphy and in the blending of the fantastic (nursery rhyme characters and Old Father Thames) and the everyday.
The mapping of London has challenged and inspired generations of cartographers. Choosing how to depict the city is the all important first step, and as you can see 3D mapping has a long and honourable history. My guess is that the Silvermaze map will be regarded as a fascinating representation of early 21st century London by future generations, and I derived a great deal of pleasure from it in the here and now.
Tim Bryars Ltd
8 Cecil Court
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Braun Hogenburg old London
Banks Balloon map of London
Detail of Banks Balloon View
Childrens map of London 1939
Pictorial map of London 1945