Pictorial plans of London: MacDonald Gill and beyond.
This post is something of a work in progress, so please check back now and again to see if I’ve been able to expand it. So far I’ve tried to avoid some of the most well-known maps, but in this instance there’s no excuse for not beginning with MacDonald Gill’s playful and eccentric Wonderground map of London. Apologies if you know it already, but it always repays another look:
Gill’s map was commissioned by London Transport in 1913, and was so successful that it was offered for sale to the general public the following year. The map I have here is an example of that issue: The heart of Britain’s Empire here is spread out for your view … You have not time to admire it all? Why not take a map home to pin on your wall! And of course, most purchasers took Gill’s advice and did just that, which is why it has become scarce today …
With this map Gill inspired a whole genre of comic map-making, filling his map with poems, puns and in-jokes (some bad, a few inexplicable). One needs hours to ‘admire it all’ (unscramble might be a better word). Here’s how Gill treated one of my favourite places in London, the zoo:
It’s a much more entertaining way of showing how the Underground Stations relate to surface topography than anything dreamt up previously, but the style is better suited to pleasure than business and I note that most maps of this genre focus on West London rather than the City or the East End. The blend of old and new seems typically Edwardian, summed up in this detail from the upper left corner:
The curvature of the horizon is decidedly medieval (Arts and Crafts, anyway), while the aeroplane and motorized omnibus bring us firmly into the Twentieth Century. The speech bubbles are Gill’s own.
Gill went on to create further maps for London Transport, including a series of ‘straight’ pocket Underground maps in the 1920s; he also designed the font used on headstones by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and numerous posters for bodies such as the Empire Marketing Board. I suspect that he was more commercially successful than his brother, Eric. A new carto-bibliography of his work is expected soon (following last year’s MacDonald Gill exhibition in Brighton), and in the meantime I refer you to Elisabeth Burdon’s excellent article: http://hq.abaa.org/books/antiquarian/news_fly?code=96
I’d like to devote the rest of this post to other maps which were show clear signs of being influnced by Gill’s work. This map is more blatant than most:
Published by Alexander Gross’s firm, Geographia Ltd in the 1930s, it’s unsigned.
The visual and verbal puns (the long arm of the law reaching out from Scotland Yard, the ink spilled on Fleet Street …) and historical and topographical notes are typical of Gill’s work. But it certainly isn’t. Mind you, it was popular enough for Geographia to issue it in jigsaw form:
This is the standard Geographia London Pictorial Map, published in numerous editions between the 1920s and 1950s:
Not terribly inventive, perhaps, but worth including as the early post-war editions are among the only maps to show the blitzed area in the City of London:
The area left blank on the map had almost reverted to the heathland it had been centuries before, carpeted with rosebay willowherb and ragwort. Some streets could only be identified from temporary wooden signboards. Leaving the map blank seems entirely logical - it’s surprising how few cartographers followed suit.
Here’s Leslie Bullock’s Children’s Map of London, c. 1938:
Bullock worked closely with Edinburgh publisher John Bartholomew and Son over a long period. All royalties for this map were donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital. In the margins are nursery rhyme scenes and the map is flanked by the Biblical giants Gog and Magog, long associated with London.
There are scattered quotations, but the map is not as crowded as Gill’s (I suspect Bullock lacked Gill’s talent for whimsical quippery). However, there are echoes of Gill’s work here - I doubt Bullock’s map would have existed without it. I’m also going to include Kennedy North’s 1923 British Empire Exhibition map:
North’s debt is principally calligraphic - the lettering is clearly inspired by Gill’s 1920s Underground maps - although one might also look at the bold use of colour and details such as the buses, cars and trams. Note North’s impressive attempt to reduce the Underground system to diagramatic form almost a decade before Harry Beck.
I’ve been assuming that Kennedy North is Stanley Kennedy North: artist, illustrator, picture restorer, socialist, folk dancer and general bohemian. Commercial work (e.g. for Shell Oil) seems to be signed simply ‘Kennedy North’, but it seems unlikely that there would be two similarly named artists working at the same time. If I spot a definite link I’ll update this entry. [Update May 2012: two members of the artist’s family have been in touch to confrim that this is indeed SKN; he made other maps - possibly another post to follow.]
The unusual thing about this reduced, pocket version of Kerry Lee’s poster is the way it’s folded. A customer in my shop pulled out a very similar (modern) map of London only the other day. The ‘uniquefold’ patent is dated 1948, which ties in with the reference to British Railways (nationalised in that year).
Here is an early 1950s pictorial map by Francis Chichester (aviator, yachtsman and map-maker), again in jigsaw form:
Chichester had initially bought up surplus wartime Air Ministry maps and turned them into jigsaws (possibly among the most joyless age of austerity toys ever, though I’d still like to find one). However, this one of Chichester’s original maps. Significant landmarks are shown pictorially, but there are no puns.
And finally, The Daily Telegraph Picture Map of London, probably 1950s:
Designed by Vale Studios for Geographia, it is entirely distinct from the Telegraph’s 1947 Royal Wedding map by Zadwill and Gray, which I’ve illustrated here: http://bit.ly/KDQwD5. Here’s a detail:
More to follow as I find them!