Posted on: May 15, 2019

Map encourages bold bidding

A remarkable early 19th century map of London has emerged for sale revealing how the city has dramatically change over the last two centuries.  The detailed map created a bidding battle between collectors when it was offered for sale at Trevanion and Dean’s May auction.

The detailed 1827 map produced by celebrated cartographers John and Christopher Greenwood was the very first of its kind and took the Greenwood brothers three years to prepare.  The map shows our capital city almost uninhabited to the south and east, in stark contrast to today’s sprawling metropolis. The pre-industrial revolution capital was still the largest in the world at the time – but appears an oasis of green compared to today’s urban jungle.

Auctioneer Aaron Dean explains ‘The map is vast in size and fascinating to look at and compare with the maps of today, to see the difference is quite astonishing.  While there are some built up areas on the South Bank, south west London is very sparsely populated, with large green spaces.  It’s  a similar story in the East End of London, where few people lived east of Tower Hamlets other than a small settlement in Hackney and a few areas in the developing Docklands.  While in the west of the city, where Earl’s Court now stands were fields, while Camden Town, with its docks, was one of the most northern outposts.  A collection of buildings at Greenwich in south east London was right on the outskirts of the capital’.

At the time the Greenwood brothers produced the map, London’s population was around 1.5 million (compared to 8.8 million today) this made it the most heavily populated city in the world.  However, as a consequence of the industrial revolution, its population doubled to 3.2 million by 1860, and shot up further to 6.7 million by 1900.  To cope with the increasing population, the East End underwent major development and the open spaces were rapidly filled in the mid-19th century.  The map shows the recently completed Great Surrey Canal, Regent’s Park, St Katharine Docks and the planned development of Belgravia by Thomas Cubitt.

One of the most interesting buildings is Millbank Prison in Pimlico which opened in 1816 as a holding facility for convicted prisoners before they were transported to Australia. It closed in 1890.  Cricket lovers will be able to identify Lords Cricket Ground and The Oval on the map and Buckingham Palace is referred to as ‘The Kings Palace’.  However, the home of English rugby, Twickenham, and football, Wembley Stadium, were not built until the early 20th century.

The opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750 and Blackfrairs Bridge in 1769 encouraged growth in the south west of London in the late 18th and early 19th century.  But only Tower Bridge provided access south east of the river, so it grew much more slowly until the Surrey Commercial Docks were built.

The map, which carries a dedication to William IV, measures about 4ft by 6ft and uses a scale of 8ins to a mile.  Christopher and John Greenwood spent three years preparing the new survey of London before it was published on August 21st 1827.

Aaron Dean explains ‘Large-scale detailed maps of large towns and cities have an instant visual appeal.  Large and colourful maps of London, both modern and antique, are currently very popular and highly in demand.  As a nation we are all familiar with the snaking shape of the Thames in central London as seen on this map, if only from the credits on EastEnders, and it is then impossible not to be drawn into looking at the beautifully depicted and organised details – the roads, green spaces and landmark features.  Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral are of course still with us now, but one can get lost in the detail looking at the various parishes trying to work out what has gone and what has yet to be built.’

The map generated huge levels of pre-sale interest and this was reflected in the ferocious bidding battle that ensued between online, room and telephone bidders.  The map was eventually bought by a delighted private London buyer for £4,464 (including buyer’s premium).