I am willing to bet that, despite rampant smart phone mapplications (I’m not afraid to invent words), most Londoners still have at least one copy of a trusty A to Z map in their possession. The ubiquitous Mini A to Z was my first purchase upon moving to London. It’s shown me all around this fair city and is still with me on many an outing. It’s been bumped and bruised but is still in pretty good shape for the miles it’s seen. It was only just yesterday that it saw its first major injury when the front cover was all but sheared off by a rogue Stylist. Surgery is imminent.
I’ve seen this book used in all states of repair: bright, shiny and unspoilt, bound and rebound with sello tape, flagged, tagged, and labelled. We dog ear the pages to remember where we live and where we go most. We circle, we star, we arrow and we annotate. We’re quite attached to this little treasure.
As previously mentioned, I love maps. A lot. And I am quite particular about them. I am that person you’ve seen sitting on the floor at Stanfords, cross-examining five or six maps to see which has the best diagram of the Magic Roundabout*. I believe that everything should be included on a good street map. I also believe it should be easy to read and uncluttered – a tall order in a country with as much history as Britain. The A to Z handles its massive amount of information perfectly. It is well-crafted, easy to use, and beautifully detailed. It seems fitting that, as it meets all my map criteria and is a UK institution in and of itself, it will be my guide throughout my quest.
To ensure I go down every street listed in the A to Z, I will be marking them off as I go rather than just at the end of the day. This means my beloved Mini risks becoming a blob of black. I can’t bear the thought. So today I purchased a new map with a nice, enlarged section that details nearly all of the CZ (a small chunk of the southeast is only in the normal-sized section).
Meet my new walking companion:
And lookie what’s printed right on the inside front cover.
It’s like it was meant to be.
MORE THAN a MAP
The history of the A to Z itself is quite interesting, but sadly this post would be a mile long if I tried to include it here. Probably the most relevant piece of information is that Phyllis Pearsall, the map’s creator, reputedly walked all the streets of London to design this now-famous map. I kind of love that it’s come full circle; Phyllis walking all the streets to make the map and me using the map to walk all the streets for this project. You can read more about her here or watch a recent episode of Map Man which features her story.
One of the reasons I love this version of the A to Z so much is because of the sheer volume of information it contains. Not only does it describe streets, roads, avenues, and junctions, it also shows walkways, courts, closes, approaches, mews(es?), parades and promenades. You get all of greater London along with the previously mentioned enlargement of the central area. The A to Z also includes a small version of an underground map on the back cover (I’m quite pleased with the scale of this as it actually shows my stop – a rarity on standard tube maps!) with the full TFL map inside. But wait! That’s not all! You also get a large map of National Rail lines, a map of all the West End theatres and a detailed map of the Olympic Park (not quite as useful as it may have once been but still interesting). If that’s enough to make you faint, you can refer to the listing of hospitals, hospices and healthcare facilities for the nearest help.
I think the best thing I learned about the A to Z is its use of “trap streets” to catch copycat cartographers who are too lazy to do the work themselves. Apparently this is a common trick of the trade. If you are making a map and you throw in an extra street or two and change a name here and there you can quite easily see if someone copied your work. It’s awfully hard for another designer to explain why they created the same imaginary street with the same imaginary name in the same location on their own map. From the sounds of it, A to Z uses around 100 such streets in the London map. Sadly, these may all be outside of the areas I generally walk in but knowing they are there creates some serious curiosity for me. Such is my respect for the A to Z that, should I find any, I’ll keep my lips sealed.