Charles Booth’s Descriptive Map of London Poverty, published in 1889, revealed that over a third of Londoners lived in poverty. It was colour-coded to indicate the levels of poverty and prosperity street by street. While the red colouring showed the habitat of the “well-to-do, middle class”, pale blue and dark blue revealed the areas inhabited by the “poor” and “very poor” respectively. Here, the black area in the centre (Bethnal Green) contained the “lowest class; vicious, semi-criminal.”
The British Library’s show, London: A Life in Maps, ends this weekend. If you haven’t been down (it’s free) we wholly recommend a trip over to Euston Road. The exhibition traces how the capital has been depicted since the earliest images of the walled City in the 1550s. On show are some of the earliest examples of wayfinding – the ancestry of the London A-Z if you like. While many of the cruder, hand drawn maps offer up a somewhat distorted vision of a growing city (often for political reasons), the large-scale, engraved depictions of the capital are astoundingly accurate and detailed.