Victorian London in Incredible Detail

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Here’s a real treat. The National Library of Scotland’s Map Department, supported by David Rumsey, have taken some very high-resolution scans of the Ordnance Survey 1:1056 (that’s 60 inches to the mile!) set of 500+ maps of London issued between 1893 and 1896 and, crucially, reorientated and stitched them together, so that they can be presented seamlessly (using OpenLayers) on top of a “standard” Google web map or OpenStreetMap, with the base map acting as a modern context.

The detail in these maps is breathtaking. In the above extract (direct link) of the eastern end of Fleet Street, you can see each individual alleyway. Much of London has of course changed in the intervening 120 years. In the extract, the printing works have been replaced with banks and other offices, the pub and several of the alleyways (“courts” here) themselves have disappeared, as has the tiny fire station, and the urinals are long derelict and locked shut.

Here are the individual towers, rooms and staircases, in part of the Tower of London:


Here’s University College London’s main building – with internal stairways, rooms and even wall thicknesses visible. The room in the very centre of the university is called the “Octagon”, and the map (direct link) reveals why:


Interesting to note from the map above that the alley that is now known as Gower Court used to be called Little Gower Place.

While many areas are largely unchanged from 120 years ago, some places are distinctively different. These days, Kingsland Basin is residential, and renamed “Hertford Wharf”. The warehouses were recently converted to “loft-style” flats, with one-bed apartments currently a snip (!) at just under £500,000 each. However, the Victorian maps reveal what kinds of products were being moved around: timber, cement, refuse, and lots and lots of manure:


The maps are available at this resolution for the whole of Victorian London. The detail is, in some cases, on a par or occasionally even more detailed than the modern gold standard, Ordnance Survey MasterMap. In some places, individual trees are shown.

The area covered approximates to the area inside the North Circular and South Circular roads, with some extensions south to Croydon, south-west to Teddington and west to Ealing:


View the map interactively here.

If you like these kinds of highly detailed old maps of London, you might like this old/new map of the Barbican, with the new buildings superimposed on a pre-WWII map.

Thanks to Go-Geo!, specifically their Twitter account, for tweeting this. The high-quality scans of the maps are Copyright National Library of Scotland, even though the source material itself is out of copyright. The coverage map includes data from Ordnance Survey Open Data which retains its Crown Copyright. This post has been updated to repoint links to the correct version of the high resolution maps.


See more maps featured on Mapping London

London art prints at Great Little Place
London data prints at