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Our History

Now in our 161st year of business, Stanfords was established in 1853 and is now the largest map and travel retailer in the world.


The Stanfords story begins with the birth of Edward Stanford in 1827. Edward Stanford grew up in an era of dramatic change and technological development. He was educated at the City of London School andin 1848joined the business of Mr. Trelawney Saunders who was a seller of maps and charts in a stationer’s shop. In 1852 Edward Stanford became Saunders' partner, but a year later the company was dissolved and Stanford took control of the business himself.

Image: Right - Edward Stanford I and Below - Stanfords Building, Whitehall, London.

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In 1853 Edward Stanford officially established his business. Recognising the impact that the expansion of British colonialism and the increasing vogue for foreign travel would have on his business, Edward Stanford looked to expand his position as the only map seller in London, taking over the neighbouring premises of 7 and 8 Charing Cross and acquiring premises in Trinity Place for use as a printing works.

In order to build his reputation Stanford commissioned the engraving of a series of large library maps of the continents and appointed a team of surveyors to construct the first accurate map of London. Stanford's Library Map of London was published in 1862 and was immediately hailed by The Royal Geographical Society as "the most perfect map of London that has ever been issued". A reproduction of this map is still on sale at Stanfords today.

Image: A portion of the 1862 map of London.

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In 1873, Stanford moved the shop to 55 Charing Cross and the printing works to 12-14 Long Acre. He purchased Messrs Staunton & Son in 1877, which was the official ‘Stationers to the Queen.’

Edward Stanford II took over sales and marketing for the store in 1882, and eventually took over the shop when his father retired in 1885. The purchase of Messrs Staunton & Son led to Stanford II’s appointment to Geographer to Her Majesty the Queen.

Image: Stanfords shop front on the left - 1890

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Stanford rebuilt and expanded the shop on Long Acre to have the printing and map depot under one roof. It was completed at the end of 1900 and is still the current site of Stanfords flagship store.

In 1926, Stanfords produced the first ‘Daily Mail’ Motor Road Map. Editions of this map continued to be printed for the next thirty years.

Image: Stanfords 'showroom' 1901

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In preparation for the war, the ceilings in the basement were strengthened with iron girders in 1939. Stanfords was used as a public air raid shelter and two members of the staff had to be on the premises every night so that the doors could be opened in the event of an air raid.

On the night of April 15th1941, one of the biggest raids on London, the store took a direct hit from an incendiary bomb. The top two floors were all but destroyed by the fire. Fear that thousands of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps had been ruined was unfounded. The stacks of maps actually helped halt the fire because stacked paper does not burn easily. Stanfords continued to sell these maps for years to come, often at times with charred edges.

In 1947, Stanfords was sold to George Philip and Son in order to strengthen the company and continue to prosper. Even with the absorption of a parent company, Stanfords focused on being a specialist retailer of international maps and continued to sell maps that were unattainable anywhere else in England.

Image: Stanfords shop at 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London.

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During this time, Covent Garden was redeveloping and transforming Stanfords’ surroundings into the most exciting shopping district in London.

The advancement of microfilm in the 1970s meant that maps could be printed on demand. Due to this, twenty staff were lost. With the changing of management, British society and increase in union power, a dozen staff members went on strike in 1981. The strike lasted four months, but Stanfords improvised throughout and survived.

Image: Stanfords Staff at Long Acre shop, Covent Garden, London (1966-1967)

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The Covent Garden shop was enlarged and modernised, specialist maps were secured, and the store’s unique reputation continued to grow. Long Acre was again in prime position to gauge which maps were being requested by the travelling public, while the mainstream map publishers took a while to catch up. Some countries considered mapping to be a secret or military function and refused to have their survey maps on public sale, so while they wouldn’t answer written requests from abroad, they’d sell them to you if you showed up at the door. And so Stanfords’ staff were seen stumbling out of Asian and South American survey offices clutching a year’s supply of maps for the shop.

During the late 1990s Stanfords moved to reinforce its position in the map and book market, by opening a store in Bristol, in a first step to creating a nationwide group of specialist shops.

The most important event in the company’s history for half a century occurred in 2001 when Stanfords demerged from the George Philip Group, to once again be able to navigate its own direction as it approached its 150thyear of trading.

Image: Stanfords Staff at Long Acre shop, Covent Garden, London - 2003

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Stanfords Today

Stanfords is now in its 161styear of business and still a thriving map retailer and travel specialist. Our much loved Long Acre store is visited by thousands of travellers every year from all over the world seeking inspiration for their next adventure.

As the World’s largest map retailer we stock some very specialist items from unusual and hard to find places with many of our suppliers from as far away as Mexico and Russia. We pride ourselves on being able to source even the most unlikely of items so please do ask us if you can’t find what you need on our website or instore.

Today we have more than 50 employees from all over the World. Our team are passionate about travel and always happy to advise you and pass on their travel experience.

Image: Stanfords shop at 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London - 2013

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Find out more About Stanfords .