The story of Stanfords begins with the birth of Edward Stanford in 1827. Edward Stanford grew up in an era of dramatic change and technological development. Educated at the City of London School, he eventually moved in 1848 to the business of Mr Trelawney Saunders who two years previously had set up as seller of maps and charts in a stationer's shop at 6 Charing Cross, now 6 Whitehall. In 1852 Edward Stanford became his partner, but a year later the company was dissolved and Stanford took control of the business himself.
1852 - 1873
|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.
1873 - 1900
|In 1873 circumstance forced Stanford to move the shop to 55 Charing Cross and the printing works to 12-14 Long Acre. The company continued to grow and by 1882 Stanford's son had joined the business to take control of the sales and marketing. Sadly, in 1884 Edward Stanford was forced to retire due to ill health leaving his son in sole charge. Stanford junior decided to concentrate exclusively on maps, selling the stationery business and arranging an agency with her Majesty's Stationery Office for the sale of Government Ordnance Survey Maps, which were becoming increasingly valuable for the conveyancing of property.|
| || |
1900 - 1947
|Stanford set out to expand and redevelop the site at Long Acre, designing a building that would serve the dual purpose of printing works and map depot. The building was completed at the end of 1900 and continues to be the site for Stanfords' flagship store. Over the next 50 years the company continued to grow under the supervision of members of the Stanford family. During the war the Long Acre premises took a direct hit from an incendiary bomb in 1941 and the top two floors were all but destroyed by the fire. The fear that thousands of Ordnance Survey (OS) maps had been lost was unfounded - in fact, the stacked paper, which does not burn easily, had gone some way to halting the blaze. With most of the stock saved, Stanfords continued to sell the OS maps for a number of years afterwards - often with charred edges. However by 1947 it was recognised that the company would have to be strengthened if it were to continue to prosper. It was thus sold to its old and distinguished rivals George Philip and Son, and Stanfords' cartographic and publishing functions were absorbed into those of the parent company.|
| || |
1947 – 1987
|The Philips takeover freed Stanfords to concentrate on developing itself as a specialist retailer of international maps – the role Saunders and Stanford had pioneered exactly a century earlier. Topographical, geological, thematic, nautical and historical maps were sourced from around the world. This time-consuming, specialist work gave Stanfords a unique reputation as suppliers of maps that remained unobtainable anywhere else in England. |
There were odd goings-on at Stanfords too. The aeronautical and military map department that inhabited the claustrophobic basement between the 1950s and 1980s resembled a wartime operations room, while the grim ex-Sergeant who ran it only reinforced the impression. Still, the most anachronistic retail unit in London was missed on its closing by its regular customers. No modern retailer would create such a department, yet it worked impressively.
| ||In the late 1960s narrow profit margins were earned for the immense labour of handling and monitoring the many thousands of large-scale Ordnance Survey maps. They were stocked in their own section, where it was forbidden for customers or shop staff to enter, and it was instead staffed by unionised warehousemen - a law unto themselves who communicated with the outside world through antiquated message-tubes. To Stanfords' relief the shop ceased being the main agency for large-scale OS maps in 1970, while at the same time the advance of microfilm meant maps could be printed on demand. Twenty staff were lost, and the Ordnance Survey department, so long the core of Stanfords, virtually ceased to exist.|
These changes coincided with important changes in British society. As wealth grew, people sought out new travel destinations as lifestyle statements. Worldwide travel was now obtainable for the millions and not just the elite meaning that specialist maps and an increasing number of guidebooks were now growing in demand. Meanwhile, locally, Covent Garden was redeveloped, transforming Stanfords’ surroundings into the most exciting shopping district in London.
A group of young, politically motivated workers had gathered at Stanfords by 1978, and they decided the shop would be the centre of their radical activities. They aimed to create a commune, a business that was a utopia for its workers. Profit, structured management, and professional goals were dismissed as oppressive. Expectedly, their conduct became arrogant and corrupt, standards slipped, and the shop’s specialist nature was under threat of being lost and replaced with distinctly left-wing, feminist, alternative teachings. The installing of new management to bring the store back under control in 1981 meant conflict would be inevitable and the next year, when union power was supreme in Britain, a dozen staff went on strike. The doors were picketed, deliveries cut off, staff were harassed and threatened, and the police were summoned daily. The crisis lasted four months and Philips had to consider whether to close the business, but Stanfords improvised and survived, while the strikers melted away.
1987 - 2001
|A new energy was now injected into Stanfords. The Covent Garden shop was enlarged and modernised, specialist maps were secured, and the store’s unique reputation restored. ‘Stanfords’ even reappeared on some publications, including a 1987 map of southern Tibet and a 1992 map of Britain’s parliamentary constituencies, both of which happened to feature in Stanfords’ catalogue nearly a century earlier. 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.|
2001 - now
|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 150th year of trading. Travel literature is promoted very strongly with the hosting of literary events and the sponsoring of lectures delivered by distinguished writers at the Royal Geographical Society. The Covent Garden store has again been expanded and renovated, this time on a grand scale. The shop was entirely refitted and re-branded. The accounts department left Long Acre for The Strand so that the British department could double in size, while the international department tripled. An open staircase gives access to three floors of stock, while extremely large maps decorate the floors and ceilings. Around the same time another store opened in Manchester where Stanfords offered the largest selection of travel goods in the north of England. Unfortuntely, this store closed business in 2007. Stanfords in Bristol was completely refitted to mark its 10th anniversary in autumn 2007, with the shop refurbished to match the London Covent Garden store.|
| ||Following technological changes taken with the Ordnance Survey, Stanfords can supply the most detailed and flexible mapping online. A website was created, not as an advertising platform, but as a complete online catalogue for mail order customers. That old site has now become obsolete, but just as Stanfords seeks the newest and most accurate maps and guidebooks to replace the old, that site has now been replaced with this – and as with the mapped world, we’ve made it easier to navigate.|
During our history we’ve had famous travellers and explorers visit our shop. Well-known figures such as Dr Livingstone, Amy Johnson, Cecil Rhodes, Florence Nightingale, Sir Wilfred Thesiger and Michael Palin have all started their journeys at Stanfords. Even the fictional character Sherlock Holmes bought a map from Stanfords in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. And we’ve also had reputed writers and map-makers work for us, including Kenneth Williams, who trained at Stanfords as a map-draftsman before his acting career took off; Laura Stone, Jim Manthorpe, Ben Cole and Alex Stewart (guidebook writers), James Innes Williams (travel writer), Peter Whitfield (map historian), and cartographers Jacob Genelle (went on to the Istitut Geographique National in France) and Magdalena Biszczuk (went on to Imray & Laurie).
Today our doors are wider than ever, and with this site providing travel information, news, features, and interviews (as well as those event details), we’re improving our ability to inspire. So now wherever you are, you can start your journey at Stanfords – in fact, you already have.