Artist and cartographer Adam Dant surveys London’s past, present and future with his beautiful, witty and subversive cartographic pieces. His astonishing maps offer a compelling view of history, lore, language and life in the capital and beyond.
To celebrate the launch of ‘Maps of London & Beyond’ we asked Adam Dant to give us Five examples of how the map of London isn’t always as it first appears.
1. It’s a coffee pot
The tight network of streets and alleyways behind the City of London’s Royal Exchange was once a bustling hub of mercantile and intellectual activity which took place in a host of ‘Coffee Houses’. This map of antique Coffee Houses shows the city block fanning out to form the shape of a tapered coffee pot . This coffee pot shaped area was famously documented on a plan made for insurance purposes following its destruction after a fire had broken out in a ‘peruke’ makers shop .
Insurance was a key component of life in certain coffee shops here .The marine Insurance house ‘Lloyd’s of London’ was born at Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House. It was at the nearby Jamaica Coffee House that the bitter brew, coffee (originally described as tasting like mud and excrement – salut Starbucks for maintaining the tradition!) made its first appearance in the capital.
2. It’s a medical diagram of the human digestive tract
Akin to many cities, London is blessed with a central, fluvial tract (The Thames), effective physically and metaphorically. The map of ‘London Incarnate’ traces the general flow of power, ideas and governance literally in both fashions, from its gullet at The Palace of Westminster, past its spleen at Fleet street and via its stomach in the City of London to a point of evacuation at Whitechapel.
3. It’s a grid
If we focus solely on London’s splendid collection of squares, public and private, and remove intervening streets and back alleys it’s possible to re-create London as an idealised classical Roman style gridded city. Whilst entertaining such a project is interesting when viewed within the context of utopian style ‘schemes’, in effect it involves the removal of what are no doubt the most interesting bits of the city. The cruddy, unmanageable and inconvenient plots where our real lives as real Londoners actually take place.
4. It’s a perfect circle
A literal reading of The London Underground’s ‘Circle Line’ according to the principles of Alberti, the Italian renaissance architect and symmetry-nut, allows for London to be redrawn according to a perfect geometry, as a circle (if only below the surface). ‘The Centrally planned London Underground map’ exploits the renaissance ideal of centrally planned architecture, to usefully define the different pricing zones of the city’s transport network as clear concentric rings (useful unless one has a freedom pass or if one is a habitual fare dodger).
5. It’s a tree of filth
‘The Map of The Old Oak’ (Cockney rhyming slang for ‘smoke’, a slang term for the city) shows the capital according to ‘the vulgar tongue’, AKA the slang of the various denizens of its particular and specific locales. The so called London ‘Argotopolis’ map was constructed in collaboration with legendary slang lexicographer Jonathon Green. If the map of any city is basically a depiction of its streets, and the language of the city is the language of the street, then that language is most likely to be the language of Slang.
Maps of London & Beyond by Adam Dant £30