Phyllis Pearsall was a remarkable woman. Born in 1906 she had already lived a rather bohemian life as a writer, painter and traveler when in 1935 she got lost in London while using a 20 year old street map which was at the time the most recent available. Creating the first A-Z atlas was a tough job, Before satellite imaging or extensive aerial photography,working from a bedsit in Horseferry Road and with the aid of James Duncan - a draughtsman borrowed from her father, a Hungarian mapmaker, she began to catalogue the 23,000 streets that featured in the first edition. Working eighteen hour days she walked a total of 3,000 miles of London’s streets. Phyllis Pearsall not only conceived, designed and produced the A-Z street atlas of London, but founded her own company to publish it.
An A-Z map of London's Docklands in 1960 (left) and 2006 (right).
Completed in 1936 she met almost universal apathy from the book buying establishment and so formed the Geographer's A-Z Map Company and arranged to have 10,000 copies printed - completing all the proof-reading and design work herself. She delivered 250 copies to WH Smith (in a wheelbarrow!) on a sale or return basis and it proved a great success - later the formula was extended to other British cities. She rarely thought of the Atlas as anything other than a means to allow her to pursue a life of painting and writing The Geographers' A-Z Map Co, have a website at http://www.atozmaps.co.uk The little book has now become required reading for any Londoner, especially since the number of London streets had risen to 50,000 by the time of her death in 1996. There is now a blue plaque to her memory, in the borough of Southwark; few Londoners deserve that honour more. Maps of London are being devised at this very moment. The story of London, and the map-making of London, will never end.
Traditional method of revision of A-Z mapping at the Geographers' A-Z Map Co. Ltd via newstatesman