City Maps - Order out of Chaos The Beauty of Maps


City Maps - Order out of Chaos

Documentary series. The Morgan Map of 1682, John Rocque's detailed 1746 map and Stephen Walter's contemporary image offer three visions of London.


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London's British Library is home to a staggering 4.5 million maps.

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Mysterious and beautiful, these rarely seen treasures

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are much more than two dimensional depictions of a physical world.

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A map is definitely by far the best synthesis of...topography -

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the geography of a place - together with its history, and art as well.

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So, you've got great themes all combining in one

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to produce something of huge beauty.

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Our love affair with maps is old as civilisation itself.

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Each map tells its own story and hides its own secrets.

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Maps delight, they unsettle, they reveal deep truths

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not just about where we come from, but about who we are.

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A map is a thing of beauty, it's a place where you express the cosmos,

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you try and bring together the whole view of the world, so you can understand it.

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Among the British Library's treasures are three remarkable maps of London.

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Three visions of a changing urban landscape spanning 300 years.

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Three works of art, beauty and science.

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But they also serve another purpose.

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A map orders a city,

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it makes it navigable, it makes it rational, it makes it clean.

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It makes it all of those things that,

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in the 17th and 18th century, it's not.

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Beneath their surface, they distort the truth, hide secrets and tell lies.

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This is the story of how map-makers have exploited art, science and clinical precision

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to impose visual order on the chaos of city life.

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In September 1666, the Great Fire destroyed almost all of the old city of London.

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400 streets and 14,000 homes were gone.

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London was devastated by this.

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Obviously, where do you start

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when your entire heart has been cut out?

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London had to be rebuilt, almost from scratch,

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in the largest construction process Britain had ever seen.

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Out of the ashes would rise a new city,

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and a new city needed a new map.

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If you can see the city and understand it and know what is there,

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it's easier to control and organise.

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If you can envision the city you would like it to be,

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then perhaps you can create it.

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In the 1670s, map-maker William Morgan set out to create that new map.

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The survey alone was on an unprecedented scale.

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It took six years to complete,

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with Morgan's team of surveyors measuring every London street.

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For sheer ambition, beauty and cost, his groundbreaking, masterpiece map,

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completed in 1682, was the first truly modern map of London.

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Londoners are going to be looking to a London which offers them hope,

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which offers them a sense of promise and also a sense of pride as well.

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And certainly Morgan's map embodies this type of pride.

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The map's size alone expressed pride and confidence.

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Made up of 16 separate sheets,

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measuring a mighty eight feet by five, and embodying

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all the latest thinking of the new scientific era of the Enlightenment.

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The scientific aspect of the map, or the appearance of science,

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is extremely important because,

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up to that date, England had not really produced a map of this nature.

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This was the first time that the entire city

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had ever been accurately surveyed, measured and drawn to scale.

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They wanted, through this map,

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to show that London had emerged from the dark days of the Fire of London

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and was equal to anybody and better than most.

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With its beautiful panorama of the city along the bottom,

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with its decorative images of the King

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and of the great buildings of the city,

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it looks grand and ordered, objective and true.

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But delve beneath the surface and a very different story emerges.

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Inside the city, things are tidied up, to convey the impression

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that it is well-policed, it is well-ordered, it is as it should be.

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London was the fastest growing city in Europe,

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and with expansion came growing problems of poverty and crime.

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The whole image has been sanitised.

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If you look at the mapping of the East End,

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you will see none of the overcrowding,

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none of the insanitary conditions,

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that really typified the East End at that time.

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Similarly, if you look in the West End, you will see

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a picture of total elegance.

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You will see in St James' Park deer grazing very happily.

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Generally, you will get an impression of order

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which didn't really correspond with the reality.

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But then again that's map-making. You want to put your best foot forward.

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So Morgan's aim is to create an impression of order and beauty.

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But he doesn't only do it by leaving things out.

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In order to convey this impression with still greater force,

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the map-makers have included certain buildings,

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most notably St Paul's Cathedral, which hadn't yet been rebuilt.

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Morgan copied Christopher Wren's original design for St Paul's,

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and showed it on the map as a completed building.

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The real St Paul's would not be finished for another 25 years

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and, in the end, looked very different

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with a larger dome, a shorter nave and fewer windows.

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So Morgan's map enshrines a fantasy building that never was.

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In fact, Wren, the greatest British architect of his day, had drawn up plans for the whole of London,

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shown on these original engravings made after the fire.

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All grid patterns, radiating roads and symmetry.

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These were plans for an idealised Enlightenment city.

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There's a desire to glorify London as a monarchical capital,

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to depict it as this city rising from the ashes, as it were.

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There's a real feeling of focusing on it as a capital city

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in this period in a way that hasn't happened before.

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Morgan is very much buying in to that desire to present that vision of London.

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So the vision of Morgan's map owes much to Wren.

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In the end, Wren's designs for an ideal London were never realised.

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But Morgan's map keeps their spirit and style alive

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by including St Paul's, by omitting prisons and dark alleys

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and by widening boulevards.

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The whole idea of urban perfection had its origins 200 years earlier

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in a masterpiece painting of the Renaissance by the Italian artist Piero Della Francesca.

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It's a pure fantasy entitled the Ideal City.

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By the time of the Enlightenment, cities all over Europe were trying to put this ideal into practice.

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It's beautiful, it's classically designed,

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it's very graphic and it's empty.

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Very, very noticeably, there are no people.

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There's no sewage, no dirt,

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and that says an awful lot about what people regard as being problems in their cities.

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A map is a city with its human element extracted.

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A map is a monument to human achievement and building,

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but it is not a monument to human behaviour.

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Morgan's cleaned-up vision of urban perfection may have been economical with the truth,

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but it proved hugely popular.

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For the next 60 years, every new map of London was based on his original,

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stimulating a map trade that modern-day map seller Tim Bryers understands well.

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In a strange way, having a map shop in central London, people often come in and ask me for maps of London.

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And I can't imagine that it was too different from my predecessors.

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I think that the maps of London that were being sold

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by map sellers such as Wild or Reynolds or Mogg

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would have been printed in huge numbers, frequently revised, sold in various formats,

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either as a single sheet on paper uncoloured, perhaps coloured, perhaps the deluxe version -

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coloured laid down on linen, folding into a slip case or cloth covers,

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and at different prices to suit different needs, tastes or different pockets.

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Morgan's sanitised map became the iconic image of London

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sold in the network of map shops that ran like a vein through the heart of the city.

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But Morgan didn't share in the map's success.

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London map makers produced

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lots and lots of London maps and by and large they did them very well.

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And, of course, all the smaller London maps - maps produced for tourists, pocket maps -

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were all based on the Morgan map for year after year.

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So map makers made money out of the Morgan map, but not Morgan.

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All we know of Morgan's fate is that he never made another map.

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Only in his 30s, he sold the plates of his wonderful work to another publisher

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and was never heard of again.

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A casualty, like many of his contemporaries, in the perilous world of map-making.

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His contemporary Emanuel Bowen dies in poverty, almost blind through age.

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Thomas Jefferies who ends up with the Morgan plates goes bankrupt in 1766.

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His net assets in his will amount to £20 for a lifetime of endeavour.

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And these men were amongst the best geographers of their time.

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The costs of map-making were huge.

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The survey involved teams of people for years.

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Drawing and engraving each plate required scores of skilled artisans and costly materials.

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But map-makers soon discovered that the simple act of colouring

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made a map both more desirable and more profitable.

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Here we've got two examples of exactly the same plate.

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This is Tivoli in Italy.

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One which is black and white as it was originally published,

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and one which has been coloured for the publisher in the 16th century.

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And the purchaser would have paid a premium for the coloured example.

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In some ways, the colour actually creates its own problems.

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On the black and white image, you see a lot more of the engraved detail.

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These very strong colours, which were being used by the colourists

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in the 16th century, actually blot out some of the engraved detail,

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although they do make a very striking visual image.

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A map coloured at the time would have been coloured for the publisher

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by a professional map colourist,

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and the purchasers paid handsomely for their services.

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It wasn't a choice of going in and saying, "Well, I'd like this black and white, or with colour,"

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you paid a real premium for the coloured example.

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This beautifully coloured edition of Morgan's map

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was produced in 1903 and is for sale today in a London map shop.

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It's a mark of the map's enduring legacy

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and of Morgan's unique achievement in creating the first complete survey of the whole of London.

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But by the 1740s, London had outgrown Morgan's map.

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The city was expanding at an extraordinary rate.

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The population had almost doubled in the previous 50 years.

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London needed a new masterpiece map.

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Map-maker John Rocque set out to make it.

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It would be the biggest project of his life -

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to create the most beautiful and most detailed map of London the world had ever seen,

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and to pursue an unusual political agenda.

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Completed in 1746, printed on no less than 24 separate sheets,

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it measured a massive 13 feet by 8 - nearly twice the length of Morgan's map.

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In style too, it was a radical departure from Morgan.

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Gone were the pictures of kings and images of buildings.

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This was new-style French map-making.

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Stripped bare, super-rational - the ultimate Enlightenment map.

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Rocque was a French emigre who permanently moved to London.

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But his use of French style was not just about aesthetics.

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The map's whole purpose was to send a signal

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to Britain's greatest commercial and military rival - France.

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It was made during the war of the Austrian succession

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and the whole purpose of the map was to demonstrate conclusively that London was bigger than Paris.

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London stood as a symbol for the British Empire

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and they wanted to demonstrate also that, with such a big city,

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Britain was also a bigger place than France.

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It had more colonies, it had more commerce.

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In fact, the cartouche demonstrates this perfectly.

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It shows all corners of the world paying tribute to London

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and bringing in their wares.

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And another thing that helps to convey this, and perhaps this hasn't been sufficiently emphasised,

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is the sheer quality of the engraving.

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It is just exquisitely done and, again, it is the art

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that helps with the persuasion, with the propaganda.

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The two are linked together and justify the cost.

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And you get it all on one map.

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I think it is an extremely seductive piece.

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By the middle of the 18th century, what you have is a genuine transition

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from what people regarded as a medieval city to perhaps the beginnings of a modern city,

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and the beginnings of the modern London that we recognise.

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A lot of the new thoroughfares have been built, the churches, the great buildings,

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the great exchange is being built in this period.

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And, as society, you're also starting to see development,

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so the growth of green spaces for people to walk in.

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This is the era of sociability - the growth of places where people go just to relax.

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The abiding impression of the Rocque map is one of serenity.

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This is London in mid-afternoon.

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You can see the shadows on the trees are all pointing to the east,

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the sun is in the west, it is tea-time on a summer's day.

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This is aristocratic London,

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wealthy London, the London of privilege and taste.

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These are the buyers of the map and it is a London reflected in their image.

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Rocque's map shows the perfect Enlightenment city.

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It's beautiful, it's clinical and controlled.

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It imposes order

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and it gives all the appearance of objective truth.

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The whole objective behind creating a map

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would be to somehow capture and contextualise and impose order

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on a city which is always moving, always growing, always changing,

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which is falling apart as it's burgeoning at the same time.

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But while Rocque was busy imposing order, his contemporary -

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the painter William Hogarth - was offering a very different truth

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by revealing what Rocque left out.

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The chaotic reality of city life.

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No-one actually knew 18th-century London better than Hogarth.

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You get the feeling,

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looking at the paintings and the prints that he made,

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that he was fascinated.

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And not just during the day, either.

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He realised that although London was pretty damn busy then

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and very, very noisy,

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when it came to the night time, when darkness fell, all hell broke loose.

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In Hogarth's famous engraving, Night, Rocque's house is featured,

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next to the notorious pub the Rummer.

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So Rocque and Hogarth inhabited the same London at the same time.

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But you'd never guess it.

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What Hogarth brings together in one image is absolutely mind-boggling.

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Your eye doesn't know where to rest.

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Half the time you're looking up and around

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seeing that there's a character pouring a pot of urine

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down from a great height, bouncing off the building

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and splashing onto people in the street.

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There are bodies everywhere, people screaming, and according to Hogarth this went on all night long.

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I don't think anybody got any sleep.

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The fact that Rocque's house appears

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in this image of the crazy street by Hogarth is hilarious, really,

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because nothing could be more different than the Hogarthian view

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of everyone going mad in the metropolis, and Rocque.

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He's trying very hard to pretend that London is orderly

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and that London can be systematised

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and then you go back to Hogarth and realise no, actually.

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Because the thing about London is people, and people just make it into a mad-house.

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Certainly, the appeal of Rocque's map would be that it imposes order on chaos.

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It's the desire to impose science onto something

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and to make it scientific, which may not be able, necessarily,

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to be scientific because of the human element.

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250 years after Rocque, it is precisely that human element

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that artist Steven Walter revels in.

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His 2008 city map shows London as an island -

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a wry joke on the capital's obsession with itself.

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Walter's map brings the story full circle,

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by glorying in the human chaos

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that Morgan and Rocque worked so hard to disguise.

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At one level, it's a straight topographical map of London

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with the streets shown, the main sights shown, the main physical features shown, parks shown.

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And then there's another side to the map.

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Walter reveals human city life, warts and all.

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The subversive, the sheer range of detail,

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random facts mixed with personal moments,

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are all part of the new map's point.

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Walter has conventional locations like the London Eye.

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There's the downright obscure -

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here's where Kate Bush attended a convent in Hampstead.

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And then there's the utterly personal.

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Here in East Ham is his nan's house

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where he made depressing trips on Sundays.

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We know that maps are subjective,

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but I think he carries subjectivity to a degree which is rare in map-making -

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actually indicating where he was, episodes which nearly happened to him or actually happened to him.

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It is a marvellous amalgam of bits and pieces - solid information

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and the autobiographical.

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Like Hogarth's paintings, pubs pepper Steven Walter's map,

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from one end of the city to the other.

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This Islington pub is on the map.

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And the map is in the pub.

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With the artist.

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I think this is a certain time in human history,

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where so much is already figured out and mapped,

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and at the time of Rocque and others,

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there was still a possibility to physically pioneer.

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10 years ago, I was making a lot of observational drawings

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and photos of landscape

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and taking them into a process of experimental map-making.

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I tended to always work over these compositions

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to produce these signs and symbols, often abstract.

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And so I decided to build images and that led me on to building maps

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of these signs and symbols.

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Despite the satire and the jokes,

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Steven Walter's map is, at heart, a celebration of London.

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Just like the maps of Rocque and Morgan.

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Morgan is celebrating a London that's well-ordered, it is as it should be.

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With Rocque, it's London which is bigger than Paris

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and is being portrayed in a rather spiteful way almost, a satirical way.

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And I think that, in that way, Steven Walter's is also celebrating London,

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but it's a London which thrives on its rather anarchic nature.

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And it is a London that almost defiantly disregards standards.

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It's, if you like,

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dare one say it, the modern established view.

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In the end, all city maps,

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however beautiful, however much they lie or joke or celebrate,

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take on the impossible

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when they try to impose two dimensional order on the chaos that is urban life.

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To explore the new world of digital mapping,

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and to find out more about the British Library map exhibition, go to bbc.co.uk/beautyofmaps

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Documentary series charting the visual appeal and historical meaning of maps.

The British Library is home to a staggering 4.5 million maps, most of which remain hidden away in its colossal basement, and the programme delves behind the scenes to explore some amazing treasures in more detail. This is the story of three maps, three 'visions' of London over three centuries; visions of beauty that celebrate but also distort the truth. It's the story of how urban maps try to impose order on chaos.

On Sunday 2 September 1660, the Great Fire of London began reducing most of the city to ashes, and among the huge losses were many maps of the city itself. The Morgan Map of 1682 was the first to show the whole of the City of London after the fire. Consisting of sixteen separate sheets, measuring eight feet by five feet, it took six years to complete. Morgan's beautiful map symbolised the hoped-for ideal city.

In 1746 John Rocque produced what was at the time the most detailed map ever made of London. Like Morgan's, Rocque's map is all neo-Classical beauty and clinical precision, but the London it represented had become the opposite. In engravings of the time, such as Night, the artist William Hogarth shows a city boiling with vice and corruption. Stephen Walter's contemporary image, The Island, plays with notions of cartographic order and respectability. His extraordinary London map looks at first glance to be just as precise and ordered as his hero Rocque's but, looking closer, it includes 21st-century markings, such as 'favourite kebab vans' and sites of 'personal heartbreak'.


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