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The Story of the A to Z Map

The A to Z occupies a very special place in our hearts. A London home isnít complete without one and no savvy traveller would set out without it. As symbolic of the city as the tube map, the A to Z is synonymous with London. More than a map of the cityís streets, itís a bible for getting about, a triumph of design and a national treasure. Anyone who has ever tried to find their way around Londonís labyrinth-like streets will acknowledge that the A to Z is a work of genius.

Phyllis Pearsall

Map Designer (1906-1996)
 

The woman behind the much-loved A to Z pocket map was almost as colourful as the city she charted. Phyllis Pearsall almost single handedly created the street map. She was an artist whose parents divorced when she was fourteen, was forced out by her motherís lover and moved to France where she began painting. She married at 22, separated eight years later and returned to England aged 29. Lost on her way to a party in Belgravia one night in 1935, an old Ordnance Survey proving next to useless, she decided she would do something about it. The result was the A to Z.
 

All Part of the Plot


With characteristic determination from the start, she would rise at dawn to walk and plot her way around London on foot, street-by-street. Working up to 18 hours a day, she had the cityís 23,000 streets mapped in a year. And all with the help of only one other person, James Duncan, a draughtsman who used to work for her father, himself a map maker.
 
Surprisingly, the delightful little atlas wasnít snapped up by a publisher. Undeterred, Phyllis decided to set up her own company, the Geographersí Map Company, which still prints the iconic book today. She continued to work there until her death in 1996, and the staff there still affectionately remember her as Mrs P. or Auntie.
 

Right Up Your Street


The first run of 10,000 copies of the book were printed and Mrs P. personally delivered 250 copies to W.H. Smith newsagents - in a wheelbarrow. They proved to be very popular. Now thereís no excuse for being lost in a number of other cities which have also A to Zs: Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Bath and Oxford have all followed Londonís lead. ďOn we goĒ as the company motto says.
 
Without her brilliant map tucked in our pockets, weíd still be lost somewhere between Clapham and Clapton; indeed, on many occasions we may never have even got started on our journeys. So, Mrs P, on behalf of millions of Londonís visitors and residents alike, we thank you.
 
 
 
 
 
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