5 Fascinating Maps of London

With a long history of conquest, disease, innovation and social reform, there’s more to London cartography than Harry Beck’s Tube Map.

1. John Snow’s Cholera Map

John Snow's Cholera Map, London

When over 500 people died of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London in 1854, John Snow mapped and identified patterns in the outbreak, clustered around the public water pump on Broad Street. This provided the evidence needed to affirm that the disease was spread through contaminated water, and not through the air, as many had thought. Read more at: 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak on Wikipedia.

2. London Street Gangs

London Street Gangs Map

According to the London Street Gangs website, over 15,000 people in Greater London belong to one of 200+ gangs. This excellent community-based website offers a huge amount of research and news, including maps of claimed territories.

3. Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps

Charles Booth Poverty Map

When the claim was made in the late 1800s that 25% of Londoners lived in abject poverty, Charles Booth criticised the figure as an exaggeration. He set out to study the truth, investigating a wide range of social indicators and often living with working-class families for weeks at a time. His team of investigators also included Beatrice Potter, who would later found the London School of Economics and New Statesman magazine.

Booth and his team found that the number had actually been under-estimated, and as much as 35% of all Londoners lived in poverty.

The classification system used on the maps is interesting in itself, for the lack of modern political correctness in the wording: for the lowest class, ‘semi-criminal’, “their only luxury is drink”, whereas the middle-class are blessed with “much intelligence”.

4. Wenceslaus Hollar’s Survey of the Great Fire of London

Great Fire of London Map

In 1666, the Great Fire of London ravaged 436 acres and over 13,000 homes. After the fire, the king directed Wenceslaus Holler to survey the extent of the damage. Within months, and with the help of a team of surveyors, the plans were drawn in March 1667.

5. The Modern Plague of London: Pubs!

The Modern Plague of London Map

Who better to publish a handy map of Victorian London public houses than the Temperance Society! This 1886 map borrows from John Snow’s earlier work on mapping cholera in an attempt to depict alcohol as a spreading disease.

The map also has a connection to Charles Booth: one of his team later updated the map, and was told by a policeman that, “in the interests of sobriety there should be a greater number [of pubs] than there are. For he said

you get drunkenness rows where there was a crowd.”

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Top Ten Reasons Books Are Banned

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The last week of September is banned books week in Canada and the US. As in, not a week to ban books or celebrate their banning, but rather one to spend time discovering some of the great titles that have found themselves outlawed and to wonder at a culture that justifies the sometimes active attempt to oppress its own artifacts. In honor of this week, the American Library Association has put together a nifty list of the top ten reasons books have been historically banned (source):

The Top Ten Ludicrous Reasons To Ban A Book

  1. “Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” (A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
  2. “It caused a wave of rapes.” (Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights)
  3. “If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
  4. “Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.” (Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  5. “It is a real ‘downer.’” (Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
  6. “The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.” (Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
  7. “One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.” (The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
  8. “It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.” (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
  9. “A female dog is called a bitch.” (My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
  10. “An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.” (Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle)

The American Library Association (ALA) also has a great compendium of statistics on the banning of books. Some notable facts include that by far the most common reason for banning a book is because it is considered sexually explicit, and parents are overwhelmingly the initiators of book challenges and bans.

In the last ten years, the top ten banned/challenged books are:

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The top challenged classic books:

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

The crazy thing is, people still attempt to ban books – regularly. If you live in the US and you know of a book that is being challenged or banned, you can report it on the ALA website. In the meantime, hug a librarian or independent bookseller because without them many of these classic books would no longer be in circulation.

Image Credit: Banned Books Week Banner by DML East Branch

Charlie Chaplin: Fun Facts

A portrait of Charlie Chaplin

There’s some

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fascinating trivia about Charlie Chaplin over on IMDB:

  • He was born four days before Adolf Hitler, in 1889.
  • He had bright blue eyes.
  • His understudy in England was Stan Laurel; they sailed to America together and shared a boarding house when they arrived.
  • In 1925, he was the first actor to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
  • At the height of his popularity, he failed to win a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest.
  • His imprints were removed (and subsequently lost) from the Hollywood walk of fame because of his suspected communist views.
  • Although Adolf Hitler despised Chaplin, he was aware of his popularity, and grew the Chaplin moustache to endear himself to the people.
  • He never became a U.S. citizen.
  • He composed about 500 melodies, including Smile.
  • The last film he saw, in 1976, was Rocky.
  • In 1978, his dead body was stolen for over two months. When it was recovered, it was re-buried in a vault encased in cement.

Credit: Portrait photograph

of Charlie Chaplin via Wikimedia.

Clan Kerr and The Legend of The Spiral Staircase

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Spiral staircases were a clever defence in medieval castles. They were almost always built with the spiral in the same direction (clockwise, when looking up from the bottom) so that the defending swordsman, who would either be coming down the stairs or backing up in reverse, could freely swing his sword. Conversely, the attacking swordsman (ascending the stairs) would have his swing blocked by the wall.

This, of course, assumed that both attacker an defender were right-handed, which most were.

Left-handed swordsman, though rare, had the advantage of surprise when attacking out-in-the-open – they had fought (and trained against) more right-handed opponents than their adversary had fought left-handed opponents. Their attack when

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ascending standard spiral staircases was also not blocked by the wall.

The warlike Clan Kerr trained to use their weapons with their left hands. Scottish Poet James Hogg (1770-1835) wrote, in The Raid of the Kerrs:

But the Kerrs were aye the deadliest foes
That e’er to Englishmen were known
For they were all bred left handed men
And fence [defence] against them there was none

and Walter Laidlaw wrote, in The Reprisal:

So well the Kerrs their left-hands ply
The dead and dying round them lie

Legend has it that, to allow them to more easily defend Ferniehirst Castle – seat of the Clan Kerr – the staircase was built spiralling in the other direction (see illustration above, with left-handed Kerr shown with ginger hair).

Is this true? Certainly, the castle does feature a reverse spiral staircase, but a 1993 study found no increased incidence of left-handedness in Kerrs.

Personally, I don’t Kerr whether it’s true or not – it’s a great story.