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.”

Shibboleths as Spoken Cultural Passwords

A rusty lock on a wooden door

A shibboleth is, more or less, a linguistic password used to identify a cultural group. For example, English visitors to Scotland or Wales can often be identified by their asking them to pronounce the place names “Loch Lomond”, in Scotland, or “Croesgoch”, in Wales. In both examples, they would be unlikely to pronounce the hard “ch” sound, as a native would.

The word shibboleth originates from a story of the Hebrew Bible. The Gileadites, having successfully occupied the land of Ephraim, were able to prevent the refugee Ephraimites from returning to the territory by asking them to “say Shibboleth”. The Ephraimites dialect lacked the sh sound; the Gileadites did not. According to the story, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed using this test.

This seems ridiculous, yet modern history has witnessed a similar atrocity. Over five days in October 1937, the Parsley Massacre saw up to 35,000 Haitians killed in the Dominican Republic. During the massacre, Dominican soldiers could identify Haitians by holding a sprig of parsley and asking them to speak its name. A Haitian would be unable to pronounce the trilled ‘r’ in the Spanish for parsley (perejil), and would be slaughtered.

Shibboleths aren’t all morbid, and don’t necessarily have to be based on sounds that can or can’t be made. Science fiction fans can identify one-another by their use of ‘sf’ rather than the mainstream ‘sci-fi’; natives of Toronto (and some other Canadians) by the dropping of the second ‘t’ when pronouncing their city name; and novice programmers sometimes by their use of ‘object orientated’ rather than ‘object oriented’. A long list of shibboleths can be found on wikipedia.

The U and non-U English debate of the 1950s is an interesting related piece of history, where the upper class (U English) and aspiring middle classes (non-U English) were supposedly identifiable by their use of language. Interestingly, the shibboleth words were often the reversal of what you might expect: the middle classes using “Dentures”, “Preserve” and “Pardon?”, but the upper class using “False Teeth”, “Jam” and “What?”. This was, of course, because the aspiring middle classes were trying to appear to be upper class, whereas the upper class were not so self-conscious.

Lock photograph by ToniVC.

The Slimikin Snobographer, and Other Rare Words

Dictionary of the English Language

The fascinating Compendium of Lost Words indexes the rarest modern English words. The words must appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, and must have been used in standard modern English, rather than a regional dialect. They also must not have appeared on the Internet in their proper context, so hopefully this post won’t reduce the glorious list.

Some seem so useful that one wonders why they have slipped from common usage:

  • airgonaut: one who journeys through the air
  • boreism: behaviour of a boring person
  • redamancy: act of loving in return
  • speustic: made or baked in haste
  • uglyography: bad handwriting

Others, meanwhile, are perhaps rare for a reason:

  • quadragintireme: vessel with forty rows of oars
  • triclavianism: belief that only three nails were used at Christ’s crucifixion
  • urette: dried animal urine absorbed into calcareous soi

On that note, I’ll let you explore the remainder yourself.

Dictionary photograph by Muffet

Dr Sketchy: Where Cabaret Meets Art School

Dr Sketchy London

We often find the naked form sexy, and sometimes humorous; and yet, most life-drawing classes expect us to act unnaturally serious and professional. Luckily, Dr Sketchy was founded in 2005 by Molly Crabapple as an “anti-art school”, to cure us of our coyness.

The three-hour mix of burlesque, cabaret, life-drawing and competitions has been such a success that they now hold events in over 80 cities worldwide; the photo above comes from the London branch, which can also be found on Twitter.

We’ll leave you with their description of a Dr Sketchy evening:

We find the most beautiful burlesque dancers, the most bizarre circus freaks, and the most rippling hunks of man. Then, every other Saturday, we let you draw them for three hours. Interspersed with posing are comedy skits and ridiculous drawing contests (best left handed drawing? Best incorporation of a woodland animal?) where you can win booze or prizes.


Charlie Chaplin: Fun Facts

A portrait of Charlie Chaplin

There’s some

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.