2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the Geographers’ A-Z Map Company. Times may have drastically changed for the paper mapping industry over the past 15 years, but A-Z’s commitment to helping the UK population find their way around remains unshaken.
Our iconic Company has grown from its humble beginnings in 1936, into the largest independent map publisher in the UK.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we embarked on a project which highlights and shares the amazing 8 decade history of our Company. Starting on the 8
th of July 2016 we published a historical Company related photograph every day for 80 days.
Master Atlas of Greater London – Anniversary Edition The Master Atlas of Greater London has been our flagship London publication since the very first edition, published in 1967 (priced at 57 Shillings and Sixpence). During this time the street mapping inside has been completely redrawn, the area of coverage extended and Super Scale mapping of central London added. Available next month, this new edition has been updated for 2017 and, to mark our 80th anniversary, there is a section dedicated to the company’s history inside.
Road map Town development Over 20 years separates these two road maps of Carlisle, typically illustrating the type of changes found throughout the country. The upgrading of the A74 to motorway (the M6 towards Glasgow) and the Todhills Service Area. The A689 by-pass to the west built to ease traffic congestion in the town centre and the changes in road classifications as a result. There have been style changes and improvements made to the map too: better symbol masking; public telephones removed and petrol stations added; the town map box replaced with a page reference under the town name; increased visibility of town dots and a more suitable urban area colour to allow other features to stand out; brighter CMYK printed colours and, with the introduction of CTP (Computer To Plate) printing, improved colour registration.
Scribing sheet – stopping out After scribing map detail, both road junctions and pecked lines (those broken at regular intervals) needed to be formed. Referred to as ‘stopping-out’, this involved the inking out of unwanted line work and the application of ‘pecks’ – a linear pattern of stripping-film blocks, cut out and stuck down along footpath and track lines. Because it was difficult to prevent ink running down the channel-like scribed lines, this work was carried out on the reverse side of the sheet.
Varityper typesetter In the early 1980s A-Z installed their first computer phototypesetter complete with a monochrome, or ‘green screen’, VDU. Road names and other map text was typed on a keyboard and stored on punch tape which was then run back through a reader to expose letters to film. A later AM Varityper phototypesetter used a different storage and retrieval system along with a number of type discs, each containing four fonts. The appropriate disk was mounted inside the machine and spun with a strobe light exposing letters to film in a cartridge. The film sheets seen to the right here were used to match the font and point size of map text when ordering additional type.
Paper map compilation This image shows how map additions were recorded in the late 1940s prior to be being drawn. Very simply (but carefully) drawn with road casings showing road widths and junctions, many of the roads have been numbered and named in the sheet margin. This method of compilation later evolved with road centre lines being added instead and a separate card listing the numbered additions, deletions and other amendments.
Hand folding sheet maps Today, all of our sheet maps are folded by machine, but there was a time when an unusual sheet or cover board size dictated a different fold pattern that needed to be done by hand. A sharp accurate fold was achieved by running a ‘bone folder’ quickly along the turned edge of the sheet. Skilled workers prepared up to 400 sheets per day ready for ‘tipping’ into their covers.
Straight line scribing tool This drawing instrument is a straight line scribing tool. The inserted sapphire cutting tool has been correctly positioned in it using the small set up block seen to the left. In use, the plastic wheel is run along a ruler scribing a line away from its edge, therefore protecting the tip from damage (they could be easily chipped). A single scribbed line like this could be used in this way to set out a grid or, using double line road cutters, a road map reference panel. When not in use the tips were stored in a protective box open here.
Astrafoil colours Any map colour, or percentage of the same colour, required its own overlay sheet so that different printing screens could be introduced later in the production workflow. This type of work, before the introduction of clean and simple peel coats, was messy. In this example, the original scribed drainage sheet has been reproduced onto Astrafoil specifically to paint in the 20% blue drainage infill. A Graphos pen was initially used along these boundary lines to form an edge which was then carefully expanded into the infill area with a fine brush. Finally, much larger brushes, up to an inch wide, were used to complete the job. This method can clearly be seen here where the light catches the surface. Hausleither ink (which we referred to as ‘plastic ink’) was used on the Astrafoil, etching into the surface – a quantity of ink like this could take several days to completely dry.
Chinagraph/Wax pencils Similar to a crayon, this is a chinagraph. Also known as a wax or grease pencil it was manufactured specifically to write on shiny surfaces and easily wipe off without scratching. Here it has been used to highlight film detail requiring attention, although they were equally used in the darkroom to write page numbers on film extracts ready for patch-up. Available in a number of colours, red was not used in the darkroom as it was not visible under the red safelight.
Oranges and Lemons Oranges and lemons? – if you are a London black cab driver, or studying to be one, then you will know what we are referring to. A-Z maps are extensively referred to during the two to four years it takes for applicants to successfully complete and pass ‘The Knowledge’. That’s a working knowledge of the 25,000 streets, 320 routes (runs) and 20,000 points of interest within a six mile radius of Charing Cross. The oranges and lemons? – well that’s the A and B road colours of course.
Phyllis Pearsall forms Geographers’ Map Trust in 1966 This is one of our favourite photographs of our founder Phyllis Pearsall; a remarkable woman who, having witnessed the impact of unexpected business closure on loyal staff when the owner died, took the unselfish step of giving up her company shares in order to set up the Geographers’ Map Trust. This partnership trust safeguarded the company and employees from hostile takeover and ensured long term security for both. We are still to this day owned by a variation of the original Trust.
London 2012 maps A-Z was proud to be the official paper map supplier to London 2012 (the Games of the XXX Olympiad). You can see a number of our ‘Official Products’ from our range here – from compact self-covered sheet maps to glossy souvenir book titles. Data was processed to produce venue and regional maps combining A-Z accuracy and quality with the London 2012 brand design and colours.
Peel coat boundary cutter This tool cuts two parallel lines into the surface of a peel coat sheet. The distance between the two blades is set with the thumb wheel in the centre. It was perfect for cutting a wide band like the administrative boundary verge seen here. Tricky to use, positioning was everything, draughtsmen had to have a light hand, to avoid cutting into the base sheet, and maintain a consistent level of pressure to ensure that the ruby ‘strip’ was cleanly cut. Requiring subtle adjustments in alignment, to keep the boundary line central, progress was surprisingly slow.
Double ruling pencil This drawing instrument is a double ruling pencil being used here on Astrafoil, a plastic sheet with a matt drawing surface. Each Graphite ‘lead’ is held in place with a thumb wheel screw and shaped into a fine edge using the sandpaper block, seen left. It was important to first close the legs, using the large thumb wheel, in order to check that the leads accurately came together before setting to the required road width. When set up correctly this evenness avoided a ‘twisting’ action when used against parallel rules and, therefore, maintained the correct width. The pencil lines were then inked in with a Graphos pen.
Indexing Consider the task of indexing a street map from scratch before computers were readily available. A dye line copy of the map was made to cross out each name as it was written on an index card with its postcode and alpha-numeric grid reference. These cards (3 examples can be seen here) would then need to be sorted alphabetically and typed into a photo typesetter. But, decisions about font, point size, column width and leading (the gaps between the lines) all need to be made to produce the final gazetteer. Guides were used to calculate and measure these variables with scales for points and picas, inches and millimetres. The two most commonly used units of measurement in typesetting, a point is equal to 1/72 inch and the pica 1/6 inch or 12 points.
The Great British Design Quest In 2006, BBC TWO’s The Culture Show and the Design Museum conducted a poll to find the nation’s favourite example of British design since 1900 – The Great British Design Quest. The London A-Z Street Atlas was selected for the public vote and finished in very good company in the top 25. The Design Museum is currently moving to a new location on Kensington High Street and will reopen in late November 2016 – just one of the many changes we’ve made to our London mapping.
‘The A-Z of Mrs P’ – Theatre show The ‘A-Z of Mrs. P’ was a 2014 musical theatre production at the Southwark Playhouse, London. Starring Isy Suttie, of Peep Show fame, in the lead role it tells the story of Phyllis Pearsall and the early days of the Geographers’ Map Co. Ltd., interwoven with her parents’ turbulent marriage. This exquisite book-cut paper sculpture is a 3D artwork by Su Blackwell and was used to advertise the show – it was made using original Geographers’ London Atlases.
Geographers’ first Road Atlas Prior to this book the company published road maps only as folded sheets. However, the 1950’s and 1960’s saw a significant increase in car ownership and with it the demand for a single publication covering the UK. Map features, and how they are represented, in this 1961 Geographers’ Great Britain and Northern Ireland Road Atlas is quite revealing. For example, the simple depiction of roads (without road casings) meant that they could be quickly scribed and also benefited from a less critical registration when printed. Also, the green roads are not Primary Routes (this classification was not introduced until 1964 as part of the Worboys Report on signage), but are in fact both B class and minor roads. Interestingly, roads are numbered without their designated class letters.
Company catalogues Here are some examples of paper catalogues over the years, until electronic methods superseded them, with the red booklet, bottom left, the earliest from the 1950s. The two sheets behind from the 1960s offered a versatile format – folded they could be kept on a desk or in a drawer or, alternatively, pinned to a notice board or wall as a small poster once opened. The transition between the G(eographers’) logo and the A to Z logo is evident, with both appearing on the dark blue booklet. Much cleaner designs, in keeping with the present day logo, came into use in the 1980s. Finally, a steady increase in demand for digital mapping saw a dedicated catalogue introduced in the 2000s.
Isabella Gross The sitter in this oil painting is Phyllis Pearsall’s mother, Isabella Gross. After divorcing Alexander Gross, she was introduced to the American artist Alfred Everett Orr whom she married. The portrait, entitled ‘Portrait of the artist’s wife – Vernon’ (Vernon Bell was her writers name), was painted by Orr in 1924. Tragically, Bella died in an asylum after contracting pneumonia.
Coming and Going Road Atlas The majority of A-Z maps are orientated with north at the top of the sheet or page. However, this publication attempted to address an issue where some people had trouble flipping the map in their minds when travelling south down the page, often resorting to turning the book upside down. This 1993 A-Z Coming and Going Road Atlas has a standard set of north-top pages and a set of south-top pages (as the Liverpool and the Llyn Peninsula example here). Before computers it would have been necessary to lay out a second type sheet by hand for the different orientation, a time consuming exercise. However, computer software made the task much simpler and of course quicker to do.
Dobson Dots (Copyright marks) A-Z ‘phantoms’ had already been added to maps in order to identify unauthorised copying. However, the increasing availability of drum scanners in the early 1990’s raised concerns that a map could be quickly reproduced in this way and printed without the copyright owner’s permission. Stephen Dobson, a copyright solicitor, suggested placing an arrangement of dots (‘Dobson dots’) on the map as a solution. This idea was adopted for the Greater London area and was set out across the 9 Sheet Master Map series. The diagram here shows that by putting the 9 sheets together and joining up the dots the AZ logo is revealed. The lines drawn on the north 9 sheet behind show the relevant section of logo.
Castilian Ochre In the early 1930’s Phyllis Pearsall and her husband Richard travelled around Spain, sketching and painting as they went. Their experiences of the easy-going life of a pre-Civil War Spain are recorded in ‘Castilian Ochre’, a travelogue published in 1935, with many amusing pen and ink illustrations. Born in Dublin, Richard Montague Stack Pearsall studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and his finely detailed drypoint etchings from this period remain highly collectable. The 1933 water colour painting behind, ‘Archaeological Dig, Nieble’, was painted by Phyllis.
Drawing using MicroStation CAD software The 1990’s was a decade of change for the Drawing Office with the introduction of computers and sophisticated drawing software. This MicroStation drawing screenshot of the centre of Manchester bears little resemblance to the final map which has yet to be processed. These ‘vector’ elements (lines, arcs, shapes and text) are separated by level, colour, weight and style – a ‘symbology’ which is set using the bespoke A-Z menu on the left. For example, road centre lines create the different road infills while the lines on either side generate road casings – red (A road thick lines) and yellow (B road and minor road fine lines). The impact this method of drawing had on production cannot be overstated with increased accuracy and speed and a significant rise in the number of publications going to print.
Plotting the M25 We are proud to say that our maps are based upon Ordnance Survey maps and always have been. However, while OS is our main source of revision we also gather additional information from other official bodies and our own site visits to keep our maps as up to-date as possible. This 1970’s compilation overlay shows the alignment of the proposed M25 to the west of London and junction 12, the M3 Thorpe Interchange, plotted by an A-Z draughtsman from large scale side road order plans. The blue pencil indicates detail that should be deleted in connection with this road scheme. Changes to the lakes in the top right quarter of the image are part of the planned Thorpe Park which opened in 1979.
Scribing sheet This scribe sheet from the 1990s is of a part of London, but something may seem not quite right about it. In truth it has been drawn in reverse, a mirror image, with Regents Park on the right and Euston, St Pancras International and King’s Cross stations to the left. It is effectively a negative which, when exposed in contact with film, produces a positive image the correct way round.
Ruling Pen Before computers A-Z draughtsmen used a variety of drawing instruments to ink in line work. The ruling pen being used here is perfectly suited with its adjustable blades, which can be precisely set to a required thickness, and ability to maintain a constant line. It was common practice to check the line weight on a scrap of material before committing to the drawing sheet itself.
Mrs P’s ‘Painting Hat’ Here is one of Phyllis Pearsall’s ‘painting hats’; seemingly an essential part of her outdoor kit she, of course, had a number of these over the years. The water colour behind, entitled ‘Cross, Niebla’, was painted by her in 1933 while travelling in Spain with her husband Richard Pearsall. Together, they produced a book “Castilian Ochre” subtitled ‘Travels with Brush and Pen’. The cover includes an ink drawing of the pair sketching with, you guessed it, distinctive hats.
Trap Streets/Phantom Names – Bartlett Place A great deal of time and effort goes into compiling, drawing and printing a map. In order to protect that investment cartographers have for a long time added what have been variously called phantoms, trap streets or copyright signatures to identify unauthorised copying. Here you can see one of the most well known, Bartlett Place, as revealed in Nicholas Crane’s 2005 television series, Map Man. Not surprisingly, it was removed from the map shortly after being exposed on the programme.
Glass Negative – 1962/3 Bolton suburb Look closely and you can see that this early 1960s negative is made of glass. Coated with a light sensitive emulsion it was contact printed with the original drawing to make an intermediate copy which was then used to produce positive Bromide paper pages on which page numbers and index references could be added. Unusually small it may have been made simply as a test or as an inset map.
Ebony & Brass Parallel rules (1940s) These parallel-rules from the 1940s were made to last out of ebony and brass. An essential piece of equipment for draughtsmen they were very effective in drawing two, or more, parallel lines. One such use was to place guide lines when hand lettering horizontal text where base and top lines were needed to maintain a consistent character size. They are seen partly open in this image.
A-Z becomes part of the Company title in 1973 Geographers’ Map Company was named by Alexander Gross, Phyllis Pearsall’s father now living in America, with the intention of selling his Standard Map of the World in the UK. Similar in name to Geographia Ltd., the map company he founded in 1908 and subsequently lost, an effort was obviously made to avoid any confusion between the two by underlining HERS’. However, A-Z was Mrs. P’s idea, becoming synonymous with street atlases. The ‘A-Z’, rather surprisingly, only became officially part of the company name on May 15th 1973.
Hand Lettering pen/nib Draughtsman were skilled in hand lettering maps in many styles, including serif, bold and italic, from the earliest days of the company to the mid-70s and, occasionally if necessary, even in the early 80s. The fine nib of a calligraphy pen was used dipped and carefully loaded with just enough Indian ink, or in later years ‘plastic’ ink, to complete a letter.
Gray’s Inn Road Shop This refurbished Edwardian office building, number 24 Gray’s Inn Road, was the company’s London premises from 1953. There was a shop on the ground floor and a basement which acted as a modest stock warehouse. The first two floors were allocated to management and the General Office with the top floor occupied by the Drawing Office which benefited from the better natural light there. This was a significant move which was not without risk as it amounted to a tenfold jump in rent to £2,125 per year and a 42 year lease. Although the company moved it’s operations to new premises in Sevenoaks in 1962 the shop remained in use here until 1982 when it moved to number 44.
Book of Impositions 1956 This 1956 book of impositions was vitally important as a source of information. Books are not printed as individual pages but imposed in a sequence for standard paper sizes which, when folded and trimmed, form a section of the book. Clearly it is important that the reverse side of a sheet has the correct page printed on the back. This page layout can vary depending on the number of pages per sheet (8, 16, 32, 64) or a particular fold.
Early editions of the A-Z London Street Atlas These two London A-Zs are amongst the earliest copies in the company’s possession and both have seen better days. The one on the left, from 1938 is one shilling, equivalent to 5 pence today, while the 1953 2/6 edition would have been 12.5 pence. Increasingly rare to find, the pages of a vintage 1938 book were carefully removed and scanned to create our Historical London A-Z; a facsimile copy that can be enjoyed by all.
London map wallpaper Quintessentially English, the simple colours of A-Z street mapping has an appeal beyond conventional map use with canvas prints, vinyl flooring and large scale wallpaper (seen here) satisfying the need for artistic decoration both in businesses and the home.
Imposed pages (negative, showing opaque) From the 1970s, until production moved over to computers in the early 1990s, map line work and type were kept on separate sheets. As both required printing in black ink they were combined at the page stage and an ortho film negative produced. Susceptible to dust spots, a fine sable brush was used to retouch the negative with a water soluble liquid opaque – the brown ‘dabs’ seen in this image.
London Pictorial map (post war) Maps can be a great source of historical reference conveying information in a very quick and easy to understand way. Take this A-Z Pictorial Map of London published immediately after the Second World War in 1946, it graphically displays the devastation and resulting demolition of the area to the north and west of The Guildhall.
Peel coats to produce map colours This is a peel coat or strip mask layer for a London drawing sheet from the mid-80s used in the production of a coloured map. The material consists of a ruby red layer bonded to a clear sheet of plastic. Placed in registration over map detail the layer is cut and peeled away for a particular colour – in this case the blue infill of the River Thames. A drawing sheet could have up to 6 of these peel coats to colour map features, from motorways to built-up areas. Subsequent revision changes to the sheet can be seen where darker red tape has been laid down and the infill recut.
A-Z Logo Our iconic A-Z logo was designed in 1971 by Roy Dewar and was first published on the 1972 edition of the London A-Z Street Atlas which also had a new, white cover design. Roy Dewar was born in Battersea, London. He left school at the age of 15 and in 1962 worked on the “J.J.” strip with Bill Wellings for the Sunday Express. He was the regular weekly political cartoonist on the Spectator between 1963 and 1967. He also drew joke cartoons for the Daily Sketch and other publications. Many of the adverts and catalogues of Geographers’ Map Company also featured his illustrations or cartoons.