Timeline

Early History                                                           

Our history begins with the birth of Phyllis Pearsal’s parents.

  • 1879

    Alexander Grosz born in Csurog, Austria-Hungary (now part of Serbia).

  • 1885

    Isabelle (Bella) Crowley was born.

1900s

London Image © Leonard Bentley/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • 1900

    Alexander came to London, both looking for his fortune and to avoid conscription. He stayed in an Islington rooming-house, met Bella and later they eloped to Gretna Green.

  • 1905

    Phyllis’s brother, Tony was born.

  • 1906

    Phyllis Isobella Gross was born on 25th September.

  • 1908

    Geographia Ltd. was founded by Alexander and Bella. The business produced maps from an office in John Street, off The Strand.

1910s                                                                      

  • 1911

    Geographia Ltd moved to 55 Fleet Street.

  • 1913

    Bella wrote the play ‘Break The Walls Down’ which was performed at the Savoy Theatre.

  • 1915

    With an increased income from war maps, the Gross family moved to Claygate.

  • 1917

    Bella wrote a series of books for children, published by Geographia Ltd over the following two years.

  • 1918

    Alexander was granted The Freedom Of The City Of London.

  • 1919

    In New York, the Geographia name was registered but left dormant.

1920s

Paris Image © JeanneMenjoulet&Cie/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • 1920

    Bella was badly injured in a riding accident. The home in Claygate was sold and Alexander moved to St James’ Court. Bella started divorce proceedings and Alexander removed her as a Director of Geographia. Alexander bought a printing company ‘Gilbert Whitehead’, and produced a World Atlas, but the 2nd and 3rd print sold badly. Geographia Ltd voted to remove Alexander from the board. Geographia Ltd was purchased for £1,000 by the bank.

  • 1921

    Bella meets and moves in with the artist Alfred Orr. Alexander moves to Chicago and teaches English. Phyllis took a position at the College de Jeunes Filles at Fecamp as a pupil/teacher. Tony attended The Slade and studied at the Academie Julian and the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts. Phyllis met Tony’s friend Richard Pearsall.

  • 1924

    Phyllis returned to Paris to study at the Sorbonne and after initially sleeping rough under the Pont St Michel and took a room in an apartment in the Street Of Gallows. She took a job in a department store as a translator. Phyllis headed to the Cote d’Emeraude for the summer. Phyllis held her first ‘one-man’ exhibition in Orleans.

  • 1926

    Phyllis held a ‘one-man’ exhibition in the Brook Street Gallery. Phyllis married Richard Pearsall and they lived in his Clapham studio.

  • 1929

    Alexander returned to London to take legal proceedings regarding the Geographia Ltd sale. Geographia Map Co inc became active in New York at 11 John Street.

1930s

Spain Image © recuerdosdepandora/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • 1931

    Phyllis had her paintings exhibited in Chicago.

  • 1933

    Phyllis made a career painting and writing, and travelled through Spain.

  • 1934

    Castilian Ochre, a book on Phyllis’s travels in Spain was jointly published with Richard.

  • 1936

    Alexander set up Geographers’ Map Company in London on the 25th August, and issued the shares equally amongst Tony and Phyllis, with offices in Napier House, 24-27 High Holborn. The Company began by selling Alexander’s Standard Map Of The World. The 2nd planned job was 3 London publications, including the ‘OK’ atlas. The name is changed on publication to ‘A to Z’. The first maps are sold to W.H. Smith & Sons. Phyllis became a fellow of the RGS.

  • 1937

    Bella passed away, followed shortly by Alfred.

  • 1938

    Phyllis and Richard’s marriage was dissolved. Phyllis had a ‘one-man’ exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London.

1940s

London Image © Leonard Bentley/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • 1940

    Detailed London street maps were withdrawn from sale due to government orders regarding map sales, but the business was busy producing war maps. Phyllis was commissioned to draw women working on the war effort.

  • 1941

    Phyllis was conscripted to work in censorship. She then moved to Home Intelligence.

  • 1944

    The Government order restricting map sales was revoked.

  • 1945

    Phyllis turned down a senior civil service job to focus on Geographers’ Map Company and the business expanded to 21 Gray’s Inn Road.

  • 1946

    In November, Phyllis was involved in a plane crash on her way back to the UK after visiting a printing company in Holland and suffered a fractured skull and spine.

  • 1947

    The first company van was purchased.

  • 1948

    Phyllis went to New York to run the US business due to visa issues for Alexander. In her absence, Tony was appointed Chairman. Once Alexander’s visa issues were resolved Phyllis returned to London.

1950s

London Image © Leonard Bentley/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • 1950

    Phyllis suffers a stroke following a letter from Alexander to Tony telling him to take control of the business, although Alexander never sees this through. Phyllis starts a period of convalescence.

  • 1951

    Phyllis recuperated in Cyprus. The Drawing Office moved to dilapidated offices at 14 Railway Approach, London Bridge.

  • 1952

    Phyllis and Alexander reconcile their differences. Phyllis checks in to a Sussex rest home.

  • 1953

    The Business moved to 24 Gray’s Inn Road. Phyllis appeared on Woman’s Hour. The first edition of the Birmingham A-Z Street Atlas was published.

  • 1955

    Phyllis had two stories published in the New Yorker.

  • 1958

    Alexander Gross died while travelling between New York and England on the RMS Queen Mary. Phyllis heads to New York to restore order to the US Business and turns down the management role. Geographia Map Co is sold to new owners.

  • 1959

    The business moved to 28 Gray’s Inn Road.

1960s

  • 1961

    The first Geographers’ Road Atlas of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was published.

  • 1962

    The business moved to Sevenoaks, however it retained a retail presence and London store at Gray’s Inn Road.

  • 1963

    The first edition of the Manchester A-Z Street Atlas was published.

  • 1965

    Plans for a Trust are put together by Phyllis. The Company shares are valued at £82,500. Phyllis sold her shares for £10,000, and Tony’s shares were purchased for £50,000 using a bank loan. The initial Trust was setup. Phyllis passed her driving test after several attempts.

1970s

  • 1973

    A-Z was added to the Company name on 15th May.

  • 1979

    A separate Drawing Office opened in Lancing, Sussex.

1980s

  • 1983

    ‘Fleet Street, Tite Street, Queer Street’, a family history was published privately by Phyllis.

  • 1984

    Phyllis’s brother Anthony Gross passed away.

  • 1985

    Phyllis published a collection of short stories ‘Only The Unexpected Happens’. The first colour edition of the London A-Z Street Atlas was published.

  • 1986

    The company celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a Thames cruise. Phyllis was awarded an MBE.

1990s

Borough Green office image © Geographers’ A-Z Map Co. Ltd.

  • 1990

    ‘From Bedsitter To Household Name’, Phyllis’s final book, was published by Geographers’ A-Z Map Company Ltd.

  • 1991

    The 25th Trust Anniversary celebrations were held at Hever Castle. Computers are introduced to the drawing process.

  • 1992

    The business moved to a new purpose built office and warehouse in Fairfield Road, Borough Green.

  • 1996

    Phyllis stood down as Chairman. The Company celebrated its 60th Anniversary at Euro Disney. The first electronic street map of London was published on CD-ROM. Phyllis passes away on 28th August after a short illness.

2000s

  • 2001

    A range of maps were launched for Windows Pocket PC based PDAs and mobile phones. The range of printed publications increased to over 300 titles covering all regions of Great Britain.

  • 2002

    10 years after The Company relocated to Borough Green, they celebrated by holding a family fun day at Penshurst Place. A special map was produced for the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester.

  • 2004

    The London showroom at 44 Gray’s Inn Road closed and retail sales are transferred to Borough Green.

  • 2005

    A London A-Z street map application for Symbian based smartphones was created.

  • 2006

    A Blue Plaque was unveiled at Court Lane Gardens, Dulwich to commemorate Phyllis. The first Sat Nav to include A-Z London street maps is launched. The Motor Show returned to London after a 30 year break where A-Z exhibited their latest digital and paper maps for drivers.

  • 2007

    The Lancing Drawing Office closed with the staff transferring to head office.

  • 2008

    The first iPhone app featuring A-Z London street mapping was produced.

2010s

2010

  • 2010

    Due to declining sales, the Company made a number of redundancies.

  • 2012

    A-Z was selected to be the official map publisher of the London 2012 Olympics. A new, innovative range of A-Z Adventure Atlases was launched which featured OS mapping previously only found in sheet map form.

  • 2013

    The company was restructured to reflect the new market conditions. The Board was reduced to two directors and a new Employee Benefit Trust was formed.

  • 2014

    The business moved to Lime Pit Lane in Dunton Green in July and returned to profitability for the first time since 2008.

  • 2016

    The Company celebrates its 80th Anniversary with the launch of a blog and photo archive.

  • 2017

    Walk Unlimited chose A-Z as the official mapping partner to produce maps for the National Trails of England and Wales.

  • 2018

    Drawing software from Lorienne enables A-Z to quickly produce new styles of wayfinding mapping.

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A-Z is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd,
registered in Scotland, Company No.27389.
Registered address: Westerhill Road,
Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, G64 2QT.