1938 Geographers’ A–Z Map

1938 Geographers’ A–Z Map

by Mark Wardell

1938: Geographers’ A–Z Map

The most notable changes in Chiswick shown on this map are not only the density of the housing developments but also the transformation of open space in the south of the parish, previously meadows and fields, now designated sports grounds. Dukes Meadows is marked for recreation, and the parish cemetery has been extended. Cutting across this area is the new Great Chertsey Road, carried over the Thames on the handsome Chiswick Bridge, opened in 1933. The extensive bus works north of Gunnersbury Station (now Chiswick Business Park) is also identified.

This first A-Z was a revolutionary breakthrough, providing a map that became familiar to all in the second half of the 20th century. Phyllis Pearsall (1906–1996) was a portrait painter who, one day, became lost in London while using an out-of-date map. She decided to produce a new map, which would include bus routes, museums and new areas of the fast-expanding metropolis. She would print it on thin paper and make the resulting book a handy size for carrying around, as well as being reasonably priced.

Phyllis used an Ordnance Survey map as a basis, but always claimed to have walked every single one of the 23,000 London streets herself and compiled the alphabetical index (from A to Z) of the roads. She estimated that she had walked about 3,000 miles, often starting at 5am and working 18-hour days. One of the draftsmen from her father’s company then helped her to present the results, hand-drawn on tracing paper with ink pen and rule.

In 1938 the first A–Z was finally ready. She ordered 10,000 copies from the printer and began contacting bookstores to ask them to stock it. After rebuffs from most large bookstores, eventually W.H. Smith took a gamble and ordered 1,250; soon she was delivering to their stores in every main railway station in London. Woolworths followed and by 1938 the A–Z was established as the leading map of London streets.

In 1966 Phyllis Pearsall turned the company into a trust, the Geographers’ A–Z Map Co, to secure its future and that of its employees. She reported for work each day well into her eighties, driving her red Mercedes; it had taken her more than 200 lessons to get her licence.

The Geographers’ A–Z Map Company Ltd remains one of the largest independent map publishing companies in the UK, producing over 300 paper mapping publications, including the A–Z, Street Atlases, Visitors’ Guides, Great Britain Road Atlases, and Adventure Atlas walking guides.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced by permission of Geographers’ A–Z Map Co. Ltd. ©Crown copyright and database rights 2016 OS 100017302.

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