Use the search box below to research your ancestors by surname, street name, pub name etc. etc.
Do you have detail to add, please contact me : Kevan
Geographer to the King,
12, 13, and 14, Long Acre, London, W.C.


An atlas of Old London maps, showing the growth of the City throughout successive centuries, is now issued for the first time. Up to a recent date the maps here represented had not been reproduced in any form, and the originals were beyond the reach of all but the few. The London Topographical Society has done admirable work in hunting out and publishing most of them; but these reproductions are, as nearly as possible, facsimiles of the originals as regards size, as well as everything else. It is not every one who can afford to belong to the society, or who wishes to handle the maps in large sheets. In the present form they are brought within such handy compass that they will form a useful reference-book even to those who already own the large-scale ones, and, to the many who do not, they will be invaluable.


Description.—This is the earliest map of London known to be in existence, for though Wyngaerde's survey preceded it in date, as we have seen, that is a panorama and not a map proper. The present map, which is known as that of Ralph Agas, itself has a good deal more of the panoramic nature than would be allowed in a modern one, and is on that account all the more interesting. The first to connect Agas's name with this map was Vertue (1648-1756), and he stated its date to be 1560; but, as will be seen in the description of the next plate, Vertue's claims to strict veracity have now been shaken, therefore his testimony must be accepted with caution.

Designer.—Ralph Agas, land surveyor and engraver, died in 1621, and he is described in the register as "an aged." Of course, it is possible that Agas lived to the age of eighty-five or over, in which case he might not have been too young to execute this work in 1560, and he himself says, in a document dated 1606, which has been preserved, that he had been in work as a surveyor for upwards of forty years. There are two branches into which the enquiry now resolves itself. First, did Agas really make the map? And, second, if he did, at what date did he make it? There is no conclusive evidence on either hand. There is a survey of Oxford, similar in character, signed by him, and though this is not dated, it is known to have been completed in 1578, and published ten years later. On the original copy of this, which is at the Bodleian, there are the following lines:

"Neare tenn yeares paste the author made a doubt

Whether to print or lay this worke aside

Untill he firste had London plotted out

Which still he craves, although he be denied

He thinkes the Citie now in hiest pride,

And would make showe how it was beste beseene

The thirtieth yeare of our moste noble queene."

Original.—The two earliest known copies of the Agas map, which was first engraved on wood, are both of the same issue; one is at the Pepysian Library, Magdalen College, Oxford, and the other at the Guildhall. Edward J. Francis made a careful reproduction of that at the Guildhall in 1874, and it is from that our present plate is taken. It is, of course, reduced, for the original is 6 feet and ½ inch long, by 2 feet 4½ inches wide. The notes attached to this issue are by W. H. Overall, F.S.A., one of the leading authorities on the question. He doubts Agas's connection with the map, but thinks if he were the originator it could not have been done before 1591. The arms in the corner on the two oldest extant maps are those of James I., but as the arms on the royal barge in the river are those of Elizabeth, it has been conjectured that the maps are themselves copies of a later edition, wherein the arms were altered in conformity with conventional opinion. The chief points which give data from internal evidence are as follows: St. Paul's Cathedral is bereft of its spire. This was struck by lightning in 1561, so the map must be subsequent to that date. The Royal Exchange is apparently built. This was opened in 1570. Northumberland House, built about 1605, has not been begun. We may take it, therefore, generally that the original map, which was engraved on wooden blocks, was made some time in the latter half of Elizabeth's reign, and it is probable that it was done by Agas.

Details.—The map abounds in interesting detail.

Beginning in the extreme left-hand lower corner, we see St. Margaret's Church, St. Stephen's Chapel, and Westminster Hall. In the river are swans of monstrous size. King Street, now merged in Whitehall, is very clearly shown, also the two heavy gates barring the way. The most northern of these, designed by Holbein, was called after him, and stood until the middle of the eighteenth century. North of it, on the west, is the tilting-ground; and stags browse in St. James's Park. Between the gates, on the east, are the Privy Gardens, overlooked by the Palace of Whitehall—most unpalatial in appearance.

Piccadilly is "the Waye to Redinge," and Oxford Street "the Waye to Uxbridge." Near Whitcomb Lane and the Haymarket women are spreading clothes in the fields to dry, while cows as large as houses graze around. St. Martin's Lane leads up to St. Giles, more particularly dealt with in the description of the next plate. The irregular buildings of St. Mary Rouncevall, a religious house, had not yet been taken down to make way for Northumberland House, itself to be replaced by Northumberland Avenue. The houses of great nobles, with their magnificent gardens stretching down to the waterside, are still in evidence. North of the well-laid-out Covent Garden, owned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, are nothing but trees and fields. Passing on quickly down the Strand, we find Temple Bar blocking the way to the City. This is the old Temple Bar, replaced after the Great Fire by the one much more familiar to us, which stood until 1878. A very fine illustration of the old one is given in Sir Walter Besant's London in the Time of the Tudors, p. 245. This book should certainly be studied by anyone desirous of understanding the map. From Temple Bar past the back of St. Clement's Church runs a broad road roughly corresponding with our new Kingsway. Further eastward the Fleet River still flows strongly down from its northern heights, crossed by many bridges, and just where it joins the Thames is Bridewell Prison. Further along, on the other side, is Baynard's Castle, and in front of it, in the river, the Queen's barge, with the royal arms of Elizabeth in the centre. Some way back from Baynard's Castle a bridge crosses a street, and is marked "The Wardrop." This was in very truth the wardrobe or repository of the royal clothes! Drawing a line northward for some way, we come to Smithfield, where tilting is represented as in animated progress. Not far northward is St. John's, Clerkenwell, and its neighbouring nunnery; to the west is the Charterhouse. Turning south again, past St. Bartholomew's Church, we see the building of Christ's Hospital, founded by Edward VI. This, it may be noted, is one of the buildings erected since Wyngaerde's time. Then we come to St. Paul's, shorn of its spire, with St. Gregory's Church, quite recognizable, in front of it. There were continual edicts against building in the Tudor and Stuart reigns, for it was feared London would grow out of hand; but, in spite of this, houses have enormously increased since Wyngaerde made his survey. The battlemented wall still encloses the City, but hamlets have sprung up outside, notably at Cripplegate.

But within the wall there are still some fine gardens and open spaces, one of which remains to this day in Finsbury Circus. Many roads meet in the heart of London, where now the Bank, Mansion House, and Royal Exchange stare across at each other. It is difficult to make out from the medley of buildings in the map if Gresham's first Royal Exchange is there or not, but it seems to be so. This was opened in 1570 by the Queen in person. St. Christopher le Stock's square tower may be seen on the ground now absorbed by the Bank of England.

Crossing over now to the Surrey side, we see conspicuously the two round pens for bull- and bear-baiting respectively. There are many pleasure-gardens, for the Surrey side was for long the recreation-ground of the Londoner. On the river there are innumerable wherries, and below the bridge at Billingsgate many ships cluster; one has even managed to get above the bridge. Off the Steelyard and at the Tower are men and horses in the water. This is a most interesting point. In those at the Tower it may be clearly seen that the man is filling the water-casks on the animals' backs with a ladle. This gives a glimpse into the discomforts endured by our ancestors before water-pipes were laid on as a matter of course to all houses. In the eighteenth-century reproductions of this map, oddly enough, in one instance this detail has disappeared, and in the other it is turned into a man driving cows into the water with a whip; thus doing away with all its significance. Far to the north in Spitalfields men are practising archery; while Aldgate, for long the home of Geoffrey Chaucer, is conspicuous a little north of the Tower.

As became a man living in days of the Reformation, Agas does not point out the religious houses then falling into decay or occupied by laymen, yet what a number of them must have been still in existence! Standing on the White Tower, and looking north and to the right hand, there must have been visible outside the wall St. Katherine's by the Tower, Eastminster, and the Sorores Minores, whose name still remains in the Minories, here marked. Within the City was Holy Trinity, close to Aldgate—of this a couple of most rare and interesting plans and a full account may be found in Mediæval London, vol. ii.—and not far off was St. Helen's Nunnery; also Crutched Friars, Austin Friars, Grey Friars, and, in the extreme west, near the Fleet, Blackfriars. Of these and many others full accounts may be found in the volume indicated above.


Description.—This plate, on being compared with the preceding one, shows a strong general resemblance, with a considerable difference in detail. Also, below are two churches, one of which is marked, "Present St. Giles's Church, built anno 1734," which shows that the map was made not earlier than that date. It is, in fact, a part of one of a set of eighteenth-century maps based on that of Agas, and not only differing from it in detail, but also differing slightly one from another. Some of these are unsigned, and some are signed "G. Vertue," and were specifically claimed by Vertue as having been made by him, and based upon Agas's map of 1560. Recently, however, doubts have been raised as to Vertue's share in the transaction, and it is now very commonly believed that he did no more than procure some maps, engraved on pewter and made in Holland, based on that of Agas. These he altered a little in detail, and then claimed as his own work. The original pewter plates are in possession of the Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House. The present example differs in some small particulars from these. Copies of the maps are not rare, and can be seen at the British Museum and elsewhere.

Details.—The bit of London here represented is of exceptional interest. It shows the corner of Tottenham Court Road when High Street and Broad Street, St. Giles, were the main highway, long before the cutting through of New Oxford Street. It shows, further, the descent of Holborn into the valley of the Fleet, the "heavy hill" along which criminals were brought from Newgate to the place of execution. It shows the site where the gallows stood for some time, about 1413, before being definitely set up at Tyburn. Close to this was the Bowl tavern, where the condemned man was allowed his last draft of ale. The most interesting old hospital for lepers is clearly shown. (See "Holborn," Fascination of London Series.)