In these days of innumerable Apps and virtual maps a really good piece of advice to arriving summer-school or university students and all tourists is to buy a London “A-Z” street atlas – book style! My guarantee is that you will use it weekly, if not daily – and that’s if you don’t find a job with Deliveroo, when you be glued to it!
The iconic London “A–Z” street atlas is produced by Geographers’ A–Z Map Company Limited. It was originally compiled in the 1930s by Phyllis Pearsall, who, having had the idea for the “A-Z” when she got lost on her way to party, in 1936 founded the company, which is now the largest independent map publishing company in the UK.
Fearing the loss of the company’s independence in the event of her demise, Miss Pearsall established the Geographers’ Map Trust to hold her shareholding on trust for the benefit of the employees. A variation of the original Trust still operates the business today and employee welfare continues to be a key priority.
In July 2014, the expanding business moved to a new site on a business park in Sevenoaks, (Kent, UK).
Since 2016 the Central and the Greater London “A-Z” street atlases have both been available as an App, priced at £6.99 and £3.99 respectively. I have used the latter, it’s useful, but there is still something more evocative about the printed version.
My old copy dates from the late 1970’s and the paper has a newsprint quality about although it doesn’t seem to smudge. Rather irritatingly a former flat-mate ripped out a single page at some point in the early 1980’s – all I can hope is the date he was trying to find was worth it – but it does mean that I would be lost in the further reaches of Islington!
Prime consumers of the London “A-Z” are London’s “Black Cab” taxi drivers. They are required to hold one of two types of license – All London (Green Badge) or Suburban (Yellow Badge). To obtain their chosen license would-be taxi drivers need to learn “The Knowledge”. Initiated in 1865 “The Knowledge” is an in-depth training course that involves a study of street routes and places of interest in London. Trainees are often seen on scooters with maps attached to a front parcel shelf as they follow planned test routes and determine the best ways to avoid heavy traffic, road works or other delays.
The London “A-Z” – is also published as a flat sheet or as a laminated map for ease of use – helping learners Cabbie’s to get to grips with the over 26,000 streets within a six mile radius of Charing Cross. The average time to prepare for the examination is thirty-four months and applicants will usually need at least 12 ‘Appearances’ (attempts at the final test) to pass.