Historical Maps – Exploring Lambeth

Today Lambeth is viewed as part of central London. However, it was not always so – this is evident when looking at historical maps of London. For this weeks task our group focused on five aspects that can be observed on historical maps, representing London’s growth. The five chosen topics were transport, layout, road structure, location within London and the waterfront.

Up until the 17th Century Lambeth was a marshland and the city of London was concentrated on the North side of the river. The construction of bridges connecting the North and South sides of the river meant that Lambeth became less isolated from the city center. As more construction took place, the area became increasingly more central within London.

Comparing the maps in chronological order shows that as the city expanded outwards the roads became increasingly complex, with people occupying more spaces. The construction of Waterloo Station and connecting rail lines is visible in 19th century maps, highlighting the destruction of small houses to be replaced with rail routes to and from London and larger, commercial buildings.

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Figure 1: London c1872 (MAPCO)

Examining maps from across the centuries shows that the road structure is relatively similar today to as it was in the 19th Century. Of course, new streets have been introduced over the years as the area has become more built up. The main difference in present day London is the increased flow of traffic, not only cars, but trains, bicycles and pedestrians, which has created a need to maintain efficiency of traffic flows – this has been done through technological advancements and by adjusting road structures.

The waterfront of this area is well known, by foreigners and native Londoner’s alike, as it is home to the London Eye, an icon of the London skyline. The damage caused to Lambeth during World War II led to the reconstruction of the buildings along the water’s edge. Cafes and restaurants lining the pedestrian promenade along with buildings that the public can access create an environment that attracts many people.

One issue that historical maps don’t cover is that of social groups that gather and events that take place in the area. The waterfront of Lambeth is at present, a cultural, social and historical hub – with events throughout the year, such as the Christmas market, the National Theatre and the London Dungeons. Walking along the water’s edge you pass a skate park – not as out of place as you may think. The graffiti on the walls bears resemblance to Brick Lane and the skate boarders are themselves a form of entertainment, as people stop to watch them. However, it is difficult to know what type of people frequented this area previously. Thus, whilst historical maps are useful tools when examining layouts of regions, they provide little social information.


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  1. Pingback: Everything is going to burn | things magazine

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