Category Archives: Maps

Fun with Google Maps: the 18thC book trade

Stationers’ Hall.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to take the annual Bibliographical Society Summer Tour. This year it was led by Professor James Raven and was a walking tour around the eighteenth-century London book trade. James Raven is well known in book history circles and this tour drew upon his research on the topography of the eighteenth-century book trade, the subject of his 2010 Panizzi lectures, and the focus of Bookscapes: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (British Library, 2014). I’m not going to describe the tour here – although it was lively, thought provoking, and fun – but as we were walking from the area where Paternoster row once existed to Fleet Street, it struck me that the most appropriate way to record this event might be to map our walk. It had also occured to me that I hadn’t yet played with Google Maps and it might be useful a process to pass on to my undergraduate students.


So what you see here (click on map image) is a rough and quick map of our tour using Google Maps. I’ve dropped a few pins to locations and figures that were mentioned on the tour, although it by no means reflects that breadth of James Raven’s knowledge nor, indeed, the astonighly high concentration of booksellers, printers, and publishers in the areas around St. Paul’s, Fleet Street, and the Strand during this period. In throwing together a map of the tour, I’ve not gone into much detail: I could have written much more extensive notes to people such as Abel Roper or the Murrays or Strahans, given more time. I also limited myself by deciding that I would only pin-point items or people for which image existed (and that the image was free to use and without any copyright issues, so I’ve relied heavily on Wikimedia Commons). In this sense, the map reflects the limits of the basic Google Maps app: images can only be downloaded from the web, so I couldn’t use any of my own photographs (although I guess I could have upoaded them to, for example, flickr, and re-upload them from there). Of course, the other major limitation when using Google Maps for marking historical information is that it doesn’t reflect the original street layout. In this case, the most obvious anomaly is that the route we took from Stationers’ Hall to the East side of St Pauls, was attempting to trace what no longer exists: Paternoster Row, the historic focus of so much book trade activity up to WWII. But see this project to creat a virtual Paternoster Row at the University of Essex.

So, there are a number of lessons to hand on to students using Google Maps. But there are also significant gains to be had in the process of marking and annotating, in addition to the obvious visual impact of a map. I had fun imagining myself into the bookscape of eighteenth-century London. I hope you have fun with this map.

Defoe, Google, cities and Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Re-reading Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I was struck by a passage that reminded me of some the issues that came up recently when teaching Daniel Defoe’s A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain on our MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment. It was, to say the least, a surprising association between “a novel about books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love” and a description of eighteenth-century London. But here’s the passage from Sloan’s novel in which Neel Shah (CEO of a niche software company) and Kat Potente (west-coast evangelistic Google data-visualizer) are contemplating a New York sidewalk:

“It’s so small but there are so many people,” she says, watching the human flow. “They’re … it’s like fish. Or birds or ants, I don’t know. Some superorganism.” …

Neel nods knowingly. “The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”

“I don’t know about that,” Kay says, narrowing her eyes. “I’m pretty good with complexity.”

“See, I know what you’re thinking,” Neel says, shaking his head. “You’re thinking it’s just an agent-based simulation, and everybody out there follows a pretty simple set of rules” – Kat is nodding – “and if you can figure out those rules. You can model it. You can simulate the street, then the neighbourhood, then the whole city. Right?”

“Exactly. I mean, sure, I don’t know what the rules are yet, but I could experiment and figure them out, and then it would be trivial – “


Neel believes that no computer of Google’s could ever be big enough to analyse the city’s complex and organic interactions. The allusions are rich, the most obvious of which is to the Simcity and The Sims franchises. But Sloan makes a Google employee extol the possibilities of designing an algorithm for a city of people; a fact that brings to mind Google’s efforts to map and photograph the world in its entirety. Indeed, in a previous passage, Kat has used Google Street View to locate a secret library in New York. Both platforms have a set of related aims: to comprehend and model a complex ecology. But there’s a gentle irony in this scene that it is Neel who is sceptical about such modelling. It’s a question of scale, and – as any student of satire will know – comparing the ostensibly small with the apparently epic produces some interesting ironic effects. Neel’s company designs the software to enable 3D digital simulations of female breasts, and the irony of a dubious industry in simulating a relatively small part of the female anatomy critiquing the gargantuan designs of Google Earth cuts both ways. However, it is Neel that has the last word – the city cannot be modelled or contained – so Sloan seems to be directing the irony primarily at Kat’s, or Google’s, totalizing hubris.

Now on the MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment, we were paying close attention to the modes through which eighteenth-century authors represent landscapes of various kinds, and at this point comparing Pope and Defoe’s attitudes to the city of London.  So here’s the section from Defoe’s Tour in which he grapples with the size and complexity of early eighteenth-century London:

This great Work is infinitely difficult in its Particulars, though not in itself; not that the City is so difficult to be described, but to do it in the narrow Compass of a Letter, which we see so fully takes up Two large Volumes in Folio, and which, yet, if I may venture to give an Opinion of it, is done but by Halves neither.[2]

Defoe, like Neel, acknowledges the limitations of contemporary technology: the attempt encompass London within a letter, when even John Strype’s 1720 multi-volume folio edition of Stow’s Survey is ‘done by halves’, may come at the cost of the complex ‘Particulars’ of the city. Defoe goes on to say that perhaps the City itself may indeed ‘be viewed in a small Compass’ (2:95). However, the attempt to contain and represent London as a whole is thwarted by its uncontrolled and complexly organic evolution:

It is the Disaster of London, as to the Beauty of its Figure, that it is thus stretched out in Buildings, just at the Pleasure of every Builder, or Undertaker of Buildings, and as the Convenience of the People directs, whether for Trade or otherwise; and this has spread the Face of it in a most straggling, confused Manner, out of all Shape, uncompact, and unequal. (2:95)

In response, Defoe circumscribes this vital London by drawing a ‘A LINE of Measurement’ (2:98), effectively creating a static model of London – a simulation, if you like – in order for it to be properly analysed.

There is a neat parallel between Defoe’s and Kat Potente’s – and Google’s – attempts to model the complex ecology of cities. Both of these scenarios speak to the desire to be, in the words of Michel de Certeau, ‘the solar eye’, the voyeur elevated above a city laid before them. Such a perspective ‘makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text’ and creates, he argues, a ‘panorama-city … a “theoretical” (that is, visual) simulacrum.’[3] It is a desire to overwrite the messy real city with a fictive version of the city.

Yet complicating such a desire, Defoe and (with the caveat of irony) Neel Shah are both also fascinated by what de Certeau calls the forces of ‘human agglomeration and accumulation.’ Partly out of frustration, but partly out of admiration, Defoe asks ‘Whither will this monstrous City then extend? and where must a Circumvallation or Communication Line of it be placed?’ (2:97). When Kat mentions Google’s ‘The Big Box’ (a fictitious project of huge interlocking modular servers, and perhaps Sloan’s dig at Google’s search box[4]), Neel responds, “It’s not big enough. This box” – Neel stretches out his hands, encompasses the sidewalk, the park, the streets beyond – “is bigger.” (128). For Neel and Defoe, the city is always poised to burst beyond the confines of book or search box.

[1] Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (London: Atlantic, 2013), pp. 127-28.

[2] Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, 3 vols (London, [1724-25]), 2:94. Further references in brackets after quotations.

[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 92-93.

[4] Google increased the size of its search box in 2009.

Mapping books, mapping a library

When I’m not working or blogging on Defoe, I’m working on Bishop Richard Hurd, the clergyman and literary scholar (1720-1808). Currently I’ve being paying attention to his library. Built in the 1780s, Hurd’s library – both the book collection and the physical library itself – still exists at the old Bishopric palace of Hartlebury Castle. I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice to say, it’s a wonder (check their website for more details).

Now I knew from previous visits that the collection contained ms correspondence, Hurd’s commonplace books, printed books he has annotated himself, works annotated by previous owners, as well as various material and written interventions by Richard Hurd Jr. (Hurd’s nephew, secretary, and erstwhile librarian). What I wanted to do is to try to get a sense of how such books and their annotations might relate to each other and how they relate to Hurd’s published output. Now the library has over 3,000 titles, of which quite a number are annotated, so I wanted to track such interactions with a case study of the relations between Hurd’s publication, Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), and the various works by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon held in various editions in his library. But tracking – mapping – the complex relations between these books, their owners, and the annotations became almost impossible in traditional prose description; particularly as the annotations and the interactions were also time-sensitive. What I needed was a visual aid.

At about the same I came across the project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (an inspired title for a project!) The striking way in which the project visually presented data to track a network of literary relationships was an inspiration. I didn’t have such resources at hand, so I opted for a quick and dirty option and tried out some free mind-mapping software. What I produced – for a paper for the Writers and their libraries conference – rendered rather nicely a set of relations between objects and annotations.

Clarendon in Hurd's Library
[Click to enlarge]
It’s quite striking. But I found that the mind-mapping tools I tried all depended upon a single (or a very limited number) of starting points from which sub-topics were then hierarchically related. As you can see, I ended up by having to put the rather vague and abstract phrase ‘Hurd and Clarendon’ as the epicentre of this series of interactions. Now I had a number of objects in my case study, none of which could be said to the origin of a subsequent series of relations. In fact that was the very problem I was trying to articulate: how can one envisage a variety of interactions between objects, the contexts of which are separated by time, but which came to occupy the same physical and chronological space?

Subsequently, I’ve started experimenting with a piece of software not out of beta yet but which looks fantastic and, more to the point, very easy to use. This is Scapple, designed by the producers of Scrivenor. Details at the literatureandlatte forum.

[Click to enlarge]
[Click to enlarge]

What striking is that because Scapple is designed to mimic the rather looser way people actually doodle ideas, it doesn’t require a single starting-point. For a project like mine where I needed to map interactions between objects that have more complex and non-hierarchical relationships, this was ideal. Although I haven’t yet played around with the aesthetic appearance, the tentative reconstruction I’ve begun already looks very different without a centre. At the moment I don’t know if this will ever get beyond a personal tool, but even if that’s all it does, it should enable me to better conceive and represent the idea I began with: a kind of dialogue or virtual conversation between authors and their annotations within a library.

A party in Pall Mall: location, location, location

While teaching Defoe’s Roxana to my students, I was sent an intriguing book entitled A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature by Suzette Field. Now I’m not qualified to talk about all the works discussed here: from the Book of Daniel through Proust to Hollinghurst there is surprising variety of balls, routs, revels, masques, orgies, feasts, banquets, proms, weddings, birthdays and even a wake (Finnegan’s, of course). But I am able to comment on what Field calls ‘A Little Ball at Roxana’s House’. In common with all the parties, each entry has sections entitled ‘The Hostess’, ‘The Invitation’, ‘The Venue’, ‘The Guest List’, The Food and Drink’, ‘The Dress Code’, ‘The Entertainment’, ‘The Outcome’, and ‘The Legacy’. It all works rather neatly for Roxana’s ball at which she appears in her Oriental masquerade (also, Field has obviously done her research: she even notes ‘there is no definitive evidence that Defoe wrote Roxana’). However, my eye was caught by Field’s description of the party’s location in Roxana’s ‘handsome apartments in Pall Mall’.[1]

Pall Mall, Rocque, 1746, via Old Bailey Online, courtesy Motco Enterprises Limited Ref:
Pall Mall, Rocque, 1746, via Old Bailey Online, courtesy Motco Enterprises Limited Ref:

Described by Edward Hatten as a ‘fine spacious’ street, Pall Mall’s grandeur reflected the lives of its wealthy, if transient, population of visiting dignitaries and pleasure-seekers.[2] John Macky described Pall Mall as ‘the ordinary residence of all Strangers’ because of its proximity to the ‘Palace, the Park, the Parliament-House, the Theatres, and the Chocolate and Coffee-Houses, where the best company frequents.’ In fact Macky painted the life in the Pall Mall area as one continual party, at least for men:

We rise at Nine, and those that frequent great Mens Levees find Entertainment at them until Eleven … about Twelve the Beau Monde assembles in several Coffee or Chocolate-Houses … If it is fine Weather we take a turn in the Park until about Two, when we go into Dinner, and if it be dirty you are entertained at Picket or Basset at White’s, or you may talk Politicks at Smyrna or St. James’s.

After dinner there was the theatre (Haymarket theatre was at the end of Pall Mall); and after that,

the best Company generally go to Tom’s and Will’s Coffee-Houses, near adjoining, where there is playing at Picket and the best of Conversation until Midnight. Here you will see Blue and Green Ribbons and Stars, sitting familiarly … Or if you like rather the Company of Ladies, there are Assemblies at most People of Qualities Houses.[3]

Clearly, Macky was fascinated by the pleasures of the area and the status of its denizens.

It’s a key context to Defoe’s Roxana, whose apartment in fashionable Pall Mall reflects her wish to appear as a ‘soi-disant wealthy widow’, as Field nicely puts it. Yet as she rightly points out, in one regard Roxana’s choice of location is not entirely well calculated: despite Macky’s excitement at the wealth on display in Pall Mall, the residents of the West end of London are also those who ‘tended to live beyond their means’. As Roxana declares, she finds herself harassed by ‘Fortune-Hunters and Bites … to make a Prey of me and my Money … Lovers, Beaus, and Fops of Quality’ (1724, p.210). Field picks up on Roxana’s fascination with status, noting, in the section entitled ‘The Invitation’, that ‘[n]evertheless she is not averse to a bit of social advancement’. Now this is either an ironic understatement more suitable to an Austen novel, or a fudging of Defoe’s intent to underline Roxana’s crucial weakness: ‘I aim’d at other things, and was possess’d with so vain an Opinion of my own Beauty, that nothing less than the KING himself was in my Eye’ (1724, p.210).

However, the voice in Field’s book is frequently that of the understated party hostess that does not obtrude upon or overly manage her guests. For example, in common with all the entries in the book, the next section is called ‘The Venue’. Here Field quotes Roxana’s description that her apartment was in a house ‘out of which was a private Door into the King’s Garden’ (1724, p.200). Defoe places Roxana’s comment some time before her comment on catching the King’s eye, separated as they are by the discussion of Roxana’s financial dealings with Sir Robert Clayton. Presumably Defoe intended for us to remember the significant topography of her apartment when he has Roxana admit her vanity. Coming immediately after her comment on social advancement, Field manages to infer just as much as Defoe intended about Roxana’s social vanity and her choice of location. In ‘The Outcome’, she comments, in another understatement, that ‘Roxana has succeeded in catching the royal eye’, footonoting that ‘It is perhaps no coincidence that Roxana resides on Pall Mall, as did the King’s most famous mistress, Nell Gwynne.’ Location, location, location: Defoe’s interleaving of sexuality, historical allusion and moral topography is clear in Roxana’s party.

[1] Suzette Field, A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature (London, Picador: 2012), pp.33-38.

[2] Edward Hatton, A New View of London. London, 1708, p.61.

[3] John Macky, A Journey Through England. London, 1714, pp. 107-109. Macky later breathlessly lists the members of the aristocracy living on Pall Mall and the streets around, p. 128.

Ropemaker’s Alley and Digital Maps

Recently I’ve been playing around with the digital maps of London available online. Primarily, Allison Muri’s The Grub Street Project, Locating London’s Past and the map search function in Old Bailey Online. This inevitably led me to look at those places in London associated with Daniel Defoe. At about the same time, I had been re-reading Pat Roger’s Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture and was again impressed by his detailed ecology of the parish of St Giles, Cripplegate ward. It is an area closely associated with Defoe, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to use some of these databases to briefly map out Defoe’s place of death.

Here’s a view of Cripplegate, or ‘Creplegate Parish’ in Strype’s edition of Stow’s Survey of the cities of London and Westminster (1720, 2 vols), courtesy of The Grub Street Project (click to see a zoom-able image):

As Rogers argues, Defoe’s honorary membership of the Dunces club owes much to his beginning and ending his life within the purlieu of that home of the Dunces, Grub Street (Grub Street, 311-27). On Strype’s 1720 edition of Stow’s Survey (above), Grub street runs roughly North-South between and parallel to Moore Lane and White Cross Street. According to John R. Moore (Daniel Defoe: Citizen of the Modern World, 3) Defoe’s father ran a business from Fore Street: on the Strype map this began at St. Giles, ran into Moore Street which then became Posterne Street at its eastern end. The minister of St. Giles, Samuel Annesley, was praised in an elegy by Defoe in 1697. In the section of John Rocque’s A New and Accurate Survey of the cities of London and Westminster (1746), below, you can also see Grub Street running North off Fore Street (via Old Bailey Online, images courtesy of Motco Enterprises Limited Ref:

In the last months of his life Defoe was hiding from creditors, and between August 1730 and April 1731 he took lodgings in Ropemaker’s Alley, in the decidedly mixed environs of Cripplegate. Ropemaker’s Alley was just a few streets East of White Cross Alley where his wife, Mary, had property and Max Novak suggested that this might have enabled Defoe to keep in touch with his family (Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions, 702). Ropemaker’s Alley cannot be seen in Strype’s Map: it is just North of the City Walls in the area known as the ‘Freedoms’. If you look on the Strype map it would be just above and just outside the far North-West corner of Cripplegate ward. On the next section of Rocque’s 1746 map, below, you can see it fairly clearly as a thin street running North-West from Finsbury, bordering Moorfields (‘a moorish rotten Ground’, Strype, 1.70). South East off Finsbury and below Moorfields was Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam. The dotted line represents the boundary chains of the City.

Strype describes Ropemaker’s Alley, in ‘Cripplegate Ward without the Wall’, as ‘pretty broad, with several Garden Houses, which are well built and inhabited’, which sounds rather genteel. Nearby, however, alleys and streets were ‘meanly built and inhabited’ and ‘very mean’ (Strype, 1:92) and the proximity to Grub Street would have confirmed for many Defoe’s association with the profession of hacks. Defoe died on the 24th or the 25th April 1731 and was buried in Bunhill Fields, just North from Chiswell street, and which is now the location of the nineteenth-century memorial to Defoe.