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The London Blitz

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

This Pictorial Plan of London was issued around 1947, by Geographer's Map Co. Ltd. It was 'produced under the direction of Alexander Gross, F.R.G.S.' This cartographer, born in Hungary in 1879, was the founder of Cartographia Ltd in 1908, which went bankrupt in 1920 He then moved to the United States, where he founded Geographia Map Co Inc in 1928.

In 1936, Alexander set up Geographia Map Co Ltd, and issued the shares amongst his son Tony and his daughter Phyllis Pearsall. Phyllis started publishing detailed maps of London, the A to Z maps, which have laid the foundation of the success of the company.The story of the company, including photographs and description of memorabilia, can be found on the AZ company website.

Back to the map. It is a pictorial plan, mounted on linen. It shows the city of London in bright yellow. All buildings are shown in a bird's eye view fashion. Although undated, it is probably from around 1946-1947. During WWII, it was forbidden to publish city maps.

The most striking feature is the large blank space near the Guildhall. "APPROXIMATE AREA DESTROYED BY ENEMY ACTION 1940 - 1941". The bombing raids on Great Britain started in september 1940, and continued until may 1941. Initially, the Germans concentrated their raids on London, but later on their aim shifted to other cities, such as Liverpool and Coventry. Despite the massive amount of casualties - over 40.000 civilians died - the strategic effects were little. Reason for Hitler to shift his focus to the Eastern Front in June 1941. So, in effect, Operation Barbarossa meant the end for the Blitzkrieg for England.

This 1946-1947 issue is a partially updated version of the 1938 Pictorial Plan of London. Except for the 'area destroyed by enemy action', these maps are similar. As can be seen below, the area North of Cheapside, has been erased on the map, as it was in real life. The left panel shows a detail of the 1938 plan, the right panel a detail of the 1946-47 plan.

This map has quite a dichotomous feel: areas are either completely destroyed, or completely intact. Reality was of course much more complex. Several excellent online resources are available for a more nuanced (and probably even more impressive) view of the scale of destruction.

On the website, a very detailed early postwar map showing the scale of damage of the Blitz can be seen. This official London County Council Bomb Damage Map shows the bomb damage colour-coded from black (total destruction) to green (clearance areas). It has been digitized, and is geo-referenced, so it can be used as an overlay on other maps. There is an abundance of layers to explore, on a very broad choice of topics.

On Bomb Sight, geographical locations and details of the fallen bombs derived from the official Bomb Census have been scanned, geo-referenced and digitally captured. This results in an impressive interactive website.

Battersea Power Plant

The Pictorial Plan of London shows more than destruction alone. Let's focus on the south bank of the river Thames. And to be more precise, to the Battersea Power Station. An iconic building by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the classic red British telephone boxes. But on the map, only the first stage of the plant is shown. Construction on this part, Battersea A, started in 1929, and was finished in 1935. Construction on Battersea B started in 1937, and was finished in 1944, although its fourth, and final, chimney was not completed until 1955. So, by the time this map was issued, the second building would already have been in place for a least 3 years. Clearly, this item was not updated. It appeared in the 1946-47 map, as it was depicted (and correctly at that time) in 1938. The photograph shows the plant as it was in 1934.

London Pictorial Plan - Detailed view of Battersea Power Station

Any music lover will now automatically think of Pink Floyds album Animals from 1977. On its cover, the power plant with its (by then four) chimneys is seen, with a giant inflatable pig attached to one of the chimneys. During the photo shoot, the immense balloon-pig broke lose, and drifted towards Heathrow Airport, causing much consternation. I don't think any maps showing its flight-path exist, and of course, I could dedicate one on my future posts to a map showing the dark side of the moon. Or the Bay of Pigs.

But maybe these links are more on topic:



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