Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Psycho Historical Geography

This morning I found my old copy of the London A-Z, the once famous street atlas of London. My copy of the A-Z is 26 years old. In map terms that isn't very old and in most parts of London you can still use it to find your way around. However it isn't much use in London's Olympic Park. 

The site of the 2012 London Olympics was almost completely razed to build the Olympic Park. Which means that my copy of the A-Z presents a map of a landscape which has almost totally disappeared. It wouldn't help you much in navigating around the new Olympic Park. However it does provide a fascinating record of the landscape which existed before the Olympic Park was built.

This afternoon I decided to see if I could still use my copy of the A-Z to find my way around the Olympic Park. I wanted to see if I could work out where some of the landmarks on the old map existed before they were demolished for the Olympics.Luckily some of the geography and natural features from that time still exist. While I was in the Olympic Park the River Lee, the canals and railway lines which cut through the park provided me with a rough guide as to where I was on the old A-Z map.

This enabled my to find the location of the old Hackney Greyhound Stadium, where I vaguely remember watching dog racing 30 odd years ago. Now Here East (which was the London Olympics Media Centre) now stands on the site of what was the Greyhound Station. Appropriately where the Lee Valley Velo Park (pictured above) now stands my A-Z shows the Eastway Cycle Circuit once existed.

On returning home I decide to map some of the photos I took today on an old historical map of the East End. The map I chose was Essex LXXIII, from 1873. On this map I have overlaid photographs of the London Stadium, Here East, the VeloPark and the London Aquatic Centre. I hope I've placed each photo on the correct location. Again my main hints as to the proper locations are the river, canals and railway lines on the 1873 map.

The Essex LXXIII map comes from the marvelous National Library of Scotland collection of vintage maps. I was able to make my interactive version of this map using Jack Reed's fantastic Leaflet-IIIF plugin for Leaflet maps.

My Essex LXXIII interactive map isn't that exciting. However using old vintage maps to navigate the present is a really interesting exercise.Taking an old vintage map on a walk is a fascinating way to explore an area's history. The process of navigating by an out-of-date map almost forces you to imagine how the environment used to look in the past, helping to bring your local history back to life.

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