Magazine article Geographical

The House of Maps: The World of Geography Owes an Incalculable Debt to the Several Edward Stanfords Who First Founded and Then Managed the 'House of Maps'. as Stanfords Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary This Month, Peter Whitfield Traces the Company's Early History

Magazine article Geographical

The House of Maps: The World of Geography Owes an Incalculable Debt to the Several Edward Stanfords Who First Founded and Then Managed the 'House of Maps'. as Stanfords Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary This Month, Peter Whitfield Traces the Company's Early History

Article excerpt

During the winter of 1887, John Ruskin, art critic, moralist and sage, now descending into madness, dashed off a cry for help to a well-known London shop:

Gentlemen,

Have you any school atlas or any other sort of atlas on sale at present without railroads in its maps? Of all the entirely odd stupidities of modern education, railroads in maps are infinitely the oddest to my mind. Ever your faithful servant and victim

J Ruskin

The recipient of this rather strange appeal was the house of Edward Stanford, the map-seller who, in the three decades since he started in business, had made himself pre-eminent in his field. Whether you sought an Ordnance Survey map of Surrey, a map of a Balkan war-zone, of the railways of India or of the goldfields of South Africa, Stanfords was acknowledged to be the first port of call; Sherlock Holmes himself was to "send down to Stanfords" for a large-scale map of Dartmoor at the opening of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This year, Stanfords is celebrating a century and a half of map-selling, during which time the company has had a small but intriguing role in Britain's political and social history.

The first Edward Stanford (1827-1904) launched his business in 1853 when he took over the map shop of Trelawney Saunders in Charing Cross, opposite the statue of Charles I. Stanford was the son of a London tailor who left school at 14 to learn printing, moving on to work in a number of London shops before joining Saunders in the map trade. Within a few short years, Stanford had initiated a map-publishing programme that would become the most comprehensive in England.

Stanford's genius was to recognise that the Victorian era was experiencing a rising demand for maps of all kinds. The military strategist, the colonial administrator, the railway or mining engineer, the newspaper editor and the tourist all required maps, for maps represented the knowledge and the power that Europeans exercised throughout the world. Stanford's approach was two-fold: he secured agencies for the sale of the official maps produced by overseas and colonial survey authorities and then set about reducing this detailed survey information into smaller-scale maps that were the most accurate and up-to-date available.

In late-Victorian England, Stanford's shop became a focal point where market demand for maps met the cartographic skills that were able to produce quickly and accurately maps of the Northwest Frontier of India, the Transvaal goldfields, the settlements in western Canada or Australia, and theatres of war from Paris to Manchuria. In this respect, Stanfords' map catalogue now functions as a revealing index of the world of Victorian geopolitics.

Of the personality of the first Edward Stanford we know little. But his son, the second Edward Stanford (1856-1917), who became head of the firm in 1882, emerges more clearly, thanks to the survival of both business and personal papers. A formidable autocrat, he ruled his house with an iron grip for 35 years. In his business letters he made it clear that Stanfords was no mere shop, but a service for gentlemen governed by gentlemen.

His correspondents included some of the outstanding geographers of the age--Alfred Russell Wallace, General Gordon, HM Stanley, Hiram Bingham Edward Whymper, Captain Scott and Francis Younghusband--many of whom commissioned Stanfords to carry out cartographic work for them. In contrast to his dealings with these famous figures, there was the day-to-day skirmishing with insolent customers, resentful trade rivals and tedious officials. He hears himself called a "damned dunning tradesman" when he asks for payments almost a year overdue, and he curtly reminds another offended customer that "truth is apt to be considered discourtesy" when it refers to painful matters such as unpaid debts.

It was under this man's direction that the firm's publishing programme reached its high-point with Stanford's London Atlas of Universal Geography, a massive folio atlas first issued in 1887 and reprinted several times. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.