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Historical spatial metadata


Citywide metadata relating to land use and building form is, as we have seen, restricted or unavailable today. However the collection, mapping and colour coding of granular data on our urban and rural landscapes has a long tradition in the UK.


Below we look at examples of historical London metadata maps, and their different data collection methods.


Thomas Milne’s Land use Map of London and its Environs. 1800

Milne's land use map was printed in 1800 and was the first UK map to use colour to enable attribute patterns to be read simultaneously at the micro and macroscale.


It is considered to be the first true land utilization map and covers 260 of the 600 square miles comprising Greater London today. (Bloomsbury, shown in the extract below, can be seen forming part of the north west edge of the city). 




















Available online at Sound Survey 


Well space buildings are shown stippled, with dense ruling used for congested areas. All other land parcels are marked with a letter and washed over with a colour. There are 12 main categories of landuse and a further five subdivisions.  These include 'm' in pale green for meadow and pasture, 'p' for paddocks and little parks in pink, and 'n' for nursery grounds in deep yellow.


Little is known about Milne though records show he was part of a team that had surveyed Norfolk, and had been turned down for a job as a land surveyor by OS (then the Board of Ordnance) in 1791. Reasons behind the map's production are also unclear. It may have been influenced by contemporary growth in speculative property development, and consequent interest in land use and ownership data.


It is likely that only a few copies of the map were printed from engraved plates, possibly for Milne's patrons. Only one complete copy of the six sheets is known to survive and is held at the British Library. 


Though the land use map was a unique achievement in early British thematic cartography, thematic maps, possibly known to Milne, were also being produced in Europe. These included an economic map of Hungary published in London in 1797, and a colour coded map of building ownership in Vienna published in 1799. (Further reading Ref 1, Ref 2). 



Land Utilization Survey of Britain (LUSB) 1931-4

Milnes's method was used 130 years later in the Land Utilization Survey of Britain, undertaken between 1931 and 1934. Remarkably, this map was compiled by schoolchildren, supervised by their teachers (with University students brought in to survey gaps),  working under the direction of Professor Sir L Dudley Stamp at the London School of Economics. It represents an early example of crowdsourcing spatial metadata.


The schools' results were collated and checked by Stamp and his academic collaborators. Comparison of county level statistics for both the the 1931 agricultural census and the LSUB show close correspondence despite very different data collection methods.

A comparable study was carried out by Professor Alice Coleman, at King's College in the 1960s. Together these studies, organised not by government butby  individual academic researchers,

mark the only acre by acre studies of land use in Britain as a whole, prior to remote sensing which was introduced in the 1990s. (Ref).  




















Land Utilisation Survey of Britain available online at Vision of Britain



Booth Poverty Map.  1889 and 1899 editions

Charles Booth was a businessman,  philanthropist and social reformer, who devised, funded and organised the most comprehensive study of the spatial distribution of poverty in a city ever produced.



















Available online at     For an animation using Booth's map click here


By the end of the 19th century the rapid growth of Victorian towns and cities had created a new demand for mapping, along with poverty on an unprecedented scale.

In 1889 Booth used OS's 1:2500 maps to create the first edition of his now famous colour coded Poverty Map. The aim was to run a scientific study into the state of deprivation in London. and to use its findings to challenge growing prejudice and inaccurate reporting in the press.


The map formed party of Booth's Survey into London Life and Labour which collected data on industry, religion as well as poverty. Poverty data were collected by School Board visitors who walked London, street by street, recording their findings in notebooks, and allocating one of eight deprivations classifications from ‘Wealthy’ (yellow) to the extreme poverty of ‘Vicious, semi criminal’ (black). Ten years later the Survey was revised, this time with investigators accompanying policeman on their local beats.


Both maps and notebooks are available online at LSE Charles Booth's Online Archive.


Examples of the ongoing value of this metadata today can be seen in recent research published by the Bartlett UCL and Queen Mary London University. Comparable maps are unlikely ever to be published again owing to today's data protection laws.



The Goad Fire Insurance Maps. From 1895

As the industrialisation of towns intensified, in the late 1800s, demand rose for ever more detailed mapping of buildings and land use.
















St Oaul's Cathedral. Goad Insurance plans British Library Online resource


Meanwhile higher building density in city centres, and large amounts of flammable materials and dangerous industrial activity, made fire an increasing risk.  


Chas E Goad Co was the largest provider of Fire Insurance maps in Britain, capitalising on the growing demand for data relating to fire risk, and producing 500 large-scale sheets for London alone. The maps were extremely detailed and included information on building footprints, addresses, heights, number of storeys and land use. Construction materials such as brick, glass (including position of skylights) and wood were calso  identified, along with chemicals, kilns, and ovens, width of streets, and proximity of fire services and water supplies. Particular attention was paid to high-risk industrial facilities such as factories, mills, ports etc. Materials were colour coded with red representing brick, blue stone, yellow wood and black used for sheds and barns. (See British Library's Goad online resource).



London County Council's bomb damage maps

The last citywide colour-coded maps produced in the UK at building level were commissioned by the London County Council (LCC). These recorded the amount of bomb damage suffered by every building in London during WW11.


The maps used six colours, from yellow for ‘windows blown’ out to black for ‘total destruction’ and were commissioned in 1940 by the LCC’s Architects’ department to aid reconstruction planning after the war. They were considered so informative and as such sensitive to potential enemy targeting that the production of all colour copies had to approved.


They have recently been published in paper form by Thames and Hudson and the London Metropolitan Archives. An online version is not yet available.




















Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives


Though no new metadata maps covering the whole of the city have been published for London, public fascination with colour coded historical metadata persists. The recent trend in

international building age maps discussed in our next section is a sign that a renaissance is underway.

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