Maps research guide
Explore over a thousand years of change in Tower Hamlets through our collection of around 2,000 maps and plans. The collection consists of printed maps dating from the seventeenth century (with copies from the sixteenth century) to the present day.
Our maps cover the area of Tower Hamlets but some feature the wider London region and former County of Middlesex.
The maps were produced for many purposes, including navigation, planning and defence. In addition to the geographical information they contain, many include important thematic information.
Things like demographics, public transport and administrative and political boundaries. These can also be useful to researchers. Sheet maps and plans form the majority of this collection but it also includes panoramas, vertical elevations, cross-sections and technical drawings.
This research guide includes:
- tips on how to find maps in our catalogue and where to access digital copies online
- a brief history of the mapping of Tower Hamlets with highlights from our collection
- a list of thematic maps for popular research topics
- Go to our online catalogue and click Advanced search on the left-hand menu.
- Restrict your search to our map collection by entering LCM* in the Ref_No field OR selecting Map in the Type field.
- Specify a year or date range (for example 1700-1799) in the Date field. This field refers to the situation date (the date shown on the map) not the publication date, which is recorded in a separate field.
- If you are researching a particular street or building, check which historic parish it was in then enter this in the Any text field (for example, ‘Limehouse’, ‘Whitechapel’). A catalogue record’s Abstract field will typically include brief description of the area covered by the map. You can also use the Any text field to enter any thematic subject terms you like to include (for example ‘poverty’, ‘Jewish’)
- Hit Search to view your results and click an item’s Ref No to view its full catalogue record.
If you are looking for maps and plans held in archives, all the above steps except the second still apply. Instead, select Archives from the drop-down menu in the Repository field, and include the word ‘map’ or ‘plan’ in the Any text field along with the rest of your search terms. You may also want to consider using alternative and archaic terms such as ‘plan’, ‘survey’, ‘plat’, ‘platt’, ‘view’.
It is important to remember that many maps in our collection have yet to be fully catalogued, including the majority of our Ordnance Survey maps, Goad plans and building plans, however our staff can advise on how to access many of these. Other potentially useful maps can be found in book and pamphlet form in our local history library shelved at classmark 053.
There are no accurate maps of Tower Hamlets from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon or medieval periods as the surveying techniques required for detailed local maps had yet to be developed. Later reconstructions based on archaeological evidence are the closest we can get to visualising the early geography of the borough. Examples include:
- William Stukeley. Londinium Augusta : [map of Roman London]. . LCM5.
- W. Smith. Londinium Augusta: from the best authorities [map of Roman London]. [1833?]. LCM6.
- Inner London Archaeological Unit. Tower Hamlets: Roman. . LCM754.
- The City of London in the time of the Saxon dynasty, about the year one thousand: compiled from the most authentic documents, public and private. . LCM4.
- Inner London Archaeological Unit. Tower Hamlets: Saxon. . LCM755.
- Inner London Archaeological Unit. Tower Hamlets : medieval. . LCM756.
Many plans of smaller Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval sites within the borough can be found in archaeological reports at classmark 570 in our Local History Library. Most contemporary archaeological reports for the borough are produced by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and you can explore their interactive map to find archaeological sites from the prehistoric to the medieval period across Greater London.
A highly detailed reconstruction of medieval London around 1270 is available via Layers of London. It only includes the western part of Tower Hamlets closest to the City (Tower Hill, the precinct of St Katharine’s, plus parts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields).
In the sixteenth century, several factors led to an increase in the quality and quantity of maps produced in England. One of these was the development of perspective by Renaissance painters, which enabled the first accurate depictions of towns and cities.
The Copperplate Map (c. 1553-1560) is the earliest known map of London. Only two plates of the original have survived, but one of these includes part of Spitalfields (ID: 62.75). Both plates are held by the Museum of London.
The Agas or woodcut map of London from around 1560 was probably based on the earlier Copperplate Map and is the oldest complete map of the city. It shows a detailed birds-eye-view of London at the start of the Elizabethan era and extends as far east as the Tower of London and ‘The Spitel Fyeld’ (Spitalfields). We have several facsimiles of the Agas map in our collection, as well as various retrospective maps based on it, including:
- George Vertue. Civitas Londinum A.D. circiter, MDLX [map]. 1737. LCM12.
- A view of London about the year 1560. . LCM17.
- George Kneele. London and Westminster in the reign of Queen Elizabeth Anno Dom. 1563. 1781. LCM2682.
An interactive version of the Agas map can be viewed online via the Map of Early Modern London website and Layers of London.
Other maps, views and panoramas of Elizabethan and Jacobean London in our collection include:
- Nathaniel Whittock. London, Westminster and Southwark, as they appeared A.D. 1543 : from a drawing by Anty. van den Wyngrerde [i.e. Wyngaerde], Sutherland Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford : the monastery at Bermondsey from a drawing in the collection of Mr. Upcot. [185-?]. LCM304.
- Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg. Londinum feracissimi Angliae Regni metropolis. LCM1001.
- Marjorie B. Honeybourne. From a plan, circa 1590, of the area lying east of St. Katharine's hospital (now St. Katharine's Dock) ... . . LCM22.
- Norman George Brett-James. London : as it was in 1603. 1927. LCM27
- Claes Jansz Visscher. View of London. 1890. LCM31.
Later in the seventeenth century, London was greatly affected by both the Civil War (1642-1651) and the Great Fire (1666), and we hold several maps in our collection relating to the defence and rebuilding of the capital in this period.
- George Vertue. A plan of the city and suburbs of London as fortified by order of parliament in the years 1642 & 1643. 1738. LCM33.
- A plan of the City and liberties of London after the dreadful conflagration in the year 1666 : the blank part whereof represents the ruins and extent of the fire & the perspective that left standing. . LCM41.
- Sir Christopher Wren's plan for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666. . LCM40.
After the Great Fire, it was clear the old practice of mapmakers simply copying and updating each others’ work would no longer suffice. The next big leap forward in the mapping of London would arrive in 1676, which will be covered in the next section.
At around the same time the first town maps of London were being produced, a parallel development was taking place in the mapping of counties, made possible through advances in surveying and the support of wealthy patrons. This was largely motivated by concerns over national security, and therefore the county maps produced after about 1570 prominently feature sites of military importance such as rivers, coastlines, ports, urban settlements, roads, hills and woods. They also frequently showed political boundaries within counties such as hundreds, so can be useful sources for local and family historians.
We have modern reprints of many early county maps showing parts of Tower Hamlets, including:
- Christopher Saxton. Essexiae comitat. . LCM21.
- John Norden. Myddlesex. LCM1744.
- John Norden. Middlesex olima trinoban tibus habitat. [197-?]. LCM1741.
- John Speed. Midle-sex described with the most famous cities of London and Westminster. LCM29.
Another significant map in the history of Tower Hamlets from this era is Thamesis descriptio by Robert Adams (LCM1597). Our reproduction is a copy of an original 1588 manuscript held at the British Library (system number: 004943171), which shows the defence preparations around the mouth of the River Thames in anticipation of a Spanish invasion. It is an important document in our borough’s history as it contains the earliest known appearance of the name ‘Isle of Dogs’.
Estate maps or plans became more common in England after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. As the new owners of former church lands sought a way of inventorying their holdings so that they could be more easily bought and sold, maps became a more cost-effective alternative to lengthy written descriptions.
Estate maps can be distinguished from town and county maps of the same period by both their function (the inventorying, management or improvement of an estate) and appearance (much larger scale, often featuring details of building and land usage, property boundaries, names of landowners etc.). Some copies of early estate plans in our map collection include:
- Worshipful Company of Mercers. A copy of a platt of such lands as belongeth to the Right Worll Company of Mercers of London lying within the parish of Stepney in the countie of Middlesex, taken the XXthe of August Anno Salutis 1615. LCM30.
- John Jennings. Plat and description of the Capitall House and the lands ther-unto belonging leing in ye parish of Stepenheath allias Stepny in the hamblett of Bow, in the county of Middelsex, being the lands of William Williams citizen and good servant of London. 1655. LCM275.
- J. Gain. A plan of the estate of George Nicholls esq. called Bromley Hall, in the county of Middlesex, in the occupation of Joseph Talwin & co. 1762. LCM2299.
Most original estate maps we hold are part of our archive collections. These can often be identified in our online catalogue by selecting ‘Archives’ from the drop-down menu in the repository field and entering the search terms ‘estate’ and ‘plan’ or ‘map’ in the ‘Any text’ field.
Ogilby and Morgan, 1676
In the late seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment brought with it many intellectual and scientific advances which had a significant impact on mapmaking. Among the most important was the development triangulation which enabled the production of large-scale, highly detailed and accurate maps.
John Ogilby and William Morgan’s map of 1676 was among the first recognisably modern maps to include parts of Tower Hamlets (Tower Hill, Whitechapel and Spitalfields). Originally commissioned to resolve boundary disputes, unlike most earlier maps of London it showed a ‘birds-eye-view’ of the city with buildings shown from above rather than in elevation. Its scale of one inch to the mile is also comparable to that later used by the Ordnance Survey.
At around the same time as Ogilby and Morgan, many parish authorities began commissioning their own local maps in order to more accurately demarcate their boundaries. The most significant to the history of Tower Hamlets were the four maps of Stepney, Bethnal Green, Mile End and Limehouse produced by Joel Gascoyne in 1702-1703:
- Joel Gascoyne. An actuall survey of the Parish of St. Dunstan Stepney, alias Stebunheath : being one of the ten parishes in the County of Middlesex adjacent to the City of London, describing exactly the bounds of the nine hamlets in ye sd. parish. 1703. Various copies in several parts.
- Joel Gascoyne. An actuall svrvey of the Hamlet of Bethnal Greene in the parish of St. Dunstans Stpney. 1703. LCM48.
- Joel Gascoyne. A map of the hamlet of Mile End Old Town in the parish of Stepney alias Stebunheath survyed Ano. Dom. 1703. LCM49.
- Joel Gascoyne. An actual survey of the hamlet of Lime-house in the parish of Stepney : expressing the exact bounds and limitts between this and other contingent hamlets taken An. Dom. 1702. LCM47.
All four of these have been digitised and you can explore interactive versions of them at Layers of London.
Gascoyne’s maps show the plots of land within parishes, including the names of occupiers. These details make them especially useful for family historians. Our Bethnal Green map (LCM48) is Gascoyne’s original hand-coloured manuscript and one of the oldest original maps we hold, making it one of the true treasures of our collection.
In 1755 Gascoyne’s maps were updated and republished by John Strype’s edition of John Stowe’s Survey of London, which added new local ward and parish maps. These include:
- A map of the Tower liberty. 1755. LCM74.
- St. Mary White Chapel and St. John, Wapping, parish : taken from ye last survey with corrections and additions. 1755. LCM75.
- A map of the parish of St Mary White Chappel. 1755. LCM76.
- An actuall survey of the parish of St. Dunstan Stepney alias Stebunheath being one of the ten parishes in the county of Middlesex adjacent to the City of London. 1755. LCM77.
- Spittle Fields and places adjacent : taken from ye last survey with corrections. 1755. LCM78.
- St. Pauls parish Shadwell : taken from ye last survey with corrections. 1755. LCM80.
- The parish of St Johns Wapping, The parish of St Paul Shadwell. 1755. LCM82.
- Portsoken ward with its division into parishes according to a new survey. 1755. LCM84.
Probably the best known and most important maps of London produced in mid-eighteenth century were those of cartographer John Rocque. The first of these was a detailed ground plan of the city at a scale of twenty six inches to a mile extending as far east as Limehouse, Stepney Green and Mile End Old Town. We have a bound copy on twenty six sheets which can be consulted in our reading room, and it is also available via Layers of London and Locating London’s Past.
- John Rocque. A plan of the cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark; with the contiguous buildings. 1746. LCM1300.
The second map was surveyed between 1741 and 1745. It is closer in scale to the county maps produced in the sixteenth century at five and a half inches to a mile, showing not just London but “the country near ten miles round”. We have a copy of the sixth edition published in 1754 and digital version is accessible on the British Library’s Online Gallery.
- John Rocque. An exact survey of the City's of London, Westminster ye borough of Southwark and the country near ten miles round begun in 1741 & ended in 1745. 1754. LCM256.
The late eighteenth century was a period of increasing standardisation in the field of mapmaking. In 1759 the Society of Arts had awarded a prize for the most accurate county map, setting out numerous standards (one inch to one mile scale, latitudes and longitudes) which laid the groundwork for those adopted by the Ordnance Survey in 1791.
Perhaps the last great cartographer of London of the eighteenth century was Richard Horwood, who produced a detailed map of the capital between 1792 and 1799. Horwood’s map is especially useful to local and family historians as it included house numbers for areas outside the City of London. The map is available in 36 sheets in our reading room and can be viewed online at Layers of London and Romantic London.
- Richard Horwood. Horwood's plan of London, Westminster, Southwark & parts adjoining 1792-1799. LCM1375-LCM1410.
Enclosure and tithe maps
Among the most useful nineteenth century maps for local and family historians are enclosure and tithe maps. Unfortunately we hold no enclosure maps as the East End was already largely urbanised by the time of the General Enclosure Act in 1801, but maps of nearby areas can be browsed at The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales. Tithe maps of the area are held at London Metropolitan Archives and indexed and digitised by The Genealogist family history website.
Ordnance Survey maps, circa 1870-present
Our large-scale Ordnance Survey (OS) maps are the most frequently consulted maps in our collection. At a scale of 1:1,250 (approximately five feet to one mile) they clearly show individual properties and are therefore invaluable for house and family history research, especially when used in conjunction with directories and voter lists.
The Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791, with military origins going back even further to the Jacobite Rebellion. Our earliest 1:1,250 scale maps were published in about 1870 and since then many UK maps have used OS data as a base.
A second edition was produced in 1894, with subsequent editions issued regularly up to the present day. House numbers were regularly included from the 1930s. We also hold a less complete collection of OS maps at the smaller scale of 1:2,500 and the 1870, 1894 and 1914 Godfrey editions of these are available to purchase from our shop.
Our OS maps are currently not available to search on our catalogue but reading room staff can help you identify which maps will help you with your research during your visit. You can also access a large number of OS maps online via the National Library of Scotland.
Thematic maps show the geographical occurrence of a phenomenon, such as land use, population density or ownership. Although our maps are not classified by subject, it is possible to find maps on a variety of themes on our online catalogue by selecting 'Map' from the drop-down menu in the Type field and entering some relevant search terms in the Any text field (e.g. 'school*', 'air raid*'). Below are some of the thematic maps you can find in our collection organised by theme:
Accidents and disasters
- William Frazer. A correct ground plan of the dreadful fire at Ratcliff, which began at Mr. Cloves, barge builder, Cock Hill, on Wednesday July 23rd 1794, 3 o'clock p.m. and extended the wind blowing from S.W. to N.E. to Ratcliff Square, by which conflagration, 453 dwelling houses, and upwards of 20 public buildings were destroyed : the whole laid down reduced to a scale from a survey, and humbly dedicated to Sir Thomas Coxhead Knt. M.P. 1794. LCM101.
Agriculture and land use
- Thomas Milne. Thomas Milne's land use map of London and environs in 1800. Plates V-VI. 1800. LCM2669-LCM2670.
- Land Utilisation Survey of Britain. Land utilisation map of England and Wales based on the "one-inch" Ordnance map. Sheet 107, N.E. London and Epping Forest. 1935. LCM1172.
- British Fire Preservation Committee. Map of the County of London shewing the approximate positions where bombs fell during the air raids from 1915 to 1918. 1923. LCM486.
- [Air raid damage map of Stepney]. [ca. 1945?]. LCM1706A.
- Robert Adams. Thamesis descriptio. 1588. LCM1597.
- George Vertue. A plan of the city and suburbs of London as fortified by order of parliament in the years 1642 & 1643. LCM33.
- B.M. Stuttle. Metropolitan Borough of Stepney : London Government Act 1899 : public shelters. 1940. LCM1677.
- Charles Booth. A map of London showing the proportion of the inhabitants of each registration sub-district in 1881, born in other parts of the United Kingdom. 1881. LCM2138.
Docks and shipping
- Daniel Alexander. Plan of the River Thames with the proposed docks and cut. 1796. LCM102.
- Thomas Telford. Plan of the proposed St. Katharine's Docks. 1825. LCM1185.
- London County Council. County of London : map showing the situation of all public elementary schools distinguishing by various signs the class of the managing body. 1903. LCM471.
- London County Council. London school plan 1947 : City and east division. 1947. LCM1185.
- The Goad fire insurance plans (LCM2721-LCM2846) are highly detailed at 1” to 40 ft, larger than the 1:500 OS maps. They note construction materials, special fire hazards, the presence of large numbers of people in schools, churches and other buildings. Digital versions of the Goad plans are available the British Library’s Online Gallery and Layers of London.
- R.W. Milne. Geological map of London and its environs. 1858. LCM399
- Inner London Archaeological Unit. Tower Hamlets : contours and drift geology. 1975. LCM1885.
- Map of Bethnal Green showing the mortality from four classes of disease in certain localities during the year, ended 31st Decr., 1838, distinguishing the houses occupied by weavers & labourers, & tradesmen. 1838. LCM363.
- Hector Gavin. Map of the parish of Bethnal Green, shewing the cholera mist in 1848-1849. 1850. LCM2548.
- London School of Economics and Political Science. Map of overcrowding in the London survey area. 1931. LCM2165.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets : official borough map. Information map no. 7.5, Housing estates. 1989. LCM2703.
- Harley Heckford. Metropolitan Borough of Poplar : borough & ward boundaries. 1926. LCM309. Annotated to show library locations.
- W.J. Rankin. London Borough of Tower Hamlets : readership density survey. 1964. LCM227.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets. London Borough of Tower Hamlets [map] : library areas outlined. c. 1964. LCM1617.
Planning and development
- London Docklands Development Corporation. Isle of Dogs, Wapping, Limehouse & Poplar : street map. 1990. LCM2147A.
- [Map of Tower Hamlets with parish boundaries]. c. 1880. LCM1179.
- M.W. Jameson. Metropolitan Borough of Stepney : London Government Act. 1899. LCM179
- F.W. Barratt. Map of the Borough of Bethnal Green as settled by the commissioners appointed under the London Government Act. 1900. LCM177.
Oliver E. Winter. Metropolitan Borough of Poplar : plan shewing borough and ward boundaries December1900. LCM466.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets : official borough map. 1976. LCM1138. Annotated to show parish boundaries.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Ward boundaries [map]. 2003. LCM2713.
- George Cary. Cary's new plan of London and its vicinity, 1839, shewing the limits of the two-penny post delivery. 1839. LCM427.
- James Wyld. The Post Office plan of London. 1863. LCM459.
- Charles Booth. Descriptive map of London Poverty. 1889. LCM1303-LCM1314. An interactive digital version of Booth’s ‘poverty map’ is available via the London School of Economics website.
- London School of Economics and Political Science. Descriptive map of London social conditions (1929-30). . LCM2160-LCM2164.
- Stanford's Geographical Establishment. London, 1899-1900 : map showing places of religious worship, public elementary schools, and houses licensed for the sale of intoxicating drinks. 1899-1900. LCM545.
- George E. Arkell. Jewish East London. 1899. LCM999.
- The East London tramways [map]. [ca. 1883]. LCM255.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets : road safety map. 1966. LCM264.
- Cycling in Tower Hamlets. 1998. LCM2678.
- Transport for London. Public transport guide. Tower Hamlets. 2019. LCM2696.
- A plan of the district supplied with water from Shadwell waterworks. 1796. LCM104.
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets [map] : L.E.B. disconnection rota. 1973. LCM1595.
The following are some of the useful publications we hold relating to maps. Reference copies of these and many more titles are available to consult in our reading room.
Philip Barker. The A-Z history of London. 2019. LC15017.
Frederick Crace and John Gregory Crace. A catalogue of maps, plans, and views of London, Westminster & Southwark. 1878. LC8269.
Charles Booth. Charles Booth's London poverty maps. 2019. LC15012.
G.W. Hill and W.H. Frere. Introduction to Gascoyne's map of the parish of Stepney (1703). [1890-1891]. LC6365.
James L. Howgego. Printed maps of London, circa 1553-1850. 2nd ed. 1978. L6434.
Ralph Hyde. Printed maps of Victorian London, 1851-1900. 1975. L5237
Ralph Hyde. London parish maps to 1900 : a catalogue of maps of London parishes within the original London County Council area. 2020. LC15276.
William Ravenhill and David J. Johnson. Joel Gascoyne's engraved maps of Stepney 1702-04. 1995. LC6353.
Jess Steele and Mike Steele. The streets of London : the Booth notebooks : East. 2018. LC14721.
Laurence Ward. The London County Council bomb damage maps 1939-1945. 2015. LCF00702.
Below is a list of useful online resources including digitised historic maps featuring Tower Hamlets, plus links to other organisations with important map collections.
The Agas Map of Early Modern London – a high quality scan of the Agas or woodcut map showing a view of London circa 1560
British Library Online Gallery - Maps – a large database of rare and unique maps from British Library’s extensive collection
Charles Booth Online Archive – includes the poverty maps of East London as well as digitised excerpts from survey notebooks, police notebooks and records of the Stepney Union workhouse
East London History Society - Map Gallery – wide selection of historic maps collected and digitised by the East London History Society
FamilySearch - Maps – shows 1851 administrative boundaries on a modern satellite map of Britain, useful for identifying your ancestors’ home parishes
History Pin – collaborative website which allows users to pin historical photos to maps in order to show what areas once looked like
Layers of London – access free historic maps of London including a selection from Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
Locating London’s Past – includes a digitised version of John Rocque's 1746 map of London among other resources
London Metropolitan Archives - Map Collections – outstanding collection of maps of the London metropolitan area, with highlights including WW2 bomb damage maps and Metropolitan Borough maps (SC/PNM/MB)
National Library of Scotland Map Images – access high-resolution zoomable images of over 130,000 maps of Scotland, England and Wales, including Ordnance Survey maps from the 1840s-1960s
Old Maps Online – find historic maps across a range of websites through a single search interface
Romantic London – free online version of Richard Horwood's 1792-1799 London plan