Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Famous London cartographers to chart old ground with intrepid exhibition of historical maps

The go-to shop for budding and experienced explorers has a new address and a new focus

The company had been a prominent part of London's Covent Garden, but the new premises are designed for a change of direction. Stanfords
The company had been a prominent part of London's Covent Garden, but the new premises are designed for a change of direction. Stanfords

Stanfords of London may be throwing off its reputation as a dusty old map shop and refocusing on the online market, but it isn’t throwing away all its history.

A recent move from its long-time base in Covent Garden to a new site nearby yielded a host of historic cartographic artefacts that had languished untouched – prompting the idea of hosting an exhibition.

Letters written by some of Stanfords’s most famous customers, including Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott and statistician and nurse Florence Nightingale are now being prepared to go on display.

“We’ve discovered some interesting old documents, old maps, a few pieces of aged equipment and old photographs,” said Vivien Godfrey, Stanfords’s chief executive.

Early maps of London will be included in the exhibition. Courtesy Stanfords
Early maps of London will be included in the exhibition. Courtesy Stanfords

Stanfords’s archival exhibition will also include pieces from the Royal Geographical Society – Stanfords’s new landlord – one of the traditional livery guilds, the Mercers’ Company, and the British Library. It is to open on June 1 and will be free to the public.

The team are also planning to bring map reading to young people by hosting workshops at the store and, they are hoping, in the exhibition space.

The company, founded in 1853 by Edward Stanford, has been the go-to place for many British explorers, humanitarians, war correspondents and, latterly, film producers to plot out their plans.

This keeps work busy and varied for the store’s expert cartographers. As well as producing specific Ordnance Survey maps of the UK for walkers and cyclists, Martin Greenaway – Stanfords’s cartographer – says he also receives more unusual requests.

“I’ve had a number of people ask me for places in Syria when they were doing aid work out there,” he says. “So I’ve done street maps of places like Homs or stuff like that.”

Other purposes for which Greenaway has created maps include canoe trips down the Yukon river, pilgrimages through Italy, construction projects and film shoots – and business hasn’t slowed since the January move.

Even the age of digital mapping and GPS has done little to stem interest in paper maps, Greenaway says.

“There will always be a place for maps,” he says. “Sat nav is unreliable because it doesn’t always know where you are when you are walking around and you might walk a long way in the wrong direction before realising you have gone wrong. Maps don’t do that.”

The team managed to move most of the stock themselves using hand carts and although the new store is impressive, there has been a drop in customer footfall. Bright, airy and easy to navigate, Godfrey says customers are responding well, except one who wrote to the company say how he misses the “nooks and crannies” of the old Long Acre shop.

“We’re not getting the footfall through people just passing by, the passing trade, but then again, we’ve always been a specialist shop,” says Greenaway.

The new store also holds much more storage space for increasingly popular online orders. Customers can consult Stanfords’s experts online to find or create the perfect map for their purposes and buy travel guides, atlases and all manner of travel-related paraphernalia without trekking into the capital.

The team moved from the most recent Long Acre store in January to Mercer Walk. Stanfords
The team moved from the most recent Long Acre store in January to Mercer Walk. Stanfords

“We’ve been able to put all of the core merchandise, which is what Stanfords is really known for – the maps, the travel books, the travel literature, the globes, our maritime range, hill walking – all of those essential things are all on the same floor now, whereas before they were spread across three floors,” Godfrey tells The National.

She says the business can withstand the effects of a dip in custom.

“Long Acre has enormous passing foot traffic whereas our new location at 7 Mercer Walk has very little passing foot traffic. So it’s not a surprise that sales of those more impulse items are definitely down and that’s what we anticipated.”

Updated: May 1, 2019 07:13 PM

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