Morgans Map of London Post the Great Fire 1682

Morgans Map of London

The dawn of the Enlightenment, the recovery and rebuilding of London after the Great Fire and time for a new vision of London. Morgan’s map was the result of 6 years of surveying. It was the one of  the early modern maps and the largest projects of its kind. Great effort and endeavour created a large 16 sheet, 8 foot document but it didn’t tell the truth. The commissioning of such a huge project required substantial funding and that required patronage. It also required rose-tinted glasses.  

Glimpse of Morgans Map 1682 a work of Art segment shows London Bridge

Morgan’s Map of London is an intriguing map in many ways adopting the new ‘quasi-scientific principles’ that had emerged from the great pioneering work of scientists, including Isaac Newton and characterised in his brilliant Principia Mathematica. This map can tell us a lot about why two hundred years later British society in London and in many cities is still struggling with the effects of poverty and deprivation and needing to control epidemics, disease and invest in public health. When you read the quote about the causes of the Great London Fire it gives real context to why the London Sewer system was such a great invention.

William Morgan was the step-grandson of John Ogilby and there are earlier more utilitarian plans and maps of London that Morgan worked on with him as early as 1762. There is a substantial difference in this work. The map was measured and scaled at 300 ft : 1″ inch. and so the research basis was scientific, it was the translation and representation that became the victim of censorship. It was a vision of hope not a faithful transcription.  The power of patronage, the perceived need for a document conveying optimism led to corruption of it’s accuracy. London after the Fire and tragedy was not magically fixed. The social problems, deprivation and poverty persisted. The brutality and horror of this pervading problem was to persist for several hundred years. London was straining under expansion but not a single prison, workhouse or similar building or place is noted on the map. It is a beautiful document but better maps a vision and mind-set of the patron than the reality of London at that time.

The style of the map looks peculiarly reminiscent of the Sir Christopher Wren (Architect/ astroner’s 1666 ‘Appoved Plan’ for the rebuilding of London which according to records held by the British Library,( this copy can be viewed with Flash installed and is fully zoomable)  was never taken seriously and had included need for wider avenues to avoid risk of fire spreading again. Sage advice and with hindsight a shame that the principles were not accounted for. The Wren Plan did not take account of the contours and topology of the land and this was one of it’s failings. Strange that someone with such a scientific base (a founder of the original 12 men who formed the Royal Society) would mark the document as approved when it had never been taken seriously by the King or Parliament?

  • You can see from the BBC Video clip and hear in just 5 minutes the significance of this map. Despite all the skill and effort that went into creating the Map, it didn’t tell the truth, it was sanitised.
  • Magary the Antique Map publishers remarks ” the most decorated town plan of any British city that has ever been produced by any mapmaker.  and….a torrent of superfluous decoration that the significance of the survey itself is very nearly submerged in it..Undoubtedly, the most decorated In his anxiety to produce a map of universal appeal, contrasting with his utilitarian City of London Plan”
  • The London Plan is a work earlier produced and which seemed to have been the result of the study measurement and mapping of London as early as 1767, a short reference to this related work is set out below.


The Rose Tinted View – Did it Hold-Up Progress for 200 Years ?

There is much evidence to substantiate from other sources the omissions from the 1862 Morgan Map, this one instance care of Justin Champion’s study illustrates how dire the consequences were of not taking this golden opportunity with 7/8th of London destroyed by the Great Fire to re-model London. Poverty and pestilence pervaded despite this beautiful Map’s existence how different things might have been…instead throughout the following two centuries London would struggle to reshape itself and the society that existed and lived in it’s streets.

There is a very interesting online source that is worth exploring, here at the start of the article is a powerful quotation that pre-dates Morgan’s Maps but clearly illustrates there was no ignorance of the state and cause of the conditions that had led to the Great Fire. The source  article is excellent focused on Medical History Epidemics and the Built Environment by Justin Champion. It supports  it shows how early, remember this is the dawn of the Enlightenment, there was an understanding that the quality of the environs was causing a vicious circle that should have been broken and resolved after by the Great Fire.

Epidemic Disease in London ed. J.A.I. Champion (Centre for Metropolitan History Working Papers Series, No.1, 1993): pp. 35-52 (© Justin Champion, 1993)

[The causes of the plague were] thicknes of inhabitants; those living as many families in a house; living in cellars; want of fitting accommodations, as good fires, good dyett, washing, want of good conveyances of filth; standing and stinking waters; dung hills, excrements, dead bodies lying unburied and putrefying; churchyards too full crammed; unseasonable weather …William Boghurst, Loimographia (1665)

The importance of mapping and geospatial data in understanding the relationship between disease, epidemics and the need to improve the social conditions and organisation of towns and close living is well documented in the work of John Snow 1859 (see Intriguing History article the mapping of the cholera epidemic as an example by Jon Snow in 1859. This work was a full 200 years later before society started to benefit form such an understanding in real terms. The above quotations surely shows that the knowledge was there at least in the ‘Enlightened’ few so much earlier.

William Morgan had to earn his living but ironic how this beautiful but flawed Map a  quite unique  Artwork, helps us better understand the dilemmas that London and other cities faced by what it didn’t show as much as what it did.  History repeating itself? The elite turned a blind eye and published a sanitised PR view of the city. Here we see the map as an instrument of power, media and propaganda , it’s rather bitter sweet but shows how a map can help you navigate around and better understand much more than how to find a place…

We should not forget John Ogilby and William Morgan’s earlier map 1676 of which an engraving is held by the British Library this was an accurate Map of London, that too is an important document. It shows clearly that Morgan had learnt his trade well from his step-grand-father as they had created both the largest and possibly first Town Plan on which to plot the prospective new roads for the King to consider after the Great Fire.

Follow our Intriguing Mapping series of posts if you would like to know more about the history, significance and connections between these stunning visual documents, drawn by hand and connecting us all back to the local social and family history of the time in which they were created. We will gather links and resources and connections for you to explore and use in your own projects. Old Maps as online resources are part and parcel of our tool kit.

You can also look for specific and Mapped Posts on our free Intriguing History site. Our aim is to help you map your history, make connections and gain new insights.


Additional Resources available on Morgans Map referencing:

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