Time Travel Explorer Blog

Eddies in the Space-Time Continuum

by Bill Visick 16. November 2011 08:41

I'm sorry to report that the Time Travel Explorer team has been trapped by this phenomenon, although unlike Arthur Dent we do at least know who Eddy is. One side-effect of the temporal turbulence is that while we think we've been working hard, it might easily appear that this blog has been untouched for months.

Over the summer a straightforward exercise to streamline the app and enhance the time travel engine, as well as to scrape the barnacles off the bottom of the blog, has turned into an extended period of silence. I'm pleased to say that is now behind us and all systems are go.

We have been able to introduce a couple of major enhancements to the app which you will have discovered if you've installed the recent versions. Firstly, the size of the initial download has been drastically reduced from over 300M to about 10M. This makes installing it much easier, to say nothing of testing new versions, while all the map, image and audio data remains available to be streamed when needed or downloaded in bulk. We hope this makes life easier for everyone.

More excitingly we've been able to tweak the time-travel engine so that it is now possible to slide between any combination of maps, not just the two that were previously available. Sounds simple, wasn't! It's switched on as usual in Settings and you set your time destination by dragging the slider at the bottom of the screen. Then sit back and enjoy as the maps slide from one to the next. The stop button (bottom right) halts time travel at any point and you can move backwards or forwards:

By judiciously enabling or disabling the maps that are displayed in Map Manager, it's possible to time travel between any combination of maps. If you zoom right out, this is a really good way of seeing how London has grown and the centre has shifted westeards from the City. Here it is in 1682 (more on this map to come):

And now...

That's it, really. We think it's pretty cool. More to come, provided the Vogons don't get us.

Temple: where old maps are better than new

by Peter Watts 19. October 2010 14:04

You wouldn’t have thought it, but sometimes a really old map can help you get around far more satisfactorily than any of the newer ones. Take navigation in the Temple for instance. This curious corner of London between the Strand and the Thames east of Somerset House is a law unto itself. Literally, as it has its own rules and regulations distinct from the rest of the city.


Originally the base for the Knights Templars, Temple is now a home for barristers, and only they surely understand how to navigate the headspinning maze of alleys, courts and arched doorways that exist within its boundaries. Neither an A-Z or Google Map will help – both have unhelpfully ignored the byways of Temple, finding it all far too confusing. Tap in the postcode for Temple Church on Streetmap and it’ll stick a flag in the middle of a square surrounded by unnamed avenues that make little sense when you’re on the ground, surrounded by courts and alleyways and desperately trying to not be late for a meeting with the verger at the church (yes, this is bitter personal experience).


Use a map from 1862 on the Time Travel Explorer, though, and you’d be fine (bar some adjustment for bomb damage – Temple was badly mauled by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz). Here the delightful confusions of Pump Court, Hare Court, Fountain Court and Garden Court are all present and correct, even if Temple Church goes by the now unfamiliar name of St Mary (that is to whom it is dedicated) and you might get a bit lost if you’re trying to get there from Blackfriars, given that the then landmark City Gasworks no longer exists and, er, the Embankment hasn’t been built yet. Overcome those little difficulties however, and once you are inside Temple itself you’ll never leave a verger waiting at the altar again.

Rediscovering London's Rookeries

by Peter Watts 24. September 2010 15:51

As Matt writes in the previous post, one of the great joys of old maps and the TTX app is that they give you the opportunity to virtually explore streets of London that no longer exist. These streets will have disappeared for all sorts of reasons – fire and Blitz being uppermost – but some will have been taken out for what can only be described as social cleansing.


These were the Rookeries, the slums of Victorian London, mazes of narrow streets, courts and alleyways that housed London’s poorest citizens. There were half-a-dozen in London, nests of poverty, crime and disease, where families slept ten to a room and criminals could evade police by simply knowing which alleyway to escape through and which cul-de-sac to avoid. For a good read on the Rookeries, try Sarah Wise’s ‘The Blackest Street’, about the Old Nichol slum in Bethnal Green.


Victorian planners decided the best way to deal with the Rookeries problem was to remove them from the face of London, and so set about an extensive road-building programme that simply drove huge new roads right through the middle of the worst Rookeries. One such scheme was in Bloomsbury and you can see how it worked by using the TTX app and switching between the modern map and the Greenwoods’ one of 1830, focusing on Tottenham Court Road station.


Here, between Great Russell Street and St Giles High Street, was one of the most infamous Rookeries, the St Giles’s Rookery, which the Victorians swept away by building New Oxford Street. Although the streets of the Rookery ceased to exist; the poor simply moved a little further south, to Seven Dials, so the Victorians tried it again by building Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.


You can see slum clearance in action in other part of London using the TTX app. Try exploring the area around what is now Victoria Street for evidence of the Rookery around Westminster Abbey, or the junction of Aldwych and Kingsway, which was intended to destroy the Rookery around Hollywell Street, the centre of the Victorian trade in pornographic literature. Pornography, of course, was never sold on the streets of London again.

Magnificent Maps at the British Library

by Peter Watts 20. August 2010 10:45

Londoners who love maps – and if you’re reading this there is a fair chance you are both or either – are in luck at the moment, because the British Library is hosting one of its regular in-depth exhibitions about maps. This one is called Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art and is drawn from the Library’s unmatchable – well, almost, the US Library of Congress has more – collection of 4.25 million atlases, maps, globes and books about cartography, dating from the fifteenth century to the present day. Peter Barber, the lucky man who guards this magnificent archive, can be heard in discussion with David Starkey here.


It was another recent British Library maps exhibition, London: A Life In Maps, that first introduced many Londoners to the world of Greenwood, Stanford, Horwood and Rocque, those pioneering London cartographers whose work you can explore in the Time Travel Explorer application.


The current exhibition looks at how maps are used to demonstrate political power and wealth and asks for them to be viewed as art alongside paintings and sculptures. The highlight for most people is The Island, the extraordinary recent work of Stephen Walters. This is a very personal view of London, in which Walters begins with a standard map of London and then draws his own landmarks over it, whether it is parks that are good for ‘al fresco bonking’ or cheekily reimagined versions of familiar place names. Its idiosyncratic nature means it isn’t any good for actual navigation, but you could do a lot worse than give it a thorough browse here.

Time Travel Explorer: The Blog

by Matt Brown 18. August 2010 11:13

Do you like maps? Do you like London? Well, you've successfully navigated to the right place.

In this new blog, we'll be revealing the stories behind London's rich cartographic history, and the ever-evolving tools and technologies that herald a new golden age for the craft of map making.

The blog runs alongside the Time Travel Explorer application, now available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Using the App, you can explore precisely how the street pattern of London has changed over the centuries by overlaying maps from different eras and fading between the them. The cartographic visuals are backed up with stories and anecdotes about London's history from a Blue Badge guide. 

This blog will add context to the App. What was the first map of London? Who were the key map makers? How have the streets of London changed, and how do maps help us understand this? Where can you learn more about mapping? How are modern technologies transforming our understanding of the city? These and many other themes will be explored with regular blog posts.

And who is this ‘we'? Time Travel Explorer's blog is written by two well-known London obsessives: Matt Brown and Peter Watts.

Matt (‘M@') Brown has written something like 3000 articles and blog posts about London (not that he's counting). He edits Londonist.com, a site covering news, events, history, culture and...well, just about anything to do with London. Matt has created many maps of London, including the highly popular map of free wifi locations, a plot of V2 rocket strikes in WWII and a map of subterranean London. He also instigated a competition to get Londoners making hand-drawn maps of their local areas. Matt has also written extensively about London for Time Out, The Guardian, Warner Bros. Pictures, Lastminute.com, Nature, Nature Network and many other miscellaneous web sites, books and magazines. His extremely common name and a youthful in-joke back in 1994 led to his adoption of the moniker ‘M@'. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Follow him on @MattFromLondon.

Peter Watts's London map epiphany came when he saw a knitted map of London football territories in Desmond Morris's The Soccer Tribe when he was 14. He bought his first A-Z when he was 15 and has been a journalist since he was 17. Peter has worked as a sports columnist, TV critic and guide-book editor, and was most recently features writer at Time Out. He is now a freelance journalist, working for New Statesman, Prospect, the Times, Independent on Sunday and Uncut, as well as attending to his own Londoncentric blog The Great Wen. He is currently working on his first book about, you guessed it, London. Follow him on @Peter_Watts.

Keep checking back, or subscribe to the RSS, for regular bagatelles about our great city's past, present and future in maps.

You can also follow Time Travel Explorer on Twitter: @TTXApp