Revising the map of early Tudor London


 Revising the map of early Tudor London


The Map of Tudor London, published by the Historic Towns Trust in 2018 (ISBN 978-0-9934698-3-1) has been revised and redesigned for the Trust’s Town and City Historical Maps series by Giles Darkes, Cartographic Editor to the Trust, in collaboration with Caroline Barron, Vanessa Harding, and Nick Holder, and with additional information from Martha Carlin. We also thank Mark Merry, Gabriele Richardson, John Schofield and Charlotte Stanford for their help. Production of the map was generously supported by the London Topographical Society.

It is based on the sheet map published for the Trust by Old House Books in 2008, itself a version of the map of London c.1520 created by the late Col. Henry Johns and published in the British Historic Towns Atlas, volume III, in 1989. This volume, The City of London from prehistoric times to c. 1520, edited by Mary D. Lobel (Oxford University Press), is now out of print, as is the Old House Books map, but the text, maps, and historical gazetteer of the Atlas are available online on this site.

The 1989 Atlas map, and the Gazetteer that accompanies it, reflect the evidence available at that date, but stopped short of undertaking detailed topographical reconstruction, combining manuscript and archaeological evidence, of every part of the city. Col. Johns’s Introduction to the maps in the Atlas volume explains how the street outlines and locations of buildings were arrived at. The present map retains most of the street outlines, place names, and major buildings from the original map, but there are a number of significant changes, explained below. In most cases the changes are based on new information: research, including archaeological excavation, published since 1989, or information for areas of London not covered by the Atlas map. In a few cases, however, changes to the map and directory reflect reassessment of evidence available earlier. A short bibliography of the sources used in updating the map can also be found on the website. As always, historical map-making is an art, not an exact science, and there will remain areas where information is insufficient, or our interpretations debatable. We invite users of the map to augment or correct our presentation; please contact us via the website.  Where possible, such revisions and updates will be included in later editions/printings of the map.

A digital version of the revised map will be incorporated in Layers of London, a digital project using maps to explore London’s development, history and heritage, from the Roman period to the present day, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A bibliography of the sources used can be found at the bottom of this page.

General observations on the map

The base map from the Atlas has been digitised and as far as possible georectified; mapping has been extended to areas outside the city walls formerly left blank; and the new map is presented at a scale of 1:2500, consistent with other maps in the Town and City Historical Maps series and with the principal maps of all volumes of the British Historic Towns Atlas series.

Col. Johns’ map was made using manual production techniques which are now completely superseded. His choice of printed colours was limited, and hence he used just one colour to distinguish all important buildings from the houses, shops and other buildings which formed the street frontages.  The new map has been created digitally, and uses a wide range of colours which modern process printing allows. So, a new colour scheme has allowed the distinction of different categories of building use by fill or outline colour. Churches and religious houses are shown in two shades of pink; civic and commercial buildings in green; company halls in blue; legal buildings in yellow; and royal buildings in orange-gold. Other buildings are shown in two shades of brown: the more substantial buildings (large private houses, and other named buildings such as former company halls) are shown in a dark brown, to distinguish them from the other (un-named, usually unknown) buildings forming the rest of the built-up frontage.  An important modification to the map is the change in depiction of the street-frontage buildings: Col. Johns’s map showed apparent property boundaries and specific building sizes for the un-named, additional street buildings, but these are mostly not known, and their presence on his map implied a degree of precise knowledge which may be misleading.  Instead, we have opted for a generalized, indicative symbol for street-frontage buildings, and the form, character and depth of these additional buildings in 1520 should not be inferred from the general symbol we have now used. The blank areas behind street frontages shown on the map were not empty spaces: street frontages were pierced by alleyways allowing access to the rear of buildings, behind which would have been yards, gardens, outhouses, animal pens, stables, workshops, privies and cesspits, and other structures or spaces forming part of the built-up city.

The street outlines are essentially those of the Atlas map, which Col. Johns based on the street-outline map of London just after the Fire produced by John Leake. However, in some areas (e.g. around Guildhall), larger-scale and more recent sources for the position of streets have been used, resulting in some local revisions of the streets. While there was certainly major change in London’s built environment between 1520 and 1666, as the metropolitan population increased eight- or ten-fold, much of this growth was accommodated outside the core built-up area of 1520. Within the city, backlands, yards and gardens were built over and houses built taller or divided and subdivided, and certain areas such as the sites of dissolved religious houses were radically transformed, but it seems likely that main street frontages changed little: there was strong civic resistance to encroachment on the public street.

The Atlas map of London in 1520, and the present one, aim to show place-names in the forms current in the early 16th century. This can be difficult, both finding an example of the right date, and being certain it was in general use. Two factors compound the problem. An important source for mid-16th century place-names is the mass of documentation relating to the sell-off of monastic property from the 1530s onwards (Keene & Harding 1985, no. 438). However, it is clear from several examples that the clerks writing the documents were not always familiar with London place-names, and also that for legal certainty they included in grants of the 1530s and 1540s alternative property names preserved in older deeds, which may well not have been in current use at the time of the grant. The other factor is the encyclopaedic knowledge of John Stow, who in his Survey of 1598/1603 (Stow 1603) recorded earlier buildings and street- and place-names which possibly only a scholar like himself would have known. In both cases, therefore, there is 16th-century ‘evidence’ for names that may in fact have passed out of common use some time before.

In checking names for the present map, we have been cautious about assuming that names documented in 15th-century sources, but not later, or recorded in the monastic land transfers, or in Stow’s Survey, were in use in the early 16th century. As a result, some names and identifications given in the Atlas map have been eliminated, and others changed. In the case of the Strand, for example, ‘Strondway’, given in the Atlas, derives from a grant of 1553–5 that seems to preserve an archaic use; other sources from the early 16th century use ‘Stronde’, and we have preferred this for the present map.

Parish church dedications and surnames present a similar problem. A few dedications, and many surnames, changed over time — which ones were current around 1520? For the most part this map follows the usage of the Atlas, with a few exceptions where further research has suggested a preferable alternative. St Edmund King and Martyr is now St Edmund Lombard Street; St Mary Fenchurch is now St Gabriel Fenchurch (the dedication changed from Mary to Gabriel in the 16th century; Gabriel appears established by 1520, though Mary continues to appear in some sources); St Mary le Strand is now St Mary Strand; St Mildred Walbrook is now St Mildred Poultry. The Directory includes alternative surnames and spellings that may still have been current in the 16th century, or that may help users of the map identify a reference to a particular church or parish. Useful contemporary sources include the list of parish churches in Arnold’s Chronicle of c.1503/1525 and the London and Middlesex Chantry Certificate of 1548 (Kitching 1980), both likely to reflect local knowledge.


A major addition is the inclusion of parish boundaries on the face of the map. While small-scale maps of parish boundary outlines are quite widespread, and the Atlas included map sheets showing parishes at 1:5000 imposed on the base map for 1520, as far as we know no map currently available shows streets, street-names, and parish boundaries on a single map at this scale. Parishes were very important to medieval and early modern Londoners, as centres of neighbourly community and religious observance. Parishes were used to specify property locations in medieval London deeds, and most testators declared their parish allegiance in their wills. From the 15th century, parishes developed as self-governing communities, electing churchwardens and raising rates to pay for clerks and church maintenance. In the 16th century they acquired added responsibility for poor relief as well as becoming the scene of contests over the character of worship and churchmanship. In London, parishes as civil or poor-law institutions survived the amalgamations of ecclesiastical parishes after the Fire of 1666, and the precise delineation of boundaries remained important — evidenced in the parish boundary markers placed in the 18th and 19th centuries and still visible in the present-day city.

The parish boundaries shown on this map are taken from the Atlas sheets, adjusted to fit the new georectified format, and checked against the boundaries shown on Ogilby and Morgan’s map of 1676, Morgan’s map of 1682, and the Ordnance Survey maps of the 19th century. Where these sources differ, and we have no conclusive information, we have had to make a ‘best guess’ as to lines and angles; no doubt local expertise will be able to correct us in some places.

The map also aims to show for the first time the boundaries of religious precincts and other areas which were ‘extra-parochial’, i.e. outside the jurisdiction of a particular church parish, and sometimes outside diocesan or civic jurisdiction. These boundaries were often uncertain or contested, as different bodies competed for authority over the precincts’ inhabitants. One of the most notorious enclaves was St Martin le Grand, whose inhabitants claimed exemption from the city’s criminal and commercial regulation. The later histories of these precincts vary. Some became new early modern parishes, such as St Anne Blackfriars, St James Duke’s Place (Holy Trinity Priory), or Holy Trinity Minories (the site of the Minoresses convent); others (Whitefriars, Bridewell) remained distinct non-parochial precincts; others still, such as the sites of St Thomas of Acre or the Austin Friars, were absorbed into the surrounding parish or parishes. 

The Atlas also included map sheets showing the city wards at 1:5000 imposed on the base map for 1520. The verso of the new map includes a map of ward boundaries imposed on a simplified version of the new map (retaining the parish boundaries for comparison) at approximately 1:6250. As can be seen, ward boundaries bear little relation to parish boundaries. Though both took shape in the early Middle Ages, essentially they served different functions: parish boundaries circumscribed the community that worshipped in and supported each church, while ward boundaries delineated larger communities for civic and fiscal purposes. As with parishes, the ward boundaries taken from the Atlas map sheets have been adjusted and checked against other sources, but some uncertainties still remain.


Specific areas of change or revision

Religious houses and precincts

The plans of London’s religious houses (and some parish churches) have been updated following extensive archaeological excavation and research published by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) since 1989, as well as other work including Nick Holder’s on the London friaries. As the bibliography makes clear, MOLA's work has transformed our understanding of the topography of several urban monastic houses, including St Mary Bishopsgate and St John of Jerusalem (included on this map but outside the area of the original 1989 atlas).

St Paul’s cathedral precinct

The layout of St Paul’s precinct has been revised following the publications of Peter Blayney (Blayney 1990, 2014) and John Schofield (Schofield 2004, 2011, 2016). While there were probably few bookshops in the churchyard in 1520, at least compared with later, and Stationers’ Hall was yet to appear, the area very soon became the centre of London’s printed book trade. A rare depiction of the cathedral and its surroundings before the lightning strike in 1561 that destroyed the steeple is given in the third surviving plate of the ‘Copperplate map’ (Saunders & Schofield 2011), shown on the reverse of the map. We hope to make further revisions to the plan of the precinct in future editions of the map, thanks to advice and information from Peter Blayney.


The waterfront has been revised to accord more closely with early panoramas and to incorporate published research. Wyngaerde’s panorama of c.1544, made more widely accessible by the London Topographical Society’s publication (Wyngaerde 1996), indicates that the frontage to the Thames was crowded with buildings, pierced here and there by stairs or jetties, with a few open spaces for cranes and unloading. There was no space for a continuous embanked quayside, except perhaps between the Custom House and the Tower, where several properties came into the hands of one family by the early 16th century.

Excavations, for example at the former Billingsgate Lorry Park and at New Fresh Wharf, have demonstrated how the frontages of individual waterfront properties were pushed forward into the Thames by land reclamation, sealing earlier wharf structures in an unusual horizontal stratigraphic sequence. A new strip of land up to 100m wide was thus created along the city waterfront over four or five centuries. This map makes use of some of the published excavations; a fuller city-wide study of the archaeology of the London waterfront would be a useful project for the future. 

Between Billingsgate and the Tower, the names of some wharves or quays have been changed or removed, as not in current use in 1520, and the large property labelled Browne’s Place has been eliminated. The representation of the latter in the Atlas was based on the reconstruction of the property in the 15th century by C.L. Kingsford and W.H. Godfrey (Kingsford 1924), but further research indicates that the building must have fitted into a much smaller site than the reconstruction suggests. The property had been leased to the grocer Nicholas Gibson by 1517, and the site can be identified as Gibson’s Key, named and located in the survey of the port of 1559 (Dietz 1972, Appendix IV). Several more ‘Keys’ or wharves are named in the survey, but in most cases it is not clear that the names were in use as early as 1520.


The Atlas did not attempt to show any part of Southwark or the south bank of the Thames. At the time of its planning, there was little research in the public domain, and though early map-views show the south bank in the 1550s or 1560s, clearly much changed between 1520 and those representations. Martha Carlin’s research on medieval Southwark (Carlin 1983, 1996) made the inclusion of Southwark in any new edition of the map viable and indeed a priority. The representation of the south bank on the present map is based on a variety of map sources including Morgan’s map of 1682, and a number of larger-scale and sketch maps provided by Prof Carlin. The depiction of Southwark draws on Prof Carlin’s publications and on further discussions with her, and on some archaeological research, to show the situation in 1520.

The Strand and Drury Lane

The run of properties between the Savoy and the Temple has been revised following the research and publications of Patricia Croot (2009a, 2009b, 2014). As she points out, the construction of Somerset House and Arundel House in the 16th century erased previous buildings and property boundaries, so certainty is elusive, but the new map follows the layout in Croot 1990b, and in identifying the former Inn of the Bishop of Llandaff with the later Strand Inn. Similarly, the new map locates Drury House in Aldwych, at the bottom of the later Drury Lane, and eliminates its predecessor, Bosham’s Inn, following Croot 2008.

Outer suburbs

The original Atlas map did not go far beyond the built-up area, and indeed excluded most of the medieval suburb outside Bishopsgate. The new map shows the line of Bishopsgate street as far as St Mary Spital and Norton Folgate. The street was lined with buildings by the 1550s, according to the Copperplate map; other evidence suggests that London’s early 16th-century growth began in the suburbs before intensifying in the city centre, so it is likely that buildings were in place by 1520. It was only ribbon development to begin with, though by 1598 Stow says that from Bethlem Hospital northward ‘many houses have been builded with alleyes backeward of late time too much pestered with people’ (Stow 1603, i.165).

In other directions there was little development beyond the city and its immediate extramural suburb before the mid to later 16th century. The sharp contrast between open green fields and built-up streets shown on Braun and Hogenberg’s map published in 1572 may be misleading, as dairying, market-gardening, laundry, cloth-stretching, and recreational uses encroached on formerly agricultural land, but the overall impression, that no part of mid-Tudor London was far from fields and pastures – however these might be used – is correct. Phillpotts 2013 established some medieval field boundaries in the environs of London, but tracing the lines of field-paths and lanes is challenging, given the different scales and perspectives of contemporary maps. In some cases, field boundaries can be seen more clearly on later maps when they formed the boundaries of new building or the location of new roads; hence later maps have corroborated our assumptions of where the field divisions were located.


The directory of streets and significant buildings, printed on the back of the map, is an edited version of the directory on the reverse of the Old House Books map, reflecting the changes to the map, and keyed to a new grid. Essentially it is a guide to the map, with cross-references from modern names where the 16th-century form may not be immediately recognisable (for example, ‘Broad Street see Bradstrete’). It has a more limited function than the Gazetteer in the Atlas volume, which indexes names on the maps for 1270 and 1520, and gives sources for the identifications.