Interactive maps reveal London's history in unprecedented detail

December 12, 2011

Researchers have today unveiled a new interactive map that reveals London's social history in unprecedented detail, enabling users to explore everything from the world's first gay scene to eighteenth century riots.

Locating London's Past is a new website that lets users delve deep into the capital's past, revolutionising our understanding of London's history. The website is the first to map information from a vast array of sources, covering:Trial accounts from the Old Bailey, tax and population data, and even archaeological records can all be uploaded onto John Rocque's famous 1746 map of London, now fully referenced to modern geographical coordinates by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).

Locating London's Past is the result of a collaborative project between the University of Sheffield, the University of Hertfordshire, and the University of London. The interface for the website was developed by Sheffield's Humanities Research Institute (HRI), developers of the prize-winning Old Bailey Online website.

Using the new website (, anyone is now able to explore fully geo-referenced detail using Google maps technology to reveal the distribution of crimes, wealth and poverty, mortality, archaeological finds, voting records and much more.

Locating London's Past maps the selected data by keyword and other criteria to transform John Rocque's London into a fully interactive resource with multiple layers. For example, figure 1 (below) shows crime locations associated with trials for sodomy (punishable by death in the eighteenth century) for the period 1674-1819:

Figure 1: 'Crime Locations' and 'Defendants Homes' associated with trials for 'sodomy' and 'assault with sodomitical intent', The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1819.

Figure 2 (below) shows the distribution of rioting mapped against the location of shops in the capital from 1700 to 1800 - revealing an interesting lack of looting - the focus was instead on the destruction of property:

Figure 2 - Red pins (proportional in size to the number of cases), show the crime locations of the 83 Old Bailey trials for riot during the century, over half of which concerned the Gordon Riots (June 1780). The green pins indicate location of shops - suggesting the motive of these riots was not looting.

Figure 3 (below) maps the locations of plague deaths against the capital's Hearth Tax records, revealing the indiscriminate nature of the deadly disease:

Figure 3: location of plague deaths (each blue pin represents a parish, with its size reflecting the number of deaths per capita) against Hearth Tax records (red shaded parishes, with the darker areas having the most hearths). The Hearth Tax gives an indication of house size and is therefore a good indicator of wealth. The map reveals plague deaths throughout areas of low, middle and higher income.

Professor Robert Shoemaker from the University of Sheffield's Department of History commented: "Locating London's Past makes it possible for the first time to map a wide variety of data from London's past onto fully geo-referenced historical maps of the metropolis. For me, the most exciting findings concern the spread of crime locations from Old Bailey trials. Rather than simply reflecting the distribution of poverty (or wealth), criminal prosecutions took place in mixed areas, where social tensions were highest. These and other discoveries will transform our understanding of the historical development of Europe's first modern city."

Professor Tim Hitchcock from the University of Hertfordshire commented: "This project has allowed us to add a new, third dimension to our understanding of the first 'World City'. Text on the page can now be reconfigured around place and space to create a new historical landscape to reveal pockets of crime and poverty, wealth, and illness. It allows us to know the past in a new way."

Dr Matthew Davies, Director of the Centre for Metropolitan History at the University of London's Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, commented: "The project's website provides a new tool for understanding the relationships between the people and places of pre-modern London. It will enable the visualisation through maps of important characteristics of the metropolis during a time of rapid growth, from everyday patterns of family, home and work, to the interactions between inhabitants and institutions such as the parishes, hospitals and city companies."

Alastair Dunning, Digitisation Programmer at JISC, said: "Researchers in the humanities and social sciences are turning increasingly to geographical analysis as a way of bringing the facts and figures to life. What's exciting about this resource is that the existing data you can explore today is just the start - the interface could be expanded to include new data sets and new maps, making it potentially useful to scholars in dozens of different disciplines. JISC's commitment to funding open source projects means that other universities are already looking at how they might reuse the programmes that the Sheffield team has developed."
For further information please contact: Amy Stone, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2221046 or email

University of Sheffield

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