Page 3 Profile: Phyllis Pearsall, map-maker


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The Independent Online

Do you know the way to…

Ah, you’re asking the right person! Phyllis Pearsall here, who died in 1996, found a place in history as the creator of London’s first A-to-Z map – and her remarkable tale is now set to be told in a new musical.

So she, like, made a map?

For today’s GPS-tracked, multi-mapped city-dwellers, getting lost is a thing of the past. Back in Pearsall’s day, the only form of navigation for the capital was the cumbersome Ordinance Survey map. Thus, Pearsall’s pocket-sized map was remarkably convenient.

What inspired her?

Sarah Hartley, her biographer, says that when Pearsall went to a party at the home of Lady Knott in Maida Vale one rainy night, she alighted the bus at the wrong end of Harrow Road. Arriving at the soiree drenched, fellow party-goers remarked that if only there were a convenient way to find one’s way around…

Which was…?

The map. The story goes that Pearsall got up at 5am the very next morning, and every morning thereafter, until she had walked (and charted) every single one of London’s 23,000 streets.

A most remarkable story.

And one that will be told in a musical called The A to Z of Mrs P at Southwark Playhouse. The thing is, it may be wrong…

The plot thickens!

Similar maps date back as early as 1623. Far from traipsing down 3,000 miles of streets, perhaps Pearsall was merely a master marketeer.