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Curator's introduction

The intense growth of industrised towns and cities in late Victorian Britain created a new demand for mapping details of urban structures and land use. Centres of industry and trade were burgeoning throughout the midlands and coastal ports; within the city of Liverpool alone, the population increased from 80,000 in 1801 to over 700,000 in 1901. The high-density of building and dangerous industrial activities in these centres made the outbreak of fire more likely and presented a high risk to commercial interests.

While not the first to produce maps to aid insurance companies in assessing fire risks, the Chas E Goad Co was the largest and most prolific such endeavor in Britain. The large-scale plans of urban areas – which ranged in size from eight sheets for Dover and over 500 for London – includes footprints and addresses for each building, with its use (commercial, residential, educational etc.) and the height of the building. Construction materials were identified (and thus its risk of burning), as were special fire hazards, such as chemicals, kilns, and ovens. Information could also indicate the likelihood of large groups of people in a building, for example in schools and places of worship. The width of streets, addresses and the proximity of fire services and water supplies appear. High-risk industrial facilities such as factories and mills, warehouses, and port/transport areas were given particular attention.

The BL owns the most comprehensive collection of Goad mapping available, having received all sheets published between 1895 and 1924 (Rowley, 60). This online exhibition includes the first editions of most towns, excluding only plans of the Manchester ship canal dock and carrier warehouses (Maps 145.b.17.(5) and Maps 145.b.18.(1) and Paisley (Maps 145.b.18.(2). These are available in the Maps Reading Room.

Legends to interpret the many signs and symbols on the maps can be found on the 'key plan' to each volume. These can be found by searching for 'key plan' and [town or city name] in the Online Gallery search box. These are largely standardised:

For more information see Rowley, Gwyn. British Fire Insurance Plans. Old Hatfield: Chas E. Goad, Ltd, 1984. and A catalogue of fire insurance plans published by Chas E. Goad 1878-1970. Part A 'British Isles'. Old Hatfield : Chas E. Goad, 1984.

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