This map, which shows how land was used in London between 1795 and 1799, was created by the cartographer Thomas Milne. It is in several senses rare, and as a publication, it is unique. Of the many maps surveyed or engraved by Milne, this is the only one to bear his imprint as a map publisher, and of the copies printed, this is the only complete set of six sheets known to have survived. As a record of the land use around London at this time, it is also unique. Milne’s map is far superior to its predecessors not only because of its ambitious scope and up-to-date, accurate information, but because of the way in which that information is presented. Employing a colour code and lettering system, Milne was able to display and distinguish between no fewer than twelve different land-use categories. The result is an incomparable picture of London and its environs at a time when the city was rapidly transforming.
The map is centred around areas to the west, south and south-west of the River Thames: zones which were steadily being cleared of clay and gravel pits to make way for nurseries, market gardens, orchards, pastures and meadows. The increasing population of Londoners needed to be fed, and this is where fruit and vegetables were grown and dairy cattle grazed. Milne’s map also shows the dozens of streams which once flowed through the capital, but which today are no longer visible, having been diverted into London’s sewer network.
On a scale of two inches to a mile, the six-sheet map covers about 260 square miles from Harrow Weald to Woodford and Hampton-on-Thames to Sundridge Park. Milne accurately surveyed all fields and enclosures, labelling each with letters (‘a’, for example stands for enclosed arable, ‘m’ for enclosed meadow and pasture, ‘p’ for paddocks and little parks, and ‘g’ for enclosed market gardens).
Despite his achievement, relatively little is known about Thomas Milne. He was a skilled estate and county cartographer who, by 1800, had premises in Knightsbridge. Like his associate William Faden, Milne was a member of the Society of Civil Engineers. It was probably through this membership that he was able to consult contemporary Ordnance Survey maps, details from which were copied into his own work. This borrowing is likely the reason why so few impressions of Milne’s map were made. The Ordnance Survey would have seen the project as a premature disclosure of their data, and stopped it in its tracks.