Standfords London The Worlds Biggest Map Shop

Photo of Stanfords book shop in 1901.

To cater In Standfords is the UK’s leading specialist retailer of maps, travel books, and other travel accessories. Established in 1853 by Edward Stanford it is now the world’s biggest map shop.

They have been an essential first port of call for adventure and armchair travelers alike for more than a century. The roll-call of customers past and present includes such famous names as Amy Johnson, David Livingstone, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Florence Nightingale, Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, and even Sherlock Holmes.

Edward Stanford rose to prominence during the height of the Victorian age. It was a period defined by technological innovation, social upheaval, literary excellence, and world exploration. Born into a family of tailors and drapers in 1827. He was educated at the City of London School. In 1848 he joined Trelawney Saunders, who sold maps and charts from their stationer’s shop at 6 Charing Cross. Subsequently, just four years later, in 1852, he was made a partner in the business.

In 1853, seizing the initiative, Stanford became sole proprietor and expanded his map shop to 7 and 8 Charing Cross. After that, he acquired premises on Trinity Place for his printing works. This bold move solidified Stanfords as the largest, and indeed only map maker and seller in London.

European Travel

This was at a time when British colonialism, the rise of the railways, and the continuing popularity of the Grand Tour, meant demand for readily accessible, high-quality cartography was building at a remarkable pace.

Stanford, together with Chief Cartographer John Bolton, set about work on a series of continental library maps, the first being his Library Map of Europe in 1858. Bolton would work for the company for 67 years. Another of his famous maps was the 1862 Library Map of London. When published, it was recognized as “the most perfect London map that has ever been issued.” by the Royal Geographical Society.

By 1873 the map shop had started to outgrow even its expanded premises and moved to 55 Charing Cross. The print works moved at the same time to 12-14 Long Acre. This remains the site of their flagship shop to this day. By 1877 the company had acquired the prestigious Staunton & Son, the official “Stationers to the Queen.” Significantly this was an indication of how far Edward Stanford, and his business, had come.

In 1885, at the age of 58, Stanford retired, passing over the company to his son, Edward Stanford II. Edward had taken over the day to day sales and marketing three years earlier. His father, Edward Stanford I, died in 1904 at the age of 77.

Royal Warrant in 1983

By this point, Stanfords had become the sole agent for Ordnance Survey Maps in England and Wales. In 1887 they published Stanford’s London Atlas Of Universal Geography, which was dedicated to Queen Victoria on her Royal Jubilee. Although it took a few years more for Edward Stanford II to receive his royal warrant as Cartographer to the Queen, in 1893.

At the turn of the century, Stanford II decided to combine the company’s retail, print, and cartographic works under one roof at the Long Acre site. This involved a renovation that was completed in 1901. After that, the new shop welcomed many notable personalities of the day. These included Florence Nightingale, Frederick Lugard, John Murray, Ernest Shackleton, Captain Scott, and Francis Younghusband.

Following the ascension on Edward VII to the throne in 1902, Stanford maintained his Royal role as the Cartographer to the King. This seemed to confirm the business’s role in the cartographic culture. Indeed even Sherlock Holmes was a customer. To clarify, it was actually Dr. Watson, who is sent “down to Stanfords” in The Hound Of The Baskervilles to procure a Dartmoor map.

World Wars

Indeed, with the outbreak of war in 1914, Stanfords became an integral publisher for the War Office. Because Edward Stanford II died in 1917, his son Edward Fraser Stanford assumed control of the business. He was 32.

The period between the wars saw the company continue to innovate and encourage exploration. In 1922 the company produced the world’s smallest ever maps. They were for a series of atlases for Queen Mary’s famous doll’s house in Windsor. They also created the first Daily Mail Motor Road Map in 1926. This would remain in print for the next thirty years. Also, they provided maps for adventurer Amy Johnson’s solo flight from England to Australia in 1930.

As the prospect of a second war loomed in Europe in 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain commissioned a map from Stanfords to show Hitler’s Germany’s growing power. Evidently, Fraser Stanford took this concern seriously enough to have the ceilings in Long Acre’s basement strengthened with iron girders.

The shop was used as a public air-raid shelter during the second world war. Two staff members worked every night to allow access to the room when the sirens sounded. The map shop was hit by an  incendiary bomb during one of London’s most significant air raids. This happened on the night of April 15, 1941.

This almost destroyed the top two floors. On this occasion, the thousands of Ordnance Survey maps stocked by the shop in tightly constructed stacks actually helped halt the flames’ path. They saved the rest of the shop from destruction.

Valuable War Surplus

Fraser Stanford continued to sell these maps in years to come complete with charred edges. A business move his entrepreneur grandfather would perhaps have been proud of.

The business passed to John Keith Stanford in 1944, after his brother Edward Fraser Stanford’s death. However, in 1947 the John decided to sell the company to George Philip & Son. They were a cartographic publisher that had been founded in 1834.

Stanfords continued to focus on its role as a specialist map retailer. They enjoyed a reputation for selling maps unattainable anywhere else in the country.

In recent years, Stanfords has remained at the heart of popular and political culture. Maps captured by the British Army from the Argentinian’s during the Falklands conflict in 1982 were the army’s only source of information about the local geography as relevant cartography was in short supply. This lead to many believing that Argentinian diplomats had spent the months before the war buying up all Stanfords’ stock.

In 1988 former Python Michael Palin launched his travel writing career as he departed Stanfords to travel Around The World In 80 Days.

Expansion Outside London

In 1997 Stanfords opened its first map shop outside London on Bristol’s Corn Street in the heart of the city’s historic market district, where it still is today. This site also featured a Business Mapping service. 2001 saw significant change as the company split from the George Philip Group. However, members of the Stanford, Philip, and Godfrey families remain actively involved in the running and ownership of Stanfords to this day as Board members.

In 2003 Stanford’s celebrated its 150th birthday. They created a substantial National Geographic Map of the World to celebrate the event. This is displayed on the Long Acre store’s ground floor. The building also has large floor maps of London and the Himalayas so that visitors can retrace their travels using their feet.

Today Stanfords remains a much loved and vital part of the travel landscape. As the world’s largest map retailer, Stanfords prides itself on its stock’s depth. Experts find this stock from all over the world. If you can’t find what you are looking for in-store or online and, if it exists, Stanfords will make every effort to find it for you.

Please use this link to visit the Standfords impressive web site

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