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This amazing map shows London in Shakespeare’s day

Written by
James Manning

Any self-respecting London nerd gets a kick out of a cool map of our city in times past. And here’s an excellent one: a tapestry that depicts Greater London in the 1590s, when big Willy Shakespeare was knocking about Southwark and the City.

Woven for Catholic nobleman Ralph Sheldon, it’s one of four super-deluxe tapestries showing the counties where the family owned land at the time. The map (view a zoomed-in version here) centres on Oxfordshire, but one of the surviving edges shows how the capital was laid out in the late sixteenth century, with the City of London surrounded by outlying villages that have since evolved into the capital’s northern and western suburbs. (Sadly, south London has been obliterated by the passage of time.)

Got an eye for detail? Look out for Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the original St Paul’s Cathedral among the houses along the Thames. Regent’s Park appears as an enclosed space near Paddington – it was a private royal hunting park at the time. You can spot the old London Bridge too: covered with buildings, this was the only river crossing until 1750.

You’ll also see some sort-of-familiar names – like Hakeney, Higat, Chelsey and Elinge – alongside some that haven’t changed in 400 years, such as Islington, Fulham, Acton and Paddington.

If you fancy seeing the tapestry IRL, it’s now on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where from July 5 it’ll form part of the ‘Talking Maps’ exhibition. Why not take a fellow map geek on a fun day trip this summer?

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