The London A-Z Street Atlas - Invented by the Amazing Phyllis Pearsall

by KathleenDuffy

The London A-Z Street Atlas was invented by Phyllis Pearsall. Her dedication and determination make it easier for us to negotiate this complex city.

Whether you are a fleeting visitor to London, a tourist or have lived here for years, the London A-Z Street Atlas is an essential piece of equipment for getting around town.

London is not on a grid system like New York - it is a mish-mash of villages all linked together by a bewildering variety of highways, streets and alleyways.

So the London A-Z Street Atlas is vital to ensure you reach your destination. Even seasoned Londoners use it regularly because London is the kind of city where one lifetime just isn't enough to really get to know it intimately!

The London A-Z Street Atlas is an amazing invention - so who was the genius behind it?

The Origins of the London A-Z Street Atlas

Phyllis Pearsall's Big Idea!

Born in 1906 in London to an artist mother and Hungarian map-maker father, Phyllis Pearsall made a precarious living painting portraits. In September 1935, she went to dinner at the home of a client. After a nightmare journey across rain-swept London, Phyllis arrived at her destination, dripping dejectedly.

Inspired by her soggy appearance other guests described their frustrations whilst travelling across London. At that moment the idea for a street map of London was born.

Armed with pencil and notebook, Phyllis went onto the streets at five every morning, devoting all her time and energy to this new project. She received furtive glances from policemen and passers-by. What was a woman doing alone on the streets at this hour?

Unperturbed, Phyllis entered into the rhythm of the great city, walking the streets alone, entering workmen's cafes for breakfast, exploring dark alleys and, late at night, hurrying past lively public houses.

Walking 3,000 miles in all, Phyllis mapped out every street and alleyway in London, including house numbers. She was a female amateur in the conservative male world of cartography.

The London A-Z Atlas Finds an Outlet

W H Smith to the rescue!

The success of the London A-Z did not come overnight.

After hiring a draughtsman, checking out any new development plans and creating an index to the streets of London, she then had to sell her idea. Phyllis became a sales representative, standing in line with dozens of men waiting to be seen by buyers at prestigious London outlets.

She was rejected but through great resilience eventually found an opening through W H Smith & Son.

Phyllis Pearsall Delivers the Goods!

But how to deliver her A-Z to all those hungry London retail outlets? She couldn't afford to hire a van.

Undeterred, Phyllis took to the streets again, pulling a cart borrowed from her local pub. She personally delivered her A-Z bundles to railway stations at Victoria, Kings Cross, Marylebone, Euston and Waterloo, rising at four o'clock in the morning.

Ultimately, her creation would be in W H Smith outlets all over the country and eventually other newsagents began to carry copies.  Phyllis had found a gap in the market and the public began to scramble for her brainchild.  She was fulfilling a need!

Phyllis never took any credit for her indomitable spirit. She just got on with it.

The Geographer's A-Z Map Co. Ltd.

Maps Not Just for London - But Nationwide!


Today we can see how such tenacity paid off!  The ultimate success of the London A-Z  Street Atlas saw the formation of The Geographers' A-Z Map Co. Ltd. based in Kent. 

Phyllis was a considerate employer and was keen to take on young people, offering them apprenticeships in the map-making trade, allowing their talents to flourish and making it possible for them to make great strides within the company. Many have been with her company for over forty years.

She embraced modern computer technology with enthusiasm.


The London A-Z Street Atlas has outlived and outsold all its rivals. It can be bought in various editions to suit all tastes and needs and is available digitally.

As well as London, A-Z Atlases are available for nearly every city in the British Isles.


Death of Phyllis Pearsall

Phyllis died on 28th August 1996, one month from her ninetieth birthday.

As befits the inventor of the phenomenally successful London A-Z Street Atlas, her ashes are buried beneath a tree outside her A-Z offices. At that point her A-Z Atlas had sold millions of copies.

Phyllis Pearsall, MBE, was truly a lady with genuine street cred!



Mrs P's Journey Sarah Hartley (Simon & Schuster, 2001)


The A-Z Street Atlas - Available All Areas !

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Updated: 05/16/2013, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 05/19/2013

Yes - she was quite a gal! Thanks AnomalousArtist for your comment! :)

AnomalousArtist on 05/18/2013

Wonderful to know the source of those guidebooks I couldn't live without! :)

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