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Phylis Pearsall grew up in London and travelled all over Europe from an early age. Her father founded the cartographic company Geographia Ltd, which produced, among others, street maps of most British towns and although successful, eventually went bankrupt. By 1935, Phylis had become a portrait painter. According to her autobiography, while on her way to a party, she tried to follow the best available map of the time (a 1919 Ordnance Survey map). She discovered that this map was not up to the task, and ended up getting lost. Following a conversation during this party, she conceived the idea of mapping London. This involved walking 3,000 miles to check names and house numbers of 23,000 streets of London, waking up at 5am every day, and not going to bed until after an 18-hour working day.

A respected typographer, although not credited with the design of any typefaces, her arrangement of type is considered one of the most interesting of her age. She was awarded an MBE, and in 2005 Southwark Council placed a blue plaque on the house where she was born.

Peter Berthoud is an award winning City of Westminster Guide and self-confessed London obsessive. He spends virtually all of his time walking in, writing about, collecting images or reading material on London.
Phyliss Pearsall’s achievements may have been questioned but her incredible story proved a major source of inspiration for Berthoud’s current career. He firmly believes that her work has the power to inspire and enable others to get the most out of this great city.

Time Out London