Phyllis Pearsall

PEARSALL, Phyllis (née Gross) 1906-1995. Originator of the London A-Z. Phyllis Pearsall was born at 3 Court Lane Gardens, then named Budapest, in 1906, a house that was to be her home until shortly before the outbreak of World War One. Born to an Irish mother who had eloped with a Hungarian father to Gretna Green, she had a difficult childhood. Her mother’s mental illnesses and the bankruptcy of her father forced her to leave Roedean and finish her teenage years living rough in Paris. In 1908, her parents had established a map-making company in London named ‘Geographer’ and this enterprise had a long-term influence on Phyllis, although her father was obliged to sell the company to pay his debts.

In 1935 a taxi ride on a wet evening to a dinner party in Maida Vale had elicited some commiseration from her hostess. ‘It is tremendously hard to negotiate London’, to which her husband added, ‘unless you are in a taxi, there is no clear way to know how to get where you are going’. From these chance comments, the idea of producing an easy to read, street by street map of London was born. Working from Ordnance Survey maps, Phyllis ultimately listed 23,000 roads. A company was formed, ‘The Geographers Map Company’ and the first London A-Z guide was published in 1936.

Brian Green