Charles Goad’s old street maps were created for insurance companies to underwrite the risk of urban fires, and whilst the printing of old street maps certainly goes back a long way before Charles E. Goad started producing his ‘Fire Insurance Plans’, his street maps are considered by many as preeminent.

Goad’s cartographic tools allow us to examine the urban development of many of the towns and cities throughout the world, most famously perhaps the UK capital London and the major cities of Canada. Many examples of Goad’s old street maps have appeared at auction over the years, sometimes making very high prices, including rare examples of his more international plans such as the Plan D’Assurance de Constantinople, which sold at Bloomsbury Auctions for £8,400 in 2009, and the Insurance Plan of Kjøbenhavn, which fetched £6,000 also in 2009.

To this day, his street maps remain an invaluable resource to historians, town planners and developers alike, and the iconic design, colour system and font lend them an aesthetic appeal that resonates with cartophiles, graphic designers, interior designers and, particularly when combined with local-area interest, businesses, institutions, local councils & services as well as private individuals.

A short introduction to the old street maps of Charles E. Goad

Although little-known beyond hardcore map collectors or insurance specialists, the Fire Insurance Plans of Charles E. Goad dominated the insurance map sector from 1885, largely testament to Goad’s savviness in identifying a growing need, his own vivacity and application, and his ability to think creatively and tactically on how to develop the business (for example locating his London HQ near the City head offices of all the major London insurers).

Goad’s fire insurance plans focussed on commercial, warehousing and transport properties and facilities, normally utilising a large scale of 1 inch to 40 feet (1:480), and the street maps would normally be bound together in a book on initial demand and leased to an insurance company, accompanied by a key plan (at about 1 inch to 300 feet).

These books were pre-ordered then printed, so when revisions were made (as they often were, especially in Canada) Goad found it more practical to reprint only the parts of the original survey sheet which had changed. Then the insurance company would either send the leased plans back for the revisions to be overlaid (or in the case of more major revisions replaced completely), or the revisions would be sent out to the insurance company for them to append or replace directly.

The maps themselves provided an impressive array of information, designed to give the underwriter all they needed to know to determine risk of fire as quickly as possible. This would include contextual and environmental information, as well as noting structural particulars of the buildings and other elements in the vicinity, the proximity of water-supplies, and even sometimes the name of the company owning a property.

Goad also produced fire insurance plans illustrating the nature and effect of specific fires, such as the 1895 conflagration at West India Dock.

These old street maps offer a superb opportunity for anyone wishing to connect with their community or building’s past heritage. Fire insurance plans can give an insight into what lurks in your building’s history, but they also can make an attractive and stimulating wall-mounted artwork that helps private people, businesses or institutions with a property or premises covered by the plans connect with their environment.