The copperplate map dates back to 1555 and is the earliest known true map of London. There were panoramic views like the Wyngaerde Panorama that were produced before this but those were not proper maps showing street layout. There are no original copies of the map known to exist. What we have some of the original engraved copper printing plates – only three of them out of what was probably 15. But luckily these three cover the central part of London so are the best plates from a historian’s perspective to have survived. The map would have measured 4′ x 7′ and was intended to be hung on a wall.
Other later maps of London, like the Agas map (1560) or the smaller Braun and Hogenberg map (1572), seem to have derived most of their content from this map. This gives us some idea of what all 15 plates of the copperplate map may have shown and how much of London was covered. The three surviving copper plates were only discovered fairly recently – the Moorfields plate in 1962, the east part of the City in 1985 and the west part in 1997. They are now in the Museum of London. The plates are heavily worn, which means that they have been used for printing very many times.
We don’t know who produced the map or the exact date that it was published, but we do know that it shows the city somewhere between the dates of 1553 and 1559 by looking at various buildings that I’ve been depicted. For example, the freestanding cross in the churchyard of St Botolph Bishopsgate (which is shown in the map) was removed in 1559. We also know that the spire of all Hallows Bread Street was struck by lightning in 1559 and removed. St Paul’s Cathedral is shown with its massive spire which was lost in a fire in 1561. In the later Agas map, St Paul’s does not have this spire.