Edward Stanford would have understood the rise of the internet. Although born into a family of tailors and drapers in 1827, he sold maps and diagrams in a stationery shop at 6 Charing Cross. The Victorians were both technology enthusiasts and avid travelers, and the young salesman would have visited sea captains, well-traveled merchants, explorers, and intellectuals.
Later, as a sole proprietorship, he expanded the business and stored the timetables and planners needed by UK rail users and European travelers. The once aristocratic Grand Tour had become more of a bourgeois affair by the mid-19th century, and there was a fair market for Baedeker and early versions of the travel guide. With the chief cartographer John Bolton, Stanford created a series of maps of the continental library. Their collaboration has been recognized by the Royal Geographical Society. In 1893, Edward Stanford II received his royal warrant as the Queen’s cartographer.
The store, which housed retail stores, cartographers, and print shops, became a major stop prior to expeditions for some of the biggest names in modern British exploration, including Florence Nightingale, Ernest Shackleton, Captain Scott, and Amy Johnson. Over the decades, Stanfords developed working relationships with the Ordnance Survey, the War Department, and most recently the Dolman Travel Book Award.
As a meeting point for travelers, it is unique. At Stanfords I presented two humble books of my own – one as a walking guide for South West Wales, the other as a literary guide for commuters to London. It was a pleasure to be among all the masterpieces and maps, atlases and hiking guides and to feel part of a sympathetic world in which all those who suffer from wanderlust live. I remember a writer’s friend who said he was looking forward to an event because, “It’s my favorite bookstore.” Most people go to Stanford’s signatures for the store as they do for any writer or book.