A tale of two Phyllisses

London then and now

On a rainy night in 1935 jobbing artist and society girl Phyllis Pearsall found herself on the rainy streets of Belgravia, utterly lost.  It wasn’t as if she weren’t well-travelled.  The daughter of a Hungarian map-maker and an Irish-Italian painter, she had lived in England until 1920, when her parents’ divorce led to her living alone in Paris, sometimes even sleeping on the streets.  She had then returned to England in 1926, and spent a number of years travelling round Europe with her new husband.  Now alone again, by the time she found the street she was looking for on that rainy night, the party was over.  Resolved that this would not do, she spent the next year working 18-hour days and logging some 23,000 of London’s streets on foot in order to compile her A to Z.  At first no publisher would accept it, so she launched her own company and printed 10,000 copies.  Her first order, for 250, was personally delivered to the newsagent by wheelbarrow!  Years later, the A to Z brand is known the world over, and it is still the tried and tested companion of many a traveller. (Preacher’s A to Z)

There is now another Phyllis traversing the capital city. This one weighs in at 1000 tonnes, and takes the equivalent horsepower of 2900 London taxis to move it forward. Along with four other giant beasts, it will bore tunnels for London’s Crossrail network deep below the city’s existing tube network. Although named after Phyllis Pearson (chosen by public vote) it could not be more different to its namesake. Ironically, though, once the tunnels are complete, the chances are people will still emerge from them with some of the other Phyllis’ handiwork tucked under their arm.

Plus ca change…

Images: greatdesignerswordpress.com and paddingtonwaterside.co.uk

Images: greatdesignerswordpress.com and paddingtonwaterside.co.uk



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