For someone like me, occupied with trying to write historical fiction, an old map is a useful imaginative aid. While including exact street names in your novel is tedious (unless you're James Joyce), there's something helpful about visualizing your hero or heroine's neighbourhood - in my case, London in the 1740s - because it helps to bring their world to life. After all, if something seems vivid to you, it should seem vivid to your readers. Imagine how delighted I was, when poking around in Stanfords caverous map shop in Covent Garden, to find a whole set of maps of London in different periods on CD Rom, including maps and topographical prints from John Strype's 1720 edition of John Stow's Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster. Stow's was the very first written survey of London (published in 1598), and Strype carefully updated and extended it to produce an overview of the capital's antiquities and its topography. This advert appeared in Hatton's New View of London (1708):
In a short time Proposals will be published for Reprinting Mr Stow's large Survey of London improv'd; with very great Additions throughout, and illustrated with about 100 large Copper Cutts, viz. of the City in general, and of several of the Wards thereof: of Westminster, Southwark, and all the Out-Parts of the City as they are now: and several Ornamental Plates of Churches, and other Public Buildings in Folio.
Note: this Work has been long preparing, the Cutts requiring much Time and Great Expences, but they are now all finished, and may be seen at the Undertakers.
For some reason I didn't get a copy of John Rocque's famous map, surveyed between 1735 and 1746 (maybe it wasn't on the shelf), but happily, copyright owner Motco Enterprises Ltd. has now put some of it online. It's worth buying the CD of Strype's Stow for the gorgeous topographical prints though - I'm using the beautiful architectural drawing of the south side of St Paul's Cathedral as my desktop image.