September Visualisation: Horsepower in the 1700s Vs Now

September Visualisation: Horsepower in the 1700s Vs Now

September Visualisation: Horsepower in the 1700s Vs Now   

Did you know that horse and cart travels at roughly 4mph? Only slightly faster than the rough walking speed of a human? In this month’s visualisation we looked at the accessibility of London via horse and cart… we always say TRACC is multi-modal!  



We used an image of a historic road map from 1746 online, which was used to create the underlying road network for the horse and cart travel time contour.  

Using Ordnance Survey’s Highways and paths data, we edited the road data inside TRACC by comparing it against the historic map. This allowed us to recreate what the road network could have possibly looked like in 18th Century London. 

We ran a walk calculation, as this best modelled the speed at which a traditional horse and cart would travel. Once the contour was complete, it was further customised in QGIS. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral was used as the destination, not only is this a significant, central point in London, is it also one of the landmarks in the capital that was present in the 1746 map of London.

With this contour we can see how the accessibility is affected by the addition of a bridge across the Thames. Also, this map predominantly shows an equal increase within the different ranges, mimicking an almost “as the crow flies” outcome due to the consistent traveling speed of 4mph, in comparison to the varying road speeds in the present day contour.

With the historical road network placed on top, we’re able to see how limited this network would have been back then and the key role it played in the overall limited accessibility in London.  

Cars are the new horses… so let’s compare a driving calculation! 

Present Day 

Using the same OS Highways network in its unedited state, we instead updated it with real world observed Speed Data from GPS vehicles (TM Speeds) to generate the following contour showing what the driving travel time would look like in today’s world. 

We saw in the previous contour the impact just one bridge had on accessibility, now we can see how the increase in this over the years has led to a more accessible London.   

The road network was also placed on top of the contour in this image to show how the development of this has changed dramatically since the 18th Century, which no doubt has made a big difference to accessibility.  


When it comes to analysing the historical map against current accessibility, there are several ways in which you can display maps comparatively. Below are a few examples of what we thought worked best using this month’s travel time maps.  


1. Individual maps with same scale 

When looking at the two previous maps it would be easy to assume that it is a similar amount of accessibility, until we compare the two contours at the same scale. At this point we can see the significant improvement in accessibility across the city. 




2. Overlap comparison 

The overlap comparison further confirms the wide reach of the driving calculation, in particular we can see the vast improvement south of the Thames, the addition of new bridges across London has been a large contributor to this increase. 

  3. Split comparison 

And of course, we would be completely amiss if we were to go throughout this entire blog and not mention the advancements in technology allowing for faster travel speeds. From horse and cart that allowed for consistent travel of 4mph, cars can go… well, a lot faster.

But if you’ve ever driven in London, you’ll know that the speed limit is certainly not the speed you’ll be going. Including TM speed data into the calculation allows for a much more accurate result as is introduces congestion into the equation. For the first contour we have assumed there weren’t any traffic jams in 1746, but for the current contour we know that simply isn’t true. 

TM speed data looks at the actual road speeds, by averaging GPS road captures taken from cars. Even with these restrictions we can see the great length that cars can travel from to get to St Paul’s Cathedral within 30 minutes.

So, with more horsepower, roads, and bridges, I think we can safely conclude that London isn’t what it used to be! Fortunately, more people can get there, unfortunately… more people can get there. 

Keziah is the Digital Marketing Executive at Basemap Ltd. She has almost 2 years experience in the digital realm after graduating from the University of Plymouth with a BA in Illustration and a MA in Publishing.