Thomson Directories – a tale of 400 towns

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It was in late 2000 that we first started work for Thomson Directories (TDL) at PCGraphics. We had only formed the company two years earlier in 1998, so taking on a prestigious contract such as this for TDL was a big step for a small, newly formed cartographic company.

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The contract was to produce more than 400 detailed maps of UK town and city centres which were to be used in the TDL Directories that are delivered annually to nearly every home in the country. The Directories at that time had up to four or five maps in each publication.

Previously, TDL had used the Automobile Association Cartographic Department for the supply of maps but, for a number of reasons, TDL decided to look elsewhere for a supplier.  Fortunately, PCGraphics were in a good position as several of our cartographic staff  had already worked on the TDL maps – the Automobile Association subcontracted the drawing of the maps to a cartographic company in Surrey where a number of us had worked previously.

The requirement was to create ‘royalty free’ maps of each of the 400+ locations. At that time, to produce a royalty free map (which means a map free of all copyright issues), we had to purchase aerial photography and, after taking it into a graphics programme (Macromedia Freehand initially and, later, Adobe Illustrator), trace all the roads and other linear features. The only way to obtain all the names of roads etc, without infringing any other publisher’s copyright, was to send staff to each location where they would annotate a printout of the map line-work with all the names from street signs etc.

This was obviously an extremely time consuming task as an average map could take up to one whole day of walking around every street writing down all the names – and we had more than 400 to do. Larger maps, such as London and other major cities, obviously took a lot longer. This street checking had to be done in sun, rain or snow as we had a tight schedule of map production to keep to.

Torquay-Battersea

Two of the smaller size maps created for Thomson Local Directories – Torquay and Battersea

Most of the production work – both the street checking and the actual map production – was carried out by permanently employed PCGraphics staff members. Several times though we did have to use freelance cartographers for elements of the work and, occasionally, this did cause us problems. One incident which is still indelibly burnt into our memories is where a freelancer, as far as we could make out, simply copied an old map of the town centre we asked them to produce, along with all the errors and omissions in that old map, and passed it back to us as a new map (which was supposed to have been drawn from scratch and street checked). This caused us enormous problems at the time as we had to independently check this freelancer’s work and then redraw the map ourselves.

One other error which slipped through the net was when a Sikh Temple in Huddersfield was wrongly marked on the map as a Mosque. This, understandably, provoked an adverse reaction from the Sikh community and the map had to be quickly amended. Interestingly, this map was also produced by the same freelancer as before. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t used that freelancer ever again!

But, fortunately, mistakes with the mapping were very few and far between. Keeping the majority of the work in-house meant we were able to apply a high level of quality control to the project which was essential with that number of maps and the tight schedule.

After the initial three year period producing the maps, the contract rolled on with updates to the maps, more new maps and improvements.

The contracts with Thomson Directories ran for nearly eleven years, the last work being done in 2011, and we are extremely grateful to Mike Callaghan, Steve Arnold and all the others at TDL whom we worked with over the years and who had faith in PCGraphics back in 2000 when awarding us that first contract.

Michael Callaghan, previously of Thomson Directories, writing on Linkedin:

Whilst working for Thomson Directories a few years ago, we had a requirement to change our cartographic supplier.
Speaking to Sally and Paul at PCGraphics we were impressed.
They were professional, realistic on timescales achievable, well organised, good communicators and the quality of their work was of the highest standard.
Our requirement was for over 400 town plan maps to be generated to a tight schedule.
Sally organised the ground surveys and generation of maps and we were very pleased with the end result which incidentally, was on time.
I would not hesitate to recommend Sally and the wealth of experience she brings to her work.

 

 

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