The biography of a remarkable woman. Mrs P, Phyllis Pearsall founded the Cabbie’s Bible, the A-Z Map of London. If you are looking for the story of A-Z maps, you maybe disappointed, as that story begins only on page 203 and also jumps from the forties to the eighties. This book is the story of their creator and her disfunctional family background.
Her father Sandor Grosz (later anglicized to Gross) of Hungarian Gypsy blood had been wandering Europe, looking for business opportunities and came to England penniless, he started a business selling gas lamps and then moved onto maps on a whim. The timing was fortuitous before the First World War and the public was interested to know what The Balkans looked like. The Daily Telegraph took an interest in Gross’ maps and for a while the finances of the Gross family prospered.
Phyllis’ mother, Bella, married young, craved attention and finished her days in a lunatic asylum. Sandor’s business went bankrupt and Phyllis was pulled out of Rodean, a public school, where she had difficulties being the child of nouveau riche immigres and bullied to boot. Her mother had little time for her and sent her to an employment agency, which had a job for the young 16 year old as a teacher in France. Phyllis makes the journey across the Channel on her own and shows remarkable resilience to all the fates threw at her.
How much of the story is true and how much is fiction is a matter of speculation, as honesty was not paramount in Sandor family life. There was a Mr P but he was “left in Venice” mentioned Phyllis dismissively to anyone who brought the matter up.
Mrs P spent a year single-handedly walking all the streets of London to get the facts right for her project to create a decent map of London. Her success in what had traditionally been a man’s world can be attributed to her remarkable character, to continue with dogged determination in the most averse of circumstances.
My rating: 4 out of 5