Her mother had taken to drinking, and her father relocated himself and his company to America – leaving Phyllis more or less abandoned.
She took herself to France, and taught English at a girls’ school in Fécamp before studying at the Sorbonne.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the first publication of the London A-Z Map.
I have never really wanted more than enough to keep me going and firmly expected a bedsitter to be my end.” It was here she met and married her brother’s friend, Richard Pearsall.
The couple spent eight years together, often travelling to Europe from their base in Paris, before she left him – so the story goes – in the middle of the night during a trip to Venice, without a word of explanation.
Moving back to London, Phyllis has some success painting portraits.
She was interrupted by her father, writing from America to ask if she would publish a map he had produced, in England on his behalf.
Phyllis died in August 1996, so this year also marks 20 years since her passing. She was born in 1906 to Alexander Gross, a Hungarian émigré who founded the cartographic company Geographia Ltd in Fleet Street, and an Italian-Irish mother Isabella Crowley.
Initially growing up in East Dulwich, London, Phyllis was educated at a private boarding school near Brighton until the age of 14 when her father’s company went bust and the family went bankrupt.
Not only is it iconic in style (used in patterns and prints because of its instantly recognisable format) and hailed as the catalyst to the modernisation of cartography; it is also a lasting celebration of its founder, Mrs Phyllis Pearsall MBE.
Her story is one of stamina, determination and British eccentricity that challenged existing norms, as she imposed her publication on an industry resistant to change.
At this point there are several versions about how her forays into mapping began, each tinged with Phyllis’ idiosyncrasies.