THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

Introduction

Our earliest map appears on a coin made in the Roman Empire and our latest appears as pixels on a computer screen. In between we have the most complete set of Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain, the grand collection of an 18th-century king, secret maps made by the Soviet army as well as the British government, and a book that stands taller than the average person. Read more

12 May 2017

Saxton's cost-cutting exercise

The first atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579. It is a landmark in the cartography of Britain, containing maps of the counties of England and Wales by the mapmaker Christopher Saxton, engraved mostly by Dutch artists but also the odd Englishman such as Augustine Ryther.

The maps are believed to have been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state William Cecil Lord Burghley during the 1570s. Its purpose was security, defense and administration during a period of internal intrigue and international instability, notably tension with Catholic Spain. 

Burghley's own copy of the atlas, held in the British Library (Royal MS.18 D.III.)  contains his notes identifying Catholic families and potential justices of the peace. Shannon and Winstanley suggested the author of one of the atlas's maps of Lancashire to be none other than Francis Walsingham's cryptographer Thomas Phelippes.

001ROY000018D03U00082000[SVC2]Thomas Phelippes(?), [Map of Lancashire], c. 1576. British Library Royal MS.18.D.III 

England had enemies indeed during the 1570s, and war would break out with Spain in 1585. So why, by contrast to the atlas's larger scale county maps of snug and safe Monmouthshire and Leicestershire did Saxton provide only a puny small scale map for vulnerable south east England?

001MAP00000C7C1U00011000[SVC2]Christopher Saxton, Cantii, Southsexiae, Surriae et Middlesexiae comitat. London, 1576. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5.

In 1801 again under threat of war, this time with France, the Ordnance Survey made sure Kent was mapped before anywhere else.

Mudge

William Mudge / Ordnance Survey, The county of Kent, with part of the county of Essex. London: William Faden, 1801 (1809). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Peter Barber pointed out that the elaborate decoration of Saxton's south east map could not distract from the fact that it wasn't really fit for purpose. Barber also suggested the most likely reason for the rather pathetic map: Saxton was skint, short on funds and economising on engraving and production costs.

War isn't really the best time to be scrimping and saving, and it is around the time of the south east map (dated 1576) that a new paymaster, Thomas Seckford, was drafted in by Burghley to see the production through.

The eventual Spanish invasion was defeated in 1588. Then there was plenty of money to commission extravagant celebratory copper engraved maps of the English victory over the Armada.

061046

Robert Adams, [The British Isles with the route of the Spanish Armada] from  Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio. Anno Do. MDLXXXVIII. R. Adamo authore. A. Ryther sculpsit. London, c. 1590. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5

A set of these Armada engravings is bound up with another of the British Library's copies of Saxton's atlas (Maps C.3.bb.5), believed to belong to James I. The rest is history. 

03 May 2017

Picturing Places launched!

Last week the British Library was pleased to announce the successful launch of Picturing Places, a new online learning resource.  

Royal_MS_16_F_II_f73

The Tower of London with London Bridge and the City, from Charles of Orléans' "Poetry", around 1483. British Library Royal MS 16.F.II (f.73).

This is the first the British Library has dedicated to its extensive visual materials, and as the national collection of topographical materials, we are hoping to transform, elevate and broaden perceptions of topography through it, the related Transforming Topography research project , and our cataloguing and digitisation of the King’s Topographical Collection.

The site’s essays cover diverse subjects, themes such as pleasure gardens  and the Grand Tour, artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner, and particular works of art such as Mark Wood’s 1785 map of Kolkata

 

Crach_1_Tab_1_b_1

John Hassell, 'The Village of Thursley, looking westwards,' 1824. British Library Crach 1.tab.1.b.1.

We would like to thank the funders of the Transforming Topography project who have made this project possible - the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Marc Fitch Fund, Coles Medlock Foundation, Finnis Scott Foundation, Thriplow Charitable Trust and SP Lohia Foundation.

And we are greatly indebted to our authors. There are currently over 90 involved with the project, from current PhD students to Emeritus Professors, in fields such as art history, cultural geography and history, and it has been a pleasure to unlock our collections with experts from such diverse fields.

This is the first phase of the project, so watch this space – there is currently more content ready to publish, more being edited and more has been commissioned, so do keep an eye on the site as it continues to grow. 

Follow @BL_prints and @BLMaps on Twitter for updates and highlights.

Felicity Myrone

09 March 2017

Canada Through the Lens: mapping a collection

Canadian_National_Exhibition_from_the_Air_(HS85-10-36083)_original.tif

Above: early Canadian aerial photography from the Colonial Copyright Collection, from Wikimedia Commons.

This summer, to mark Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, the British Library will be displaying a selection of photographs from its Colonial Copyright Photograph Collection under the title, 'Canada Through the Lens'. The photographs contained in the collection were received from Canada between 1895 and 1924 under legal deposit regulations and in 2012 the Library began to digitise this collection in collaboration with Wikimedia Commons and the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

Back in 2012 I was the curator for Canadian collections and so I thought that this year I would merge my old work with my new responsibilities by making a map of the material digitised in 2012. The Picturing Canada Project, as this work was called, was a successful attempt to release a collection online under Public Domain licensing but browsing material in the list-based structure of Wikimedia Commons can be laborious. Given most people who access the collection want to find photographs of places that interest them (for personal or research reasons) a map seemed like a good entry point and so we've been tinkering around with using the collection metadata to display an interactive map. The first results can be seen here:

The map has been built by inputting metadata relating to the collection (largely derived from original copyright records and work done by P. B. O'Neill of Dalhousie University in the 1980s) into a spreadsheet and then adding to this the best geographical coordinate data we could find. This data was then uploaded to Google Fusion Tables, which can produce a map as one of its software tools. When it comes to the geo-data sometimes we have been lucky and been able to pin a location accurately. However, in many cases we have roughly developed a location by tracing place names in the photograph title, while in others we have had to pin the location of the photographer's studio or make a best guess as to an appropriate location. As a result, the geographical data you see above is a good start but very much a work in progress.

Klondikers_buying_miner's_licenses_at_Custom_House _Victoria _B_C _Feb_21 _1898_(HS85-10-9774)

Above: 'Buying miner's licenses in Victoria for the Klondike gold-rush', J. W. Jones (1898). An example of a photograph with place specific data in the title. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Each point on the map corresponds to a photographic record and clicking on the icon will provide users with metadata on the image as well as a link to the image on Wikimedia Commons. In some instances there is no link as there is more work to do uploading a few files to Commons or removing metadata for images that were not digitised (for an explanation as to why, see the Picturing Canada project page). The colouration attributed to the icons is an attempt to visually depict when photographs were produced and each colour means the following:

  • Yellow, 1895 - 1899
  • Green, 1900 - 1909
  • Red, 1910 - 1919
  • Blue, 1920 - 23 (end of active period of legislation)

'Canada Through the Lens' will open at the British Library on May 26th so we have plenty of time to polish the map and its content ahead of the main release. As part of this, if any of you spot problems or have suggestions for refinements feel free to email me at: philip[dot]hatfield[at]bl[dot]uk. 

[PJH]