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 January 2021

A medical man maps Kent

Mapmaking is a highly exacting profession, as the scrutiny of current pandemic mapping demonstrates. Yet the fascinating thing about mapmaking is that everybody is capable of creating a map, and throughout history 'amateur' mapmakers have brought something new to the table.

Christopher Packe (1686-1749) was a local physician based in the area of Canterbury in Kent, who during his 'many otherwise tedious' medical  journeys around the area was struck by the similarities between the  landscape, features and processes of the natural world and those of the human body. Most notably, and unsurprising for a physician, the synergy between hydrology (specifically streams and rivers) and the flow of blood through the arteries and capillaries. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a strong history of thought positioning the human body as a microcosm of the universe. Packe's 1743 Philosophico-Chorographicall chart of East Kent is the Gunther von Hagens of maps. 

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Christopher Packe, A new philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent... Canterbury: C. Packe, 1743. Maps K.Top 16.24.11.Tab End.

Looking closely we can see the tremendous series of lines of thousands of tiny watercourses connecting to streams and thence to rivers, flowing out into the sea. So many of them, in fact, that we might be looking at a map of the English Fenland. 

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A detail of Packe's new philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent.

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That's not all that Packe's map shows. Shading and spot heights communicate the relative heights above sea-level which Packe measured using a barometer. This has led to the map being described as the world's first geomorphological map. And finally there is the series of concentric circles demarking the map's co-ordinate system. These emanate from Canterbury and the cathedral, from which  Packe used a theodolite to survey the county and form his aesthetic and philosophical vision (see Michael Charlsworth for an in-depth study). 

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Christopher Packe, A specimen of a philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent. London: J. Roberts, 1737. Maps K.Top 16.32.2

Packe wrote a treatise in support of his work, and even produced a 'specimen' sample of the larger map six years earlier, a sort of taster which was presented to the Royal Society. A copy of the specimen is in the Topographical Collection of George III, published 'at his own expense.' Indeed, Packe put so much into his map that it is possible to imagine life in it, the culmination of a creative act. Something, if you will forgive the further analogy, created from the heart.

31 December 2020

Adding sparkle to the New Year

London, as well as many other cities around the world will not be having the traditional New Year’s Eve firework performance usually associated with this time of year so to cheer you all up here are some examples of historical firework displays found in the King’s Topographical Collection of maps and views. The materials reveal a great deal of detail on the subject and one can learn a surprising amount on the type of fireworks and techniques developed through the centuries as well as all the necessary preparations for breathtaking displays.

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A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS, at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND'S at WHITE-HALL and on the River Thames, on Monday 15 May, 1749. Maps K.Top.27.41.6.

The use of fireworks in England date back to the second half of the 15th century and subsequently been used to mark various occasions such as royal weddings, coronations or to celebrate military victories and peace treaties.

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THE REVOLVING TEMPLE OF CONCORD ILLUMINATED As Erected in the Park in celebration of the glorious Peace of 1814. Maps K.Top.26.7.ff. 

Particularly splendid celebrations were organised on 27th April 1749 to mark the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, a major conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg dynasties which lasted eight years between 1740 and 1748.

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THEATRUM BELLI SERENISSIMAE DOMUS AUSTRICAE ... Map showing the theatre of war in the Austrian domain. Augsburg, 1740. Maps K.Top.88.26. 

For this particular occasion long preparations were undertaken to create a splendid spectacle for the elite. In the fashionable surroundings of St James’s Park an enormous structure measuring 410 feet long and 114 feet high so called the “fire-work machine” was constructed to create an impressive pyrotechnic display. 

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A PLAN and ELEVATION of the ROYAL FIRE-WORKS to be presented in St. JAMES's PARK April the 27th1749 on Account of the GENERAL PEACE signed at Aix la Chapelle Octr 7. MDCCXLVIII . Maps K.Top.26.7.r.

Furthermore, one of the leading composers of the day, George Frideric Handel was commissioned to supply suitable music for this extravaganza and so he composed his famous Music for the Royal Fireworks’. By the way, Handel’s original manuscript is preserved at the British Library and is available here. A detailed description of this incredible ‘sound and vision’ show was published so you can read all about it and get an understanding of how the firework machine was constructed (but please don’t try to build one at home!)

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A DESCRIPTION OF THE MACHINE FOR THE FIREWORKS ... Maps K.Top.26.7.r.(1.)

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View of fireworks in Covent Garden to celebrate William III's victory in Ireland in July 1690. Maps K.Top.22.28.e.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021! 

23 December 2020

Where’s Father Christmas? A look at the Atlas de Finlande, the first national atlas

Only a few hours to go until Father Christmas sets off on his magical round, delivering presents to all the good children of the world. He is said by some to live in the forests of Lapland, high in the Arctic north of Finland, with his merry band of elves and trusty reindeer...

Attempting to find the location of his grotto, I turned to the first edition of the Atlas de Finlande (BL Maps 31.c.19.), a work published in French in 1899, and now considered by many to be the first of a new genre of mapmaking that would proliferate over the following century - the national atlas.

Atlas de Finlande, title page

Atlas de Finlande, Société de Géographie de Finlande, 1899. BL Maps 31.c.19.

In thirty-two plates the atlas provides a comprehensive description of Finland and its people, and employs diverse and innovative thematic maps to articulate the results of scientific, economic and statistical research.

Atlas de Finlande, exports of sawn wood

[Exports of sawn wood], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, wind directions

[Average seasonal and annual wind directions], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, rural schools

[Rural schools], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, population density

[Population density], Atlas de Finlande

The atlas also makes a clear political assertion of Finnish cultural identity and nationality at a time before Finland was an independent country, whilst still an autonomous region within the Russian Empire. With political relations deteriorating, the publication makes a case for and anticipates Finland's declaration of independence, which followed in 1917.

In particular, the depiction of Finland’s border throughout the atlas was seen as a provocation, as the same line symbols represented both Finland’s internal boundary with the rest of Russia, and her international boundaries with Sweden and Norway. This formed the subject of an official Russian protest.

Atlas de Finlande, the frontier

[Map of Finland, showing the frontier], Atlas de Finlande

At the International Geographical Congress of 1899 in Berlin, and at the Paris World Exhibition of the following year, the atlas was hailed as an outstanding cartographic and scientific achievement.

But I have found one small omission. However hard I look, I cannot find that grotto...

Atlas de Finlande, forests

[Forests], Atlas de Finlande

Merry Christmas!

 

Nick Dykes