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

20 May 2021

New Digital Maps available on Reading Room Terminal

As the maps reading room is now open again to readers, we’d like to point you in the direction of the digital maps viewer. Before you read on please note that the viewer is only available on-site in the maps reading room, you must book a space in advance of your visit by following the instructions here. 

The digital maps viewer allows readers to browse maps and geospatial data that the library has collected over the last twenty years using a ‘slippy’ maps interface similar to Google, Bing or Apple maps. Snapshots of Ordnance Survey Great Britain Master Map and Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Large Scale mapping are added every year and the 2020 versions are now accessible to readers in the viewer alongside older versions.

Whilst the library has been closed we have been busy gathering new data and we’re happy to announce that 36 new environmental and heritage datasets are now available to view. These include British Geological Survey open datasets and heritage datasets from Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Northern Ireland Department for Communities, the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and CADW.

Antares
Screenshot of an Antares chart on the digital maps viewer. Data courtesy of Antares charts.

Furthermore 523 charts of the Western Isles of Scotland published by Antares (http://www.antarescharts.com) are also now accessible. These beautiful, very large scale charts and related pilotage information are created by yachtsmen. Antares tell us that:

‘All our charts have been compiled from our own surveys. Surveys are made by criss-crossing an area in an inflatable boat equipped with an accurate gps (+/- 2m), depth sounder and data logger.  Soundings are fed into surveying software, reduced to chart datum by deducting the height of the tide and then plotted to make the chart.’

For more information on the fascinating process used of creating the charts please see http://www.antarescharts.co.uk/index_files/Making_the_charts.htm

Please note that a booking is required to use the viewer. To book speak to reading room staff on arrival in the maps reading room. Do please be aware that at busy times there may be a wait or you could be asked to come back on another day.

Gethin Rees, Lead curator of digital mapping

16 April 2021

Maps and the Canals

Although the concept of waterways as a means for transportation has been known for centuries, canals still play a vital role in trade – as highlighted by the recent obstruction of the Suez Canal when a wedged vessel disrupted international trade for nearly a week causing havoc and massive financial losses. 

In the British Isles since the medieval times trade relied on natural hydrography with its limitations as to where the routes were available which halted economic development in other regions. The advances in civil engineering and technology in the late the 18th century lead to a canal construction boom. These canals became a permanent feature of the British landscape and the canal network was gradually developed and expanded through the 19th century and, of course, appeared on many maps. This evolution can be traced in the maps found in the British Library’s extensive collections.  

Maps_k_top_6_38

A Plan of the Navigable Canals, from Birmingham, to the Junction of the Canal, from the Rivers Trent & Severn, at Autherley, near Wolverhampton ... laid down from Actual Surveys, by William Wright. London, about 1791. Maps K.Top.6.38. 

The construction of canals allowed for the transportation of much larger quantities of goods, raw materials and coal supply to factories, in comparison with the traditional methods of land transport by carts. The canals transformed the trade, completely changed the landscape of various industries and boosted the economy which hugely contributed to the Industrial Revolution

The construction of a network of canals was an enormous engineering undertaking and posed many technical challenges. It required extensive surveys which were carried out by teams of surveyors and engineers who through their work gained experience and became experts coming up with some incredible (and expensive) designs. The end results however proved to be so profitable that they still attracted investors.

Maps_k_top_48_81

Plan of a Canal proposed to be made between the River Clyde, at the City of Glasgow, and the Harbour of Saltcoats, with a branch to Paisley: surveyed under the direction of John Rennie, Civil Engineer, by John Ainslie. London, 1803. Maps K.Top.48.81. 

By the first decades of the 19th century the canal network covered most of England with the new grand scale projects submitted for approval by Parliament. The proposals were often accompanied by detailed plans and maps, which contained details on the technical difficulties and provided ingenious solutions such as navigable aqueducts, lifts, tunnels and cuttings giving insights into this enormous enterprise.

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Plan of the Proposed CRINAN CANAL, between the LOCHS of CRINAN and GILP, in the County of Argyll. London, 1792. Maps K.Top.48.79.

The grand projects were associated with names of well-known civil engineers such as Thomas Telford, William Jessop, John Rennie and others. They often worked together and were involved in many projects such as the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct built in northeast Wales (to Telford’s and Jessop’s design), or the Crinan Canal connecting Loch Fyne to the Atlantic Ocean (originally planned by John Rennie with construction supervised by Telford).  Jessop was also in charge of the construction of the Grand Junction Canal (opened in 1805) which served as the main link between London and the industrial centers in the North and the Midlands. The Grand Junction Canal extension project which connected the Thames at Limehouse with the Paddington arm – the Regent’s Canal, took place between 1812 and 1816. 

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A Plan of the Grand Junction Canal with the Branch to Paddington, by Christopher Smith. London, about 1801. Maps K.Top.6.53. 

Maps OSD 152 detail1

Detail from the Surveyors' Drawing (sheet 152) showing section of the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington before the construction of the Regent's Canal. William Hyett, 1807. Maps OSD 152

Insurance_Plan_of_London_West_&_West_North_West_Vols._A_&_B;_Key_Plan_(BL_152483)crop

Detail from Goad's Insurance Plan of London West & West North West showing section of the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with the Regent's Canal branch. London, 1891. Maps 145.b.24.

Although ultimately surpassed by rail the reliance on the canals had declined by the 1840s, but they still remained a part of the British landscape, often associated nowadays with scenic routes, wildlife and tranquil surroundings, it is easy to forget the significant and important role the canals played in the past.   

31 March 2021

Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update

The British Library’s ‘Online Gallery’ was first created in 2004, and over the years a number of galleries containing thousands of maps have been added to it, from the earliest Ordnance Survey maps to Tudor mapping. Each map has its own page with a full description and cataloguing information, a downloadable image, and a larger – though not downloadable - ‘Zoomify’ image.

However, at the end of last year, Adobe ceased to support Flash player and Zoomify became inoperable. For anyone who likes to zoom into a map (about 100% of people who use maps), this is an issue. This is what we’ve done to solve the problem. Firstly, we’ve removed the Zoomify links from the map pages in order to avoid confusion (you can still download a -full-size’ though under 1 MB image for your own use).

For the more heavily used galleries, we’re happy to say that the maps are available – and downloadable - from Wikimedia Commons.

For the Ordnance Surveyor Drawings, the still-active Zoomify link will redirect you straight to the same map on Wikimedia.

Online Gallery Maps OSD 256 screenshot
Maps OSD 256, Birmingham, on the Online Gallery
Maps OSD 256 Wikimedia Commons screenshot
Maps OSD 256 on Wikimedia Commons

The Goad fire insurance maps are all there also.

Only 2,500 George III Topographical Collection maps and views were on the Online Gallery, but you can now enjoy 18,000 of them on Flickr, with even more on the way (you can link through to these images via our catalogue Explore the British Library).

And don’t forget that all of the Online Gallery maps are also available on our Georeferencer (have a go at Georeferencing a few).

The Georeferencer
Map collections on the Georeferencer

Have a look at this and this blog post to discover where else you can discover British Library maps online for free.

For the other galleries such as the Crace Collection of maps of London, we are working to find a way of getting the larger images to you (you can still download smaller images from the existing pages). In due course also, these maps will all make their way onto the Library’s Universal Viewer.

Thanks again for using the Library’s online map resources. And if you get the chance, do drop us a message about the interesting things you’re doing with them.