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

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.

11 March 2021

Crowdsourcing in schools: The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain

Crowdsourcing has become a popular and efficient way for projects of all kinds to involve wide audiences, and to harness the resources and expertise of the general public - the BL Maps Georeferencer platform is a fine example! Nowadays many such initiatives leverage the speed and ease of online communications, but the practice long predates the digital age.

The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain was a far-sighted triumph that realised the benefits of crowdsourcing during the 1930s, and became arguably one of the great cartographic achievements of the twentieth century.

Land Utilisation Survey of Britain

The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain, Sheet 114 Windsor, 1932. BL Maps 1190.(89.)

The survey was the brainchild of (Laurence) Dudley Stamp, a geographer of international renown based at the London School of Economics. Reading a paper to members of the Royal Geographical Society in early 1931, he summarised the project that had recently begun -

‘The primary purpose of the Survey is to make a complete record over the whole of Britain of the uses to which the land is put at the present time. Six different categories are recognised for the purpose: meadow and permanent grass, arable land including rotation grass, heathland and moorland or rough hill pasture, forests and woodlands, gardens, and land agriculturally unproductive’.

The methods employed to carry out this enormous survey were unique. Stamp secured the cooperation of the Board of Education and county councils up and down the country, and through them enlisted the help of around 250,000 volunteers, consisting mainly of schoolchildren, their teachers and others involved in education.

Six-inch Ordnance Survey maps, showing the boundaries of every local field and parcel of land, were distributed to schools - there, tracings were made which were taken into the field by the students, who marked them up with capital letters to show the land-use category of each area. Stamp predicted that around 22,000 of these sheets would need to be completed.

Land Utilisation Survey of Britain

Stamp, L. Dudley. “The Land Utilization Survey of Britain.” The Geographical Journal, vol. 78, no. 1, 1931, pp. 40–47. Image courtesy JSTOR

The results were assimilated at county level by further teachers and university lecturers before being transferred and overprinted onto sheets of the Ordnance Survey ‘Popular Edition’ series at the smaller scale of one inch to the mile. The whole process was overseen by Stamp himself, who often toured around the country, making spot-checks from the family car with his wife at the wheel.

Land Utilisation Survey of Britain

Detail of The Land Utilisation Survey of Britain, Sheet 114 Windsor, 1932. BL Maps 1190.(89.)

Survey work was completed with the Isle of Arran sheet in 1941, though remarkably, the majority of the survey had been carried out by the end of 1934. And although funds were never found to publish 57 sheets covering upland areas of Scotland, all 169 sheets covering the remainder of Great Britain were successfully published by 1948.

From the outset Stamp had highlighted ‘the educational benefit of the work itself being carried out by schools and other educational institutions...’, in addition to ‘the permanent value of the results obtained..., forming a sure foundation for such important work as Town Planning and development schemes generally’. But it wasn’t until 1943, after publication of the sheets ran into financial difficulty during the Second World War, that the Ministry of Agriculture finally stepped in to provide official governmental support for the project, in recognition of the maps’ great value in wartime and post-war planning.

In 1948 Stamp marked the completion of the project with publication of ‘The Land of Britain: Its Use and Misuse’ (BL General Reference Collection 10368.s.13.), for which he received the founder’s medal from the Royal Geographical Society - a just and clear vindication of his visionary approach.

Nick Dykes

Further reading

Stamp, L. Dudley. “The Land Utilization Survey of Britain.” The Geographical Journal, vol. 78, no. 1, 1931, pp. 40–47. [BL Maps 159.]

22 February 2021

A roadmap of understanding the term 'roadmap'

The use of the term ‘roadmap’ to refer to a recognisable action plan or strategy has become firmly embedded in our everyday language. A 'roadmap to peace', a 'roadmap of financial recovery', for example, is used to describe something that has been coherently formed rather than scribbled on the back of an envelope.

Although the origins of the use of the phrase ‘to map’ in a planning sense is obscure (as indeed is the word ‘map’ itself as Matthew Edney has recently reminded us), its use does seem to have increased in recent decades in politics and the media. But how does the idea of a ‘roadmap’ (to recovery, peace etc.) align with the act of actually using a road map to get from, say, Milton Keynes to Ullapool in a car?

The earliest ‘road maps’ we know of were probably not originally intended to accompany an actual journey, though the information collected from first-hand travels would almost certainly have contributed to their compilation.

Maps_K_top_2_9_III
tabVLA ITINERARIA ex illustri PEUTINGERORUM BIBLIOTHECA... Jan Jansson. Amsterdam, c. 1652. Maps K.Top 2.9.III.

One of the earliest surviving road maps, The Roman Tabula Peutingeriana or Peutinger Map (a 13th century copy of a lost 4th century original, now in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna) shows the network of roads across the Roman Empire between south east England and India. It was more likely to have been used to plan, strategise and even commemorate, than to physically accompany a journey. 

Matthew-paris-itinerary-map-f2
Matthew Paris, [A section of the road between England and Palestine]. St. Albans, c. 1250. Royal MS 14 C VII, ff. 4r-5r

In a similar way, Matthew Paris’s famous itinerary maps of Britain, Europe and the Middle East from the mid-13th century were probably intended to commemorate or record journeys rather than facilitate further ones. However, they would also have enabled people to perform ‘virtual’ journeys by using them in association with a form of mental pilgrimage.

Maps_K_Top_5_84
The Roads of England according to Mr. Ogilby.s Survey. London: George Willdey, 1712. Maps K.Top 5.84.

The practical British ‘road map’ we recognise today can be said to have emerged from the second half of the 17th century, when a genre of increasingly compact books emphasising routes (mainly today's 'A' roads, mostly following the work of John Ogilby) began to be published.

By the early 20th century, thanks to the burgeoning level of mobility and map literacy, (discussed at length in our 2016 exhibition on mapping the 20th century and this book) the road map became one of the most recognisable and functional maps available.  

The politician's use of the word 'roadmap' is therefore perfectly consistent with the probable original use of road maps to plan and strategise, before they came to be used for actual wayfinding. However, how 'roadmap' came to be adopted in this way is probably more likely attributable to the modern ubiquity of road maps rather than an implicit understanding of their original purpose.