Maps and views blog

4 posts from September 2016

25 September 2016

Maps and Macbeth

Following the Shakespeare exhibition at the BL this summer I thought I would highlight the Lyceum Theatre, one of the London theatres that staged some of the many great Shakespearean productions of the late nineteenth century. Today’s Lyceum differs from how it was 125 years ago, having been rebuilt and altered many times. However, we can see it as it was in 1889 at the height of its fame in maps known as fire insurance plans. 


Goad Fire Insurance Plan, Maps 145.b.22 vol.8, sheet 184, 1889

Fire insurance plans are maps compiled to assist companies calculate the level of insurance applicable to property. The best known producer of them, although not the first, was Charles Goad & Co. They produced large scale maps (to the scale of 40 feet to 1 mile) of urban areas; five hundred sheets alone for London! The maps include the footprints, addresses and heights of each building with a commercial, residential and educational use (which of course includes theatres!). The plans used colour to indicate what material each building was constructed from -  pink represented brick or stone and yellow wood.

The maps also showed fire hazards, the number of floors, stair cases and the proximity to a water supply. Water hydrants are marked as blue circles with an H inside.


Side Elevation of the Lyceum Theatre, GOAD Fire Insurance Plan, Maps 145.b.22 vol. 8, sheet 184, 1889

The Lyceum staged many great Shakespearean productions during this period including Othello, Hamlet and Richard III, all with Henry Irving as the leading man. In 1889, Irving ran the theatre and was playing the lead in his revival of Macbeth with Ellen Terry as his Lady Macbeth. Irving and Terry had travelled to Scotland to get ideas for the scenery. The night scenes were lit by torches with great effect but must have been a considerable fire risk. The costumes and props were designed by Charles Cattermole and Ellen Terry’s famous costume was designed by Alice Comyns-Carr. John Singer Sargent attended the first night on 29th December 1888 and was inspired to paint his famous portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. And if this wasn’t spectacular enough Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote the incidental music for the production which included an overture and preludes to several of the acts and also conducted on the first night.

Although the Lyceum Theatre was not destroyed by fire it was fire that directly affected both the future of the theatre and Henry Irving himself.

On 18th February 1898 a fire broke out at the Lyceum’s rented storage area on Bear Lane in Southwark. The storage was housed under the arches of the London, Dover and Chatham railway line and the fire was so fierce that it burned the structure of the railway arches to a depth of three bricks and turned the coping stones to powder. You can see the location on the plans on the next page.  Two hundred and sixty scenes, two thousand pieces of scenery- the settings for forty four plays were destroyed. Bram Stoker who was the business manager of the Lyceum estimated that the cost price of the destroyed stock was £30,000.

Unfortunately to make matters worse Irving had, as an economy measure, reduced the insurance cover just months before. Irving and the Lyceum carried on bravely but the golden period was over.

In 1902 the London County Council demanded structural alterations be made to the theatre against fire risks. The funds were exhausted.   After being bought by Thomas Barrasford,  in 1904 the theatre was rebuilt in rococo style by Bertie Crewe retaining only the façade and portico of the original building. Irving continued to tour until his death in 1905.


Bear Lane, Goad Fire Insurance Plan, Maps 145.b.22, volume 10, sheet  246, 1889


If you would like to see the original of these plans which includes towns and cities in Great Britain, Canada and across the World contact the Maps Reference Team at the British Library.

Nicola Beech

22 September 2016

A Journey to Bookland

The British Library has recently acquired a most appropriate addition to its map collection: a map of ‘Bücherland’ (Bookland), designed and drawn in 1938 by the German painter and illustrator Alfons Woelfle (1884-1951).

1 Karte des Bücherlandes

Karte des Bücherlandes

Woelfle’s map was specifically inspired by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s fantasy map of an Empire of Love, ‘Das Reich der Liebe’, issued in 1777 to advertise Breitkopf’s method of printing maps with moveable type. Woelfle used the more conventional form of lithography, but took Breitkopf’s model of creating a fantasy land where the geographical features have an allegorical significance.

2 Reich der Liebe 116.l.31.

Reich der Liebe. From Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf,  Beschreibung des Reichs der Liebe, mit beygefügter Landcharte (Leipzig, 1777) 116.l.31]

Together with his publisher, Georg Heimeran, Woelfle clearly had a wonderful time creating Bücherland, which represents the writing, printing, publishing, selling and reading of books through its witty geography. He also added decorative flourishes typical of Baroque design, such as the draped female figure in the bottom left-hand corner holding an open book.

3 Bücherland figure

The capital of Bücherland is Officina (‘Printing-House’), in the Vereinigte Buchhandelsstaaten (‘United States of Bookselling’). A separate plan of Officina appears in the top right-hand corner of the map, highlighting such sights as the Boulevard of Mass Editions, the elegant Quarter of Publishers’ Villas and what is, perhaps surprisingly, the only Library in Bücherland. Outside the city the pirate publishers have their building plots.

4 Bücherland Officina detail

To the south lie Recensentia, where book reviewers no doubt lurk in the Critical Woods, and Makulatura, the region of waste paper, with its Pyramids of Forgotten Books and where even the Dramatic Volcano is extinct. By contrast, the lyre-shaped southernmost province of Poesia, just below the Tropic of Literature, boasts Blooming Meadows of Fantasy and a Laurel Heath; some fortunate travellers may even scale the Foothills of the Classics to reach the Summit of Fame, although the less lucky could find themselves sinking in the Gulf of Disappointments to the west or wrecked on the Cape of Failed Hope to the east.

5 Bücherland Poesia detail

Bücherland Poesia detail

Straddling the border of Poesia and the neighbouring Leserrepublik (‘Republic of Readers’) are Castle Platitude and the Commonplaces. Having safely avoided them, travellers can wade through the Erotic Swamp to the Plantations of Bestsellers, and visit such features as the Lake of Popular Editions, the Tents of the Book Clubs and the Urban Literature Mines. However, presumably off-limits to visitors, in the middle of the Republic lies the Forbidden Province – perhaps an allusion to the fate of the many books and authors banned under the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

6 Bücherland Verbotene Provinz

Bücherland Verbotene Provinz

In the hills on the northern border of the Leserrepublik are the Caves of Bookworms; the map shows a giant worm emerging from one of them. Beyond is the northernmost region of Bücherland, where the Paper River rises at the Fount of Knowledge and travels through the Cellulose Woods, and the Lake of Ink, past the dangerous Ravine of Misprints, eventually reaching Officina and flowing out past Fort Censorship and the Lighthouse of the Publishers’ Association into the Sea of New Publications.

7 Bücherland bookworm

Bücherland bookworm

Finally, those wishing to visit Bücherland’s islands can choose between Treasure Island of Adventure Stories and the little archipelago comprising the islands of Unica (with its Bay of Ephemera), Rara and Curiosa.

Although the world of books has changed in may ways since 1938, travellers in the Booklands of today will still find much to guide and entertain them in Woelfle’s map.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

13 September 2016

The long search for HMS 'Terror'

45 B20175-13 (1)

Above: the Northwest Passage as charted by Capt. Robert McClure. Chart shewing the Northwest Passage discovered by Capt. Robert le M. M’Clure [Maps.982 (51)].

Yesterday The Guardian broke the news that, after over 160 years of searching for the ships commanded by Sir John Franklin on his doomed expedition, HMS Terror had been found in the Arctic. Submerged in Terror Bay, part of King William Island, the ship is in remarkably good condition and promises, like HMS Erebus, found in 2014, to provide further details as to what happened to Franklin and his crew in their final days. What the find achieves straight away is to provide an end to the search for these two ships, an endeavour which, during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, has become a story all of its own.

36 T00043-52 HRAbove: the men of HMS Resolute entertain themselves with a winter ball and on-ship theatre, from The Illustrated Arctic News [BL: 1875.c.19]. 

The search for HMS Erebus and Terror and the various stories, published accounts and maps which arose from this endeavour have become their own drama filled with shocking discoveries, perils and intrigues which have captivated imaginations across the world. This is the focus of the middle part of the upcoming book, Lines in the Ice: Exploring the Roof of the World, which predominantly uses the British Library's collections to shed light on the long history of this search. Sir John Franklin and those who travelled with him disappeared in the Canadian Arctic while searching for something that had obsessed mariners from England and Scotland for centuries, an Arctic trade route via the 'Northwest Passage'. During the resulting quest to find Franklin and his expedition many other crews wintered in the Arctic, men found ways to entertain themselves against both hardship and boredom, ingenious tools were used to search new areas and the Northwest Passage itself was crossed; albeit not in the way intended by those hoping to find a trade route in these Arctic waters. The maps and images displayed here are some of those produced in official and published accounts which arose from these expeditions and are reproduced in Lines in the Ice.


44 T00043-72 HR (2)

Above: ships involved in the Franklin searches wait for dawn and the end of winter. 'HMS Assistance and Pioneer in Winter Quarters' [Shelfmark: 1781.a.23].

Eventually these expeditions began to discover what happened to Franklin's crew, even if the ships themselves were not located, and the answers found were not to everyone's taste. During an overland search for the crews of HMS Erebus and Terror Dr. John Rae had encountered Inuit who told him that others in the area had tried to help white men who were heading south. These men, sick and close to death, and the camps they left showed signs that they had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive, something Dr. Rae reported on his return to England. This was met with indignation from many, not least Lady Jane Franklin and those she encouraged to write against Dr. Rae, notably the author Charles Dickens. Despite the rhetoric deployed against Rae and his Inuit informants their account has been shown to be correct by further investigation. However, to this day Inuit accounts of the fate of the expedition and the location of the ships have been treated with distrust by many. How fitting, then, that both ships have now been found in locations which Inuit histories long suggested searchers should investigate.

49 B20174-83

Above: the 'Boat-Cloak', praised by Dr. Rae as an essential tool for Arctic exploration. From Peter Halkett’s published description, Boat-Cloak or Cloak-Boat [1269.d.5].

Lines in the Ice is published by British Library Publishing (UK) and McGill-Queen's University Press (North America) and out now. As the book shows, the search for Franklin is well documented in maps, views and printed books around the world, the end of the story about the fate of the man and his crew, it now seems, will be found beneath the sea.


09 September 2016

Map exhibition - the countdown begins

The appearance this morning of a vast new wall hanging in the British Library announced to everyone that the next big exhibition is on its way. Shakespeare has barded it up in St. Pancras for the past few months, but it will shortly be the turn of maps. 


Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line will tell the story of how maps shaped the world during those tumultuous 100 years. The colossal global hemisphere of our exhibition poster is taken from a World War II American propaganda poster which is centered upon Berlin. It is a massive, beautiful, terrifying image which pretty much sums up what the 20th century is about. 

Another blockbuster map appeared in a story announcing the exhibition in the Evening Standard today. Come and see the great Harry Beck's London tube sketch in November. 

Over the coming days and weeks we'll be introducing a whole lot more of maps to you, ahead of the exhibition opening on 4 November. Share your map likes and stories with us using the hashtag #BLMaps, and follow us on @Britishlibrary and @BLMaps. 

Pre-book your tickets for the exhibition here!

Tom Harper