Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

9 posts from April 2020

30 April 2020

Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 1

Antarctica presents many unique challenges to cartographers: as the last continent to be explored, its vast landmass – half as big again as Europe – is largely inaccessible, covered by sheets of mostly featureless ice, and shrouded in perpetual darkness for half of the year.

In this 200th anniversary year of the first known sighting of the continent, this first of two articles gives a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.

Stuck awkwardly at the bottom of the conventional world map, Antarctica is poorly served by many map projections, which distort it out of recognition. On occasion, its lack of military or geopolitical significance has provided a convenient excuse to leave it off the map entirely, as seen in the United Nations logo. Yet this image of the continent created by the Mercator projection does bear a surprising, if superficial, similarity to some of its earliest depictions, long before it was discovered.

Map of the world on the Mercator Projection

Mercator projection. Image created by Strebe, taken from Wikimedia Commons

From ancient times it was believed that a southern continent must logically exist to counterbalance the weight of the known northern hemisphere. In a world map first published in 1570, Abraham Ortelius perpetuated this belief with a southern landmass depicted prominently, but drawn entirely from conjecture.

Map of the world published in 1570 by Ortelius

[Typus orbis terrarum], 1598. BL Maps C.2.d.7.

The continent eluded several voyages of exploration to the far south, so that over time it became untenable to maintain the tension between the boldness and extent of the coastline’s detail, and the uncertainty of the label, ‘Nondum Cognita’ [‘not yet known’]. On this circa 1690 imprint of a map originally published by Dutch mapmakers Hondius and Janssonius, a polar projection is adopted, focussing interest on the blank centre. Recent voyages had documented islands of ice trailing through the empty seas, and the appearance of these on the map indicate where the continent is not. The mapmakers made no attempt to delineate the area that is still labelled ‘Terra Australis Incognita’.

Map of the southern hemisphere published in 1690 by Hondius

[Polus Antarcticus. H. Hondius excudit], [1690]. BL Maps * 88710.(2.)

James Cook was the first to circumnavigate the pole, during his second voyage (1772-75), but the continent itself eluded him. Two years after his return the chart below was published in a record of the voyage. It is updated with many new findings, and features ‘the Tracks of some of the most distinguished Navigators’, which now encircle and crowd the blank centre. The focus here is on what is known, rather than what is not, and the label seen on earlier maps, ‘Terra Incognita’, has been replaced by, ‘The Ice Sea’.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1777 by Captain James Cook

A Chart of the Southern Hemisphere, in A Voyage towards the South Pole..., 1777. BL 10025.f.20.

Fabian Bellingshausen, commander of the first Russian Antarctic expedition (1819-21), is regarded by many to have been the first to set eyes on the continent. A reproduction of his manuscript chart of January 1820 shows a patch of blue at the lower edge that marks the first tentative departure from blank space near the pole – and indicates a feature that would later be named the Fimbul Ice Shelf. The original manuscripts are preserved in the Archives of the Russian Hydrographic Office and were published in facsimile in 1963. During the Cold War some British and American commentators cast doubt on their interpretation, and on the Soviet claim that a Russian had first discovered the continent.

Facsimile of a manuscript chart of the Southern Ocean made in 1820 by Fabian Bellingshausen

[A facsimile of the MS chart drawn by F. Bellingshausen...], 1963. BL Maps 1.c.57.

Only two days after Bellingshausen’s sighting of the ice shelf in January 1820, Edward Bransfield, an officer in the British Royal Navy, sighted the first land feature of the continent, now known to lie at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The discovery appears on a map published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. A short red line accurately delineates a portion of the terrestrial coastline for the first time, and bounds a region now called the Trinity Peninsula (just below the tip of South America on the left of the image).

Map of the southern polar region published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

Circumjacent the South Pole, 1844. BL Maps 38.e.8.

In 1843 another officer of the British Royal Navy, James Clark Ross, completed his own voyage of scientific exploration to the Southern Ocean. Science undertaken by the expedition included the first magnetic survey of the Antarctic, and succeeded in inferring the location of the magnetic south pole. The results were published by the Royal Society in 1869. With its wandering lines of magnetic declination, this sheet constitutes one of the earliest examples of thematic mapping of the Antarctic.

Map showing the Antarctic Magnetic Survey published in 1869 by the Royal Society

Antarctic Magnetic Survey, Epoch 1840-1845, Declination, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1869, vol 158 part 2. BL L.R.292.

Global shipping routes traversed the Southern Ocean in the middle of the nineteenth century, giving rise to a market for navigational aids. This commercial chart, published by J.D. Potter in 1858, was designed ‘to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing’ around the southern latitudes, and allowed merchant navigators to plot the shortest routes through the Southern Ocean without encountering sea ice.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1858 showing great circle sailing routes

A Chart of South Latitudes beyond 20 Degrees, to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing, with ... Diagram for the determination of the Courses and Distances, 1858. BL Maps 88710.(6.)

By 1886 the shape of the continent as we now know it had started to emerge. This chart was published in The Scottish Geographical Magazine and shows a ‘Supposed outline of [the] Antarctic Continent’ - a reminder perhaps of the, ‘Terra Incognita’, of old. But the extent of what is now known is indicated in the coastal detail, complete with heights of land and depths of sea, given here in shades of orange and blue.

Chart of the south polar region published in 1886 in The Scottish Geographical Magazine

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine, vol 2 p 576, 1886. BL Ac.6182.

The next article will continue the tour, from the ‘Heroic Era’ of Antarctic exploration up to the present day...

Nick Dykes

28 April 2020

Another big list of where to find British Library maps online

In a previous blog I described the best free-to-access digitised British Library maps available on the Library’s own site. But there are more. Lots more!

Where we’ve worked with other institutions, organisations and individuals on digitisation, we’ve been pleased for those institutions to host the resulting content on their own sites. Often, the maps we’ve provided form a subset of a wider collection drawn from a range of other sources. So it isn’t just about the spirit of collaboration, but the enormous research benefits to be drawn from a broader and more integrated picture.

In the fullness of time you can expect to see this content also hosted on the BL's Universal Viewer. For now, here are some of the riches and where to find them.

Wikimedia Commons Collections

There’s a ton of British Library content on Wikimedia Commons which is great because of the open access nature of the site and its clear usage terms. Maps are included in a range of categories, including the Off the Map videogame competition and Images Online (the British Library’s commercial imaging site). But the main category, labelled maps collections, contains 28,000 images. Three main ones are

Ordnance Surveyor drawings -

Robert Dawson, [Ordnance Surveyor Drawing of part of Berkshire], 1809. Maps OSD 106 


These 321 maps are some of the earliest works by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, which was formally established in 1791 to map southern England in response to the threat of invasion from France. The phrase ‘scope-creep’ is something of an understatement when applied to the OS, whose work continues to the present day. These large ‘fair drawings’ are the maps produced by the earliest Ordnance Surveyors of parts of England and Wales from the 1790s to the 1840s, and it’s from these that the one inch to the mile ‘Old Series’ printed maps were derived. The maps were received in 1958. For close, local work, there’s really nothing better than these for the period.

Goad fire insurance maps -

Charles C. Goad Ltd., Insurance plan of Sunderland, sheet 7, 1894. Maps 145.b.12.(8.).

Charles Goad’s maps are incredible windows into Britain’s urban past – stupidly detailed late-19th and early 20th century maps of various towns produced in order to assist the calculating of fire insurance risk. To do this, the maps included not only tell us the shapes and forms of buildings, but what they were made of, and who was using them and for what. Over 2,500 here for you to savour. Goad mapped other world cities including a large number of Canadian towns.  

War Office Archive -

Thanks to the Indigo Trust, over 1800 East Africa maps and materials from the wider WOA have been digitised and placed here for your study and enjoyment. They’re also georeferenced. Hurrah!

Maps of Qatar and the Middle East

Through the Library’s partnership with the Qatar National Library, over 1300 maps of the area, drawn mostly from the India Office Records, have been catalogued and uploaded onto their digital library portal.

American Revolutionary War Maps

Daniel Patterson, Cantonment of His Majesty's forces in North America... 1766. Add.MS 11288

In collaboration with the Norman Leventhal Map and Education Center at Boston Public Library, 377 maps of North America and the West Indies from the American Revolutionary War Era were digitised and placed on the Center’s educational site. Ten other partners including the Library of Congress also contributed material. The British Library's contribution includes maps from the King’s Topographical Collection and Royal United Services Institute, which itself contains maps from the collection of Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797), commander-in-chief of British forces during the Seven Years’ War.

Japanese produced historic maps

We digitised all of our pre-1900 maps of Japanese origin thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. And what a collection – over 300 maps drawn from the Map Collection, the Western Manuscripts Collection, and Asian and African Studies Collection. Some of these maps arrived from earlier private libraries including the Engelbert Kaempfer and Philipp Franz von Siebold Collections. Some of them are very big indeed. You can access these maps through the Ritsumeikan University MapWarper portal.

Maps of Singapore and South East Asia

The five-year project between the British Library and National Library of Singapore, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, enabled us to digitise and upload 300 maps onto the NLB Singapore’s web portal. These cover Singapore and its wider geographical context. 

Flickr maps

In 2013 the British Library Labs’ Mechanical Curator project placed 1 million British Library images onto Flickr. They are images drawn from books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project, and include an enormous wodge of maps (‘wodge’ in this sense meaning tens of thousands of maps). See this individual album containing over 25,000 maps

These are the maps which are currently being Georeferenceed via the Library's Georeferencer tool

The Roy map of Scotland

Roy composite
William Roy [A section of the military survey of Scotland], 1747-1755. Maps CC.5.a.441. 

And finally, just one map, but a very large and important one. This is the fair copy of General William Roy’s (1726-1790) map of Scotland produced between 1747 and 1755. The map is a landmark in British mapping for applying military surveying methods to a very large area, and is regarded as the precursor to the Ordnance Survey. It’s also highly regarded artistically, since it includes the hand of celebrated watercolour artist Paul Sandby (1731-1809). The map is part of the Kings Topographical Collection, having formed part of the collection of the Duke of Cumberland.

We’re delighted for the National Library of Scotland to host this map on their website, given its signal national importance. And they do a very good job of it too, with a superb interface and numerous layers, including a 3D one.


I hope you find something here to interest and inspire you – and I’d be very glad to learn of any comments or questions you have, either by commenting here or on Twitter at @BLMaps.

Tom Harper

23 April 2020

A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps

Here at the British Library we’ve been digitising our maps and making them available for over two decades now. Consequently, there’s a wealth of fantastic and inspiring free-to-view historic maps on the web. In addition to ever-increasing quantities of maps on our own platforms, our digitised maps are also hosted by other cultural institutions, organisations and individuals with whom we’ve been pleased to collaborate.

This seemed like as good a time as any to pull a load of them together and let you know about them.

So, in this first of two posts, here are a few of the places on the British Library’s site where you can find digitised maps, and upon finding them, use them escape to the ends of the earth (or the end of your street) from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy.

3D virtual globes
Willem Janszoon Blaeu's 1606 terrestrial globe. Maps G.6.b. 

We just did this, and we hope you like it. 3D virtual models of 10 of our historic globes from the 17th - 19th centuries with thanks to our Digitisation Services and digitisation company Cyreal. Another 20 will be added over the coming months.  

The Georeferencer

The British Library’s Georeferencer isn’t strictly a collection of maps, since it draws its 56,000-odd maps from a variety of places (including the below sources). But you can definitely search for maps in it, for example by using this crazy map with all of the georeferenced maps located on it. Zoom in for it to make more sense, and find the area you’re interested in. 

Picturing places
Petrus Rosselli, [Chart of the Mediterranean Sea], Majorca, 1465. Egerton MS 2712.


900 or so images, many of them maps from the King’s Topographical Collection, illustrating a series of new and repurposed articles on the subject of illustrating place. The project was generously funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Marc Fitch Fund and Coles-Medlock Foundation.

20th century maps
Escape map of the Schaffhausen redoubt. War Office, 1940. Maps CC.5.a.424.

Here are round a hundred maps from articles produced as part of our 'Mapping the twentieth century: drawing the line' exhibition.

Online Gallery

The British Library’s Online Gallery was set up through the Library’s ‘Collect Britain’ project in the early noughties. There are thousands of maps on here, and although the Zoomify and browse facilities are no longer functioning (we’re in the process of migrating this stuff onto a new platform) there are still some great maps here, such as  

The Crace collection of maps of London
Wenceslaus Hollar, A new map of the citties of London Westminster and ye borough of Southwarke..., London, 1675. Maps Crace Port 2.56.

One of the finest collections of historic maps of London anywhere, collected by a commissioner of London’s sewers and George IV’s interior decorator. Around 1200 maps from between around 1550-1850, digitisation generously funded in part by the London Topographical Society. Crace’s collection of London views are held by the British Museum. 

All the maps from the Online Gallery are also available (in higher resolution) alongside maps from other collections via the Old Maps Online portal (with its fun geographical search tool).

Turning the Pages

This is another older British Library resource but it has a couple of really choice atlases in it. Are there any more choice atlases than Gerhard Mercator’s hand-made Atlas of Europe of 1570 (which contains the only two surviving maps drawn by the man himself)? Or one of the volumes from the famous multi-volume Beudeker Atlas containing maps and views of Dutch stately homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Digitised Manuscripts

A number of maps and atlases held in the Western Manuscript collection have been digitised and found their way onto the Digitised manuscripts page. If you know what you're looking for you can search by pressmark. Or you can search by keyword (i.e. maps, plans etc.) if you're just browsing. 

Many highlights reside here, including the late 16th century Burghley-Saxton atlas (containing the first printed county maps of England and Wales in proof) at Royal MS 18.DIII

Explore the British Library
Jacques Callot, OBSIDIO ARCIS SAMMARTINIANÆ. Paris, c.1631. Maps C.49.e.75

The British Library's principal online catalogue does include thumbnail images for a tiny number of maps, but coverage is extremely uneven and the resolution of images is variable (to get a larger image for non commercial use, click on the map's title included in the right hand part of the details section). You may be lucky - for example if you're interested in Jacques Callot's map of the 1627 siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. 


In a later blog I'll be listing non-British Library platforms and sites where you can find free-to-access British Library digitised maps. But in the meantime, I hope this keeps you busy.

Tom Harper  

21 April 2020

A View of the Open Road

During the current pandemic, the next best thing to heading outdoors is (of course) to lose yourself in the printed landscapes of maps instead. In our London flat last weekend, I couldn’t help reaching for my Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets of the English Lakes and tracing the routes of Easter walks in years gone by.

Although busy depicting roundabouts and service stations, road maps and atlases also give us armchair explorers a flavour of the landscapes, the countries and the times we move through in our mind’s eye.

This example from the United States comes from a time when the American highway map was at its peak, when the automobile was an icon of progress, and state departments and commercial oil companies handed out road maps in their millions, free of charge.

A road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

The back of a road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

Front and back of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967. Held at State Archives of North Carolina

While useful to many, these maps were also the vehicles for carefully chosen images and text promoting industry, nature, social progress and Christian values. A Motorist’s Prayer on this sheet begins, ‘Our heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing as we take the wheel of our car...’

A detail of the back of road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map, showing a man working in an industrial control room to illustrate the labor force

Detail of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967

A similar agenda is found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where a Soviet regional map from the same year focussed on places and monuments of revolutionary history, industrial mines (asbestos, brown coal, gypsum...), pine forests and swan nesting sites.

A detail from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

A detail of the list of symbols from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

Details from map of Orenburg Oblast, GUGK, 1967. BL Maps 35885.(63.)

Industrial prowess is emphasised again in the strong design on the cover of this regional atlas.

The cover of an Atlas of Orenburg Oblast published in 1969

Atlas of Orenburg Oblast, 1969. BL Maps 54.e.48.

But unlike in Britain or America, the Soviet general public had no large scale Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey maps to turn to for raw topographical detail. These were restricted to the military. Even generalised maps were deliberately distorted during the 1970s to make them harder to use for navigational and targeting purposes, should they fall into the wrong hands.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, restrictions on sophisticated military mapping were relaxed, and elements of larger scale maps made their way into practical road atlases, amongst other products, for the general public. The evolution of these maps from military specification to a hybrid form more closely resembling the typical road map can be traced over the following years.

Details of two Soviet/Russian topographic maps of Orenburg published in 1987 and 2003

Left: Detail from Topographic map of the world at scale 1:200 000 produced by the Soviet Army General Staff, Sheet NM 40-2, 1987. BL Maps Y.1575.

Right: Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast, one of the Road Atlases of Russia series published by Roskartografia, 2003

In the road atlas on the right new colouring distinguishes road types and routes, and makes them more prominent while rivers fade away, and symbols are added to indicate petrol stations, medical facilities, museums and places of interest.

Detail of a topographic map of Orenburg published in 1987 by the Soviet Army General Staff

Detail of Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987

Detail of a Russian road atlas map of Orenburg published in 2003

Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

Precise bridge dimensions and maximum loads have been removed, though contours and direction of river flow remain, and the close mesh of the military grid has been replaced by a broad system of squares that correlates with the place name index at the back.

The cover of the Orenburg Road Atlas published in 2003

Cover of Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

At last the landscape was revealed, and civilians could take to the open road better equipped.

And who knows, perhaps even now fingers are tracing imaginary routes from armchairs throughout Russia...


Nick Dykes

Further reading:

Denis Wood and John Fels, Designs on Signs/Myth and Meaning in Maps, in Cartographica vol 23 no 3, 1986, pp 54–103.

Zsolt G. Török, Russia and the Soviet Union, Fragmentation of, in The History of Cartography, vol 6, University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp 1376-1379.

Alexey V. Postnikov, Soviet Cartography, 1917-1991, in Cartography and Geographic Information Science vol 29(3), 2002, pp 243-260.

16 April 2020

Charting the Victorian Internet

The telegraph is one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century. It revolutionised long distance communication and British journalist and author Tom Standage even nicknamed it the Victorian Internet. Most of the world’s population nowadays use the internet on a daily basis and we rely on it for communication, work, research, entertainment etc. Most of us probably don’t give a second thought to the mechanisms behind the availability of the internet and may not realise that modern communication systems are built on a concept introduced back in the 19th century! Yes, as surprising as it may sound, the vast majority of the global communications are conveyed by overland and underwater (submarine) cables, not the satellites as one may assume. 

Maps Crace Port.19.48

Map showing the Post Office network in England and Wales before telegraph communication existed - mail was distributed by rail, horse and on foot. The circles on the map indicate the distances which regulate the rates of postage (1838). Maps Crace Port. 19.48.

The submarine telegraph cables date back to the 1850s and although the technical aspects have changed the concept remains pretty much the same. The first telegraph communication sent across the Atlantic Ocean was established on 16th August 1858, when Queen Victoria sent the first official transatlantic telegram to the president of the United States James Buchanan, celebrating the successful completion of this great international undertaking. The successful enterprise cut down the communication time between North America and Europe from nearly two weeks to a mere few hours. Even though the first transatlantic line failed after just three weeks of use due to excessive voltage overload, it was quickly replaced by new cables linking the two continents.

This amazing innovation was widely celebrated, with publishers producing maps such as Bacon's chart of the Atlantic Telegraph which also provided details on the history of telegraphy with background to the origin and progress of the Atlantic telegraph project, as well as a description of the types of cable used. 

Bacon's chart of the Atlantic Telegraph
Bacon's chart of the Atlantic Telegraph, ca. 1867. Maps 978.(39.).

The British government quickly recognised the importance of long distance telegraphy, seen as the vital element for administering the British Empire. In 1862 the Indo-European Telegraph Department was established to overlook the construction of the line connecting Great Britain and its dependencies in India. This mammoth task of laying overland and submarine telegraph cables was given to the Eastern Telegraph Company (first established as the Submarine Telegraph Company in the 1850s). 

IOR_X_10044_1 detail1

Detail from Map of parts of Arabia and Persia showing the submarine telegraph cable laid in 1864. IOR/X/10044/1.

Obviously such a huge project required enormous efforts, covering incredible distances and technical challenges whilst taking into account the changing terrain as well as a climate with extreme temperatures which proved to be a tricky task with cables prone to accidents and failures. The first telegraph line connecting Britain with India was opened in 1864. It ran overland through Europe, the Persian Gulf region via submarine cable and continued on to India and was later extended on to the Far East and Australia.

Cable & Wireless Great Circle map

Britain the World Centre. Cable & Wireless Great Circle map by MacDonald Gill, 1945. Maps 957.(48.) 

Full celebration of the age of communication can be seen in MacDonald Gill’s Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map produced in 1945 for Cable and Wireless Ltd. Gill’s world map shows the network of undersea and wireless cables connecting London with the British Empire territories and the rest of the world. The artist included details providing insights into the transformation of technology used in communication over the years. The vignettes surrounding the map include images of wireless transmitters, scenes depicting a busy telegraph station and cable being loaded into a boat, and the S.S. Great Eastern (a steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, wh­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ich was used in the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866) compared with modern cable transfer gear and a cableship used in the 20th century.

The transition from copper wire to fibre optic cable in the 1980s drastically increased the capacity of traffic which now allows us to browse the internet in a matter of seconds. 

14 April 2020

Old maps on TV: Charles I, Alec Guinness and Christopher Saxton

A lesser-known trait of being a map curator is a tendency to notice maps on TV and in films. I’m not the only one. There are more maps on TV than you might think. For example, I guarantee you that every single classroom scene that has ever been filmed, from Tom Brown’s School Days to Hollyoaks, has a map somewhere in the background. I'm particularly interested in old maps - in contemporary settings, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding II and I'm Alan Partridge (check out the scene with the mustard magnate), and historic settings, like Gladiator and Master and Commander (both starring map loving Russell Crowe).

When I spot them, it's my duty to check that they are historically accurate and appropriate for the setting they’re being used in. Because obviously people really care about this sort of thing: an inappropriately deployed map can stand out like... like a bottle of mineral water on a mantelpiece of an early 20th century stately home.

Actually, the only real downside to my obsession with maps in film is hundreds of terrible photographs of TV screens on my phone. I'm fascinated by how old maps continue to be relevant and live beyond their original purposes, and I'm almost always impressed by how often film researchers choose the right maps for the right settings. 

Saxton Cromwell 1970
Still from the motion picture 'Cromwell' (Columbia Pictures), 1970: Alec Guinness considers the map. 

Although the map I recently saw in a film didn’t quite get it right, it was even better for it. It was the 1970 historical drama  ‘Cromwell‘, directed by Ken Hughes, and with a show-stealing turn from Alec Guinness as Charles I.  About three quarters of the way through the film, when the Civil War had taken a decisive turn in favour of the Parliamentarians at Naseby (fought on 14 June 1645), attention switched to the King’s war room and a massive map of England and Wales laid out on a table with markers and flags laid over it.

Cromwell still
Still from 'Cromwell' showing the enlarged facsimile map of England and Wales.

The map is a significantly enlarged copy of the England and Wales map included in Christopher Saxton’s set of English and Welsh county maps, published in atlas form in 1579. The original map measures around 50 x 40 cm, so although the era of the map was correct (it was still being printed in the 1640s) this vast copy was clearly not. The film should have used Saxton's wall map in 1583 which was certainly large enough, and was in use (through copies) during the Civil War.

But this doesn’t really matter, because the choice of map was a masterstroke. You see, I didn’t just recognise the map, I recognised the map. It's an enlarged facsimile copy of a map contained in an atlas held in the British Library at Maps (formally Maps C.7.c.1.).

Maps c3bb5 anglia
Christopher Saxton, Angliae..., from 'An atlas of counties of England and Wales', (London, 1579). Maps

I know this map very well, I also know it through copies that were printed from the 1960s by the Maidenhead-based lithographic printer Taylowe Ltd. Taylowe had a contract with the British Museum (and from 1973 British Library) to publish same-sized facsimile poster copies of maps for sale in the Museum shop and elsewhere. You can see examples today on Ebay. I see my fair share of them too. A facsimile of the England and Wales map was first printed in 1966, with the blue of the sea rather turned up, as you can see below.

Taylowe Ltd Saxton facsimile
Facsimile of Christopher Saxton's Angliae...., 1579, published by Taylowe Ltd., Maidenhead, 1981 (first published c. 1965).

This is the image that Taylowe would have been asked to expand and print to monumental size for Alec Guinness to ponder pensively upon it in the film. (Tim Bryars has spotted the normal-sized facsimile in at least two Bond films, suggesting a rather stellar filmography for the map).

But the best thing about the map in 'Cromwell' is that the earliest known owner of the original map was James I of England (reigned 1603-1625) and it would have passed, as part of the Royal Library (now the Old Royal Library held by the British Library), to Charles I.

Yes, the map was owned by Charles himself. So although the map wouldn’t have been laid out on a table for the King to strategise over in his war room, we can imagine that at some point in his life he might have looked upon it, and maybe even pondered, ruminated or traced a royal finger over it.  

And for this pedantic TV map spotter, that will do pretty nicely.

09 April 2020

London’s Royal Parks

With spring in full bloom and Easter Bank Holiday approaching it can be tempting to go out for a stroll or even an Easter picnic. However, with the current pandemic you may consider the British Library Digital Collections instead which allow you to tour some of London’s parks without even leaving your home.

World famous London parks form a chain of greenery stretching across the centre of the capital. Hyde Park (with adjacent Kensington Gardens), Green Park, St James's Park and Regent's Park are all Royal Parks belonging the Crown. Historically the land had different functions ranging from hunting grounds, dairy farming and was even used as a duelling location. These parks played an important role in Londoners lives.

Maps Crace Port. 6.215

A new plan of London and Westminster by Edward Wallis, 1824. Maps Crace Port. 6.215.

Hyde Park, one of the largest of green spaces in central London, was opened to the general public in 1637. It was redeveloped in the 18th century. On the request of Queen Caroline (the wife of King George II) Kensington Gardens were separated from Hyde Park and the Serpentine River was created.

Maps Crace Port. 10.4

Hyde Park by S. Bennett surveyor, about 1800. Maps Crace Port. 10.4 

Many development ideas were put forward but most came to nothing. For example A plan of Hyde-Park with the City and Liberties of Westminster &c. published in 1766 in John Gwynn’s London and Westminster Improved, advocated a completely new street layout involving huge efforts and demolition of many buildings in the area. It also included two new Royal Palaces - one right in the middle of Hyde Park and another one at St James's Place. On the plan the Serpentine River is replaced by four symmetrical ponds surrounding the intended palace, and the canal in St James’s Park gives way to two smaller ponds. Upon closer scrutiny the original layout can be seen as faint lines.

Maps.Crace 17.15

Maps.Crace 17.15 detail2

A plan of Hyde-Park with the City and Liberties of Westminster &c. shewing the several improvements propos'd. by John Gwynn (1766) Maps Crace Port. 17.15

The capital’s rapid expansion in the 19th century prompted calls for recreational public spaces so further urban planning activities took place. One of the significant additions to London’s landscape was Regents Park, previously known as Marylebone Park (originally created in the 16th century as a hunting and forestry ground).  

The new Regents Park development project was backed by Prince Regent (who became George IV) and designed by John Nash, the city planner and architect. The proposal included a summer palace for the Prince (which was never built) set in parkland along with fifty elegant villas (of which only eight were constructed) as well as stylish terraces surrounding the park. The proposal also included a grand new Regent's Street connecting the new development with St James's Park and Carlton House, the Prince's residence.

Plan of an estate belonging to the Crown called Marylebone Park Farm, upon a design for letting out on building leases by John Nash published in Some account of the proposed improvements of the Western part of London (1814).

The park opened to the public in 1841. As well as a place for leisure it also played an important role in science. Since 1828 the northern portion of the park has been a home to the world's oldest scientific zoo (established by the Zoological Society of London) and just over a decade later, in 1840, the land within the Inner Circle was leased to the Royal Botanic Society who held on to the lease for nearly 100 years.

Maps Crace Port. 14.33

The Regent's Park. Plan showing the further portions which it is intended to throw open to the public… (1841). Maps Crace Port. 14.33.

The above maps have been georeferenced but there are still a few others that you can help us with! Not sure what Georeferencer is? Check out this blog by Gethin Rees.  

07 April 2020

Georeferencing through Self-isolation

As many of you will be stuck indoors over the coming weeks, why not think about contributing to the British Library Georeferencer project, we'd be very grateful for your time! The app has recently been upgraded with a lovely new user interface and there are still more than 5000 maps from the Flickr collection to be georeferenced. Georeferencing is a fun way to while away some of the free hours and is tremendously worthwhile activity for the British Library and beyond. The resulting maps help improve the British Library's catalogue records and are invaluable to projects like Layers of London and Living with Machines.

For those of you who are missing the commute into work, there are some interesting transport maps that have already been Georeferenced. One location that many British Library colleagues ordinarily see on a day-to-day basis is St Pancras station, depicted prior to its redevelopment in this map:

Georef blog pic 1

Here is a lovely Goad Fire Insurance plan of Bristol Temple Meads with details of arches under the roadway and tram infrastructure:


Georef blog pic 2

Finally this wonderful plan of Glasgow Central station illustrates the close relationship between the station and the surrounding buildings beautifully:

Georef blog pic 3

Can you find any more?

Blog written by Gethin Rees