31 August 2022
The new Roy Military Survey Gazetteer
The British Library and National Library of Scotland are pleased to announce the availability of a new gazetteer which allows all the names on the Roy Military Survey Maps of Scotland (1747-55, British Library Maps CC.5.a.441) to be searched and browsed. Through the hard work of a team of volunteers over the last six months, all 33,523 names on the Roy Map have been recorded. The transcription workflow has also recorded related or nearby names from the Ordnance Survey 1st edition mapping from a century later in order to help searching and provide additional context for the Roy names. The results are of huge value for local and family historians, placename researchers, as well as all those interested in the landscape of 18th century Scotland. As well as being able to find any name on the map, it is also possible to now generate distribution maps of particular name elements, or dynamically view all of the names in a particular area. The Gazetteer can also be downloaded in accessible formats for onward use and research.
The Roy Military Survey Map is surely one of the most significant and attractive maps of Scotland. It was a distillation of military intelligence, planned in the wake of the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and surveyed at the same time as the brutal ‘pacification’ of the Highlands. The English military commanders in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of the ‘45 had been 'greatly embarrassed for want of a proper Survey of the Country' and something needed to be done about it. The decision to place the Survey in the hands of a young civilian from a small village near Carluke, William Roy - who had no military surveying experience, and who was then in his early 20s - was a surprising one, even if it turned out to be an inspired and successful decision. Over the next eight years, until the mid 1750s, the whole of the Scottish mainland was surveyed at the detailed scale of one inch to a thousand yards, or about 1:36,000. For many parts of the Scottish Highlands, it is the most detailed and informative map that survives for the entire 18th century, and for all areas, the only standard topographic map prior to the Ordnance Survey mapping in the 19th century. As part of the King George III Topographical Collections, it has always been a treasured item within the British Library’s holdings, and fortunately more recent digital technologies have allowed its wider availability online, as well as transcription projects like this.
Our project to record all of the names on the Roy Map was based on the long interest in the map from those hunting for the existence and location of particular places, especially for local and family history purposes. Place name researchers have also regularly examined the Roy Map as a key documentary source for the 18th century. Many of the textual entries on the map allow other types of research too, confirming the location of things like mills, kirks, castles and estate grounds. Many significant elements of the pre-Improvement landscape - such as the smaller kirk towns and cottar towns, as well as things like moors and commonties - are clearly shown too. But libraries lack the manpower for major gazetteer recording projects, and although machine-learning and artificial intelligence continue to make strides, we felt that the only way to achieve our objective at present was by gathering a volunteer group as part of a crowdsourcing project.
In January 2022 we asked for volunteers to help with three new map transcription projects, and were thrilled (and relieved!) to find over 650 people signed up to take part. We were able to create the interfaces for recording the names using the open-source web-mapping software behind the NLS maps website, and this was helpful, as we continued to change and update these interfaces in response to feedback. We also set up an online discussion forum for participants, which has been very heavily used - 142 members, and over 210 posts over a 5 month period. Successive phases of the project revised and checked the initial names, and their related Ordnance Survey names, so that all of the names were reviewed and edited several times over. The success of the project owes itself very much to these volunteers, who have not only put in several months of hard work, but also continued to suggest changes as we went along to improve the results. As with all website projects, we also have the ability to keep revising and correcting names in response to feedback - the Gazetteer will become ever more perfect over time! Although we have just now launched the Gazetteer, some minor revision work is still ongoing, and we are happy to receive suggestions and corrections from the wider community.
Would William Roy have approved? We certainly hope so - as the “father” of what became the Ordnance Survey, he would have fully understood the value of national initiatives to gather geographic and topographic information. He would surely have delighted in the detailed scrutiny which his ‘magnificent military sketch’ was still getting, over 250 years after its original creation. That said, he might feel puzzled and worried about all the tartan, now very visibly on sale only a stone’s throw from where his Military Survey was drawn in Edinburgh Castle!
View the results of the Roy Military Survey Gazetteer Project:
- Roy Gazetteer information page
- Search all the Roy Names with a map
- Browse all the Roy Names as a list
By Christopher Fleet,
Map Curator, National Library of Scotland.
11 February 2022
I recently participated in a discussion panel with the LivingMaps network as part of the launch of their ‘'New Directions in Radical Cartography: why the map is never the territory’. Edited by Prof Phil Cohen and Dr Mike Duggan, this edited collection brings together 20 examples of contemporary research, artwork and theory from across the world under the label counter-mapping or radical cartography.
The definition of counter-mapping and radical cartography was a question that formed much of the discussion. Counter-mapping, described in depth in the book, is a process which really began in the 1970s following a realisation that regular or normative maps were perhaps not as democratic or utilitarian as assumed, and appeared to favour certain groups over others. Maps such as those by William Bunge and the Pluto Press aimed to readdress the balance.
Radical mapping, according to Phil Cohen’s introduction to the book, moves things along. Firstly, many of the examples in the book are not ‘maps’ in the way that many of us appreciate them (though they are perfectly consistent with other cultures’ mapping). The maps are community workshops, walking tours, audio-led immersive guides, poetry and reading, contemporary archaeology GiS, multi-media, memory palaces and more. Yet all of them can be understood as mapping in some way, if you believe that mapping doesn’t necessarily always lead towards the creation of a map.
That seems pretty radical to me. There’s also a sense of radical-ness in what the mappings are doing. For example, they are user-led and generated as opposed to being created by professional map companies or agencies. They are also open-ended and unfinished – incredibly radical if you are used to thinking of a map as a tangible object. They also, often in very quiet ways, articulate the voices of groups who do not usually shout very loudly on traditional maps - children, the elderly, and migrants. Quietly radical, if there is such a thing.
Critical cartography is a developing area of the academic discipline of cultural studies. As ‘post-representational’ mappings, this work is not collected by the British Library (in the same way that GiS is not collected). However, early maps are used creatively by artists and academics affiliated to critical cartography. For example, digitised British Library maps were included in Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda’s One Fifth of the Earth’s Surface project which was featured in last years York AND festival. And whilst not from the Library’s collection, map based artworks included in Claire Reddelman’s Postcards from the Bagne demonstrate just how successful the use of early maps in artistic and cultural practice can be.
Integrating early maps, digitally or physically, into a multi-layered multi-sensory perception of places in time known as deep mapping (as, for example, described by Dr Stuart Dunn in A History of Space in the Digital Age), is another of the key ways in which maps contribute to cutting-edge research and continue to be, in every sense, living maps.
15 July 2021
George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
In October 2020 we released 17,000 images of maps and views from George III’s Topographical Collection on the images-sharing site Flickr Commons, which seems to have kept you busy.
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of topographical views by artists such as John Webber, Robert Havell, Thomas Daniell and John Clerk.
Multi-sheet maps in loose or bound format including Turgot’s plan of Paris, Morgan’s map of London, Peter Andre’s Essex, Fry & Jefferson’s Virginia, Pratt’s Ireland and Müller’s Bohemia.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
Many manuscript atlases including work by Carlo Fontana, Francesco Basilicata's 1612 survey of Crete, and two Kangxi atlases of China.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
14 July 2021
Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
I’m delighted that 1,277 maps from our War Office Archive have been added to the Georeferencer in the last few days. These military intelligence maps relate to Eastern Africa, particularly modern-day Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somaliland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa. The British Library has catalogued, conserved and digitised the archive with generous funding from the Indigo Trust. You can find out more about the maps here https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/war-office-archive.
Detail of Umkamba Prov. part of (Central), Capt. Bertram Dickson, 1901. BL Maps WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54
The maps are already accessible on the web through several different channels. A Google Map index shows the central point of each map sheet and provides links to catalogue records and high-resolution digital images, viewable on Digitised Manuscripts or available for download from Wikimedia Commons. You can also download text that has been extracted from the images using computer vision. However, we hope that the rich geospatial data provided by volunteers on the Georeferencer platform will open up these maps to new forms of research and discovery.
In terms of the Georeferencer project as a whole we now have 63902 maps georeferenced on the platform which is an amazing achievement. An exciting new project, ‘Machines Reading Maps’ [https://www.turing.ac.uk/research/research-projects/machines-reading-maps] based at the Alan Turing Institute is also now using our georeferenced Goad fire insurance maps. Thanks to all those who contributed to their georeferencing, they have been used by several research projects and are an invaluable resource.
01 July 2021
One-Fifth of the World's Surface
One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface is a digital audio-visual, multimedia web experience by artists Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and York Mediale, the work is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the ‘power of water as a dynamic and fluid archive’ with the Atlantic Ocean its main subject.
The British Library has been involved in providing resources for the project, and a number of maps from the Topographical Collection of George III, digitised and released as Public Domain on Flickr have been included in the exhibit, along with sound recordings from the Library’s Sound Archive.
I was interested to see how maps would be deployed in the piece. There are a multitude of maps that show the Atlantic Ocean, its coasts, and the infinite network of rivers and arteries which feed it (a number of maps along these lines, created by Adam in Mapbox, are embedded in the artwork). Maps not only visualise the Atlantic Ocean, but influence how it is navigated, experienced and memorialised, and this role of maps is also explored in One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface.
The online exhibition is split into sections, including: Memory, Analogue of Rivers, Ports, Navigation and Cartography, each constructed using various audio-visual elements that build, overlap and occasionally interrupt. Navigation is not straightforward, almost, at times, like fighting against the waves. Early maps appear in a number of places, particularly in the Archive section where they form part of the artists’ research materials. It is immersive, unpredictable digital art.
The creative potential of maps and mapping is limitless, and there is no better time to use them when so many are available from opened-up archives, where traditional and digital techniques are within reach, and when there is so much they can be used to say.
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.
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
25 November 2020
King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
In October we released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III. View the collection on Flickr Commons, and access images via the maps and views' catalogue records on Explore. Here's my choice of five compelling maps from the collection.
1. Plan of Manila, 1739.
This is the only recorded example of this 1739 edition of the 1717 town plan of Manila in the Philippines. Manila was, and is, a key international centre of trade, and the map was actually produced in the town (in a tiny vignette we can see a copy being presented by the Spanish governor of the Philippines to King Philip V of Spain). There’s probably no better image of a bustling commercial site, proof that a town is not just about its architecture and layout, but its people and processes too. This map has additional resonance, because Manila was besieged and looted by the British in 1762, and annotations in the map’s bottom right refer to aspects of the battle. Could it be George himself annotating the map according to reports he had received of the battle?
D. Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, TOPOGRAPHIA DE LA CIUDAD DE MANILA : CAPITAL de las yslas Philipinas
Manila: Hipoloto Ximenez, [around 1739].
2. Map and survey of Plymouth Harbour, 1780
This is the map that reminds me most of the strong links between mathematics and art in maps. It’s a large and serious military drawing, officially commissioned and with an accompanying report, of a key strategic naval installation and site of British maritime strength and power. It was drawn up as part of the earliest mapping activities for what would become the Ordnance Survey a few years later, enacted in response to the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France. So why is it so stunningly and mesmerizingly beautiful? It’s a question that should infuriate everyone who sees maps purely as cold communicators of facts and 'data.'
Matthew Dixon, Colonel, surveyor.
‘A General Plan with a Project for the Defence of the Arsenals of Plymouth, / By Lieut: Colonel Dixon Chief Engineer of the Plymouth Division. Revised and corrected by Geo. Beck Jan. 1780.’
3. Aquatint view of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813
Thomas Horner, Kingston upon Thames. 1813
Is it a map or is it a view? What is that ominous large shadow looming in, Holbein-like, from stage left? Who cares! This is an intriguing and brilliantly composed aquatint print showing a collection of views of picturesque Kingston-upon-Thames. From above, in profile, from a distance away, it’s a multi-faceted image that invites us to dissolve our perception of the differences between vistas and to see them as a combined and rounded description of a place. Cartographic cubism! As Horner himself wrote, ‘…the whole, blended into one design by a picturesque fore-ground, forms a faithful view of the parish.’ It’s a joyous visual experience, with a few intrigues and little jokes (note the bungling surveyor- stonemasons in the foreground) thrown in for good measure.
4. India, 1619
This is a portentous map - the earliest British printed map of part of India. It marks the beginning of British cartographic involvement in India that would reach new levels of science-led imperial control through mapping by 1900. The Roe-Baffin map was produced following the earliest English trade mission to the Mughal empire. It has a stellar cast: Sir Thomas Roe, the diplomat who headed up the embassy. William Baffin, the navigator who went on to attempt to locate the North West Passage (Baffin Island is named after him). Reynold Elstrack, one of the earliest native English engravers.
The map was one of very few English-produced maps to provide a model for later Dutch atlas maps by Blaeu, Janssonius and others. English mapmakers were more often the copycats. The engraving of a Mughal seal has been expertly assessed by the British Library’s Dr Annabel Gallop.
William Baffin, 1584-1622, cartographer. A Description of East India conteyninge th'Empire of the Great Mogoll. / William Baffin deliniauit, et excudebat. ; Renold Elstrack sculp.
[London] : Are to be Sold in Pauls Church yarde. by Thomas Sterne Globemaker., 
5. The United States of America, 1782
This is a map with a story and a reminder of the power – and paranoia – that can be associated with maps. John Mitchell’s map of ‘the dominions of North America’ is a tremendous cartographic achievement in its level of description of this vast area. Yes, standing on the shoulders of earlier maps, but adding a vast quantity of descriptive notes and even including naming Native American nations (who were nevertheless ignored in what followed).
On another level, this late edition of the map is a piece of history, being the copy used by the British delegation at the 1782 Treaty of Paris where the terms of the peace following Britain’s defeat at the hands of the United States were established. The map has been marked up in red to show the lines of the new border the British would be happy with. But at the conference they realised that they didn’t have to cede quite as much as they had drawn. The map suggests that Upper Canada (much of modern-day Ontario) was also available to the USA. So later the British government ordered the British Museum to lock the map away so that nobody, particularly no inquisitive Americans, might see it and demand any more.
It was hidden from view until the early 20th century.
John Mitchell, 1711-1768, cartograph.er. A MAP of the BRITISH COLONIES in North America…
[London] : Publish'd by the Author Feb.ry 13.th 1755 according to Act of Parliament : Printed for Jefferys & Faden Geographers to the KING at the corner of S.t Martins Lane Charing Cross London, [about 1775, with annotations to 1782].
16 October 2020
10 things you may not know about the King's Topographical Collection
We have just released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III for you to peruse and study.
As far as private and royal map collections go, the K.Top is one of the most well-known and best preserved of those assembled before the mid-19th century. It's also one of the more unusual and idiosyncratic due to its inclusion of a variety of other items besides maps and views (collectively known as 'ephemera.'). And it has an interesting custodial history following its presentation in the 1820s. Here are ten things you may not know about it.
1. A single piece of acquisition evidence survives for the collection, an invoice for a map of New Hampshire of 1761 (Maps K.Top 120.25) made out by the mapmaker Thomas Jefferys to the King's advisor the Earl of Bute.
2. The collection includes many official and governmental maps (such as this map of part of the coast of New England) which were presumably lent to the King for consultation but for one reason or another not returned.
3. The bulk of the collection of single-sheet maps and views are contained in 250 massive guard volumes that were created in the 1960s.
4. The collection is a distinct part of the larger King’s Library, but a number of volumes were separated from it and are now housed in the King's Library proper. Other items also found their way into the Western Manuscripts collection and the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings.
5. 'Top' stands for 'Topographical'. There’s also a Maritime (also in the British Library) and a Military collection (part of the Royal Collection in Windsor). However and most helpfully, the Topographical Collection also contains sea charts and military charts.
6. The king is rumoured to have kept the maps adjacent to his private chambers in Buckingham Palace.
7. Prior to 1828 the collection was given a geographical arrangement, which involved dismembering and redistributing of the contents of bound atlases including at least two Italian made-to-order atlases of the 16th century.
8. It includes the largest atlas in the world up to 2012, the Klencke Atlas.
9. It includes the first English map of New York City following its capture (1664) and the first English-produced printed map of India (1619), by William Baffin.
10. A number of maps thought to be by the 16th century Flemish mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, including this map of Ancient Britain, were recently discovered to be late 17th century pirated copies after Ortelius, probably by the English mapmaker John Overton (see the notes to Maps C.49.e.74 for further information) .
Maps and views blog recent posts
- The new Roy Military Survey Gazetteer
- Radical mapping
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
- One-Fifth of the World's Surface
- New Digital Maps available on Reading Room Terminal
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- 10 things you may not know about the King's Topographical Collection
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- Goad Maps on Layers of London
- Black & Asian Britain
- British Library Treasures
- Captain Cook
- Central Asia
- Contemporary Britain
- Current Affairs
- Digital scholarship
- East Asia
- Exhibition progress
- Government publications
- Legal deposit
- Medieval history
- Middle East
- Modern history
- Off the Map
- Ordnance Survey
- Printed books
- Prints and printmaking
- Public domain
- Rare books
- Research collaboration
- Russian Revolution
- Social sciences
- Sound and vision
- South Asia
- South East Asia
- Unfinished Business
- Visual arts
- West Africa
- Women's histories
- World War One