23 April 2020
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
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 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.
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
Here are round a hundred maps from articles produced as part of our 'Mapping the twentieth century: drawing the line' exhibition.
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
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). https://www.oldmapsonline.org/
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.
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 http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_18_d_iii
Explore the British Library
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.
12 December 2016
As was announced here yesterday, the British Library has acquired important additions to its collection in the form of 9 sheets of copper, discovered in the possession of a scrap metal dealer. Scrap value £3.60 per kilo, but historical significance and research value far more considerable.
Detail of an engraved copper plate for a map by James Rennell, published in 1780.
The 9 engraved copper plates were used to print maps of India for the use of the East India Company (EIC) during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The archive of the EIC, the India Office records and map collection was passed to the British Library in 1984 where it resides today. How the copper plates came to be reunited with this archive is a fascinating story which reveals a lot about the custodial history of the archives of British government as well as changing perceptions of maps.
Our recent purchase of nine copper plates was as follows: four plates used to print trigonometrical diagrams of William Lambton’s first survey of Malabar and Coromandel, begun in 1802; one triangulation diagram of 1827 by Lambton and his successor George Everest (he of highest mountain fame); three (of four) plates for James Rennell’s (1742-1830) ‘Map of Hindoostan’ (1788); and finally a single plate for a map included in James Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ of 1780.
These plates enable us to complete sets of copper plates already held in the India Office map collection, alongside another copper plate which had been purchased in 1988.
How did they come to be dispersed in the first place? Well this is one of the most interesting parts of the story. Dr Andrew Cook, former India Office archivist, was able to sketch out the story for me, referencing Antonia Moon’s article of the East India Company records published in the British Records Association Journal ‘Archives (October 2008).
View of the East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, 1796.
The plates seem to have been with the EIC in the 1830s in East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. In 1860 the EIC archives were due to move from there to the New India Office building in Whitehall, but because this building was unfinished when the old premises were sold, the archives went to temporary storage in the Westminster Palace Hotel nearby. It is at this point that a number of the copper plates were apparently re-routed via the scrap metal trade, where they would remain for over a century.
In 1988 Dr Cook was tipped-off about a copper plate in the possession of a Norfolk farmer, who was looking to turn it into a mudguard for the trailer of his tractor. Upon visiting Norfolk, and examining the plate on the pool table of a local working man’s club, Dr Cook identified it as a plate from Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ and acquired it for the collection. The nine plates more recently purchased are further miracles of survival.
James Rennell, An engraved copper plate for 'A map of North Bahar...', London, c. 1779.
James Rennell, 'A map of North Bahar...' from The Bengal Atlas, London, 1780. Maps 145.d.26.
The uniting of various sets of engraving plates enables us to study in greater depth the printing and publishing history of some of the most powerful and significant imperial cartographic projects of the 18th and 19th centuries. It also shines light on the complex history of custodianship and cartography during the 19th century.
Maps and views blog recent posts
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- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- World Map World Cup: Group 4
- World Map World Cup: Group 2
- World Map World Cup: Group 1
- Help us choose the British Library's favourite world map
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- Maps & scrap metal