15 July 2021
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 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
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 [email protected].
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.
29 January 2021
When a new volcanic island emerged from the waters south of Sicily in 1831, its strategic location at the gateway to the eastern Mediterranean aroused more than a scientific interest. Geopolitical forces descended upon this tiny isle, and though its brief existence above the waves lasted just six months, four separate nations claimed it as their own.
A short volume held at the BL, ‘Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily’ (held at BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10. – digital version here) provides a summary of events.
Chart Shewing the Position of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The first report of volcanic activity came on 10 July from Captain Corrao, of the schooner Theresina, who approached to within two miles of...
‘a column of water rising perpendicularly from the sea, to the height of fifty or sixty feet, having a circumference of four hundred fathoms: smoke issued from it, which strongly impregnated the atmosphere of its vicinity with a sulphurous odour: dead fish were observed within the circle of agitated waters, and a violent thunder, proceeding from the same spot, added to the grandeur and the novelty of the scene!’
The Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
Commander C.H. Swinburne of the Royal Navy arrived in the area a few days later –
‘I saw flashes of brilliant light mingled with the smoke, which was still distinctly visible by the light of the moon. In a few minutes, the whole column became black, and larger; almost immediately afterwards several successive eruptions of fire rose up among the smoke... At five am, when the smoke had for a moment cleared away at the base, I saw a small hillock of dark colour a few feet above the sea.’
Views of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The opportunity to claim the island was too good to miss. On 3 August, in a lull between eruptions, Royal Navy Captain Senhouse landed there to plant the British flag, and named it Graham Island after Sir James Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty. This act prompted representatives from Sicily, ‘highly excited by this achievement within sight of their shores’, to embark from the nearby port of Sciacca and plant their own flag, that of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies. They named the island Ferdinandea, shortened to Fernandea on the chart above.
Over the following weeks French and Spanish claims were added to the list, but all such attempts to gain geopolitical advantage proved futile. Eruptions ceased from the middle of August, and by the end of the year the island, whose maximum extent was a mere two miles in diameter and 160 feet high, had slipped back beneath the waves. From that point it appeared on British charts as Graham’s Shoal, a bank lying eight meters beneath the surface.
More recently, in 2002, volcanic activity was recorded there again, and it was thought the island might re-emerge. In a bid to avoid being beaten to the mark a second time, Italian divers planted their national flag on the seamount beneath the surface. However, activity soon ceased and the shoal remained where it was.
Modern-day volcanologists agree that the descriptions of volcanic activity at Graham Island conform to what is known as ‘surtseyan’ activity – named after a more recent undersea eruption, which produced the island of Surtsey (from Surtr, the Norse God of Fire) off the southern coast of Iceland.
This eruption is thought to have begun in early November 1963 at a depth of 130 meters, but by 15 November a crater had become visible above the waves. The event caught the imagination of the televisual age – a number of clips on YouTube show footage made at the time.
Image of the eruption of Surtsey, courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Wikipedia.
The BL holds a map of the island made by the National Survey of Iceland using aerial photographs taken in October 1964 (BL Maps X.12169.). Eruptions continued until 1967, by which time the island no longer conformed to the map, but the sheet provides a fascinating snapshot of the island’s formation a year after it first emerged.
Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
A block of text in Icelandic and English provides a summary of the different phases of eruption, and the map itself gives significant detail of the island’s contours and constituents.
Detail of Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
Unlike Graham Island, and most others of their type, this example has persisted above the waves. It is estimated that roughly a quarter of the island has now been lost to erosion, and its maximum height has reduced to 155 meters, but it is likely to survive above the sea for another hundred years.
In this case there were no diplomatic squabbles over ownership, and its affiliation to Iceland is undisputed. But its persistence has made it especially valuable to science - 69 species of plant have been found there, 12 species of birds, and numerous other animals, including earthworms and slugs. In recognition of its value as a centre for the study of biocolonisation UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site in 2008.
13 October 2020
Today we release 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III into the public domain.
The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV. This is the first of two planned image releases.
For the first time, anybody who wishes to can remotely view, search, research and enjoy one of the world’s richest and most varied public collections of the history of place.
The idea of remote or virtual travelling is a particularly common one today thanks to the seamless interfaces of online map viewer that simulate the idea of airborne travel and evoke the excitement of discovery. However, the idea of virtual travel has a long history, and is well illustrated by the travel-averse king who resided in his palaces and viewed the world through his collection of maps and views. This is the Google Earth of the late 18th century and the journeys it can take you on are no less informative, intriguing, and instructive of the many facets of past eras.
What is K.Top?
The King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) is one part of the Geographical Collection of King George III (the other parts are the Maritime and Military collections). The nucleus of the collection was assembled from 1660, but added to considerably after 1760 by the king’s librarians and agents. The collection was presented to the British Museum (from 1973 British Library) as a distinct part of the King's Library in 1823,. For more on the history of the collection see this post by Felicity Myrone.
What is in it?
It’s probably easier to list what isn’t in this collection. It totals around 40,000 printed and manuscript maps, views, charts, texts, architectural plans, prints, atlases and ephemera. The collection is arranged geographically, with around 40% dedicated to the British Isles, one third covering the Europe of the Grand Tour, and 10% for British areas of influence such as North America, the West Indies and India.
What themes does it include?
Too many to mention, but here’s a sample: landscape, tourism, antiquarianism, architecture, rural life, fine art, agriculture, medieval and church studies, urban planning and development, industrialisation – canals and transport, military history, the history of collecting, the history of cartography, the Grand Tour, royal palaces and stately homes, science and invention, the history of exploration, American Independence.
As a product of the 16th-19th centuries, the collection is also associated with imperialism, and the role of maps in facilitating imperialist activities both practically and ideologically. We hope that the release of this material will facilitate research and greater understanding of these aspects of the past.
How can I access it?
18,000 images are available via the file-sharing site Flickr, which you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157716220271206
Images from the collection are also tagged George III Topographical Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/georgeiiitopographicalcollection
There are links to full Marc cataloguing records on Explore the British Library. To view a digital image from the catalogue record on Explore, select 'I Want This' and then 'View Online Digital Item.'
How about georeferencing?
Glad you asked. For those of you who like a challenge, we have made all of the maps from this release available on our Georeferencer Tool. See how you get on with geolocating the maps. Some will be easier than others.
What can I do with the images?
You are free to study, enjoy, download and remix these images as you see fit. When doing so, please bear in mind any potential cultural or other sensitivities associated with them. Importantly, we’d really like to know what you are doing with the images so please let us know @BLMaps or by emailing [email protected], we’d love to hear from you.
Who do we have to thank?
So very many people. Here goes:
Generous trusts and individuals including the American Trust for the British Library, Art Scholars Charitable Trust, Blue Rubicon, Viscountess Boyd Charitable Trust, Christies Education, Coles Medlock Charitable Foundation, Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Dunard Fund, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, Englefield Charitable Trust, Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Hadfield Trust, John R Murray Charitable Trust, Ken Biggs Charitable Trust, Samuel H Kress Foundation, Langtree Trust, London Historians Ltd, London Topographical Society, Maunby Investment Management Ltd , PH Charitable Trust, Peck Stacpoole Foundation, Pitt Rivers Charitable Trust, Reed Foundation, Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Swinton Charitable Trust, Trefoil Trust, Turtleton Charitable Trust, Cyrus Alai, Caroline and Peter Batchelor, Michael Buehler, Tom Boyd, Richard H Brown, Claire Gapper, William B Ginsberg, Jaime Gonzalez, Martin Halusa, Jerome S Handler, Peter Holland, Tina Holland, Arthur Holzheimer, J Michael Horgan, John Leighfield, Norman Leventhal, Sri Prakash Lohia, Tom and Hilary Lynch, Lynda Partridge, Robert E Pierce, Carolyn Ritchie, David Rumsey, J T Touchton, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Peter A Woodsford and others who wish to remain anonymous.
Dedicated project staff Felicity Myrone, Hugh Brown, Alex Ault, Mercedes Ceron, Kate Marshall, Magdalena Kowalczuk, Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Rebecca Whiteley, Marianne Yule, Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale, Tamara Tubb, Fred Smith, Jeremy Brown and Emily Roy.
Also very dedicated British Library colleagues Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Gethin Rees, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.
And finally, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Peter Barber, Head of British Library Map Collections until his retirement in 2015, in promoting the research value, relevance and importance of the King’s Topographical Collection to existing and new audiences.
04 April 2018
In my last blog I noted how John Rocque’s 1750 map of Rome could be considered both a personal memento for the grand tourist who likely commissioned it – Sir Bourchier Wrey – as well as a useful map for travellers.
John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.
My post today will look at events surrounding the production of Rocque’s map of Rome. The ensuing story reveals this London mapmaker to be a rather ruthless opportunist…
Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.
In 1748 the Italian cartographer Giambattista Nolli produced a landmark map of Rome. It came in two sizes: a monumental twelve-sheet map entitled Nuova Pianta di Roma, and a reduced single-sheet version called La Topografia di Roma. Scholars sometimes refer to them respectively as the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola for short, and copies of both can be found in King George III’s Topographical Collection.
Giambattista Nolli, La Topografia di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.a.
The incredible detail of Nolli’s Pianta grande ensured that it was still being used in some form for over 200 hundred years. The story abroad, however, was another matter entirely: in terms of sales, it was a bit of a flop. Among the reasons for this disappointing turnover, at least in Britain, was the quick-witted John Rocque.
Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.
As was common in the eighteenth century, Nolli and his associate Girolamo Belloni attempted to raise funds for the project by seeking advance subscribers. Nolli handled the domestic sales (i.e. the Papal States), while Belloni was responsible for international sales. To this end Belloni travelled across Europe from 1747 to 1756.
Before publication Belloni procured a meagre 59 subscribers abroad. Though we don’t know exactly how many of those came from London, the figure for Paris, by comparison, was 6. By the end of 1756 Belloni recorded that he had sold a grand total of 459 copies abroad. This was a rather disappointing return for a project so long and so dear in the making.
Despite this, the popularity of the map in London was high, relative to other European cities, perhaps reflecting Rome’s status in Britain as the Grand Tour capital. It might have sold even better still, were it not for John Rocque.
Among the first shipments sent out around May 1748 was a batch of 48 maps (or 56, according to a second note) en route to London that were lost in a shipwreck.
Belloni, it seems, did not react quickly enough to this setback, but Rocque did. For in 1750, after a fairly brisk turnaround, Rocque published his own map of Rome, a compilation of the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola. Even though Rocque did credit Nolli in his title, this was bare-faced plagiarism designed to capitalise on Belloni’s slowness in supplying the London map market.
Seeing an example of Nolli’s map in 1750, the artist Canaletto, in London at that time, remarked: “many gentlemen have already been provided with it by another hand”. Though it is far from explicit, Canaletto was surely referring to Rocque, since he was the only mapmaker who had made a copy by this date.
Thus with a keen eye for an opportunity, John Rocque stole a march on his rivals: what was Nolli and Belloni’s loss was his gain. The eighteenth-century map market could be a ruthless place.
 In fact, it formed the base of plans of the city by the Italian government until the 1970s, see Ceen, Allan, ‘Nuova Pianta di Roma Data in Luce da Giambattista Nolli l’Anno MDCCXLVIII’, http://nolli.uoregon.edu/nuovaPianta.html.
 The details of the history of Nolli’s map come from Bevilacqua, Mario, Roma nel Secolo dei Lumi: Architettura, erudizione, scienza nella Pianta di G.B. Nolli «celebre geometra», (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), especially pp. 49-52.
 For more information about the subscription model, see Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 84-90.
 There is some uncertainty among map historians concerning how long it took to prepare copperplates for printing, with estimates ranging from a few days to many months. Contrast, for example, Pedley (2005), pp. 53-56, and Carhart, George, ‘How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map? A Consideration of Craft Practices’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197.
 “essendo già stati provisti molti Signori Personaggi da altro mano”. My translation; see Bevilacqua (2005), p. 52.
29 January 2018
For many of the thousands of British men and women who ventured abroad during the eighteenth century, travelling to Italy was the highlight of the trip. To some it was even considered an essential activity for any aspiring socialite or person of culture. In the words of Dr Samuel Johnson, “A man who hath not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see”.
Sir Bourchier Wrey (1714/15–1784), who travelled around Europe in the mid-1730s – including a sojourn in Italy – came up with a novel way of commemorating his time there: he decided to commission a map of Rome.
The map in question is John Rocque’s A plan of Rome… (see fig. 1) published in 1750 – of which there is a fine copy in King George III’s Topographical Collection.
Fig. 1: John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.
We can tell that Wrey was involved in the production as there is a decorative cartouche dedicating the map to him in the bottom-right corner (see fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the decorative cartouche that dedicates the map to Sir Bou[r]chier Wrey.
With an eye for sales, Rocque catered his map to potential grand tourists: he has highlighted certain buildings and sites that had architectural or antiquarian interest with deep scoring, so they stand out in black (see figs. 3 and 4).
Fig. 3: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the title and the area around St Peter’s Basilica.
Fig. 4: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the urban centre of Rome.
This innovation would have made the map immediately more useful and alluring to travellers. These highlighted areas, which comprise the numbered locations of the index, are far more easily identifiable than if they simply were marked with numbers.
Rocque was one of London’s most successful mapmakers of the eighteenth century and this plan of Rome followed in the wake of his other city maps, such as those of Berlin (1745), London and Westminster (1746), and Paris (1748).
On another level, however, this map speaks of the immense personal and societal impact of the Grand Tour.
Wrey had returned from travelling over a decade prior to the date of publication. This interval demonstrates that the effects of Wrey’s experiences abroad did not conclude when he first set foot back on English soil. Rather, his Grand Tour still had powerful enough meaning for him to want to assist Rocque in publishing this map.
But aside from seeing this map as a personal memento for Wrey, we can also recognise its wider social value. With this map Wrey was making a carefully constructed public expression of his own identity. By patronising a map of Rome, the traditional pinnacle of the Grand Tour, Wrey was showing off both his cultural and historical sensibilities and his appreciation of the science of mapping.
Fig. 5: Sir Bourchier Wrey’s portrait for the Society of Dilettanti, by George Knapton, 1744, showing him dishing up some punch from a classicised bowl inscribed with Horace’s phrase “Dulce est Desipere in Loco” – “It is delightful to play the fool occasionally”. (Wikimedia Commons, Source/Photographer: J. Paul Getty Trust)
What’s more, Wrey was an active member of the Society of Dilettanti, whose objective was to promote knowledge of classical antiquity (and the members certainly had fun whilst doing so – see fig. 5). Finally, as this map marks an important update on the cartography of Rome for a British audience, we can detect Wrey’s intention to make Rome more accessible to grand tourists.
What better way is there to remember your own travels than to put your name on the map?
Jeremy is undertaking an AHRC collaborative PhD with the British Library and Royal Holloway University of London on Maps and the Italian Grand Tour.
 Boswell, James, Life of Johnson (London: Oxford University Press, 1965): 742.
 Some biographical information on Sir Bourchier Wrey, sixth baronet, can be found at: Handley, Stuart, ‘Wrey, Sir Bourchier, fourth baronet (c.1653–1696)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30025, accessed 4 Jan 2018].
 Maps K.Top.81.22.
 For more information of Rocque’s life and work see Varley, John, ‘John Rocque. Engraver, Surveyor, Cartographer and Map-Seller’, Imago Mundi, 5 (1948), 83-91.
 For an overview of the activity and achievements of the Society, see Redford, Bruce, Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England, (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008).
30 January 2017
Watch out for two new treasures from our map collection which went on display last week in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. The new arrivals are two original manuscript maps – A correct outline of Scotland (Maps CC.5.a.223.) and Spain and Portugal (Maps CC.5.a.227.) both drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939) who was also known under her married name, Tennant.
Lancaster's maps on display in the Treasures Gallery
Lancaster wasn’t a professional mapmaker, far from it! She was a successful Victorian actress associated with the Haymarket Theatre. She “got into mapmaking” in her teenage years when she decided to amuse her ill brother and sketched a series of twelve humorous maps of the European countries. Her designs were appreciated for the wittiness and the ability to capture the imagination of adult and young audiences and were published in Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries issued by Hodder & Staughton in 1868.
Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries, London: Hodder & Staughton, 1868. British Library Maps 12.d.1.
Playful and at the same time educational, her anthropomorphic designs easily stuck in the memory and helped juvenile audiences become more familiar with the shapes of the represented countries. Lancaster’s maps whilst teaching geography also incorporated important events or significant political figures introducing elements of history and was recognised as a fun didactic tool. A good example of this is a map of Italy from the Geographical Fun in which the Apennine Peninsula is represented as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian politician and great patriot who fought for the unification of Italy (achieved in 1871). He is depicted in the symbolic red shirt (reference to the volunteer forces which followed Garibaldi during the Mille expedition), holding what appears to be a hat with word “LIBERTY” written across it.
Map of Italy by Lilian Lancaster published in Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries, London: Hodder & Staughton, 1868. British Library Maps 12.d.1.
Interestingly, unlike other anthropomorphic maps by Lancaster, the British Library’s watercolour map of Spain and Portugal is drawn to scale with the latitude and longitude grid inserted. The geography is fairly accurate with the main rivers and mountain ranges labelled. The Iberian Peninsula is illustrated as an arena with Portugal and Spain portrayed as a matador and bull. The matador is dressed according to bullfighting tradition and is wearing black hat with white shirt and narrow red necktie showing under an elaborately embroidered suit. The knee-high stockings and flat black zapatillas complete the outfit. The scene captures the moment the matador thrusts his sword at the bull. The animal appears exhausted, bleeding from wounds caused by two banderillas (arrows used in bullfighting) sticking out of its shoulders.
Lilian Lancaster, Spain and Portugal. Late 19th c. British Library Maps CC.5.a.227.
The fight scene refers to the turbulent political situation in the Iberian Peninsula in the 19th century. The loss of the colonies in the New World, a series of civil wars and several revolutionary attempts against the government left both countries weakened and vulnerable.
Lancaster also drew her inspiration from folktales and mythology. Another map on display in the Treasures Gallery, is the allegorical map of Scotland which incorporates the image of Dick Whittington and his Cat dancing in a meadow.
Lilian Elizabeth Lancaster, A correct outline of Scotland by Lilian Lancaster, designer of Geographical Fun. After 1869. British Library Maps CC.5.a.223.
Closer examination reveals incredible attention to detail – a fairy and wild flowers (including thistles, the Scottish national symbol) illustrate the Outer Hebrides whilst the Scottish Highlands are shown with a cherub carrying a bow and off shore islands depicted as mice and rats.
In the later stage of her life Lancaster, now working under her married name Tennant, designed further set of maps. They accompanied Stories of Old a collection of popular tales and fables by Elizabeth Louisa Hoskyn and published by Adam and Charles Black in 1912.
Stories of Old, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1912. British Library Maps 22.a.68.
The theme of every map follows the story of the country with a historical or mythological character set within an outline map. In this series Scotland takes the shape of Robert the Bruce and the Spider. England is depicted as St. George and the Dragon, France with the heroic Joan of Arc and Germany features the Pied Piper of Hammelin.
Map of Scotland by Lilian Tennant [Lancaster] published in Stories of Old, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1912. British Library Maps 222.a.68.
11 March 2015
As is to be expected, King George III’s Topographical Collection contains outstanding examples of all the major maps and atlases published in his lifetime and extending back to 1660. Less comprehensively the collection goes back to include Italian maps published in Rome and Venice from 1540.
Thomas Yeakell sr and William Gardner, View of the Town of Brightelmstone, (Brighton: P. Thomas, 1779). Maps K. Top. 42.14
But the Collection’s great delight is the variety of map that is to be found. George III’s beautiful copy of the map of ‘Brightelmstone’ surveyed in 1779 by Thomas Yeakell and William Gardner was probably specially coloured, by Yeakell’s daughter Louisa, a skilled colourist, for presentation to the King. Beneath the map showing a town that had barely expanded beyond The Lanes, there is a panorama of what was soon to become Brighton from the sea just as it was developing as a fashionable resort and a few years before the future Prince Regent created his ‘marine villa’, the predecessor of the Pavilion, just to the north of the old town. Yeakell and Gardner were to become famous far beyond the county of Sussex. Having come to the attention of the Master General of the Ordnance, the Duke of Richmond, Yeakell was to be appointed Master Draughtsman to the Ordnance in the early years of Ordnance Survey, and Gardner Chief Surveying Draughtsmen, and they set the quality and style of its maps.
The King’s Topographical Collection includes a particularly rare copy of Christopher Wren’s radical proposals for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. It is a proof example, published in his lifetime, with the title added in manuscript. Wren’s proposals came to nothing because, contrary to the impression given by his map, the City of London was not a blank sheet. The buildings may have been damaged or destroyed, but property rights remained intact – and so did the imperative to rebuild and to get back to business.
Of no building was this truer than the Royal Exchange, London’s commercial hub, which was soon rebuilt. Betraying the innate conservatism of most financial institutions, the new building strongly resembled Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange of the 1560s (as, in a more monumental way, does the present Royal Exchange of the late 1830s). The new building is shown here as it was in 1712.
‘No’, I can hear you saying, ‘There’s a mistake: this a view not a map!’. But look closely and perhaps we can compromise : at the very bottom, beneath the title, letters indicate the positions taken up by the various ‘nations’ under the arcade: the Dutch (a), the Jews (b), Italy (c), France (dd), Spain (ee), Portugal (f), Canaries (g), Virginia (hh), New England (i), East India (kk), Turkey (l), Norway (mm), Baltic states (‘East-landers’) (nn), Hamburg (p) and finally the Irish (oo) and ‘Scotch or North Britain’ (qqq). Then as now, London was an international city.
As well as printed maps, the King’s Topographical Collection contains many manuscript fortification plans. Several are, perhaps surprisingly, charming. This one, showing the Military Arsenal in Woolwich in 1749, was drawn and decorated by John Barker, a cadet at the Military Academy that had been founded there in 1741. Cadets were taught drawing as well as surveying and several became talented artists. John shows his skills in the top left, with a fine if fanciful ink drawing of putti firing at the Arsenal (a schoolboy’s fantasy at getting his own back on his teachers?). John went on, over the following decades, to be an active estate and military surveyor in Britain and Canada. His artistic skills may not have had a chance to develop, but the quality of his survey of Woolwich was such that when the King’s Topographical Collection was inspected by his successors on the Board of Ordnance in the 1830s, they ordered the plan to be sealed for security reasons. The left corner of the map contains the initials (‘WHT’) of the inspector who insisted on it. It was only to be unsealed many decades later: about 150 years after it had been created.
One of the most evocative plans in the collection is this sketch to the view to be had from Morant’s Court Hill near Sevenoaks in Kent (shown at the bottom) in about 1780. Executed by a military draughtsman, Captain Robert Johnstone, it shows the country houses to be seen from there.
It was commissioned for the King by Lord Amherst, the former Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America whose country house Montreal (named after the city of which he had been governor), had recently been completed and features prominently. Amherst had invited the King and Queen to visit him one November morning and the letter of invitation is still preserved with the plan. In it, Amherst gives the King instructions for reaching his house, adding that Captain Johnston ‘will be on the right of the road where he took the Sketch, in case Your majesty should chuse to have any further information of the Places’. Then anticipating royal tours of today, he ends his letter with a request. ‘The Gentlemen and Ladies of the Parish’, he wrote, ‘will be at the Gate and if it pleased Your Majesty not to drive fast by them, their Happiness would be increased in the honour of seeing Your Majesty and the Queen’.
We are seeking money to catalogue and digitise all the maps in the King’s Topographical Collection but particularly those of London and the South-East. Please give generously at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps and help us to make more discoveries like these.
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