Maps and views blog

17 posts categorized "K.Top."

11 March 2015

A rum Lot of Maps

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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.

H. Hulsbergh, Plan of the City of London after the Great Fire . . . according to the Design and Proposal of Sir Christopher Wren, 1721.  Maps K.Top. 20.19-3.

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. 

Thomas Taylor, A View of the Inside of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, London as it now is 1712.   Maps K. Top. 24.11-k.

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.


WarrenAn Exact survey of the Wareen in Woolwich drawn by John Barker at the R. Academy, An. 1749. Maps K. Top. 17.22.

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. 

IMG_0446Robert Johnstone, View from the points A, B, on Marams Court Hill ca. 1780 Maps K Top.17.43-c-2.

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’.

IMG_0444Concluding pages of letter from Lord Amherst to George III, 2 Nov [no year but ca. 1780]  Maps K. Top. 17.42-c-1

IMG_0442Montreal, the Seat of Lord Amherst. P. Sandby R.A. pinxt; W. Watts sculp, 1777.

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 and help us to make more discoveries like these.

Peter Barber

09 March 2015

London through the artist's eye

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About 40% of the King’s Topographical Collection consists of views. Many are drawings and watercolours by enthusiastic amateurs who were keen to record decaying churches, great houses and old buildings. But the work of some of the finest artists working in England in the 18th century such as Paul Sandby, William Pars, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Thomas Jones is also represented.

Most of the views in the collection are printed, but no less splendid for that. In the 17th century, the Bohemian exile, Wencelas (Wenzel/Vaclav) Hollar was the acknowledged master of the etching, a printing technique involving the application of acid to copper. His works are well represented in the Collection which also contains 16th-century engraved views which were once in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).

Perhaps most spectacularly, George III’s reign saw the perfection and spread of the aquatint, a printed hand-coloured process imitating watercolour. British artists were in the vanguard and were anxious to present their best work to the King. As a result the King’s Topographical Collection contains perhaps the greatest group of the highest quality aquatints anywhere in the world.
The sections of the collection relating to London and the South-East contain handsome views from the 16th to the 19th centuries with fascinating stories attached to them.

Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.
Frans Hogenberg, [Exterior of the first Royal Exchange seen from Cornhill], ca. 1570.  Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.

There is more to the large engraved view of the First Royal Exchange than meets the eye. The view was created, shortly after the completion of the building in 1569 by the artist and engraver Frans Hogenberg. The inscription mentions that it was paid for, as a benefit to the public and an adornment to the City, by Sir Thomas Gresham, whose grasshopper crest adorns the top of the weathervane. What it doesn’t say is that the building was meant as a challenge to Antwerp, where Hogenberg had been living until he was expelled because of his protestant beliefs in 1569. He may have felt that this print was a way of getting back at his persecutors. The building was certainly viewed as a thorn in the flesh by the Catholic powers of Europe. When in 1572 Hogenberg was commissioned to prepare a reduced copy of a map of London as the first town view in a multi-volume atlas of town views and maps, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, it was omitted – only for the publishers to be compelled, two years later, to insert a miniaturised version of this view to show the location of Gresham’s Royal Exchange.

Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.Wenceslaus Hollar, On the North Side of London , 1664  Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.

The next image moves a century later, to the summer of 1664, when Wenceslaus Hollar was seeking refuge from smells and diseases prevailing in the city. He moved to the fashionable suburban village of Islington, from which he made a series of exquisite little etchings of the view towards London. This view is dominated by old St Paul’s Cathedral, as seen from the North rather than across the Thames and lacking its steeple that had burnt down in 1561. Hollar shows it two years before its destruction in the Great Fire. In the foreground can be seen a group of Londoners practising their archery on the site of what are now the elegant Georgian houses of Canonbury. Though they doubtless regarded the archery as a sport, it had long been one of the compulsory skills of the members of the citizen militia, the trainbands, who a generation earlier had defended London against the armies of King Charles I.

Maps K. Top 26.5-r

S.H. Grimm, A drawn View of the Distribution of His Majesty's Maundy by the Sub-Almoner, in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall, 1773.  Maps K. Top 26.5-r

A little more than a century later, on Maundy Thursday, 1773, the King’s Almoner, the Rev. Sir Richard Kaye, the King’s Sub-Almoner, distributed the royal alms to needy pensioners in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, which was then used as a royal chapel. He gave 35  pensioners 35 specially minted silver pence each, reflecting the King’s age in  1773.  The King, dressed in red, looked on from a gallery: unlike today, the monarch  did not actually distribute the alms. Kaye commissioned a Swiss artist, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, who had moved to London 5 years earlier, to depict the scene in watercolour. Grimm produced two large watercolours which are widely regarded as his masterpieces and exhibited them the next year, 1774, at the Royal Academy. There they were seen by George III – who was captivated by them. He tried to get Kaye to present them to him – but Kaye would not listen. George tried again and again to get Kaye to change his mind over the following decades but with no more success. Finally, in 1810 Kaye bequeathed them to George in his will – if he were still interested. By the time Kaye died, the King himself had gone incurably insane, but the watercolours were placed in his geographical collections, the trophies of a pursuit that had lasted nearly four decades.

Maps_k_top_21_31_5_c_port_11_tab (detail)William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks1808.  Maps K . Top. 21.31-5-c. Port.II. Tab

Aquatints enjoyed their heyday just as Great Britain was experiencing a technological revolution and our last two views commemorate different aspects of it. The first, an aquatint by William Daniell, shows the newly-built East India Docks, designed by John Rennie and Ralph Walker, that had just been constructed on the Isle of Dogs in East London. A masterpiece of engineering, it – with the West India and London Docks – gave London the capacity to absorb the goods that were flooding into Great Britain, making London the greatest trading city in the world. Had they not been built, the Thames alone could not have accommodated all the ships, which would have been compelled to go elsewhere. The River Lee is seen entering the Thames to the left and across the river is the site of the O2 Arena.

Maps K Top 30.1-1-g.

Augustus Charles Pugin, engraved by J. Hill, View of the Excavated Ground for Highgate Archway,  1812.  Maps K Top 30.1-1-g.

The second aquatint, by Augustus Charles Pugin, the father of the man who decorated the interior of the present-day Houses of Parliament, commemorates a disaster. In around 1800 John Rennie proposed that one of the first by-passes should be created. It would enable horse traffic to avoid the steep slope of Highgate Hill, along the main road North from London. The new road would run along a cutting at the side of the hill until it disappeared into a tunnel beneath a ridge that ran east from Highgate. Rennie’s geological researches were faulty however, and in April 1812 the tunnel collapsed in spectacular fashion, much to the glee of the gossiping classes. This print shows the aftermath. A year later, John Nash constructed a permanent bridge over the chasm and its descendant continues to carry traffic to and from Highgate, while the Archway Road thunders beneath.

This is just a fraction of what is contained in the King’s Topographical Collection and there are many more treasures to be uncovered. We are now fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise this collection and you can help us by making a donation today at If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart ( and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (

03 March 2015

Robert Adam and the King’s Topographical Collection

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Robert Adam (1728-1792), who died on this day in 1792, is perhaps the best-known British architect of the 18th-century. He, and his lesser-known brothers, John and James, combined and re-modelled architectural and decorative elements from Roman antiquities in Pompeii and Split, which they had seen during their Grand Tour, to create a distinctive style, foreshadowing the neo-classicism of many British buildings created between about 1780 and 1850. They are also famous as being among the first architects to design all aspects of their buildings, from plan, exterior and interior designs to the furnishings and fixtures.

The Adam brothers played a major part in the creation of the King George III’s geographical Collection when in 1762 they negotiated the purchase, on the King’s behalf, of the collections of Cardinal Francesco Albani, which account for some of the most outstanding items in the Italian volumes of the King’s Topographical Collection. Of particular importance are the 16th-century maps and views collected by Cassiano dal Pozzo, the most important 17th-century collector of prints and drawings, and architectural drawings from the papal archives.

Despite this successful mission, Robert Adam never enjoyed the sustained patronage of George III, but the King’s Topographical Collection contains autograph drawings by him for actual or proposed buildings in London and the South-East, and views of the buildings that he created.

The most significant, and of crucial importance for any evaluation of his work, is the only surviving hand-drawn plan by him and his brothers for an important development on the Strand, called the Adelphi, or, in English, ‘Brothers’ – an allusion to Robert, James and John who all worked on it.

1James, John and Robert Adam and their workshop]  The unique surviving plan for the Adelphi, 1786.  The ‘Royal Terrace’ overlooked the Thames.  Maps K Top 22.7-a

The plan, dating from 1768, was probably sent to the King in the hope of raising money in 1771. The Adelphi, which was modelled on the palace of the Emperor Diocletian in Split in Croatia, was the first ever attempt in Britain to disguise what was effectively a housing estate as a palace (an idea later followed in the Nash terraces around Regents Park). The King’s Topographical Collection also includes a handsome view of how the brothers thought their development would look, with the massive arches supporting the buildings leading directly to the shores of the Thames as they did before the creation of The Embankment in the mid-19th century.

2Benedetto Pastorini, South Front of the New Buildings called Adelphi , ca. 1774.  Maps K Top 22.7-b.

The heart of the Adelphi was demolished in the 1930s, though several of the houses in the side terraces and the vaults remain.

The King’s Topographical Collection contains preliminary drawings for various handsome structures that never got built. One was a proposed grand entrance to London at Hyde Park Corner – not far from where the Wellington Arch stands today. Imposing though it looks, it was primarily meant to be a tollhouse!

KTop 27.26.c.2Robert Adam [Elevation and plan of a proposed arch at Hyde Park Corner, November 1778]  Maps K Top 27.26-c-2.


‘An elevation, in Indian ink, of a building proposed to be erected by his Majesty at Richmond, for a register of the weather, designed by James Adam, Archt. 1770,’  Maps K Top 41.16-s

At the time that the Adelphi was being planned, in 1770, brother James Adam submitted an elegant proposal for a weather observatory in Richmond Park, reminding us that, like the true Briton that he prided himself on being, George III was fascinated by the vagaries of his homeland’s climate!

The Collection includes views of some buildings that remain with us to today, like Kenwood House between Hampstead and Highgate, which Robert Adam remodelled for the Lord Chief Justice and fellow Scot, the Earl of Mansfield between 1764 and 1779, adding a completely new library wing. Adam was rightly proud of his work, and the print of the garden front which he included in his collected works is to be found in the King’s Topographical Collection. But in this blog we are reproducing an idyllic view published in 1781 showing the artist, George Robertson, drawing the House from meadows on the other side of the still-existing lane that led from Highgate to Hampstead Lane. If you look carefully you can make out the Spaniards’ Inn in the background.


George  Robertson,  View of Kenwood, the Seat of the Earl of Mansfield,  engraved by Lowry (London: J. Boydell, 1781).  Maps K Top 30.31-2-b

Perhaps the most remarkable building that Robert Adam created in the South-East of England, however, was the enormous – but temporary – pavilion to host a fete champetre hosted by the11th Earl of Derby in the gardens of his home, The Oaks, near Epsom in Surrey on 9 June 1774. The Earl is best remembered to day for the races that are named after him – and after his home. The festivities were intended to celebrate the wedding of the Earl’s grandson, Lord Stanley, to Lady Betty Hamilton. A vestibule led to a dining and supper room was 120 feet long which encircled the ballroom. Over 1000 visitors in fancy dress attended and the festivities which were marked by a masque, country sports, country dances and formal dances directed by the ballet master of the Royal Ballet. Prints by Caldwell and Grignon, published in 1780 immortalised the rather frenetic atmosphere – and the architecture – of what must to its participants have seemed a golden afternoon and evening.


James Caldwell, Interior view of the ball room of the pavilion erected for a Fete Champetere  in the garden of the Earl of Derby’s in the Oaks, at Epsom Surrey. 1774.  Engraved by Charles Grignion, 1780. Maps K Top 40.25-b


James Caldwell, Interior view of the supper room of the pavilion erected for a Fete Champetere  in the garden of the Earl of Derby’s in the Oaks, at Epsom Surrey. 1774. Engraved by Charles Grignion, 1780. Maps K Top 40.25-c

We are fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise King George III's collection. Help us unlock one of the world's most important map and view collections by making a donation today at If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart ( and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (

Peter Barber


02 March 2015

Support King George III’s London collection

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King George III’s collection of about 60,000 maps and views is one of the greatest hidden treasures of the British Library. Over the past 18 months with the valued support of private donors, we’ve managed to re-catalogue and to digitise the coloured views, and the maps, views and atlases covering the Americas, China, Scotland, the south-West of England and Spain. We’ve made exciting discoveries. We’ve uncovered important new information about the relations between government and the press in 18th-century Britain, about early British links with China and about British art and artists in the golden age of watercolour. But so far we’ve barely covered 20% of the whole. Amazingly, we still have to make a start with the c. 2,000 maps and views covering London and the South-East, though some funding has already been received.

Maps KTop 6.95.bThomas Milne’s land-use map of London of 1800 (Maps K Top 6.95)

We already know that this part of the collection includes Elizabeth I’s own plan for the defence of the Thames in 1588, beautiful examples of all the major maps and views of London created between 1616 and 1824 and the largest surviving set of original drawings for Hawksmoor’s great East End churches. The collection also includes the only surviving example of the earliest land-use map and contemporary adverts for schools and wire fencing, buns shops and hospitals. Adverts like these are now as rare as gold dust. We also know that these items are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what remains to be discovered – and shared through digitisation - with the whole world.

Maps K.Top.23.10-cHawksmoor’s  drawing for the spire of St Bride’s Church (Maps K Top23.10-c, )

Maps K.Top.22.4-2 (different detail)

Detail from the plan for the proposed line of Regent Street of 1813 (Map K Top 22.4-2)

Maps C.5.a.6Detail from C.J. Visscher's panorama of London, 1616 (Maps C.5.a.6)

All we need is your support. Over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you more insights into the collection – and reasons why you should contribute as generously as you can!

Please visit to make a donation today. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart ( and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (

Peter Barber 

26 January 2015

Enigmas and Errors: 19th-century cataloguing of the King’s Topographical Collection Part 2

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What do E M Forster and King George III have in common? Alas, this is not the beginning of a terrible joke. The answer is a little-known British topographical and marine artist, Charles John Mayle Whichelo (1784-1854). Whichelo was Forster’s great-grandfather and four of his works have remained unattributed in King George III’s Topographical Collection since at least 1829.

In an earlier post I looked at a drawing incorrectly catalogued as the Trinity Hospital in Guildford in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829) and how the cataloguers transcribed inscriptions without questioning attribution and identification. Similarly, in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972] (London, 1844-1861) these errors were repeated. This has also been the case with four early watercolours by Whichelo, painted when he was nineteen in 1803.  Three of the watercolours depict London (Westminster and Stepney) while a fourth shows Sussex: St Margaret's Westminster Signed JW and dated 1803, Maps K.Top.23.24.a. 


St Margaret's Westminster, 1803, watercolour, by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.23.24.a.



Detail of Maps K.Top.23.24.a.

 This watercolour is catalogued as ‘A drawn View of the Church of St. Margaret Westminster, by I.W., 1803.’ in the 1829 catalogue but in the 1844 catalogue he is called ‘J.W.’


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829.).


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861)

S. S. E. View of Stepney Church signed ‘John Whiche’ within a gravestone, Maps K.Top.28.18.e.  and N. N. E. View of Stepney Church, signed and dated 'J.W. 1803',  Maps K.Top.28.18.f


S. S. E. View of Stepney Church, 1803, watercolour, by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.28.18.e.


Detail of the signature on Maps K.Top.28.18.e.


N. N. E. View of Stepney Church, 1803, watercolour by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.28.18.f.


Detail of the signature and date on Maps K.Top.28.18.f.

These are catalogued as being by IW and dated respectively 1801 and 1803 in the 1829 catalogue. but by JW and both dated 1803 in the 1844 catalogue. The 1844 catalogue identifies the church as St Dunstan’s, Stepney, but only for Maps K.Top.28.18.e.  


Detail of entries for Maps K.Top.28.18.e. and Maps K.Top.28.18.f. in the 1829 catalogue.


Detail of entries for Maps K.Top.28.18.e. and Maps K.Top.28.18.f. in the 1844 catalogue.

The fourth watercolour by Whichelo is the South East View Shoreham Church  signed J Whichelo 1803, Maps K.Top.42.24.b.


South East View Shoreham Church, 1803, watercolour by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.42.24.b.


Detail of Maps K.Top.42.24.b. .  Maps K.Top.42.24.b is signed ‘J. Whichelo’ but is catalogued as ‘A colored south-east view of New Shoreham Church; drawn by J. Whiebela, in 1809’ in the 1829 and 1844 catalogues.


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.42.24.b. in the 1829 catalogue.


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.42.24.b. in the 1844 catalogue.

The 1829 and 1844 catalogues record Whichelo’s name in different ways: IW, JW or Whiebela, although it is clear that all items are by the same hand and of similar subjects. This points to the fact that the cataloguers were required to work quickly through a large amount of material and they simply transcribed what they saw, or rather what they thought they saw on the work. It also shows that either more than one cataloguer was working through the material (otherwise we might expect a little more consistency in the attributions) or that those working on the collection were not able to correct their initial catalogue list.

A great many prints and drawings in the King’s Topographical Collection arrived in volumes or folios which were then disbound and regrouped according to geographical location, losing any sense of previous order, collection or provenance. That the Whichelos were catalogued inconsistently suggests that while they had probably entered the collection as a group, they had been split up before they were catalogued. The lack of consistency in recording attribution may also be because the artist was not the focus of the collection: it was topography.

The cataloguing, digitisation and research of the King’s Topographical Collection has allowed us to reattribute works and begin to gain a better understanding of the oeuvre of a number of topographical artists whose work has remained hitherto largely unstudied for the last two centuries. It has also allowed us to begin to compare works in this collection to similar works in others, such as some early Whichelo London watercolours and prints from the London Metropolitan Archives. and the British Museum

Many of Whichelo’s early topographical works were used as illustrations in publications such as E. W. Brayley's Beauties of England and Wales (1801–15) and of Pennant's Tours (of England, Scotland and Wales). Studying such volumes with the body of Whichelo’s topographical watercolours would be the next step in further understanding Whichelo’s early career.

These four small and previously unattributed watercolours in the King’s Topographical Collection are an example of the value of contemporary research and cataloguing, which has allowed for a greater understanding of the career of a prolific but often-overlooked British topographical artist working at the beginning of the 19th century.

Detail of Maps K.Top.42.24.b.

Alexandra Ault

19 January 2015

Fruits of Espionage in the K.Top

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Each region covered by King George III’s Topographical Collection has its own  particular character.  The volumes covering France are rich in maps that must have been taken by spies from the official French archives – the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the French National Archives mirror this situation by having numerous maps with an official English provenance.

We have to say ‘must’ because while the circumstantial evidence is often very strong, conclusive documentary proof is almost always lacking. There is only one incontestable piece of evidence of espionage in the King’s  Topographical Collection. It comes in a contemporary scribbled note stating that an agent – presumably working in the French War Office in Versailles – was paid 50 guineas by the Duke of Cumberland for a series of official plans of Metz, then an important French outpost in the North-East,  dating from 1727 and 1760. [Maps K. Top. 67.80 - 2 – a,c,d-g; for the agent, Rex Whitworth, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.  A Life (London: Leo Cooper, 1992), p.173]. 

But one can be fairly confident about the source of other maps and plans. The papers of Charles II’s ambassador in Paris, Richard Graham, Viscount Preston, now in the British Library, contain a string of letters explaining in detail how Preston’s agents managed to intercept many maps of French border regions and of fortresses in France and abroad in the early 1680s  as they were trundling through the streets of Paris on their way from Versailles to the Invalides to be copied. [Peter Barber, ‘Necessary and Ornamental: Map Use in England under the Later Stuarts 1660-1714’, Eighteenth Century Life 14/3 (November 1990), p.19].

The numerous detailed manuscript maps of Picardy and Flanders dating from the 1650s and the plans of individual forts in the King’s Topographical Collection could well be among the ones stolen then [Michel Desbrière, Champagne Septentrionale.  Cartes et Mémoires à l’usage des Militaires 1544-1659 (Charleville-Mézières: Societé d’études ardennaises, 1995), pp. 79-96 ]. One particularly ornate manuscript plan, showing   Huningue near Basel on the Rhine, is in the style of the maps copied in the early 1680s by skilled miniaturists in the workshop in the Invalides  for inclusion in luxurious manuscript atlases being prepared for the King and his most important ministers.  It even  contains a handsome miniaturised portrait of Louis XIV himself!

It is more difficult to pinpoint the way in which  other, later, French military maps reached the King’s Topographical Collection, but there is again evidence among the British Library’s other collections, that some French military engineers facilitated their transfer to British service in the course of the 1690s by carrying with them the latest plans of important French forts. [Peter Barber and A. Stuart Mason ''Captain Thomas, the French engineer': and the teaching of Vauban to the English', Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, xxv (3) (autumn 1991), 279-287].

A colored "plan du Fort Louis du Rhin"; drawn about 1740 [Maps K.Top 58.24]

A couple of weeks ago an important new addition to this group has come to light.  It is a manuscript plan of Hesdin near Calais of about 1692 (Maps K Top 58.24). Hesdin  had only finally been absorbed into the French dominions in the 1650s and was one of a  group of towns that the famous French military engineer, Sebastien le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban  (1633-1707), was re-fortifiying in the early 1690s utilising the latest technology and defensive theories, to protect France’s northern borders.


But this plan does not just show the fortifications of Hesdin. It contains evidence that it was being used in the French war office, to monitor their efficacy. There is a penciled square around the centre of the plan with an inscription stating that  ‘the square of which this line is one of the sides encloses the extent of the terrain which is occupied by the relief that has been made for the King’ (‘Le Cadre don’t cette ligne est un des cotés Renferme l’espace du terrain qu’occupe le Relief quon a fait pour le Roy’). The style of the hand is the same as that of the plan and suggests that it was not a later addition but formed part of the plan from the start.  The ‘Relief’ was one of the so-called ‘Plans et Reliefs’ or immensely detailed 3-D relief models of towns and forts prepared for the French authorities from the late 17th century. Many are to be seen nowadays in a museum devoted to them in the Invalides in Paris and in the basement of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille.

The relief model of Hesdin does not seem to survive, and may no longer have been in existence when the plan was illicitly removed from the French archives. However it offers a possibly unique insight into how the relief models were actually used on a day-to-day basis. Far from being expensive playthings, they were used in combination with two-dimensional maps – like the plan in the King’s Topographical Collection – to monitor the effectiveness of France’s defences and, if necessary,  to follow the course of a potential siege. In this respect they foreshadowed the computer simulations and the interplay between Google maps and Google views of our time.

More – probably much more – of great importance for French history remains to be discovered among the maps in the French sections of the King’s Topographical Collection. However they will remain hidden unless a sponsor can be found to enable our highly-skilled cataloguing team to work at them.

Support the British Library's King's Topographical Collection here.

Peter Barber

02 January 2015

George, Jacobites, Scotland and the K.Top – A Brief Summary

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The cataloguing and digitisation of the King’s Topographical Collection, George III’s personal collection of maps and views, continues apace at the British Library with many exciting discoveries along the way.  Catalogue records are being expanded and improved, and digitisation will allow images to appear against the catalogue records for all to see at Explore the British Library.

The recent focus on those volumes from the K.Top devoted to Scotland has highlighted an exciting and eclectic mix of material.  There are 17th- and 18th-century maps of the kingdom as a whole published by some of the major European cartographers; there are detailed maps of General George Wade’s military roads; there are manuscript maps and plans of fortified locations produced by the Board of Ordnance in response to the Jacobite threat to Hanoverian rule; there is General William Roy’s seminal Military Survey of Scotland, one of the British Library’s great cartographic treasures and the exemplification of military surveying of the period that would influence and impact on the Ordnance Survey to follow; there are large-scale county maps on multiple sheets; there are detailed town and city plans including 19th-century proposals and projections, some never realised, for Edinburgh; all amongst many other items.  In fact, there are nearly 800 maps and views of Scotland in total.

While Roy’s military survey from the collection is already well-documented and researched (a previous, joint British Library and National Library of Scotland project presents digital images of the “fair copy” of the map online at, along with background information and a bibliography), this is perhaps an exception within the collection.  The K.Top project has revealed new information about some of the other maps and has added detail to many catalogue records. A few highlights are recorded here.

The River Forth above Stirling and the Jacobites Maps K.Top.48.77.a. and Maps K.Top.48.77.b. were previously titled A Map of the River Forth from Loch Ard to Stirling: with a MS. account of the Fords and Another Copy of ditto, with a printed account of the Fords in the “Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third, etc.” [London: Printed by order of the Trustees of the British Museum, 1829], and were similarly transcribed into the British Library’s online catalogue. However, these brief titles did not reveal the significance of the two maps and some of the differences between them.

Maps K.Top.77.a
Maps K.Top.48.77.a.     


Maps K.Top.77.b
Maps K.Top.48.77.b.

Although the attribution of the map to William Edgar is documented in D. G. Moir’s “The Early Maps of Scotland” (Volume II, page 15), along with the date “(1746?)”, Moir records only three examples of the map (in the Bodleian Library, Glasgow University Library and the British Museum) and he does not refer to any examples with manuscript text.  Comparison of the two K.Top maps side by side reveals differences between the manuscript and printed text.  The manuscript text ends “... an old strong place belonging to the Earl of Murray, presently possest by the Rebels”.

Maps K.Top.77.a. - final paragraph
Maps K.Top.48.77.a. [partial]

Doune Castle, the seat of the Earl of Moray, was taken by the Jacobites, the text’s “Rebels”, in 1745.  The map with printed text lacks this final reference to the rebels, suggesting this example with manuscript text dates from during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 and pre-dates the example with printed text, which makes explicit reference to 1746 and which removes reference to Doune Castle being “presently possest”.

Maps K.Top.77.b. - text
Maps K.Top.48.77.b. [partial]

The map itself seems to have been engraved (although perhaps not printed and published?) prior to the production of the text.  Dr Joseph Rock’s website detailing the life chronology of Richard Cooper, engraver, points to a receipt in the National Library of Scotland for the engraving of this map on copper in 1744 – see MS. 17530, f. 151 at the National Library of Scotland.  Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland, was kind enough to examine the receipt and confirm Lord Justice Clerk - Andrew Fletcher, Lord Milton, whose papers MS. 17530, f. 151 is within - paid Cooper £2.0.0 for engraving “the Survey of the River Forth above Stirling, including copper and polishing”.

Chris Fleet also commented upon the National Library of Scotland’s MS. 17528, f.142, again within the Milton papers – another example (not mentioned in Moir) of the engraved map “with the text in a very neat manuscript pen. The text looked identical to the printed letterpress text, and ended an old Strong place belonging to the Earl of Murray". Chris hypothesises that this map and manuscript text, if supposed to be a draft for the printed map and text, could suggest Lord Milton may have been responsible for the wider dissemination of the map in 1746.  Certainly a subject for further investigation.

Provenance Cataloguing the collection has included recording verso markings and annotations that may offer clues as to the provenance of maps and views prior to their belonging to George III.  Whilst Maps K.Top.49.23.b. is interesting in its own right as a drawing by Thomas Sandby, PROSPECT of the CASTLE GLAMIS the SEAT of the EARLE of Strathmore in the SHIRE of ANGUS NORTH BRITAIN. Thos. Sandby delin., its verso also exhibits one of the clearest examples of provenance within the entire collection.  Displayed on the verso is the Duke of Cumberland’s cipher; the initials “WA” (for William Augustus) sit boldly above the volume and identification number from Cumberland’s collection - all contained within a simple, circular surround.

Maps K.Top 49.23.b. VERSO

Maps K.Top.49.23.b. [verso]

Both Peter Barber in George III and his collection published in “The wisdom of George the Third: papers from a symposium at the Queen's gallery, Buckingham Palace June 2004”, edited with an introduction by Jonathan Marsden (London: Royal Collection, 2005.) and Yolande Hodson in 'Prince William, Royal Map Collector' in The Map Collector, Issue number 44, Autumn 1988 (Tring: Map Collector Publications, 1988) examine provenance in further detail.

A further consideration? Peter Barber, Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials at the British Library, suggests that one might consider the William Edgar maps detailed above (Maps K.Top.48.77.a. and Maps K.Top.48.77.b.) in conjunction with a possible Duke of Cumberland provenance.  Although the Edgar maps do not display a Duke of Cumberland cipher, one could speculate (and it is only speculation) that the Duke received the example of the Edgar map with manuscript text from Lord Milton directly – perhaps Lord Milton was seeking government or official approval from the Duke of Cumberland? This would seem a more likely possibility than George III (or his agents at auction) acquiring the map with manuscript text directly some years later when its topicality would be somewhat diluted and, in any case, the final, printed version would have been in existence.

Military Mapping and the Board of Ordnance The K.Top Scottish volumes contain a considerable number of military maps produced (or copied, perhaps as a part of training) by draughtsmen under the direction of the Board of Ordnance.  These maps have now been brought together in the British Library catalogue records for the first time, a task made possible by Carolyn Anderson’s 2009 PhD thesis and associated index, “Constructing the Military Landscape: The Board of Ordnance Maps and Plans of Scotland, 1689–1815” (itself available at the British Library with the shelfmark Document Supply DRT 555179). These Board of Ordnance maps and plans can be seen to form a cohesive group and are now identified on catalogue records with the “Board of Ordnance” subject heading highlighted below – a small, but hopefully important, addition to the records.

Each record relating to the Board of Ordnance also has a citation from Anderson’s index, further linking them and their production origins, and enabling future comparison and research amongst those maps both within the K.Top and with other Board of Ordnance plans held by the National Library of Scotland and elsewhere.

Cataloguing and digitisation continue, as too does fundraising, for this wonderful project and further details may be found here.

 Kate Marshall

18 December 2014

George III architectural plans

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The 1780s were  very difficult years  for George III.  In addition to the political turbulence and the personal  trauma that he suffered at the time of the loss of the American colonies in 1783, he had a period of severe mental illness in 1788-9.  During this period he seems to have found solace and escape  in concentrating on building up his private collection of maps and views and by the end of the decade these were housed in the room next to his bedroom in Buckingham House.  Most of this collection of maps and views is now in the British Library and known as the King’s topographical Collection.

By the end of the decade George was consulting some of his collection for very practical ends.  Following his recovery from mental illness in 1789, the King thought of abdicating and retiring to Hanover.  The collection includes a volume of plans of palaces in and around Hanover dating from 1763 (now Maps 7. Tab. 17.).  While George might originally have asked for the volume to be sent from Hanover, which he never visited, out of curiosity (he was passionately interested in architecture), by the summer of  1789 he must have been focused in investigating his possible future living quarters.

AB20123-72 shelfmark Maps 7 Tab 17
J.H. Schmidt, from 'Five Plans of the Royal Palace in Hanover', 1763. British Library Maps 7.TAB.17.

Be that as it may, about 15 years ago a folded piece of paper was found inserted loose in one of the plans. On one side was an order of service dated Friday 10 July which has since been identified as relating to a service in St George’s Chapel, Windsor on that day in 1785.  On the other side was a pencilled measured plan and on the back was a roughly drawn inked plan for a grand palace.  Looking more closely, no less than four grand staircases are sketched in, with long corridors instead of a suite of rooms.  This design, for a very grand palace, is very different in its vigorous character and strange content from the pencilled plan on the other side. It is difficult to imagine who could have drawn and inserted the plan other than the King: the combination of order of service and of architectural plans is very telling as is the fact that it was found where it was.  Though George allowed distinguished contemporaries access to his collections, it is unlikely that a courtier would leave such an item or that an English visitor would be interested in Hanoverian palaces.  The is also a touch of the manic in the way in which the inked plan is drawn.

George III, Sketch of a palace floor plan, 1785-9. British Library Maps 7.TAB.17

So perhaps one can reconstruct what happened – not with certainty but with a strong degree of possibility.  And that is that one day – or perhaps sleepless night – George decided to look at the volume of plans.  One plan, showing a floor of the town palace in Hanover and includes a flap with proposals for changes, caught his eye – but then he was disturbed or had to leave.  He inserted the first thing that  came to hand as a bookmark, intending to return to the volume.

However the trauma passed and the French Revolution and the consequent threat of invasion by France inaugurated a period of great popularity for George III in Great Britain.  All thoughts of abdicating and retiring to Hanover were forgotten – as was the volume of plans of Hanover with its very personal bookmark.

Peter Barber

Support the King's Topographical Collection here.