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.
19 October 2016
In the 20th century maps truly arrived at people’s fingertips. People learnt to read maps and to use them for a wide number of pursuits, especially (though not exclusively) finding their way around.
The Ordnance Survey’s National Map Reading Week initiative is motivated by a concern that people have stopped being able to read maps in this age of automatic mapping (where people are instead increasingly read by maps). There is a strong feeling that map-reading should be a basic life-skill. It is a feeling which arose during the early decades of the 20th century as maps became important tools in education and way-finding, as peoples’ horizons widened to beyond their immediate vicinities, and as mobility, tourism and general ‘open-air culture’ became the norm for much of western society.
Henry James Deverson and Ronald Lampitt, The Map That Came to Life. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1948. Cup.1245.aa.53.
One of the most celebrated 20th century children’s map reading guides is showcased in our forthcoming exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Published in 1948, Ronald Lampitt and James Deverson’s The Map that Came to Life follows the story of John and Joanna who use an Ordnance Survey map to walk to town. As they pass over fields, past houses and along footpaths, their surroundings are compared with map adjacent on the same page. The fields turn into contoured blank spaces, houses become black cubes, footpaths dashed lines. Map literacy is acquired by the reader as they accompany the children on their virtual journey, matching map with reality.
In The Map that Came to Life the map is portrayed as an objective, precise and above all truthful mirror of nature. And this inherent trustworthiness enabled maps to become important features of the lives of successive generations of people. Over time maps became able to serve people with growing ease, particularly thanks to automated mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the 1990s.
But was this growing ease without cost? The implications of what commentators such as the historian J.B. Harley felt to be a relinquishing of people’s control over maps were voiced even before the end of the century. But the danger that society could forget how to use maps would have been widely viewed as collateral against the massive pace of positive technological change, if it was thought of at all.
Does the mapping impulse lie dormant but still active within society? National Map Reading Week may tell us whether we really want to find out.