13 November 2020
You may already be aware with all the recent publicity surrounding the release of the first batch of images from the King’s Topographical Collection that this is indeed an incredible resource with countless unique maps and views. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite items which I think are wonderful examples you may encounter while browsing the collection. Fascinating not only because of the unusual format of some of the items or unexpected subject matter but also the fact that they provide a glimpse of what was interesting and worth collecting back in the 18th and 19th centuries. With 18,000 images available on Flickr there is plenty to discover!
This 17th century intricate architectural drawing shows the structure of the Cordouan lighthouse (Phare de Cordouan). What is unusual about this drawing is the use of flaps which are pasted over a round base representing the building. These flaps can be lifted to reveal a detailed layout of the various levels of the lighthouse.
Phare de Cordouan is situated at sea near the mouth of the Gironde Estuary 4.3 miles off the French coast and was constructed in 1611 to Louis de Foix, the royal engineer’s design. The original structure comprised of five storeys and included the grand entrance hall, King’s chambers, a chapel, apartments for the keepers and, of course, the lantern itself. The entire building was richly ornamented with particular attention paid to grand décor and its unique design became a symbol of power. Phare de Cordouan is one of the oldest lighthouses in France and is still in use today.
Maps K.Top.36.24.2.b. Plan of the most remarkable effects of the earthquake, which happened ye 27th of May, 1773; at the Birches, in the Parish of Buildwas and near Coalbrookdale in the County of Salop… 1773.
This unusual map represents an aftermath of a geological event which occurred in 1773 near the village of Buildwas in Shropshire. The eye-catching title resembles a sensationalist headline style although soon after the event it was established that the cause was a landslip rather than an earthquake - in the mapmaker’s defence the term earthquake was used occasionally to describe a landslip in the late 18th century. Whatever the cause, the map is a contemporary record of an event that significantly changed the local landscape and impacted the community.
It delineates the extent of the damage including the pre- and post- earthquake configuration of the area such as the road location, the old and the new course of the River Severn, as well as the chasms and areas where the ground was raised. The force of water damaged the existing bridge which was eventually replaced in 1796 by a cast iron bridge built to the design of the Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford (it was actually his first iron bridge). The map was published just four months after the event in the context of an inquiry into the reconstruction of the turnpike road and the river channel.
Maps K.Top.27.41.7. Fox's new floating bath, now lying opposite Surry Stairs, near Somerset Place, on the Middlesex Side of the Thames, for the Reception & Use of Bathers. About 1810.
This rare ephemera from the beginning of the 19th century advertises an innovative and rather bizarre concept: a boat specifically constructed to serve as public baths. Conveniently moored on the River Thames in central London this floating facility would be ‘the compleatest and best adapted of its kind for bathing in England’.
The adventurous entrepreneur worked out all the logistics explained in the accompanying text. The floating baths would be made available on a subscription or a single-entry basis and serviced by watermen transporting the bathers to and from the boat. There was a promise of a pleasant experience in the stylish décor and even health benefits claiming that the facility was recommended by doctors. These were rather doubtful claims as bathing in the Thames surely could not be beneficial considering how polluted the River was in the 19th century. There is no record that such a boat was ever constructed but the idea was realised on a much larger scale later in the century when in the 1870s floating baths opened on the Westminster embankment with water filtering systems in place.
Maps K.Top.119.17. [A coloured chart of the upper part of Lake Erie at Fort Erie and a detailed plan of Fort Erie, together with three cross sectional drawings]. 1764.
This manuscript plan of Fort Erie (Ontario, Canada) is a prime example of fine draughtsmanship. It has an artistic element to it with lot of attention paid to aesthetics. The plan incorporates the fortification elements drawn to different scales to fit the sheet without making it look overcrowded. Produced by Franz Pfister an engineer and an accomplished surveyor with a military purpose in mind, it provides an insight into 18th century fortification design techniques and shows in detail individual structures including cross sections and views of buildings.
Fort Erie was constructed on the north-western shore of Lake Erie in 1764 after the Seven Years’ War when Great Britain gained the territories in New France. It was the first British fort built in order to establish a communication network between the Niagara River and the Upper Great Lakes and played a significant role as a supply depot for the British troops during the American Revolution.
Maps K.Top.117.24.1.a. Sketch of the Northern Part of Africa Exhibiting the Geographical Information Collected by the African Association. Compiled by J. Rennell. 1790. & 1792.
This printed map is a great example that demonstrates the process by which maps were brought up to date. It was prepared for the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior of Africa and contains manuscript annotations displaying the new geographical detail acquired by Major Daniel Houghton during his expedition of 1790-1791. The updates include amendments to spelling of place names, corrections of positioning of settlements, the courses of rivers, as well as extent of lakes and mountain ranges.
The map along with the accompanying handwritten Memoir and a letter from Henry Beaufoy a secretary of the Association, to Sir Frederic Barnard, George III’s librarian, constitute a primary resource on Houghton’s expedition. The documents reveal that the expedition was not strictly a geographical enquiry. Major Houghton also investigated the feasibility of establishing a trade route, commercial prospects and potential demand for commodities which could be supplied by the British including military equipment and supply of ammunition.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
02 September 2020
On the 2nd September 1666 a fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane near London Bridge. The flames quickly spread to neighbouring buildings and within a few hours the fire was out of control. Owing to the long period of drought and strong wind the fire burnt wildly for four days consuming the city. When it was finally extinguished on 6th September two-thirds of the City of London within the perimeter of the Old Roman Wall was completely devastated. Only a handful of buildings remained with almost all houses, public buildings and churches burned to cinders.
A true and exact prospect of the famous Citty of London from St. Marie Overs steeple in Southwarke in its flourishing condition before the fire by Wenceslaus Hollar. London, 1666. Maps K.Top.21.36.
The event was described in detail by eye witness accounts which included those recorded by well-known figures such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. Their accounts together with maps created soon after the fire provide a more complete picture of the disaster.
The Great Fire of London made news throughout Europe. The near destruction of the capital raised huge interest among the general public. Publishers quickly realised the commercial potential in this catastrophe and over the following months numerous maps were issued informing the national and international audiences eager understand the scale of the disaster.
PLATTE GRONDT DER STADT LONDON MET NIEUW MODEL EN HOE DIE AFGEBRANDT IS, news sheet printed in Amsterdam by Frederick de Witt. Maps Crace Port. 1.49
These maps were often accompanied by a detailed description of the event and included a panoramic view showing the City in flames. The extent of the destroyed area was represented either by a dotted line or just a blank empty space – a sobering reminder of the scale of the tragedy.
As soon as the flames were extinguished efforts were undertaken to map the extent of the damage and to aid the recovery and rebuilding of the City for the future. A group of determined surveyors lead by John Leake commenced work by drawing up plans of the destroyed perimeter. The resulting multi-sheet survey was presented to King Charles II just six months after the fire and a reduced version engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar was issued in print in 1667.
AN EXACT SURVEIGH OF THE STREETS LANES AND CHURCHES CONTAINED WITHIN THE RUINES OF THE CITY OF LONDON... by John Leake, engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar Maps Crace Port. 1.50.
The disaster was seen as an opportunity to redesign the City in an improved form and a number of ambitious proposals were submitted for consideration to the City council and the King. Many of these proposals echoed the architecture of the famous European capitals and included improvements such as new street layout with wide boulevards and piazzas, majestic designs for public buildings and a regularised river front.
A plan of the City of London after the Great Fire, in the year of our Lord 1666, With the model of the new City, according to the Grand Design of Sr. Christopher Wren. London, 1749. Maps Crace Port.17.5.
These grand ideas were rejected mainly due to financial constraints and London was rebuilt on a very similar grid as before the fire. Christopher Wren played a big part in reconstruction of London with many churches constructed to his design including one of London’s most famous landmarks St Paul’s Cathedral. To commemorate the Great Fire of London a 202 feet tall column called the Monument was built near the location where the fire started, a permanent reminder of the horrific event.
Monument to the Great Fire of London by William Lodge, published by Pierce Tempest. Maps K.Top.24.16.a.
11 August 2020
I'm very excited to announce that the georeferenced versions of the British Library's Goad fire insurance maps now form a layer on the Layers of London platform[https://www.layersoflondon.org/]. Their addition to the Layers of London web map interface would not have been possible without the addition of thousands of control points added by our georeferencer community. Thanks so much for all their help, please take a look at the maps in all their glory here
These control points allow the images to be positioned in geographical space and therefore viewed as layers alongside the other maps and data contributed by a wealth of esteemed organisations like British Historic Town Atlas, Historic Towns Trust, London Metropolitan Archives, British Library and MOLA, National Library of Scotland, the National Archives and Historic England [https://www.layersoflondon.org/map?layers=true] Most importantly they can be viewed alongside the contributions provided by the general public on the Layers of London platform. I am particularly pleased that the work of the Georeferencer volunteers has been used to enhance and enrich historical contributions on another volunteer-driven platform. The Goad maps are described on the Layers of London platform as follows:
'The British Library holds a comprehensive collection of fire insurance plans produced by the London-based firm Charles E. Goad Ltd. dating back to 1885. These plans were made for most important towns and cities of the British Isles at the scales of 1:480 (1 inch to 40 feet), as well as many foreign towns at 1:600 (1 inch to 50 feet).'
The Goad maps are well-suited to the Layers of London platform as they depict a critical period in London's urban development:
'This detailed 1887 plan of London was originally produced to aid insurance companies in assessing fire risks. The building footprints, their use (commercial, residential, educational, etc.), the number of floors and the height of the building, as well as construction materials (and thus risk of burning) and special fire hazards (chemicals, kilns, ovens) were documented in order to estimate premiums. Names of individual businesses, property lines, and addresses were also often recorded. Together these maps provide a rich historical shapshot of the commercial activity and urban landscape of towns and cities at the time.'
The project are now looking at potentially making several others sets of London maps available as layers on their platform, more details to follow. Finally, the Layers of London team have been kind enough to share the web map tiles that they created from the GeoTiff rasters back to the British Library. Thanks to the team for providing these. The tiles will save other projects time and Living with Machines[https://livingwithmachines.ac.uk/] are already keen to use them.
26 May 2020
You may have seen one of the British Library’s historic globes included in a ’curators on camera’ feature on social media recently.
It's the unique surviving example of a celestial globe published by Thomas Tuttell (1674-1702) in London in 1700, one of a number of globes we've recently digitised and turned into interactive 3D models for the web.
Thanks to the research of Ashley Baynton-Williams and Laurence Worms (whose indispensable reference work on British Map Engravers was published in 2011) we have some compelling insights into the life and appearance of its creator.
Thomas Tuttell was a versatile craftsman, publisher, surveyor, mathematician and instrument maker, a polymath in today's eyes but something which then was pretty standard given that it all came together under the canopy of popular science. Tuttell, along with a number of other London practitioners, made a living thanks to a new enthusiasm for compasses, quadrants, measuring devices, maps, globes, calendars and mathematical guides. His terrific trade card, below, presents his wares, including what is very probably our celestial globe.
Trade card of Thomas Tuttell [London, c. 1700]. 1934-123. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
But was Tuttell any good? Not everyone thought so, particularly a rival mapmaker Robert Morden, who described him in 1702 as “a late upstart Hydrographer who never did, nor ever knew how to project or draw a map or sea-chart”. He would say that though, wouldn't he. London mapmakers loved insulting their rivals. We can balance Morden's opinion with the one of John Lenthall, who described the ‘Late ingenuious Mr Tuttell’ in his 1717 reissue of a set of mathematical cards first produced by - yes - Thomas Tuttell.
Whether Tuttell was a genius or an upstart, we do know that he was both very resourceful and unbelievably unlucky.
In the first instance, Tuttell didn't actually make the globe himself. A man called Joseph Moxon did, around 50 years earlier. What Tuttell did was cut out a lozenge-shaped piece of paper bearing his name and imprint and stick it over Moxon's name appearing on the globe he had acquired the rights to. The globe was and is an extremely proficient piece of British cartography and craftsmanship - indeed it was the first British-made celestial globe to have been produced in over half a century. Why try and improve an already excellent product? It made good business sense.
Secondly, Tuttell is undoubtedly one of the most unfortunate mapmakers we know of. For example, in June 1692 he advertised in The Post Boy for the return of his distance-measuring instrument called a waywiser (the wheeled object illustrated in the centre foreground of his trade card) that he’d lost or had purloined on the road between Barnet and St. Alban’s. Now, a waywiser isn’t an inconsiderable object in size and heaviness. Very unlucky indeed.
Tuttell also has the tragic accolade of being one of very few mapmakers to have died whilst actually in the process of making a map. He very unfortunately drowned in the River Thames around Dagenham at around 10am on 22 January 1702 whilst surveying on behalf of the Admiralty. He was only 28 years old.
We actually also have a description of poor Tuttell, from a note placed in The Post Boy by his widow Mary requesting the return of his body: ‘He was of a Middle Stature, fair light Hair but his Head newly shaved, his Coat a Grey Cloath napped, trimmed with black Buttons, his Waistcoat Gray, Breeches a light Colour; and his Linnen marked with a red T.’
A portrait of the young mapmaker, recently deceased.
05 May 2020
The Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle and the Atomium in Brussels – these instantly recognisable landmarks are must-see iconic attractions. Whilst original and daring in style, they also have something else in common - they are all architectural structures specifically designed for the Expo World Trade Fairs and maps relating to the first World’s Fair can be found within the British Library’s collections.
It all started nearly 170 years ago when The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, was opened in London on 1 May 1851 by Queen Victoria. And what a spectacle it was! In the months following the grand opening ceremony over six million visitors marvelled over the spectacular show. The exhibition was housed in a gigantic glass and cast iron structure constructed to Sir Joseph Paxton’s design. The largest covered glass structure built at the time it was quickly dubbed the Crystal Palace and immediately became one of London’s major landmarks featuring in numerous maps and plans.
Map of London with view of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park inserted within the title panel as a central feature. Maps Crace Port. 7.263
The idea of organising an international event to celebrate the achievements of modern industrial technology received wide support from prominent patrons including Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) who was appointed as President of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 specifically formed to manage the preparations. The Commission chose Hyde Park in central London as a suitable site for the exhibition.
Map showing the land in central London purchased for the Exhibition. Maps Crace Port. 10.15
The event was recognised as an opportunity to showcase Britain’s industrialisation and modern technological advancements to an international audience. The exhibition’s building was actually one of the most spectacular exhibits. Paxton’s ingenious design used prefabricated components of glass and cast iron which were assembled on site. It not only met the criteria for a temporary, simple and inexpensive building but by taking advantage of natural light it also cut down the cost of maintenance. It offered incredible flexibility and even incorporated parkland features within. Rather than cutting them down Paxton enclosed all the full grown trees from the allotted land and made them the main feature of the central exhibition hall highlighting the enormous dimensions of the building. The hall also featured a stunning eight meter tall crystal fountain. Total floor space covered an area of nearly 13 football pitches (ca. 990,000 ft2 or 92,000 m2) with exhibition spaces on the ground floor and galleries providing over ten miles of display capacity.
Souvenir illustrated guide map showing the Crystal Palace location in Hyde Park in relation to other London landmarks. Maps Crace Port. 7.267
The exhibits included a wide variety of scientific and technological innovations as well as cultural objects. Over 100,000 items from every corner of the world were on display including Johnston’s Geological and Physical Globe, the first physical globe which won awards for the content and the stand (whose carved figures represented the four continents). Among the exhibits there were hydraulic presses, steam engines, microscopes, barometers, stuffed animals, French tapestries and furniture, even the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond sent from India.
The Crystal Palace Game. By S. Evans. London, [1855?] Educational game published to commemorate the reopening of the Crystal Palace on its new site. Maps 28.bb.7
The Great Exhibition was incredibly successful and made a profit way above expectations. This enabled the Commission to acquire land in South Kensington and aided the establishment of the world renowned London museums.
After the closing of the Exhibition in October 1851 the structure was dismantled and rebuilt in an enlarged form on a site in south London. The reconstruction was documented by a photographer Philip Henry Delamotte, his work provides a glimpse to what the Crystal Palace looked like.
Photograph of the Crystal Palace by Philip Henry Delamotte. 1855. Tab.442.a.5
The Crystal Palace soon became a hub for cultural events, exhibitions and concerts. The venue was seen as a place of culture and learning, it contained series of themed courts on the history of fine art, and the surrounding grounds even featured life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs and extinct animals by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. The residential area surrounding the new site was renamed Crystal Palace and two railway stations serving the site were opened.
Detail showing layout on the new site in Sydenham with carefully designed grounds and the Crystal Palace railway station. Ordnance Plan of the Crystal Palace and its Environs, Southampton, 1864. Maps 5380.(4.)
The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936 and never rebuilt, nevertheless the Paxton’s design established an architectural style employed in later international fairs and exhibitions and started a long history of World Fairs.
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.
The Shared Research Repository
The Shared Research Repository is a great place to find all sorts of British Library content, from catalogues to lists to PhD theses, to maps. This is a lively spot so keep checking in for stuff. Particular highlights are
Medieval maps and charts from the British Library and partners’ Shared Research Repository https://bl.iro.bl.uk/collection/b2393193-0749-4e81-991e-5cf394466b53
The Pelagios medieval maps project was a really excellent one which analysed and cross-referenced text contained in maps. with the added bonus of some digitised maps (thanks to funding from the A.W. Mellon Foundation).
British War Office maps of the former British East Africa https://bl.iro.bl.uk/work/00de6f1f-a415-4b86-adb7-2a958cbdf085
Almost 600 maps, sketches and itineraries that formed the compilation material for published British War Office maps between 1870 and 1940. There is some amazingly detailed archival mapping in here. The work was generously funded by the Indigo Trust.
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.
21 April 2020
During the current pandemic, the next best thing to heading outdoors is (of course) to lose yourself in the printed landscapes of maps instead. In our London flat last weekend, I couldn’t help reaching for my Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets of the English Lakes and tracing the routes of Easter walks in years gone by.
Although busy depicting roundabouts and service stations, road maps and atlases also give us armchair explorers a flavour of the landscapes, the countries and the times we move through in our mind’s eye.
This example from the United States comes from a time when the American highway map was at its peak, when the automobile was an icon of progress, and state departments and commercial oil companies handed out road maps in their millions, free of charge.
Front and back of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967. Held at State Archives of North Carolina
While useful to many, these maps were also the vehicles for carefully chosen images and text promoting industry, nature, social progress and Christian values. A Motorist’s Prayer on this sheet begins, ‘Our heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing as we take the wheel of our car...’
Detail of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967
A similar agenda is found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where a Soviet regional map from the same year focussed on places and monuments of revolutionary history, industrial mines (asbestos, brown coal, gypsum...), pine forests and swan nesting sites.
Details from map of Orenburg Oblast, GUGK, 1967. BL Maps 35885.(63.)
Industrial prowess is emphasised again in the strong design on the cover of this regional atlas.
Atlas of Orenburg Oblast, 1969. BL Maps 54.e.48.
But unlike in Britain or America, the Soviet general public had no large scale Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey maps to turn to for raw topographical detail. These were restricted to the military. Even generalised maps were deliberately distorted during the 1970s to make them harder to use for navigational and targeting purposes, should they fall into the wrong hands.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, restrictions on sophisticated military mapping were relaxed, and elements of larger scale maps made their way into practical road atlases, amongst other products, for the general public. The evolution of these maps from military specification to a hybrid form more closely resembling the typical road map can be traced over the following years.
Left: Detail from Topographic map of the world at scale 1:200 000 produced by the Soviet Army General Staff, Sheet NM 40-2, 1987. BL Maps Y.1575.
Right: Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast, one of the Road Atlases of Russia series published by Roskartografia, 2003
In the road atlas on the right new colouring distinguishes road types and routes, and makes them more prominent while rivers fade away, and symbols are added to indicate petrol stations, medical facilities, museums and places of interest.
Detail of Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987
Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003
Precise bridge dimensions and maximum loads have been removed, though contours and direction of river flow remain, and the close mesh of the military grid has been replaced by a broad system of squares that correlates with the place name index at the back.
Cover of Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003
At last the landscape was revealed, and civilians could take to the open road better equipped.
And who knows, perhaps even now fingers are tracing imaginary routes from armchairs throughout Russia...
Denis Wood and John Fels, Designs on Signs/Myth and Meaning in Maps, in Cartographica vol 23 no 3, 1986, pp 54–103.
Zsolt G. Török, Russia and the Soviet Union, Fragmentation of, in The History of Cartography, vol 6, University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp 1376-1379.
Alexey V. Postnikov, Soviet Cartography, 1917-1991, in Cartography and Geographic Information Science vol 29(3), 2002, pp 243-260.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- The King’s Topographical Collection wonders
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- The Great Fire of London in maps
- Goad Maps on Layers of London
- Thomas Tuttell: a most unfortunate mapmaker
- Crystal Palace Marvel
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- A View of the Open Road
- Hospitals under the microscope
- Shoreditch according to Goldfinger