THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

69 posts categorized "Maps"

24 September 2020

Admiralty Charts: good design in the analogue age

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UK hydrographic charts published by the British Admiralty in the early twentieth century are notable for the high density of information compressed within their two dimensions, and for the harmonious blend of registers and visual perspectives they incorporate in the pursuit of clarity. Whilst documenting local visual navigation techniques handed down over the centuries, charts from this period also feature networks of lights, beacons and buoys more recently installed around the coastlines of the British Isles.

This example, first surveyed and published through the Hydrographic Office in 1847, shows the bays of Long Island and Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland with information updated to 1909.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

Detail of Admiralty Chart 2129, Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland, 1909. BL Maps SEC.1.(2129.)

As the seabed rises towards land, the approaching navigator is assisted by depth soundings, and abbreviations that tell the composition of the seabed at each point – sand, shells, gravel... The original measurements were taken with a sounding line marked along its length in fathom intervals, that was dropped over the side of the survey vessel. The lead plummet at its end was covered with sticky pitch or tallow that brought up a sample of the sea floor beneath.

Some of these data points cluster around and almost interfere with the map title. Navigators would use these measurements to inform the plotting of their routes and, by dropping their own sounding lines, would attempt to pinpoint their location.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

Along the bottom edge of the sheet, a sketch testifies to a tradition of visual navigation techniques that have persisted even through the introduction of electronic aids later in the century. ‘View A’ provides a perspective in silhouette of the entrance to Skull Harbour, and demonstrates how Cosheen Crag in the foreground should be lined up with Barnacleeve Gap on the horizon in order to avoid rocks at Castle Ground on the way in. This horizontal view nestles on the page between the scale bar and a compass rose, while further soundings caught in-between call for a vertical viewpoint.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

The correct angle of approach to Skull Harbour is also marked with a line across the chart. A number of other sightlines bisect the chart at various points, guiding seafarers past areas of danger.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

More recent networks of buoys, beacons and lights also appear - in an update to earlier editions a light has been added at the western entrance to Baltimore Harbour. The chart indicates a wide arc facing southwards and out to sea from which the light appears white, and the crossover point upon entering the harbour from which the same light shows red.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

For a distance inland, just enough of the topography - relief, landmarks, buildings and communications - is provided that might be of use to a vessel and her crew, before the detail gradually rubs to a blank on the chart.

The visual attraction of these sheets lay in the skill of the production draughtsmen whose finished drawings were transferred to copperplate for printing. From the late 1960s a programme of modernisation was introduced to update Admiralty Charts with metric units, simplified lettering and colour washes – a palette of blues for different water depths, and buff for the land – a style that persists to this day.

18 September 2020

Fan-tastic way to keep cool

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With the 2020 Tour de France coming to a head in Paris this weekend (20th September) the final stage is expected to be a very different affair without the usual cheering crowds so I thought I’d mark the occasion by writing a blog about a very peculiar and unusual item from our Maps collection, Eventail cycliste, Bois de Boulogne, Paris et ses environs (Maps C.24.e.27).

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Eventail cycliste, Bois de Boulogne, Paris et ses environs. Leon Pouillot. Published in Paris by Hugo D'Alesi, ca. 1895. Maps C.24.e.27.

This awesome cartographic fan specifically designed for cyclists was produced around 1895, almost a decade before the first Tour de France race took place. It features a series of three maps of Paris drawn to different scales, one of which shows Paris and its environs and indicates recommended cycling routes. The map contains helpful details indicating whether the roads are paved or ordinary as well as distinguishing between the uphill and downhill routes. Train stations are also shown - very handy in case of a flat tyre emergency!

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Detail: Map showing environs of Paris with cycling routes 

On the reverse of the fan there is a map of Bois de Boulogne, a popular spot for Parisian cyclists at the turn of the century. In Jean Beraud's painting Le Chalet du cycle au bois de Boulogne (circa 1900) the popularity of cycling can be seen, one can just imagine such a fan being used as a fashionable accessory by one of the elegant figures in his painting.

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Verso of Eventail cycliste... featuring map of Bois de Boulogne. Paris, Hugo D'Alesi, ca. 1895. Maps C.24.e.27. 

On the final leg scheduled to take place this Sunday cyclists will cover a distance of 76 miles riding from Mantes-la-Jolie to Paris. If you take a closer look at the map depicting the street layout of the French capital you will be able to plot the route through central Paris all the way to the famous finish line on the Champs-Élysées. 

Maps_C_24_e-27detail

Detail: Map showing centre of Paris 

Perhaps a new tradition could be established - along with the trophy, future winners could be presented with a facsimile of the fan, surely a welcome gift after such a long ride. Wishing all the competitors the best of luck on Sunday! 

10 September 2020

J.B. Harley Research Fellowships in the History of Cartography

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Jb Harley fellowships logo

The J.B. Harley Fellowships were set up in London in 1992 in memory of Brian Harley (1932-91). Prof. Harley was a leading thinker in the history of cartography, working in a range of areas including historical geography, the history of the Ordnance Survey and mapping ideology. Together with David Woodward he founded the History of Cartography project in the early 1980s.

https://alchetron.com/John-Brian-Harley#john-brian-harley-9a299f24-404f-4d69-8ed0-8f0f1dc9179-resize-750.jpeg
J.B. Harley

 The Harley Fellowships, the only ones of their kind in Europe, are open to anyone pursuing advanced research in the history of cartography, irrespective of nationality, discipline or profession, who wishes to work in London and other parts of the United Kingdom.

While independent of them, the fellowships are run in association with the four institutions in the London area that, together, hold the greatest number of early maps, namely: British LibraryThe National Archives, National Maritime Museum, and Royal Geographical Society

A list of previous Harley fellows along with their research topics can be found here

http://www.maphistory.info/application.html provides all the necessary information and answers many frequently asked questions. Email applications should be set to: rose.mitchell@nationalarchives.gov.uk by 1 November 2020. 

02 September 2020

The Great Fire of London in maps

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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.

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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.

Maps Crace Port. 1.49

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.

Maps Crace Port. 1.50

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.

Maps Crace Port. 17.5

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.

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Monument to the Great Fire of London by William Lodge, published by Pierce Tempest. Maps K.Top.24.16.a.

20 August 2020

Human maps

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This mountain bears a striking likeness to a sleeping female figure. Isn’t nature wonderful?

https://jmbihorel.myportfolio.com/winter-sleep
Jean-Michel Bihorel, Winter Sleep

It’s actually an artwork called ‘Winter Sleep’ by the digital artist Jean-Michel Bihorel. But so good is the artist’s rendering that this realistic and authentic image provides the suggestion in the viewer’s mind that the image may be an actual aerial view.

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Carte de la Lune. De J.D. Cassini, c. 1730. Maps K.Top 1.88.

Bihorel’s work sits in a long tradition of human figures in maps. Most obviously, there are parallels with the hidden female profile contained in the lunar map of the French astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini in 1680. The face is supposed to be Cassini’s wife.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/caricature-map-of-scotland
Lilian Lancaster, Caricature map of Scotland, c. 1869. Maps CC5 a 227

There is a quirkiness to the practice, which we also see in ‘metamorphic’ maps (for which there is a long tradition) in which geographical shapes are metamorphosed into human figures – Lilian Lancaster’s stock-in-trade.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Montgomery_Flagg_The_World_As_Seen_By_Him_1905_Cornell_CUL_PJM_1148_01_(cropped).jpg
James Montgomery Flagg, A map of the world as seen by him, 1907.

A similar double-take to Bihorel's work is present in the romantic postcard by James Montgomery Flagg, reflecting upon how the ardent sees the face of their loved one everywhere, even in the map.

There's a deeper tradition behind Bihorel's work as well, which is what makes it such a robust piece of work. ‘Petrification’, or the turning of humans into stone, is a relatively common end to many mythological tales, and commonly used in medieval legends to explain away human-looking rocks and hills. 

Referencing human characteristics in maps was an entirely appropriate way of reflecting upon the intuitive, emotional and spiritual synergy between people and places.

Maps_k_top_16_24_11_tab_end detail
Christopher Packe, A new philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent..., 1743.Maps K.Top 16.24.11.tab.end.

Christopher Packe’s geological and topographical map of eastern Kent of 1743 makes the analogy between streams, rivers and valleys, and the circulatory system of the human body.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebstorf_Map#/media/File:Ebstorfer_Weltkarte_2.jpg
The Ebstorf world map, c. 1300.

Finally, the lost Ebstorf world map presents the Christian doctrine that God is one with the world (with additional reference to the act of transubstantiation) by showing God/Christ's head, hands and feet as part of the map. 

11 August 2020

Goad Maps on Layers of London

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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).'

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Goad Maps layer in Layers of London platform, London and Tower bridges, 1887

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.'

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Goad Maps layer in Layers of London platform, Tower of London, 1887.

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.

Gethin Rees 

05 August 2020

Mapping as poetry: looking at ‘Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas’

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Can maps express poetry? French architect Le Corbusier believed so. In Towards a New Architecture, his influential work on Modernism of 1923, he selected this image of an aeroplane cockpit - an aviation map surrounded by dials – to illustrate what he called poetic facts:

‘Poetry lies not only in the spoken or written word. The poetry of facts is stronger still. Objects which signify something, and which are arranged with talent and with tact, create a poetic fact.’

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier, 1923. BL General Reference Collection 07815.h.26.

Could a map even be a poem? This recent purchase by the Map Library suggests it can.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966. Shelfmark not yet allocated. Image courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, was made in 1966 by Japanese artist Chieko Shiomi (later Mieko). She had recently moved to New York to join colleagues in the Fluxus network, a community of artists around the world dedicated to experimental performance work, whose members included George Maciunas (the founder), John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Richard Hamilton and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Shiomi organised a series of ‘Spatial Poem’ events, in which she invited Fluxus colleagues to perform a specific action and then post a response back to her in the mail. This map documents responses she received during the second event, and bears the following subtitle: ‘This is the record of various directions to which people were simultaneously moving or facing around 10pm (Greenwich time) October 15th 1965’.

In Shiomi’s own words,

‘There are time gaps, since this Event took place all over the Earth. I sent the participants a list of time gaps in different places and asked them to report what direction each of them was facing at the same particular moment. While there were simple reports such as they were facing the ceiling, a newspaper, or a television, there were also interesting interpretations and calculated performances. Maciunas sent a report saying that he brought a swivel chair into an elevator and pressed the button to go up. While the elevator was ascending, he was rotating at high speed on the chair. Thus he insisted that he was directed toward all three hundred and sixty degrees while ascending. Somebody else reported that his direction varied because he was chasing a mouse that had entered the bedroom. Or a person told me he was "going from his 4th glass of beer to his 5th glass of beer," and yet another reported that she was "going in the direction of simplification." [Text courtesy MOMA].

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi at the first Spatial Poem event, 1965, New York. Image courtesy MOMA.

Visually, it's the sort of map you might encounter in a dream. Modern and ancient motifs appear side by side, and create an atmosphere at once familiar but strange. These two wind faces hark back to a World Map of Ptolemy from 1482.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Ptolemy World Map, 1482

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and of Ptolemy World Map, 1482 (below). BL IC. 9304.

A woodcut figure, who hovers over Los Angeles and aims an early sextant at the Pacific Ocean, first appeared in 1677 in Nathaniel Colson’s The Mariners New Kalendar (BL General Reference Collection 8805.bb.35.). An earlier version of the image, reproduced below, is taken from John Seller’s Practical Navigation of 1669.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669 (below). Image from Wikipedia.

A number of curious compass/clock devices adorn the map – one forms a cartouche with the map’s title, while others mark different times around the world. These have been adapted from the diagram of a sixteenth-century survey instrument used in the construction of mine shafts. The original appeared in De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola in 1556.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556 (below). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Jumping forward through the centuries, a contemporary window pane in Copenhagen is shattered by a ball.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Alongside this evocative mix of images, the text responses received by Shiomi have been ordered into shapes and spirals that convey the momentary locations, directions and population distribution of Fluxus members as well as any modern infographic.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Returning to Le Corbusier’s words – if poetry is found in an object which signifies something and is laid out with talent and with tact, then surely it resides here in Shiomi’s map.

31 July 2020

The Subterranean World

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For centuries scholars speculated about the Earth’s composition with many believing that our planet’s centre was occupied by an eternal inferno. By the mid-17th century geographers were attempting to describe man’s physical environment and maps played an important part in this process. The great minds were interested in and studied simultaneously a wide range of subjects including natural sciences, medicine, philosophy and religion during this era. This universal approach resulted in some rather unusual (even bizarre by today’s standards) theories – a combination of scientific and theological concepts. 

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A model of the Earth showing network of fire channels connecting surface features with inferno located in the centre. Systema ideale pyrophylaciorum subterraneorum, quorum montes vulcanii, veluti, spiracula quædam existant. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.180-181

One such fascinating work held by the British Library is Mundus Subterraneous (Subterranean World) compiled by the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. Published in 1665 in two volumes this pioneering work on the physical geography of the Earth fully embraced the comprehensive scholarship approach. Mundus Subterraneous was intended as a compendium of universal knowledge. Now it is not only a brilliant example of the range of scientific subjects of interest that a 17th century scholar would undertake, it more importantly demonstrates that around this time maps were recognised as a powerful scientific tool. In order to support his complex theories Kircher included in his work a series of maps providing an explanation of terrestrial phenomena. He based his thesis on various sources ranging from the classical authors and travel accounts including those sent by missionaries in the Andes in South America, as well as his own observations. His first hand investigation of the about-to-erupt Vesuvius crater demonstrates he was not just a typical armchair scholar, he actually had an inquisitive mind and whenever possible took the opportunity to expand his knowledge. 

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Systema ideale quo exprimitur, aquarum per canales hydragogos subterraneos ex mari et in montium hydrophylacia protrusio, aquarumque subterrestrium per pyragogos canales concoctus. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.174v-175

014496528
Tabula geographico-hydrographica motus oceani, currentes, abyssos, montes ignivomos in universo orbe indicans, notat hæc fig. abyssos montes vulcanios. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1., pp. 124v-125

Kircher’s spectacular work contains maps which along with recognisable geography display some unusual features. In his vision of the surrounding world he considered the Earth as the centre of the Universe. In order to explain the surface features and geographical configurations observed in different parts of the world he proposed the existence of a network of subterranean communications – a system of channels which allow flow of the three elements: water, air and fire. Several maps in his work depict the Earth’s interior showing these underground structures.

014507166

Hydrophylacium Africæ precipuum, in Montibus Lunæ Situm, Lacus et Flumina præcipua fundens. ubi et nova inventio Originis Nili describitur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., pp.72-73

014507125

Typus hydrophylacii intra Alpes Rhæticas, quod fundit totius Europæ celebrrima flumina ; uti patet. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.70

The subjects explained in the accompanied cartographic material include the underground distribution of fire, the mechanics of volcanos and the existence of hot springs. The maps in Kircher’s book also depict the subterranean origin of lakes and rivers, and the circulation of water in oceans including the currents and whirlpools (providing the Norwegian maelstrom and the whirlpools in the Polar Regions as examples). 

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Descriptio Vorticis Norvegiæ et Bothniæ eorumqe mirabilium effectuum, quos in fluxu et refluxu operantur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.152

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Poli Arctici constitutio. Amstelodami,1665. 505.ee.4., p.160

With its bold new scientific theories and the beautifully engraved maps Mundus subterraneus was a huge success and was re-published several times. Kircher’s work popularised the use of cartographic materials in publications on natural sciences and influenced the development of the Earth sciences including geology, hydrology and geophysics.