06 December 2022
Two bound sets of maps from the British Library’s core collection of early modern English cartography have recently been digitised and placed online. Harley MS 3749 is a series of 18 hand-drawn maps of parts of the Royal estate at Windsor, produced in 1607 by the English surveyor, mapmaker and author John Norden (c. 1547-1625).
Harley MS 3813 is a collection of 37 (of an original 44) small printed maps of English and Welsh counties and areas of Ireland and Scotland, engraved by the Flemish artist Pieter Van den Keere (1571-c. 1646) and printed at around the same time as Norden’s work. Their histories are entwined in various ways.
Both sets of maps ended up in the collection of Robert (1661-1724) and Edward (1689-1741) Harley, the 1st and 2nd Earls of Oxford, thousands of manuscripts, printed books and associated materials which became one of the founding collections of the British Museum in 1753. Norden’s work, produced for and originally owned by James VI and I, came into the Harleys’ possession in 1710, whilst Van der Keere’s maps reached the collection in 1725.
In addition to their shared provenance, it is interesting to note that the two mapmakers knew and worked with each other. As well as his surveying work and devotional writing, Norden conceived of a grand multi-volume county-by-county geography or ‘chorography’ of Britain, having recognised, like others, the public appetite for maps and geographical writings following the success of Christopher Saxton’s atlas of 1579. Norden’s Speculum Britannia was not completed, but he started work on a number of counties, and even published some of them. The first published county, in 1593, was Middlesex, containing maps including ones of London and Westminster engraved by one Pieter Van den Keere.
Van den Keere would become one of the most important engravers of the 17th century. He had moved to London in 1584, and was apprenticed to the London-based Dutch engraver Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612). He left London for Amsterdam in 1593.
Harley MS 3813 is one of several ‘proof’ sets of small county maps copied from Saxton’s and others’ maps of parts of Britain. It is commonly thought of as the blueprint for a mooted atlas of Britain along similar lines of Norden’s Speculum. Writing in 1972, Helen Wallis believed that it might have been Van Den Keere’s collaboration with Norden that inspired him. The Harley example has been finely hand-coloured and contains hand-written descriptions on the topography and gentry of each county (another set in the Royal Geographical Society has the same handwritten text), suggesting the role of a mock-up of what such a publication might look like.
The date of 1599 appears on three maps and it is sensible to assume that Van den Keere engraved them all around this time. But he didn't print them until 1605 or later, observed R.A. Skelton in 1970, due to the evidence of the paper used. The maps were not officially published until 1617 in an illustrated abridgment of Camden’s Britannia by the Amsterdam publisher Blaeu.
For whatever reason, neither Van den Keere’s or Norden’s projects properly got off the ground. The work which eventually sated the English appetite for maps was John Speed’s Theatre of the empire of Great Britaine of 1611-12, which incidentally included county maps engraved by Van den Keere's former teacher Jodocus Hondius. Speed’s Middlesex map (above) even incorporated copies of the Van den Keere-engraved London and Westminster maps that had appeared in Norden’s Speculum... Middlesex of two decades earlier.
Norden’s little atlas of Windsor royal parks (Harley MS 3749) was the sort of project Norden turned to following the stalling of his Speculum. It is a bespoke and exclusive product drawn on vellum, showing for the royal landowners’ gratification their palaces and deer-stocked parks. This tradition of manuscript mapping of private estates would extend into the 20th century, but county atlases such as Van den Keere’s became in many ways the principal English cartographic output, certainly up to the end of the 18th century. This is proven by the strong afterlife of Van den Keere’s small county maps, which were reissued in various forms, including as a 'minature Speed atlas' (despite their having preceded Speed) up to 1676.
Despite their obvious differences, the two Harley volumes have displayed an oddly close bond down the centuries, right up to the present day with their digitisation and placing online together. This might not have been the case had they suffered the fate that befell the rest of the Harleian collection in 1890 when, as part of a deal between the British Museum’s Departments of Printed Books and Manuscripts, the printed and manuscript material was separated and apportioned between the two.
With this in mind, it is serendipitous that the two atlases remain a just few shelves away from each other, albeit one a printed anomaly within a collection of the written and drawn.
- Laurence Worms & Ashley Baynton-Williams, British map engravers: a dictionary of engravers, lithographers and their principal employers to 1850 (London: Rare Book Society, 2011).
- Sarah Bendall, Dictionary of land surveyors and local map-makers of Great Britain and Ireland 1530-1850. (London: British Library, 1997).
- Rodney Shirley, Maps in the atlases of the British Library: a descriptive catalogue c. AD 850-1800 (London: British Library, 2004).
- Atlas of the British Isles. By Pieter Van den Keere c. 1605 / Introduction by Helen Wallis (Lympne Castle, Kent: Harry Margary, 1972).
- Frank Kitchen, ‘John Norden (c. 1547-1625)’ in Oxford dictionary of national biography [accessed 5 December 2022].
- R.A. Skelton, County atlases of the British Isles, 1579-1850: a bibliography (London: Carta Press, 1970).
- Peter Barber, ‘Mapmaking in England, ca. 1470-1650’ in David Woodward (ed.), The history of cartography volume 3: part 2, cartography in the European Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1589-1669.
11 May 2022
An early print from the British Library’s map collection is currently on display at the Stadtmuseum Münster in an exhibition entitled Münster 1570: History and stories from the capital of Westphalia.
It shows the Westphalia capital from the south west, with the main churches dominating the skyline and various domestic structures arranged behind the town walls. Outside these walls Hogenberg presents a range of human activity. To the left carts enter the town, whilst to the right in the foreground, figures swim in the River Aa. Some can be seen getting undressed, one needs help in doing so. A dog stands guard over a pile of clothes. This sort of foreground vignette is a typical feature of later 16th century town views, not only entertaining for the viewer but demonstrating that places are about more than their buildings.
As a snapshot of a place at a particular time, the panorama is understandably of great historical value to the town. It was produced only decades after the Anabaptist rebellion of 1534-5, in which a radical reformation sect took over, enforcing religious conformity, seizing possessions and religiously-motivated destruction. The rebellion was eventually put down and the leaders executed, their bodies placed into three iron cages hung on the tower of St. Lambert’s church. The cages, which are still in situ today, are shown in the print just above the lancet windows of the church tower.
Remigius Hogenberg, who produced the print while resident in Münster, presented a proof copy of it to the town council on 26 May 1570. However, this is lost and the British Library’s example, purchased in 1868 from the Berlin book dealer Adolphus Asher, is the only copy known to survive. As well as exhibiting the original, the Stadtmuseum exhibition has skilfully incorporated the image into their design and graphics.
Remigius was born in Mechelen in modern-day Belgium. He was in England by 1572, and alongside other continental artists such as Cornelis de Hooghe and Jodocus Hondius was responsible for producing various engravings there, including maps. For example, Remigius engraved nine of Christopher Saxton’s county maps (see his Lancashire, below), as well as the frontispiece for the 1579 atlas which included them.
Despite Remigius’s fame, he remains arguably less-well known than his engraver-brother Frans (c. 1540-1590). With Georg Braun, Frans produced the first town atlas, the Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, published in Cologne between 1572 and 1617. Among the contents is a smaller and more subdued version of the panorama of Münster, copied from his brother's.
Münster 1570: History and stories from the capital of Westphalia is at the Stadtmuseum Münster until 25 September 2022.
21 February 2022
The Map collection is offering a 3-month placement for a PhD candidate to work with the British Library’s collection of pre-1900 Japanese produced maps. With the deadline for applications fast approaching this Friday 25th February, here is a final attempt to whet your appetites.
The collection of 350 Japanese-produced maps is one of the finest held outside of Japan. It includes printed and hand-drawn maps of the world, East Asia, Japan itself and its various subdivisions, towns and coasts, dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. It includes route maps, bird’s-eye views, administrative maps, military maps and historical maps. Some of them are rather large.
A number of the maps came to the British Museum, now British Library, via the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in the 1750s. Sloane had acquired the Japanese-related collections of Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1716) in the mid-1720s, who had collected them during his time in Japan, working as a doctor for the Dutch East India Company. Many other maps formed part of the collection of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), which was purchased by the British Museum in 1868.
Today the maps are split between two areas. The majority are held in the map collection (part of Western Heritage Collections), which contains over 4 million maps and global coverage of the period 1540 to 2022. A smaller number of maps are held in the Library’s Japanese collections, a section of the Asian and African Department.
Catalogue records for the maps are available on Explore the British Library, and the collection was digitised in partnership with Ritsumeikan University in 2019 (and can be viewed on their MapWarper here).
The key aims for this placement are the enhancement of the maps’ cataloguing data. This will include collecting key physical and cartographic information from the maps, such as dimensions and annotations, that have not previously been recorded, and improving terminology and adding translations to improve the collection’s discoverability. There will be opportunities to write and research, work with curators and British Library staff from a variety of areas, gain insights and training, and receive some strong learning and development experiences.
Once again, the deadline for applications is this Friday at 5pm. For further details go here and scroll down to download the full project profile.
09 December 2021
The India Office map catalogue of 1878, now released online for the first time on the British Library Shared Research Repository, is a valuable finding aid to one of the world's most complex and mercurial map collections.
The catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps, etc., of the Indian Surveys, deposited in the map room of the India office, compiled by Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916), was the first published listing of the working map archive of British East India Company, and the administration of British India from London. As the title suggests, it contains a wide variety of geographical materials, from maps to written sources and much else. Its principal geographical focus – about 70% of it - is upon the area of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, but it also takes in adjacent areas, and more generally British imperial activity across the world, with the bulk of the material dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1947 the collection, along with the rest of the India Office Records, passed into the care of the Commonwealth Office (various iterations), and in 1982 was deposited with the British Library.
As late as the 1970s the catalogue was still being used to manage the map collection; the copy we have released is the one used by archivists to record the multiple changes to the map collection that had occurred between 1878 and 1947. These changes include annotations and inserted leaves listing maps that were added to the collection after 1878, and crossings-out of material that had been removed. These latter include material relating to the Great Trigonometrical Survey which was sent to the Survey of India in 1924, and large-scale maps and plans for infrastructure projects sent to Indian provincial public works departments.
The catalogue is an indispensable aid for researchers looking to identify historical geographical sources for India and South Asia, and to order material to view onsite in the Library’s reading rooms. The ‘X’ numbers – the modern pressmarks or 'call numbers' for each unit (the material accessioned up to 1878 has the number range IOR/X/1 to IOR/X/4999), can be entered into the ‘request other items’ page of Explore the British Library under the Asia, Pacific and African Collection subset. There is also an incredibly useful alphabetical index to facilitate searching.
The catalogue is also valuable evidence of the history of the role of maps and geographical materials in the government of British India, and of imperial map archives in general. The arrangement and contents inform us of the particular mindsets and priorities of the administration (inevitably, the focus and dates of maps in the archive broadly matches Company and administration activity) and how these shifted over time.
We hope you find this a useful resource, and would be very glad to receive feedback on the sorts of ways you are making use of it in your research. You can read more about the research repository, and explore other resources available there.
15 July 2021
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at [email protected].
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
12 February 2021
While dealing with an enquiry I came across this beautifully coloured copy of Münster’s Cosmographia. This monumental publication is one of the most important works of the Reformation era and considered one of the earliest modern descriptions of the world. The first edition was published in Basel in 1544 containing twenty four double-page maps with numerous woodcut views and illustrations. The work proved to be so popular that it was followed by a further 35 complete editions and reprints in five different languages.
General Tafel Begreifend der Gantzen Undern Weldt Beschreibun from Cosmographia by S.Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a true versatile scholar described as a cosmographer, geographer, linguist, historian, Hebrew scholar, theologian, mathematician, you name it! His Cosmographia is a compendium of historical and geographical knowledge compiled from information gathered as part of Münster’s personal research, international collaborations and editions of the classical authors. The work was based on up-to-date knowledge and provided the geographical and historical overview of the world, natural history, topographical features, boundaries and administrative division of the described lands, their inhabitants, flora and fauna. Divided into six books it contains a series of maps which advanced the cartographical knowledge of the time.
Neuw India, mit vilen anstossenden laendern, besunder Scythia, Parchia, Arabia, Persia etc. from Cosmographia by S.Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
Münster not only was the first to introduce separate maps of four known continents, he also produced regional maps many of which were the first printed depictions of a given region. His vision and surprisingly modern thinking embraced many concepts familiar to an average 21st century person. He recognised that in order for his ambitious project to be successful it required reliable information which he as much as he wanted to was unable to collate all by himself. He realised that collaboration is the key and in his correspondence invited fellow scholars to send in information about their lands. His appeal had an enthusiastic response and Münster received contributions from all over Europe, in fact Cosmographia is a product of what we would nowadays consider a crowdsourcing project.
Schlesia nach aller gelegenheit in Wässern Stetten Bergen und anstossende Lenderen. Map of Silesia published in Cosmographia also included in later editions of Münster's Geographiae Claudii Ptolemæi... BL 1297.m.6.
Not only a great scholar Münster was also a good businessmen – for example instead of commissioning new woodblocks he re-used some of the blocks (a number of which were created by artist such as Hans Holbein the Younger) from his earlier published works including his edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (first issued in 1540). He then borrowed some of the woodblocks cut for Cosmographia and used them in his later editions of Geographia (for example the map of Silesia). Now, that’s what I call recycling!
He also recognised the potential of publishing in common languages including the rare Czech edition of Cosmographia issued in 1554 thus making knowledge more accessible by reaching wider audiences.
Depiction of German cities from Cosmographia by S. Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
This incredibly influential work had a huge impact on the contemporary scholars, it was used as a geographical source by famous cartographers like Mercator or Ortelius and inspired publications such as Civitates Orbis Terrarum the popular city atlas published by Braun and Hogenberg a few decades later.
29 January 2021
When a new volcanic island emerged from the waters south of Sicily in 1831, its strategic location at the gateway to the eastern Mediterranean aroused more than a scientific interest. Geopolitical forces descended upon this tiny isle, and though its brief existence above the waves lasted just six months, four separate nations claimed it as their own.
A short volume held at the BL, ‘Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily’ (held at BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10. – digital version here) provides a summary of events.
Chart Shewing the Position of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The first report of volcanic activity came on 10 July from Captain Corrao, of the schooner Theresina, who approached to within two miles of...
‘a column of water rising perpendicularly from the sea, to the height of fifty or sixty feet, having a circumference of four hundred fathoms: smoke issued from it, which strongly impregnated the atmosphere of its vicinity with a sulphurous odour: dead fish were observed within the circle of agitated waters, and a violent thunder, proceeding from the same spot, added to the grandeur and the novelty of the scene!’
The Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
Commander C.H. Swinburne of the Royal Navy arrived in the area a few days later –
‘I saw flashes of brilliant light mingled with the smoke, which was still distinctly visible by the light of the moon. In a few minutes, the whole column became black, and larger; almost immediately afterwards several successive eruptions of fire rose up among the smoke... At five am, when the smoke had for a moment cleared away at the base, I saw a small hillock of dark colour a few feet above the sea.’
Views of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The opportunity to claim the island was too good to miss. On 3 August, in a lull between eruptions, Royal Navy Captain Senhouse landed there to plant the British flag, and named it Graham Island after Sir James Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty. This act prompted representatives from Sicily, ‘highly excited by this achievement within sight of their shores’, to embark from the nearby port of Sciacca and plant their own flag, that of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies. They named the island Ferdinandea, shortened to Fernandea on the chart above.
Over the following weeks French and Spanish claims were added to the list, but all such attempts to gain geopolitical advantage proved futile. Eruptions ceased from the middle of August, and by the end of the year the island, whose maximum extent was a mere two miles in diameter and 160 feet high, had slipped back beneath the waves. From that point it appeared on British charts as Graham’s Shoal, a bank lying eight meters beneath the surface.
More recently, in 2002, volcanic activity was recorded there again, and it was thought the island might re-emerge. In a bid to avoid being beaten to the mark a second time, Italian divers planted their national flag on the seamount beneath the surface. However, activity soon ceased and the shoal remained where it was.
Modern-day volcanologists agree that the descriptions of volcanic activity at Graham Island conform to what is known as ‘surtseyan’ activity – named after a more recent undersea eruption, which produced the island of Surtsey (from Surtr, the Norse God of Fire) off the southern coast of Iceland.
This eruption is thought to have begun in early November 1963 at a depth of 130 meters, but by 15 November a crater had become visible above the waves. The event caught the imagination of the televisual age – a number of clips on YouTube show footage made at the time.
Image of the eruption of Surtsey, courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Wikipedia.
The BL holds a map of the island made by the National Survey of Iceland using aerial photographs taken in October 1964 (BL Maps X.12169.). Eruptions continued until 1967, by which time the island no longer conformed to the map, but the sheet provides a fascinating snapshot of the island’s formation a year after it first emerged.
Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
A block of text in Icelandic and English provides a summary of the different phases of eruption, and the map itself gives significant detail of the island’s contours and constituents.
Detail of Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
Unlike Graham Island, and most others of their type, this example has persisted above the waves. It is estimated that roughly a quarter of the island has now been lost to erosion, and its maximum height has reduced to 155 meters, but it is likely to survive above the sea for another hundred years.
In this case there were no diplomatic squabbles over ownership, and its affiliation to Iceland is undisputed. But its persistence has made it especially valuable to science - 69 species of plant have been found there, 12 species of birds, and numerous other animals, including earthworms and slugs. In recognition of its value as a centre for the study of biocolonisation UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site in 2008.
12 January 2021
Mapmaking is a highly exacting profession, as the scrutiny of current pandemic mapping demonstrates. Yet the fascinating thing about mapmaking is that everybody is capable of creating a map, and throughout history 'amateur' mapmakers have brought something new to the table.
Christopher Packe (1686-1749) was a local physician based in the area of Canterbury in Kent, who during his 'many otherwise tedious' medical journeys around the area was struck by the similarities between the landscape, features and processes of the natural world and those of the human body. Most notably, and unsurprising for a physician, the synergy between hydrology (specifically streams and rivers) and the flow of blood through the arteries and capillaries. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a strong history of thought positioning the human body as a microcosm of the universe. Packe's 1743 Philosophico-Chorographicall chart of East Kent is the Gunther von Hagens of maps.
Looking closely we can see the tremendous series of lines of thousands of tiny watercourses connecting to streams and thence to rivers, flowing out into the sea. So many of them, in fact, that we might be looking at a map of the English Fenland.
That's not all that Packe's map shows. Shading and spot heights communicate the relative heights above sea-level which Packe measured using a barometer. This has led to the map being described as the world's first geomorphological map. And finally there is the series of concentric circles demarking the map's co-ordinate system. These emanate from Canterbury and the cathedral, from which Packe used a theodolite to survey the county and form his aesthetic and philosophical vision (see Michael Charlsworth for an in-depth study).
Packe wrote a treatise in support of his work, and even produced a 'specimen' sample of the larger map six years earlier, a sort of taster which was presented to the Royal Society. A copy of the specimen is in the Topographical Collection of George III, published 'at his own expense.' Indeed, Packe put so much into his map that it is possible to imagine life in it, the culmination of a creative act. Something, if you will forgive the further analogy, created from the heart.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Norden and Van den Keere: Two seventeenth century atlases digitised and online
- Remigius Hogenberg's view of Münster
- PhD placement opportunity - Japanese maps
- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- Münster’s Cosmographia
- New volcanic islands: where science and politics meet
- A medical man maps Kent
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- Maps of Jamaica in the K.Top. Collection