31 August 2022
The British Library and National Library of Scotland are pleased to announce the availability of a new gazetteer which allows all the names on the Roy Military Survey Maps of Scotland (1747-55, British Library Maps CC.5.a.441) to be searched and browsed. Through the hard work of a team of volunteers over the last six months, all 33,523 names on the Roy Map have been recorded. The transcription workflow has also recorded related or nearby names from the Ordnance Survey 1st edition mapping from a century later in order to help searching and provide additional context for the Roy names. The results are of huge value for local and family historians, placename researchers, as well as all those interested in the landscape of 18th century Scotland. As well as being able to find any name on the map, it is also possible to now generate distribution maps of particular name elements, or dynamically view all of the names in a particular area. The Gazetteer can also be downloaded in accessible formats for onward use and research.
The Roy Military Survey Map is surely one of the most significant and attractive maps of Scotland. It was a distillation of military intelligence, planned in the wake of the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and surveyed at the same time as the brutal ‘pacification’ of the Highlands. The English military commanders in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of the ‘45 had been 'greatly embarrassed for want of a proper Survey of the Country' and something needed to be done about it. The decision to place the Survey in the hands of a young civilian from a small village near Carluke, William Roy - who had no military surveying experience, and who was then in his early 20s - was a surprising one, even if it turned out to be an inspired and successful decision. Over the next eight years, until the mid 1750s, the whole of the Scottish mainland was surveyed at the detailed scale of one inch to a thousand yards, or about 1:36,000. For many parts of the Scottish Highlands, it is the most detailed and informative map that survives for the entire 18th century, and for all areas, the only standard topographic map prior to the Ordnance Survey mapping in the 19th century. As part of the King George III Topographical Collections, it has always been a treasured item within the British Library’s holdings, and fortunately more recent digital technologies have allowed its wider availability online, as well as transcription projects like this.
Our project to record all of the names on the Roy Map was based on the long interest in the map from those hunting for the existence and location of particular places, especially for local and family history purposes. Place name researchers have also regularly examined the Roy Map as a key documentary source for the 18th century. Many of the textual entries on the map allow other types of research too, confirming the location of things like mills, kirks, castles and estate grounds. Many significant elements of the pre-Improvement landscape - such as the smaller kirk towns and cottar towns, as well as things like moors and commonties - are clearly shown too. But libraries lack the manpower for major gazetteer recording projects, and although machine-learning and artificial intelligence continue to make strides, we felt that the only way to achieve our objective at present was by gathering a volunteer group as part of a crowdsourcing project.
In January 2022 we asked for volunteers to help with three new map transcription projects, and were thrilled (and relieved!) to find over 650 people signed up to take part. We were able to create the interfaces for recording the names using the open-source web-mapping software behind the NLS maps website, and this was helpful, as we continued to change and update these interfaces in response to feedback. We also set up an online discussion forum for participants, which has been very heavily used - 142 members, and over 210 posts over a 5 month period. Successive phases of the project revised and checked the initial names, and their related Ordnance Survey names, so that all of the names were reviewed and edited several times over. The success of the project owes itself very much to these volunteers, who have not only put in several months of hard work, but also continued to suggest changes as we went along to improve the results. As with all website projects, we also have the ability to keep revising and correcting names in response to feedback - the Gazetteer will become ever more perfect over time! Although we have just now launched the Gazetteer, some minor revision work is still ongoing, and we are happy to receive suggestions and corrections from the wider community.
Would William Roy have approved? We certainly hope so - as the “father” of what became the Ordnance Survey, he would have fully understood the value of national initiatives to gather geographic and topographic information. He would surely have delighted in the detailed scrutiny which his ‘magnificent military sketch’ was still getting, over 250 years after its original creation. That said, he might feel puzzled and worried about all the tartan, now very visibly on sale only a stone’s throw from where his Military Survey was drawn in Edinburgh Castle!
View the results of the Roy Military Survey Gazetteer Project:
- Roy Gazetteer information page
- Search all the Roy Names with a map
- Browse all the Roy Names as a list
By Christopher Fleet,
Map Curator, National Library of Scotland.
31 March 2021
The British Library’s ‘Online Gallery’ was first created in 2004, and over the years a number of galleries containing thousands of maps have been added to it, from the earliest Ordnance Survey maps to Tudor mapping. Each map has its own page with a full description and cataloguing information, a downloadable image, and a larger – though not downloadable - ‘Zoomify’ image.
However, at the end of last year, Adobe ceased to support Flash player and Zoomify became inoperable. For anyone who likes to zoom into a map (about 100% of people who use maps), this is an issue. This is what we’ve done to solve the problem. Firstly, we’ve removed the Zoomify links from the map pages in order to avoid confusion (you can still download a -full-size’ though under 1 MB image for your own use).
For the more heavily used galleries, we’re happy to say that the maps are available – and downloadable - from Wikimedia Commons.
For the Ordnance Surveyor Drawings, the still-active Zoomify link will redirect you straight to the same map on Wikimedia.
The Goad fire insurance maps are all there also.
Only 2,500 George III Topographical Collection maps and views were on the Online Gallery, but you can now enjoy 18,000 of them on Flickr, with even more on the way (you can link through to these images via our catalogue Explore the British Library).
And don’t forget that all of the Online Gallery maps are also available on our Georeferencer (have a go at Georeferencing a few).
For the other galleries such as the Crace Collection of maps of London, we are working to find a way of getting the larger images to you (you can still download smaller images from the existing pages). In due course also, these maps will all make their way onto the Library’s Universal Viewer.
Thanks again for using the Library’s online map resources. And if you get the chance, do drop us a message about the interesting things you’re doing with them.
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 [email protected], 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.
28 April 2020
In a previous blog I described the best free-to-access digitised British Library maps available on the Library’s own site. But there are more. Lots more!
Where we’ve worked with other institutions, organisations and individuals on digitisation, we’ve been pleased for those institutions to host the resulting content on their own sites. Often, the maps we’ve provided form a subset of a wider collection drawn from a range of other sources. So it isn’t just about the spirit of collaboration, but the enormous research benefits to be drawn from a broader and more integrated picture.
In the fullness of time you can expect to see this content also hosted on the BL's Universal Viewer. For now, here are some of the riches and where to find them.
Wikimedia Commons Collections
There’s a ton of British Library content on Wikimedia Commons which is great because of the open access nature of the site and its clear usage terms. Maps are included in a range of categories, including the Off the Map videogame competition and Images Online (the British Library’s commercial imaging site). But the main category, labelled maps collections, contains 28,000 images. Three main ones are
Ordnance Surveyor drawings - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Ordnance_Survey_Drawings
These 321 maps are some of the earliest works by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, which was formally established in 1791 to map southern England in response to the threat of invasion from France. The phrase ‘scope-creep’ is something of an understatement when applied to the OS, whose work continues to the present day. These large ‘fair drawings’ are the maps produced by the earliest Ordnance Surveyors of parts of England and Wales from the 1790s to the 1840s, and it’s from these that the one inch to the mile ‘Old Series’ printed maps were derived. The maps were received in 1958. For close, local work, there’s really nothing better than these for the period.
Goad fire insurance maps - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Goad_fire_insurance_maps_from_the_British_Library
Charles Goad’s maps are incredible windows into Britain’s urban past – stupidly detailed late-19th and early 20th century maps of various towns produced in order to assist the calculating of fire insurance risk. To do this, the maps included not only tell us the shapes and forms of buildings, but what they were made of, and who was using them and for what. Over 2,500 here for you to savour. Goad mapped other world cities including a large number of Canadian towns.
War Office Archive - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:War_Office_Archive_%E2%80%93_East_Africa
Thanks to the Indigo Trust, over 1800 East Africa maps and materials from the wider WOA have been digitised and placed here for your study and enjoyment. They’re also georeferenced. Hurrah!
Maps of Qatar and the Middle East
Through the Library’s partnership with the Qatar National Library, over 1300 maps of the area, drawn mostly from the India Office Records, have been catalogued and uploaded onto their digital library portal.
American Revolutionary War Maps
In collaboration with the Norman Leventhal Map and Education Center at Boston Public Library, 377 maps of North America and the West Indies from the American Revolutionary War Era were digitised and placed on the Center’s educational site. Ten other partners including the Library of Congress also contributed material. The British Library's contribution includes maps from the King’s Topographical Collection and Royal United Services Institute, which itself contains maps from the collection of Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797), commander-in-chief of British forces during the Seven Years’ War.
Japanese produced historic maps
We digitised all of our pre-1900 maps of Japanese origin thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. And what a collection – over 300 maps drawn from the Map Collection, the Western Manuscripts Collection, and Asian and African Studies Collection. Some of these maps arrived from earlier private libraries including the Engelbert Kaempfer and Philipp Franz von Siebold Collections. Some of them are very big indeed. You can access these maps through the Ritsumeikan University MapWarper portal.
Maps of Singapore and South East Asia
The five-year project between the British Library and National Library of Singapore, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, enabled us to digitise and upload 300 maps onto the NLB Singapore’s web portal. These cover Singapore and its wider geographical context.
In 2013 the British Library Labs’ Mechanical Curator project placed 1 million British Library images onto Flickr. They are images drawn from books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project, and include an enormous wodge of maps (‘wodge’ in this sense meaning tens of thousands of maps). See this individual album containing over 25,000 maps https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157648036792880
These are the maps which are currently being Georeferenceed via the Library's Georeferencer tool http://britishlibrary.georeferencer.com/start
The Roy map of Scotland
And finally, just one map, but a very large and important one. This is the fair copy of General William Roy’s (1726-1790) map of Scotland produced between 1747 and 1755. The map is a landmark in British mapping for applying military surveying methods to a very large area, and is regarded as the precursor to the Ordnance Survey. It’s also highly regarded artistically, since it includes the hand of celebrated watercolour artist Paul Sandby (1731-1809). The map is part of the Kings Topographical Collection, having formed part of the collection of the Duke of Cumberland.
We’re delighted for the National Library of Scotland to host this map on their website, given its signal national importance. And they do a very good job of it too, with a superb interface and numerous layers, including a 3D one.
I hope you find something here to interest and inspire you – and I’d be very glad to learn of any comments or questions you have, either by commenting here or on Twitter at @BLMaps.
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.
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.
25 March 2015
We have 50,000 maps online that we ask you - the public - to identify the geographical location of. The BL Georeferencer release is now live at
“A plan of the city of Stockholm” published in 1802, overlaid on current Google mapping
Using the BL Georeferencer online application, you will be presented with a historic map from a 19th century book; by finding the location on a modern map or imagery alongside, the old map is “georeferenced”, and can be overlaid and interacted with in your browser (as above).
This is our largest release of maps yet, and will be a formidable task to complete, so any amount of help you can offer us will be gratefully received!
07 August 2014
In just 28 days from release, 3,220 maps have been geo-located online by participants in the BL Georeferencer project. For this quantity of maps to be completed at such a speed is truly impressive, and testifies to much scrutiny of maps and online research by many people.
On behalf of the British Library, I'd like to thank the volunteers that contributed their time and energy over the last four weeks to make this happen (the top 25 are recognised here). Our two star participants, Maurice Nicholson and Susan Major, have once again shone; both assigned approximately 12,500 control points. Their commitment to this project, for this release and those before, has been remarkable, as has the work of many, many other contributors!
The maps have started to be added to Wikimedia Commons in their own British Library Georeferencer subset, thanks to the efforts of Wikipedia's user Jheald and others, providing another point of access in addition to the original Flickr British Library maps subset. Both contain links to the overlays in BL Georeferencer; the geospatial metadata (world files) are available from within the application. Together, this enables full and free download and use of these public domain images and metadata.
We have come a long way since our very first release of maps via BL Georeferencer in February 2012. One year ago, we could boast "only" 2,236 maps georeferenced maps online; since then 6,000 more have been added. As soon as the public can identify and tag another substantial chunk of maps from amongst the images in Flickr (here) or Wikimedia (here), we'll follow this up with more!
In the meantime, check out the placed maps here, where they can be accessed geographically, until they are reviewed by our expert panel for quality, and then added to the Old Maps Online portal with other collections of online historic maps.
29 July 2014
We are in the last quarter of maps of this BL Georeferencer release. I always like to review at this stage what has been accomplished and what remains. The maps left can be the most difficult ones, so those who like a challenge and want to undertake some tricky online research, this is your time!
Some of my picks for greatest challenges:
Hand drawn! Transliterated from a non-Roman alphabet! On its side!
This map is from W.J. Reid's account of his exploration of western China and eastern Tibet, Through Unexplored Asia. It depicts a mountainous and relatively remote area in central China. There are not a great number of placenames for this area in online maps, and even these may not be spelled the same as the handwritten map labels. Thanks to the volunteer ("digger"), who solved it by using the lat-long references on the map.
I should add that no-one likes a map on its side - one participant said "Help me please, before I need to visit my chiropractor"! Unfortunately, because these maps were semi-automatically extracted from the texts and posted online, this is not an option for now.
Early mapping! Medieval script! Book in Hungarian!
Unless the map is already familiar to them, the participant will need to read the Hungarian text and decipher the map's medieval handwriting to place it - not a straightforward demand. (This one is still available, so Hungarian-speaking medievalist georeferencers, come forward!)
For every difficult map, however, there may be numerous more familiar ones.
This map of Essex is one of 46 from the 1813 Topographical Dictionary of the United Kingdom.
If you've a talent for geography and curiosity about historic places and spaces, your input to BL Georeferencer will be valuable indeed. There are 762 maps remaining, waiting to be placed!
Maps and views blog recent posts
- The new Roy Military Survey Gazetteer
- Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- Another big list of where to find British Library maps online
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- Help! British Library needs 50,000+ maps georeferenced
- Success - maps 100% georeferenced
- Tricky maps
- Maps in 19th-century books - what has been georeferenced
- New lot of maps for georeferencing - release TODAY