Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians


Our earliest map appears on a coin made in the Roman Empire and our latest appears as pixels on a computer screen. In between we have the most complete set of Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain, the grand collection of an 18th-century king, secret maps made by the Soviet army as well as the British government, and a book that stands taller than the average person. Read more

20 October 2014

1971: A Football Heritage Map

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This weekend in the 1971 football season Leeds Utd won a thriller against Everton 3-2 at Elland Road. Brian Clough’s Derby County, who would go on to be league champions that year, beat Arsenal 2-1. Of those clubs only two are in today’s top league, and of today’s Premier League line-up, all but 7 of the clubs were there in 1971.


John Carvosso, Football History Map of England and Wales. Edinburgh: Bartholomew, 1971. British Library Maps 1190.(177.).

The 1971 football history map, published by Bartholomew and endorsed by the FA, is one of the maps included in a new book entitled ‘A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps.’ The map is a fabulous celebration of football heritage, showing every English and Welsh Football League club ever to have existed, with their location, colours, crest and dates of foundation included. The vast majority of them are recognisable, though many have changed their badges and grounds. Sunderland, for example, would remove the ship from its crest after the closure of the last shipyard on the River Wear in the 1990s. Chelsea's and QPR's badges are just two of many to have been given fashionable makeovers since.

A number of other clubs featured on the map have since left the Football League, and some have sunk completely. John Carvosso, the map’s author, must have had a difficult job to trace, for example, Clapham Rovers and Bridlington Trinity.

In 1971 England could still look back to its world cup win 5 years earlier. Colour tv enlivened broadcasted games and publications like Shoot! fed the insatiable appetite for football. But the modern game was just around the corner. Crowd violence and hooliganism of the later 1970s was set against a backdrop of economic malaise and widespread unemployment. Football’s traditional supporting heartlands were working class, urban areas which were losing their industries (see Sunderland, above). These were the same areas on whose football terraces had stood the volunteers of the Pals battallions, decimated on the Western Front a half century earlier. 

In the wealthy modern game, heritage is celebrated and preserved provided it does not hinder profit. Famous football grounds such as Maine Road, Highbury, even Ayresome Park, centrally located sites, some even with listed status, have been demolished in favour of larger grounds capable of providing greater match day revenue to their clubs. Historical spaces of virtually sacred memories have disappeared under modern housing developments. You can just about make out the former locations of some of them on Google Earth, rectangular areas of housing with slightly newer looking roofs than those around them. 

A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps is published by the British Library

09 October 2014

A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps

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Published today, ‘A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps’ navigates a path through those infamous/violent/extreme/no longer contemporary 100 years via 100 maps made during the course of them (actually there are nearer 110 maps, but don’t tell anyone) Most of them are from the map collection of the British Library.

Blog-edit100 Maps final jacket

Telling history through objects has become very popular over the past few years: Neil MacGregor’s ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’, Jerry Brotton’s ‘History of the World in 12 Maps’, and Peter Barber’s superb ‘London, a Life in Maps’ - this latter which showed showed how deeply a place’s past is inscribed in its cartography -  these books examine the past through its objects. But surprisingly, until now, the 20th century has not been really looked at through its key object, the map.

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Anon, 'Coronation Edward VIII 1937', British Made, textile, 1936 [British Library Maps CC.5.a.298]. 

The point that Tim Bryars and I want to put across is that the 20th century was THE map century, when maps ceased altogether to be elitist artefacts and became the essential objects we have around us and in our pockets (in whatever form) today. Ultimately, today we understand the world as much through maps as through the reality of our surroundings. That is a consequence of the 20th century and the things that happened in it.


Don't the 1980s seem such a very long time ago now? The Weetabix Wonderworld Atlas, Burton Latimer, c. 1983. [British Library Maps. 260.a.1]

The second point is that while maps survive (and survive they do in the British Library where approximately two-thirds of its 4.5 million maps are from the 20th century), these often random scraps of paper are our way of understanding the recent past, the legacy of which is still with us on the News at Ten and on the front pages. Britain? The EU? Israel? Understand them through the objects that realised them in peoples' minds.

A History of the 20th Century in 100 maps is published in North America by the University of Chicago Press

03 October 2014

New Acquisition: The Bowes Playing cards of 1590

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 The Map Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of no less an item than the earliest recorded set of geographical playing cards, and the first playing cards to have been manufactured in England, engraved, printed and published in London in 1590.


 William Bowes, [Playing card map of England and Wales] engraved by Augustine Ryther, 1590 [British Library Maps C.44.d.90].  Cc-logo-

 This treasure, purchased with the help of the Friends of the British Library, has now been catalogued and digitised (You may also have seen it on display recently in the Treasures of the British Library gallery). The set contains 53 cards without suit markings, each containing a tiny engraved map of an English or Welsh county, plus a general map of England and Wales. They are the second earliest engraved county maps after the maps of Christopher Saxton, whose atlas was published in 1579 and later. They were probably copied, in fact, from Saxton’s general map of England and Wales.


 Anglia hominūnumero reruḿoB feré omniu copijs abundans, sub mitissimo Elizabethae ... Reginae imperio ... florentissima. Christophorus Saxton descripsit. Augustinus Ryther Anglus sculpsit ... 1579 [British Library Maps]  Cc-logo-

The counties are arranged into 4 sets of similar geographical region (Wales, North, West, East) and numbered I to XIII in order from the smallest county to the largest. Each set has a different engraved pattern border, which have been engraved with wonderful expression (which may also be rushed, after all, the engraver had 52 of them to complete). The maps are accompanied by excerpts from William Camden’s 'Britannia', which had been published in 1586, four years earlier.

They were engraved in copper by Augustine Ryther. Ryther, possibly from Yorkshire, was one of the few English engravers employed to engrave Saxton’s maps (the best engravers in England at the time were Dutchmen, many of them protestants having fled persecution from the continent).

Ryther is an interesting man, a key figure at a crucial time of map and image printing in Elizabethan England. Peter Barber believes that Ryther went on to be agent and seller of Saxton’s maps after a time. He was also an instrument maker, engraver of the earliest English astronomical chart and the earliest surviving English map of London. This latter is included in one of the 3 other surviving sets of the playing cards, which is in the British Museum.

The county map cards tell us much about material culture in Elizabeth England, but also how people had begun to think more about their surroundings, their country, and to visualise them through maps, and literature.

Unlike Ryther, the cards’ craftsman, the author is more shrouded in mystery. The imprint (on one of the text cards) reads ‘Englan: Famous Plac (which we take to mean London) : W.B. inuent,1590’. The identity of W.B. has long been debated, but it was discovered (by Mann and Kingsley) that a William Bowes is associated with a later pack of playing cards produced in 1605, who was the brother of a Ralph Bowes, who was granted a license to import playing cards in 1578.

Bowes may have been the author, but it is without doubt Ryther who takes the spoils for this compelling set of survivors.

Below are images of the first ‘suit’, the counties of East England. The other three suits (South, North and Wales) will follow. Enjoy!





William Bowes, [playing card maps of counties of East England]. London, 1590 [British Library Maps C.44.d.90] Cc-logo-