THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

Introduction

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

06 June 2017

Hollar in Hull

As UK City of Culture 2017 the city of Hull is currently host to an array of festivals, events and exhibitions, and the British Library is delighted to have been able to lend some of its map treasures to one of them.

The Ferrens Art Gallery's Rembrandt exhibition (1 April - 28 August) will include not only one of the most significant early printed maps of Hull, but the copper plate used to print it.    

GggKingston upon HullWenceslaus Hollar, Kyngeston-upon-Hull. London, around 1642. British Library Maps K.Top 44.32.

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Wenceslaus Hollar, [Copper plate used to print a map of Hull, around 1642]. British Library Maps 177.L.2.

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) was a Czech artist brought to England  by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel in 1636 and excelling with sublimely etched prints of a variety of subjects, including maps and urban bird's-eye views. His map of Hull is thought to have been produced in 1642, around the time of the siege of Hull by Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War (1642-51).

The example of this map on display is the copy from the Topographical Collection of George III. It is accompanied by the very copper plate etched by Hollar then inked and passed through a press to create it. Copper plates hardly ever survive (often being melted down and reused), and so we are particularly pleased that such a fine example is now able to be seen in the very place it depicts, its copper glinting for a 21st century audience among other examples of 17th century art and culture.

12 May 2017

Saxton's cost-cutting exercise

The first atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579. It is a landmark in the cartography of Britain, containing maps of the counties of England and Wales by the mapmaker Christopher Saxton, engraved mostly by Dutch artists but also the odd Englishman such as Augustine Ryther.

The maps are believed to have been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state William Cecil Lord Burghley during the 1570s. Its purpose was security, defense and administration during a period of internal intrigue and international instability, notably tension with Catholic Spain. 

Burghley's own copy of the atlas, held in the British Library (Royal MS.18 D.III.)  contains his notes identifying Catholic families and potential justices of the peace. Shannon and Winstanley suggested the author of one of the atlas's maps of Lancashire to be none other than Francis Walsingham's cryptographer Thomas Phelippes.

001ROY000018D03U00082000[SVC2]Thomas Phelippes(?), [Map of Lancashire], c. 1576. British Library Royal MS.18.D.III 

England had enemies indeed during the 1570s, and war would break out with Spain in 1585. So why, by contrast to the atlas's larger scale county maps of snug and safe Monmouthshire and Leicestershire did Saxton provide only a puny small scale map for vulnerable south east England?

001MAP00000C7C1U00011000[SVC2]Christopher Saxton, Cantii, Southsexiae, Surriae et Middlesexiae comitat. London, 1576. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5.

In 1801 again under threat of war, this time with France, the Ordnance Survey made sure Kent was mapped before anywhere else.

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William Mudge / Ordnance Survey, The county of Kent, with part of the county of Essex. London: William Faden, 1801 (1809). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Peter Barber pointed out that the elaborate decoration of Saxton's south east map could not distract from the fact that it wasn't really fit for purpose. Barber also suggested the most likely reason for the rather pathetic map: Saxton was skint, short on funds and economising on engraving and production costs.

War isn't really the best time to be scrimping and saving, and it is around the time of the south east map (dated 1576) that a new paymaster, Thomas Seckford, was drafted in by Burghley to see the production through.

The eventual Spanish invasion was defeated in 1588. Then there was plenty of money to commission extravagant celebratory copper engraved maps of the English victory over the Armada.

061046

Robert Adams, [The British Isles with the route of the Spanish Armada] from  Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio. Anno Do. MDLXXXVIII. R. Adamo authore. A. Ryther sculpsit. London, c. 1590. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5

A set of these Armada engravings is bound up with another of the British Library's copies of Saxton's atlas (Maps C.3.bb.5), believed to belong to James I. The rest is history. 

03 May 2017

Picturing Places launched!

Last week the British Library was pleased to announce the successful launch of Picturing Places, a new online learning resource.  

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The Tower of London with London Bridge and the City, from Charles of Orléans' "Poetry", around 1483. British Library Royal MS 16.F.II (f.73).

This is the first the British Library has dedicated to its extensive visual materials, and as the national collection of topographical materials, we are hoping to transform, elevate and broaden perceptions of topography through it, the related Transforming Topography research project , and our cataloguing and digitisation of the King’s Topographical Collection.

The site’s essays cover diverse subjects, themes such as pleasure gardens  and the Grand Tour, artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner, and particular works of art such as Mark Wood’s 1785 map of Kolkata

 

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John Hassell, 'The Village of Thursley, looking westwards,' 1824. British Library Crach 1.tab.1.b.1.

We would like to thank the funders of the Transforming Topography project who have made this project possible - the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Marc Fitch Fund, Coles Medlock Foundation, Finnis Scott Foundation, Thriplow Charitable Trust and SP Lohia Foundation.

And we are greatly indebted to our authors. There are currently over 90 involved with the project, from current PhD students to Emeritus Professors, in fields such as art history, cultural geography and history, and it has been a pleasure to unlock our collections with experts from such diverse fields.

This is the first phase of the project, so watch this space – there is currently more content ready to publish, more being edited and more has been commissioned, so do keep an eye on the site as it continues to grow. 

Follow @BL_prints and @BLMaps on Twitter for updates and highlights.

Felicity Myrone