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

16 October 2017

Shoreditch according to Goldfinger

A remarkable new acquisition has arrived! Planning your neighbourhood  is a proposal on twenty display boards for post-war reconstruction produced by an architect Ernő Goldfinger and Ursula Blackwell in 1944 for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs.

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Planning Your Neighbourhood. Title page. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

Goldfinger, educated in Vienna and Paris, played an important part in the development of the modernist movement in Britain. His appreciation for the Brutalist style and unconventional designs (including the Alexander Fleming House at Elephant and Castle, Balfron Tower at Poplar, and Trellick Tower in west London) often upset the general public. Allegedly, the author Ian Fleming, who was Goldfinger’s neighbour in Hampstead, was so opposed to the design of terraced houses in Willow Road, that he named one of the James Bond novel villains after the architect.

Planning your neighbourhood captures an air of optimism in which the designer presented the utopian vision of improved post-war city life. The district of Shoreditch in East London, heavily damaged through enemy actions and “overcrowded and disfigured by slums”, was a perfect candidate for post-war reconstruction. The proposal incorporates maps, aerial photos and diagrams to visualise the concept of comfortable modern housing that caters for all. The idea was that anyone, young and old across different social classes, would enjoy living in the “vertical city”.

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Aerial view of the damaged site in Shoreditch. Board 11. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The set opens with a comparison of country and city life stating that in towns “the advantage of neighbourliness is lost”. The solution suggested by Goldfinger is the creation of neighbourhoods composed of residential units, in line with principles of planning concept introduced by Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie and John Forshaw in their Greater London Plan, which promoted development of self-contained communities.

Goldfinger’s scheme advocates vertically built cites over traditional outward expansion. He compared a footprint of a tower block against a street of terraced houses, demonstrating the advantage of the modern approach.

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Board 10. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The importance of planning is strongly emphasized, with the planner having to carefully consider a design which allowed for different sized apartments, depending on individual family needs, and appropriate amenities located nearby. Goldfinger also thought about green spaces and recreational facilities such as local cinemas and swimming pools, playgrounds, cricket and football grounds – all conveniently situated in the centre of the neighbourhood within an easy reach from home. Also, with safety in mind, he introduced the idea of segregated traffic with high speed roads exclusively reserved for heavy vehicles (including buses and trucks), and slow roads for horse carts, bicycles and pedestrians providing safe access to nurseries and schools with no crossing of traffic required.  

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Board 8. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The reconstruction of post-war Britain was less ambitious than Goldfinger estimated and his Shoreditch scheme was never built. One could argue it was realised on a ‘mini scale’ as Trellick Tower Cheltenham Estate in west London completed in 1972 with its own doctor surgery, nursery, school, laundrettes, and shops. Loved or hated, it became one of London’s landmarks and has been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage.

By the mid-1970s concrete tower blocks were no longer perceived as a model for urban regeneration. What originally was intended to provide a solution to the housing problem and growth of a healthy strong community in reality became the main factor for social alienation, crime and creating serious safety hazards.

Unfortunately Planning your neighbourhood was acquired too late to be included in our Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition held in November 2016 to March 2017 but the set is available for ordering through the online catalogue.

27 September 2017

Maps in GCSE resource cupboards

Yesterday I gave a keynote presentation at the RGS-IBG Schools event 'Looking ahead at GCSE geography and history: getting the best results' with the Historical Association.

If you did a Venn diagram of history and geography you’d get a historic map, and the purpose of my presentation was to convince geography and history teachers of the value of historic maps for their resource cupboards.

My general argument was that maps have always had an important role in education, pre-dating the modern subject of geography by a good few centuries. During the 19th century, when geography acquired its modern identity, maps were there as geography's  handmaiden, supporting it and pushing its agenda.

Today, maps are perhaps less central to geography education than they were a century ago. Other sources are as heavily used, and maps may not be perceived as the pure scientific communication models that 1960s geographers were trying to develop, or as versatile as GiS.

But maps can still be useful in enabling an appreciation of current trends in geography -  an awareness which is surely essential if you’re a geography teacher and student. In the later 19th century it was physical and commercial geography to equip British Geographer-in-chief Halford Mackinder’s ‘future inheritors of Empire.’ As to the increase in prominence of fieldwork in the new GCSE Geography syllabus, is there an echo of the 'Nature Study' trend emphasised over a century ago?

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[A hand-drawn map of Ireland, around 1540] British Library Cotton MS Augustus I.ii.21.

For history students, the Historical value of maps has always been obvious. This English-produced map of Ireland from around 1540 (south at the top, Dublin and the Shannon appearing mid-way up on the left) may be inaccurate because it exaggerates the size of area of the English Pale, and has some settlements larger than others. But doesn’t that enable us to see into the mind of the English crown, and get an insight into their strategies, their fears, their blind spots? As a historical source: solid gold.

There are thousands of freely available digital historical maps online as context for geogrpahical trends, and as historical sources. If you're a teacher, stick a few in your cupboard. Have a few more on us. 

15 August 2017

A plan for a new Westminster Bridge (1736): report from the conservation studio

Gavin Moorhead from the British Library's conservation team has been busy, and in this guest blog he explains just how.

'At the start of 2017 an item from the Map Collection underwent conservation so that readers could see an iconic piece of London engineering history.

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Desseins du Pont Projete sur la Tamise a Londre – or Designs of the Projected Bridge on the River Thames in London (British Library Maps C.49.e.76) is a proposal for the construction of Westminster Bridge (opened 1750). 

It consists of 1 drawing on multiple paper panels each measuring 490mm in height but joined together the collective width runs to 14740mm – or almost 15 metres. This ‘single sheet’ has been folded into a ‘concertina’ book block, which is attached to boards bound in tan calf at each end. Written and drawn in ink and watercolour, it is part ‘artists impression’ and part mechanical drawing - which collectively make a fascinating record of plans and construction ideas that the architect, possibly the Swiss engineer Charles Labelye (1705-1781?) had for the bridge and embody the origins of a quintessential London landmark and symbol.  

However, 280 years on from its creation, mechanical wear and water damage have acted to severely degrade the leather covers and paper substrate. In this condition, there was no practical method of use. Refurbishment began in January 2017.

Conservation at the British Library is carried out under a code of ethics that includes; making repairs that are reversible; conducting them with minimum intervention; and using only archive quality materials. Added to this is the fact that the British Library is a ‘working’ library so options for repair need to be considered for their suitability, functionality and longevity.

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Fig 1: Back board before conservation showing water damage, staining, losses and abrasions.

 Any item undergoing conservation has a condition assessment prior to treatment. Images from this documentation record can be seen below. Fig. 1 illustrates the types of damage to the cover boards and book block. The boards have suffered extensive losses, abrasion, warping and staining with the back board in particular showing damage caused by contact with moisture in the dark areas of the leather. The book block has been heavily stained from acid migration from the leather; (Fig. 2), while most of the folded panels were split apart or in the process of splitting from mishandling (Fig. 3).

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Fig. 2:  Front pastedown and first panel before conservation, showing separation staining from acid migration.

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Fig. 3:  Separated sheets and dirt deposits before conservation.

The treatment was carried out in two stages - board restoration followed by repair of the book block. The board leather was first consolidated with methylcellulose to enable safer lifting of the outer edges in order to trim back the blackened and brittle water damaged areas. Following this, the edge and corner losses in the boards were re-instated by adding paper pulp mixed with a small amount of wheat starch paste. These were pressed until dry then strengthened with pasted laminates of Japanese tissue paper. Lastly, the new corners were trimmed back to the original shape. The missing areas of leather were replaced with thin strips of calfskin cut to shape and pared down to size. These were inserted and glued underneath the existing leather to form new edges. The speckled marks on the skin were approximated using gouache pigment (Fig.4).

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Fig. 4:  Front board after conservation.

The book block was first dry cleaned using a smoke sponge eraser then repaired in sections. Extant fragments were located, aligned and reattached using toned Japanese tissue adhered with wheat starch paste. In-fills were made where losses were permanent using western papers, via the same process. Split sections were re-joined with Japanese tissue and paste but the folds were re-enforced with strips of un-dyed natural linen pasted to the verso. The first and last folios were then re-attached to the boards using a pasted linen laminate again to strengthen the joints and facilitate re-folding (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5:  Last panel, back pastedown and scale after conservation, showing tissue repairs.

 Gavin Moorhead