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

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

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.

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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.