THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

16 posts categorized "K.Top."

04 April 2018

Shipwrecks and Piracy: John Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome, part two

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In my last blog I noted how John Rocque’s 1750 map of Rome could be considered both a personal memento for the grand tourist who likely commissioned it – Sir Bourchier Wrey – as well as a useful map for travellers.

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John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.

My post today will look at events surrounding the production of Rocque’s map of Rome. The ensuing story reveals this London mapmaker to be a rather ruthless opportunist…

 

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

In 1748 the Italian cartographer Giambattista Nolli produced a landmark map of Rome. It came in two sizes: a monumental twelve-sheet map entitled Nuova Pianta di Roma, and a reduced single-sheet version called La Topografia di Roma. Scholars sometimes refer to them respectively as the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola for short, and copies of both can be found in King George III’s Topographical Collection.

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Giambattista Nolli, La Topografia di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.a.

The incredible detail of Nolli’s Pianta grande ensured that it was still being used in some form for over 200 hundred years.[1] The story abroad, however, was another matter entirely: in terms of sales, it was a bit of a flop. Among the reasons for this disappointing turnover, at least in Britain, was the quick-witted John Rocque.[2]

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

As was common in the eighteenth century, Nolli and his associate Girolamo Belloni attempted to raise funds for the project by seeking advance subscribers.[3] Nolli handled the domestic sales (i.e. the Papal States), while Belloni was responsible for international sales. To this end Belloni travelled across Europe from 1747 to 1756.

Before publication Belloni procured a meagre 59 subscribers abroad. Though we don’t know exactly how many of those came from London, the figure for Paris, by comparison, was 6. By the end of 1756 Belloni recorded that he had sold a grand total of 459 copies abroad. This was a rather disappointing return for a project so long and so dear in the making.

Despite this, the popularity of the map in London was high, relative to other European cities, perhaps reflecting Rome’s status in Britain as the Grand Tour capital. It might have sold even better still, were it not for John Rocque.

Among the first shipments sent out around May 1748 was a batch of 48 maps (or 56, according to a second note) en route to London that were lost in a shipwreck.

Belloni, it seems, did not react quickly enough to this setback, but Rocque did. For in 1750, after a fairly brisk turnaround, Rocque published his own map of Rome, a compilation of the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola.[4] Even though Rocque did credit Nolli in his title, this was bare-faced plagiarism designed to capitalise on Belloni’s slowness in supplying the London map market.

Seeing an example of Nolli’s map in 1750, the artist Canaletto, in London at that time, remarked: “many gentlemen have already been provided with it by another hand”.[5] Though it is far from explicit, Canaletto was surely referring to Rocque, since he was the only mapmaker who had made a copy by this date.

Thus with a keen eye for an opportunity, John Rocque stole a march on his rivals: what was Nolli and Belloni’s loss was his gain. The eighteenth-century map market could be a ruthless place.

 

[1] In fact, it formed the base of plans of the city by the Italian government until the 1970s, see Ceen, Allan, ‘Nuova Pianta di Roma Data in Luce da Giambattista Nolli l’Anno MDCCXLVIII’, http://nolli.uoregon.edu/nuovaPianta.html.

[2] The details of the history of Nolli’s map come from Bevilacqua, Mario, Roma nel Secolo dei Lumi: Architettura, erudizione, scienza nella Pianta di G.B. Nolli «celebre geometra», (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), especially pp. 49-52.

[3] For more information about the subscription model, see Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 84-90.

[4] There is some uncertainty among map historians concerning how long it took to prepare copperplates for printing, with estimates ranging from a few days to many months. Contrast, for example, Pedley (2005), pp. 53-56, and Carhart, George, ‘How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map? A Consideration of Craft Practices’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197.

[5] “essendo già stati provisti molti Signori Personaggi da altro mano”. My translation; see Bevilacqua (2005), p. 52.

29 January 2018

The Ultimate Tourist Souvenir: John Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome

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For many of the thousands of British men and women who ventured abroad during the eighteenth century, travelling to Italy was the highlight of the trip. To some it was even considered an essential activity for any aspiring socialite or person of culture. In the words of Dr Samuel Johnson, “A man who hath not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see”.[1]

Sir Bourchier Wrey (1714/15–1784), who travelled around Europe in the mid-1730s – including a sojourn in Italy – came up with a novel way of commemorating his time there: he decided to commission a map of Rome.[2]

The map in question is John Rocque’s A plan of Rome… (see fig. 1) published in 1750 – of which there is a fine copy in King George III’s Topographical Collection.[3]

Fig 1

Fig. 1: John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.

We can tell that Wrey was involved in the production as there is a decorative cartouche dedicating the map to him in the bottom-right corner (see fig. 2).

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Fig. 2: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the decorative cartouche that dedicates the map to Sir Bou[r]chier Wrey.

With an eye for sales, Rocque catered his map to potential grand tourists: he has highlighted certain buildings and sites that had architectural or antiquarian interest with deep scoring, so they stand out in black (see figs. 3 and 4).

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Fig. 3: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the title and the area around St Peter’s Basilica.

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Fig. 4: Detail of John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), showing the urban centre of Rome.

This innovation would have made the map immediately more useful and alluring to travellers. These highlighted areas, which comprise the numbered locations of the index, are far more easily identifiable than if they simply were marked with numbers.

Rocque was one of London’s most successful mapmakers of the eighteenth century and this plan of Rome followed in the wake of his other city maps, such as those of Berlin (1745), London and Westminster (1746), and Paris (1748).[4]

On another level, however, this map speaks of the immense personal and societal impact of the Grand Tour.

Wrey had returned from travelling over a decade prior to the date of publication. This interval demonstrates that the effects of Wrey’s experiences abroad did not conclude when he first set foot back on English soil. Rather, his Grand Tour still had powerful enough meaning for him to want to assist Rocque in publishing this map.

But aside from seeing this map as a personal memento for Wrey, we can also recognise its wider social value. With this map Wrey was making a carefully constructed public expression of his own identity. By patronising a map of Rome, the traditional pinnacle of the Grand Tour, Wrey was showing off both his cultural and historical sensibilities and his appreciation of the science of mapping. 

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Fig. 5: Sir Bourchier Wrey’s portrait for the Society of Dilettanti, by George Knapton, 1744, showing him dishing up some punch from a classicised bowl inscribed with Horace’s phrase “Dulce est Desipere in Loco” – “It is delightful to play the fool occasionally”. (Wikimedia Commons, Source/Photographer: J. Paul Getty Trust)

What’s more, Wrey was an active member of the Society of Dilettanti, whose objective was to promote knowledge of classical antiquity (and the members certainly had fun whilst doing so – see fig. 5).[5] Finally, as this map marks an important update on the cartography of Rome for a British audience, we can detect Wrey’s intention to make Rome more accessible to grand tourists.

What better way is there to remember your own travels than to put your name on the map?

Jeremy Brown

Jeremy is undertaking an AHRC collaborative PhD with the British Library and Royal Holloway University of London on Maps and the Italian Grand Tour.

https://www.bl.uk/case-studies/jeremy-brown# 

 

[1] Boswell, James, Life of Johnson (London: Oxford University Press, 1965): 742.

[2] Some biographical information on Sir Bourchier Wrey, sixth baronet, can be found at: Handley, Stuart, ‘Wrey, Sir Bourchier, fourth baronet (c.1653–1696)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30025, accessed 4 Jan 2018].

[3] Maps K.Top.81.22.

[4] For more information of Rocque’s life and work see Varley, John, ‘John Rocque. Engraver, Surveyor, Cartographer and Map-Seller’, Imago Mundi, 5 (1948), 83-91.

[5] For an overview of the activity and achievements of the Society, see Redford, Bruce, Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England, (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008).

23 May 2016

Murder and Madness in the Castle: Macbeth’s Inverness

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Above: Inverness Castle before the Jacobite uprisings [BL: Maps K.Top 50.10.a]

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Inverness Castle is the site of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan, allowing Macbeth to usurp the crown. It is also where Macbeth’s descent into madness plays out, with many key scenes happening within the confines of the castle. As with so many of Shakespeare’s productions the events of Macbeth are, very loosely, based on fact, with historical characters used to drive the dramatic narrative. Much about the actual history of these individuals is different from how Shakespeare’s drama plays out, for example, Duncan was murdered at a much younger age than Shakespeare portrays, but the characters and locations can still be fixed, to some extent, geographically and historically.

Despite this, and somewhat unfortunately, no record remains of Inverness Castle as it was in the time of King Duncan. The fort that existed at this time was razed to the ground in the 11th century and has since been replaced with various structures. That which currently stands in Inverness was built in the nineteenth century in order to replace the castle seen above, constructed in the sixteenth century and destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings. As a result, this is the best source for Inverness Castle’s historic look that exists and, while it may not be the right castle to house the events of Macbeth, a little embellishment never hurt the Bard and so games designers should be able to indulge a little too.

Inverness Castle and the narrative of Macbeth provide rich pickings for video games. Castle based cerebral horrors, filled with mind games and hallucinations, perhaps like the Gamecube’s, Eternal Darkness, are one way a Macbeth inspired game could play out. Indeed, there are so many fantasy-RPG elements to the story of Macbeth, including witchcraft, other-worldly sieges and more, that a journey of character upgrades and branching choices would also fit well (although for the sake of longevity it might be worth making sure the player has to kill King Duncan…). Of course, for those of you who are more excited by the platform genre, the view of Inverness Castle above would also lend itself to a Castlevania or Ghosts n’ Goblins style adventure. The choice is yours.

For some further inspiration you can also look to the Hamlet inspired game, Elsinore, which currently forms part of the Library's Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Do remember though, if you are planning on entering the competition it’s time to get cracking with implementing your designs. The deadline for submission is rapidly approaching, with 1st July only just over a month away. Good luck!

[PJH]

23 February 2016

'Whither the Fates Carry Us': Bermuda goes Off the Map

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Maps_k_top_123_127Above: Mappa ÆSTIVARUM Insularum, alias BERMUDAS dictarum [BL: Maps K Top 123.127]

It's time for another 'Off the Map' competition here at the British Library and GameCity, with this year's theme being built around our upcoming Shakespeare exhibition. You can find out more about the competition here, get sounds inspiration here, read more about mysterious islands here, and find some inspiration built around The Tempest below.

The coat of arms of Bermuda isn’t the most cheerful in the world, as it depicts a ship in danger of being wrecked on the rocks, but its motto, Whither the Fates Carry [Us], is slightly more hopeful than you first think. In 1609 the Sea Venture, flagship of the Virginia Company, foundered on rocks after the commander in charge, Admiral Sir George Somers, decided his crew would survive this situation better than riding out the storm which bore down on them. All hands survived and found themselves on the island of Bermuda, the beginning of English settlement there. The story of the Sea Venture is not just one of oceanic derring-do, though. The narrative published about the discovery of the island also inspired some of the most famous writings in the English language.

Various accounts of the wreck of the Sea-Adventure were published, many of them becoming best sellers as they gripped the public imagination. A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels, A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia,and True Reportory are just a few of the pamphlets although my favourite tells the whole story in its title; Newes from Virginia, The Lost Flocke triumphant, with the happy Arriual of that famous and worthy knight, Sr Thomas Gates, and the well reputed and valiant Captaine Mr, Christopher Newporte, and others, into England, With the manner of their distresse in the Hand of Deuils (otherwise called Bermoothawes), where they remayned 42 weekesy and builded two Pynaces in which they returned into Virginia. Some other clues are found in these titles as to how these accounts of shipwreck could inspire Shakespeare, the mention of the ‘Ile of Divels’ (Isle of Devils)  fires the imagination while other details in the accounts clearly connect to elements of the narrative of The Tempest.

118_f_14_037Above: The Bermudas: or, Summer's Islands [BL: 118.f.14]

Shipwreck, wilderness and the nature of authority all feature in these accounts and their evocative descriptions but it is probably the evocative description of Bermuda and its landscape which most captured the public, and Shakespeare’s, imagination. Bermuda was eventually to capture the attention of capitalists and plantation owners, as the map above shows. Here the wilderness encountered by the Sea Venture crew has been replaced with a landscape of sugar plantations and settlement, as shown by the many names and plots inscribed on the landscape. However, one element of the map provides a bridge between the moment of encounter and this settled, developed present, the illustration in the lower left corner. This is the same coat of arms discussed above, already bearing the Sea-Adventure in peril and the saying, ‘Whither the Fates Carry [Us]’. It also reminds us that, as violent winds were important to the settlement of Bermuda so they were important to the plot of The Tempest, with Prospero raising a storm to bring Antonio and his crew to the island on which he is exiled.

2302_b_14_vol1_tempest_frontispiece - CopyAbove: a frontispiece depicting The Tempest, from Nicholas Rowe's, 1709, The Works of Mr. William Shakespear: in Six Volumes [BL: 2302.b.14]

For ‘Off the Map’ the possibilities provided by this map, the Bermuda accounts and other items made available, such as the above from Nicolas Rowe’s 1709 edition of The Tempest, are wonderful to think about. Exploring a terrifying, open world island (don’t worry, Bermuda’s only small) after being ship-wrecked by spirits? A Lost-style adventure thriller where you and your crew have to figure out where exactly you’ve ended up (with or without polar bears)? Or, my personal favourite, perhaps something a little bit more ‘Secret of Monkey Island’, where your only hope of escape is to evade exiled sorcerer-kings, and pirate daemons, fight them off with root beer and find a ship to get home to your one true love? In short, Bermuda has already inspired one of the greatest works of English theater, now it’s over to video games.

[PJH]

02 September 2015

A Rare View of the Siege of Boston (1775-1776)

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The British Library is pleased to have a number of of maps and views currently on display in a special exhibition at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library. These maps, which come from the King's Topographical and RUSI collections, were digitised and catalogued thanks to a project involving the Leventhal Map Center and generous private sponsors. The exhibition is entitled 'We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence,' and we are delighted to host this guest blog post about the display by Allison Lange. 

In late April 1775, twenty-five-year-old British Lieutenant Richard Williams left Europe for Boston to take part in the American war. The battles of Lexington and Concord earlier that month had prompted British troops to retreat to the city, which was soon surrounded by American soldiers. Williams landed in Boston in June, and—despite the circumstances—he was glad to be there. He declared in his diary, “the Land was a pleasing object after six weeks of absence from it.”

Williams’s duties were tied to the land. As a cartographer and artist, he mapped the area for military and political leaders to study. The British Library’s map collection includes several pieces of his work that offer unique, beautiful views of life during the siege.

The day after his arrival, Williams took stock of Boston. He went to Beacon Hill to view the rebellious colonists surrounding the peninsula. “Boston is large & well built, tho’ not a regular laid out town,” he concluded. Williams thought the area had seen better days “before the present unhappy affairs” when “it was livly [sic] and flurishing [sic].”

Add_ms_15535_5[Richard Williams] (active 1750-1776), 'A Plan of Boston and its Environs Shewing the True Situation of His Majesty’s Troops and Also Those of the Rebels, Likewise All the Forts, Redoubts and Entrenchments Erected by Both Armies.' 1775. Manuscript, pen and ink and watercolour. British Library Add.MS. 15535.5.  Publicdomain

Williams used his view from Beacon Hill for his maps and sketches. He likely drew the Plan of Boston and its Environs Shewing the True Situation of His Majesty’s Troops, which is part of the British Library’s map collection, from this spot. The map depicts the positions of the British and American troops in October 1775. Fortifications were colored yellow for the rebels and green for the British. Camps, like the one on the Boston Common, are red.

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Richard Williams (active 1750-1776), 'A View of the Country Round Boston, Taken from Beacon Hill…Shewing the Lines, Redoubts, & Different Encampments of the Rebels Also Those of His Majesty’s Troops under the Command of His Excellency Lieut. General Gage, Governor of Massachuset’s Bay.' 1775. Manuscript, ink and watercolour. British Library Maps K.Top 120.38.  Publicdomain

In addition to this map, Williams captured the landscape with watercolors like A View of the Country Round Boston, Taken from Beacon Hill. He sketched Boston’s churches and homes and documented the British camps that had transformed the city into a military base. At the bottom of the scene, Williams included a key to identify fortifications like Castle Williams and the “Redoubts of the Rebels.”

British military and political leaders commissioned maps like these to gain a better sense of the Revolutionary War. Williams drew his Plan of Boston and sent it to London, where it was printed less than two weeks before the British evacuated the city on March 17, 1776. He also sent his watercolor view, one in a series, to London. This piece eventually made its way into the British Library’s King George III’s Topographical Collection.

After evacuating Boston and sailing for Nova Scotia, Williams became ill and abruptly stopped writing in his diary. He returned to England, where he died on April 30, 1776. Although he died young, the unique views he left behind offer valuable insights into life during the siege.

For the first time, the British Library has loaned these items for display in the city that Williams captured on paper. Williams’ work is featured in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition, We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, uses maps to explore the events that led thirteen colonies to forge a new nation. We Are One demonstrates that maps, from Williams’s plan to early maps of the new nation, were central to the revolutionary process. The exhibition features maps as well as prints, paintings, and objects from the Leventhal Map Center’s own collection and those of twenty partners, including the Library of Congress, William L. Clements Library, and John Carter Brown Library. Explore geo-referenced maps from the exhibition here.

The exhibition will be on display at the Boston Public Library through November 29, 2015. We Are One then travels to Colonial Williamsburg from February 2016 through January 2017 and to the New-York Historical Society from November 2017 through March 2018.

The Leventhal Map Center also hosts the NEH-funded American Revolution Portal database. Researchers can access maps from the American Antiquarian Society, British Library, Library of Congress, and other institutions in one search. Users can download images for research and classroom use.

Access these resources and learn more about We Are One here 

Allison K. Lange, PhD

 

11 August 2015

Revelatory Rivers in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire – Part 1

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The K.Top cataloguing and digitisation project marches ever forward, rather like the Swedish military in this map. The illustration below shows a battle scene, one of several on the map, from the Swedish Intervention during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). The military are shown south-east of Prague, in the Kingdom of Bohemia.

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Carl Heinrich von der Osten, [Map of Germany made after the Swedish Campaign of 1630-48], [about 1650], Maps K.Top.88.1. (detail)

This map’s military and historical significance had, prior to the current cataloguing and digitisation project, been obscured by the possibly perfunctory description in the British Museum’s 1829 catalogue:

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Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third, etc., 1829

Now titled in the British Library’s catalogue in accordance with published works regarding the map, particularly Harold Köhlin’s article A map of Germany made after the Swedish Campaign of 1630-48 in Volume 8 of "Imago Mundi" (1951), but also Peter Meurer’s entry for map number 8.12.5.aa in Corpus der älteren Germania-Karten (2001), the new title offers better access to the map itself, while the citations to these reference works act as a platform for further study. Access to the catalogue is freely available through Explore the British Library.

Although the map does indeed show rivers, just as the 1829 catalogue entry suggests, its purpose was celebratory - peace at the end of the Thirty Years’ War – and it was also intended to illustrate and glorify Swedish intervention by marking the locations of important battles. A “thank you” in cartographic form, perhaps. The map was created by Carl Heinrich von der Osten, a German Royal Engineer in Swedish service, who signs the map at lower right, and was drafted by Matthaeus Merian. It is printed on four separate sheets and joined.

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Carl Heinrich von der Osten, [Map of Germany made after the Swedish Campaign of 1630-48], [about 1650], Maps K.Top.88.1. (signature detail)

The map is scarce in any state and the K.Top example appears to be the first state of the map, prior to the addition of surrounding letterpress text panels and a grand title - “AMORE PACIS”. Meurer mentions just one example of this first state; in the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin (V 5606).

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Carl Heinrich von der Osten, [Map of Germany made after the Swedish Campaign of 1630-48], [about 1650], Maps K.Top.88.1.

This map is just one of some approximately 6000 maps and views devoted to Germany and the Low Countries, about 15% of the whole and thus one of the collection’s largest geographical areas. Housed in a guard volume focussing on the rivers in Germany, and indeed the wider Holy Roman Empire, this map by von der Osten was the first of several important discoveries all from this same volume, details of which will follow in subsequent blog posts.

Kate Marshall

13 April 2015

Lines in the Ice: top five highlights

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As we enter the final week of the British Library's free exhibition Lines in the ice: seeking the Northwest Passage, here are my top five (unashamedly map-heavy) highlights of what has been a memorable and eventful five month residency. 

1. Robert Thorne's world map from 1582.

ThorneRobert Thorne, Orbis Universalis Descriptio [London : T. Dawson for T. Woodcocke, 1582]. British Library C.24.b.35  Untitled

You probably won’t see another one of these exhibited in your lifetime, one of the earliest maps to have been printed in England, with only two in existence today, a clever bit of publicity by the Muscovy company which aimed to convince that the North West Passage didn't exist. Judging from the following 250 years of mostly fruitless searching, perhaps this point of view could have been given a bit more attention.   

2. Listening to icebergs

They are very big and very cold, and make a surprising racket. Curator Cheryl Tipp selected a number of sounds for the exhibition, which appear on sound points, and piped directly into the space. The angry polar bear was particularly eloquent.

 3. Explorer Ryan Nelson speaking at the BL

In an amazing coup, the British Library, the Eccles centre for American Studies and the Canadian High Commission hosted a talk by Ryan Harris, the man who discovered Sir John Franklin's ship Erebus on the sea bed. The event sold out almost before the ship was discovered!

  RHarris

4. An egg-shaped Arctic-biased world map on display for the first time

This rare and extraordinary educational 20th Century map (featured in this book) cleverly positions the Arctic (and Antarctic) centre stage using the 'Atlantis' projection. Its purpose was to focus minds on these zones in order to combat the vast problem of overpopulation. Oil was first extracted from within the Arctic Circle just a few years later.

  Amaps_37_b_55E.W. Fenton, The world we live in. Ipswich, 1958. British Library Maps 37.b.55.

5. Writer-in-residence Rob Sherman and his explorer Isaak Scinbank

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Top: Rob Sherman, bottom: Isaak Scinbank

Rob Sherman's work has been a stunning feature of the exhibition. His fictional explorer Isaak Scinbank, online and in his written journal (which is exhibited), attempted to discover what happened to Sir John Franklin. For me, Rob's work has helped explore how narratives and stories (and their meanings) develop and change over time, and how they can be invested in objects. This isn't the last you'll hear of Rob, I feel fairly certain... 

6. Charles II's map of the Arctic

G70112-95Moses Pitt,' A map of the North Pole and parts adjoining’, from The English Atlas , London, 1680. British Library Maps 1.TAB.16.  Untitled

Another map that has never before been exhibited is Moses Pitt's map of the Arctic, this copy owned by Charles II and acquired by the nation via the Topographical Collection of George III. 

The gold leaf on this map will be shimmering in public until Friday, so if you have the chance to visit the exhibition before then, please do. We are also holding a free seminar on Friday to celebrate the end of Rob Sherman's residency. Thank you to all who has visited Lines in the Ice since November, and thank you to everybody who helped make the exhibition a reality.

 

11 March 2015

A rum Lot of Maps

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As is to be expected, King George III’s Topographical Collection contains outstanding examples of all the major maps and atlases published in his lifetime and extending back to 1660. Less comprehensively the collection goes back to include Italian maps published in Rome and Venice from 1540.

Brighton

Thomas Yeakell sr and William Gardner, View of the Town of Brightelmstone, (Brighton: P. Thomas, 1779). Maps K. Top. 42.14

But the Collection’s great delight is the variety of map that is to be found. George III’s beautiful copy of the map of ‘Brightelmstone’ surveyed in 1779 by Thomas Yeakell and William Gardner was probably specially coloured, by Yeakell’s daughter Louisa, a skilled colourist, for presentation to the King. Beneath the map showing a town that had barely expanded beyond The Lanes, there is a panorama of what was soon to become Brighton from the sea just as it was developing as a fashionable resort and a few years before the future Prince Regent created his ‘marine villa’, the predecessor of the Pavilion, just to the north of the old town. Yeakell and Gardner were to become famous far beyond the county of Sussex. Having come to the attention of the Master General of the Ordnance, the Duke of Richmond, Yeakell was to be appointed Master Draughtsman to the Ordnance in the early years of Ordnance Survey, and Gardner Chief Surveying Draughtsmen, and they set the quality and style of its maps.

Ktop20.
H. Hulsbergh, Plan of the City of London after the Great Fire . . . according to the Design and Proposal of Sir Christopher Wren, 1721.  Maps K.Top. 20.19-3.

The King’s Topographical Collection includes a particularly rare copy of  Christopher Wren’s radical proposals for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. It is a proof example, published in his lifetime, with the title added in manuscript. Wren’s proposals came to nothing because, contrary to the impression given by his map, the City of London was not a blank sheet. The buildings may have been damaged or destroyed, but property rights remained intact – and so did the imperative to rebuild and to get back to business. 

Royalexchange
Thomas Taylor, A View of the Inside of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, London as it now is 1712.   Maps K. Top. 24.11-k.

Of no building was this truer than the Royal Exchange, London’s commercial hub, which was soon rebuilt. Betraying the innate conservatism of most financial institutions, the new building strongly resembled Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange of the 1560s (as, in a more monumental way, does the present Royal Exchange of the late 1830s). The new building is shown here as it was in 1712.  

‘No’, I can hear you saying, ‘There’s a mistake: this a view not a map!’. But look closely and perhaps we can compromise : at the very bottom, beneath the title, letters indicate the positions taken up by the various ‘nations’ under the arcade: the Dutch (a), the Jews (b), Italy (c), France (dd), Spain (ee), Portugal (f), Canaries (g), Virginia (hh), New England (i), East India (kk), Turkey (l), Norway (mm),  Baltic states (‘East-landers’) (nn), Hamburg (p) and finally the Irish (oo) and ‘Scotch or North Britain’ (qqq). Then as now, London was an international city.

Det

WarrenAn Exact survey of the Wareen in Woolwich drawn by John Barker at the R. Academy, An. 1749. Maps K. Top. 17.22.

As well as printed maps, the King’s Topographical Collection contains many manuscript fortification plans. Several are, perhaps surprisingly, charming. This one, showing the Military Arsenal in Woolwich in 1749, was drawn and decorated by John Barker, a cadet at the Military Academy that had been founded there in 1741. Cadets were taught drawing as well as surveying and several became talented artists. John shows his skills in the top left, with a fine if fanciful ink drawing of putti firing at the Arsenal (a schoolboy’s fantasy at getting his own back on his teachers?). John went on, over the following decades,  to be an active estate and military surveyor in Britain and Canada. His artistic skills may not have had a chance to develop, but the quality of his survey of Woolwich was such that when the King’s Topographical Collection was inspected by his successors on the Board of Ordnance in the 1830s, they ordered the plan to be sealed for security reasons.  The left corner of the map contains the initials (‘WHT’) of the inspector who insisted on it.  It was only to be unsealed many decades later: about 150 years after it had been created.

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One of the most evocative plans in the collection is this sketch to the view to be had from Morant’s Court  Hill near Sevenoaks in Kent (shown at the bottom)  in about 1780. Executed by a military draughtsman, Captain Robert Johnstone, it shows the country houses to be seen from there. 

IMG_0446Robert Johnstone, View from the points A, B, on Marams Court Hill ca. 1780 Maps K Top.17.43-c-2.

It was commissioned for the King by Lord Amherst, the former Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America whose country house Montreal (named after the city of which he had been governor), had recently been completed and features prominently. Amherst had invited the King and Queen to visit him one November morning and the letter of invitation is still preserved with the plan. In it, Amherst gives the King instructions for reaching his house, adding that Captain Johnston ‘will be on the right of the road where he took the Sketch, in case Your majesty should chuse to have any further information of the Places’. Then anticipating royal tours of today,  he ends his letter with a request. ‘The Gentlemen and Ladies of the Parish’, he wrote, ‘will be at the Gate and if it pleased Your Majesty not to drive fast by them, their Happiness would be increased in the honour of seeing Your Majesty and the Queen’.

IMG_0444Concluding pages of letter from Lord Amherst to George III, 2 Nov [no year but ca. 1780]  Maps K. Top. 17.42-c-1

IMG_0442Montreal, the Seat of Lord Amherst. P. Sandby R.A. pinxt; W. Watts sculp, 1777.

We are seeking money to catalogue and digitise all the maps in the King’s Topographical Collection but particularly those of London and the South-East. Please give generously at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps and help us to make more discoveries like these.

Peter Barber