THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

14 posts categorized "K.Top."

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

09 March 2015

London through the artist's eye

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About 40% of the King’s Topographical Collection consists of views. Many are drawings and watercolours by enthusiastic amateurs who were keen to record decaying churches, great houses and old buildings. But the work of some of the finest artists working in England in the 18th century such as Paul Sandby, William Pars, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Thomas Jones is also represented.

Most of the views in the collection are printed, but no less splendid for that. In the 17th century, the Bohemian exile, Wencelas (Wenzel/Vaclav) Hollar was the acknowledged master of the etching, a printing technique involving the application of acid to copper. His works are well represented in the Collection which also contains 16th-century engraved views which were once in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).

Perhaps most spectacularly, George III’s reign saw the perfection and spread of the aquatint, a printed hand-coloured process imitating watercolour. British artists were in the vanguard and were anxious to present their best work to the King. As a result the King’s Topographical Collection contains perhaps the greatest group of the highest quality aquatints anywhere in the world.
The sections of the collection relating to London and the South-East contain handsome views from the 16th to the 19th centuries with fascinating stories attached to them.

Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.
Frans Hogenberg, [Exterior of the first Royal Exchange seen from Cornhill], ca. 1570.  Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.

There is more to the large engraved view of the First Royal Exchange than meets the eye. The view was created, shortly after the completion of the building in 1569 by the artist and engraver Frans Hogenberg. The inscription mentions that it was paid for, as a benefit to the public and an adornment to the City, by Sir Thomas Gresham, whose grasshopper crest adorns the top of the weathervane. What it doesn’t say is that the building was meant as a challenge to Antwerp, where Hogenberg had been living until he was expelled because of his protestant beliefs in 1569. He may have felt that this print was a way of getting back at his persecutors. The building was certainly viewed as a thorn in the flesh by the Catholic powers of Europe. When in 1572 Hogenberg was commissioned to prepare a reduced copy of a map of London as the first town view in a multi-volume atlas of town views and maps, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, it was omitted – only for the publishers to be compelled, two years later, to insert a miniaturised version of this view to show the location of Gresham’s Royal Exchange.

Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.Wenceslaus Hollar, On the North Side of London , 1664  Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.

The next image moves a century later, to the summer of 1664, when Wenceslaus Hollar was seeking refuge from smells and diseases prevailing in the city. He moved to the fashionable suburban village of Islington, from which he made a series of exquisite little etchings of the view towards London. This view is dominated by old St Paul’s Cathedral, as seen from the North rather than across the Thames and lacking its steeple that had burnt down in 1561. Hollar shows it two years before its destruction in the Great Fire. In the foreground can be seen a group of Londoners practising their archery on the site of what are now the elegant Georgian houses of Canonbury. Though they doubtless regarded the archery as a sport, it had long been one of the compulsory skills of the members of the citizen militia, the trainbands, who a generation earlier had defended London against the armies of King Charles I.

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S.H. Grimm, A drawn View of the Distribution of His Majesty's Maundy by the Sub-Almoner, in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall, 1773.  Maps K. Top 26.5-r

A little more than a century later, on Maundy Thursday, 1773, the King’s Almoner, the Rev. Sir Richard Kaye, the King’s Sub-Almoner, distributed the royal alms to needy pensioners in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, which was then used as a royal chapel. He gave 35  pensioners 35 specially minted silver pence each, reflecting the King’s age in  1773.  The King, dressed in red, looked on from a gallery: unlike today, the monarch  did not actually distribute the alms. Kaye commissioned a Swiss artist, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, who had moved to London 5 years earlier, to depict the scene in watercolour. Grimm produced two large watercolours which are widely regarded as his masterpieces and exhibited them the next year, 1774, at the Royal Academy. There they were seen by George III – who was captivated by them. He tried to get Kaye to present them to him – but Kaye would not listen. George tried again and again to get Kaye to change his mind over the following decades but with no more success. Finally, in 1810 Kaye bequeathed them to George in his will – if he were still interested. By the time Kaye died, the King himself had gone incurably insane, but the watercolours were placed in his geographical collections, the trophies of a pursuit that had lasted nearly four decades.

Maps_k_top_21_31_5_c_port_11_tab (detail)William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks1808.  Maps K . Top. 21.31-5-c. Port.II. Tab

Aquatints enjoyed their heyday just as Great Britain was experiencing a technological revolution and our last two views commemorate different aspects of it. The first, an aquatint by William Daniell, shows the newly-built East India Docks, designed by John Rennie and Ralph Walker, that had just been constructed on the Isle of Dogs in East London. A masterpiece of engineering, it – with the West India and London Docks – gave London the capacity to absorb the goods that were flooding into Great Britain, making London the greatest trading city in the world. Had they not been built, the Thames alone could not have accommodated all the ships, which would have been compelled to go elsewhere. The River Lee is seen entering the Thames to the left and across the river is the site of the O2 Arena.

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Augustus Charles Pugin, engraved by J. Hill, View of the Excavated Ground for Highgate Archway,  1812.  Maps K Top 30.1-1-g.

The second aquatint, by Augustus Charles Pugin, the father of the man who decorated the interior of the present-day Houses of Parliament, commemorates a disaster. In around 1800 John Rennie proposed that one of the first by-passes should be created. It would enable horse traffic to avoid the steep slope of Highgate Hill, along the main road North from London. The new road would run along a cutting at the side of the hill until it disappeared into a tunnel beneath a ridge that ran east from Highgate. Rennie’s geological researches were faulty however, and in April 1812 the tunnel collapsed in spectacular fashion, much to the glee of the gossiping classes. This print shows the aftermath. A year later, John Nash constructed a permanent bridge over the chasm and its descendant continues to carry traffic to and from Highgate, while the Archway Road thunders beneath.

This is just a fraction of what is contained in the King’s Topographical Collection and there are many more treasures to be uncovered. We are now fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise this collection and you can help us by making a donation today at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart (rachel.stewart@bl.uk) and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (peter.barber@bl.uk).

03 March 2015

Robert Adam and the King’s Topographical Collection

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Robert Adam (1728-1792), who died on this day in 1792, is perhaps the best-known British architect of the 18th-century. He, and his lesser-known brothers, John and James, combined and re-modelled architectural and decorative elements from Roman antiquities in Pompeii and Split, which they had seen during their Grand Tour, to create a distinctive style, foreshadowing the neo-classicism of many British buildings created between about 1780 and 1850. They are also famous as being among the first architects to design all aspects of their buildings, from plan, exterior and interior designs to the furnishings and fixtures.

The Adam brothers played a major part in the creation of the King George III’s geographical Collection when in 1762 they negotiated the purchase, on the King’s behalf, of the collections of Cardinal Francesco Albani, which account for some of the most outstanding items in the Italian volumes of the King’s Topographical Collection. Of particular importance are the 16th-century maps and views collected by Cassiano dal Pozzo, the most important 17th-century collector of prints and drawings, and architectural drawings from the papal archives.

Despite this successful mission, Robert Adam never enjoyed the sustained patronage of George III, but the King’s Topographical Collection contains autograph drawings by him for actual or proposed buildings in London and the South-East, and views of the buildings that he created.

The most significant, and of crucial importance for any evaluation of his work, is the only surviving hand-drawn plan by him and his brothers for an important development on the Strand, called the Adelphi, or, in English, ‘Brothers’ – an allusion to Robert, James and John who all worked on it.

1James, John and Robert Adam and their workshop]  The unique surviving plan for the Adelphi, 1786.  The ‘Royal Terrace’ overlooked the Thames.  Maps K Top 22.7-a

The plan, dating from 1768, was probably sent to the King in the hope of raising money in 1771. The Adelphi, which was modelled on the palace of the Emperor Diocletian in Split in Croatia, was the first ever attempt in Britain to disguise what was effectively a housing estate as a palace (an idea later followed in the Nash terraces around Regents Park). The King’s Topographical Collection also includes a handsome view of how the brothers thought their development would look, with the massive arches supporting the buildings leading directly to the shores of the Thames as they did before the creation of The Embankment in the mid-19th century.

2Benedetto Pastorini, South Front of the New Buildings called Adelphi , ca. 1774.  Maps K Top 22.7-b.

The heart of the Adelphi was demolished in the 1930s, though several of the houses in the side terraces and the vaults remain.

The King’s Topographical Collection contains preliminary drawings for various handsome structures that never got built. One was a proposed grand entrance to London at Hyde Park Corner – not far from where the Wellington Arch stands today. Imposing though it looks, it was primarily meant to be a tollhouse!

KTop 27.26.c.2Robert Adam [Elevation and plan of a proposed arch at Hyde Park Corner, November 1778]  Maps K Top 27.26-c-2.

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‘An elevation, in Indian ink, of a building proposed to be erected by his Majesty at Richmond, for a register of the weather, designed by James Adam, Archt. 1770,’  Maps K Top 41.16-s

At the time that the Adelphi was being planned, in 1770, brother James Adam submitted an elegant proposal for a weather observatory in Richmond Park, reminding us that, like the true Briton that he prided himself on being, George III was fascinated by the vagaries of his homeland’s climate!

The Collection includes views of some buildings that remain with us to today, like Kenwood House between Hampstead and Highgate, which Robert Adam remodelled for the Lord Chief Justice and fellow Scot, the Earl of Mansfield between 1764 and 1779, adding a completely new library wing. Adam was rightly proud of his work, and the print of the garden front which he included in his collected works is to be found in the King’s Topographical Collection. But in this blog we are reproducing an idyllic view published in 1781 showing the artist, George Robertson, drawing the House from meadows on the other side of the still-existing lane that led from Highgate to Hampstead Lane. If you look carefully you can make out the Spaniards’ Inn in the background.

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George  Robertson,  View of Kenwood, the Seat of the Earl of Mansfield,  engraved by Lowry (London: J. Boydell, 1781).  Maps K Top 30.31-2-b

Perhaps the most remarkable building that Robert Adam created in the South-East of England, however, was the enormous – but temporary – pavilion to host a fete champetre hosted by the11th Earl of Derby in the gardens of his home, The Oaks, near Epsom in Surrey on 9 June 1774. The Earl is best remembered to day for the races that are named after him – and after his home. The festivities were intended to celebrate the wedding of the Earl’s grandson, Lord Stanley, to Lady Betty Hamilton. A vestibule led to a dining and supper room was 120 feet long which encircled the ballroom. Over 1000 visitors in fancy dress attended and the festivities which were marked by a masque, country sports, country dances and formal dances directed by the ballet master of the Royal Ballet. Prints by Caldwell and Grignon, published in 1780 immortalised the rather frenetic atmosphere – and the architecture – of what must to its participants have seemed a golden afternoon and evening.

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James Caldwell, Interior view of the ball room of the pavilion erected for a Fete Champetere  in the garden of the Earl of Derby’s in the Oaks, at Epsom Surrey. 1774.  Engraved by Charles Grignion, 1780. Maps K Top 40.25-b

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James Caldwell, Interior view of the supper room of the pavilion erected for a Fete Champetere  in the garden of the Earl of Derby’s in the Oaks, at Epsom Surrey. 1774. Engraved by Charles Grignion, 1780. Maps K Top 40.25-c

We are fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise King George III's collection. Help us unlock one of the world's most important map and view collections by making a donation today at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart (rachel.stewart@bl.uk) and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (peter.barber@bl.uk).

Peter Barber