Maps and views blog

14 posts categorized "K.Top."

02 March 2015

Support King George III’s London collection

Add comment

King George III’s collection of about 60,000 maps and views is one of the greatest hidden treasures of the British Library. Over the past 18 months with the valued support of private donors, we’ve managed to re-catalogue and to digitise the coloured views, and the maps, views and atlases covering the Americas, China, Scotland, the south-West of England and Spain. We’ve made exciting discoveries. We’ve uncovered important new information about the relations between government and the press in 18th-century Britain, about early British links with China and about British art and artists in the golden age of watercolour. But so far we’ve barely covered 20% of the whole. Amazingly, we still have to make a start with the c. 2,000 maps and views covering London and the South-East, though some funding has already been received.

Maps KTop 6.95.bThomas Milne’s land-use map of London of 1800 (Maps K Top 6.95)

We already know that this part of the collection includes Elizabeth I’s own plan for the defence of the Thames in 1588, beautiful examples of all the major maps and views of London created between 1616 and 1824 and the largest surviving set of original drawings for Hawksmoor’s great East End churches. The collection also includes the only surviving example of the earliest land-use map and contemporary adverts for schools and wire fencing, buns shops and hospitals. Adverts like these are now as rare as gold dust. We also know that these items are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what remains to be discovered – and shared through digitisation - with the whole world.

Maps K.Top.23.10-cHawksmoor’s  drawing for the spire of St Bride’s Church (Maps K Top23.10-c, )

Maps K.Top.22.4-2 (different detail)

Detail from the plan for the proposed line of Regent Street of 1813 (Map K Top 22.4-2)

Maps C.5.a.6Detail from C.J. Visscher's panorama of London, 1616 (Maps C.5.a.6)

All we need is your support. Over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you more insights into the collection – and reasons why you should contribute as generously as you can!

Please visit to make a donation today. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart ( and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (

Peter Barber 

26 January 2015

Enigmas and Errors: 19th-century cataloguing of the King’s Topographical Collection Part 2

Add comment

What do E M Forster and King George III have in common? Alas, this is not the beginning of a terrible joke. The answer is a little-known British topographical and marine artist, Charles John Mayle Whichelo (1784-1854). Whichelo was Forster’s great-grandfather and four of his works have remained unattributed in King George III’s Topographical Collection since at least 1829.

In an earlier post I looked at a drawing incorrectly catalogued as the Trinity Hospital in Guildford in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829) and how the cataloguers transcribed inscriptions without questioning attribution and identification. Similarly, in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972] (London, 1844-1861) these errors were repeated. This has also been the case with four early watercolours by Whichelo, painted when he was nineteen in 1803.  Three of the watercolours depict London (Westminster and Stepney) while a fourth shows Sussex: St Margaret's Westminster Signed JW and dated 1803, Maps K.Top.23.24.a. 


St Margaret's Westminster, 1803, watercolour, by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.23.24.a.



Detail of Maps K.Top.23.24.a.

 This watercolour is catalogued as ‘A drawn View of the Church of St. Margaret Westminster, by I.W., 1803.’ in the 1829 catalogue but in the 1844 catalogue he is called ‘J.W.’


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829.).


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861)

S. S. E. View of Stepney Church signed ‘John Whiche’ within a gravestone, Maps K.Top.28.18.e.  and N. N. E. View of Stepney Church, signed and dated 'J.W. 1803',  Maps K.Top.28.18.f


S. S. E. View of Stepney Church, 1803, watercolour, by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.28.18.e.


Detail of the signature on Maps K.Top.28.18.e.


N. N. E. View of Stepney Church, 1803, watercolour by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.28.18.f.


Detail of the signature and date on Maps K.Top.28.18.f.

These are catalogued as being by IW and dated respectively 1801 and 1803 in the 1829 catalogue. but by JW and both dated 1803 in the 1844 catalogue. The 1844 catalogue identifies the church as St Dunstan’s, Stepney, but only for Maps K.Top.28.18.e.  


Detail of entries for Maps K.Top.28.18.e. and Maps K.Top.28.18.f. in the 1829 catalogue.


Detail of entries for Maps K.Top.28.18.e. and Maps K.Top.28.18.f. in the 1844 catalogue.

The fourth watercolour by Whichelo is the South East View Shoreham Church  signed J Whichelo 1803, Maps K.Top.42.24.b.


South East View Shoreham Church, 1803, watercolour by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.42.24.b.


Detail of Maps K.Top.42.24.b. .  Maps K.Top.42.24.b is signed ‘J. Whichelo’ but is catalogued as ‘A colored south-east view of New Shoreham Church; drawn by J. Whiebela, in 1809’ in the 1829 and 1844 catalogues.


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.42.24.b. in the 1829 catalogue.


Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.42.24.b. in the 1844 catalogue.

The 1829 and 1844 catalogues record Whichelo’s name in different ways: IW, JW or Whiebela, although it is clear that all items are by the same hand and of similar subjects. This points to the fact that the cataloguers were required to work quickly through a large amount of material and they simply transcribed what they saw, or rather what they thought they saw on the work. It also shows that either more than one cataloguer was working through the material (otherwise we might expect a little more consistency in the attributions) or that those working on the collection were not able to correct their initial catalogue list.

A great many prints and drawings in the King’s Topographical Collection arrived in volumes or folios which were then disbound and regrouped according to geographical location, losing any sense of previous order, collection or provenance. That the Whichelos were catalogued inconsistently suggests that while they had probably entered the collection as a group, they had been split up before they were catalogued. The lack of consistency in recording attribution may also be because the artist was not the focus of the collection: it was topography.

The cataloguing, digitisation and research of the King’s Topographical Collection has allowed us to reattribute works and begin to gain a better understanding of the oeuvre of a number of topographical artists whose work has remained hitherto largely unstudied for the last two centuries. It has also allowed us to begin to compare works in this collection to similar works in others, such as some early Whichelo London watercolours and prints from the London Metropolitan Archives. and the British Museum

Many of Whichelo’s early topographical works were used as illustrations in publications such as E. W. Brayley's Beauties of England and Wales (1801–15) and of Pennant's Tours (of England, Scotland and Wales). Studying such volumes with the body of Whichelo’s topographical watercolours would be the next step in further understanding Whichelo’s early career.

These four small and previously unattributed watercolours in the King’s Topographical Collection are an example of the value of contemporary research and cataloguing, which has allowed for a greater understanding of the career of a prolific but often-overlooked British topographical artist working at the beginning of the 19th century.

Detail of Maps K.Top.42.24.b.

Alexandra Ault

19 January 2015

Fruits of Espionage in the K.Top

Add comment

Each region covered by King George III’s Topographical Collection has its own  particular character.  The volumes covering France are rich in maps that must have been taken by spies from the official French archives – the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the French National Archives mirror this situation by having numerous maps with an official English provenance.

We have to say ‘must’ because while the circumstantial evidence is often very strong, conclusive documentary proof is almost always lacking. There is only one incontestable piece of evidence of espionage in the King’s  Topographical Collection. It comes in a contemporary scribbled note stating that an agent – presumably working in the French War Office in Versailles – was paid 50 guineas by the Duke of Cumberland for a series of official plans of Metz, then an important French outpost in the North-East,  dating from 1727 and 1760. [Maps K. Top. 67.80 - 2 – a,c,d-g; for the agent, Rex Whitworth, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.  A Life (London: Leo Cooper, 1992), p.173]. 

But one can be fairly confident about the source of other maps and plans. The papers of Charles II’s ambassador in Paris, Richard Graham, Viscount Preston, now in the British Library, contain a string of letters explaining in detail how Preston’s agents managed to intercept many maps of French border regions and of fortresses in France and abroad in the early 1680s  as they were trundling through the streets of Paris on their way from Versailles to the Invalides to be copied. [Peter Barber, ‘Necessary and Ornamental: Map Use in England under the Later Stuarts 1660-1714’, Eighteenth Century Life 14/3 (November 1990), p.19].

The numerous detailed manuscript maps of Picardy and Flanders dating from the 1650s and the plans of individual forts in the King’s Topographical Collection could well be among the ones stolen then [Michel Desbrière, Champagne Septentrionale.  Cartes et Mémoires à l’usage des Militaires 1544-1659 (Charleville-Mézières: Societé d’études ardennaises, 1995), pp. 79-96 ]. One particularly ornate manuscript plan, showing   Huningue near Basel on the Rhine, is in the style of the maps copied in the early 1680s by skilled miniaturists in the workshop in the Invalides  for inclusion in luxurious manuscript atlases being prepared for the King and his most important ministers.  It even  contains a handsome miniaturised portrait of Louis XIV himself!

It is more difficult to pinpoint the way in which  other, later, French military maps reached the King’s Topographical Collection, but there is again evidence among the British Library’s other collections, that some French military engineers facilitated their transfer to British service in the course of the 1690s by carrying with them the latest plans of important French forts. [Peter Barber and A. Stuart Mason ''Captain Thomas, the French engineer': and the teaching of Vauban to the English', Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, xxv (3) (autumn 1991), 279-287].

A colored "plan du Fort Louis du Rhin"; drawn about 1740 [Maps K.Top 58.24]

A couple of weeks ago an important new addition to this group has come to light.  It is a manuscript plan of Hesdin near Calais of about 1692 (Maps K Top 58.24). Hesdin  had only finally been absorbed into the French dominions in the 1650s and was one of a  group of towns that the famous French military engineer, Sebastien le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban  (1633-1707), was re-fortifiying in the early 1690s utilising the latest technology and defensive theories, to protect France’s northern borders.


But this plan does not just show the fortifications of Hesdin. It contains evidence that it was being used in the French war office, to monitor their efficacy. There is a penciled square around the centre of the plan with an inscription stating that  ‘the square of which this line is one of the sides encloses the extent of the terrain which is occupied by the relief that has been made for the King’ (‘Le Cadre don’t cette ligne est un des cotés Renferme l’espace du terrain qu’occupe le Relief quon a fait pour le Roy’). The style of the hand is the same as that of the plan and suggests that it was not a later addition but formed part of the plan from the start.  The ‘Relief’ was one of the so-called ‘Plans et Reliefs’ or immensely detailed 3-D relief models of towns and forts prepared for the French authorities from the late 17th century. Many are to be seen nowadays in a museum devoted to them in the Invalides in Paris and in the basement of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille.

The relief model of Hesdin does not seem to survive, and may no longer have been in existence when the plan was illicitly removed from the French archives. However it offers a possibly unique insight into how the relief models were actually used on a day-to-day basis. Far from being expensive playthings, they were used in combination with two-dimensional maps – like the plan in the King’s Topographical Collection – to monitor the effectiveness of France’s defences and, if necessary,  to follow the course of a potential siege. In this respect they foreshadowed the computer simulations and the interplay between Google maps and Google views of our time.

More – probably much more – of great importance for French history remains to be discovered among the maps in the French sections of the King’s Topographical Collection. However they will remain hidden unless a sponsor can be found to enable our highly-skilled cataloguing team to work at them.

Support the British Library's King's Topographical Collection here.

Peter Barber

02 January 2015

George, Jacobites, Scotland and the K.Top – A Brief Summary

Add comment

The cataloguing and digitisation of the King’s Topographical Collection, George III’s personal collection of maps and views, continues apace at the British Library with many exciting discoveries along the way.  Catalogue records are being expanded and improved, and digitisation will allow images to appear against the catalogue records for all to see at Explore the British Library.

The recent focus on those volumes from the K.Top devoted to Scotland has highlighted an exciting and eclectic mix of material.  There are 17th- and 18th-century maps of the kingdom as a whole published by some of the major European cartographers; there are detailed maps of General George Wade’s military roads; there are manuscript maps and plans of fortified locations produced by the Board of Ordnance in response to the Jacobite threat to Hanoverian rule; there is General William Roy’s seminal Military Survey of Scotland, one of the British Library’s great cartographic treasures and the exemplification of military surveying of the period that would influence and impact on the Ordnance Survey to follow; there are large-scale county maps on multiple sheets; there are detailed town and city plans including 19th-century proposals and projections, some never realised, for Edinburgh; all amongst many other items.  In fact, there are nearly 800 maps and views of Scotland in total.

While Roy’s military survey from the collection is already well-documented and researched (a previous, joint British Library and National Library of Scotland project presents digital images of the “fair copy” of the map online at, along with background information and a bibliography), this is perhaps an exception within the collection.  The K.Top project has revealed new information about some of the other maps and has added detail to many catalogue records. A few highlights are recorded here.

The River Forth above Stirling and the Jacobites Maps K.Top.48.77.a. and Maps K.Top.48.77.b. were previously titled A Map of the River Forth from Loch Ard to Stirling: with a MS. account of the Fords and Another Copy of ditto, with a printed account of the Fords in the “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.” [London: Printed by order of the Trustees of the British Museum, 1829], and were similarly transcribed into the British Library’s online catalogue. However, these brief titles did not reveal the significance of the two maps and some of the differences between them.

Maps K.Top.77.a
Maps K.Top.48.77.a.     


Maps K.Top.77.b
Maps K.Top.48.77.b.

Although the attribution of the map to William Edgar is documented in D. G. Moir’s “The Early Maps of Scotland” (Volume II, page 15), along with the date “(1746?)”, Moir records only three examples of the map (in the Bodleian Library, Glasgow University Library and the British Museum) and he does not refer to any examples with manuscript text.  Comparison of the two K.Top maps side by side reveals differences between the manuscript and printed text.  The manuscript text ends “... an old strong place belonging to the Earl of Murray, presently possest by the Rebels”.

Maps K.Top.77.a. - final paragraph
Maps K.Top.48.77.a. [partial]

Doune Castle, the seat of the Earl of Moray, was taken by the Jacobites, the text’s “Rebels”, in 1745.  The map with printed text lacks this final reference to the rebels, suggesting this example with manuscript text dates from during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 and pre-dates the example with printed text, which makes explicit reference to 1746 and which removes reference to Doune Castle being “presently possest”.

Maps K.Top.77.b. - text
Maps K.Top.48.77.b. [partial]

The map itself seems to have been engraved (although perhaps not printed and published?) prior to the production of the text.  Dr Joseph Rock’s website detailing the life chronology of Richard Cooper, engraver, points to a receipt in the National Library of Scotland for the engraving of this map on copper in 1744 – see MS. 17530, f. 151 at the National Library of Scotland.  Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland, was kind enough to examine the receipt and confirm Lord Justice Clerk - Andrew Fletcher, Lord Milton, whose papers MS. 17530, f. 151 is within - paid Cooper £2.0.0 for engraving “the Survey of the River Forth above Stirling, including copper and polishing”.

Chris Fleet also commented upon the National Library of Scotland’s MS. 17528, f.142, again within the Milton papers – another example (not mentioned in Moir) of the engraved map “with the text in a very neat manuscript pen. The text looked identical to the printed letterpress text, and ended an old Strong place belonging to the Earl of Murray". Chris hypothesises that this map and manuscript text, if supposed to be a draft for the printed map and text, could suggest Lord Milton may have been responsible for the wider dissemination of the map in 1746.  Certainly a subject for further investigation.

Provenance Cataloguing the collection has included recording verso markings and annotations that may offer clues as to the provenance of maps and views prior to their belonging to George III.  Whilst Maps K.Top.49.23.b. is interesting in its own right as a drawing by Thomas Sandby, PROSPECT of the CASTLE GLAMIS the SEAT of the EARLE of Strathmore in the SHIRE of ANGUS NORTH BRITAIN. Thos. Sandby delin., its verso also exhibits one of the clearest examples of provenance within the entire collection.  Displayed on the verso is the Duke of Cumberland’s cipher; the initials “WA” (for William Augustus) sit boldly above the volume and identification number from Cumberland’s collection - all contained within a simple, circular surround.

Maps K.Top 49.23.b. VERSO

Maps K.Top.49.23.b. [verso]

Both Peter Barber in George III and his collection published in “The wisdom of George the Third: papers from a symposium at the Queen's gallery, Buckingham Palace June 2004”, edited with an introduction by Jonathan Marsden (London: Royal Collection, 2005.) and Yolande Hodson in 'Prince William, Royal Map Collector' in The Map Collector, Issue number 44, Autumn 1988 (Tring: Map Collector Publications, 1988) examine provenance in further detail.

A further consideration? Peter Barber, Head of Cartographic and Topographic Materials at the British Library, suggests that one might consider the William Edgar maps detailed above (Maps K.Top.48.77.a. and Maps K.Top.48.77.b.) in conjunction with a possible Duke of Cumberland provenance.  Although the Edgar maps do not display a Duke of Cumberland cipher, one could speculate (and it is only speculation) that the Duke received the example of the Edgar map with manuscript text from Lord Milton directly – perhaps Lord Milton was seeking government or official approval from the Duke of Cumberland? This would seem a more likely possibility than George III (or his agents at auction) acquiring the map with manuscript text directly some years later when its topicality would be somewhat diluted and, in any case, the final, printed version would have been in existence.

Military Mapping and the Board of Ordnance The K.Top Scottish volumes contain a considerable number of military maps produced (or copied, perhaps as a part of training) by draughtsmen under the direction of the Board of Ordnance.  These maps have now been brought together in the British Library catalogue records for the first time, a task made possible by Carolyn Anderson’s 2009 PhD thesis and associated index, “Constructing the Military Landscape: The Board of Ordnance Maps and Plans of Scotland, 1689–1815” (itself available at the British Library with the shelfmark Document Supply DRT 555179). These Board of Ordnance maps and plans can be seen to form a cohesive group and are now identified on catalogue records with the “Board of Ordnance” subject heading highlighted below – a small, but hopefully important, addition to the records.

Each record relating to the Board of Ordnance also has a citation from Anderson’s index, further linking them and their production origins, and enabling future comparison and research amongst those maps both within the K.Top and with other Board of Ordnance plans held by the National Library of Scotland and elsewhere.

Cataloguing and digitisation continue, as too does fundraising, for this wonderful project and further details may be found here.

 Kate Marshall

18 December 2014

George III architectural plans

Add comment

The 1780s were  very difficult years  for George III.  In addition to the political turbulence and the personal  trauma that he suffered at the time of the loss of the American colonies in 1783, he had a period of severe mental illness in 1788-9.  During this period he seems to have found solace and escape  in concentrating on building up his private collection of maps and views and by the end of the decade these were housed in the room next to his bedroom in Buckingham House.  Most of this collection of maps and views is now in the British Library and known as the King’s topographical Collection.

By the end of the decade George was consulting some of his collection for very practical ends.  Following his recovery from mental illness in 1789, the King thought of abdicating and retiring to Hanover.  The collection includes a volume of plans of palaces in and around Hanover dating from 1763 (now Maps 7. Tab. 17.).  While George might originally have asked for the volume to be sent from Hanover, which he never visited, out of curiosity (he was passionately interested in architecture), by the summer of  1789 he must have been focused in investigating his possible future living quarters.

AB20123-72 shelfmark Maps 7 Tab 17
J.H. Schmidt, from 'Five Plans of the Royal Palace in Hanover', 1763. British Library Maps 7.TAB.17.

Be that as it may, about 15 years ago a folded piece of paper was found inserted loose in one of the plans. On one side was an order of service dated Friday 10 July which has since been identified as relating to a service in St George’s Chapel, Windsor on that day in 1785.  On the other side was a pencilled measured plan and on the back was a roughly drawn inked plan for a grand palace.  Looking more closely, no less than four grand staircases are sketched in, with long corridors instead of a suite of rooms.  This design, for a very grand palace, is very different in its vigorous character and strange content from the pencilled plan on the other side. It is difficult to imagine who could have drawn and inserted the plan other than the King: the combination of order of service and of architectural plans is very telling as is the fact that it was found where it was.  Though George allowed distinguished contemporaries access to his collections, it is unlikely that a courtier would leave such an item or that an English visitor would be interested in Hanoverian palaces.  The is also a touch of the manic in the way in which the inked plan is drawn.

George III, Sketch of a palace floor plan, 1785-9. British Library Maps 7.TAB.17

So perhaps one can reconstruct what happened – not with certainty but with a strong degree of possibility.  And that is that one day – or perhaps sleepless night – George decided to look at the volume of plans.  One plan, showing a floor of the town palace in Hanover and includes a flap with proposals for changes, caught his eye – but then he was disturbed or had to leave.  He inserted the first thing that  came to hand as a bookmark, intending to return to the volume.

However the trauma passed and the French Revolution and the consequent threat of invasion by France inaugurated a period of great popularity for George III in Great Britain.  All thoughts of abdicating and retiring to Hanover were forgotten – as was the volume of plans of Hanover with its very personal bookmark.

Peter Barber

Support the King's Topographical Collection here.

21 February 2014

Enigmas and errors: 19th-century cataloguing of the King’s Topographical Collection part 1

Add comment

The first printed catalogue of King George III’s Topographical Collection was published in 1829. It organised the 50,000 or so items geographically and alphabetically. At the same time, or slightly earlier, the collection was given shelfmarks beginning with ‘Maps K.Top.’ followed by a sequence of letters and numbers. It appears that when the King’s agents and librarians were buying for him they purchased bulk lots and volumes of views which they dis-bound and deconstructed and then reconstructed according to geographical region. Hence, drawings and prints by the same hand or from the same publication are spread across the entire collection.

Many of the works bear pencil or pen and ink inscriptions identifying the locations which, more often than not, were added by a later hand, not that of the artist, printmaker or cartographer. In some cases these identifying inscriptions appear to be in the hand of earlier owners, while a majority of others appear to be done by those looking after or ordering the collection, probably in the 1820s.

The only other time at which part of the collection was catalogued was in 1844 when the drawings and manuscript maps catalogue was published. Largely unchanged from the 1829 catalogue entries, they did however elaborate slightly on the titles of the works and provide dimensions. At some point the shelfmarks of large maps and rolls changed and in the 1940s the loose maps and drawings were bound in 235 guard volumes according to geographical region. Thereafter the catalogue was not rewritten or revised until 2013 when the current digitisation and cataloguing project began.

The cataloguing and ordering of this vast collection in the 1820s was bound to contain a few errors. It is the misidentification of locations, cataloguing errors and attribution oversights which this series of blogs will focus on. Errors in identification and attribution are not just interesting because they challenge the modern cataloguer to identify the correct subject or artist: they are interesting because they go some way to demonstrating how the works were ordered, labeled and catalogued in the 1820s.

1Image1BLOGFaçade formerly identified as Trinity Hospital, Guildford, pen and brown ink, around 1720-1770. British Library Maps K.Top.40.14.m.1.  Publicdomainlogo

One such item which has evaded propser identification is Maps K.Top.40.14.m.1. which was incorrectly catalogued as Trinity Hospital, Guildford [Illustration 1]. The drawing bears the inscription ‘Trinity Hospl founded by A.Bn Abbott at Guildford, Surrey' in pencil on the verso and was catalogued in 1829 as’ A drawn View of Trinity Hospital at Guildford’ and as ‘An outline view of Trinity Hospital at  Guildford’; drawn about 1720’ in 1844 [Illustrations 2 and 3]. The drawing is in brown ink on laid paper. There are no other similar drawings in the collection which might help to identify the hand or provenance.


Catalogue entry for Maps K.Top.40.14.m.1. in Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings etc forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the library of his late majesty King George the Third (London: 1829)  Publicdomainlogo


Catalogue entry for Maps K.Top.40.14.m.1. in Catalogue of the manuscript maps charts & plans and of the topographical drawings in the British Museum (London: 1844)  Publicdomainlogo

Trinity Hospital (sometimes called the Abbot’s Hospital) in Guildford as it appears today is quite different to the structure depicted in the drawing. For excellent photographs of the building see the British Listed Buildings Website:

Among the many differences the most noticeable are: the façade to the left of the gatehouse is three storeys in the drawing whereas the Guildford Hospital is two; the gatehouse itself is two windows wide in the drawing but only one in Guildford; the top of the gatehouse is crenellated in the drawing whereas it is not at Guildford. Despite recognising that changes to buildings occur, this degree of difference strongly suggests that the building in the drawing is not Trinity Hospital. The drawing depicts a Tudor gateway which shares similarities with examples at St James’s Palace, London and St John’s, Queens’ and King’s Colleges in Cambridge. However, despite extensive research, it has not been possible to identify the building depicted.

Although the incorrect identification was in place by 1829 it could have occurred at any time before this date and in this instance we cannot entirely blame the cataloguers. The handwriting which misidentifies the building is not typical of the inscriptions placed by George III’s librarians or British Museum staff. However, while the incorrect identification may have been an earlier error, it was not questioned when the 1829 and 1844 catalogue entries were written. This is especially surprising as there is an etching of the façade of Trinity Hospital at the next shelfmark Maps K.Top.40.14.m.2. [Illustration 4].

Trinity Hospital in Guildford, Surrey, etching, around 1780. British Library Maps K.Top.40.14.m.2.  Publicdomainlogo

A quick comparison of the two highlights the striking difference between the two gateways and facades depicted:

The page from the guard volume showing Maps K.Top.40.14.m.1. and Maps K.Top.40.14.m.2. together  Publicdomainlogo

This suggests that the 1829 cataloguers merely transcribed what they saw rather than questioning identification or attribution which in turn led to incorrect catalogue entries in some instances. One of the benefits of cataloguing and digitising the King’s Topographical Collection is the opportunity to re-evaluate the 19th-century cataloguing and make these unknown views, plans and drawings more visible in the hope that correct attributions and identifications can be attached to them.

The next blog in this series will look at the watercolour artist Charles John Mayle Whichelo and the recent discovery of a number of his drawings in the King’s Topographical Collection.

Alexandra Ault