Landsat patterns

This map of the Arctic Circle is overlaid by a network of lines and circles representing orbital flight paths and ‘nominal scene centres’ (the middle point of the image taken) for the Landsat

satellites 1, 2 and 3 launched between 1972 and 1978. On the reverse is the same map showing the same information for Landsat 4, launched in 1982. Landsat satellites take what is called remote sensing images from space  (remote sensing being a way of capturing an image of or studying  an area or object without any physical contact). The manned Apollo programme experimented with remote sensing before an unmanned satellite, called Earth Resources Technology Satellite, was launched in 1972. This was soon renamed Landsat and we are now up to Landsat 8, launched in 2013. These satellites have captured millions of images, and these are made available at the U.S. Geological Survey ‘Earthexplorer’ site ( Text on the map explains how the system works. Landsat uses a grid called the Worldwide Reference System, a lattice of 251 paths (the thick lines) and 119 rows (the circles) which intersect at geographic locations and it is at these points that the image centres. Red marks indicate levels of cloud cover.

With different ranges of dates and images available Landsat has proved a valuable resource for the study of climate change, agricultural development and change in natural development.

To balance things out here’s the Landsat map for the bottom of the World

Index to Landsat Worldwide Reference System (WRS), 1:10,000,000. Published by the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 1981-82. B1 (99a)

A revolutionary new year

Two intriguing maps of the Channel, both with something special about them.

The first uses hachures (lines on a map to indicated hill slopes) around the coasts which has effect of making the land stand out.

The effect is lovely even if not representative of the actual height of land. The map, titled ‘3d [as in third] chart of the coast of France, including the British Channel’ and comes from ‘Le Petit Neptune Français; or, French Coast Pilot, for the coast of Flanders, Channel, Bay of Biscay, and Mediterranean’, published in 1793 by W. Faden, Geographer to his Majesty and to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The book was published 4 years after the start of the French Revolution and just a year after the new French Republic was founded. Despite this the book has an innocent intent, a Coast Pilot is an aide for navigation and sailing and this map includes the familiar rhumb lines and compass rose that are found on sailing charts, and there seems to be no mention of any danger in sailing around and into France along the tidal rivers in the book.

The Paris Observatory is shown, an important building at a time when France was one of the leading cartographic nations. The building pre-dates the Greenwich Observatory and was the site of the Paris Meridian, which has in the past competed with Greenwich to be the main meridian. The map also features along the bottom of the page a cross-section of the land in relation to the sea floor between the Isles of Sicily and Orford Ness.


A French alternative to the Faden map is a map of the Channel by the French ‘Ministre de la

Marine’. What is interesting about this map is the dates given, ‘ I’ An VII de la République, nouvelle edition de I’ An XI’. Following the start of the Revolution a new way of recording  years was implemented but as this introduced towards the end of 1793 there is no year one, year two goes from 22nd September 1793 to 22nd Sept. 1794 with the years numbered after this. Our map, ‘Carte réduite de La Manche’, was first published in year VII (1799) and then reprinted in XI (1802), during the planning and build up of resources for a possible invasion of Britain by Napoleon which was called off in 1805. It is one of the few maps in the library dated this way.

The map has seen better days, as can be seen be this burn mark just above Rouen.

Le Petit Neptune Français; or, French Coasting Pilot…’ 1793. W. Faden Vet A5 d.570.

Carte redutie de La Manche… 1802. (E) C2:5 (34)

Heliometer Domes and OS maps

The Ordnance Survey 1:500 map series are amongst the most detailed of all town plans. Dating from the 1880s and covering all towns with a population over 4,000, at this scale roofs come off important buildings to show the layout of the rooms underneath. While going through the maps covering Oxford this intriguing building appeared, the Heliometer Dome, part of the Radcliffe Observatory buildings.

The Observatory moved to Pretoria in 1934 hoping for clearer skies than could be found in Oxford, the buildings are now part of Green Templeton College. As well as showing on a beautiful map the Heliocentre has other cartographic claims for appearing in a map blog as it was a device crucial for measuring distances in space. The telescope in the Heliometer has a split lens, one of which is fixed in position, the second adjustable, thus producing a double image of either nearby stars or either sides of the Sun. By moving one of the lenses these images can be superimposed and then the different lengths of the lenses can be measured which will give the difference in distances between stars, a concept called parallax.

The Heliometer Dome circa 1860.

This next map is an extract from Robert Hoggar’s celebrated map of the city from 1850. At a scale slightly less detailed then the Ordnance Survey (1:528 as opposed to 1:500) at the top of this blog, like the OS map Hoggar maps individual trees and outbuildings, unlike the OS Hoggar includes contour lines.

Plan of the City of Oxford. 1850 (E) C17:70 Oxford (1)

This last image is the front cover from a record of the magnitude of stars according to their observable light recorded at the Observatory in 1853.

We’ve blogged about Parallax before  and about Ordnance Survey 1:5000 town plans as well

Land ahoy!

Although this is the time of year when the
lights are lengthening and electronic location devices are almost mandatory, shipping still benefits from the presence of lighthouses warning of hazards. The Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen was created by A. G. Findlay in 1863 and shows the location, extent of the beam of each lighthouse, and gives information about the type of beam and frequency of light pulses. This wealth of information is exquisitely engraved and coloured but as a specialist map it would not have had a large print run. However it is a handsome thing mounted on linen and folded into covers with brass decorative gothic clasps. The boards of the covers are covered in cloth with a blind stamped decoration and the title, motto and coat of arms of Trinity House in gilt.

The map was published ‘By order of the hon[oura]ble. the Corporation of Trinity House.’ which is the authority controlling lighthouses, lightvessels and buoys in England and Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar (Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland). The board was established by a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514. Prior to this there were privately run beacons or towers so it wasn’t until 1609 Trinity House established its first, Lowestoft Lighthouse, as a pair of wooden towers with candle illuminants. The risk of fire must have been very great but it wasn’t until 1777 the first mirrored reflectors were used.

The cartographer of this map, Alexander George Findlay was a leading compiler and publisher of geographical and hydrographical works and after the death of Richard Holland Laurie, took over the well-known and long established printing house of Laurie & Whittle. He researched meteorology, published nautical directories the whole world and received a Society of Arts medal for his dissertation The English Lighthouse. He also served the British Association for the Advancement of Science so he was uniquely qualified to produce this map.

Today lighthouses are still relevant but function more as a back up to electronic equipment. The last manned lighthouse, North Foreland in Kent, was automated in 1998 after the automation process started in in the early 1980s, bringing to an end the work of the lighthouse keepers or “wickies”. This lighthouse had seen the departures of forces defending our islands and the arrival of all manner of vessels – some in joyous homecoming, some limping back after difficult journeys and trade vessels from all over the world. Trinity house currently maintains 65 lighthouses but it has provided temporary lighting. For D-Day it laid 73 lighted buoys and 2 lightvessels to indicate a safe route for landing craft in the poor weather of the English Channel. Redundant lighthouses have been re-purposed as holiday lets or even conversion to domestic properties – albeit ones with fantastic views!

Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen. London, 1863. C15 d.197

Soviet flags and emblems

Published in Moscow in 1987 by the Main Directorate of Geodesy and Cartography of the Council of Ministers of the USSR this atlas of the USSR includes the usual topographic and

thematic maps you’d expect, including this physical map of the USSR.

The treats inside though are the pages Immediately after this physical map. Over the next 17 pages, following an organizational chart showing how all the states are joined to the Soviet

system with the flag and emblem of the  Soviet Union there follows flags and emblems for, amongst others, Belorussia and the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic

and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic.

 The flag and emblem for Latvia features the sea, befitting for a country that has some of the busiest sea ports onto the Baltic and with an important fishing industry

 while the colourful flag and emblem for Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyzstan) shows the mountainous nature of a country where 80% of the land is part of a mountain chain.

The similarity of the flags and emblems shows an obvious central party influence. All feature the Hammer and Sickle, symbol of solidarity between the agricultural and the industrial worker as well as the Red Star, which for the Soviets was a symbol of the Red Army.

Atlas SSSR (атлас ссср), 1987. C40 e.4


True north

We are used to having north at the top of our maps. This has been the most common orientation for hundreds of years, largely because of the use of the magnetic compass. Compasses do not, however, point exactly north. The northern magnetic pole wanders around the Canadian Arctic, and anyone requiring precise direction for navigational purposes needs to keep this in mind. It is common for maps to have a diagram showing the difference between magnetic and true north, as in this sea chart from 1870 (which also includes a date for the declination and, elsewhere on the chart, the current rate of change).

The discovery that the earth’s magnetic field fluctuates, and does not line up with its geographical axis, is nothing new. European navigators were aware of this issue from the fifteenth century. Edmond Halley had begun charted the magnetic declination across much of  the world at the end of the seventeenth century, and this map by John Senex from 1725, based on his work, shows the “Line of no variation in the year 1700” curving sinuously across the Atlantic. Lines of equal declination – isogonic lines – are marked around it.

This line where magnetic and true north coincide – properly called the agonic – is also in constant motion and we recently heard the exciting news that it is about to reach the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, so compasses there will point to true north for the first time in 360 years. More information can be found here on the website of the British Geological Survey.


With the eruption of its volcano on the 26th of August 1883 the landscape of the island of Krakatoa changed in an instant. Over two thirds of the island disappeared in the explosion,

unleashing a tsunami that killed at least 36,000 people in the immediate area and created waves of sufficient power to register on tidal readings as far away as the English Channel.

New chart of Sunda Straits, 1883. D32 (103)

This map is a remarkable record of the changes caused by the eruption and subsequent tsunamis, made by Captain Morris of the Australian steam-ship ‘Chyebassa’ on the 2nd of September 1883, 136 years ago today. Morris states on the map how “We came through the Sunda Straits after the earthquake and found the Southern or Main Channnel perfectly clear. Flat Cape light is not burning, though the lighthouse is standing. Anjer and Anjer lighthouse is completely swept away [as can be seen in this extract from the map showing both the previous and post-eruption coastline]. The coast is very difficult to recognize, the whole of the trees which lined the shoreline are gone…The Government have a steamer cruising off Flat Cape, to warn vessels not to take the Bezee Channel, as it is completely blocked. There is also a vessel for the same purpose off Nicholas Point. We put Batavia [modern Jakarta] pilot on board the ship off Flat Cape for the “Roma”; after passing Nicholas Point, you must take the Northern passage, as all the buoys are away in the South pass”.

The explosion of Krakatoa was a truly global event, and news of the eruption was transmitted around the world via the telegraph cable (called on the map a submarine cable) which linked Java with the World by the cable laid through the Straits which connected Australia to London via Singapore. A message sent from Java could get to London in as little as three hours. Global in another way, as countries as far away as England and the United States felt the effects of Krakatoa in less violent ways. Sunsets were affected by the dust thrown up into the atmosphere and the remnants of the Tsunamis that swept the region were recorded on tidal gauges as far away as the English Channel while changes in weather patterns were registered in Los Angeles.

In 1888 the Royal Society of London produced a richly illustrated report, ‘The eruption of Krakatoa and subsequent phenomena’ (Vet A7 c.45) which gave detailed accounts, causes and the effects caused the eruption.  Included are watercolours of the sunsets over Chelsea

and a map of the reach of the waves caused by the explosion, that proved so devastating to those near the volcano, throughout the World

The introduction to the report gives some idea as to the confusion and damage to lives and property caused by Krakatoa.

‘ During the closing days of the month of August, 1883, the telegraph–cable from Batavia carried to Singapore and thence to every part of the civilised World the news of the terrible subterranean convulsion – one which in its destructive results in life and property, and in the startling character of the World-wide effects to which it gave rise, is perhaps without parallel in historic times.

As is usual in such cases, the first report of this tremendous  outburst of the volcanic forces appear to have been quite misleading and altogether unworthy of credence. Nor is this to be wondered at. The towns and villages along the shores of the Sunda Strait were, during the crisis of the eruption, enveloped in a terrible darkness, which lasted many hours, and, while thus obscured, were overwhelmed by a succession of great sea-waves; those who succeeded in saving their lives amid these appalling incidents were, it need scarcely be added, not in a position to make trustworthy observations upon the wonderful succession of phenomena occurring around them’.

Opposite this page is the illustration of the volcano at the top of this blog post.


London fields

It’s always fascinating to look at early maps of the outskirts of cities, as the landscape has often undergone an incredible transformation. This map of the parish of St Pancras in London is a wonderful example. Made 215 years ago in 1804, it shows the parish as an elongated shape stretching north from what is now part of London’s crowded West End. The first extract here shows part of the northern sheet.
The map is on 2 sheets oriented with west (approximately) at the top. Although north orientation was fairly standard by 1804, it’s not unusual for large scale local maps to be oriented in whichever way most conveniently fits the shape of the paper. The southern extremity of the parish is the junction between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (now the site of Tottenham Court Road tube station) in the west, and Clerkenwell in the east. The streets of Bloomsbury are already densely built up but north of what is now Euston Road is mainly open fields. Camden and Kentish town are separate villages on the main road out of London. The canal, of course, was yet to come and the mainline railway stations that dominate the area now were far in the future. The extract below shows the area now occupied by St Pancras and Kings Cross stations, and the British Library; the main road running from top to bottom is now the Euston Road.
It’s also interesting to see the things that remain, or have left tangible traces. The Polygon, a then recent development of houses  in a circle facing inwards, was fairly recently built when this map was made; its name survives in Polygon Road nowadays. The Royal Veterinary College to the east of Camden was already established and is still there. On the northern sheet,  the more hilly landscape towards Hampstead and Highgate is represented by hachuring; the distinctive shape of the line of ponds across Hampstead Heath hasn’t changed much since 1804. Kenwood House, then the seat of the Earl of Mansfield and recently remodelled, still stands surrounded by its parkland, now managed by English Heritage. The oak tree under which people would gather to hear gospel readings is marked; Gospel Oak is still the name of a London district and a train station.

The map is very detailed and finely engraved; the accompanying written survey, or terrier book, explains that the mapmaker, John Tompson (also described elsewhere as Thompson or Tomson) had made it under the patronage of landowners who had property in the parish, “at the expence of upwards of three years labour.” The terrier is very thorough, listing the landowners, and identifying the individual land parcels (numbered on the map) by their use and area. All individual streets are described and their buildings listed. This is an exceptionally detailed record of an area now transformed almost beyond recognition.

The Atlantic Charter

Created by the artist and cartographer MacDonald Gill this map is one of the most aesthetically pleasing items in the collection.

The “Time and Tide” map of the Atlantic Charter, 1942 B1 (174)

Tide and Time was a weekly political and literary magazine starting in 1920.

Not only is it visually stunning the map is also an important historical document. Created in 1941 to promote the post-war aims of the Allied Countries by Sir Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt the charter committed participating nations to 8 points, all of which are stated on the map. This is an idealized view of the World, with agriculture and local industry prominent. Despite the state of the War in 1942 Germany is portrayed without any hint of hostilities currently taking place but is instead basking in the rays of the Sun like any other nation.

In the bottom corner is a quote from the Book of Isiah setting out the hopes and ambitions of the signatories to the Charter. Swords have been replaced by weapons of the War then taking place but the image powerfully portrays the sentiment intended.

Gill created a number of maps, including one of the earliest of the London Underground, but also has a link with the First World War. He designed the font used on Commonwealth Cemetery gravestones.

Churchill and Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland in 1941, with Churchill traveling across the Atlantic on board HMS Prince of Wales. The journalist H.V. Morton accompanied him and wrote a book about the meeting between the two leaders that led to the creation of the Charter.

Atlantic meeting (1943) Bradford e.737

Morton’s book included a map of the route on the inside cover. Morton was a journalist with the Daily Express in 1923 when he reported on the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings before The Times, who had paid for exclusive rights to the expedition.

An earlier blog post (July 2015) features a map showing the voyages and journeys Sir Winston Churchill made while Prime Minister during the War which included in the top corner pictures of the ships and planes used, including the Prince Of Wales

[Extracts from] Dunkirk to Berlin, June 1940 – July 1945. Journeys undertaken by the Rt. Honble. Winston S. Churchill, O.M., C.H., F.R.S., M.P., Prime Minister of Great Britain in defence of the British Commonwealth and Empire, 1947. B2 (101)

The Charter was such an important event that there was even music written in honour of it

Atlantic Charter, grand march (1942) Mus.120 d.15



Not a map

The map collection at the Bodleian is arranged by area, and identified by letters and numbers. A is for maps of the Universe, B the World and so on down to N which is for the Antarctic. Further subdivisions within these letters give you individual countries, so for instance England is C17 (the C is for Europe). The system doesn’t end at N though, for there is one further section full of maps which either are of places that don’t exist or are cartographic items without a map on. 

This is the O section. Included in O are maps of Middle Earth and Narnia, of Ambridge and the Island of Sodor (the Archers and Thomas the tank Engine respectively, in case you were wondering). There are also instructional diagrams for drawing maps. Neither have maps on but both have a simple beauty to them, and hark back to an age of plane-table surveying and pencil and paper work.This first example (Land forms & their representation on contoured maps, c1970, O1 (33)) gives examples of different types of profiles and land forms with accompanying examples of how these forms would be reproduced on maps with contours. This map is part of the general collection, the second example is in a frame and hangs on the wall in the Map Office. While the first example shown hasn’t any publishing details apart from the name ‘T.H. Hughes, F.R.G.S.’ in the corner the second example is published by the Army Signal School, in Dunstable, and would have been used as a teaching aid for training Military cartographers.

The School was at Dunstable for a brief period from 1916 until just after the end of the First World War. The Bodleian also has cartographic training manuals for the Austrian and German Armies.