Monthly Archives: April 2020

I do here, good reader…

In a time of uncertainty here on Earth it’s reassuring to look to the heavens for a more stable  environment, one in which we can predict what will happen with remarkable accuracy considering the vast expanse of space. This amazing map, ‘A scheme of the Solar System with the orbits of the Planets and Comets belonging thereto, describ’d from Dr. Halley’s accurate table of Comets…founded on Sr. Isaac Newton’s wonderful discoveries, by Wm. Whiston, M.A.’ shows with a great amount of information how a complex system of orbits and planetary bodies  work together and present a predictable path through time and space.

A scheme of the Solar System with the orbits of the Planets and Comets belonging thereto, describ’d from Dr. Halley’s accurate table of Comets…founded on Sr. Isaac Newton’s wonderful discoveries, by Wm. Whiston, M.A., 1712, (E) A1 (3)

William Whiston (1662-1752) was for a time Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, and he also lectured on Natural Philosophy in London. He produced this map in 1712 with the noted map and globe maker John Senex to illustrate the course of comets as predicted in  work by Sir Edmund Halley and the ground-breaking work on planetary motion set out by Sir Isaac Newton.

The map shows the orbits of  ‘about twenty one known Comets…’.  according to Halley’s calculations (there are now over 3,000 recorded Comets in the Universe), the orbits of the Planets and, at the top, the relative size of the 6 known primary Planets and the Moon (the size of the Sun is represented by the outer circle of the map of the Solar System).

There is a remarkable amount of explanatory test on the map describing the six Planets and the ten secondary Planets (which we would know call the moons of the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn) and descriptions of the system of Comets and the Sun. Like all good exponents of a new theory Whiston makes a bold claim for his map at the start. ‘I do here, good reader, present thee with a scheme of the Planetary and Cometary World, part of which hath of late been called the Hypothesis of Pythagoras or Copernicus, but is now so certainly known to be the real system of nature that it ought no longer to have that uncertain title of hypothesis applied to it’. It’s amazing how many maps produced around the 1700 and 1800s include some form of claim such as this, or include in the tile ‘A new survey..’ or a variation on that phrase. The text goes on to acknowledge the size of the Universe and then ends with crediting the Creator, ‘As to the Fixed Stars, they are vastly remote from our Planetary and Cometary system but may perhaps every one be the center of another Solar System. Dr. Hook and Mr. Flamsteed think they have discovered their annual parallax and that is about 45″ which will imply there to be 900,000 millions of miles distance from our Sun; or according to Hugenius’s calculation in the like case much further than a bullet shot out of a canon could go in 100,000 years. But of such vast and numberless systems…we know very little, only so much we know of ye Planetary and Cometary World, and of the probability of Fixed Stars…as is sufficient to make us cry out with the Psalmist O Lord, how manyfold are thy works! In wisdom have you made them all!

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) produced most of the surveys of London after the Great Fire of 1666 and went on to try and measure distances to stars using parallax, which takes  the difference in angles of a measured distance seen from two different points. John Flamsteed (1646-1719) was the first Astronomer Royal and wrote star atlases and catalogues which were more detailed than any previously published. Hugenius is the Latin version of the name of the Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), one of the leading scientists of his or any other age. One of Huygens many contributions to science was the discovery of Saturn’s ring system and the first of the Planet’s moons after making improvements to the telescope. Hooke and Halley were involved in a wager offered by no less than Sir Christopher Wren while the three were at lunch in 1683 to discover why the Planets orbited the Sun in an ellipse, and not in a circle as suggested by Copernicus. To find the answer Halley travelled to Cambridge to talk to Isaac Newton, at the time Lucasian Professor of Mathematics ( Whiston replaced Newton in the role in 1702). Not only did Newton have the answer to the question but following promoting by Halley wrote his findings up in one of the most important Scientific books ever written, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, more commonly known by the first word of the original Latin title, the Principa. In  this book Newton set out his three laws of motion and explains how the orbits of the celestial bodies work and the nature of gravity. Newton’s ideas in the Principa and Halley’s work on comets are the key to Whiston’s map.

John Senex was a noted map and globe maker and uses text at the bottom of the map to promote his products, extolling the worth of his maps and globes while also warning of the inferior products made by others based on his work. There are two of Senex’s globes on display in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room at the Weston Library (the globe of the heavens  is shown here), possibly the two mentioned in the text ‘ He maketh ye newest globes of 16. 12. & 3 inches diam. and has just finish’d in a most elegant manner a pair of 28 inches diam. fit to adorn public librarys, or of the librarys of the most curious’. Senex has featured on this blog before, first in a

piece about globes ( and then, and more relevant to this piece in a post about a map of South America ( which is dedicated to Halley and marks the point where, during a voyage to map the magnetic variations in the Earth, Halley’s ship the Paramore encountered ice for the first time. Halley then produced a map of the World with the variations shown, which would enable navigators to plot a correct course using a ship’s compass with corrections made according to the variation shown

Halley’s magnetic chart [a facsimile from 1870 of Halley’s  ‘New and correct chart shewing the variations of the compass, 1701] (E) B1 (382)

Mr. Gough’s map

The Gough Map of Great Britain isn’t just a treasure of the Bodleian map collection it’s a Bodleian treasure full-stop, and was one of the highlights of our recent map exhibition, Talking Maps, which closed a few weeks before the lockdown.

The map dates from c1390 and is the oldest surviving sheet map of the Country. It’s a manuscript, measuring 115 x 56 cm and drawn on two pieces of animal skin which have been joined together north of Hadrian’s Wall.

This extract shows the area between Hadrian’s Wall on the right and the join of lamb and sheep skin made to get the right sized piece of material needed to draw the map 

The map is orientated with east at the top (so Scotland is at the left and Wales at the bottom), which would have made a long piece of material easy to work on. There are over two hundred rivers shown, some prominently, and over six hundred towns, cities and settlements. The importance of York and London is highlighted with the use of gold leaf while red lines radiate out across the map,  possibly routes with roman numerals giving distances in old French miles. Scotland is poorly mapped, an indication that at the time Scotland was a foreign country, and one with which England was often at war. It is believed that a number of scholars worked on the map, over a considerable period of time, and that some of the earliest writing and work on the map is north of the wall. While Scotland is poorly depicted Calais, an English settlement following a successful siege by Edward III in 1346, is shown in great detail on the edge of the map, across the channel from Kent.

The map has recently undergone some research using 3-D scanning, hyperspectral imagery (gathering a greater amount of detail from across the spectrum than available to the naked eye) and Raman spectroscopy (the study of molecules within the material to get more information on the pigment used). One of the most startling discoveries during this study was the large amount of pin-pricks throughout the map, suggesting that part of it’s making involved laying an older map on top to trace coastal outlines and locations of places.

The name of the map comes from Richard Gough, a collector of prints, plans, maps, drawings and other ephemera that came to the library following Gough’s death in 1809. All we know about the map before this is that Gough bought the map at auction in 1774 for half a crown (12 1/2 pence). The Sheldon Tudor tapestries came to the library in this donation as well, we’ll blog these soon.

The Gough Map came at the end of a century that gave us the most celebrated Mediaeval world map, the Hereford Mappa Mundi.  While the Hereford map is based just as much on theological as well as topographical principles the Gough is purely a map for practical purposes, even if we now aren’t exactly sure what that purpose was, something the exhibition book for Talking Maps makes clear

‘Freed from the shackles of a Christian narrative, the Gough Map’s purpose was not to visualize a pathway through life in accordance with the teachings of the church, but to lead the way in a completely new cartographic direction which remains current in the twenty-first century, where geographical veracity and the primacy of relative position are foremost in the map-maker’s mind.’

There is an interactive web-site for the Gough Map here

Work on the Gough Map has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, more information on what studies have taken place can be found here

The Gough Map, c1390. MS. Gough Gen. Top. 16.

Rails and Railways

The Reshaping of British Railways seminal report is always remembered but the accompanying maps are generally not.  These rather ordinary maps represent a huge shift in the transportation provision of the country as the railways were contracted.  The maps are stylistically simple but hugely important.

The report authored by Richard Beeching was published in 1963 by the British Railways Board as a response to the government’s requirement to make the aging railway system more efficient.  The streamlining process, as everybody knows, involved cuts to much of the network. Beeching’s proposals closed 5000 miles and over 2300 stations so ending public use of a third of the existing network.  Beeching championed the expansion of the road network and envisioned the loss making rail services being replaced  by bus services.


Three decades later views had changed of railways had changed and large infrastructure projects were planned once more.

The Channel Tunnel carrying a railway direct to continental Europe was an ambitious joint venture with the French and the accompanying rail link was the first high speed link in the country (HS1).  Railways were back in as a fast and efficient way to travel.  The accompanying plans show the difficulties of fitting in new rail tracks into the congested part of London.

Nowadays with the roads congested and the climate suffering some of Beeching’s closures are looking to be reversed.  The Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line in has been granted funds to develop proposals to reopen to aid connectivity in the North East and take pressure off local roads.


Now railway passenger numbers are at record levels so can we look forward to more maps of Beeching reversals?

The Reshaping of British Railways M05.E08183

Channel Tunnel rail link. Plans and sections C17:38A b.1

Drink up

Between July 2019 and this March the Bodleian put on a major map exhibition, Talking Maps, curated by Jerry Brotton and Nick Millea. With the World now spinning on a different axis we thought it would be good to relive some of the exhibition highlights and for the next few months staff will pick personal favourites to include in our Map Department blog.

It seems appropriate (or cruel, depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty) considering the lockdown to start with a map which deals with going to the pub. The Drink Map of Oxford is one of the most popular maps we have, it features in a lot of ‘show and tells’ map staff put on and was a popular subject during our lunch talks when the exhibition was on.

Drink map of Oxford 1883. C17:70 Oxford (7)

Over a simple skeleton plan published in 1883 the location of 319 pubs, breweries, beer houses and other licensed premises are shown using four different red symbols. Most pubs are on the main streets of the city (note how many are on the High Street for instance), while the breweries are close to the castle where there is easy access to water. Beer houses are where residents have applied for a licence to sell alcohol out of their houses to supplement income and are usually on side and residential roads, while other licensed premises are the Wine Merchants and groceries selling to the colleges and the public.

There are some intriguing aspects to this map. The first is the lack of University buildings shown, making this the only one of over 300 maps of the city held at the Bodleian with no hint of a University. There are a couple of reasons for this. Being a skeleton plan buildings aren’t included to keep the map as simple as possible (the railway is there as it is an important part of the city make-up, and also, more importantly, there is a pub in the terminal building as well). The second reason is that students weren’t allowed into the city pubs. Colleges would have had their own bars and some even brewed their own beers. Another aspect to the Drink Map is the wonderful irony in something which shows just where you can get a drink in Oxford but which is published by one a number of Temperance Societies in the city at the time, the rather grandly named Oxfordshire Band of Hope and Temperance Union. Temperance Societies were concerned about the problems alcohol was causing for the Working Class, causing problems such as poverty, crime, the breakdown of the family and church attendance. Text on the back mentions the effect of all this drinking in such a renowned city, ‘drunkenness abounds in our midst, and its attendant evils, crime and pauperism, are ever calling our attention. Can this be wondered at seeing we have up to three hundred places licensed by law for the sale of strong drink?’  The text goes on to make two claims about the city that don’t quite stand up too much investigation. The first is that the city is so overpopulated with drinking establishments that it has 50% more than any other comparable town. While there certainly is a lot in Oxford compared to now there was a lot everywhere. Post Office directories for towns such as Reading show similar numbers. The second claim is that the city magistrates come from the middle and upper class residents who tended to live in the north of the city, and while they were happy to give licences to places in the poor areas aren’t so keen to do so closer to home, hence the disparity between the north and other parts of the city on the map. Like the comparison with other towns this accusation doesn’t stand up when you use the directories. Kelly’s Post Office Directory for Oxford 1883 lists the names and addresses of the 16 magistrates in office for that year, with only a few living in the north of the city. Some magistrates live on the High Street while one even lives next to a beer house in St Clements. What is closer to the truth about the lack of pubs in North Oxford both then and now is that St Johns College owed most of the land and they were putting restrictions in place on the use of land in sale and leasing agreements which included the sale of alcohol.

There is an important companion to the Drink map that makes an equally strong social statement about Victorian Oxford. Dr. Acland’s map of major cholera outbreaks in 1832, 1849 and 1854 to

Map of Oxford to illustrate Dr. Acland’s memoir of cholera in Oxford in 1854… 1854. C17:70 Oxford (15)

accompany a report in 1854 is one of the earliest disease maps published in England. The map shows areas of poor or no drainage, the contaminated sections of river and the individual cases of outbreak and it is the areas of poor drainage that draw comparison with the Drink Map. The areas that feature strongest on the one map, the over-crowded working class districts of Jericho, St Ebbes, St Clements and Osney Island which are all heavily overlaid with red symbols are the same areas shaded to show areas of poor and no sanitation and drainage on the other.

The St. Ebbes area on both the Drink and Cholera maps. Most of this area has been redeveloped and is now the Westgate Shopping Centre.

These are two important maps of the history of the city, coming at a time when the population had grown considerably from the late 1790’s onward’s with the arrival of the canal, the move out of countryside by agricultural labourers following enclosure and the coming of the railway. This increase in population put pressure on the working-class areas with the inevitable problems highlighted in both maps; disease, poor housing, poor sanitation and over-crowding.

These are also wonderful maps full-stop. The cholera plots an illness which was for the time still hard to treat in a city using as their main source contaminated river water while the Drink Map is a serious attempt to highlight an important problem but now, without the social implications involved, looks like a Victorian version of a pub guide.