Monthly Archives: January 2021

How to make a map Soviet style

On the reverse of a map of Minsk from 1991 there are some interesting and unusual sections. As well as including instructions on measuring distances there are also examples of the same area at different scales (1:1,000,000 going down to 1:10,000 and centring on the village of Borovsty). Shown here are the 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000 and 1;200,000 scale maps as well as two pictures about orientation


Map reading instructions and examples of different scales aren’t uncommon features, what makes this particular map stand out is the little diagram showing the process of making a map, from planning (ПроеКт) through surveying (aerial as well as ground-work) to drawing


and production and finishing with sales. Can the whole exercise be included as proof that the Soviet system still worked despite the Union breaking apart?, the Byelorussian SSR itself declared independence the same year the map was made, becoming Belarus.

The end result of all this work is the main map, made by the Soviet Cartographic Department, the Glavnoe upravlenie geodezii i kartografii, more commonly known as the GUGK (Main Directorate of Geodesy and Cartography). The use of oranges and greens here is a common feature of Soviet maps, immediately recognizable as a product of the GUGK.


Mинск и окрестности (Minsk and surroundings) 1991. C40:12 (40)


Field patterns

Recent work on the Laxton map reminds us how beautiful maps often are, but also how beautiful the patterns made by field systems can be as well.

The central part of the Map of Laxton, 1635, MS. C17:48 (9)  (see notes at end for more information on Laxton)

Fields are a natural part of the landscape, but the dating of the fields can vary greatly depending on where you are. Areas of the West Country still have what is called Ancient Countryside, fields and farm land untouched by Enclosure acts. Fields at the tip of Cornwall on

the Penwith Peninsula are thousands of years old, a crazy pattern with small fields and many angles, utilizing boulders in the landscape too big to move or pre-existing ancient monuments such as standing stones and burial chambers. Due to the construction of these boundaries they are hard to move or alter, and it’s because of this that these field boundaries are, despite their age, still in use today. This type of landscape can also be found in areas as diverse as the Welsh borders and Essex, Sussex, Kent and Surrey. This extract comes from the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of Cornwall, sheet LXI S.W., 1908. The Ordnance Survey shows fields up to and including maps at a 1:25,000 scale.

Laxton is an example of an Estate map. These are almost always manuscripts, with a cartographer commissioned to survey and produce a map with details such as field size, use and often details of individual field ownership.

Being a one-off often led to a beautifully illustrated and informative map. This example shows the  fields surrounding the Down Hall Estate in Essex (MS C17:28 (38), 1718), and was surveyed by William Cole, who was also a schoolmaster in Colchester. Down Hall Estate (home of Bake Off no less) features in the middle of the map, with details of the kitchen gardens surrounding the house.  Further examples of estate maps can be found here and here

One of the best maps of Oxfordshire, Richard Davis’s map from 1797, falls in-between the old practise of open fields and the new approach, that of Enclosure. This sheet shows the area to the East of Oxford (the county boundary followed the Thames until the 1970s) and has both big open fields and the new, smaller, patterns in place. The map shows the start of a new type of landscape, called Planned Landscape, neat fields with straight lines, without any of the quirks found in older field patterns, which often followed ancient parish boundaries and streams.

with an extract here

A new map of the County of Oxford : from an actual survey; on which are delineated; the course of the rivers and roads, the parks, gentlemens seats, heaths, woods, forests, commons &c. 1797                C17:49 a.1

This blog has been partly inspired but a recent series of programmes on the BBC called Winter Walks. Over 5 episodes people such as Simon Armitage, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and the Rev. Richard Coles have walked in Yorkshire and Cumbria, holding a portable camera and accompanied by a drone giving aerial views of the incredible landscape and field systems on show. These field patterns can be seen in this Ordnance Survey 3rd edition sheet of Grassington (Yorks CXXXIV N.W., 1910). The field boundaries shown on the map would have been efficient way of using up stones found in the fields when ploughing. Dry-stone walling would also have the benefit of letting the wind through, reducing damage.

Be it from drone footage or walking in the country-side field patterns are revealed as objects of beauty as well as important agricultural features. They are also a chance for us to show off more beautiful maps from the collection at the Bodleian.

* The Laxton map, A Plat and Description of the Whole Mannor & Lordship of Laxton with Laxton Moorehouse in [y]e County of Nottingham and also of the Mannor & Lordship of Kneesall Lying Adiacent to [y]e Aforesaid Mannor of Laxton,   measures 178 x 203.5 centimetres on 9 rectangular pieces covering the villages of Laxton and Kneesall, around a dozen kilometres northwest of Newark-on-Trent. Dating from 1635. Approximately 3,333 separate field strips are shown on the map, which is made from sheep-skin. The area is still farmed using the open-field system, incorporating crop rotation, though to a lesser extent than at the time of the map.                           The Map Librarian at the Bodleian, Nick Millea, talks about the map here

St Petersburg in colour

This large, beautiful map of St Petersburg was recently donated to the Bodleian Map Room. Measuring just over a metre square, it shows the city in great detail. Every building is marked and the layouts of parks and gardens around the city are shown. The fortress on Zayachy Island is shown in detail (below). The water depths in the Neva river and estuary are included. The title makes reference to some of the earlier plans on which the map is partly based, beginning with that of Fedor Shubert in 1828; it was updated from surveys in the 1850s and 1860s. It was published in St Petersburg in 1868.

The reverse of the map carries a handwritten note, “Petrograd”, which would date its acquisition by a previous owner to some time in the ten years from 1914 to 1924. Previously the city had been known as St Petersburg, since its founding by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 (on the site of an earlier Swedish fort); he made it the capital of Russia, which it remained until 1917. In 1924, shortly after the death of Bolshevik leader Lenin, it was renamed Leningrad in his honour. In 1991 the name reverted to St Petersburg.

The map is delicately coloured in red, green, blue and black. At first glance it appears to be hand coloured as the colouring is so smooth, but closer examination suggests that it was lithographed; very slight offsetting can be seen in places (where the green plate does not exactly line up with the coastline on some of the islands, for example, as can be seen in the detail above).  Colour printing of maps took off in the twentieth century; this is an unusually fine early example.

A final thought: This blog post replaces our Christmas blog post (below) as the 12 days of Christmas are now over in the UK and much of the western world. However, the Christmas season is just beginning in the Russian Orthodox Church, so we would like to wish everyone celebrating a very Happy Christmas!

Plan S. Peterburga : sostavlen na osnovanīi plana Shuberta 1828 g., posli͡edneĭ rekognost͡sirovki Voenno topograficheskago depo 1858 g., gidrograficheskikh kart Nevy i ei͡a ustʹi͡a izdanīi͡a Gidrograficheskago departamenta Morskago ministerstva 1864 g. i rekognost͡sirovok proizvedennykh 1867 i 1868 godakh redaktorom T͡Sentralʹnago statistichesk: komiteta M. Ī. Musnit͡skim / ispolnen v Kartograficheskom zavedenīi A. Ilʹina. S. Peterburg : Kartograficheskoe zav. A. Ilʹina, 1868. C400:50 St Petersburg (24)