Monthly Archives: February 2022

The voyage of the Hero

Admiralty Charts have a reassuring familiarity about them. The Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty first started publishing maps in 1800 and this map from 1860 uses cartographic conventions still in place today. This sense of timelessness comes from the charts concentrating on hydrographic information; soundings, rocks, beacons and so on, features that don’t alter over time. Almost all our cartographic charts in the Bodleian come from legal deposit in pristine condition. I say almost because we do have a number of donated charts as well. What is special about this particular donated map is that it is a chart that has been used, a course has been plotted of a voyage made between July and August of an unspecified year by an unknown ship. A chart used as intended.

North Atlantic Ocean, published at the Admiralty, 18th June, 1860. B1 a.19

The challenge is to try and discover more about the journey, which really comes down to when and what ship? All we have to go on when looking at the chart is the route, from Southampton across the Atlantic to Quebec, with positions at noon each day from July 10th to August 18th. A seemingly impossible task but there is a clue separate from the map. The chart is one of a number bound up in a volume with the simple title Charts of the Gulf & River St. Lawrence by Capt. H.W. Bayfield, R.N and on the contents page there is a hastily written note in pencil that is the key to the mystery . Sir Henry Acland has a strong connection with Oxford and the Bodleian. Born in Exeter in 1815 Acland became a Fellow of All Souls College and then in 1851 Physician to the Radcliffe Infirmary and Radcliffe Librarian in the Radcliffe Camera which had been, since built, the home of the Radcliffe Science Library. It was during Acland’s time as Librarian that the collection of books moved to a new Radcliffe Science Library and the Camera became part of the Bodleian. This explains Acland’s close relationship with the Bodleian, and the reason why he donated the set of nautical charts to the library in July 1880.

An extract from the chart showing the route taken to Quebec, sailing through the wonderfully named Gut of Canso (also called the Gut of Canseau) between Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.

Research into Acland’s life then explains the rest. In 1860 he became physician to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales (who later became Edward VII) just before he went on an official trip to Canada and the United States  onboard H.M.S. Hero, the first time a Prince of Wales had made this journey. The map charts the daily position of the Hero as it voyaged across the Atlantic.

The Gut of Canso (here called Canseau) taken from one of the other charts in the volume. The numbers are soundings while the yellow colours show the positions of lights, which could either be fixed (indicated by the letter F) or revolving (the letter R).

In Oxford Acland is famous for a map made six years before the voyage of the Hero. In 1854 he produced a report on a series of Cholera outbreaks in Oxford which had led to a number of fatalities. It came with a map which highlights the poor sanitary conditions in parts of the city (the areas shaded in green) , the parts of the Thames contaminated and unsafe to drink and the locations where there were cases of Cholera (more on the map can be found here). 

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

The Acland Hospital, so long a feature on the Banbury Road in Oxford and now at the Manor Hospital in Headington was built as a memorial to Acland’s wife Sarah. A daughter, also called Sarah, was an early photographer, some of her work can be found in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

In the year after the voyage a book was privately published by Gardner D. Engleheart. ‘Journal of the progress of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales through British North America and his visit to the United States… (203 a.333)’. The book includes illustrations and text about the visit and, helpfully for the purpose of this blog and identifying the map, a log of the journey out giving positions at noon on each day as well as a number of different diary entries from the voyage. So for instance we learn that the Royal Yacht (the Hero) ‘with the Prince Consort sailed at 4 a.m.’, presumably to catch the tide. Then, far more dramatically, from a different diary on the 12th ‘Man overboard! The gun-room steward jumped out of one of the ports, in a fit of temporary insanity, and was drowned! Every effort was made to rescue him, but he would not be saved.’

A volume of London

This collection of items relating to London is intriguing; four maps and a view, only loosely related, are bound together; all date from the eighteenth century and have a connection to London and its surroundings. The names of two former owners appear on the flyleaf, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the collection may have been assembled earlier.

One of the maps in particular would be a treasure in any circumstances. John Rocque’s map, “An exact survey of the citys of London, Westminster, ye Borough of Southwark and the country near ten miles round,” is a famous and remarkable map. Made in the early 1740s and published in 1746, it covers London and the surrounding area on 16 sheets, from Harrow on the Hill in the northwest to Chislehurst, then in Kent, in the southeast. The map above is the top left hand (or north west) sheet.

As London has grown so much in the intervening two and a half centuries, the area covered by the map is now all within the conurbation of London. At the time, most of the urban area of London was contained within just one of the 16 sheets, while all around the now familiar names of London suburbs appear as rural villages surrounded by fields. With remarkable prescience, John Rocque created a map, in the mid-eighteenth century, of the London of the future. The sheet above shows the rural villages of Harrow on the Hill, Sudbury and “Wembly Green”, with a beautiful compass rose. Below, from another sheet, we see Wimbledon Common (then Wimbledon Heath) much as it might have been in the young days of the oldest Womble, Uncle Bulgaria.

This particular copy is bound into a volume, but the Bodleian also holds a version that has been joined together to form one single massive sheet; this is shown below, with the Map Curator included for scale. The bound version here differs from the other recorded editions of this map, in that it has the title in English only; other copies have it in Latin and French as well, so it’s possible this is a proof state.
To return to the intriguing London volume, it also includes a reduction of the sixteen sheet map to a single sheet, giving an overview that further demonstrates how tiny the urban area of London was then. This was also made and published by John Rocque.

Rocque also made both printed and manuscript maps of individual estates. The next map in the volume, entitled “The plan of the house, gardens, park & plantations of Wanstead in the county of Essex,” was made in 1735. The mansion house at Wanstead had been completed in 1722, to replace an earlier manor house, and was owned by Earl Tylney. He received the title in 1731, so the map celebrates his new status as well as the beautiful house and grounds. The information at the bottom of the map is in French, so perhaps Rocque anticipated an international audience for this map of a new and fashionable estate; the landscaping had been inspired partly by the Palace of Versailles. There is an intriguing feature in the formal garden, shaped like a map of Great Britain.
The Rocque maps are followed by an early example of a facsimile map (or more accurately, a derivative). In 1667 John Leake had made a map showing the City of London, with the extent of the Great Fire the previous year. George Vertue published a copy, slightly reduced but with some additional information, for the Society of Antiquaries in 1723. It shows the City of London, including the city walls and the boundary of the burnt area; a section of the upper left part of the map including the title is shown here.
Finally, there is a design for Westminster Bridge from 1739, a side elevation accompanied by smaller cross sections and plans. This was drawn by Charles Labelye, the engineer responsible for the first Westminster Bridge. The construction of the bridge began in 1739; by the following century it had deteriorated, and was replaced by the current Westminster Bridge in 1862.

Past owners of the volume have also written personal notes on the blank page inside the cover. Samuel Ashton Thompson Yates has written brief notes on the contents of the volume. Thompson Yates was originally called Samuel Ashton Thompson, but added the Yates in accordance with the will of Joseph Brooks Yates, who was his grandfather, in 1867, so presumably acquired the volume after that date. He was a man of some wealth and influence; he went on to make a substantial donation to the construction of the Health Sciences building at the University of Liverpool, built 1894-9. (This information comes from The Centre for the Study of the legacies of British Slavery at University College London, and more can be seen here.)

In the twentieth century the atlas passed to Elizabeth Phebe Merivale, who notes that she was given it by her brother Hugh Bright in 1904. At some point after that, it arrived in the Bodleian Library, where it will remain.

Map Res. 127

Cycling Then and Now

The recent changes to the Highway Code set us thinking about the origin of cycling maps and their development. We have maps going back to 1887 but cycling routes were described purely by text earlier than that with this Walks in Epping Forest. A handbook to the forest paths with cycling and driving routes dating from 1885.

They still hadn’t really got into their stride twenty years later with this account of a route from Witney to Charlbury indicating the amount of puff require by the use of manicules.









Interestingly, early advertisements for cycle hire and repair used the language associated with horses; ”warehoused and cleaned” could easily have been “stabled and groomed”. The maps being sold for cycling just showed main roads – which with the absence of many cars were sufficient.

This is map by Mason & Payne shows routes suitable for cycling in 1888 but today they are mainly major A roads with many being dual carriage ways, not really conducive for a pleasant ride through the country.


Many did not show relief, rather crucial for a cyclist, but this Bacon’s Cycling Map does show generalised relief in the form of hachures but also railway stations to facilitate cycle touring.

Cycling as a hobby has increased especially in recent years but modern maps and apps are very different from those early examples.  Cycle information is generally overlaid on to a topographic background usually in layers showing you what to expect every metre of the way.

The same route is shown thus


Unlike Bacon’s map, it is quiet roads and cycle tracks that are highlighted and sought out to make any expedition safer and more enjoyable. All sorts of analysis and interactive data is also available at the swipe of a finger and there is a sharing element promoting online competition rather than just the satisfaction of making it to the pub at the end first.










What probably hasn’t changed is the search for relief from any cycling-induced injuries or soreness as this early advertisement shows.

Walks in Epping Forest (1885) Johnson g.417

The Roads Round Oxford (1896) Vet. A7 e.505

Bacon’s Cycling Road Map of England and Wales. Sheet 5 (1887) – C17 (73)

Mason and Payne’s Cycling Map of the British Isles … (1888) – C15 (180)

OS route courtesy of Stuart Ackland

Strava route courtesy of Nick Millea

Witney to Banbury courtesy of


Dryness pleaseth…

This beautiful map of the Bedford level lying between The Wash at the top of the map and Cambridge at the bottom shows the distribution and use of land of the Great Fens, an important wetlands site that had been drained in the seventeenth century.

To the most noble the Governor, the Bailiffs, and Conservators of the Great Level of the Fens, called Bedford Level, this map of the said Great Level and parts adjacent is most gratefully dedicated by Samuel Wells. 1829 (E) C17:17 (7)

The draining of the Fen has a long history. Initially the celebrated Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden was commissioned by King James to drain the fen. This at first proved unsuccessful and then Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, who owed a great deal of land in the area, came to an agreement with Charles I to drain the Fen after which the Duke and a group of fellow investors in the project, known as ‘Adventurers’, would share in the division of the land with the King, each to their own according to the size of the investment made.

 Vermuyden planned and then organized the  digging of the New Bedford River, which ran parallel to the Old River, with a flood plain between the two. These are the two straight lines that run from the middle bottom left to middle top right, draining into the River Great Ouse and then eventually into the sea at King’s Lynn. A new company was formed to handle the administration of the levelling called the ‘Bedford Level Corporation’, and it is their coat of arms that can be seen on the map. Their motto is, appropriately enough, ‘Dryness pleaseth’.


The map is cloth-backed, which would have made it easier to unfold and fold up again any number of times without weakening the paper and causing damage. The effect of the folding and then storing the map has led to ‘ghosting’. This is when the imprint of the image appears faintly as a mirror image on its opposite fold, most attractively illustrated in this image with the faint ghost of the compass rose appearing above the true rose. The map was made to accompany a two volume work, The history of the drainage of the Great Level of the Fens, called the Bedford Level; with the constitution and laws of the Bedford Level Corporation, by Samuel Wells, Register of the Corporation, and published in 1830. This is a comprehensive history of the Fens and the drainage going back to the Roman occupation.

The map shows different levels of land; from that owned by the investors (the numerous plots in red)  to land outside of the Great Level (in blue). The green and yellow show higher ground, and hence land that didn’t need to be drained, both inside (green) and outside (yellow) the level. A map that shows plots of land either for sale or as a record of ownership is called a cadastral map. In the second volume of Wells’ history of the Fens he lists each plot giving information on ownership, size (in acres, rods and perches) and the amount of tax paid on the plot twice yearly. Cadastral maps, especially ones as old as this, are important for a number of reasons. Not only do they give an accurate record of the land at the time the map was made they also give a historical record of land ownership at a particular time.  As with all old maps that list names of people they’re also a wonderful link with our past.

Samuel Wells owned lot VII in Methwold Common

To show how long the levelling of the Fens had been going on here’s an extract from A mapp of ye Great Levell of ye Fenns extending into ye countyes of Northampton, Norfolk, Suffolke, Lyncolne, Cambridg & Huntingdon & the Isle of Ely as it is now drained, described by Sr Jonas Moore (Gough Maps Cambridgeshire 2). The map was published in 1684 and shows how the plot boundaries and identifying numbers have remained constant over the two hundred years between the two maps (the 1684 image has been stitched together for the purpose of this blog from two adjoining sheets).

Jonas Moore was an interesting character, one of those figures that start from humble beginnings to achieve things of lasting fame (born in Lancashire to poor parents it was said that his older brother was  ‘bewitched’ to death by one of the Pendle Witches). Mathematician, astronomer, surveyor and Ordnance Officer, as well as creating this map of the Fens he also designed and built a stone pier in Tangier when the Moroccan port was briefly held by the English.

Cornelius Vermuyden sailed to England in 1621, arriving from a Holland transformed by the draining of low-lying land. After draining and reclaiming wetlands at Canvey and around the Isle of Axholme, Vermuyden was commissioned by the Crown to drain the area of the Great Fens, bringing to an end a way of life supported by wildfowl, peat and withy cutting that had been in place for centuries. Vermuyden wrote one of the earliest works on draining the Fens in 1642, a turbulent year if ever there was one. This image comes from collection of pamphlets about the drainage of the Great Level simply titled ‘Fens’, which includes 19 pamphlets ranging in date from Vermuyden’s in 1642 through to 1775 and is part of the great collection of books, maps and plans belonging to Richard Gough that came to the Library in 1809 (more about Gough and the map of Britain named after him here)

Modesty didn’t seem to hold Vermuyden back. In the introduction to the work he lets us know that not only  have others tried to do what he achieved, but he had the King’s support throughout. ‘Divers persons of quality heretofore have been desirous to attempt the drayning of the great and vast levell called the Great Fennes, but they found not onely the worke but also the composing of an agreement very difficult, for they could not attaine to so much as to make a contract for the generall drayning thereof, until of late years king James of blessed memory, did undertake (by a law of sewers) that great worke, who for the honour of the Kingdome (as his Majesty told me at the time) would not suffer any longer the said land to be abandoned to the will of the waters, nor to let it lye wast and unprofitable.’