Author Archives: debbie

A silk escape map

The story of silk escape maps in the second World War is now deservedly well known. The maps, printed on silk as a resilient alternative to paper, were carried by Allied air crews to help them find their way home if they came down in enemy territory. Similar maps continued to be produced after the war, and the Bodleian has a small collection of maps produced in the 1940s and ‘50s. However, the recent arrival of a silk map in the Bodleian Map Room caused a certain amount of interest.  

For one thing, this map appears actually to be on silk. So called ‘silk maps’ were initially printed on silk that had been judged to be below the standard required for parachutes in the early 1940s. But once silk supplies ran out they were made of acrylic material that just isn’t as nice. This one is soft and silky and would make a lovely scarf.

The style of the map is reminiscent of the British silk escape maps of WWII. It has a utilitarian look – it was designed to be functional rather than marketable – with different islands on insets identified by letter codes. The lettering style, layout, and presence of print codes but absence of standard publication information are all typical of WWII era silk maps. It is however in only 2 colours (brown for the hill-shading, black for everything else) –  British silk maps from the same period were more often printed in 3 or more colours.

The map shows ‘Celebes’ – part of Indonesia and known as Sulawesi officially since 1945 – and surrounding islands. The map was made by the RAAF (the Royal Australian Air Force); copies are held in map libraries in Australia and the US, tentatively dated to 1943. It is the first Australian silk map to be acquired by the Bodleian. Its condition shows the resilience of this apparently fragile material – apart from a few loose threads at the edges, it looks as good as new.

Want to know more about the story of silk map production?

This website http://www.silkmaps.com/ gives general background on silk military maps
This article (beginning p.30) explains the role played by MI9 http://www.defencesurveyors.org.uk/Images/Ranger/Ranger%20Volumes/Ranger%20Summer%202009.pdf
The article ‘Wall tiles and Free Parking’ http://www.mapforum.com/04/april.htm tells some of the story behind the silk maps’ production in Britain and their use in a POW camp.

For a more detailed account, the book ‘Great escapes’ by Barbara Bond (Glasgow: Times Books, 2015; ISBN 9780008141301) is a fascinating read.

Oxford Bus & Cycle Map

Bus & Cycle map cover

Many Bodleian Library staff commute by bicycle and a number are keen cyclists, so the arrival of a new edition of the Oxford Bus & Cycle Map was greeted with enthusiasm in the Map Room, especially the side of it showing cycle routes. The map was produced by Richard Mann of Transport Paradise, whose site offers advice on improving urban transport with examples from Oxford and elsewhere. The cycle map is an innovative product in that it attempts to show two complete cycle networks. A quieter one (suitable for family and leisure cycling) is shown in blue, with routes through quiet streets or away from the roads altogether, through parks and beside the river. Meanwhile the main cycle commuter routes are shown in red; a complete, joined up network, with dotted lines to identify those parts of it where cycle provision is poorer, rather than a patchy network of good cycle routes – a pragmatic approach, since the cyclist will have to find a way even when it is less than ideal. An extract showing the city centre is shown below.

cycle map city centre inset

The clever design of the bus map on the reverse does a good job of unscrambling Oxford’s sometimes confusing bus route network. Four colours – red, blue, green and yellow – are used to group the main routes, to make it easier to follow them visually through the concentration of routes in the city centre. The frequency of services is indicated by solid, dashed or dotted lines.

Oxford’s centre is constantly busy, thronged with crowds of students, tourists and locals. Travelling into it by car is slow and parking is expensive. Use this map instead!

Oxford bus & cycle map. Oxford: Transport Paradise, 2015. C17:70 Oxford (249)