Author Archives: stuart

Peters, Peters, Peters

A local cartographic company have downsized, and given the Bodleian their collection of atlases. Included in the haul were a large number of works by Arno Peters, creator of the Peters Map Projection system in 1973. These atlases are in a number of different languages, including German, Danish, Spanish and French and will be a welcome addition to the atlases in different languages already held in the map collection.

Peters projection was designed to show the world in away that gave, according to the creator, ‘the Earth in true proportion’. The standard projection, that of Gerard Mercator in the 16th Century, was too Euro-centric, argued Peters, and his new projection ‘represented countries accurately according to their land-mass’. This new map, which changed the perception of under-developed countries in the general world view, proved highly popular with its more equal view of the world. Relief and Church organizations distributed millions of copies of the maps.

Cartographers immediately took against the bold claims made for the map, arguing that no map could avoid distortion in some form or another. They also pointed out that the Peters Projection was far from unique, similar schemes had been proposed as early as the mid-1800s.


‘Further outlook stormy’

Driving in and around Oxford has long been an inconvenient experience. Various measures have been introduced over the years; blocking off access to some roads, restricting traffic on others. It is perhaps fortunate that the most ambitious of post-war planning never took place, considering the destruction that would have been caused to some of the prettiest parts of the city. Oxford Replanned was a scheme devised by Thomas Sharp, a planning consultant to the City Council, after the 1939-45 war. Sharp was appointed following work in a number of areas destroyed or damaged during the Blitz. Designed to take traffic away from the High Street by building new roads to the south of Merton College through Christ Church Meadow and then linking up with the Botley Road via a new layout of roads and squares between Queens Street and the Railway Station, the scheme was controversial from the start, something that Sharp himself predicted. In his book ‘Oxford Replanned’ Sharp states in the introduction ‘The task has proved to be an onerous one, and now it is completed I cannot with certainty expect that the result will be generally acceptable even in its main features, let alone in all its details. indeed I know very well that some of the suggestions I make will rouse bitter opposition in some quarters’. The Oxford Times were keen supporters of the plans, even though they could see the reaction the plans would cause, “further outlook stormy”, was their prediction as early as February 1948.

Overview of the city, from ‘Oxford Replanned’, 2479115 d.77.

Sharp passionately believed that radical steps needed to be taken to relieve the pressure on the High Street, which would bring ‘…some peace back into the old heart of the city’. To achieve this he set out a plan that involved  knocking down the large building belonging to Magdalen School between Cowley Place and the River, and building a bridge over the Cherwell at an angle to

Extract from a map showing proposed new bridge and road layout from the Plain (R) C17:70 Oxford (246)

Magdalen bridge which would take a new road from the Plain over the river and through Merton Field and Christ Church Meadow. This would then link up with a square south of Christ Church and then leading onto the Railway Station and Botley Road. For Sharp there were two main benefits to this scheme, the easing of traffic through the High already mentioned and the clearing of the slum areas around the castle. Sharp also envisaged a new building programme, with schools, council buildings and housing centred around public squares where previously there were slums and narrow streets.

Plan from ‘Oxford Replanned’ showing the proposed new road linking the plain to the square by Christ Church

As can be imagined Sharp’s plans were met with some opposition, though many recognized the need to improve the traffic issues that were apparent even then. Sharp appeared at a number of meetings throughout 1948 as his book was published and an exhibition of the proposals was held in the City. Most memorable was the an Oxford Union debate on the 4th of March, which was disrupted by the letting off of smoke bombs, though this seems to have been a student prank than any protest as a motion to support the plan was carried 173 votes to 50.

The new proposed layout overprinted onto an Ordnance Survey 6″ map of the city. (R) C17:70 Oxford (246).  As can be seen in this map Sharp proposed major changes to the layout of the city to the north of the High Street as well as the south.

Sharp’s plans updated those of Lawrence Dale, who published a book in 1944 called ‘Towards a plan for Oxford City’. Like Sharp Dale wanted to move traffic away from the High Street, though Dale doesn’t seem to have any connection with the Council or planning in general. His book is a mixture of strange motives, his plans seem to have been born out of frustration at an attempt to fly a kite on Christ Church meadow in 1942 thwarted by a notice at the entrance banning beggars, those poorly dressed and those flying kites from entry, while amongst his more outlandish ideas is the moving of the University out of Oxford to the estate at Wytham, leaving the college buildings to tourists and soldiers on leave or wounded from fighting in the war. As can be seen from a plan made by Dale his road goes nearer the river than Sharp’s proposals.

Lawrence Dale’s map from 1942 showing his proposed layout of a road over the meadows. (R) C17:70 Oxford (246)

The pictures shown throughout this blog are a mixture of maps and plans that were made for the production of a book written by Sharp in 1948 that sets out his proposals, ‘Oxford Replanned’. This book is a treasure trove of old photographs, plans and pictures and writings both of the city as it was immediately post-war and of how it could be if Sharp’s proposals were accepted. The maps and plans are in a number of different formats and media, and have recently undergone valuable conservation work, as some of the material, particularly the dyeline paper mapping and heavily painted plans, were not that stable.

The proposed square linking the new road from the Plain with the Railway Station, from ‘Oxford Replanned’.

Ultimately Sharp’s plans were rejected. Who’s to say we’re better off now without them? People can walk in the beautiful grounds of Christ Church and Merton unimpeded by road traffic, fumes and noise but at the same time the High Street is often clogged with traffic and the infrastructure of the road suffers from the traffic on it.

Page from ‘Oxford Replanned’ showing an idealistic view of the proposed road going through Christ Church Meadow.

[Maps from] Oxford Replanned,  1942-1956. A set of 19 maps, plans and prints, (R) C17:0 Oxford (246)

The very best of Peter André?

Map makers can be people of many talents. The most famous example is John Ogilby, who had many varied careers including dancing master, Deputy Master of the King’s Revels in Ireland, theatre manager, soldier, translator and publisher before embarking on his final and most successful venture as a map maker in his sixties, and publishing the first road maps of Britain in 1675.
Readers may be surprised though to learn that Peter André, famous for his singing, dancing, reality TV career and Iceland television commercials, was also responsible for surveying Essex in the 1770s. His name appears on the cartouche below that of John Chapman, a London based map publisher who also carried out local and county surveys in Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. It’s a detailed map, covering the whole county on 25 sheets at a scale of approximately 2 inches to the mile; a remarkably large scale for a map that pre-dates the Ordnance Survey.
There are a few clues in Andre’s musical work about his mapmaking abilities. His album ‘Come fly with me’ suggests an approach to surveying that was well ahead of its time. And of course ‘The long road home’ must have been familiar to many a surveyor after a hard day’s measuring in the field.
The lyrics of his biggest hit, ‘Mysterious Girl’, also include the lyrics
I stop and stare at you, walking on the shore,
I try to concentrate, my mind wants to explore …
Strongly suggesting that the surveyor was distracted from his work of exploring the Essex shoreline by the sight of a local beauty. Since this happened around 1774, her identity is likely to remain a mystery.

It’s a beautiful map, finely engraved and delicately coloured, of which its creators can be justifiably proud.

A map of the county of Essex from an actual survey taken … by John Chapman & Peter André. London : Chapman & André, 1777, and Colchester: Keymer, 1785. C17 a.4

April 1st, 2017


Volcanoes, an exciting new exhibition, has opened in Blackwell Hall. Amongst the many treasures featured are a number of maps, including early portolans. These images come from ‘The Physical Atlas of Natural Phaenomena’,  published in Edinburgh in 1849 by William Blackwood & Sons.

The atlas is split up into four sections covering Geology, Hydrology, Meteorology and Natural history and has text, charts and pictures as well as maps, and is made with ‘the co-operation of men eminent in the different departments of science’.

The Physical Atlas, a series of maps illustrating the Geological distribution of Natural Phenomena…1849. William Blackwood & Sons. Allen LRO 393

Kaart van Java en Madura. Published in Breda by A.J. Bogaerts, 1850

This map shows the Sunda Strait and the islands of Krakatoa, which exploded in spectacular fashion in 1883 with a bang that is considered to be the loudest sound in modern times. Barographs in various locations recorded shock waves from the explosion that travelled around the world seven times and the last remaining ripples of a number of large tsunami’s that devastated the surrounding population and coastline were recorded as far away the English Channel.

Sicilia, c1700. (E) C25:26 (23)

Finally a map of Sicily from circa 1700 which not only shows a smoking Mount Etna on the map but has, in a vignette in the corner, Vulcan, God of Fire, working at his forge inside the volcano.

More details about the exhibition can be found here


Conservation of our Sheldon tapestries

On Tuesday 10 January, the Library’s Sheldon tapestry maps of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were cleaned as part of the initial phase of their restoration. Four of these tapestry maps were made for the former Weston House in south Warwickshire in or around 1590, the maps centred on Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, all of which were able to feature Weston House, the home of Ralph Sheldon, who commissioned them. 

The Bodleian owns a substantial part of what remains of the Gloucestershire tapestry, bought at auction in 2007; and Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, (both part of the 1809 Gough bequest). The Worcestershire tapestry hangs in Blackwell Hall, and was the first of the three to be treated by our colleagues from the National Trust. In October 2016, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were delivered to the National Trust’s textile conservation studio on the Blickling Estate in Norfolk, and from there preparation was made for cleaning. 

The only facility large enough to clean tapestries of this size is at De Wit Royal Manufacturers in Mechelen, Belgium (halfway between Brussels and Antwerp), and so the tapestries were delivered in early January. De Wit’s team prepared the tapestries for cleaning on the previous day, so by the time we arrived to watch the process, Fig.1 shows pretty much what we saw, with everything laid out in a sealed chamber.

Fig.1: Awaiting cleaning – Gloucestershire in the foreground; Oxfordshire’s fragments beyond.

 Cleaning began around 10am, as the chamber quickly filled with steam, and suction was applied from below. Before long, nothing could be seen inside the chamber, but De Wit had a camera in situ which moved across the tapestries, showing us absolutely everything at very high resolution on a screen in the “control area” next to the chamber. This procedure lasted over an hour, during which time we could monitor the liquid dropping down beneath the chamber, and samples of which were being collected in clear cylinders.

Fig.2: Cleaning over – the mist starts to recede.

With the cleaning phase completed, the De Wit team accessed a metal platform which moved on tracks above the tapestry. Fig.3 shows them rinsing the tapestries with hosed water and soft brushes. This process lasted around half an hour.

Fig.3: Rinsing the tapestries  

Drying took place during the afternoon, beginning with large towels draped over the tapestries, that were then covered with plastic. This process took about five minutes, and was then repeated with fresh towels. Next, highly absorbent paper was used instead of towels, again compressed beneath plastic, and again repeated.

Fig.4: Applying the towels

To give some sort of impression as to the changing state of cleanliness of the tapestries, Fig.5 shows how the colour of the water emerging from the cleaning process. The cylinder on the left was the first to be collected, that on the right the last. Quite a contrast.

Fig.5: The tapestries are becoming ever cleaner 

By 6pm we were able to enter the chamber to inspect at close hand the tapestries, checking the colours, and also being impressed at how dry they were. Fig.6 shows and area north-east of Oxford (towards modern Milton Keynes), and the colours are clearly stunning.

Fig.6 Cleaned, rinsed and dried 

A fortnight later, we were able to travel to Norfolk and discuss how work might begin with our colleagues from the National Trust. The tapestries had been safely returned from Mechelen. Oxfordshire is planned to be the next tapestry to be displayed, and there are plenty of issues to contemplate, not least the number of gaps in the tapestry; its greater height and width than Worcestershire; and the question of whether we should incorporate a braid around the cartographic perimeter of the tapestry. 

One major advancement however, concerned the status of six loose Gloucestershire fragments, which had not been sent to Belgium. Since the nineteenth century, it has been accepted that they belonged to Gloucestershire. On closer examination, we were able to conclusively prove that three of the six fragments are indeed part of Oxfordshire (see Figs 7 and 8). This was a terrific breakthrough.

Fig.7: One of the “Gloucestershire fragments” now attached to the top-right border of Oxfordshire

Fig.8: Another of the “Gloucestershire fragments” now attached to the upper border of Oxfordshire 

During the day, we were also able to confirm all the place name details from Gloucestershire (which will need some serious restoration work to make them fully legible). 

We are now looking at creating a plan for Oxfordshire: braid or no braid? how to deal with the damaged “globes” within the borders; how best to display the whole tapestry – the need for geographical compromise for the “island” that survives within the gap towards the north. For those unfamiliar with the Oxfordshire tapestry, you can rest assured that many places survive intact, not least Oxford and London, as well as Cheltenham and Swindon, and even the White Horse at Uffington, as well as much of the country west to Witney, Burford and beyond. When fully conserved the Oxfordshire Tapestry will replace the Worcestershire Tapestry on display in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library

Fig. 9 The Worcestershire Tapestry in Blackwell Hall. 

We look forward to updating colleagues as this exciting project develops. More news on the conservation work done on the Worcestershire Tapestry can be found here



From top to bottom

How do you map a long thin country like Chile?, by making a long thin map of course. Chile’s length, at 2,690 miles, is ten times longer than its width. This map, published in 1990 in the United States by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of Chile to the United States has tourist information on both the front and back of the map as well as information on the Country and a historic background.

Chile, published by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of Chile…1990. H6 (147)


This beautiful map of Nineveh is a sad remainder of the recent destruction caused by ISIS forces in the Northern Iraq area. For a time Nineveh was the greatest city in the World, capital of the Assyrian Empire, until its sacking in 612BC. Trade between the Mediterranean region and the East travelled along the Tigris River, bringing great wealth to the city.


As well as the threat posed by opposing forces fighting in and around Mosul  the area is also down-river of the Mosul Dam, declared in 2006 to be the most unstable in the world. Mosul is situated on a major fault-line and any tectonic activity in the area, which has in the past caused damage to temples and buildings at Nineveh, could be disastrous.

The main part of Nineveh, the Koiyunjik mound, has been excavated a number of times since the mid-1800s. Remains of Palace buildings and temples have been found here but looting has


caused considerable damage to the site. Modern Mosul now spreads east beyond the historical site of Nineveh with suburbs between the two mounds of Koiyunjik and Nebbi Yunus. As of the 9th of January the ruins of Nineveh were on the front-line of territory held by ISIS and the Iraqi Army.

The map is published by the East India Company, which up until a few years after the date of the map controlled large parts of the sub-continent. Given a Royal Charter to trade with India in 1600 the company subdued large parts of the country and it was only with an act of Parliament in 1858 following rebellion in 1857 that the British Government, in the form of the Raj, took over control.

leftVestiges of Assyria, sketch 1st, an ichnographic sketch of the remains of rightancient Nineveh, with the enceinte of the modern Mosul…constructed from trigonometrical survey in the spring of 1852 at the command of the Government of India by Felix Jones… Published by John Walker, Geographer to the Honble East India Company, Feb 2nd 1855. D19:30 Ninevah (1)


Christmas images and a puzzle

Images to celebrate Christmas from the Map Department in the Bodleian. The first two come from a book, Baedeker’s Guide to Palestine and Syria, published in 1898. These are the earliest maps held in the Bodleian for Bethlehem


Bethlehem, from Baedeker’s Guide to Palestine and Syria, 20606 f.7

At the time the guide was published Bethlehem was predominately a Christian community. Numerous churches and monasteries existed in the town but the most important of all was the cryptchurch first built in the 330’s over the cave of the nativity, now called the Church of the Nativity but on the plan called the Church of St Mary. The Church was, and still is, an important place of pilgrimage and the guide gives a number of pages to its description, with text and plans, including this one of the crypt, with ‘d’ representing the site of the nativity. The guide is full of fascinating plans and descriptions of the Holy sites; Christian, Muslim and Jewish, throughout the area, and the Library holds a large number of Baedeker’s of many countries and regions throughout the world.


The second set of images comes from a facsimile of a celebrated atlas of the Heavens, the Harmonia Macrocosmica, by Andreas Cellarius,  first published in Amsterdam in 1660. Cellarius was a Dutch mathematician and cartographer, and as with similar atlases of the time Cellarius’s work is a mixture of the classical and the modern. Classical with the inclusion of maps of the zodiac and the layout of the planets according to Ptolemy, modern with the inclusion of maps showing the theories of the solar system by astronomers such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Tycho Brahe and planetary motion around the earth, the phases of the moon and the sun’s journey in the sky.  This image is of the second of the Biblical star charts


with the Holy Manger in the top left, representing the constellation Lyra. The first of the Biblical star charts has the Three Kings, which here represent the constellation Hercules


3 kins

These images are from a facsimile of Andreas Cellarius’s Atlas Coelestis seu Harmonia Macrocosmica held on the open shelves in the map section of the Rare Books Reading Room in the Weston Library. G1 A1.2

Finally a puzzle. This map is one of a set of 12 covering an island which at first glance doesn’t seem to exist. The names do not appear on any gazetteer or atlas index. Created by the Canadian Military for planning purposes during the Second World War the maps have for a long


time been held in the Imaginary lands section of the map collection, a collection which includes maps of fictional places such as Middle Earth, Sodor, Ambridge and Emmerdale. It was only recently when going through this group of maps for an exhibition that staff looked at these 12 maps more closely and became convinced that the topography was real, but the names given weren’t. The defences, in purple, were too accurate, with notes saying ‘Third gun reported, but position unknown’, and then the note to the top, ‘This map is unreliable. It has been produced by enlargement from One inch to One miles maps…’. Of course this could have all been part of the deception, but there was enough there to make staff wonder. We’ve worked out where it is, can you? Email with an answer, no prizes, just the satisfaction of being right. Happy Christmas.



Dude, where’s my airfield!

Now you see it, now you don’t.  Maps published by the Ordnance Survey from photographs taken by the RAF in the years after the Second World War were soon discovered to show on


some sheets sensitive areas such as airfields and military bases. After putting these maps on general sale in the late 40’s it was quickly realised that having such material in the public domain


wasn’t such a good idea, and after withdrawing existing sheets new versions were printed which obscured the military sites with painted-in fields or, in some cases, photographing the existing sheets with cotton wool suspended over areas to be hidden.




The maps were intended as an aid to town planning and reconstruction after the war and the examples shown here all date from 1947. For a long time copyright libraries such as the Bodleian and the British Library weren’t allowed to show the unedited maps to the public, a restriction only lifted in 1995.

Destroy this map

Admiralty Charts have long been an important record of sea-faring conditions throughout the worlds oceans and seas. Pretty much every estuary, island, port and sea has been covered at various levels of detail from the early 1800s showing details such as depths, observation points in-land and light-houses. Dangers such as rocks and other obstacles are also noted, such, as in this case, the famous Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast.


The library holds a large number of charts but this one, Dungeness to the Thames including Dover Strait, number 1895, has a message on the back that few others have. Possibly standard practise to avoid using outdated charts but also a security measure considering the time the chart was published, 1911, and of the area shown, the Thames estuary the note states


England -South Coast. Dungeness to the Thames including Dover Strait. Nu 1895. 1911.