Author Archives: stuart

Works of art

From antiquity through to the early editions of the Ordnance Survey maps have often been considered works of art as well as practical aids to getting from a to b.  As well as what lies inside the folded package the covers of many works are often objects to be admired in their own right. Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and catalogues, in particular in the years between the wars, being perfect examples.

Arthur Palmer was one of the first of the artists used by the OS, creating map covers that not only looked good but reflected the location, like this district map of Oxford from 1931. Earlier maps, such as the Geological map of Oxford, were printed on bland sleeves which son smudged and got dirty.

ox dis





Palmer carried on producing covers of great quality whie working in different departments within the OS, including this catalogue cover from 1930, but his heavy style was soon


replaced by a more colourful and open style of the only professional artist employed by the organisation at this time, Ellis Martin. Martin’s covers graced the majority of products produced by the OS from immediatly after the end of the First World War (in which he served as a field artist in the Tank Corps) to 1940. His covers graced descriptive catalogues of different designs

martin colour cartouche

b w cartiuche


as well as a range of maps from the normal 1″ to a mile series


and the covers for the range of historical mappng produced by the OS

According to Paddy Bush, in his book ‘Map Cover Art, a pictorial history of Ordnance Survey cover illustrations’ (Map Room open shelves, G24 C16.13), ‘The years following the Second World War were marked by a gloom which found bleak expression in many facets of Ordnance Survey life’. While this period saw the OS turn their backs on the beauty of the covers of Martin, Palmer and others for designs which now seem dated there can be found in some at least an appeal of


simple design. This minimalist approach lasted until the 1970’s, when views of the countryside appeared on the covers of maps again, replaced eventually with the photographs that adorn todays Landranger and Explorer.






General Gordon’s map

An unexpected phone call through to the Map Department recently proved to be the start of a little adventure that had a wonderful outcome. A member of the public offering us a map which had been hanging on her wall for a while, which is mentioned in Peter Whitfield’s book ‘The Mapmakers: A history of the Stanfords’. Mention was made of Khartoum, but apart from that no further information was initially forthcoming.

After accepting the kind offer and arranging a time to have the map handed over, map staff found Whitfield’s book, which mentions the map. It turns out that Stanfords, the famous Victorian London map makers, had produced a facsimile of a map made by General Gordon in 1874 showing his journey in the Sudan, due to great public interest in Gordon after his death in 1885 at the siege of Khartoum. Whitfield’s book shows the map, with the Bodleian acknowledged for the copy, which gave the donor cause to contact us. Of more interest though is the fact that ‘the whereabouts of the original manuscript of the map is unknown’. This caused a bit of head-scratching amongst staff here, the donor had said we had a copy, but all we held was the reproduction issued by Stanfords.

Gordon map v01_smaller

The donor and members of family turn up one cold and wet April morning, and hand over the map. It’s immediately apparent that this is the original, whereabouts previously unknown, and we’re thrilled to have been presented with such an item. As well as the route taken from Suakim to Khartoum Gordon includes topographical information and sketches and a letter to a friend, ‘ My dear Lestrange…’ which gives details of the trip made but begs Lestrange not to come if ‘the changes are dangerous to your health…do not risk coming if Doctor says no’.

[General Gordon’s journey from Suakim to Khartoum, 1874]. (MS) E4:1 (19).

Trench Map Exhibition

To mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand on Saturday the 28th of June the Map Room is exhibiting a small number of maps from its extensive Trench Map Collection. As well as a maps of Vimy Ridge and No-Man’s Land enemy wire defences we show this map, Message Map, dated 22.9.17 showing enemy trench positions during the Battle of

message map 1

Polygon Wood (which was part of the larger 3rd Battle of Ypres). While the Bodleian holds a large amount of Trench Maps showing enemy positions and British front-lines this map is one of the few examples we have of a message map. On the reverse is a questionnaire used by advancing soldiers to send back to Headquarters information on positions, enemy strengths and other

message map 2

details. The maps will be on display in the main entrance to the Library on Friday the 27th and Monday the 30th of June.


Message Map, 1917. Field Survey Company. C1 (3) [2157]


Today’s date, June the 6th 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha beaches on the Normandy Coast. Whilst the day itself was a turning point in the war the planning involved in the operation had started the year before, after the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. In between the conference and the landings maps were produced in their thousands on themes such as enemy defences, landing zones, drainage, agricultural regions and waterways.

We show here extracts taken from a set of five maps for each of the landing beaches.

British troops landed on Sword, the most easterly of the beaches. Strategically important because of it’s proximity to Caen, troops initially met limited resistance and soon linked


up with canadian forces. Troops on Sword advanced in land to their objective, Caen.

American troops landed on the heavily defended Omaha Beach. Their objective was to set up a beachhead and link up with troops landing on Gold but problems with dropping of troops in the right zones and the large numbers of casualties taken during the initial assualt delayed this by a number of days.


Utah Beach was another American target, and troops landing here met little resistance. By the end of the day more than 23,000 had landed on the beach, among them was Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, assistant commander of the 4th Division, and son of President Roosevelt. His landing craft had drifted a mile of course with the current, which led to his famous quote “We’ll start the war from here!”


The purple symbols on the maps mark enemy defences


These were mapped out using information from the local resistance movements, aerial observation and photographs taken from small submarines off-shore.

The Bodleian has a large collection of D-Day and other Second World War mapping available for consultation.

D-Day Beach Landing Maps, April 1944. C21:37 (28)


Map surveyors and cartographers are often the unseen heroes of the map world. They may get a mention in some bottom corner if lucky, but more often than not nothing at all. Map staff have recently catalogued and made available maps of Colorado dating from circa 1876. As well as the set of six maps covering the state there are two sheets of panoramic views of mountain ranges, and amongst these views figures are included, the surveyors and

surveyors 1

cartographers of the maps.

sur 2

[Topographical Map of Colorado on 6 sheets], 1:253,440. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories (U.S.), c.1876.  F6:14 (58)


Pompeii found again

Eagle-eyed staff at the Bodleian’s storage depot found this beautiful map of Pompeii with an incorrect shelf mark. Italy, being part of Europe, has the prefix C25. This map of Pompeii should have been given the call number C25:50 Pompeii (1). When the Pompeii map came into the library it was incorrectly labelled D25:50 Pompeii (1), putting it in with maps of Malaya.


When correcting this error staff in Oxford discovered a note in the handlist page for Pompeii maps, stating that the map was reported ‘missing 3/10/1952’. While this isn’t as long as the 1500 years that Pompei lay undiscovered after the eruption of Vesuivis in 79 AD were very glad, after 62 years, to be able to restore it to it’s rightful place.

C25:50 Pompeii (1)