Category Archives: Britain

A horse?

Chalk figures on hillsides are not uncommon especially in southern Britain but they still retain the air of mystery. What are some of them?  Who created them? Why are they there? They also caused an issue on maps.  Early modern cartographers drew maps but out of necessity gathered information from other surveyors. This is where errors crept in.  Imagine an surveyor of the Berkshire Downs at Uffington saying “well, there’s this white horse on the side of the hill”.  The prehistoric ‘horse’ famously does not look like a horse therefore the misunderstandings can be seen as a result, most notably the Sheldon tapestry map of Oxfordshire which has a truly majestic (and enormous) white horse striding over the side of the hill.



Richard Hyckes who designed the tapestry was not to know the reality was rather different.





The error was repeated by John Rocque albeit with a more modest horse.











It wasn’t until the Ordnance Survey surveyed the country was the Uffington White Horse depicted as it truly is.





The Cerne Abbas Giant is actually a giant cut into the chalk of Dorset, rather a famous one. He is  younger than the horse but his beginnings are still shrouded in mystery but possibly something to do with former Cerne Abbey nearby. For some reason he was only represented as lettering by Isaac Taylor 1765.

However, the Ordnance Survey somewhat sanitised him when the 25” was published in 1888.

The Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex was not so problematic, so much so that he didn’t appear at all until the OS came along. The map by Thomas Yeakell and William Gardner (1778-1783)  ignores him completely – whether they were unaware of the chalk figure or merely swerved the opportunity of representing it history does not tell us.


Sheldon tapestry map of Oxfordshire  [1590?] (R) Gough Maps 261

John Rocque. A topographical map of the county of Berks (1761) Gough Maps Berkshire 6

Ordnance Survey 2nd edition 1:2500 Berkshire XIII.14 1899

Isaac Taylor. Dorset-shire. 1765 Gough Maps Dorset 11

Ordnance Survey 1st edition 1:2500 Dorset XXXI.2 1888

Thomas Yeakell, William Gardner. The county of Sussex. 1778-1783. Gough Maps Sussex 14

Ordnance Survey 3rd edition 1:2500 Sussex LXVIII.15 1909

Urbs in Rure

In the mid-nineteenth century Oxford was still a small town dominated by the University but surrounded on three sides by water which had the effect of curtailing expansion of decent housing but by 1850 a series of circumstances led to the development of the North Oxford suburbs, in the St Giles parish. The population of the town grew sharply between 1821 and 1841, the Great Western Railway arrived in 1844 and, later in the 1870s, University fellows were allowed to marry thus leaving their college lodgings to live nearby. St John’s College owned a large tract of land, known as St Giles Fields which it had acquired in 1573 from George Owen, physician to Henry VIII to the north of the town. The middle class of professionals with disposable wealth were growing, housing was required so the time was ripe to develop this land.

The first attempt came in 1852 when architect Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (who went on to built Bletchley Park) was asked by the College to submit drawings for a new suburb to the north of the town. This terraced crescent of handsome Italianate houses with communal garden, rather in the style of Bath, became Park Town, the earliest planned development in Oxford.

This was the forerunner to the later developments of Walton Manor and Norham Manor. Once again Seckham produced this drawing for the what was to be called Walton Manor. As you can see most of the large villas are in his preferred Italianate style except for one which oddly shows elements of Victorian Gothic. This was not as successful with only one of the residences being built – still currently at 121-123 Woodstock Road.

The Walton Manor estate plan was revived in 1859 with Seckham still in charge but with the plan considerably changed. The following year an adjoining piece of land was offered for sale to become the Norham Manor estate by St John’s College. Initially Seckham was to manage both estates but William Wilkinson an architect from an auctioneering family of Witney, nearby, was awarded the supervision of Norham Manor. Wilkinson’s practice was prospering but involved church restorations and work for the rural gentry on domestic and agricultural buildings rather than villas and terraces.

His vision for the estate can be seen clearly from this view which was painted by him in c.1860. In this incredibly detailed watercolour you can see it has been conceived as a gated community of large suburban villas for the wealthy middle classes. By the mid-1860s Wilkinson had taken over the whole of the North Oxford suburb development and was building his pièce de resistance, the Randolph Hotel (1862-64). This Oxford landmark is still standing in its Gothic splendour.The large individual residences of both Norham Manor and Walton Manor were largely complete by 1870 so attention was turned to the smaller semi detached and terraced houses which give the area its character today. However, not everyone was a fan – Thomas Sharp of Oxford Replanned (blog here) felt the area was an ‘architectural nightmare’.

The spread of development can be seen clearly in the map record.
















Ordnance Survey 1st edition 25” Oxfordshire XXXIII.15 1876
Bird’s eye view of the Walton Manor Estate [1854] C17:70 Oxford (103)
Proposed Norham Manor Estate [c.1860] MS. Top. gen. a. 22
Plan of an Estate called Park Town [1853] C17:70 Oxford (30)
T. Jeffreys. Plan of the university & city of Oxford 1767 Gough Maps Oxfordshire 17
Alden’s new plan of the city and university of Oxford 1888 C17:70 Oxford (5)
Plan of Oxford 1902 C17:70 Oxford (6)
Plan of the city and university of Oxford [1949] C17:70 Oxford (36)

On the road

As a general rule we do not fold our atlases in half. It would be bad for them, and probably quite difficult. This is a rare example of an atlas that was designed to be folded in half.

It’s an early road atlas to be carried while travelling. When the soft, rather tattered brown leather covers are opened, it reveals that a previous owner has made some notes of place names and distances in the inside of the cover.

The book itself could be folded or rolled, making it smaller and more portable. It is Thomas Kitchin’s Post-chaise companion, and dates from 1767. It has clearly grown accustomed to being folded in half, as can be seen from the weights required to hold it open for photography:

The very earliest road atlases date from the seventeenth century. Previously travellers relied on road books, lists of names that would enable them to ask the way from one town to the next. Arguably the first road atlas was produced by Matthew Simmons in the 1630s, with triangular distance tables (like those sometimes found in modern road atlases) and very tiny maps. The big innovation was John Ogilby’s Britannia in 1675, which used strip maps to show the major roads throughout Great Britain in unprecedented detail; this design continued to be copied for over a century, as can be seen here. Britannia was however a large volume, too bulky to transport easily.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was around fifty years after the publication of Britannia before smaller, more portable versions were produced, and then rival versions by three different publishers appeared around the same time in the 1720s; one of these, by Emanuel Bowen, was reissued in multiple editions into the 1760s. Thomas Kitchin, who produced this work, had been apprenticed to Bowen, and had married Bowen’s daughter before setting up as an independent mapmaker, embarking on a long, prolific and successful career, and being appointed Hydrographer to George III.

Although many road atlases of this period survive, the binding is what makes this one unusual. Its appearance caused a certain amount of excitement in the Map Room as some of us had heard of road atlases being made to this design, but had never seen one before. Unsurprisingly the soft backed versions are less likely to have survived, being less robust and more heavily used than the hardbacks. The fact that this one has the notes relating to a previous owner’s journeys makes it additionally interesting.

Kitchin’s post-chaise companion, through England and Wales; containing all the ancient and new additional roads… by Thomas Kitchin. London: John Bowles, Carington Bowles and Robert Sayer, 1767. C17 e.2a

Further information can be found in County atlases of the British Isles, by Donald Hodson. Vol. 1. Welwyn: Tewin Press, 1984.


During the Little Ice Age of the sixteenth to the nineteen centuries the River Thames occasionally froze right from bank to bank. Never ones to pass up a commercial opportunity the good folk of London decamped onto the ice to sledge, skate, roast oxen, play nine pins or drink coffee.  The whole of London life was there and obviously maps and keepsakes were produced to mark the occasion. Mementos were even printed on the ice.

The maps produced at this time show quite an organised affair with rows of stalls and marked footpaths.

The first frost fair was in 1608, then 1683-84, 1715–16, 1739–40, and 1789 then the final one in 1814. The maps we hold date from the earlier fairs in the seventeenth century. This one is illustrative rather that truly accurate but encapsulate the holiday-like feel of the time.



We may never see the Thames frozen in London again so these are not only historical documents but images unlikely to be repeated.Gough Maps 21

Broxb. 95.89


We’re slowly processing a large amount of rolled and relief mapping that was donated to the      library a number of years ago.  Everything has been carefully stored in bubble wrap but a lot of the material is old, and quite a lot has been used for teaching purposes and has been varnished, that curse for the modern curator. We’re steadily working through the rolls and have started to look at the flat material, most of which seems to be maps in frames.

The first is going to be a challenge to our Conservation Department. The base to this relief map of the South Downs, Channel and part of the Pas-de-Calais has been made of either gesso or Plaster of Paris, we’re not sure yet. Both involve chalk which appropriate as the whole area is geologically made up of chalk and yet at the same time unfortunate as, after close to 150 years, the backing is now crumbling and combined with the effects of the varnishing has caused the map to both sink and split. Which is a shame as the map is a wonderful thing.

Geological model of the South East of England and part of France including the Weald and the Bas Boulonnais, 1873.

The relief of the area has been covered by a map made from information from maps published by the Ordnance Survey, Admiralty Office and the Geological Survey and then framed. The sculpted relief forms the hills of the Downs (from the old English word ‘Dun’, meaning hill) and the danger is as this backing further disintegrates and the frame and map splits more we’ll lose this effect*, hence the need for conservation.

One of the more interesting details on the map is the route shown of a proposed Channel tunnel. First suggested in 1802 the idea of a tunnel between the two countries steadily grew towards the end of the 1800s. Both French and British engineers came up with proposals and in 1866 the English engineer Henry Marc Brunel made a survey of the floor of the Straits of Dover which showed that sea-floor was made up of chalk. Various attempts to build the tunnel were put in place but soon shelved due to funding and concerns, on the English side, of threats to British security.

One of the sheets of a French geological series published in 1878 is a reprint of an earlier geological series originally published in 1832 which shows the geology of the Straits in preparation for a possible tunnel. The geological information comes from reconnaissance work carried out for the wonderfully named Anglo-French Submarine Railway Company.

Carte géologique, Calais sheet 1. [1878?] (E) C2:5 (32)

*As well as the chalk. It’s strange to think that the chalky substence that has fallen off the map and now lies on the floor in our office came from a map made in 1873, even stranger when you remember that the chalk itself is made up of untold numbers of plankton from close to a 1,000,000 years ago.

Do [not] touch

People have always tried to make sense of their surroundings and plot where they are in the world, often in graphic form. Maps are inherently two dimensional but efforts have been made throughout time to create three-dimensional tactile maps. Primarily they are aimed at visually impaired users but they can also serve to understand relief and the environment in a holistic way. It is unclear when tactile maps started appearing but this lovely example of England and Wales is the earliest in our collections, produced in 1925. It primarily shows relief and rivers but also locates major towns but does not name them.

The development of tactile writing systems really took off in the 19th century with the development of basically embossed versions of roman letters, such as the Moon System but alongside was the use of a logical system of dots representing the letters such as braille.

This globe, which is undated but looks like it was made in the 1960s? uses prominent dots to depict capital cities in Europe but also a chain of mountains in Asia which must be confusing.  You can also see the rivers have been exaggerated and the equator marked to aid orientation.

Tactile maps conventionally were made using thermoforming or vacuum forming which uses heat or a vacuum to fix a material such as plastic or paper over a mould to create a stable physical object. These are very successful but they come with their downside – unlike paper maps they cannot be folded up and put in your pocket. The Royal National Institute for the Blind produced several maps with the Central London map as a typical specimen. With embossed roads and braille labels it is limited in detail so what its purpose is unclear. Was it produced for reference or as a wall map?

What is the future for mapping for blind or visually impaired people? Much work has been done by tech companies with smartphones and hand-held devices. Google Maps can speak directions and even tell you where safe road crossings are while you are using it. Haptic technology is used to generate a hybrid tactile map – for example the signal from your fingers will cause the map to vary when you cross a boundary, such as a road; or come across a symbol, maybe a bank. Although 3D printers can also be used to create maps but do not overcome the portability issue.

The library has a several tactile maps in the collection but this one was particularly challenging as it had no text to identify it. Coming originally from the MOD sample collection it has a red acquisition stamp and a tentative “Torquay” in ball point pen. I could not identify it with a modern map of that area so bit the bullet and tried transliterating the braille labels. It turned out that it needed turning around and it represents the Goswell Road/City Road area of Islington in London!









The Lake District’s topography lends itself very well so this is an attractive example. Designed as a hanging wall map in four sections it has been executed beautifully with using wooden strips glued together which have been sculpted to form the peaks and trough: shorelines, rivers and names have been burnt in to orient the sighted.  Entered into the BCS Awards which not only is it easy on the eye, it has a beautiful feel demonstrating that this is inclusive and appreciated by everyone not only as a map but as original creative piece. The perfect example of aesthetics and technique.


England and Wales. [S.n., S.l.], 1925 C17 (220)

A simplified system of embossed reading for the use of the blind : invented by WIlliam Moon, LL.D. &c. [London] : Moon Society, 1937 Rec. c.185

[World globe in braille]

[Torquay]. [London] : [Royal National Institute for the Blind], [1979] SP 55

Central London. [London] : Royal National Institute for the Blind, 1970. SP 56

Lake District National Park. [Sheffield] : From the Workshop. BCS Awards.

Maps for the Aironauts…engravings by the best masters

At twenty minutes to two on the afternoon of the 8th September 1785 Mr Thomas Baldwin, to the ‘tears of delight and apprehension, the misgivings of humanity, and other sensations of surprize’ of the inhabitants of Chester took flight in a hot air balloon. Ascending to a height of four miles over Chester Baldwin was able to look down on the earth, a true birds-eye view. He wrote of his adventures in a book published the following year, Airopaidia : or aerial recreation, describing the voyage as well as giving a detailed account of the preparation involved in the flight (for instance a canon was fired at 7 am to let people know that the balloon was being inflated), the equipment taken onboard (as well as ballast brandy and feathers to throw out at various times to check wind speed and direction), and, rather worryingly, what to do if you start to descend too quickly. Baldwin also included some lovely original maps showing the views from above the clouds.

This has to be one of the earliest maps to include clouds over the land. The first manned balloon flight was only two years earlier in France, with the first in Britain almost exactly a year before Baldwin’s ascent so Baldwin was one of the earliest to see the earth partly obscured in this way. In the bottom left corner is Chester (‘the gay scene was a fairy-land, with Chester Lilliput‘) with the River Mersey snaking along from right to left. Imposed over everything is a twisting black line showing the route the balloon took over the Cheshire countryside. The maps are beautifully drawn, fully deserving the praise given them in the book, ‘Descriptions of the aerial scenes are illustrated with engravings, by the best masters; two of which are coloured‘. The engraver is named as Angus, a name not listed in map engravers and map-makers dictionaries held at the Bodleian but is possibly William Angus (1752-1821), who specialized in plates for books and prints working out of Islington.

On the next page the book does something rather clever. There is another map, this time a topographic map of the same area naming features not hidden by the cloud-cover but with the same route shown. Both the coloured view and the black and white map are folded, but the black and white map is on an extended piece of paper, meaning that you can have both open at the same time and compare the same area side-by-side, like this

The obvious advantages to cartography from balloon flights came just at the wrong time. Triangulation surveying had recently been introduced to Britain from France, and despite the efforts involved in first of all measuring out an accurate base-line then surveying across the country from this point the results produced maps of sufficient accuracy to make this the favoured method of map-making. Balloons though wouldn’t be forgotten, and were used to survey enemy positions in the early days of the First World War. Where the balloon did give an advantage was in the drawing of panoramas. The ability to draw an oblique view of a town or city was established well before balloon flights (see here) but these maps were drawn from low down, meaning that the buildings nearest the cartographer were given more prominence. The extra height gained from the balloon meant that a greater area could be shown as the angle of the observation was greater, and the area observed was greater. This can be seen to great effect in this wonderful ‘Balloon map of London’

C17:70 London (327), 1859

Despite a balloon appearing at the top of the map the view taken is from the north, with south of the river disappearing into the distance, suggesting this is the viewpoint from another balloon. The balloon featured is a nice bit of decoration in keeping with the theme of the map.

We’ve blogged about clouds on maps before, in this case their use in wartime deception here  and balloons featured in an earlier blog here

Our blogs are usually written after either coming across a map that sparks our interest or of reading of one in a book or journal. In this case the latter, Baldwin’s flight and maps are mentioned in Rachel Hewitt’s excellent biography of the Ordnance Survey, ‘Map of a Nation’.

Airopaida : containing the narrative of a balloon excursion…198 e.80. 1786

Road maps, but not as you’d imagine

Two contrasting road maps from the early to mid 1700s. One, by ‘Emanuel Bowen, Geographer to his most Sacred Majesty K. George the 2nd’ is straightforward. By including approximate coastlines and county boundaries Bowen is able to map roads in a conventional way, as in they go where you’d imagine them to.

A new and accurate maps of the roads of England, 1748. Gough Maps England and Wales 29

This certainly isn’t the case with the second map. George Wildey, selling prints and maps from the ‘west end of St. Paul’s Churchyard’,  sets out in linear form a guide which ignores the natural curves of the roads shown and includes in order the towns passed through on main and side routes. The map also includes information on market days, distances between towns and if the town or city has a special status (university, post town, bishopric).  With it’s straight lines it could almost be a map of the Roman roads.

The grand roads of England c1720. Gough Maps England and Wales 18

Bowen shows things geographically and with roads crossing over other roads, as they do on the ground, meaning locations aren’t forced to appear out of place. On the Wildey map because of the rigid need to show things in a straight line and to keep things as clear as possible locations, especially in the crowded western side of the map, are forced into strange places. Wildey also doesn’t show distances between places, instead he gives an idea only by the miles between one location and the next. Take Bristol. This busy port appears as expected on a route coming west out of London which when it gets to the city branches out to Exeter and Banbury. Bristol also appears at the top left, at the end of a route that leaves Chester travelling south through Ludlow and Hereford. This Bristol is located on the map between Hollyhead and Hollywell (Holyhead and Holywell) in North Wales. Gloucester as well crops up in a few stranger places, and again it’s when side routes branch out from hub cities. Wildey’s map becomes less a cartographic object and more an itinerary, a list showing to get here you need to first go here, and here, and here.

According to the text in the cartouche Bowen’s map is made ‘according to Ogilby’s survey’. This is the famous  set of maps published in 1675 by John Ogilby. We blogged about his remarkable life, the maps that made him famous and the possible hidden agenda behind them here 

Bowen’s map does include some cartographic peculiarities. Shipping routes across the Channel to join up with Calais and Helevoet Sluys (now Hellevoetsluis, South Holland) show as if they are roads across the sea, in the case of Calais an early taster for a later tunnel under the water. Bowen also includes notes on features to look out for when travelling, ‘Remarkable things worthy a curious traveller’s observations on some of the principal roads described in this map’. For instance, ‘Near Basingstoke is Basing House belonging to the D. of Bolton. Tis famous in history for withstanding several sieges in the beginning of the Civil War till at last was taken in storm by Cromwell and burnt. His being enraged at the words LOVE LOYALTY wrote with a dyamond in all its windows’.

Wildey’s map appears confusing and unconventional but the theory behind it is good and has survived today in maps which show information such as travel routes where the need to give clear information overrides any need for geographical accuracy. The most famous example being also one of the most used maps to have been published, the London Underground map.


The roads of England and Wales

Our previous blog dealt with some of the first road maps aimed at motorists in the early twentieth century. Although people have been travelling by road for thousands of years, road maps themselves are a comparatively recent invention. Until the 1670s and the advent of John Ogilby’s strip maps, most maps did not show roads, Once the idea had been established it was soon extremely popular; it was widely copied in Britain and elsewhere. Amongst the many maps of the roads of England produced in the late seventeenth century, this is a particularly decorative example.

The map is titled “A new map of England and Wales with the direct and cros roads” (cross roads were those linking between the main roads). Distances between settlements are given in miles. Hand colouring of the county boundaries enhances the map but does not detract from the details. Beneath the decorative and closely written cartouche, two angry sea monsters are having a face off. The cartouche explains that the map is “Sold by Philip Lea Globemaker at the Atlas and Hercules in Cheapside near Fryday Street” (addresses were more fun in those days).

Top right there is a table with information about the counties, including the county town for each one; where this was a cathedral city there is a tiny picture of a bishop’s mitre to accompany the name.

The sea is illustrated with small pictures of ships, as was popular on maps of the time. More unusually, a previous owner of the map has tried their hand at reproducing one of these, and a tiny pen and ink sketch of a ship appears in the Channel along with the printed illustrations.

The map was originally published by Phillip Lea around 1689, in an atlas of England and Wales consisting mainly of Saxton’s county maps. This in itself is remarkable since Saxton’s maps were first published in the 1570s; over one hundred years later, the plates were still being updated, edited and reused (in fact their final use was not until about 50 years after this). To accompany these county maps, Lea included two maps of the whole of England and Wales: one general one, and this one which focused on the roads, thus bringing the atlas thoroughly up to date. It was also sold in a slightly later state as a separate sheet, and was available in four separate strips for greater portability; on the complete map, the joins of the four strips are clearly visible.

A new map of England and Wales with the direct and cros roads : also the number of miles between the townes on the roads by inspection in figures. [London] : Sold by Philip Lea Globemaker, [1689?]. (E) C17 (456)

Danger hills

The advent of motoring as a popular pastime allowed publishers to add a new angle to their map sales, the map specially designed for the Motorist. This cover from an early example (Bacon’s new half-inch maps for cyclists and motorists, circa 1908) shows a view of a new open-topped car with it’s wealthy owners out for a nice jaunt on well-lit streets, accompanied by that other new phenomenon (and additional new source of revenue), the cyclist. But included in this idealised view is a warning, for the map shows ‘Danger hills’.

The first cars started to appear on British roads in the mid 1890s, a mixture of imports from France and Germany and home-made efforts, with maps specifically aimed at motorists appearing soon after. These were often reprints of earlier maps with additional titles and, in many cases, some new information relevant to this new form of transport. In the case of the Bacon map this was the highlighting of dangerous and steep hills, with arrows indicating different degrees of steepness. This extract from the map shows the Marlborough Downs, with the fluted arrows indicating a steep hill and the non-fluted indicating hills to be approached with caution.

The danger seems to have been just as likely to be having a car with enough horse power to ascend such hills as to the danger of any physical harm involved. Luckily the car on the cover looks like, according to ‘Cars and how to drive them, Part 1‘ (1903, 384415 d.11), the French model De Dion-Bouton. According to the well-whiskered Mr. Roger H. Fuller, author of the chapter on the De Dion, the car is not only one of the most popular of the ‘modern light car’, with over a 1,000 now in Britain but, with 8 horse power ‘is speedy, its hill-climbing powers are hard to beat, and it is preferred by many who can afford a more costly car’.

In contrast to the Bacon map is the Ordnance Survey equivalent at the same scale (both maps are 2 inches to a mile, 1:126,720). This map offers no extra thrills, the cover is plain with title and diagram showing neighbouring sheets only, nothing to tempt the motorist into thinking this is something aimed at them.  This extract shows the same area, and while there are no indicators of anything dangerous the cartography on show is both more aesthetically pleasing and better laid out than the Bacon version, even if that is ‘Reduced by permission of the New Ordnance Survey’. This is evident in the way that both maps show relief. Both use contours and spot heights but the use of shading on the Ordnance Survey gives an immediate and pleasing sense of terrain.

Due to the expense involved driving was both for the rich and a leisure activity (in 1903 the De Dion cost £325, well over two years wages for a skilled tradesman). At the time of the map a speed limit at 20 m.p.h meant any long journeys would have been more practical by train. These maps show how, for a pootle in the country, it really was an open road, just be careful of those hills.