Category Archives: Cartography

Pretty in pink

The Ordnance Survey have been producing maps since the early 1800s when the first in a long sequence at 1″ to a mile was produced in preparation for a possible invasion by the French Revolutionary armies. Four sheets were published covering South East England. Over years these maps, through changes in production, design and conversion from imperial to metric have morphed into the 1:50,000 Landranger maps we buy now.

Bottom right sheet of ‘General Survey of England and Wales…’ Ordnance Survey, 1801. Lawn c. 163

Lesser known than the maps we buy in shops are the detailed large scale mapping that have been produced since the middle of the Nineteenth Century and are now available digitally within the library (contact for more information). Maps at 1:2,500 scale (25″ to a  mile) cover almost all the country (moorland with no habitation wasn’t covered) at such detail that individual buildings and many trees can be shown and the amount of social as well as topographic information is comprehensive. Thousands of sheets were published, and there were in most cases at least 3 editions leading up to the end of the Second World War. This series of mapping included Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as England. The first edition was available both coloured and un-coloured. As well as a marvellous resource for study the coloured sheets are also beautiful, as this extract of Winchester cathedral shows.

At the same time that the 1:2,500 series was surveyed and produced major urban towns and cities with a population above 4,000 were published at an even greater scale, 1:500. At 126″ to a mile extra space allows for not only much more detail but also the insides of the most important buildings to be shown, so Winchester Cathedral, shown above at a lesser scale within the precinct and the surrounding buildings suddenly opens up like this

Most of the town plans in the Bodleian, including Oxford, are in black and white. A few, such as Winchester here, were hand coloured. There are 27 sheets covering Winchester at this scale, and the amount of infrastructure, and hence the amount of hand-colouring on each, determines the cost. The cheapest were sold for 2 shillings a sheet while the most expensive went for 8 shillings. The Cathedral sheet sold for 7 shillings.

This image of Winchester Cathedral comes from the unusually titled ‘Map of the County of Southampton from and actual survey made in the years 1825 & 1826 by C & I. Greenwood’.

(E) C17:32 (78)


The National Encyclopædia Atlas

The National Encyclopædia Atlas is a beautiful example of a mid-Victorian atlas. Published in 1868 and intended for both home and school the book features maps of the major countries of the World as well as a short introduction with a number of World maps. Using the double hemisphere method the atlas has two different World views, both thematic. The first has a physical map showing mountain chains, river systems, trade winds and ocean basins, with views of the  Northern and Southern Hemispheres and Land and Water Hemispheres. Double Hemisphere representation is a long-established way of portraying World maps, though the changing of the positioning of the poles to highlight a side of the Earth more land or water based is an unusual feature.

Physical Map of the World, from The National Encyclopædia Atlas 

Directly underneath the two hemispheres is a strip showing mountain profiles, describing itself as a ‘Imaginary section showing comparatively the greatest elevations of the land & the greatest ascertained depression of the sea’. Mountains feature on the next page, with the highest in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres at left and right and river systems going from top to bottom.

The highest mountain in the Eastern Hemisphere, on the right, is of course Mount Everest, which at the time of the atlas was measured at 29,002 feet (it is now measured at 29,029). Just above is a balloon labelled Green. Charles Green was a celebrated balloonist who in 1838 rose to 27,146 feet in an ascent which saw temperatures drop to as low as -27°.

The second World Hemisphere map in the atlas shows ocean currents and isothermal lines (now called isotherms), as well as a small inset showing the comparative distribution of rain. Isothermals are lines showing areas where the temperature of air or sea are the same and is a term first used by the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt during his study of plant distribution throughout the World. Ocean currents are beautifully depicted in graceful pink curves and the map graphically shows the Gulf Stream and the Arctic Currents which have such an effect on the weather patterns and temperatures of Great Britain and the East Coast of the United States.

The National Encylopædia Atlas, 1868, published by William Mackenzie. 3.Δ 1326

A plan of Haslemere, 1735

This beautiful map, ‘A plan of the situation of the ancient borough of Haslemere in the county of Surrey…’ is a colourful and detailed example of a cadastral plan, a map designed to show individual buildings and ownership.

The map shows what is now the High Street in the town. Listed either side of the plan are the lease and free holds with the houses numbered and occupants listed. The biggest house, nu 2, belonged to John Tanner, Gentleman.

John Tanner’s house, number 2. Staining and black dots evident in this close-up.

Drawn onto vellum in 1735 the map is showing signs of damage. The map has holes in the corners, suggesting that at some point it was pinned to a wall, and there is a strip of paper on the reverse running along the middle, an indication that it has also been stuck into a book. This doesn’t detract from the attractiveness of the map though. Similar in design and purpose to Estate maps the cartographer William Morley has richly decorated both the houses and the borders with the compass rose and flowers, as well as the columns and edge decorations.

The map comes from the Gough collection, one of the most important of all the donated collections to the Bodleian. Richard Gough was a noted antiquarian who collected topographical prints, drawings and related items. Included in his collection, which came to the Bodleian after his death in 1809 are the Gough Map ( and the Sheldon Tapestries. Almost all the maps from the Gough collection are black and white, making this beautiful plan of Haslemere stand out.

A plan of the situation of the ancient borough of Haslemere in the county of Surrey, 1735.           Gough Maps Surrey 7


TOSCA @ 25

In twenty-five years of lectures and field trips The Oxford Seminars in CArtography (or TOSCA to its friends) has called attention to the enlightening power of maps. The series has shown how maps were co-opted into Enlightenment projects as tools for rational enquiry and the implementation of ‘improvements’. We have seen maps as part of Enlightenment science – used by individuals, institutions, and governments to understand, demarcate, control, codify information about, and change the lands under their jurisdiction. The power of maps to open up lands, seas, peoples, and the rest of the natural world to the questing gaze of the outsider has been a constant TOSCA theme. TOSCA seminars have also interrogated maps dating from before and after the Enlightenment but which shed light on phenomena and connections between them. TOSCA audiences have seen how – on the wall of the schoolroom, in the wartime operations room, in the hands of the traveller, in the mark-up room of the newspaper editor, in the cabinet of the scholar, or on the laptop of the engineer – maps shape our understanding of the world, ourselves, and our place in the world. Though TOSCA seminars have amply demonstrated that maps can be tools of the elite and powerful, they have also uncovered mapping undertaken by the ostensibly powerless, as revealing exercise in citizen science, and as a means for those with radical, subversive, or countercultural agendas to enlighten audiences about the nature of elites.

To celebrate 25 years of TOSCA’s cartographic explorations an all-day symposium and map display was held in TOSCA’s home, the Bodleian Library, for which papers were invited on the theme of Enlightening Maps. Topics were to reflect but were not be limited to the themes outlined above, that is, maps of the period known as the Enlightenment but also maps used to shed perhaps unwelcome light on contentious questions of every sort and from every period.

Friday 22 September saw the staging of “Enlightening maps: celebrating 25 years of The Oxford Seminars in Cartography” at the Weston Library. TOSCA has now been running since 1993, showcasing maps and mapmaking with one seminar per term, plus an annual field trip. The events are open to all.

We wanted the day to showcase a number of issues and formats. Whilst the over-arching title of “Enlightening maps” came quickly, we needed to populate the day with a programme that would entice people to help us celebrate the occasion.

Two keynote speakers were deemed to be essential, and we invited Danny Dorling, Oxford’s Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, and Mary Pedley, University of Michigan to top and tail the day. Space was made available for four 20-minute papers, as well as a slot for “Cartographic conversations” which was designed to allow presenters to discuss their research in front of items from the Bodleian’s map collection. Two of our four “20-minuters” took up this opportunity, along with four further presenters. Thus the day was set. We also booked the Divinity School for a drinks reception, as well as a room above the St Aldates Tavern for an evening meal. We even persuaded author and broadcaster Mike Parker of ‘Map addict’ and ‘Mapping the roads’ fame to deliver a toast in the Divinity School.

In total 58 people registered for the day (including eleven speakers and five Map Room team members on hand to help with registration and general logistics). Our visitors were both local, 33 coming from Oxfordshire; and international, with one from Germany and three from the United States.

Registration and coffee seamlessly merged into a general welcome, and then Danny Dorling’s opening presentation entitled ‘New ways of seeing the World: a social geographer’s perspective’, awash with cartograms and challenges to map social data on a global level set the day’s mapping activity into motion.

We then hit upon our first pair of talks under the banner of Enlightening maps: modernity and postmodernity, which featured Megan Barford (Royal Museums Greenwich) on ‘Cartography and forced migration: a contemporary collecting project at Royal Museums Greenwich’ which looked at current manuscript maps created for migration routes for Syrian refugees attempting to reach Britain. Then came Kenneth Field (Esri Inc. / International Cartographic Association) on a very topical ‘Fake maps: the new age of cartographic enlightenment’, which included Ken’s take on Fred Rose’s serio-comic maps of the late nineteenth century, as he showcased his own “serio-comic” Trump’s ties World map.

After lunch we were back with a double-header on The European Enlightenment and its maps, Katherine Parker (University of Pittsburgh) opening with ‘Charting chimeras: the creation and rejection of Pacific geographic knowledge in the eighteenth century’ which included the story of Pepys Island off the Argentine coast – frequently mapped, yet never ever in existence. She was followed by broadcaster Vanessa Collingridge, who spoke on ‘Mapping myths: the fantastic geography of the Great Southern Continent, 1760–1777’.

Pepys island, from The world, : including the late discoveries by Capt. Cook and other circumnavigators, c1790. (E) B1 (1555)

Our next plan was to try to replicate the atmosphere of our field trips, and so the delegates were transported upstairs where they could move freely between the Bahari Room and the Centre for Digital Scholarship for a series of Cartographic conversations. The Bahari hosted Katherine Parker showcasing material to support her paper, alongside independent scholar Paul Hughes, who was demonstrating ‘The evolution of the Prime Meridian: the cartographic evidence’, and another independent scholar, Jane Reeve, with ‘War and paradise: the maps of James Bruce, the ‘Abyssinian traveller’’. The CDS hosted Ken Field who added the likes of the Ghanaian “elephant map” where an elephant-shaped contour lines can be spotted, as well as a current Ordnance Survey Landranger map with “BILL” drawn into some sea cliffs.

The Solent and Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth, sheet 196 OS landranger. 2016 C16 (21a)

We also had freelance cartographer Giles Darkes on ‘Historic Towns Trust maps’, and Oxford independent scholar Mark Davies looking at ‘Unlocking the secrets of Benjamin Cole’s maps of Port Meadow, Oxford c.1695 and c.1721’.

A map of Port Meadow…by Benjamin Cole, c1710. (E) C17:70 Oxford (40)

Following a tea break, we returned to the lecture theatre for the second keynote – Mary Pedley on ‘Mapping in the European Enlightenment’, a wonderful tour de force to end the day’s formal proceedings.

The day’s highlight had to be the Weston Library itself. The event was a perfect fit, using the lecture theatre, and also the Bahari Room and the Centre for Digital Scholarship. Such an event could not have happened without the Weston Library, and the response from visitors was unanimously positive.

So what happens next? The 2017/18 TOSCA programme has been announced with seminars on the Selden Map, nineteenth-century British cartography, and the future remit of Ordnance Survey; we also have a field trip based on GIS and the First World War. Additionally, we feel that a day such as this warrants repetition, and so we have booked the same combination of rooms for Friday 25 September 2020, and a 28th anniversary celebration. 

How to draw a map, Austro-Hungarian style

The things you find behind the most unimpressive of covers.

The Schlüssel und vorlageblatter für den situations zeichnungs unterricht (which translates roughly as ‘Key and template for drawing lessons’) is a teaching aid created by the Institute of Military Geography in the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of War in 1882 for the drawing of maps. Inside there are a number of different terrain examples and sheets showing scales, text, topographical features and legends.

The book also has technical aids for depicting hachures, and has a number of pages dedicated to the problem of representing height on a flat sheet. The idea is that military cartographers working for the Institute would use these maps and legends as a template to create maps without variation in design, creating uniform mapping easily understood by troops in the field.

The range of terrain available, from high mountain to river flood-plain, is an indication of the size and breadth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1882. This map, from an atlas published in 1909, shows the Empire just before the outbreak of the First World War

Schlüssel und vorlageblatter für den situations zeichnungs unterricht, 1882. K.K Militar-Geografischen Institute. C1:5 b.3





From the Thames to the Indian Ocean

Undo the string. Open the flaps.





Open the wooden boards…


…to reveal one of the most beautifully decorated maps in the Bodleian.

Made in 1682 by John Thornton this is a late example of a Portolan Chart, a navigational map hand-drawn on vellum. By the mid-1600s printed charts were beginning to replace manuscripts such as this, in fact Thornton, in his role as Hydrographer to both the East India Company and Hudson Bay Company, regularly prepared charts for printing at the same time as creating individual works. Thornton was a member of the Thames School of cartographers, based near the London docks. The mounting of the chart on wooden boards folded concertina style is typical of the Thames School.

While many names on this chart are unfamiliar to us now the accuracy of depiction makes the area covered immediately apparent. From the east coast of Africa to the Islands of Indonesia the chart takes in the whole of the Indian Ocean, including many of the islands crucial for the navigation and re-supply across the wide ocean. The newly discovered west coast of an as yet un-named Australia appears, labelled ‘Dutch Discovery’.

There are many wonderful things to discover on the map. Names of ports and cities are written, where possible, inland to keep the sea areas of the map as clear as possible for navigation and

to keep the chart as tidy as possible all names start from the coast. This explains why some of the names are vertical or even upside-down, a practice that dates back to the as the 1400s, the cartographer would have started from the north-western corner of the chart naming as he went along and turning the chart as he ventured around the coastline. Important cities and ports are in red. Beautiful compass roses are shown for decoration and navigation with rhumb lines radiating out across the chart, used to work out a ships course and gold-leaf is used in a number of locations.

The chart dates from a time of Dutch influence on the seas. The Dutch East India Company had control of the Spice Islands, bringing in a revenue that not only transformed the Dutch ports such as Amsterdam into rich and well-ordered cities but helped create, and then made the best use of, some of the finest maps and mapmakers of the time.

It’s not the first time that portolans and navigational charts have featured on the map blog, mainly because you rarely see one which isn’t attractive in some way. From the richly decorated  but over-crowded Douce ( to the beautiful early Venetian charts ( to an early printed example dedicated to Samuel Pepys ( it is immediately  apparent how different each one is to the other.

This is one of the maps featured in Treasures from the Map Room: a journey through the Bodleian collections. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2016. ISBN 978 1 85124 250 4. Available from the Bodleian bookshop.

Untitled Portolan Chart by John Thornton, in 1682. Map Res 117.

Waste not, want not

The Conservation staff were checking the Duke Humfrey shelves for items for repair when they came across an unusual example of printed waste fragments used as pastedowns. This practice, born of economy as no bookbinder would wish to waste a clean sheet of parchment or paper when a surplus or damaged sheet would do, started early in printed book history as there examples of William Caxton’s work used this way but was especially common in the first half of the seventeenth century. What is more unusual is that it is cartographic waste. This example is of a John Speed work usually found in the King James Bible, Map of Canaan which he originally published in 1598. The endpapers are also blackletter printers’ waste. The volume contains two Latin texts: Philosophia theologiæ ancillans; hoc est, pia & sobria explicatio quæstionum philosophicarum in di sputationibus theologicis occurrentium by Robert Baron (1593?-1639) published in St Andrews in 1621 and De legatione evangelica ad Indos capessenda admonitio.  by Justus Heurnius published in Leiden in 1618.  Often interesting printer’s waste is not evident unless a volume is damaged.

The binding is full sprinkled calf with fillets on upper and lower boards with evidence that it once boasted ties.  What makes it recognisable as an Oxford binding is the two way hatching on board edges.  The shelfmark is 8° B 105 Art., written on the foredge, denotes that is comes from one part of the original Bodleian four-part classification which sorted texts by faculty or subject including mathematics, history, philosophy and literature.


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.


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)