Category Archives: Cartography

Cartographic detection

Maps recently purchased a large scale manuscript estate map entitled ‘Hen’s Farm in Bordesley in the Paris of Aston in the County of Warwick belonging to Brazen:nose College Oxford, the Free School of Birmingham and Haverford West … Survey’d by [J. Tomlinson, 1761]‘ which is a very nice thing of pen and ink on tracing cloth.

It shows the farm buildings and all the fields associated with it are labelled with areas in acres, roods and perches; individual trees and farm gates are drawn in and the neighbours named.


This was all very well until I came to catalogue it and realised that it only had one unnamed road and no north point making locating it on a modern map pretty much impossible.  Checking our holdings of large scale maps of the area, I still could not place it. I really didn’t want to be beaten at such an early stage so I contacted Brasenose College Archives and Warwickshire County Record Office to enquire if they had any records which would help me place this farm.  Unfortunately, neither of them could help me but Warwickshire suggested I contact Birmingham City Council Archives and Collections.


They, too, did not have any records but helpfully sent me a link to their tithe maps, which have been digitised and crucially, georectified.

For those who are unfamiliar with georectification, it is the process “of taking an image of a map and referencing it to a spatial grid, so that the image of the map can be used as a layer in other maps, or so that the image of the map can in turn be used for associating points of interest with the spatial grid.” This meant they overlaid their maps onto a modern map of Birmingham.

I selected the Bordesley Manor map of 1758 by JohnTomlinson and was immediately struck by the similarity of style to the Hen’s Farm map.

The scale was smaller, the fields weren’t so finely drawn but it was pretty much the same. All I had to do now was find the farm.  After quite a lot of peering through a magnifying glass and an obscure reference in William Hutton’s The history of Birmingham, it was there! I located the farm from the field names, as the buildings are not actually labelled. By removing the tithe map layer, I could see exactly where it was on a modern map. I can report it sat where now is basically the central reservation of the A45 just south of the Tesla Supercharger which doesn’t have quite the same rural idyll feel but useful to know.

(E) C17:59 (44)

Cycling Then and Now

The recent changes to the Highway Code set us thinking about the origin of cycling maps and their development. We have maps going back to 1887 but cycling routes were described purely by text earlier than that with this Walks in Epping Forest. A handbook to the forest paths with cycling and driving routes dating from 1885.

They still hadn’t really got into their stride twenty years later with this account of a route from Witney to Charlbury indicating the amount of puff require by the use of manicules.









Interestingly, early advertisements for cycle hire and repair used the language associated with horses; ”warehoused and cleaned” could easily have been “stabled and groomed”. The maps being sold for cycling just showed main roads – which with the absence of many cars were sufficient.

This is map by Mason & Payne shows routes suitable for cycling in 1888 but today they are mainly major A roads with many being dual carriage ways, not really conducive for a pleasant ride through the country.


Many did not show relief, rather crucial for a cyclist, but this Bacon’s Cycling Map does show generalised relief in the form of hachures but also railway stations to facilitate cycle touring.

Cycling as a hobby has increased especially in recent years but modern maps and apps are very different from those early examples.  Cycle information is generally overlaid on to a topographic background usually in layers showing you what to expect every metre of the way.

The same route is shown thus


Unlike Bacon’s map, it is quiet roads and cycle tracks that are highlighted and sought out to make any expedition safer and more enjoyable. All sorts of analysis and interactive data is also available at the swipe of a finger and there is a sharing element promoting online competition rather than just the satisfaction of making it to the pub at the end first.










What probably hasn’t changed is the search for relief from any cycling-induced injuries or soreness as this early advertisement shows.

Walks in Epping Forest (1885) Johnson g.417

The Roads Round Oxford (1896) Vet. A7 e.505

Bacon’s Cycling Road Map of England and Wales. Sheet 5 (1887) – C17 (73)

Mason and Payne’s Cycling Map of the British Isles … (1888) – C15 (180)

OS route courtesy of Stuart Ackland

Strava route courtesy of Nick Millea

Witney to Banbury courtesy of


Rocks rediscovered

Geological maps are often some of the most colourful and striking in the collection, especially the early ones on which the different rock types are coloured by hand. Luckily the Map Room receives all the geological maps published in the UK on Legal Deposit (as discussed a couple of weeks ago in this post on electronic Legal Deposit).

Research has been structured differently over the years, and at one time a large quantity of nineteenth century scientific mapping was transferred from the central Bodleian Library to the Radcliffe Science Library. Most of these maps have now been reunited with the rest of the map collection in the Bodleian Map Room, and a set of 39 large bound volumes of early geological maps has just been fully catalogued to modern standards. They include horizontal and vertical sections, detailed large scale geological mapping of certain counties, studies of areas of particular geological interest as well as standard series mapping of the British Isles at one inch to a mile. They have considerably enhanced the collection of early geological mapping.

Some of the most striking are detailed geological maps at the large scale of six inches to a mile; these are available for a few counties across England and Scotland. Most of the maps were based on Ordnance Survey mapping, made by military surveyors as early as the 1850s; the geological survey might be 20 or more years later.The early sheets were coloured by hand, often in astonishingly bright colours. This map of the area around Eastgate in County Durham was geologically surveyed in 1876-1877, published 1880. It’s at a scale of six inches to a mile. Paler blues represent sandstone and shale and the darker blue limestone, with basalt standing out in a vivid red; coal seams are picked out in gold. The maps were published by the Ordnance Survey.

The names of the geological surveyors for each sheet are generally recorded; this particular sheet was “geologically surveyed in 1876-77 by D. Burns, W. Gunn and C.T. Clough … under the superintendence of H.H. Howell.” The same names often come up repeatedly on many sheets. Fortunately, researching them is easy on the Pioneers of the British Geological Survey pages provided by the BGS Earthwise site. This has biographical information for dozens of early surveyors, sometimes including education, publications and even photographs of them in action.

The underlying geology of an area obviously has a profound effect on its landscape. This detailed geological map of Edinburgh from 1864 shows how the area around the castle, which is on a conspicuous hill above the city, is on basalt; the observatory is on another hill (mainly of felstone, now usually known as felsite, another igneous rock) to the east, while most of the surrounding area, coloured in grey, is sandstone.

These nineteenth century maps continued to be reproduced and updated well into the twentieth century, although the colour has long been printed rather than done by hand. This extract is from a one inch map of the area around Wigtown, first geologically surveyed in 1877 although this map was published in 1925.  The Map Room already held a considerable collection of these maps which has been augmented by the addition of the early volumes of geological maps. Modern geological maps continue to be published by the British Geological Survey at the slightly larger scale of 1:50,000.

Geological Survey of Great Britain : Durham. Southampton: Ordnance Map Office, 1880. C15 a.11/15. 

Geological Survey of Scotland : Edinburghshire. Southampton: Ordnance Map Office, 1864. C15 a.11/15.

Wigtown – Geological Survey of Scotland. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1925. C18 (33), sheet 4.

Going South

The early 20th century was the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration with the competition between a handful of men really pushing the boundaries of discovery and survey. Ernest Shackleton was at the forefront of this but it wasn’t until after the Nimrod Expedition which he led from 1907 to 1909 that he was able to write about it.

The Expedition, named after the aging ship, Nimrod, was short on funds, lacking experience and preparations were rushed.  Finally the difficulties were overcome and team were underway southwards. The main target was to be the first men to the South Pole. Once the team arrived in Antarctica there were a range of geographical and scientific objectives to be undertaken but there would be long periods of inactivity due to the season and weather. However, Shackleton had put some thought to what the team could do in the long dark winter months.  He took along a printing press with which all the members of the Expedition wrote a book, Aurora Australis.


The challenges of writing, illustration, printing and binding this work in the frigid temperatures cannot be overstated and became the first book published in Antarctica. Published at ‘The Sign of the Penguin’ (Cape Royds) the extreme cold meant the printing ink became thick and difficult to work.  It can be imagined that to include maps in this work would just be too difficult. However, about one hundred of these volumes were produced and bound by another expedition member, Bernard Day, using recycled horse harnesses and Venesta boards from the packing cases.

Each copy retains stenciling indicating the provisions packed in that case which gives each copy a name.  The lettering on the Bodleian’s copy is “Kidneys”.

An Australian member of Nimrod Expedition, Douglas Mawson, created the maps of the expedition from surveys he and other members undertook. A geologist at the University of Adelaide by profession, he was ideally placed to do this work.

The maps show the Expedition’s Winter Quarters at McMurdo Sound, Cape Royds, and their routes on land and ice.  The style of the maps is attractively spare but almost illustrative. Printed in colour, the depiction of relief is mainly pictorially stippled with the names of the features are a mixture between prosaic (Brown Island, Snow Valley) and commemorational such as Mount Evans, Mount Doorly, both named by Captain Scott during the earlier Discovery Expedition after colleagues. Also notice the Royal Society Range – it’s always good to keep your sponsors onside. The routes show the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the second highest volcano in Antarctica, and the route southwards. It is poignant that the route stops not at the South Pole but at the map edge, dated “16.1.09 Lat. 72° 25’ Long. 155° 16’.”. However, this was the furthest south anyone had reached at that time.


The maps were drawn once the party returned to England and were issued in The heart of the Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton which was published in 1909 as a weighty two volume work.

The heart of the Antarctic  2036 d.17,18

Aurora Australis Broxb. 51.14

Treasure Unearthed!

Shelf checking a printed book collection I came upon an uncatalogued atlas which looked very interesting.  Although it had engraved and letterpress title pages for Visscher’s Atlas Minor it was, in fact an atlas factice of mainly seventeenth century maps from atlases of various publishers. It is contained in the Bodleian’s collection of books belonging to John Locke (1632-1704), philosopher and influential Enlightenment figure.

Locke was awarded his master’s degree from Christ Church, Oxford in 1658 and developed into polymath and in 1668 was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society but his interests also covered amongst others medicine, political theory and religious tolerance and influenced by Bacon, Descartes and Hobbes.  Throughout his life he wrote and disseminated his ideas on this range of subjects so it is no surprise that he would have amassed a collection of maps.


After his death in 1704, his library was left to his cousin Peter King, later Lord King when in 1947 the Bodleian bought some of the books and manuscripts. The remainder were found at Ben Damph Forest, the seat of the Earl of Lovelace (as Lord King later became) and were later bought by Paul Mellon who then presented this collection to the Bodleian in 1978.


The volume itself contains 48 maps, charts and plans produced and published by the leading cartographers contemporary with Locke, so along with Visscher, Frederik de Wit, Carel Allard and Peter Schenk also featured.  Additionally included is an ephemerides by Jean Baptiste Coignard which would have sat well with the maps. Map number 15 A New Chart of the Sea Coasts Between England and Ireland by Richard Mount is uncommon and unusually oriented with west at the top.

The binding is the original vellum with blind stamped border and corner pieces; and large ornament with evidence of ties. There is a spine title in manuscript (Locke?) Visscher Atlas. There is a circular red morocco bookplate with a gilt image of stook of corn and lettering “Oak Spring, Paul Mellon” indicating its later provenance.










Atlas factice of mainly Dutch 17th century maps  Locke 22.1

Overlooking a city

It’s not uncommon to see a map that makes you go “Wow!” at first sight. Generally the early printed and manuscript maps in the collection are most likely to inspire this response, but this recently acquired map of Buenos Aires, printed in 1950, had much the same effect when I first saw it.

More of a birds-eye view than a map, it almost gives the feeling of flying over the city. The layout of Buenos Aires in a regular grid pattern enhances the sense of perspective. Many features are shown pictorially including major buildings, parks, monuments and boats in the port in the foreground. The sea is coloured a beautiful dark blue. Overall the colour scheme is simple, the map being printed in black plus 5 colours. All along the bottom of the map is a view of the city.

It’s the work of Viktor Cymbal (surname sometimes rendered Tsymbal), a Ukrainian artist and designer who lived in Buenos Aires for much of his life from his late twenties, although he spent his final years in New York. More information can be found about him here.

The style is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Macdonald Gill, another artist whose work (like that of Cymbal) included both maps and illustrations for advertisements. In particular the simple colour scheme, pictorial elements, and the lettering style and yellow scroll devices as labels are interesting to compare. Gill featured in an earlier blog post focusing on a map made in 1941, just nine years before this one.

The map was made at a time when Argentina was flourishing under popular president Juan Domingo Péron and his even more popular wife Eva. The railway station at bottom right bears the president’s name.

El corazon de Buenos Aires/ Viktor Cymbal. Buenos Aires : Editores Peacock y Calegari, 950.  H3:35 Buenos Aires (19).

Unsung heroes

Engravers can be the unsung heroes or heroines of the map world. Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper – or later on, steel – as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.

While cataloguing a large collection of nineteenth century French sea charts I have encountered some exceptional engravers. One we know only by his surname: Chassant, working in Paris from the late 1830s into the 1860s, was arguably wasted on sea charts. His dramatic portrayal of land relief using hachuring is very striking, as can be seen from this chart showing the old port of  Marseille and the rugged hills to the south in 1845.

When cataloguing these maps we always want to give the engravers their due, but identifying exactly who was responsible for a particular map can be challenging. The case of the Halls was discussed in a recent post – there were possibly quite a few women involved in early engraving. Mme Fontaine, a Paris based engraver of the 1860s and ’70s, is credited on her work simply as “Fontaine”, with no first name or title; research has revealed only that she was a female engraver who specialised in portraying large areas of water.

Around the same time, an engraver called C.E. Collin was also working on charts for the French Dépôt-général de la marine. Engraving was sometimes a family business, and this can make it harder to work out who engraved a particular map. This C.E. Collin appears to have been the youngest of three engravers called Charles Etienne Collin who produced charts for the Dépôt (as well as some other works) between 1789 and the 1870s.  The oldest one usually signed himself “E. Collin”, although he is also also believed to have had the given name Charles. In 1821, a two sheet chart appeared, of which one sheet was described as being “gravé par E. Collin” and the other “par E. Collin père”.  There is some overlap of the map area on the 2 sheets and differences in style suggest that they were made by different engravers. It was unusual for the older E. Collin to call himself “E. Collin père”, so perhaps this was an early collaboration with his son.  In 1829 the younger E. Collin took a different approach, engraving a chart and signing it “gravé par C.E. Collin fils.” Was this yet another young engraving Collin, or was he inconsistent in the use of his initials?  E. Collin père is generally supposed to be be Charles Etienne Collin; perhaps he disliked or rarely used his first name, and his son followed suit?

The second Collin continued to engrave charts into the 1830s. From the late 1840s a third C.E. Collin appears, and he was active into the 1870s. He was probably a grandson or nephew of the first Collin, but it is difficult to be sure exactly where one person’s work stops and the next one begins. Or why they couldn’t come up with a wider range of given names. The third Collin was an exceptionally fine engraver and his charts are really beautiful; one is represented above. In particular, some of his sea charts show a remarkable degree of detail for the land; in the chart above, the patchwork of fields, and even the approximate layout of small villages can be seen. In both these cases, the land information shown would be of use to sailors, helping them to spot landmarks from out at sea. It is also a valuable record of a rural stretch of coast over 150 years ago, since transformed by the growth of the city of Montpellier.

 Plan du port de Marseille et de ses environs. Paris: Dépôt-général de la marine, 1845.

Carte des côtes méridionales de France: Partie comprise entre Cette et Marseille. Paris: Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine, 1867. B1 a.61/14



Where are all the women? The case of the Halls

The professions associated with map making have historically been male dominated. In addition, women who were involved are not always recorded. The case of Sidney and Selina Hall, map engravers of London, is an instructive one.

Sidney Hall was born around 1788 and is recorded working as a map engraver from as early as 1809, based in Piccadilly and later in Bloomsbury. He was prolific and highly regarded and produced hundreds of finely engraved maps. He was probably the first map engraver to work on steel rather than copper plates; steel plates were harder to work, but enabled very fine engraving and were more durable.

In 1821 he married Selina Price of Radnorshire; there is uncertainty about the date of her birth but she appears to have been a few years his senior. We might have heard no more of Selina, were it not for the fact that Sidney Hall sadly died only 10 years later, at the age of 42. And yet his engraved maps continued to appear. New works engraved by Sidney Hall were published for decades after his death. Selina Hall, who conveniently shared a first initial with her husband, simply continued to engrave maps and signed them “S. Hall” (this as well as the date can be used to distinguish them from her husband’s work, since he usually signed “Sid.y Hall”), thus continuing to benefit from an established name.

Norfolk, from A new British atlas, 1836. C15 d.39

The first map shown here is from A new British atlas, first published in 1831 by Chapman and Hall. These were available bound in an atlas and as separately published items. The maps early on the alphabetical sequence are signed by Sidney Hall, and the later ones simply by S.Hall, suggesting that Sidney may have died in the middle of the project and his wife continued the work.

Engraving is a highly skilled job, and Selina Hall cannot have learnt it all at once on her husband’s death. It is far more likely that she was an active participant in the business throughout their marriage, but that her contribution was not ackowledged. She was certainly known to her husband’s former business partner, Michael Thomson, who died in 1816, since she is mentioned in his will, so she may have been involved in the map production process for even longer. Selina lived for over 20 years after her husband’s death, continuing to engrave maps, and when she died the business passed to her nephew Edward Weller; she may have been involved in his training.

Switzerland. From Black’s general atlas, 1846. Allen LRO 80

Even works produced long after Sidney’s death continued to be attributed to him by researchers until recently, partly because his name was used to promote them at the time. The second map here is from Black’s general atlas of 1846 (first edition 1840); the title page boasts that the maps are “engraved on steel, in the first style of the art, by Sidney Hall, Hughes &c.” The signature S. Hall appears on this one.

Although Selina was an active and talented engraver, were it not for her husband’s untimely death we would have no evidence of her involvement at all. Which immediately raises the question: how many other female map makers, working in similar circumstances, are missing from the record?



Further info:

Worms, L., & Baynton-Williams, A.. British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850. London: Rare Book Society, 2011.

Worms, L., ‘Hall, Sidney (1788/9?–1831)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008. (accessed 4 March 2020)

Found in a box


Looking through a box of uncatalogued maps, plots and diagrams I came across several manuscript architectural plans of the Midland Grand Hotel, London. Now named the St Pancras Hotel it is an iconic landmark on the Euston Road next to that other celebrated edifice of red brick, the British Library. The plans, drawn to show the girders, were by engineer Richard Moreland of Old Street in 1867 at a scale of 10 feet to 1 inch (1:120). You can see all of the modern internal features with the Grand Staircase and the popular Ladies Coffee Room. There are even manuscript pencil marks denoting dimensions which indicate these were some sort of working drawings.

The hotel is a masterpiece of high Gothic designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who beat ten other architects for the commission, even though his design was far bigger and far more expensive that Midland Railway Company specified. The competition was launched in 1865 for a 150 bed hotel but it was finally completed in 1876 with 300 rooms. With its very high standard of fixtures and fittings the Midland Grand soon acquired a reputation as a luxurious upmarket hotel – even better than the celebrated Langham in Portland Place. This luxury didn’t come cheap costing nearly £500,000 to construct it charged the sum of 14 shilling a night – an average week’s wages for an agricultural labourer.

MS. Maps England a. 3

Land ahoy!

 Although this is the time of year when the
lights are lengthening and electronic location devices are almost mandatory, shipping still benefits from the presence of lighthouses warning of hazards. The Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen was created by A. G. Findlay in 1863 and shows the location, extent of the beam of each lighthouse, and gives information about the type of beam and frequency of light pulses. This wealth of information is exquisitely engraved and coloured but as a specialist map it would not have had a large print run. However it is a handsome thing mounted on linen and folded into covers with brass decorative gothic clasps. The boards of the covers are covered in cloth with a blind stamped decoration and the title, motto and coat of arms of Trinity House in gilt.

The map was published ‘By order of the hon[oura]ble. the Corporation of Trinity House.’ which is the authority controlling lighthouses, lightvessels and buoys in England and Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar (Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland). The board was established by a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514. Prior to this there were privately run beacons or towers so it wasn’t until 1609 Trinity House established its first, Lowestoft Lighthouse, as a pair of wooden towers with candle illuminants. The risk of fire must have been very great but it wasn’t until 1777 the first mirrored reflectors were used.

The cartographer of this map, Alexander George Findlay was a leading compiler and publisher of geographical and hydrographical works and after the death of Richard Holland Laurie, took over the well-known and long established printing house of Laurie & Whittle. He researched meteorology, published nautical directories the whole world and received a Society of Arts medal for his dissertation The English Lighthouse. He also served the British Association for the Advancement of Science so he was uniquely qualified to produce this map.

Today lighthouses are still relevant but function more as a back up to electronic equipment. The last manned lighthouse, North Foreland in Kent, was automated in 1998 after the automation process started in in the early 1980s, bringing to an end the work of the lighthouse keepers or “wickies”. This lighthouse had seen the departures of forces defending our islands and the arrival of all manner of vessels – some in joyous homecoming, some limping back after difficult journeys and trade vessels from all over the world. Trinity house currently maintains 65 lighthouses but it has provided temporary lighting. For D-Day it laid 73 lighted buoys and 2 lightvessels to indicate a safe route for landing craft in the poor weather of the English Channel. Redundant lighthouses have been re-purposed as holiday lets or even conversion to domestic properties – albeit ones with fantastic views!

Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen. London, 1863. C15 d.197