Category Archives: History

Descriptive sandbanks


We are used to seeing maps a certain way; the land in detail with physical features described or shown and generally with north at the top.  On my desk today is a map which turns all that on its head. A chart of the North Sea from the Foreland S to North Bergen, and from the Scaw to the Orkneys and Shetland … By James Thompson, 1777

is a detailed sea chart concentrating on the features at sea, with the land barely getting a look in.

Much is made of the many sandbanks which litter this part of the North Sea with interesting reports, one even describing the Little Fishing Bank as ‘like oatmeal’.

Thompson has also includes several land profiles or “remarkable appearances of land” of coastal features and a descriptive panel to aid the seamen in their navigation. The presence of an identifiable building, such as a church or a distinctive geographical feature were as effective as signposts to mariners.

The other unusual thing about this chart is that for no obvious reason it is oriented with west at the top.

Not a lot is known about John Thompson apart from he described himself as ‘Mariner’ and so was most likely the captain of a vessel crossing the North Sea frequently enabling him the survey the area in such a detailed manner, as shown by the sheer number of soundings. This is in the same vein as Captain James Cook who was doing much the same thing in the Pacific at the time.  It appears that this is Captain Thompson’s magnum opus and is found a small collection of seven charts by sea captains-hydrographers all published in the late 18th century, most by Robert Sayer and John Bennett in London.




A chart of the North Sea, from the Foreland S to North Bergen, and from the Scaw to the Orkneys and Shetland. [1777] (Vet.) 20122 a.13 (3)


A funny little map

An unusual little map came to light recently following an enquiry from a reader. William Hole’s map of the archery marks in Finsbury Fields dates from the early seventeenth century and runs from Bunhill in the south to roughly the location of the current Regent’s Canal in the north.  The map names all of the archery targets in this open space which until 1498 was garden and orchard enclosures.   These were removed to turn it into a practice ground for archers, a popular, and legally required pursuit for men.  It is a rare thing, with only a couple of other examples in the Guildhall Library and Bethlem Royal Hospital.  The format of being pasted onto two pieces of oak board which could be folded to makes it both durable and portable, indeed there are the remains of hook and eye clasps which would have locked the boards together. Later in its life, it had a black roan cover and wallet-style case to protect it.

Some of the archery targets are named after physical features, such as Sonday Hill and Stone in ye plaine, or people (Dick Marigold). Notable other places on the map include the well of Dame Agnes Clare “all that well comonly called or knowne by the name of Dame Anne A Cleere invironed aboute with a brickwall, scituate, lying and being on the late King’s waste . . . in a certaine higheway leading from a certaine streete called Old Streete towardes Shoreditch.” which can clearly be seen towards the bottom of the map.  Much further north is a butt named “Ros:brach” which could feasibly mark the Rosemary Branch inn which is the only building known to have existed away from town at this period. Allegedly it was a meeting place for Levellers a few years later, each identifying themselves with bunches of rosemary in their hats.  Now the area is marked by the Rosemary Branch pub and theatre which was rebuilt after a fire in 1783 destroyed the original building.

William Hole was an etcher and engraver who was born near Leeds. Although known for producing maps, he was also a distinguished engraver of portraits and music.  This little map has a more personal, almost playful feel, dedicating it “To his affect: frends M:R: Bake & M:R Sharpe, and all other louers of Archerie frequenting Finsbury-fields” so may not have been produced as a commercial venture.  However, judging by the map symbols for the targets, being denoted by the common graphic of a dot in a circle, it looks like the map was accurately surveyed by a plane table or similar device.  The scale of scores and half scores is unusual too and I can’t find any reference to the length of a score. Also, Hole included the arms of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in top left corner, of which he was a member.  It is also rather difficult to date with any certainty and only that it appeared sometime between 1605 and his death in 1624.

The map was then traced or copied for inclusion in James Peller Malcolm’s Londinium Redivivum, or, an ancient history and modern description of London published in 1807. It is these copies which are more common with examples in libraries all over the world. However, on these tracings and facsimiles the compass points east, south and west are not noted leading to these works having the erroneous title Finsbury Fields North, as on the original the four compass points are clearly shown. In 1856 John Williams wrote a carefully researched article for the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London comparing the names of map’s archery marks with a manuscript list in the Society of Antiquaries.

Fold it up, pop it in your quiver and off you go for an afternoon’s archery in Finsbury Fields.

Finsbury Fields. [London: William Hole, approximately 1620?] Arch. A d.1

Two of (nearly) everywhere

Changes in British social and economic landscape in the years leading up to the publication of this map of Emigration in 1851 were immense. The increase in population which saw an estimated 9.5 million in 1700 grow to over 27 million in 1841, the growth of the railways in the early 1800s and the movement into towns following the Industrial Revolution led to an  over-crowded and polluted existence for many.

Britain had become a colonial power in the World, and                                                                     with it came the opportunity for people to start a new life. On the map each colonial country hints at the rewards offered, be it furs from the as yet unnamed Canada to the gold in Africa and wool in Australia the map promotes the idea of emigration, of moving to the other side of the World to start again. Tables at the bottom of the map list British possessions and give details of climate, size and a description of the land and produce to be found. In the decades either side of the map’s date nearly 4 million people left Britain for a new life overseas.

This is map has a number of interesting features. The centring of the map is unusual, as is the doubling up of most of the landmass. This is done to show routes to and from British ports without having to break routes up at the edge of the map. The Britain on the right covers the routes to America while the Britain on the left has routes to the East and then onto Australia, across the Pacific and then overland across the narrow isthmus in Panama (it was another 65 years before the Panama Canal would open in 1914) and then across the Atlantic to home.  A steamship journey from Southampton round the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney in 1851 would have taken eight weeks by steam, four months by sail, and cost between £15 and £70 (equivalent to £1,460 to £6,800 today)  depending on class – cabin, intermediate or steerage. The map pre-dates a number of countries, or changes in the names of others. Canada wasn’t named as such until 1867, with the name only appearing over a small bit of land near the border with part of the US,  Alaska is still part of Russia (Russian Alaska features in an earlier blog post, and why is the word ‘communists’ written between Texas and the Arkansas River? New Zealand has a North and Middle Island, but no South Island. The information given is also fascinating. According to the map ‘The Anglo Saxon race deteriorate usually in residing between 25 degrees Lat. Nth and Sth of the equator’ and according to the table of countries adult yearly death rates per thousand were 14 in Australia and 28 in Texas, which seems bad until you compare it to the 27 per 1000 of those who stayed in Britain.

Emigration onto colonial lands meant displacement for any native peoples. Lands were advertised as being open and free, full of animals to trap or hunt and with fertile soils ideal for the growing of crops. A large number of maps produced from the mid-1700s onwards included details of opportunities for hunting or land regardless of the peoples already there. This example comes from ‘The United States of North America…’ by W. Faden, 1783 (E) F6 (163) and shows area in what was part of the Louisiana territory but now part of Iowa and settled by Sioux and Padoucas Indians which has ‘extensive meadows full of Buffaloes’.

Books were produced to encourage emigration, with information on conditions, what should be taken, what could be grown and so on. This guide to North America, published in 1850 (400.14 r.47), describes the ideal emigrant. ‘America being a growing country and a land for labour and industry, the poor industrious labouring man, with a wife and two, three, or more sons and daughters fit for labour and of sober habits, would do well to emigrate’.

While the labouring man is roundly cheered and welcomed, the Native American isn’t. ‘Their warlike propensities; their revengeful, brutal and blood-thirsty acts and devices of torture on their captives; and the hardy defiance with which the poor miserable wretches pass through their sufferings till death are altogether astonishing’. A similar publication for those emigrating to Australia (1833, 810.14 r.29) is equally harsh on the native inhabitants, ‘….miserable and incurably degraded natives, fast vanishing from the land, are no longer numerous or bold enough to molest the white inhabitants’.

The costs and travel time involved meant that for many this would be a one-way trip. Best in that case to follow the advice offered at the end of the preface to ‘A practical guide for emigrants to North America’, ‘Whoever may make up his mind to emigrate, should decidedly wean himself from all the ties and endearments of home, or he will become unhappy and discontented under any circumstances, and, like many thousands, sigh to return’.

Emigration map of the World, or Geographical and physical map of the World on Mercator’s Projection shewing the British possessions, with the date of their accession, population &c. all the existing steam navigation, the overland route to India with the proposed extension  to Australia  and the route to Australia via Panama, Published by Letts, Son & Steer, London c1851. B1 (268)


Something we should not forget

Old maps of countries are often the cause of wistful thinking, it’s rare though that a map is produced for that very reason, as is the case with this map of pre-Second World War Eastern Germany.

At the end of the war large numbers of German nationals were stranded in lands which were in the control of the Soviet Union or would become part of an enlarged Poland. They either fled or were expelled from these areas and found their way to West Germany. These 10 million exiles  – Vertriebene or expellees – formed into political groups. They tried to claim compensation for lost property  and kept the hopes of a reunified Germany alive, based on pre-war borders and  including East Prussia. This map, whose title can be translated as ‘Something we should not forget’, was probably produced in support of  these people. It was published in Berlin in 1957.

Few countries have had their borders changed by war as Germany. Originally a group of separate states the country unified after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and then lost territory after the First and Second World Wars. Land lost at the end of the Second World War is the reason for the map of remembrance featured here.

German Empire, Netherlands and Belgium from Bacon’s Popular Atlas of the World, 1909. G1 B1.52

This page from Bacon’s popular atlas shows Germany at its height, between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the start of the First World War.

Prof. W. Liebenow’s Eisenbahn- und Reisekarte vom Deutschen Reiche mit den im friedensvertrag vorgesehenen gebietsveränderungen, c1919 C22 (182)

The map above, published in Berlin with the proposed changes from the Treaty of Versailles, has used an earlier pre-war railway map of Germany to show the changes to German territories from the Treaty of Versailles. Overprinting on existing maps is a common practice, saving on costs and, more importantly considering the dramatic changes taking place, time. The red area to the East would become the Polish corridor giving a previously land-locked country access to the sea.

The Daily Telegraph Map of Germany, c1919. C22 (116)

This map is an English version of the Deutschen Reiche map above. While similar In some aspects one important feature here is highlighting land where different nationals are prominent. Shading shows that the land that would become the Polish Corridor had a majority of Poles.

A Polish proposal for annexation of German Territory, 1944. C1:2 (108)

This map of the possible annexation of East German lands is published by the Office of Strategic Services, the Intelligence Department for the United States towards the end of the Second World War. The agency would evolve into the C.I.A.

The first map shown here is also an interesting example of a pictorial map. Pictorial maps ignore all but the most basic topographic detail but are richly decorated with pictures relating to the area shown.  As there would be little need to produce a practical map of an area which was off-limits this portrayal of land, industry and attractions  further emphasises the purpose of the map.


Maps for the 3rd of November

Maps for events taking place of the 3rd of November, with forty-one years separating the two.

The first is a simple plan of a dramatic day’s action, ‘Bombardment & capture of Acre, November the 3rd 1840′.  The map shows both the layout of the citadel of Acre, now a coastal town on the Mediterranean in Israel but at the time part of the Ottoman Empire, and the ships of the British, Turkish and Austrian navies who bombarded the Egyptian forces that had taken control of the Citadel as part of a campaign to gain control of Ottoman territory.

Despite its small size the map is full of detail, giving not just a list of ships with captains and guns but precise timings for the start and end of bombardment and the amount of casualties both sides suffered, the British and Allies with 18 killed and 42 wounded while the Egyptians lost a staggering 2300 killed and 3000 captured.

The large number of casualties resulted from a direct hit to the Citadel magazine, dramatically depicted on the map, which tells us that the explosion killed not only ‘1700 men but also 5 donkeys, 3 camels, 12 cows and some horses’.

Extract from Acre plan showing magazine exploding. Note different amount of unfortunate donkeys.

In contrast to brutalities of war this second map is from a sales catalogue for the auction of farm land near Cropredy in north Oxfordshire, on the 3rd of November 1881.

Like the Acre map it focuses on a small area to the exclusion of any surrounding countryside, but while the Acre map is one of death and destruction the listing of plots and fields, along with  decorative corners is a picturesque representation of the English countryside in map form. A large number of auction catalogues for land feature maps such as this example.

This extract is from the first edition of the Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 map of the area. Plots 139, 140 and 141 correspond to lots 1, 2 and 3 on the auction map. The map dates from 1882.

Bombardment & capture of Acre, November 3rd 1840, from a rough sketch taken on the spot by Joseph C Brettell, mining Engineer’. 1840 (E )D26:20 Acre (1)

Plan of an estate at Cropredy, Oxfordshire, for sale by auction by Messrs. Simmons & Sons, atnthe White Horse Hotel, Banbury, on Thursday, 3rd November, 1881. 1881. C17:49 (53)


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


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

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


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

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

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


Gunpowder, treason and…maps


While searching through a book of documents about the Oxfordshire village of Ewelme for a map enquiry staff came across this intriguing document. A fourteenth century recipe for, amongst other things, making gunpowder.

ewelme 2IMG_0209








Which at this time of year brings to mind the Gunpowder Plot

Remember, remember the fifth of November,Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
ewelme 3Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!


These extracts of maps of Westminster show the layout of the Palace area at the time of the plot. The conspirators had purchased the lease on a building near the House of Lords and began tunnelling to underneath the House. By November the 4th a stockpile of gunpowder was discovered in rooms underneath the House and the plot was foiled. The first map, by Ralph Agas shows a mix of birds-eye view and street lay-out of the area


Plan of London (circa 1560-1570) by Ralph Agas. Facsimile published in 1905. (E) C17:70 London (433)

while the second, confusingly drawn so that south is at the top,  shows the House of Lords and the layout of buildings around both Houses of Parliament. The Old Palace Yard is also shown, scene of the execution of a number of the conspirators the following year.


Undated map of Westminster from Gough Maps 23

The image at the start of the blog comes from a pamphlet published in 1679 (and then reprinted in 1819), and shows Guy Fawkes with a lantern which was for a long time at the Bodleian, but is now in the Ashmolean Museum

Lawn A e.73

London and the blitz

This new addition to the collection is a large-scale general tourist map of central London. Almost as an aside the map shades the areas in the city damaged or destroyed by the blitz.


Bacon’s large scale plan of the City of London, 1947. C17:70 London e.217

This close-up of the area of the City shows how much damage was caused by raids between 1939 and 1945 which hadn’t been re-built by the time of the publication of the map in 1947. The damaged areas are shaded light green.


By the end of the war nearly 3000 buildings in the City had been destroyed, with 340 killed. In the London region the amount killed was close to 30,000. There is an informative book on the open shelves in the reading room, Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945, by Laurence Ward and published by Thames & Hudson, which reproduces the maps created by the London City Council to show the areas of damage. Using County Series Ordnance Survey maps from 1916 the maps have been shaded in showing the levels of damage caused.


Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945. Ward, L. Thames & Hudson. G24 C17.85

A map’s journey

Maps tell a story. They may just show the simple topographic layout of the area portrayed (as is the case with most maps produced) or they may have a specific purpose; geology, population, historical studies for example. It is rare that the map itself is the story, as is the case with the map shown here


Strassenkarte 1:300,000, Blatt Belgrad (Beograd). Originally published by Freytag & Berndt.. 1941, C1 (20)

First produced by the Austrian map publisher Freytag & Berndt as one sheet in a road map series of Europe in the 1920’s the map has then been overprinted by the Military Command of the German Army occupying Serbia in August of 1941. This is a rare example of a map produced by the German Army during World War II where they have overprinted an existing commercial map, as opposed to printing their own work.


‘Corrections of this map with thanks accepted’, a message also in French and German above the overprint by the German military indicates that the map was originally published for an international market.

This in itself would make the map interesting. But after the defeat of Germany and the end of the war Allied forces took a large amount of resources from the defeated army, including maps. The Bodleian holds in it’s map collection a large amount of German mapping which has come to us from the Ministry of Defence. This map has had a different route to the library though. Stamps on the opposite side of the map to the corner shown above show that American State and Intelligence branches took the map and others like it. As there was a continuing American


presence in Europe after the war to help in the re-building and security it is impossible to say if the map stayed in Europe or travelled back across the Atlantic. Either way, the stamps make clear that by 1948 the map had been through four important and different hands. How it then made its way into the collection of a London academic institute, who then donated it and many other maps to the Bodleian in 2015, is unknown, just one more twist in the tale of a simple road map with a fascinating history.

Strassenkarte 1:300,000, Blatt Belgrad (Beograd). 1941, C1 (20)


Battle of the Somme

July the 1st marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and with it the anniversary of the day of the greatest loss of life in British military history.

Trench maps made in preparation for the battle are shown here, as well as editions of sheets made during the battle itself, which lasted from July to mid-November. A trench map, especially one covering an area of heavy and prolonged fighting, gives a false impression of the land it portrays. Farms and woods shown on the maps would have been the ghosts of buildings and trees long since destroyed by bombardment, and only the heaviest of craters left after detonated mines would be shown, not the shell holes of no mans land.


Apart from a few ‘secret’ maps which included both English and German trenches the majority of maps show only the German trench systems in detail. These maps show the incredible lengths that armies went to the defend ground and supply those in the front-line. German trenches have numerous support and communication trenches, fall-back positions and artillery areas and were of a higher standard than their English equivalent, many of which were but a short distance away.


Beaumont, 57D S.E. 1 & 2 (parts of). War Office, 1916. These two trench maps are of the Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval areas, both scenes of intense fighting on and after the 1st of July. Comparing the two maps shows how little progress was made in the fighting. The first map has trenches corrected to 28-4-16, the second corrected to 30-7-16. C1 (3) [1490] and [1491].

As German attacks in 1914 and early 1915 came up against stiff opposition they were able to build strong defences behind their front-line, taking advantage of higher ground and then fall back into these positions. Dug-outs were constructed deep into the ground and trenches were lined to prevent flooding. These defences were able to withstand the withering artillery that the British rained down on the German front-line in the days leading up to July the 1st, and as troops went over the top at the given signal German troops were able to lay down a fire which proved fatal to the advancing troops, many of which were from Pals Battalions, formed from towns and cities, sometimes places of work, and fighting for the first time.  The enormous loss of life on the first day, nearly 20,000 killed and many more wounded, meant that many communities back in England shared in a collective grief.


Detail of wire etc in no mans land, June 1916. Map showing trench systems in an area north of Ploegsteert Wood, Belguim. C1 (3) [269]

Trench map development mirrors that of the war. At the out-break of hostilities in 1914 British forces fought an enemy constantly on the move and so less-detailed mapping, French 1:80,000 and Belgian 1:100,000 sheets, were used. It was only when fighting became static with the introduction of trench warfare that more detailed, and more accurate mapping was necessary. These maps were designed for artillery, targets are highlighted in red circles while grids are incorporated into the maps so exact locations can be pinpointed both by Signallers and those manning the guns behind the lines.

The Bodleian has a large number of trench maps from the First World War. As well as maps by the British there are a small number of German and French maps as well as a large number of maps covering he Gallipoli campaign in both English and Turkish. Along with officially produced maps by the combatants cartographic departments, newspapers and commercial map publishers produced maps for the home market.

pall mall

The front page of the Pall Mall Gazette for the 1st of July. N. 2288 b.4