Category Archives: Humour

Christmas 2018

Two maps of Christmas Islands, the first off the coast of Java in the Indian ocean, the second in the Pacific Ocean and more commonly known as Kiritimati, which means Christmas in the Kiribati language.

Christmas Island, partly from a survey by C.W. Andrews, F.C.S…1899. L5:1 (3)

The Indian Ocean Christmas Island was discovered in 1615 and named Christmas Island in 1643 by William Mynors.

Christmas Island from a chart supplied by Pere Emmanuel Rougier in 1924…1939. J11:4 (1)

The Pacific Ocean version was discovered by Spanish explorers in 1537 but named by Capt. James Cook on the 24th December 1777. It is a raised coral atoll and part of the Republic of Kiribati.

And now for a quiz. This extract, from sheet 17 of the Gold Coast survey at 1:62,500, has one unusual feature. There is, of course, a chance that the hill is shaped this way, but seems likely the surveyor was having fun. Can you spot it? Answers, or help, to

Sheet 17, Gold Coast Survey, 1924, E34 (24)

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.


The very best of Peter André?

Map makers can be people of many talents. The most famous example is John Ogilby, who had many varied careers including dancing master, Deputy Master of the King’s Revels in Ireland, theatre manager, soldier, translator and publisher before embarking on his final and most successful venture as a map maker in his sixties, and publishing the first road maps of Britain in 1675.
Readers may be surprised though to learn that Peter André, famous for his singing, dancing, reality TV career and Iceland television commercials, was also responsible for surveying Essex in the 1770s. His name appears on the cartouche below that of John Chapman, a London based map publisher who also carried out local and county surveys in Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. It’s a detailed map, covering the whole county on 25 sheets at a scale of approximately 2 inches to the mile; a remarkably large scale for a map that pre-dates the Ordnance Survey.
There are a few clues in Andre’s musical work about his mapmaking abilities. His album ‘Come fly with me’ suggests an approach to surveying that was well ahead of its time. And of course ‘The long road home’ must have been familiar to many a surveyor after a hard day’s measuring in the field.
The lyrics of his biggest hit, ‘Mysterious Girl’, also include the lyrics
I stop and stare at you, walking on the shore,
I try to concentrate, my mind wants to explore …
Strongly suggesting that the surveyor was distracted from his work of exploring the Essex shoreline by the sight of a local beauty. Since this happened around 1774, her identity is likely to remain a mystery.

It’s a beautiful map, finely engraved and delicately coloured, of which its creators can be justifiably proud.

A map of the county of Essex from an actual survey taken … by John Chapman & Peter André. London : Chapman & André, 1777, and Colchester: Keymer, 1785. C17 a.4

April 1st, 2017

Christmas images and a puzzle

Images to celebrate Christmas from the Map Department in the Bodleian. The first two come from a book, Baedeker’s Guide to Palestine and Syria, published in 1898. These are the earliest maps held in the Bodleian for Bethlehem


Bethlehem, from Baedeker’s Guide to Palestine and Syria, 20606 f.7

At the time the guide was published Bethlehem was predominately a Christian community. Numerous churches and monasteries existed in the town but the most important of all was the cryptchurch first built in the 330’s over the cave of the nativity, now called the Church of the Nativity but on the plan called the Church of St Mary. The Church was, and still is, an important place of pilgrimage and the guide gives a number of pages to its description, with text and plans, including this one of the crypt, with ‘d’ representing the site of the nativity. The guide is full of fascinating plans and descriptions of the Holy sites; Christian, Muslim and Jewish, throughout the area, and the Library holds a large number of Baedeker’s of many countries and regions throughout the world.


The second set of images comes from a facsimile of a celebrated atlas of the Heavens, the Harmonia Macrocosmica, by Andreas Cellarius,  first published in Amsterdam in 1660. Cellarius was a Dutch mathematician and cartographer, and as with similar atlases of the time Cellarius’s work is a mixture of the classical and the modern. Classical with the inclusion of maps of the zodiac and the layout of the planets according to Ptolemy, modern with the inclusion of maps showing the theories of the solar system by astronomers such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Tycho Brahe and planetary motion around the earth, the phases of the moon and the sun’s journey in the sky.  This image is of the second of the Biblical star charts


with the Holy Manger in the top left, representing the constellation Lyra. The first of the Biblical star charts has the Three Kings, which here represent the constellation Hercules


3 kins

These images are from a facsimile of Andreas Cellarius’s Atlas Coelestis seu Harmonia Macrocosmica held on the open shelves in the map section of the Rare Books Reading Room in the Weston Library. G1 A1.2

Finally a puzzle. This map is one of a set of 12 covering an island which at first glance doesn’t seem to exist. The names do not appear on any gazetteer or atlas index. Created by the Canadian Military for planning purposes during the Second World War the maps have for a long


time been held in the Imaginary lands section of the map collection, a collection which includes maps of fictional places such as Middle Earth, Sodor, Ambridge and Emmerdale. It was only recently when going through this group of maps for an exhibition that staff looked at these 12 maps more closely and became convinced that the topography was real, but the names given weren’t. The defences, in purple, were too accurate, with notes saying ‘Third gun reported, but position unknown’, and then the note to the top, ‘This map is unreliable. It has been produced by enlargement from One inch to One miles maps…’. Of course this could have all been part of the deception, but there was enough there to make staff wonder. We’ve worked out where it is, can you? Email with an answer, no prizes, just the satisfaction of being right. Happy Christmas.



Dude, where’s my airfield!

Now you see it, now you don’t.  Maps published by the Ordnance Survey from photographs taken by the RAF in the years after the Second World War were soon discovered to show on


some sheets sensitive areas such as airfields and military bases. After putting these maps on general sale in the late 40’s it was quickly realised that having such material in the public domain


wasn’t such a good idea, and after withdrawing existing sheets new versions were printed which obscured the military sites with painted-in fields or, in some cases, photographing the existing sheets with cotton wool suspended over areas to be hidden.




The maps were intended as an aid to town planning and reconstruction after the war and the examples shown here all date from 1947. For a long time copyright libraries such as the Bodleian and the British Library weren’t allowed to show the unedited maps to the public, a restriction only lifted in 1995.

Armchair Travelling

tour-gameNo upper class young man worth his salt in the eighteenth century could hold his head up if he hadn’t traversed Europe on a Grand Tour. However, for the less fortunate help was at hand in the form of a cartographic race game. Wallis’s Tour of Europe. A New Geographical Pastime was published by John Wallis, a cartographer and map seller in 1794. “Two or three persons may amuse themselves with this agreeable pastime, and if a double set of Counters and Pyramids, six may play at it”. Players use a spinning a ‘teetotum’, a sort of gambling spinning top counting up to 8, to progress as dice were considered gambling instruments thus inappropriate in Christian households.


All the players start at Harwich and the race moves across Europe along the numbered route.  They journey from Amsterdam through Germany, Sweden, Norway, even Lapland, Russia, Turkey in Europe, France Italy, Spain and Portugal returning to England through Portsmouth then taking in Scotland and Ireland the winner finally finishing in London after 102 stops. Unlike the real thing the route takes in such places as Wordhuys (Vardo) in Finnmark, Norway, Woronets (Voronezh), Adrianople (Edirne) and Johny Groat’s House in Scotland along with the traditional Athens, Florence and Rome.

The panels on either side of the map detail not only the rules but also lists each stop with a brief description so players could ‘experience’ Europe though text. The players can become well-travelled without the need for a gap year and a fortune.  Games like these were very popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in the parlours of middle class households to keep people entertained in the long evenings.

The map itself is a fairly simple hand coloured map with political boundaries and the mountain ranges drawn in pictorially. It is mounted and linen so can be folded neatly and put away when not in use.


Wallis’s Tour of Europe. A new geographical pastime. London, 1794  (E) C1 (999)


Paper shortages during the Second World War meant that large numbers of maps were re-used to produce new sheets on the backs of older copies. While for the most part this meant that cartographic departments of various armies, the Geographical Section General Staff for the British and the Generalstab des Heeres for the Germans amongst others, would use old stock from their collections towards the end of the war Allied forces began to capture large areas of land formly occupied by Axis troops, and with this also captured large amounts of enemy resources, including maps.

With the push into Germany starting in late 1944 the need for large scale detailed mapping of the country became clear, and this is one of the sheets produced by the G.S.G.S. at 1:25,000 scale. The example here is one of a set of over 2,500 sheets.


But what marks this sheet out from all the others is what is on reverse. When you turn the map over you find, overprinted with thick blue lines and the word ‘Cancelled’, is part of a map which made up a series made by the German Army in preparation for the planned invasion of England in 1941. With perfect symmetry you have an map for the invasion of Germany printed by the British War Office printed on the back of part of a sheet published 3 years before by the Germany Army for the invasion of Britain.



Germany 1:25,000. Geographical Section, General Staff No. 4414. Published in 1945 by the War Office. C22 (15a), sheet 1321.