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Time zones

In the September of 1881 Sandford Fleming, a Scots born inventor, gave a paper to the International Geographical Congress in Venice. Entitled ‘The adoption of a prime meridian to be common to all the nations. [And] the establishment of standard meridians for the regulation of time’, the paper was to address the pressing need for a universal time, set from one location, in a World increasingly linked by communication and transport. In the speech Fleming alludes to the difficulties in selecting just one meridian, ‘Repeated efforts have been made to gain general concurrence to the adoption of one of the existing national meridians, but these proposals have tended to retard a settlement of the question by awakening national sensibilities, and thus creating a barrier difficult to remove’. Fleming’s hopes for an outcome to this problem were soon answered, in 1884 at an International Meridian Conference in Washington delegates agreed to Greenwich being the prime meridian, 0ᵒ, the place where everywhere else takes its measure.

One of the consequences of this idea of a global time was the creation of time zones, the important way of keeping time in relation to the position of the Sun. A system of 24 time zones was first suggested by the Italian mathematician Quirico Filopanti but it was a proposal by Fleming in 1876 of a 24 zone system, which each zone 15 degrees longitude that has been gradually adopted, and feature in these two zone maps.

Planisphère des fuseaux horaires, 1917. B1 (1749)

This map is from the Ministère de la Marine, the department in the French Government dealing with the navy and colonies that in its original form dates back to the 1600s. The map shows 24 time zones with duplication at either end and includes both the ‘Méridien international de Greenwich‘  and, halfway between the two Greenwichs shown,  the ‘Antiméridien de Greenwich‘. A French map showing the World like this was only recently possible as the country had only agreed to the Greenwich Meridian as the prime meridian in 1911.  The simplicity of the design can’t hide though the complex exemptions across the World due to sizes of some countries and old rules in place. Take the Netherlands, which ran on Amsterdam Time,  20 minutes ahead of Greenwich up until the Second World War.

La Mondiale riforma del tempo coi 24 fusi… c1894. B1 (1760)

Simplicity isn’t a term you could use to describe our second map. ‘La Mondiale riforma del tempo coi 24 fusi e loro 24 simboli orari : Di Creazione ed Organizzazione definitiva del Prof. D. Errico Frassi Comense’,  is a wonderfully confusing series of diagrams explaining the different proposals for zonal systems between 1873 and 1894. As well as a 24 zonal southern view of the World (top right) there are also two hemisphere maps at the bottom showing a more conventional zonal view of the World. At top left is a guide to the 24 time zones but the text is near impossible to read due to size and fading. The map is a jumble of information, and the confusion isn’t helped by the lettered order of the zones, which isn’t alphabetical but according to the areas or locations the zone goes through, so for example zone XIII is S, for the Sandwich Islands (an old name for Hawaii), while zone XIV is Y for the Yukon and XV is C for Colombia.

One of the earliest attempts to introduce a time common to all was called railway time. Introduced by the Great Western Railway company in 1840 railway time was designed to standardize time across Britain, which up until that point was set by local clocks, working at different speeds according to time set, condition and weather. As railways increased along with railway journeys the need for a standard set time according to one precise clock became paramount, without this in place coordinating rail journeys would be impossible and the risk of accidents due to inaccurate timetables would only increase. Soon the other train companies adopted this fixed time, and other countries followed the practise from the 1850s onwards. The introduction of railway time, along with the increased connectivity of the World through the telegram and telegraph*, paved the way for what we now call Coordinated Universal Time. The inset shows the first of a series of timetables  by the firm Hotson’s, from 1863. Inside are a series of timetables showing the times of stops at each station along a route.

*This blog was written on the 24th May 2024, the 180th anniversary of the first telegraph message, sent by Samuel Morse from Washington to Baltimore.

The Carnation Revolution

Today, April the 25th, is the fiftieth anniversary of the Carnation Revolution*, when a military coup by left-leaning officers in the Portuguese army overthrew the Estado Novo, the anti-liberal, anti-socialist nationalist party that had been in power since 1933.

Il Portogallo…, c.1974. C32 (211)

This map hints at the Fascist style of art prevalent in Italy and Germany around the Second World War but the text around the helmet, ‘Il Portogallo non sara’ il Chile d’Europa’ (Portugal will not be the Chile of Europe), is anti-fascist, this was the slogan of the revolution and refers to the hope that this mostly peaceful coup (4 were killed on the 25th by government forces) wouldn’t run the same course as the take-over by forces loyal to Augusto Pinochet in Chile the year before, which resulted in deaths, disappearances and executions in the thousands.

This way of using a part of the body to portray something separate is called anthropomorphism. Considering the shapes of many countries and the amount of maps with some sort of allegory in their cartouches (see here and here) it’s surprising that there aren’t more maps like this. One notable example is  Europa Prima pars Terrae in forma Virginis  which comes from Heinrich Bunting’s Itinerarium et chronicon ecclesiasticum totius sacræ Scripturæ, a book of woodcut maps first published in 1581 of the Holy Land. Despite appearances this Queen represents Mary the Virgin, not the Virgin Queen Elizabeth.

From Itinerarium et chronicon ecclesiasticum totius sacræ Scripturæ, 1597. B 7.3. Th

The use of women to depict the four known continents was a common cartographic motif, with each continent represented by an idealized version of a female. Europe, as was the thinking of the time, is often depicted as the dominant continent, often portrayed as being above the rest, though that’s not the case in this dramatic example from Joan Blaeu’s Grand atlas, from 1663-67.

From Grand atlas, by Joan Blaeu. 1663-67. Map Res 45

Here Europe is the figure in the blue and red dress, centre left, and carrying a sceptre. America stands behind her, Asia is in pink with Africa behind. All four have their associated animals; Europe leading a horse, Asia a camel, Africa an elephant and America an armadillo, which usually narrows down this figure to Mexicana. The figure in green is Cybele, the Greek Goddess of the Earth, symbol of eternity. Her crown is made of the walls of a city and she is often shown holding a key sitting in a chariot drawn by lions, who are themselves symbols of imperial power (we bloggged about lions here). Cybelle is also the protector of cities, hence the crown made up of city walls, she appears in an earlier blog in this guise here

Here’s a lovely variation on the theme, this time the four continents represented by putti, winged spirits that were often found on maps. Here Europe faces us holding a crown, behind is Africa holding a scorpion, Asia has his back to us with an incense burner and America peeps out from behind the pillar. This image comes from Carel Allard’s Atlas Contractus from 1703, and it is Allard we see confidently staring out of this frontispiece while pointing at the map he has made

From Atlas Contractus, 1703. Map Res 18

*So called because of the carnations handed out to soldiers by the people on the streets

Prussia pausing…

Few maps manage to combine cartography, history and sheer bonkersness with such good effect as Prussia pausing, or the accurate armistice demarcation line. In the map the neck and face of a lion are overprinted on a map of France like some animalistic Victorian ectoplasm to show the areas occupied by German forces at the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

Prussia pausing…1871. C21 (110)

A brief bit of history. Strengthened following victory against Austria in 1866, combined German states invaded and defeated France in a war that started in the summer of 1870 and was won by early 1871. At the start of the war the German forces fought as the North German Confederation, of which Prussia was the largest and most dominate state. The end of the war led to the forming of a united Germany and the wide-spread copying of the military tactics used. Soon after the defeat the English publisher Edward Stanford published Prussia pausing… on Valentine’s Day 1871. The critical nature of the map (Attention is drawn to the extraordinary coincidence of the Armistice boundaries representing the outlines of a carnivorous animal typical of the relentless veracity of Prussia…)  wasn’t mirrored in political circles, who still viewed France as the main competitor in  global trade and empire, while, remarkably considering future events, not looking on Germany as being strong enough to offer a threat to British interests.

A lion traditionally represented strength and courage but also cruelty and death. From the concept of strength comes another use of the lion, as a symbol of imperialism or statehood. This is one of the reasons for one of the most famous of all zoomorphic (as in the use of animals to suggest or represent a non-animal action) maps, the Leo Belgicus. 

Leo Belgicus, facsimile of 1650 edition, C27 (146)

There are a number of versions of this famous map, dating from the late 1500s to the mid 1600s, and the lion could be shown as either fighting or not depending on the current state of the Dutch war with Spain to gain independence. The lion was drawn in a way that represented the areas we know now as the Netherlands and Belgium and, more importantly, was represented on the arms of some of the seventeen provinces that made up the Low Countries.


First destroy this map…

Using maps for  games is nothing new, we’ve blogged a number of times about card (here) and board (here) games but this is a first, a game you can only play if you destroy the map first.

Secret rivers…c2020 C17:40 (277)

Secret Rivers family game is a leaflet produced by the Museum of London Docklands. When you follow the instructions and tear along the perforated lines you have ten cards for each of the rivers; the Thames, Neckinger, Tyburn, Walbrook, Westbourne, Lea, Peck, Fleet, Effra and Wandle, which then can be used in a Top Trumps style card game. So the Thames will beat the Neckinger on length, 215 miles compared to 3 but the Neckinger has a greater pong rating 80 points for stinkiness compared to just 38 for the Thames.

It’s a lovely idea, and the map is very much secondary to the text/cards on the reverse.

An earlier map of London covering the same area shows how early London’s rivers had been hidden away.

Map of the country twelve miles round London 1847 (E) C17:40 (72)

Of the ten on our Museum map only the Thames and Lea (the river that divides the counties of Hertfordshire and Essex), are visible, the others are either too small to show or had already been drained and forced underground by the time C. Smith & Sons made their map in 1847.

Map staff would like it known that they resisted the urge to play the game!

A horse?

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



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





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











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





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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Talk in the news of beavers roaming across Welsh gardens brings this map to mind…

A new and exact map of the Dominions of the King of Great Britain on ye continent of North America containing Newfoundland, New Scotland, New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina. According to the Newest and most Exact Observations by Herman Moll, Geographer. 1715 (E) F1:4 (5)

…because it has a lovely, if not fanciful, inset picture of the Beaver in action.

‘A view of ye industry of ye Beavers of Canada in making Dams to stop ye course of a rivulet , in order to form a great Lake, about which they build their habitations. To effect this : they fell large trees with their teeth, in such a manner as to make them come cross ye rivulet, to lay ye foundation of ye Dam; they make Mortar, work up, and finish ye whole with great order and wonderfull  dexterity. The Beavers have two doors to their Lodges, one to the water and the other to the Land Side. According to French Accounts (Moll’s spelling and grammar used).

The King was George I, and Herman Moll was the cartographer (more on Moll here, and here). This map was originally part of a larger work, The World Described, an atlas of thirty large double-sided beautiful maps, which were sold both separately as well as numerous editions of the atlas. The map featured here was soon known as the ‘Beaver map’.  While the main map deals with the Thirteen colonies of the British the insets, apart from the Beaver picture, show the complex mix of colonial claims in North America. This inset shows, just under 100 years before the Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States in 1803, how close together Spanish, French and British claims were, and this is without any mention of Native American lands.


Bacon, lamb – the strange and wonderful maps of Operation Clipper

Launched in November 1944 Operation Clipper was a combined British and American attempt to reduce a salient around the German town of Geilenkirchen before the start of a larger operation, Operation Queen, to capture the Ruhr Valley. The operation started with an artillery bombardment, and it’s this phase of the attack that these strange and wonderful maps were for. Some shown here are so lacking in topographic detail that it’s questionable whether they should be called maps at all.

It’s probably better to call them accompaniments to existing maps, in this case the Geographical Section, General Staff (G.S.G.S.) 1:25,000 series 4414. The featured sheets are transparent, and need to be used with the appropriate sheet in the G.S.G.S. series. When overlaid the different sections on the transparency correspond to the areas on the map where different artillery units, in this case the 43rd Division, were to concentrate their fire. Presumably the names are the targets for the different guns in the artillery unit.

Here’s the transparency laid over the map for the area, a specially printed sheet consisting of a number of different maps from the G.S.G.S. 4414 series covering the town of Geilenkirchen (1944? C22 (15e)).

This is for phase 4 of the battle, there are other, similar, maps for the first 3 phases, though as these phases are on one sheet with no information about what accompanying topographic maps they relate to it’s hard to see how they work with existing mapping.

Stranger still is this…,well, a map?

A clue to it’s use might be in the faint title ‘Operation “Clipper”, no fire line’ though this is so faint that there is a small chance this is just a bleed-through from another sheet. As expected a ‘no fire line’ is a line beyond which artillery doesn’t aim for unless specifically instructed.

So, are these maps? in a collection the size of the Bodleian’s it’s inevitable that some of the material held is at the edge of what we would call a traditional map. Items such as this pretend to be a map but turn out to be a warning on current events while this map pretends to be a railway guide but is anything but. And then there’s one of the most famous ‘maps’ of all, Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground.

Map of London’s underground railways, 1933 C17:70 London (579). This is the first pocket edition of Beck’s map of the London Underground.

Is this a diagram more than a map, as it shows the underground stations in order along lines unrelated to their actual topographical actual position and distance relation to other stations? Not only does the ‘map’ show locations and lines not visible on the ground it also famously ignores topographic accuracy to simplify what would make for a messy image if truly represented. But what Beck’s diagram and all the subsequent public transport maps with similar designs lose by ignoring topographic reality they more than make up for with their ease of use. With these diagrams it’s easy to make your way from A to B when using a confusing system easily. Which is surely what we want most from our maps.

Operation Clipper maps from ‘Germany 1:25,000’ various maps of Operations Clipper, Plunder and Shears, 1944-45. C22 (15e)


The Free State of Ikaria

Maps often come with extras; a street index with a town plan, a distance table with a road map or just general tourist information for example but in what is a first for us we’ve just catalogued a map which has a musical score, complete with lyrics and scales.

Chartēs tēs nēsoy Ikarias is a map of the island of Ikaria, in the North Aegean. According to legend the island gets its name from Icarus, who fell into the sea near the island after the wax holding his wings together melted when he flew too close to the sun. The island is actually called Icarus on some old maps, like this example from Richard Kiepert’s ‘Karte von Kleinasien’ (D30 (76))

The map has been created by Georgios Nik. Poulianos, a teacher in the coastal village of Eydilos and includes a text box describing how in July 1912 Ikaria rebelled against Ottoman rule and for 5 months declared itself an independent nation, with its own flag, stamps and anthem, and it’s this anthem, written by K.A. Pashou, that appears on the map.

With so much of our maps of Greece and Greek Islands being either modern tourist maps or Allied and Axis mapping from the Second World War it’s good to have something to counter that. From the song to the link with a brief attempt at independence to the cartographer being a local school teacher this map is both a fascinating glimpse into life on Ikaria and an example of the pride that the Islanders had in their recent history.

With thanks to Greek colleagues in our Admissions Department for help with this blog.

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


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