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Olympic and Commonwealth Games maps

With the Commonwealth Games taking place on the Gold Coast and the recent donation of a map of the XIII Winter Olympics in Lake Placid in 1980 it seems a good opportunity to show some maps of various Olympic and Commonwealth Games sites from the collection.

XIII Olympic Winter Games 1980, Adirondack Region, New York, U S A, special edition metric topographic map 1980, United States Geological Survey. F6:40 (112)

The majority of maps held in the collection are designed for the visitor, and show locations with text and information, promotional items which in the earliest examples were often part of a general map of a city – such as the 1936 map of Berlin, below – though of the 11 maps held on the Olympics in London in 2012 4 deal with the planning and design of the sites. The Lake Placid games were held in the Adirondack National Park, a mountainous range in North-eastern New York State, a popular winter sports destination which had already held a Winter Olympics in 1932. The map is produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, the national mapping agency for the United States and includes insets showing the lay-outs of the separate sporting areas around the village, including the Luge and Bobsleigh, the Down-Hill course and Village and Olympic centres. 

Maps are a valuable accomplement to exhibitions and events and the Library holds, as well as the Olympic maps shown here, maps of World  and Expo Exhibitions. The following maps are of other Olympic Games held through-out the World.

This map of the Berlin Olympics in 1936 (Stadtplan Berlin, 1936, C22:45 Berlin g.3) is an inset on a small atlas of Berlin, designed to fit into the inside pocket of a jacket. The atlas has tourist information in English, German, Italian and French and despite only being in power for three years the changes brought about by the ruling Nazi Partry can already be seen in some of the street names.  Following on from Berlin are maps of Innsbruck for the 1964 Winter Olympics (C4:20 Innsbruck 18), a lovely depiction of the Olympic Park for the ill-fated Munich Olympics in 1972 (C22:45 Munich (45), a map from Yugoslavia for the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo (C10 (232) ) and to finish two maps of the 1960 Rome Olympics.



The Rome maps are fascinating because as well as having the official map shown above (C25:50 Rome (55) ) we also have a map that once belonged to the film director Michael Winner, who made a film in 1970 set at the Rome Olympics about the Marathon Race. As well as under-lining in red places were filming took place on the map on the inside cover there is a list of the different locations in Rome where filming took place (C25:50 Rome d.5)

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)



Many maps from the late sixteenth century feature ships and sea monsters in and on the oceans. With a large amount of surface taken up by water cartographers used these images as an embellishment to make the map more attractive, but there are other reasons for such decoration; at the time many people believed in the existence of such creatures so to feature


monsters from the deep would be as natural as portarying an Elephant in Africa, while the opening up of trade with foreign lands and voyages of discovery made sea travel an important part of late Medieval and Tudor times.



This recent addition to the Bodleian collection, Britannicarum Insularum… by Abraham Ortelius,


has in its top left corner one of the more dramatic images of shipping to be found amongst the maps held. In a cloud of smoke and explosion a sea battle takes place as a smaller ship advances, firing from the bow and flying what appears to be a flag of Denmark.


Abraham Ortelius was a Flemish cartographer who started publishing maps and atlases in 1564, this map comes from an atlas of ancient and classical history called the Parergon, and shows the British Isles with British tribes and Roman features, including both Hadrian’s and the Antonine

had wall

Walls and was published in 1590. This would date the map to the time of the Spanish Armada, which set sail in 1588. As the Spanish fleet rounded the North coast of Scotland and started to sail down past Ireland fierce storms sunk many of the ships, though there was no battle of the type depicted on Ortelius’s map.

Britannicarum Insularen Vetus Descriptio…, 1590. Ortelius, A. (E) C15 (971)


This image of a sea-horse off the coast of Iceland comes from a lavishily illustrated copy of Abraham Oretlius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published in London in 1606. The sea-horse is described as ‘often dothe fisherman great hurt and skare’. The picture of the Mermaid holding the flag of the Isle of Man at the start of this piece also comes from Ortelius.

Douce O. Subt. 15



Kiel Canal, flags and naval expansion

To mark the opening of the Kiel Canal in June 1895 Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German Government held a regatta at the entrance to the canal, and invited representatives from the nations whose flags, pennants and ensigns are shown in the panel on the right of the map featured here, including Britain, Spain, France, the United States and Italy, to take part.

kiel jpg

The map shows the ships of the different nations lying at anchor in the Kiel Fjord. Those with crowned heads of state onboard are indicated by the large crown symbol, ships with lesser members of royalty by a smaller crown.

The Kiel Canal is an important link between the Baltic and North Seas, and when completed enabled German ships to move between the two without making the long and often stormy passage around the coast of Denmark. Two years after the 1895 celebrations Germany began to enlarge its navy. By 1905 it had replaced the navies of both France and Russia as the benchmark in which the strength of the British navy was measured. By 1912 Admiral Tirpitz, Head of the German Naval Office, ‘insisted that Germany could not fight a war at sea until the widening of the Kiel Canal was completed’. In 1914 the canal was widened to finally be able to allow the passage of Dreadnought battleships through from the Baltic to the North Sea.

Der Kieler Hafen - 1895

This map, ‘Der Kieler Hafen : mit den ankerplätzen der zur feierlichen eröffnung des Nord-Ostsee-kanals im Juni 1895 in Kiel anwesenden kriegsschiffe’ was published in 1895 at a scale of  ca.1:20,000 by Lipsius & Tischer in Kiel. The shelf mark for the map is C22:28 (74).


Maps showing the spread of disease first appeared in the United States towards the end of the 1700s and used spots to showing the location of individual cases of disease. The most famous example of such a map was created by John Snow, in his book On the mode of Communication in Cholera (1855). Originally published in 1849, this later edition dealt with a notorious outbreak of cholera in the Soho district of London the previous year, which killed 616 people.

The Bodleian holds a similar map by Dr H. Acland and shows the outbreaks in 1832, 1849 and 1854 of cholera in the St Clements and St Ebbe’s areas of Oxford. By mapping the deaths in London and Oxford Acland and Snow were able to show that all shared a common link, the local water pump, proving how water was the medium through which cholera spread which as a result improved the sanitation in many areas of poor and working class housing.


Map of Oxford, to illustrate Dr. Acland’s Memoir on cholera in Oxford in 1854, : showing the localities in which cholera & choleraic diarrhœa occurred in 1854, and cholera in 1832 & 1849; together with the parts of the town described as unhealthy, by Omerod, Greenhill & Allen, and a writer in the Oxford Herald; the parts remedied since the date of their descriptions; the districts still undrained; the parts of the river still contaminated by sewers, in 1855.                                                                               C17:70 Oxford (15)

Among the many maps showing disease in the collection are a number showing the spread of Tsetse Flies in Central and Southern Africa. Tsetse flies feed on the blood of cattle, which has serious consequences for the lives of farmers in the regions were the flies are wide-spread, as infected animals produce little or no milk, their manure is too weak to fertilize already poor soil and the bites can often lead to the death of the animal. Tsetse Flies also cause sleeping sickness in humans, which can lead to disability or premature death.

Featured here are extracts from two maps. Both show the spread of the Tsete Fly, and are of Zambia and an area of Africa which was called German East Africa up till the end of the First World War, and now covers Burundi, Rwanda and a large part of Tanzania.

tsetse 2

(Reverse of) The Republic of Zambia, Tsetse Fly Distribution, 1968. Ministry of Lands and Mines, Zambia. E43 (200)

Both are conventional thematic maps showing the spread of the flies by shading. What is different from other disease maps in the collection is that both feature proment images of the Tsetse Fly.

tsetse 1

German East Fly Map, 1915, Published by Topographical Section, General Staff, South Africa.     E11 (217)

Both images bring to mind the picture of the fly from Robert Hooke’s famous book Micrographia,

fly RH

first published in 1665. Hooke’s work was the first book to show insects and other minute objects as seen through microscopes and also the first published work to use the term cells.




Planning the Allied invasion of France.

The extracts of the two maps shown here are from a number of maps recently catalogued and added to the collection which were published by Allied Forces to help with the invasion of France, and feature coastal towns on both the North East and South West coast. Both sheets are from earlier published sets by the cartographic wing of the British Army, the Geographical Section, General staff which have been overprinted with additional information on enemy defences.

The Calais map is of particular interest. The defence information was added to the map as late as the 12th of September, just 13 days before the Allies attacked the town. Confirmed information is in blue, unconfirmed in red. Information was gathered from a number of sources, including aerial photogaphy and resistance work. Calais, along with other port towns on the North West coast of France and Belgium, had been heavily defended by the German Army, who believed that any invasion by Allied troops would be at this point.


As well as the large amount of information on the front of the map further details are given on the reverse. As well as a full legend descriptions of defences are given in English and French and diagrams of gun emplacements, as shown here.



The beauty of the Portolan

Portolan Charts are navigational aids used by seafarers from the thirteenth century through to the 1800’s, by which time Naval charts had begun to be produced, and published in number.  The majority of portolans are produced on vellum – an animal skin which has been scraped clean and then stretched out on a rack – with some charts attached to boards and folded. Printed charts begin to appear in the early 1500s. Naviagtion is by use of rhumb lines and compass points,  by taking readings of compass directions and speed to determine the course needed to be set.


Page of portolan showing coasts of part of Britain, Ireland, France and Northern Spain

Portolans are often objects of great skill and beauty, and are an early and evocative record of the start of discovery by European explorers.  The images shown here are from the earliest Portolan in the Bodleian, dating from the early 1400’s.  This portolan is  drawn onto vellum and then backed onto a wooden board and shows, over seven charts, the areas of the Mediterranean Sea, the European Atlantic coast and the Black Sea.

IMG_0069 - Copy

Page of portolan showing Italy and Sicily

Though the portolan gives no details of production it is believed to have been produced in Venice and came to the library in 1834 as part of the Douce collection.


Front cover

Portolan charts are often heavily decorated. Ships sail the oceans, wonderful creatures inhabit the lands and some feature the Madonna and Child. Compass roses can often be very eleborate, sometimes including gold leaf in the design.


Inside front cover showng Annunciation

While the charts featured in this portolan are not as decorated as later charts held in the Bodleian the cover, front and back inner sleeves are beautifully created works of art. The cover is a wooden board inlaid with ivory and coloured stone while the inner sleeve shows the Annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel telling Mary of the immaculate conception while the back features Saint Mark, patron Saint of Venice and Saint Paul.


Inside back cover showing Saints Mark and Paul

The portolan was originally enclosed in a leather embossed slip-case, and would have been used by sailors navigating the seas and oceans shown on the maps. The portolan, leather case and notes are now housed separately in a specially made box.


Front of slip-case

Items belonging to Francis Douce were donated to the Library after his death in 1834. Douce was for a time Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum so the Bodleian is lucky to have his collection of books, manuscripts and other items, numbering over 19,000 volumes.

Untitled book of seven portolans, early fifteenth century, possibly Venice. MS Douce 390

The Type ‘Q’ Sailing Dinghy

This piece on maps related to the Q Type Dinghy was submitted by a volunteer working in the Map Department

Working as a volunteer in the Map Room in the Weston Library may not be your forte but I can assure you having been doing just that for the last 2 years life is full of surprises. This week we received an embroidered map of London done by soldiers working for the Disabled Soldiers Embroidery Industry set up to help those recovering from action in WW1. Earlier, I was shown documentation about the ‘Q’ Type Sailing Dinghy, an inflatable sailing dinghy used during WW2, which is of particular interest to me as an ex-navigator on maritime Shackletons and Nimrods. One of our primary tasks was Search and Rescue. There were always crews on standby ready to fly and help those in danger at sea whether they be people in ships or yachts in difficulty or aircraft that had ditched. In our aircraft’s bomb bay we carried Lindholme gear which was basically 3 buoyant containers joined by 400 metres of cord, one container had a dinghy in it which would inflate on impact, and the other containers were filled survival rations and equipment. The dinghy had a sea anchor which meant that it would stay roughly where it had been dropped but its position would, of course, be affected by the strength of the local wind and current. The survivors would be rescued by shipping diverted to the scene.


The philosophy behind the ‘Q’ Type Sailing Dinghy, which, as I have mentioned, was in use in WW2, was somewhat different. The dinghy was packed into similar Lindholme gear and dropped to the survivors. However, rather than the survivors ‘sitting tight’ they were expected to sail the dinghy to the nearest land. To do this the instructions, on silk, were comprehensive and included in the dinghy pack. There was a diagram of a fully rigged dinghy with mast, mainsail, foresail, rudder and keel plus a weather cover. There were instructions about how to rig the 4 piece mast, set the sails, general sailing guidance and advice about when to reef the sails. Attached to these instructions, also on silk, were maps of the eastern Atlantic from Northern Norway to the Cape Verde Islands and Iceland. The maps and instructions were all just 12 x 13 inches pinned together in the top left hand corner. The maps were produced by the Sea Rescue Equipment Drawing office and based on the GSGS 4080 plotting series which uses the Mercator projection and landmass heights are shown in metres. There is a compass rose and the lines of magnetic variation are as in 1942. A variable ruler showing statute miles is included alongside the left hand margin.


I do wonder how practical the idea of sailing back to land really was. From experience the Atlantic Ocean is rarely smooth and rigging the dinghy would have been a hazardous occupation. One of the instructions was: ‘don’t stand up in the dinghy as you will make it unstable!’ In any survival situation protection from the elements is the most important thing, especially a cold, windy, wet Atlantic. And navigating back to land, well the dinghy had a compass and knowing roughly your location it should be possible to steer he dinghy roughly in the right direction. Perhaps, psychologically, the possibility of being able to sail back was all important with the chance of being picked up by a ship on the way. Or perhaps, when sitting in the dinghy, it was a case of, ‘Give me a map and I am content’ (Wainwright A. 1938).


Map images from A set of charts showing the coasts of Europe and North Africa, printed on cloth. Published by ‘Sea Rescue Equipment Drawing Office, (F) K1:2 (5)

The following images come from a diagram on the use of the Q type provided by the Royal Air Force Museum. According to Air Historical Branch monograph Air/Sea Rescue issued in 1952 ‘the Q type seems to have been introduced in early 1943 and by the end of that year had been cleared for use in the Whitley, Wellington, Warwick, Lancaster and Halifax – it seems not to have been used in the Lindholme Gear. The lateen rig version replaced a more complex sail plan in 1944’.

dinghy 1







Parallax is a way of determining distances and heights by measuring the angles of a certain point from different locations. Once you have the angles from two points you can then work out the distance by working out the third angle of a triangle and measuring the sides. Amongst other uses parallax is the method in which the distance to stars is measured.

Parallax is also the title of a recent donation to the Map Room, Parallax without tears, the determination of heights from vertical airphotographs

parallax 1

and published in the war years by the Royal Canadian Engineers. Using a giant as an example, the booklet teaches how to measure heights by the use of aerial photograph, the giants eyes

parallax 2

becoming the camera eye with pictures taken from different angles of the object to be measured.

parallax 3

Pictorial representation of transport, or nice pictures of ships, planes and trains

Amongst some recent donations to the Map Room have been some maps featuring planes. One appears on an Air Routes map by British European Airways. As well as the air routes and planes

air - Copy

BEA International Air Routes, 1954. C1 (1020)


extract from BEA map

the map also works as a tourist guide, showing areas of interest and local customs and peoples. The map goes as far south as North Africa and far enough east to include the Middle East, to continue the transport theme camel trains are featured

cara - Copy

extract from BEA map

The second image comes from a road map of Queensland from circa 1950, which evokes images of Tintin and dashing adventures.

quensland - Copy

[Extract from] Vacuum Road Map of Queensland, c1950. I3:20 (61)

More planes feature in this extract from a map of the travels of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War. The map plots the routes taken by Churchill to the various conferences and meetings between the leaders of the three great allied powers.

church 1


church 2

[Extracts from] Dunkirk to Berlin, June 1940 – July 1945. Journeys undertaken by the Rt. Honble. Winston S. Churchill, O.M., C.H., F.R.S., M.P., Prime Minister of Great Britain in defence of the British Commonwealth and Empire, 1947. B2 (101)

Early maps of railways sometimes included images of steam engines, we give two particularly good examples here

railway 2

Drake’s map of the Grand Junction Railway, 1839. (E)C17:5 (18)


Cheffin’s Map of the English and Scotch Railways (Facs), 1845. (E)C16 (359)

Ships feature heavily in maps of the country and any coastal county published before the coming of the railways, signifying the importance of Britain’s reliance on both trade and naval power.

ships 2

[Extract from] England and Wales…by John Rocque, in four sheets, c1761. Gough Maps England and Wales 34

shiops off isle of wight

[Extract from] Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by E. Bowen, 1767. Gough Maps Hampshire 5

plymouth ships

A geometrical plan…H.M.’s dockyard, nr. Plymouth, 1756. Gough Maps Devon 7

To show that road maps are no a modern invention this extract comes from a 1809 map showing stagecoach routes. There are a large number of stagecoach maps in the Bodleian collection, this is one of the few that actually has the mode of transport featured on the map itself


[Extract from] Bowles Road Director through England and Wales…, 1809. (E)C17 (115)

The final map featured shows a more serious scene. In an extract from a map published circa 1746 and showing events from the Jacobite Rising of 1745 two ships are engaged in battle at

ships 3a

[Extract from] Map showing routes of Prince Charles, c1746. Gough Maps British Isles 23.

close quarters off the South-West coast.