Conservation of our Sheldon tapestries

On Tuesday 10 January, the Library’s Sheldon tapestry maps of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were cleaned as part of the initial phase of their restoration. Four of these tapestry maps were made for the former Weston House in south Warwickshire in or around 1590, the maps centred on Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, all of which were able to feature Weston House, the home of Ralph Sheldon, who commissioned them. 

The Bodleian owns a substantial part of what remains of the Gloucestershire tapestry, bought at auction in 2007; and Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, (both part of the 1809 Gough bequest). The Worcestershire tapestry hangs in Blackwell Hall, and was the first of the three to be treated by our colleagues from the National Trust. In October 2016, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire were delivered to the National Trust’s textile conservation studio on the Blickling Estate in Norfolk, and from there preparation was made for cleaning. 

The only facility large enough to clean tapestries of this size is at De Wit Royal Manufacturers in Mechelen, Belgium (halfway between Brussels and Antwerp), and so the tapestries were delivered in early January. De Wit’s team prepared the tapestries for cleaning on the previous day, so by the time we arrived to watch the process, Fig.1 shows pretty much what we saw, with everything laid out in a sealed chamber.

Fig.1: Awaiting cleaning – Gloucestershire in the foreground; Oxfordshire’s fragments beyond.

 Cleaning began around 10am, as the chamber quickly filled with steam, and suction was applied from below. Before long, nothing could be seen inside the chamber, but De Wit had a camera in situ which moved across the tapestries, showing us absolutely everything at very high resolution on a screen in the “control area” next to the chamber. This procedure lasted over an hour, during which time we could monitor the liquid dropping down beneath the chamber, and samples of which were being collected in clear cylinders.

Fig.2: Cleaning over – the mist starts to recede.

With the cleaning phase completed, the De Wit team accessed a metal platform which moved on tracks above the tapestry. Fig.3 shows them rinsing the tapestries with hosed water and soft brushes. This process lasted around half an hour.

Fig.3: Rinsing the tapestries  

Drying took place during the afternoon, beginning with large towels draped over the tapestries, that were then covered with plastic. This process took about five minutes, and was then repeated with fresh towels. Next, highly absorbent paper was used instead of towels, again compressed beneath plastic, and again repeated.

Fig.4: Applying the towels

To give some sort of impression as to the changing state of cleanliness of the tapestries, Fig.5 shows how the colour of the water emerging from the cleaning process. The cylinder on the left was the first to be collected, that on the right the last. Quite a contrast.

Fig.5: The tapestries are becoming ever cleaner 

By 6pm we were able to enter the chamber to inspect at close hand the tapestries, checking the colours, and also being impressed at how dry they were. Fig.6 shows and area north-east of Oxford (towards modern Milton Keynes), and the colours are clearly stunning.

Fig.6 Cleaned, rinsed and dried 

A fortnight later, we were able to travel to Norfolk and discuss how work might begin with our colleagues from the National Trust. The tapestries had been safely returned from Mechelen. Oxfordshire is planned to be the next tapestry to be displayed, and there are plenty of issues to contemplate, not least the number of gaps in the tapestry; its greater height and width than Worcestershire; and the question of whether we should incorporate a braid around the cartographic perimeter of the tapestry. 

One major advancement however, concerned the status of six loose Gloucestershire fragments, which had not been sent to Belgium. Since the nineteenth century, it has been accepted that they belonged to Gloucestershire. On closer examination, we were able to conclusively prove that three of the six fragments are indeed part of Oxfordshire (see Figs 7 and 8). This was a terrific breakthrough.

Fig.7: One of the “Gloucestershire fragments” now attached to the top-right border of Oxfordshire

Fig.8: Another of the “Gloucestershire fragments” now attached to the upper border of Oxfordshire 

During the day, we were also able to confirm all the place name details from Gloucestershire (which will need some serious restoration work to make them fully legible). 

We are now looking at creating a plan for Oxfordshire: braid or no braid? how to deal with the damaged “globes” within the borders; how best to display the whole tapestry – the need for geographical compromise for the “island” that survives within the gap towards the north. For those unfamiliar with the Oxfordshire tapestry, you can rest assured that many places survive intact, not least Oxford and London, as well as Cheltenham and Swindon, and even the White Horse at Uffington, as well as much of the country west to Witney, Burford and beyond. When fully conserved the Oxfordshire Tapestry will replace the Worcestershire Tapestry on display in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library

Fig. 9 The Worcestershire Tapestry in Blackwell Hall. 

We look forward to updating colleagues as this exciting project develops. More news on the conservation work done on the Worcestershire Tapestry can be found here



From top to bottom

How do you map a long thin country like Chile?, by making a long thin map of course. Chile’s length, at 2,690 miles, is ten times longer than its width. This map, published in 1990 in the United States by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of Chile to the United States has tourist information on both the front and back of the map as well as information on the Country and a historic background.

Chile, published by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of Chile…1990. H6 (147)


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)


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.

Destroy this map

Admiralty Charts have long been an important record of sea-faring conditions throughout the worlds oceans and seas. Pretty much every estuary, island, port and sea has been covered at various levels of detail from the early 1800s showing details such as depths, observation points in-land and light-houses. Dangers such as rocks and other obstacles are also noted, such, as in this case, the famous Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast.


The library holds a large number of charts but this one, Dungeness to the Thames including Dover Strait, number 1895, has a message on the back that few others have. Possibly standard practise to avoid using outdated charts but also a security measure considering the time the chart was published, 1911, and of the area shown, the Thames estuary the note states


England -South Coast. Dungeness to the Thames including Dover Strait. Nu 1895. 1911.

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)

(Take me back to) The Black Hills of Dakota

Geological maps are often amongst the most colourful of all the cartographic genres, with the majority using a wide range of colours to show the land beneath our feet. One of the first recognized geological maps produced in this way was William Smith’s celebrated map of England and Wales, from 1815, featured in an earlier entry in this blog, . Towards the end of the Nineteenth Century the Ordnance Survey  started to produce detailed, and often beautiful,  geological maps of Britain and Ireland, something which continues to this day with the British Geological Survey (

This map of the Black Hills of South Dakota is a variation on the usual method of geological representation. The publishers, the United States Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain, Region, have used four different symbols of birds in flight to show the underlying


Bird’s eye view of the Black Hills…1879. F6:49 (12)

geology of the region.  A lack of any compass directions, text or scale on the map leaves a confused view of a complicated geological area. The Black Hills region has been dated back as far as 1.8 billion years, and was formed by magma deposits released during the movement of tectonic plates during the event known as the Trans-Hudson Orogeny (orogeny is a term used to describe geological events that cause major changes in the appearance of the Earth due to tectonic movement). The dramatic rings around the main area are caused by anticlines surrounding a dome (an anticline is a geological fold where strata are pushed together).


The Black Hills has a history as complex as its geology. Long been a site of spiritual importance the Hills took on a political significance after treaties giving the lands in perpetuity to the Lakota Indians in 1868 were ignored with the discovery of gold in 1874, and with defeat in the Great Sioux wars in 1876 the tribes were forcibly moved to reservations outside of the Black Hills area. A ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 stated that the relocation of the tribe was illegal, and that the Lakota were entitled to compensation, something which the Lakota refuse to accept as they believe that the only acceptable outcome is the return of the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore is on the eastern edge of the Black Hills and just across the border into Wyoming is the Devil’s Tower National Monument, created in 1906 and the first National Monument in the United States.


At the top of the map, just off the scan shown here, is the text ‘Dept. of the Interior, U.S.G and G. Survey, J.W. Powell in charge’. The U.S. G. and G. is the United States Geographical and Geological Survey, now called the U.S. Geological Survey and still producing maps to this day. J.W. Powell was an important figure in both the surveying and the exploration of the American West. John Wesley Powell was the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey but is remembered more for leading expeditions down the Colorado and Green Rivers, culminating in the first navigation through the Grand Canyon. A journey even more impressive considering that Powell had lost an arm during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.


The area of the Black Hills, hard up against the border with Wyoming, shown on a more conventional geological map. The main part of the hill is schists (speckled brown) and granite (brown) surrounded by a ring of sandstone (light blue) and limestone (darker blue).This band of sandstone and limestone corresponds with the flat plateau of the western part of the raised dome in the earlier map.

Geological map of South Dakota, 1951. F6:49 (6).

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

What’s in a name

Physical features rarely change. It takes something pretty spectacular, a volcanic eruption or large-scale mining say, to make a difference to the surface of the earth. Maps reflect this, hardly changing apart from the style of printing or colours used. What does change though are names, particularly names in countries which go through political or military upheaval. Stalingrad is one of the more famous cases in point.


Sheet M38, Saratov, G.S.G.S. No. 2758. c1920. B1 (41)

Originally called Tsaritsyn the city changed its name to Stalingrad in 1925 to honour Joseph Stalin, who had been the chairman of the local Military Committee during the Russian Civil War in 1919. After Stalin’s death and re-evaluation of his time the city changed its name for a third time in 1961 to Volgograd, the ‘town on the River Volga’.


Blatt-Nr M 38, Ssaratow, Generalstab des Heeres, 1943. B1 (41)

These maps come from the International Map of the World, one of the most ambitious and celebrated of all map series. The scheme was originally proposed at an international Cartographic Conference in 1891 by a German cartographer called Albrecht Penck with the intention of covering the whole of the Earth with maps at a scale of 1:1,000,000.  The suggestion ran into immediate problems, both technical and political, not least of which was determining the meridian used. Meridians are crucial in the making of maps, especially a global series as this would be, as they set the degrees used. French cartographers wanted to use their Paris-based meridian, English cartographers pushed for Greenwich.


NM 38, Volgograd, Army Map Service, 1965. B1 (41)

For Penck the benefits of such a scheme were numerous but the two most important were that the maps would produce a general cover of the Earth at a scale detailed enough to be of use and that a large area of the Earth had already been mapped at this or a similar scale so the scheme was already, unofficially and without been called as such, partly in place. Penck set out the rules by which his maps would be made. Latinized names and the use of as few colours as practical were intended to give the maps as uniform a look as possible. It took until 1904 before numerous issues were resolved, and for the first maps to be produced, with French, German and English military cartographic groups publishing maps of areas of colonial interest (Germany maps of Eastern China, France maps of Persia and the Antilles and the English Africa). Eventually the entire globe was covered by 2,500 sheets, sheets which often had numerous editions and published by countries with opposing political views. For example during the period of the Second World War different editions of the sheet covering London and the Channel were  published by the cartographic departments of the British, Soviet and German military.




German (1941), English (1944) and Russian (1938) versions of sheet M30, from the International map of the World series. B1 (41)

Stalingrad is of course most famous as one of the major battlegrounds of the Second World War. Situated on the western bank of the Volga River, with a large industrial output and a key strategic position controlling the river traffic to central Russia, the battle for the city started in August 1942 and lasted 5 months. After initial heavy losses Russian troops were able to re-group in the country to the east of the river and in a large pincer movement encircle German troops in November. This map of the city is printed on the reverse of a general series of maps of Eastern Europe published in 1942 by the German Army. The main map features, as well as the map itself, a large amount of text on the landscape, transport network and population of the area shown on each sheet. On reverse the town plans has further text on the city shown, with an index of crucial points.


Umbegungsskizze von Stalingrad, on reverse of sheet D49 of Osteuropa 1:300,000. 1942. C40 (72a) [D49]