Works of art

From antiquity through to the early editions of the Ordnance Survey maps have often been considered works of art as well as practical aids to getting from a to b.  As well as what lies inside the folded package the covers of many works are often objects to be admired in their own right. Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and catalogues, in particular in the years between the wars, being perfect examples.

Arthur Palmer was one of the first of the artists used by the OS, creating map covers that not only looked good but reflected the location, like this district map of Oxford from 1931. Earlier maps, such as the Geological map of Oxford, were printed on bland sleeves which son smudged and got dirty.

ox dis





Palmer carried on producing covers of great quality whie working in different departments within the OS, including this catalogue cover from 1930, but his heavy style was soon


replaced by a more colourful and open style of the only professional artist employed by the organisation at this time, Ellis Martin. Martin’s covers graced the majority of products produced by the OS from immediatly after the end of the First World War (in which he served as a field artist in the Tank Corps) to 1940. His covers graced descriptive catalogues of different designs

martin colour cartouche

b w cartiuche


as well as a range of maps from the normal 1″ to a mile series


and the covers for the range of historical mappng produced by the OS

According to Paddy Bush, in his book ‘Map Cover Art, a pictorial history of Ordnance Survey cover illustrations’ (Map Room open shelves, G24 C16.13), ‘The years following the Second World War were marked by a gloom which found bleak expression in many facets of Ordnance Survey life’. While this period saw the OS turn their backs on the beauty of the covers of Martin, Palmer and others for designs which now seem dated there can be found in some at least an appeal of


simple design. This minimalist approach lasted until the 1970’s, when views of the countryside appeared on the covers of maps again, replaced eventually with the photographs that adorn todays Landranger and Explorer.






General Gordon’s map

An unexpected phone call through to the Map Department recently proved to be the start of a little adventure that had a wonderful outcome. A member of the public offering us a map which had been hanging on her wall for a while, which is mentioned in Peter Whitfield’s book ‘The Mapmakers: A history of the Stanfords’. Mention was made of Khartoum, but apart from that no further information was initially forthcoming.

After accepting the kind offer and arranging a time to have the map handed over, map staff found Whitfield’s book, which mentions the map. It turns out that Stanfords, the famous Victorian London map makers, had produced a facsimile of a map made by General Gordon in 1874 showing his journey in the Sudan, due to great public interest in Gordon after his death in 1885 at the siege of Khartoum. Whitfield’s book shows the map, with the Bodleian acknowledged for the copy, which gave the donor cause to contact us. Of more interest though is the fact that ‘the whereabouts of the original manuscript of the map is unknown’. This caused a bit of head-scratching amongst staff here, the donor had said we had a copy, but all we held was the reproduction issued by Stanfords.

Gordon map v01_smaller

The donor and members of family turn up one cold and wet April morning, and hand over the map. It’s immediately apparent that this is the original, whereabouts previously unknown, and we’re thrilled to have been presented with such an item. As well as the route taken from Suakim to Khartoum Gordon includes topographical information and sketches and a letter to a friend, ‘ My dear Lestrange…’ which gives details of the trip made but begs Lestrange not to come if ‘the changes are dangerous to your health…do not risk coming if Doctor says no’.

[General Gordon’s journey from Suakim to Khartoum, 1874]. (MS) E4:1 (19).

Trench Map Exhibition

To mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand on Saturday the 28th of June the Map Room is exhibiting a small number of maps from its extensive Trench Map Collection. As well as a maps of Vimy Ridge and No-Man’s Land enemy wire defences we show this map, Message Map, dated 22.9.17 showing enemy trench positions during the Battle of

message map 1

Polygon Wood (which was part of the larger 3rd Battle of Ypres). While the Bodleian holds a large amount of Trench Maps showing enemy positions and British front-lines this map is one of the few examples we have of a message map. On the reverse is a questionnaire used by advancing soldiers to send back to Headquarters information on positions, enemy strengths and other

message map 2

details. The maps will be on display in the main entrance to the Library on Friday the 27th and Monday the 30th of June.


Message Map, 1917. Field Survey Company. C1 (3) [2157]


Today’s date, June the 6th 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha beaches on the Normandy Coast. Whilst the day itself was a turning point in the war the planning involved in the operation had started the year before, after the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. In between the conference and the landings maps were produced in their thousands on themes such as enemy defences, landing zones, drainage, agricultural regions and waterways.

We show here extracts taken from a set of five maps for each of the landing beaches.

British troops landed on Sword, the most easterly of the beaches. Strategically important because of it’s proximity to Caen, troops initially met limited resistance and soon linked


up with canadian forces. Troops on Sword advanced in land to their objective, Caen.

American troops landed on the heavily defended Omaha Beach. Their objective was to set up a beachhead and link up with troops landing on Gold but problems with dropping of troops in the right zones and the large numbers of casualties taken during the initial assualt delayed this by a number of days.


Utah Beach was another American target, and troops landing here met little resistance. By the end of the day more than 23,000 had landed on the beach, among them was Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, assistant commander of the 4th Division, and son of President Roosevelt. His landing craft had drifted a mile of course with the current, which led to his famous quote “We’ll start the war from here!”


The purple symbols on the maps mark enemy defences


These were mapped out using information from the local resistance movements, aerial observation and photographs taken from small submarines off-shore.

The Bodleian has a large collection of D-Day and other Second World War mapping available for consultation.

D-Day Beach Landing Maps, April 1944. C21:37 (28)


Map surveyors and cartographers are often the unseen heroes of the map world. They may get a mention in some bottom corner if lucky, but more often than not nothing at all. Map staff have recently catalogued and made available maps of Colorado dating from circa 1876. As well as the set of six maps covering the state there are two sheets of panoramic views of mountain ranges, and amongst these views figures are included, the surveyors and

surveyors 1

cartographers of the maps.

sur 2

[Topographical Map of Colorado on 6 sheets], 1:253,440. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories (U.S.), c.1876.  F6:14 (58)


Pompeii found again

Eagle-eyed staff at the Bodleian’s storage depot found this beautiful map of Pompeii with an incorrect shelf mark. Italy, being part of Europe, has the prefix C25. This map of Pompeii should have been given the call number C25:50 Pompeii (1). When the Pompeii map came into the library it was incorrectly labelled D25:50 Pompeii (1), putting it in with maps of Malaya.


When correcting this error staff in Oxford discovered a note in the handlist page for Pompeii maps, stating that the map was reported ‘missing 3/10/1952’. While this isn’t as long as the 1500 years that Pompei lay undiscovered after the eruption of Vesuivis in 79 AD were very glad, after 62 years, to be able to restore it to it’s rightful place.

C25:50 Pompeii (1)

Maps are for history, not just for geography

This post was originally published on the Maps and Music blog. This concerns the ongoing project to digitise the Map and Music Room card catalogue (pictures of which, in situ in Duke Humfrey’s Library, illustrate this piece); records for the whole map collection should be available on SOLO by autumn this year.


Taissa Csaky writes:

When I was at university (quite a long time ago) one of my favourite things about ancient history was the tutor’s habit of starting each session by unrolling a large map on the floor. He rightly insisted that we couldn’t possibly understand Rome’s civil wars or the Greece’s war with Persia if we didn’t know where the cities, roads, mountains, rivers, islands, fleets and armies were.


Working on the project to digitize the Map Room’s card catalogue has shown me a different link between maps and history. I’m one of a small team editing the text of the new digital records. We compare text generated by OCR (optical character recognition) against scans of the original record cards. The editing process takes you through a lot of cards. Thousands in fact, as between us we need to edit over 200,000 by next spring. Records are allocated to editors in geographical batches, reflecting the order of cards in the current index. The records in my first set were for maps of Greece.

First impressions were that there was a bewildering variety of maps of Greece made by a bewildering number of map-makers and publishers… But a few thousand cards later a pattern started to emerge, with a loose correlation between the dates maps were produced and the types of maps. It was not just that the techniques and conventions of map-making were changing over time. There was also a definite link between the date of the map, the sort of person or organisation that made it, and why.

Here are some examples of the main types of map I noticed repeating.

Lots of eighteenth century maps retracing the voyages of a fictional Scythian, Anacharsis the Younger.


Nineteenth century maps of classical Greece:


Map 1

German military maps from the early years of the Second World War:

greece 2

Map 4

Map 5

British military maps from the later years of the Second World War:


Map 3

Map 2

Touring and tourist maps. These start appearing in the 1930s but there are many more from the 1960s and later.


Also from the 1960s, maps from the National Statistical Service of Greece:


And most recently, twentieth and twenty-first century walking maps produced by the Greek Alpine club:


To me the fact these types of maps come up over and over again tells a story about Greece and what made it interesting to map-makers and map-users. I read it like this…

In the eighteenth century Greece was something of a fantasy land to Europeans – more familiar in classical literature and contemporary fiction than reality. In the nineteenth century the serious study of ancient history began and classicists made maps to represent their understanding of past events. Then there is a lull in interest in Greece – or at least that’s what the collection suggests – until the twentieth century. Suddenly Greece becomes a real place of contemporary interest. During the Second World War, the German army drew up maps to plan the invasion of Greece, and the British military made maps to plan the counter-attack. In the 1960s the Mediterranean holiday industry exploded and tourists had maps to plan their assault on Greece. More recent maps from the Map Room collection are made by Greeks for Greeks – statistical maps to assist government planning or detailed walking club maps of the Peloponnesian mountains.


Looking at the catalogue this way can give you an insight into why people made maps, where they were going, and what they planned to do when they got there. It also makes editing several thousand cards a much more interesting process. You’re not just reading the words of a catalogue, and it’s not just a catalogue of cartography or geography. It’s history too.


WWII Ministry of Information maps

Bodleian’s Map Department has recently added a fascinating set of maps dating from the period of the Second World War to the collection. Produced mainly by the Ministry of Information (MOI) for propaganda and press purposes the maps are in black and white, measuring 25 by 20 cms and printed on glossy paper.


Each map is accompanied by an information slip, stating amongst other things title, purpose of use and department responsible for the production of the map.


The MOI was a department set up at the end of the First World War and then again at the start of the Second, and was responsible for press censorship and publicity both at home and abroad. An example of their work is the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ campaign.


As well as maps produced by the MOI the set also includes maps made by the Daily Mail and the Czechoslovakian Embassy, and maps with this design can be seen in newspaper reports from the time showing the progress of the war and key areas.


As well as the maps of Hong Kong, Japan and Rome featured here the set also includes maps of Japanese aggression in the Far East, Berlin, Rome, the Russian Front, pre-war European boundaries, Syrian and Iraqi pipelines and the Chinese Republic.


The maps can be ordered via solo, and have the shelf mark B1 (1447)


First World War trench maps at the Bodleian Library

To mark the 95th Armistice Day we put on display a map from the Bodleian’s Trench Map collection of maps from the First World War. Within this collection, one of the most important in the map holdings for the library, there are a large number of detailed trench maps as well as more functional and administrative mapping used to plot, fight and plan hostilities during the war. All the maps are catalogued on SOLO. This map, ‘Second Army Area (East)…’ is less detailed then most of our trench maps but is one of the few in the collection with manuscript additions.

Trench map

Second Army Area (East): Sketch map showing supposed location of enemy forces 31st May1917’. C1 (3) [2551a]

The Northern Lights


While processing some maps recently map staff found, on a ‘Monthly Meteorlogical Chart of the North Atlantic Ocean’ for January 1920, this lovely description and drawing of the Aurora Borealis seen from onboard a ship sailing between London and Philadelphia.
The Aurora are caused by atoms and particles hitting the high altitude atmosphere, the particles coming from the Sun’s solar wind, and then entering the Earth’s magnetic fields at the poles.