Blog - #LoveMaps

Maps, art and decolonisation

#LoveMaps / Exhibitions - Posted 05-02-2024

This blog is one of a series to accompany the Wales to the World: maps from the National Library of Wales exhibition, currently on display at the Riverside Gallery, Haverfordwest, until 24 February 2024. Each blog will focus on a selection of items joined by a common theme. This time we look at maps connected to colonisation and slavery.

In 2023 the National Library of Wales (NLW) commissioned four artists of colour to create new artworks responding to NLW collections. Two of these projects grew from items in the map collection and had a particular focus on difficult and contested histories of slavery and colonialism.

The art commissions were funded by Welsh Government as part of the Anti-racist Wales Action Plan.


What is not on the map?

Mfikela Jean Samuel, artist and speaker on racial justice, was born in Shisong-Kumbo in northwestern Cameroon and now lives in North Wales. Mfikela works with acrylic and oils and draws his inspiration from both his heritage and lineage as well as broader historical themes. Mfikela’s new work responds to a map of British colonial possessions in West Africa in the late 1940s, distributed by the British government’s Central Office of Information (COI).



The COI was responsible for producing information campaigns on everything from health and education to transport and childcare. This map focuses on the products that could be exploited in Britain’s west African colonies. Only the areas that were under British control are shown in any detail.



Mfikela says, ‘in an effort to encompass the diversity of the continent, I incorporate elements inspired by all major regions of Africa. The inclusion of pharaohs from Egypt and traditional masks from various regions is a deliberate choice. These symbols represent the rich cultural heritage that endured despite the colonial intervention, showcasing the resilience and strength of African societies.

The artwork serves as a visual dialogue, inviting viewers to question the narratives imposed by colonial powers. It challenges the notion of Africa as a passive object of colonization, instead highlighting the agency and resistance present throughout history. By weaving the maps with these cultural symbols, I aim to dissolve the one-dimensional perspective placed upon Africa and its people.’


Slavery and Slebech

Jasmine Violet graduated from Carmarthen School of Art in 2020. Jasmine is an interdisciplinary artist working with photography, cyanotype printing, watercolours and oil painting, to explore themes of identity, subconscious thought and mental health.




Jasmine created her work in response to connections between Wales and Jamaica in the 18th century. The National Library of Wales holds records of sugar plantations and people enslaved by Nathaniel Phillips, who would later use the wealth he gained in the Caribbean to buy the Slebech estate, five miles east of Haverfordwest. These records include a map of one of Phillips’ plantations, Pleasant Hill, and a list of the enslaved people who worked there in the 1760s.



Nathaniel Phillips (1733–1813), illegitimate son of a London sugar trader, moved to Jamaica in 1759 and by 1761 had bought half shares in a plantation called Pleasant Hill. The other half was owned by Richard Swarton (–1762). Phillips married Swarton’s daughter Ann (–1767). When Swarton died in 1762, he left his share of Pleasant Hill to Ann and her descendants. We know from an inventory of Swarton’s assets at the time of his death that he owned half shares in 51 men, 29 women, nine boys and seven girls. He was also the sole owner of another nine men, 10 women, eight boys and seven girls.



In practice, this meant the plantation and those enslaved on it passed to Ann’s husband, Nathaniel Phillips, as married women were not able to own property in their own right. In the 1760s the 120 enslaved people on the plantation were expected to produce 90,000 kilograms of sugar and 30,000 litres of rum each year. After returning to Britain with his plantation wealth in 1789, Phillips bought Slebech Hall and its estate of 600 acres, near Haverfordwest. When Phillips left Jamaica, he owned 706 slaves, valued at £50,000. His Jamaican lands were worth an additional £160,000. He was an active campaigner against the abolition of the slave trade in the 1790s through the Society of West India Planters and Merchants. When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1838, agents of Phillips’ descendants claimed £3599, four shillings and five pence in compensation from the British government. Those who had been enslaved received nothing.

Mfikela and Jasmine’s artworks, and the maps that inspired them, are on display in the Wales to the World exhibition at the Riverside gallery in Haverfordwest, until 24 February 2024.


Links and further reading

More information about Mfikela Jean Samuel and Jasmine Violet.

The Legacies of British Slavery project contains detailed information about slave owners and the compensation they received from the British Government at Abolition.

The British Online Archive [accessible inside the library building] includes detailed information on the Slebech papers held by NLW.

See this blog for more detail about the COI West Africa map and other colonial maps of Africa.

See this blog for information on NLW’s holdings relating to Wales and the slave trade.

See this blog for some of the other items on display in the Wales to the World exhibition.


Ellie King

Assistant Map Curator


This blog is also available in Welsh.

Maps for Learning and Play

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 29-01-2024

This blog is part of a series to accompany the Wales to the World: maps from the National Library of Wales exhibition, currently on display at the Riverside Gallery, Haverfordwest, until 24 February 2024. Each blog will focus on a selection of items joined by a common theme. This time we are focusing on maps for learning and play.

Games have long been used to help children get to grips with geography. Jigsaw puzzles were first invented as a map teaching aid. They invention is generally attributed to John Spilsbury in the 1760s Originally, the pieces were not the ubiquitous shape of puzzles today, but were individually cut out along outlines of countries, or counties. Children could then piece together a complete map. In the exhibition, you can see a jigsaw, or ‘dissected map’ as they were originally known, from the 1890s. It was manufactured by William Peacock, a prolific creator of map jigsaws. His company, Peacock & Co., continued into the 1930s, when it was bought by Chad Valley.



Peacock & Co. were not cartographers, they used maps that were already available, pasted them onto wooden boards and then cut out the pieces. This puzzle is made up of the counties of England and Wales. Ideally, each county would have its own piece, but as each puzzle had to be laboriously and expensively hand cut, some pieces cover more than one county. Like jigsaws everywhere, this puzzle is missing a single piece!

Also on display is a school atlas used at Llanddewi Brefi Board School in the early 20th century. We know this because schoolgirl Mary Davies wrote her name and school on the cover. This book was designed to introduce the concept of a map to school children. The atlas opens with a drawing of a typical Victorian school building in an idyllic landscape of fields and rolling hills, a steam train passing in the background. The same scene is then shown on a map, all features carefully labelled. This would have helped school children get to grips with cartographic conventions by connecting them to a familiar landscape.



Most of the maps in the atlas focus on physical geographical features, but it also includes one historical map, showing ‘the Holy Land in the time of our saviour’, showing the embeddedness of religion in the general school curriculum at the time. The Middle East also appears in one of the Welsh language maps in the exhibition.

Published in 1916, Map y rhyfel yng ngwledydd y Beibl [Map of the war in the lands of the Bible] was intended to help ordinary people understand the course of the First World War by showing the modern placenames alongside their Biblical equivalents. The map was published in Y Darian, a radical South Wales paper. The map’s creator, Beriah Gwynfe Evans, explained his aims to a Darian reporter:

“Gwyr pobl Cymru eu Beibl, a’r enwau Beiblaidd-ond ni ch’eir ond ychydig o’r enwau hynny yn y papurau new- ydd, gan fod yr enwau diweddar ar y lleoedd yn wahanol i’r enwau a geir ar y lleoedd hynny yn y Beibl … Gwyr blant yr Ysgol Sul am Sardis, a Philadelphia, ac Elath, Ninifeh – ond pwy ohonynt a gysylltai yr enwau hynny ag ‘Aktisar,’ ‘Alashei,’ ‘Akaba,’ a ‘Mosul’, er engraifft. … A cha’r Cymro ddidordeb newydd wrth ddarllen hanes y brwydro yn y lleoedd dieithr hyn pan wel mai yr un ydynt a’r lleoedd y dysgwyd ef am danynt o dan ryw enw arall yn yr Ysgol Sul.” (Y Darian, 31 Awst 1916)

“The people of Wales know their Bible, and the Biblical names, but only a few of those names appear in the newspapers, as the current names of the places are different from the names found in the Bible … Sunday School children all know about Sardis, Philadelphia, Elath and Nineveh, but who can connect them to Aktisar, Alashei, Akaba and Mosul … the Welshman will have a new interest when reading the history of the fighting in these strange places when he sees that they are the same as the places he was taught about under some other name in Sunday School” (Y Darian, 31 August 1916)

The paper later published a letter of thanks from a Pembrokeshire woman who was keeping track of her cousins in Egypt using their letters and the Darian map.



To end on a lighter note, also on display are three map playing cards created by William Redmayne in the late 17th century. At the time, England and Wales together were made up of 52 counties – the same number of cards in a standard playing card deck. Several different publishers took advantage of this to make packs of cards where each county appeared on a different card. The ‘Pembrook-shire’ card here is from the first edition of Redmayne’s cards and dates to 1676. The cards were printed in black and white, and the red suit shapes were hand stamped after printing.

The following year, Redmayne released a revised second edition. Possibly the fact that Pembrokeshire is described as adjacent to Flintshire contributed to the decision to reprint! The second edition was also produced in black and white, with the expensive second stage of hand stamping the suits dispensed with. ‘Red’ and ‘black’ suits are distinguished by stripes and hatching respectively. The ‘Cardigan-shire’ and ‘Caernarvan-shire’ cards here are from this second edition.



These are just a few of the items on display in the Wales to the world exhibition, currently on display at the Riverside, Haverfordwest, until 24 February 2024. You can read more about the exhibition here: .


Ellie King

Assistant Map Curator


This blog is also available in Welsh.

A new maps exhibition at the Riverside Gallery, Haverfordwest

#LoveMaps / Exhibitions - Posted 16-10-2023


An exciting new exhibition of maps from the National Library opened at the Riverside Gallery, Haverfordwest, on Saturday 23 September.

The maps have been selected from the more than 1.5 million objects cared for in the National Map Collection in Aberystwyth. The exhibition ranges from the oldest map in the library to newly commissioned artworks.

Highlights include the first standalone map of Wales, a Cold War map of Pembroke Dock secretly drawn by the Soviet Union, 17th century playing cards on a map theme, and a German propaganda map quoting David Lloyd George. Brand-new artworks inspired by the map collection are also on show.



In 2023, the National Library of Wales commissioned four artists of colour to create artworks responding to the collections. Two of the projects grew from items in the map collection and focused on difficult and contested histories of slavery and colonialism. These new works by Welsh artists Mfikela Jean Samuel and Jasmine Violet Sheckleford will be on public display for the first time in this exhibition, along with the items from the map collection which inspired them. They shed new light on British colonial maps of Africa, and Welsh connections to plantation slavery in Jamaica.



Wales to the world: maps from the National Library of Wales will be in Haverfordwest until 24 February 2024.

Art commissions were funded by Welsh Government as part of the Anti-racist Wales Action Plan.


Ellie King

Assistant Map Curator


This blog is also available in Welsh.

Carto-Cymru – The Wales Map Symposium 2023

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 28-04-2023

Once again this May sees another Carto-Cymru – The Wales Map Symposium. This time we will be meeting face to face, for the first time since 2019. This is the seventh annual symposium and our theme this year is the work of the Ordnance Survey (OS). We will be looking at how approaches to mapping the landscape have changed over time and how historical OS maps can help us to understand our physical environment both past and present. 

As usual the event is being held jointly between the National Library and the Royal Commission who are based here in the Library’s building. This year’s event is also being held in association with the Charles Close Society and ties in with their AGM which is also being held at the Library the next day. 

We have a very exciting line-up of speakers this year, we will be welcoming back some old hands, but also seeing some new faces. 

Our first speaker will be Keith Lilley, Professor of Historical Geography at Queen’s University, Belfast. Keith is one of our regular speakers, this will be his fourth appearance at the event and this time his topic will be ‘Excavating’ the map: Landscapes of the Early Ordnance Survey in Great Britain and Ireland.  

Keith will be examining the relationship between ‘map’ and ‘field’ looking at sites of survey and survey practices that not only shaped the making of the finished map but also materially shaped those landscapes the map represents. He will then go on to look to the OS maps themselves, to reveal insights into the field-operations of those OS personnel on the ground. 

Our next speaker, Dr Rob Wheeler, is honorary secretary to the Charles Close Society and he will be discussing the ‘blue & black’ OS drawings. Rob will explain how the Ordnance Survey produced new editions of its 1:2,500 scale plans by printing a version of the old edition in light blue and using this as a drawing key. Since the blue would not photograph, only the lines overdrawn or added by the draughtsman would appear on the finished map. Many of these MS drawings for England are held here at the National Library, those for Wales are held by the Royal Commission. 

These maps are not simply a manuscript version of the new edition superimposed on a blue of the previous one. The blues are normally not the printed version of the previous edition, but manuscript documents associated with its survey and drawing. The source varies according to whether the previous edition was a 1st or 2nd edition. These drawings can provide topographical information additional to that on the printed maps. 

Our final speaker of the morning session is Jess Baker of the Ordnance Survey who will talk to us about how the way that OS works has changed over time and provide us with a detailed view of OS’s history and highlight notable moments that have affected that change. 

Jess will tell us about why certain features have been added and taken off maps over time, the rationale behind differing styles and symbologies used, and even how the artwork on map covers has evolved. 

After lunch Scott Lloyd of the Royal Commission will talk to us about the Meresmen and the Parish Boundaries of Wales. He will examine the processes behind the creation of the parish boundaries on the first edition 25-inch mapping for a small number of parishes in North-east Wales. 

Scott will discuss the surveyors sketch books with notes by the meresmen appointed to represent each parish, the subsequent Boundary Report books dealing with issues on the line of the boundary, the printed ‘sketch maps’ and the Journals of Inspection which record the comments of concerned landowners. All of which preceded the printed map and allow an insight into the establishment of the boundaries. 

The next talk will be a tour of some of the Ordnance Survey publications held here at the National Library. In this talk I will endeavour to show some of the less well known and perhaps surprising maps produced by the OS. 

Since the National Library of Wales was founded in 1907, it has acquired thousands of Ordnance Survey maps, many directly from the Ordnance Survey through Legal Deposit, but also through donation and purchase. This is especially true of those maps published prior to the Library receiving copyright status in 1911. As a result, the Library has a wide range of Ordnance Survey publications, mainly maps, but also textual works. While we tend to concentrate on maps of Wales, I hope to show that our collection of OS maps contains much more. 

Our final talk sees Mike Parker, kindly taking time out from promoting his new book, taking us on a journey through nearly half a century of studying and writing about Wales and maps. 

Mike’s talk will mix some of the history of Welsh cartography, with thoughts about Welsh representation in the wider map world, together with an exploration of some of its quirkier corners. 

We are looking forward to a really great day and to learning lots of fascinating things about OS maps. It is really great to be meeting again face-to-face. There are tickets still available and it would be wonderful to see as many of you as possible on the day. For those that cannot make it the event is also being made available online. 

Carto-Cymru 2023 will be held on 12 May with registration from 9.30. For further information and tickets please visit 

Huw Thomas 

Map Curator 


A Welsh Placename Revival?

#LoveMaps / News / Rants and Raves / Research - Posted 25-11-2022

A Democratic Digital Infrastructure for Welsh Place-Names

Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park recently announced that they would no longer be using the English names for Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) or Eryri (Snowdonia) as part of a wider policy of adopting and safeguarding Welsh place names across the park.


This move has been broadly welcomed, especially here in Wales, and campaigners will be hoping that this bold move will empower others to follow suit. There is already talk of the Welsh football team adopting the use of ‘Cymru’ in both languages after the impending World Cup.


Such moves not only help to safeguard the Welsh language but to celebrate it, and to encourage visitors to engage with it.


The decision by Eryri National Park also raises some interesting questions. Will the rest of the tourism sector follow their lead? Or will they continue to use the English name? And what about education, the media and the government? We shall see.


As custodians of knowledge, the National Library of Wales is naturally invested in archiving official records, but when it comes to Welsh place names, these official records don’t always reflect popular culture and practice and are certainly slow to react to changing public expectations. 


In terms of mapping, many official maps only use the English versions of Welsh place names. For example, despite a concerted effort in recent years, Ordnance Survey still lacks a lot of Welsh language data. In an effort to support the growing demand for Welsh language mapping and data the National Library is working on developing free and open data and mapping solutions for Welsh placenames. With funding from Welsh Government and in partnership with Mapio Cymru and Menter Iaith Môn we are engaging with crowd-sourced, community-governed data sets, Wikidata and Open Street Map, to help develop a Welsh language mapping solution. We’ve used our technical expertise to help align these two sources of Welsh place name data, and worked with Welsh Government open data and the Welsh Language Commission to increase the richness and diversity of the data. 



And these data sets allow the community to decide on the form of placenames. On Wikipedia and Wikidata names are changed or adopted by an open democratic process – already there is a lively discussion on English Wikipedia about changing the title of the article on Yr Wyddfa. But the data sets also offer flexibility, a name can have many variants, including multiple ‘official’ names, and different names can be noted for different time periods. Consumers of the data then have a choice of what data they want to present on their map. Recently both the BBC and Welsh Government have used this open data to serve Welsh language maps to the public



We have also used this rich open data to ensure that Welsh Wicipedia has basic articles about (almost) all towns and villages in Wales. We recently created over 800 of these and are working with volunteers to enrich Welsh language content about our places. One of our volunteers has created dozens of articles about historic streets and buildings in Wrexham and we are planning an editing event in partnership with the Welsh Place-Name Society to further improve Wikipedia content about Welsh placenames, their history and their meaning. If you are interested in taking part, you can find out more here.



We will also be working with Menter Iaith Môn to teach school children how to add information about their community to Wikipedia in Welsh, and to collect sound bytes of children pronouncing their local placenames. These too will be made freely available on Wiki.


This project allows us to do more than simply archive and give access to records. This is about engaging with the public and supporting the development of digital infrastructure for Welsh placenames. This will also enable us to think about how we present our collections in the context of place and time. Another output of our work this year will be a prototype map for viewing our collections in both English and Welsh, which we hope will be a positive step towards the development of a truly bilingual search and discovery solution, with the flexibility to adapt quickly to positive change, like the recent renaming of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).


Jason Evans


Open Data Manager


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The Panorama: or, Traveller’s Instructive Guide through England and Wales

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 05-09-2022

Are you already missing the summer holidays? Then let’s go on a tour of Wales with the Traveller’s Instructive Guide through England and Wales as our trusty companion. Dating from around 1820, and measuring only 13 x 9 cm, the Guide intends to provide all the information the inquisitive traveller might need, including market towns and days, fairs, local members of Parliament, banks and bankers, seats of the gentry, distance from London, and mail coach routes and prices. Information on each county is compressed on to a single page, with a coloured map on the facing page. The introduction promises that ‘to all classes of persons, the merchant, the trader, the farmer, but especially the traveller, from its portable size will be found of infinite service’.



Title page


I’ve left the spellings of place names as they appear in the guide. Monmouthshire is missing from the Welsh guide, listed instead with the English counties, which are not included in this volume. This is common in guides and on maps dating from the 16th to the 20th century, and results from long-running legal ambiguity about whether Monmouthshire was part of Wales, with different pieces of legislation treating the county differently. The situation was clarified legally only in the Local Government Act of 1972.


Beginning in Anglesea, we’ll be sure to seek out the ‘many rude vestiges’ of Druidic temples, not to forget the ‘neat and handsome town’ of Beaumaris, and popping to Newborough for ‘ropes and mats made of seaweed’.


Next-door Carnarvonshire ‘contains that stupendous mountain Snowdon, with its summit…lost to human view amidst the clouds of heaven’. Carnarvonshire seems a good place for a snack, as the county produces excellent beef and ‘the cows are remarkable for yielding great quantities of milk’. To ease our aching feet, we’ll make a stop in Carnarvon for the ‘fine salt water baths’. According to the Guide, Bangor is only a single street a mile long, so we’ll proceed swiftly on to Conway, a ‘remarkable pleasant town’, boasting both a Gothic cathedral and an ancient castle ‘in a high state of preservation’. The MP for Caernarvon Boroughs is Sir Charles Paget. He succeeded his brother Edward in the same seat, and never made a single contribution to a parliamentary debate, despite serving for 24 years!





Heading east, the Guide calls central Denbighshire ‘one of the most delightful spots in Europe’ and notes that ‘the vale of Clwyd has been justly made the theme of literary eulogium’. Be sure to pack a notebook so you can jot down any lines of poetry that occur to you while admiring the Denbighshire views.


After the delights of Denbighshire, the Guide seems not to have been impressed by Flintshire. Flint is ‘irregularly built’ and ‘although it sends one member to parliament, has no market’, while St Asaph is ‘a very insignificant place’.


Heading south into Montgomeryshire, we are in the home of ‘luxuriant crops of corn’ and pastures filled with black cattle and horses. If you are in the market for livestock, head to Llanfair and (a very oddly spelt) Llansdiloes for cattle. Or best of all, Welchpool for horses, cattle and hogs.





Hop back north-west into Merionethshire for a ‘picturesque and beautiful romantic appearance’ and a wide array of textiles: excellent flannels from Dolgelly, druggets (a type of coarse fabric that was used to protect carpets in large houses) and ‘coarse woollen cloths’. If you’d like to accessorise, head up to Bala, for gloves and Welch wigs.


Now, onwards to Cardiganshire, which gets a mixed review: ‘the air in some parts is beautifully serene, in other parts it is bleak and piercing’. Be sure to stop by Llampeter, which holds a fair on the first Saturday in August, and Llanbadarnvawr for its ‘fine church, built in the form of a Greek Cross’.





East again to Radnorshire, where the air is ‘highly favourable to health and longevity’, despite the ‘rather indifferent’ soil, and the county town, Radnor, containing ‘nothing worthy of notice’.


All this traipsing may have worn holes in our socks, so it’s time for a trip to Brecknockshire, famous for manufacturing stockings. Builth in particular has a ‘great trade in coarse stockings’. The text and the map disagree on the correct spelling, with the text plumping for ‘Burlth’, while the map shows ‘Bualt’. Neither includes ‘Wells’, which was appended to the name only in the 19th century after chalybeate springs were discovered in the town and began to be marketed to tourists.





Veering back west, we reach Carmarthenshire, ‘situate[d] in the most beautiful part of South Wales’. Carmarthen itself is worth a visit, for its ‘fine bridge’ over the Teifi and its market selling black cattle and horses.


West from Carmarthenshire into Pembrokeshire, for some ‘salubrious’ air, despite the soil in some parts of the county being ‘barren and sterile’. Of course, no visit to Pembrokeshire would be complete without a trip to St David’s, ‘an episcopal city of great antiquity’, with an estimated population of just 200. Unfortunately St David’s offers neither market nor fair. So our souvenir shopping will have to wait until we reach Glamorganshire.





Swansea is ‘a town of great commercial business’ and there are ‘extensive manufactories of copper, brass, &c.’, as well as a fine harbour. At this time, Llandaff and Swansea are the principal towns of Glamorganshire, not Cardiff. In the north of the county, the air is ‘excessive bleak and keen’, but there are also ‘rich mines of lead and coal’.





If you want to send a postcard home, you’re out of luck, as the first picture postcards weren’t produced until the 1870s, but if you’ve sat down to write a letter detailing your adventure (or perhaps to show off your Denbighshire-inspired poem), you’ll find a handy list of postage prices at the back of the volume, and each map highlights the mail coach road in bright red.


Ellie King

Trainee Assistant Map Curator



The Guide In the catalogue

Mills, A. D. “Builth Wells.” In A Dictionary of British Place Names. : Oxford University Press, 2011.

Sir Charles Paget. Hansard 1803-2005.

The Regency Household: protecting carpets. Jane Austen’s World [blog]


This blog is also available in Welsh.

Cataloguing Colonial Maps of Africa

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 10-05-2022

For the past two years, between lockdowns, I have been working my way through a backlog of uncatalogued or partially catalogued maps of Africa, sorting them and adding them to the online database so everyone can access them. We are often told by readers that they did not know we had maps from outside Wales, so I hope this cataloguing project and my blog posts will help more readers to discover the breadth of material we hold.



Anglo Belgian Boundary Commission, 1925



Tanganyika border triangulation diagrams, 1928




Anglo-Belgian Boundary Commission, 1925 [signatures]


Most of these maps are from the era of European colonial administration of African countries. This partly results from the source of the maps in the collection — the vast majority have arrived in the library during the 20th century through the legal deposit process, which applies only to material published in the UK. The most prolific British publisher of overseas mapping in the 20th century was the government’s Directorate of Colonial Surveys. It was established in 1946 to centralise production of maps of the empire. In 1957, with independence movements across the empire gaining momentum, it was renamed the Directorate of Overseas Surveys. Other governmental departments, such as the Central Office of Information, also produced maps for a general audience, while the Ministry of Defence (MoD) produced and collected maps for military purposes, some of which have been added to the library collections as the MoD reduces its paper map collection in favour of a more digital approach. However, the dominance of colonial administrative perspectives in the collection also reflects the importance of mapping the colonial world — maps ‘prove’ who owns land.

Our first two maps are from a set used to define and legalise the border between British Tanganyika (modern Tanzania) and Belgian Rwanda and Burundi. The maps were drawn in the 1920s, and divided the spoils of the First World War as decided by the Treaty of Versailles. Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi had until then been part of German East Africa, but were to be divided as reparations between Britain and Belgium.

The ceremonial signatures of British and Belgian commissioners can be seen on the map. No reference is made to local people or leaders, whose signatures were not required for this division of their territory.



Wiedergutmachung von Unrecht?, 1918


Our next map is a German challenge to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s speech outlining his aim of ‘compensation for injustice’ [Wiedergutmachung von Unrecht] through the peace process. Lloyd George had demanded that Germany and its allies withdraw from Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, Italy, Romania, Alsace and Lorraine — this German map argues that his demands were hypocritical while Britain and its allies held colonies around the world. German East Africa is not included on the map.

While some colonial borders were defined with reference to geographical features, such as Lake Tanganyika in our first map, a quick glance at ruler-straight national boundaries in north Africa, for example, suggests that other borders were defined on paper, by lines drawn on maps, rather than with reference to the land itself, or its people.



Voi, 1959


This six-sheet 1959 map of the town of Voi in southern Kenya demonstrates this on a smaller scale: the town’s administrative boundary is a perfect circle, map information stopping abruptly at the circle’s edge.

The map of Voi was intended for administrative use within Kenya itself. However, many maps in the collection were made for a UK audience, to inform people about the empire. As a result, some are much more visually striking than the large-scale maps used for colonial administration.



West Africa, 1948



East Africa, 1947



West Africa, 1948 [border]



West Africa, 1948 [Mungo Park]



East Africa, 1947 [legend]


Our next two maps were produced in the late 1940s by the British government’s Central Office of Information for a general British audience. Both were drawn by Leo Vernon, who also illustrated maps of other parts of the empire, as well as tourist and historical maps of Britain.

They are intended to convey something of the culture and history of the places they depict through their use of colour and highly illustrated borders.

On the West Africa map, numerous figures are depicted around the edge of the map. The only one named is Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer. The numerous Black Africans depicted are unnamed, and most have only the slightest suggestion of facial features, in stark contrast to the detailed image of Park.

Both maps also show the rich resources found in Britain’s colonies, emphasising the exploitative and extractive nature of much of British colonialism. This focus on exports and commercial potential is a common feature on the maps in the collection.



Africa: commercial development, 1922



Legend from Africa: commercial development, 1922


The next map dates from 1922, and aims to classify the ‘commercial development’ of the entire African continent. The neat colour coding presents an impression of scientific rigour and accuracy, in contrast to the pictorial appeal of Leo Vernon’s illustrations.

In this hierarchy of development, mining, industry and plantation agriculture (run by and for European settlers) come at the top, while ‘virgin’ lands, although used by local communities for hunting and ‘primitive’ collecting, are classed as undeveloped. It is clear in whose interest ‘commercial development’ is intended to be. There is also very little interest in internal trade within countries or regions, only in external connections — those that benefitted imperial countries.



The continent of Africa, 1954


A number of maps in the collection emphasise the difference between colonies, protectorates and trusteeships, including our next map, as well as the 1948 West Africa map discussed above. Although trusteeships were theoretically intended to ensure that economic development benefitted both native people and colonial interests, they were thought of in a decidedly paternalistic way. An article published in 1946 describes trusteeships:

“Trusteeship, both national and international, is a conception which is at the forefront of the human advance. It assumes a relatively stable human society in which nations, themselves mature, rational, and governed in their actions and policies by high conceptions of law and justice, undertake to assist less advanced peoples to climb the ladder of self-government…”
The maps also frequently include short texts extolling the virtues of the colonial system, detailing the benefit that British rule supposedly bestowed upon Africans, and the ‘progress’ to be made before Africans could be ‘trusted’ with self-government:



The continent of Africa, 1954 [text]



East Africa, 1947 [text]


This blog has only scratched the surface of the fascinating material I have catalogued during this project, and there is plenty more work still to do, so I will be doing more blog posts in future to update you all with my favourite finds from this process.


Collection items:


Anglo-Belgian boundary commission, 1925 (E11:3 (3))

[Tanganyika border triangulation diagrams], 1928 (E11:6 (13))

Wiedergutmachung von Unrecht?, 1918 (B1:4 (4))

Voi, 1959 (E10:20 Voi (1))

West Africa, 1948 (E1:6 (18))

East Africa, 1947 (E1:4 (23))

Africa: commercial development, 1922 (Oversize Map 164)

The continent of Africa, 1954 (E1 (128))


Bibliography and further reading:


The imperial map: cartography and the mastery of empire, edited by James R. Akerman. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Mapping an empire: the geographical construction of British India, 1765-1843, by Matthew H. Edney. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

The Napoleonic survey of Egypt: a masterpiece of cartographic compilation and early nineteenth-century fieldwork, by Anne Godlewska. Cartographica Monograph no. 38-39. Cartographica 25 (1-2), 1988.

The iconography of landscape: essays on the symbolic representation, design, and use of past environments, edited by Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

The British Commonwealth and Trusteeship, published in the journal International Affairs, volume 22, number 2, pages 199-213, 1946.
Available free through JSTOR


Ellie King
Trainee Assistant Map Curator


This blog is also available in Welsh.

Carto-Cymru – The Wales Map Symposium 2022 – Mapping in Megabytes

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 06-05-2022

May has arrived and once again it is time for the National Library of Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales to join together to hold our annual map symposium Carto-Cymru. This will be the sixth event in the series since we started in 2016 and this year we are once again holding an online symposium, though unlike last year the whole event will take place on a single day, the 20th of May.

Our theme this year is ‘Mapping in Megabytes– how computer generated mapping is changing the way maps are produced, used and preserved and what this means for those who hold such information and make it available to the public.’

We have an exciting line-up of speakers, starting with our very own Jason Evans, who will be talking about ‘Decolonising Welsh mapping’. Jason is the Library’s Open Data Manager, and he will be telling us about Welsh speaking users of Openstreetmap and Wikidata have been working to safeguard Welsh language place names and why it is important to do so.

He will be reflecting on a recent Welsh Government funded project, led by the National Library of Wales, to combine these two datasets in order to improve Welsh language mapping services. He will also be looking ahead at the potential of crowdsourced data to empower Welsh speakers and ensure they have equal access to digital map-based services.

Our second talk will be by Jon Dollery, the Royal Commission’s Mapping Officer, who will be discussing the exciting project he is currently working to create interactive digital data from historic mapping.

He poses the intriguing question “What if we could have an OS Mastermap style system of polygons for landscapes now lost to the ravages of time and human progress and what if these polygons could be linked with estate, census and historic environment records?”

The UK has a vast collection of historic cartographic sources, increasingly these are being digitised and georeferenced. The AHRC funded ‘Deep Mapping of Estate Archives’ project seeks to take all of the information contained within these various mapping sources and create innovative interactive digital spatial data that will improve our understanding of landscape development over the past 400 years.

Jon’s talk will explore the types of spatial data we currently capture and how they are used within the historic environment sector and how these new developments can give us new ways to use them. We know there is a wealth of data in our historical written and cartographical sources, but we need to make it easier to get at and analyse. This talk will demonstrate some of the ways in which this can be achieved.

After the lunch break Dr Gethin Rees, Lead Curator of Digital Mapping at the British Library will talk about the Legal Deposit Libraries’ Map Viewer. His presentation will outline the steps that the six legal deposit libraries have taken to ensure that digital maps published in the United Kingdom are available for current and future generations.

Gethin will discuss how access to an increasing amount of data is provided through the legal deposit libraries’ map viewer, built on familiar web map technologies that offer user-friendly functionality and make the collection accessible within the reading rooms of the legal deposit libraries.

Finally, he will look towards the future and outline some of the upcoming plans for map collecting as the legal deposit libraries seek to keep pace with the increasing diversity of maps published in the UK today.

In our final talk Sally MacInnes, Head of Unique and Contemporary Content at The National Library of Wales and Dr Sarah Higgins, Senior Lecturer in Information Studies at Aberystwyth University, will discuss the issues surrounding the preservation of digital maps.

Sally will describe the Library’s approach to preserving born digital content, with a focus on digital maps and how this fits into the Library’s new strategy: A Library for Wales and the World.

Sarah will then describe a project being undertaken in partnership between Aberystwyth University, The Royal Commission and The National Library to develop an AI enabled Trusted Digital Repository for Wales.

This promises to be an exciting day with the chance to hear about some cutting-edge projects in the field. So do come and join us. Tickets are free and can be obtained from

Women on the map: Finding women in the NLW map collections, 16th–18th century

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 09-12-2020

Let’s get metaphorical (and naked)

Glancing at many early maps, you might be forgiven for concluding that women have to take their clothes off to appear on a map. The usual representation of women on many maps is symbolic, with them forming part of the decorative cartouche surrounding the map’s title. However, continents and countries are frequently personified as women, often with roots in classical myths.

Philipp Clüver’s map of Europe, first published in 1647 in Amsterdam, appears in Johannes Buno’s Introductio in Universam Geographicum and is a good example. Europa sits on a plinth with a bull, an allusion to a Greek myth in which Europa, a Phoenician princess, is abducted and raped by Zeus, who appears in the form of a bull.



Often, however, the figures do not represent a specific person, mythological or historical. They are simply decorative or representative of a concept. Emanuel Bowen’s 1729 map of South Wales, for example, includes two women, one lounging at the base of the cartouche holding a cornucopia, representing fertility and abundance, along with gambolling cherubs. The mapmaker, a serious-looking male, holds the cartographical instruments.



Maps were also used to show male and female social or racial ‘types’, either as cartouche decorations or forming part of the frame of a regional map. These tended to be based more on stereotype and hearsay than reality, in line with European colonial attitudes, and their purpose may have been to demonstrate the alien nature of people in need of ‘civilisation’ by European domination.

The illustration below comes from The English Pilot (1755), one of the first English sea-atlases, the production of these previously having been dominated by the Dutch. It can be seen in the context of colonial jockeying for power in Asia and Africa and British imperialism.



Making the map

Jodocus Hondius, or Joost d’Hondt, was an engraver and publisher of maps, who worked in Amsterdam in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He is particularly known for publishing copies of Gerardus Mercator’s atlas. If you have ever wondered why Greenland often looks as big as Africa on world maps, you can blame Mercator’s map projection, which is still used almost 500 years after it was developed. He was also the first to use the term ‘atlas’ (another classical reference) to describe a book of maps.

The NLW holds a several copies of Mercator’s atlas printed in Hondius’s workshop, including this one from 1619.



The title page is adorned with female personifications of continents, in varying states of nakedness. While Europa and Asia are relatively well-dressed, those continents who were regarded in the 17th century as ‘savage’ are noticeably more naked — including ‘Peruana’, representing South America, and ‘Magalanica’, representing the mythical ‘southern continent’, Terra Australis, that was thought to exist far to the south.

The dog with the globe was the symbol of the Hondius workshop. The Latin motto ‘Excusum sub cane vigilanti’ means ‘printed under the watchful hound’ — a play on the name of Hondius.

Jodocus Hondius died in 1612, and his widow, Coletta van den Keere, herself from a printing family, took over the business. She published several editions of Mercator’s atlas, including the 1619 copy in the NLW. Her name does not appear anywhere on the title page, as she maintained the ‘watchful hound’ branding and the trusted name of Jodocus Hondius on the maps she produced.

Map workshops in the 16th and 17th century were often family affairs. Printing plates and knowledge of techniques were passed down through families, which meant that marriages were often made within the printing world, as in the case of Coletta van den Keere and Jodocus Hondius. As well as running workshops, women took part in the manufacturing process too.

One of the tasks often undertaken by female artists was colouring. Printing was mainly a black-and-white affair until the 20th century, which meant that any colour had to be added afterwards, by hand, to individual copies of maps.

Abraham Ortelius is credited with creating the first modern atlas in 1570, although he called it Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or ‘Theatre of the World’, not an atlas — as we have seen, Mercator came up with the term ‘atlas’ in 1595. The original version of Theatrum contained 53 maps, with more added in subsequent editions. Abraham’s two sisters, Elizabeth and Anna, worked as colourists and both coloured copies of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.



Colourists were not generally credited anywhere on the final work. They were seen as merely filling in the lines created by the real artist, although good colourists were sought after. So we do not know who coloured the maps in our copy: Anna, or Elizabeth, or other unnamed colourists. We do know that women were closely involved in the production of copies like it.

Show me the money: buying, owning, giving

Many printed maps were paid for by an early form of crowdfunding: subscription. Subscribers signed up for copies of the map, and paid in advance. The advance then paid for the production of the map. Maps and atlases funded like this often include a list of subscribers, so we can identify people who were willing to invest to ensure publication — and to own a copy themselves.



John Evans’s map of the Six Counties of North Wales was one such map, and the NLW holds both a copy of the map and the list of its subscribers. 280 people are listed, including seven women:

  • The Right Honorable Lady Eleanor Butler, 2 copies
  • Miss Brown, Oswestry, Shropshire
  • The Right Honorable The Dowager Lady Dacre
  • Lady Glynne, Broad Lane, Flintshire
  • Miss Owen, Penrhôs, Montgomeryshire
  • The Honorable Miss Ponsonby, 2 copies
  • The Dowager Lady Williams Wynne

Only 24 subscribers requested multiple copies of the map, including two women, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. There are relatively few other private citizens requesting multiple copies. Many of the other purchasers are listed in an official capacity (e.g. ‘Mr. Sandford, Bookseller’, ‘Mr. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty’).

Eleanor Butler, who grew up in Kilkenny Castle, and Sarah Ponsonby lived together in a gothic mansion in Llangollen for 50 years, after leaving Ireland to maintain their relationship and escape a convent and conventional marriage respectively. They came to be called the Ladies of Llangollen, and were well known for their unusual living arrangement, which attracted an array of visitors, including writers Anna Seward, William Wordsworth and Lord Byron, industrialist Josiah Wedgewood (who also subscribed to the Evans map), novelist Caroline Lamb and diarist Anne Lister (the inspiration for the BBC series Gentleman Jack). Rumours circulated at the time that they were in a sexual relationship and they were frequently reported as wearing men’s clothes.

The NLW holds a famous portrait of the Ladies of Llangollen, created in the 1870s, after their deaths. They refused to have portraits painted of themselves in their lifetimes. This image is based on a surreptitious sketch of their faces made by a visitor, Mary Parker. The rest of the image is entirely imagined.



Women also owned land that cartographers and surveyors mapped. The NLW holds a large collection of estate maps, dating from the 16th to the 20th century, with most surveys undertaken in the late 18th century. They were usually commissioned by the landowner, and were intended to be working reference documents, as well as to show off the extent of the estates. The maps usually come with keys to land use and field names. Depending on the size of the estate they might be large volumes, with pages and pages of large scale maps of different parts of the estate.



As the map books were intended as status symbols as well as working documents, they often include decorative title pages to identify the owner of the estate. One such landowner was Margaret Pryse, whose estate of Gogerddan (or Gogerthan) near Aberystwyth was surveyed by Thomas Lewis in 1790, at the peak of estate mapping. The Pryse family owned the estate from the 16th century until the 1950s, when it was sold to the Forestry Commission and Aberystwyth University (then University College of Wales Aberystwyth). Margaret Pryse inherited the estate from her father in 1779. At the time, this covered around 30,000 acres (nearly 50 square miles).



As well as highly decorated title pages, we can also find traces of women’s ownership of maps in handwritten inscriptions on maps and atlases. It is fairly common to find bookplates or names written inside the covers of books and atlases, and sometimes multiple phases of ownership can be identified.

In a copy of Johann David Köhler’s Atlas manualis scholasticus et itinerarius, published in Nuremberg in 1724, we find a note: ‘The gift of Mrs. Anne Lewis to John Byrne Junior 1786’.



We don’t know whether Anne bought the atlas specially for John, or whether she was passing on something she had owned and used herself. But we do know from this inscription that she was engaging with geographical knowledge and encouraging its study.

There are many more women to be found in the map collection, both visible in the catalogue, like Margaret Pryse, and less so, like Coletta van den Keere and Anne Lewis. This blog post is intended as a tour of places to look, rather than an exhaustive list.


A note on defining women

I have written both about people who are well known and people we know nothing about beyond their name. I have taken as ‘women’ those who have traditionally female names, but it is important to recognise that we cannot know how all of these people defined themselves.


References & further reading

Brideoake, Fiona (2004). ‘“Extraordinary Female Affection”: The Ladies of Llangollen and the Endurance of Queer Community’, Romanticism on the Net, 36–37

Hudson, Alice and Mary Ritzlin (2000). ‘Preliminary checklist of pre-twentieth-century women in cartography’, Cartographia, Volume 37, Number 3, pages 3-8

Shopland, Norena (2017). Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales. Bridgend: Seren

Van den Hoonaard, Will C. (2013). Map Worlds: a history of women in cartography. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Further information on the Pryse Family of Gogerddan.


Ellie King
Trainee Map Curator

For War Department purposes only: censorship and the Ordnance Survey

#LoveMaps / Collections - Posted 11-05-2020

The Ordnance Survey began with war in mind, in the shadow of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The country continued to be mapped with an eye to military strategy and resources, although the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the last major pitched battle on British soil.

Starting with strategically important coastlines in the southeast of England, considered vulnerable to invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, the maps were drawn at a scale of 1 inch to the mile (1:63,360, roughly equivalent to modern OS Landranger maps). Over the next few decades surveyors gradually worked their way across England and Wales. By 1810, most counties of southern England had been mapped but they were not available for sale for another half decade, after a fractious period of war, financial difficulties, and Luddite unrest.

By the 1840s all of Wales and most of England had been mapped at 1 inch to the mile. In the second half of the century, the threat of invasion having abated and the Industrial Revolution in full swing, Ordnance Survey mapping began to be guided more by economic than military concerns. The War Office conceded control of the Ordnance Survey in 1870 to the Office of Works (responsible for forestry and royal palaces), and in 1890 to the Board of Agriculture. With taxation and industry in mind, the OS County Series was born: mapping Great Britain in its entirety at the much larger and more detailed scale of 6 inches to the mile (1:10,560), with urban areas mapped at 25 inches to the mile (1:2,500). The new survey began in the 1840s, and revised editions were published until the 1950s. Created county by county, these new maps included an unprecedented level of detail.

With detail came risk. Although the maps were published and available to the public, some information was deemed too sensitive for general consumption. This was particularly so during the World Wars, when the threat of invasion loomed once more, and aerial bombardment was a new and frightening reality.

Military and industrial locations were surveyed in the Ordnance Survey’s usual detail, and were available to the military, but were omitted from the published maps.

Sometimes, the change was subtle, as in this map of Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire. Built during the Napoleonic Wars as a store of military equipment close to the strategic Grand Junction Canal, the store was later expanded to include barracks, and extra storehouses and workshops, which were added during the First World War. The site remained in use from 1804 to 1965. The barracks are shown in detail on both maps, but on the published sheet, labels that show the site’s military use are not included. The street name ‘Ordnance Road’ remains, however, which might have given the game away!

Lavernock Fort, in Glamorgan, was a gun battery built in 1870. It was used in the Second World War to defend the Severn, an important route for Atlantic shipping, and was used as a lookout post for volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps, responsible for spotting German aircraft. All evidence of the battery was removed from the published map.

Lavernock Fort is a fairly small military installation, but some much larger sites were given the same treatment. In northern Kent, on the Thames Estuary, a 128-hectare site manufactured cordite, nitro-glycerine, and gelatine dynamite for Curtis’s & Harvey, a gunpowder company which controlled half of the British gunpowder industry in 1898. The factory, and the battery to its south, disappeared from the published map, leaving sheepwashes as almost the only landmarks.

You might be forgiven for wondering about the point of our final map if you had access only to the published version. No physical geographical features are shown, only the administrative boundaries of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in the Humber Estuary.

At first glance the secret map does not appear any more detailed. For military eyes only, an inconspicuous cross has been added, marking Bull Sand Fort. The fort is the larger of two Humber sand forts, built on sandbanks during the First World War and extensively used in the Second World War to protect the entrance to the Humber Estuary. The fort is marked only with a cross as it was not surveyed in detail by the Ordnance Survey, but it was a significant fort, able to support 200 people, with fresh water pumped in from a natural source of fresh water under the sand. Armour on the seaward side was a foot thick. An anti-submarine steel net was stretched between the two forts, making a formidable barrier.

The removal of military installations from OS maps was at its height in the 19th century and the World Wars, but throughout the Cold War and beyond, many sensitive sites were left off the maps entirely. It took the public availability of high-resolution satellite imagery at the turn of the 21st century to render this type of censorship largely ineffective, although labels are still omitted in some cases.

Certain areas are still removed entirely from digital maps and satellite imagery, including some US military bases in the Middle East. Despite efforts to restrict access to sensitive information, new developments in mapping technology and data visualisation sometimes reveal what governments prefer to keep hidden.

In 2017, the fitness tracking app Strava released a global heatmap, aggregating data from its millions of users, each using GPS technology to record their exercise routes. In parts of Syria and Afghanistan, the only users of Strava were foreign military personnel, with the result that repeated runs around military bases created bright spots of activity, clearly identifying their location.

Ellie King
Trainee Assistant Map Curator

References & Further Reading

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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