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.
“It would hardly be too much to say that in April of 1895 one was considered eccentric for riding a bicycle, whilst by the end of June eccentricity rested with those who did not ride.” Constance Everett-Green, 1898
The boom in cycling in the 1890s transformed the way tourist maps were produced. Mapmakers increasingly produced maps targeted at cyclists, which included road conditions and dangerous hills, which until then had been absent on maps that mainly catered for railway travellers. This information was retained on later maps branded ‘cycling and motoring’ maps, but even though motor cars became more prevalent in the early 20th century, the mapping conventions developed for cycling maps are still discernible on road maps today.
Most modern cyclists focus on uphill sections of a route, but it was accepted that Victorian riders would get off and walk up any steep inclines. Bikes of the period were usually single speed, ideal for cruising along flat roads. Even in races gears were not always used — Henri Desgrange, who set up the Tour de France in 1903, considered that riding a bike with gears was cheating, fit for only ‘women and old men’! However, indicating steepness downhill was seen as essential on any good cycling map, as cyclists needed to know when to expect ‘danger hills’ — hills too steep to descend safely with unreliable or non-existent brakes.
Cycling organisations themselves produced maps indicating the quality of a road for cycling, and these were often used to petition local authorities to improve the situation, as well as inform other cyclists.
Some mapmakers produced ‘road books’ to complement their maps, like this example from around 1899, produced by Gall & Inglis. These included profiles of hundreds of routes, and descriptions of the route and road surface. Cyclists riding between Lampeter and Aberystwyth would have faced ‘a very trying road… [with] a constant succession of dangerous hills’, and might have been tempted to ride to Llandovery instead, on ‘a splendid piece of road’. It also notes which route to a particular town is the most scenic, to serve the cyclist looking to take in some beautiful views along the way.
Road books like this one are still produced today for professional races. Competitors use them to prepare for rides, and fans often collect them as souvenirs of races they have seen. Noting road surface is still vital. The Paris-Roubaix race, held in northern France each spring, is famous for its cobblestones, or pavé, and the winner is ceremonially presented with a cobblestone as part of their prize.
The ‘safety’ bicycle
While bicycles had been available in various forms since the early 1800s, it was not until the 1880s and the introduction of the ‘safety’ bicycle (the familiar shape very similar to modern bikes today) that its role expanded beyond that of a rich gentleman’s plaything.
The safety bicycle, combined with the newly invented pneumatic tyre, was comfortable, easy to ride and maintain, and relatively inexpensive. It was also enthusiastically embraced by both men and women, though not without raised eyebrows over the morality of women cycling. One columnist in the women’s magazine Queen in 1896 suggested women who cycled were also disobedient, likely to smoke and read ‘risky novels’. Such criticisms notwithstanding, one estimate suggests that in 1896 a third of bike orders were for women’s models, and in 1880, Mrs W.D. Welford became the first woman to join the Bicycle Touring Club (later the CTC and now Cycling UK), just two years after its establishment.
“Where shall we go for our week’s freedom from the town’s oppression?”
“King of the Road”, writing in TheClarion magazine, June 1897
In a period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, cycling was celebrated as a way for town-dwellers to escape to the countryside, in a way that was both affordable and included the benefits of gentle exercise. Cycling opened up rural areas, allowing tourists to explore the landscape at their own pace and under their own steam, rather than being dependent on railway timetables or organised excursions.
In H.G. Wells’s 1896 comic novel The Wheels of Chance, a poorly paid draper’s assistant escapes Putney for the freedom of country lanes on his bike: ‘‘Here was quiet and greenery, and one mucked about as the desire took one… [S]omething wonderful, a little, low, red beast with a yellowish tail… went rushing across the road before him. It was the first weasel he had ever seen in his cockney life.’ (The Wheels of Chance, p.48).
Cycling outings were particularly popular among the growing middle class, who had the money and time, but the bicycle was also embraced by the socialist movement. Both the playwright George Bernard Shaw and docker’s union leader Ben Tillett cycled to the Trades Union Congress in Cardiff in September 1896, the former riding 40 miles from a friend’s home in Monmouthshire for the occasion.
Inevitably, many companies wanted to take advantage of the craze for cycling, producing advertising cycling maps like this pocket-sized map of North Wales, published in 1897 by Scotch whisky producers Pattisons. While the map conveniently folds into a cover less than 9 cm tall, making it perfect to slip in your pocket on a bike ride, we certainly do not recommend taking its advice and indulging in ‘Pattisons when cycling’!
A new collection of railway plans has recently arrived at the Library; it provides insights into one of the first railways in Wales.
One of our major sources of new items for the collection is donations from those who have spent many years building up their own collections. One such person is Alastair Warrington who worked for many years as an Engineer on the Western region of British Rail and later with Network Rail.
During his time working on the railways he became aware that large numbers of plans, correspondence and other items were being disposed of by the railways as different lines were closed down. This valuable archive of the history of railways in Wales was in danger of being lost forever and so he decided to take it upon himself to save as much as he could. Over the years he managed to amass a collection which included 1000s of plans, correspondence files and other documents which he has used for his own research and also to aid other researchers. Most of the collection covers South Wales, but it also contains items from elsewhere in Wales and the Marches.
Housing, organising and listing such a large collection has been a major undertaking and he wanted to ensure that the collection found a safe home for the future. Back in the year 2000 Mr Warrington agreed to bequeath his collection to the National Library as a fitting home to house and protect such a valuable historical resource. However, earlier this year he contacted the Library again to suggest that it would be better to transfer the collection to us now, so that he could help us to interpret and organise it. The collection is being transferred in batches from his home in South Wales to the Library.
So far over 500 railway plans and several hundred correspondence files have been transferred, but there are 1000s more drawings and other items yet to come. This picture shows part of the collection in its new home. Eventually we will flatten and encapsulate the smaller items and catalogue all of the plans and the correspondence files will be transferred to the Archives collection.
One of the features of this collection which has aided us greatly as curators is the fact that everything has been carefully organised and listed so that we are able to know exactly what we have and to provide access to it via the listings even before it is catalogued fully.
Of the material that has already arrived, one of the most fascinating items is this plan showing the proposed line of the Carmarthenshire Tramroad or Railway which was the first Railway in Wales to be authorised by an Act of Parliament, in June 1802. This plan was created as part of the legislative process and was countersigned by Charles Abbott, Speaker of the House of Commons (1802-1817). When the first part of the line opened in 1803 it became the first stretch of public railway to be used in Britain. The line did not use steam locomotives or carry paying passengers, the first successful use of a steam locomotive was on the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad in 1804. The first fare paying passenger railway was the Mumbles Railway starting in 1807.
It is remarkable that so many firsts in the history of rail travel happened in Wales, and this new collection will help to ensure that this rich railway history is preserved.
This is a bit of a detective story. In 1979 the Library received a photocopy of a small map of Breconshire; the owner knew nothing about the map and asked if the Library could identify it. Despite the best efforts of the Library staff who even enlisted the help of the British Library’s map curators the item could not be identified. The photocopy was added to the collection with a note to the effect that should the map ever be identified the owner was to be informed.
Fast forward to spring 2019 and a Pembrokeshire map dealer called Berian Williams contacted me sending a scan of a small map of Breconshire and asking if I could identify it for him. At first I was stumped, it didn’t match any of the county maps I’d seen before. According to Mr Williams the previous owner had suggested that it might come from “The Pocket Tourist & English Atlas” by Orlando Hodgson published in 1820; however, that atlas did not contain county maps of Wales, though the style of the maps did look similar. Mr Williams also mentioned an article about a pack of playing cards by John Allen upon which Hodgson’s maps were based, but again this had no Welsh counties.
It was at this point that I came across the photocopy from 1979, it appeared to be the same map and on closer examination it turned out to be exactly the same copy (several stains and marks on the scanned image matched the photocopy). Having looked through all my printed references I was stuck and wrote back to Mr Williams saying so and telling him that it might take some time to track it down, if indeed that were possible.
And there this story might have ended; but I started thinking about the similarity with the Allen playing cards, was there a connection between the Breconshire map and the maps in Allen’s pack of cards? I decided to check the literature to see if Allen might have produced another set of cards with the Welsh counties, however there was no record of such a set. The article about the Allen cards also mentioned an imprint by Robert Rowe the engraver so I decided to look into him also. One of my reference works told me that Rowe had engraved another set of playing cards for a John Fairburn in 1798, could this be the source of the card?
I decided to see if there were any references to this set of cards online as they were not recorded in any of the reference works I checked. Eventually I came across a reference to Fairburn’s playing cards of 1798, this stated that the set included Welsh counties and more importantly had images of some of the cards – which matched the map we had. Finally the mystery was solved.
But this detective story ends with a surprise twist. After informing Mr Williams about my discovery I decided to enquire whether the map was going to be put on sale, with a view to purchasing it for the collection. To my complete astonishment Mr Williams replied that he had decided to donate it to the Library. This is an incredibly generous donation and we are most grateful to Mr Williams for his kind gift. This map has now joined the 1.5 million maps which form the National Map Collection here at the Library as part of Wales’s cartographic cultural history.
January 19th sees the opening of the Library’s latest exhibition: Inventor of Britain – The Life and Legacy of Humphrey Llwyd. This exhibition is the latest in a series of events to mark the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, the author of the first published map of Wales. Last August to coincide with the actual anniversary a smaller exhibition was held for two weeks, but this larger exhibition will be on for the next six months.
While Llwyd is probably most famous for his map of Wales, in addition to being the father of Welsh cartography he is also considered to be the father of Welsh history as a result of his Cronica Walliae the first history of Wales in English based on the ancient Welsh chronicle the Brut y Tywysogion.
This would be enough of a contribution in itself to ensure the legacy of most people, however in addition to this Llwyd was also responsible for helping to steer the Bill for the Translation of the Bible into Welsh through Parliament, thus leading to the Welsh Bible which was a major factor in helping Welsh to survive as a language.
But Llwyd’s influence goes beyond the borders of Wales; his works were also used to help justify the British Empire (a phrase he is credited with coining) and the English reformation. Part of his extensive library was purchased by the Crown and now forms part of the collections of the British Library.
This new exhibition is being held in association with the AHRC funded project Inventor of Britain: the complete works of Humphrey Llwyd. A number of lectures will be given over the coming months by members of the project team and this year’s Carto-Cymru – the Wales Map Symposium will also be on the theme of Humphrey Llwyd.
The exhibition runs until the 29th June and further details of the associated events can be found on the Library’s website.
In this, the final ‘Year of the Sea’ Blog, we overview the Library’s collection of marine charts dating from 1800.
Charts are primarily intended for navigation and should provide clear, correct and up to date information to help plan, plot and navigate a safe course. Charts also provide researchers with information on the natural and man-made marine and coastal environment, past and present.
From the late seventeenth century the British became the foremost of chart makers. Over time, technological advances produced better charts which revealed earlier oversights and errors, for instance the Pembrokeshire chart of 1812 shown here mentions corrections to Lewis Morris’s earlier survey whilst the 1857-1859 chart records both sea and coast in intricate detail.
British private enterprises gradually gave way to the work of the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, now the UKHO, which was established in 1795, primarily to furnish Royal Navy requirements. The UKHO remains one of the world’s principal hydrographic organizations, its charts being widely supplied to navies, merchant shipping and the public.
Over 15,750 UKHO electronic charts are currently available, although the Library only receives copies of their 3,500 sheet editions through legal deposit. The Library’s 12,000 modern charts encompass locations worldwide and are mainly received from the UKHO, together with their associated publications including Notices to Mariners and Pilot Books.
Supplementary collections include Admiralty Fleet charts originally only available to the Royal Navy and some recent publications from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Argentina and the Philippines.
A smaller number of charts derive from British commercial publishers whose home waters and overseas charts are aimed at leisure users and fishermen. The collections can be accessed through the Library’s online catalogue and UKHO catalogue.
Map collectors habitually proclaim that modern charts are not as aesthetically appealing as their antiquarian forerunners in which errant sea monsters and mermaids recurrently appear. Contemporary charts do however contain the most pertinent, accurate and unequivocal information on the marine environment. Crucially they protect lives at sea and need to be heeded when sailing. Use this hard-won information wisely and never forget the naval adage ‘A collision at sea can ruin your entire day’.
In the wake of the Armistice Day Centenary commemorations, it is perhaps timely to draw attention to the Library’s maps relating to the conflicts of the First World War, a cataclysm in which 20 million lives were lost, some 40,000 being Welsh.
The Library’s many war maps and atlases display frontlines, trenches and other military paraphernalia, the war’s geopolitical impact in changing political boundaries, post-war redevelopment schemes and even include recreational map-based war games. The maps are of both military and civilian origin, the latter published to inform the public and boost morale.
Some two hundred maps have been digitised as part of the Library’s War Centennial programme. Included are these two examples of maps from the unsuccessful Gallipoli Campaign – which was associated with inaccurate maps that regularly included outdated information gathered during the Crimean War.
The Gallipoli collection comprises contemporary War Office maps such as the two illustrated examples showing Ottoman defences on the campaign’s opening day and a later map of ANZAC positions, together with commercially published sheets.
The Allied attack on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, popularly known as the Gallipoli or the Dardanelles Campaign, lasted from April 1915 to January 1916. Here, British Empire and French forces engaged the Ottoman Empire in an unsuccessful attempt to aid Russia and break the impasse on the fighting fronts by opening a shipping route with Russia unimpeded by excessive winter sea ice and extreme distance.
A failed naval attack in the Dardanelles Strait in early 1915 progressed to a major land invasion on 25th April by British and French troops together with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ANZAC forces. A later landing occurred at Suvla Bay on 6th August.
Allied intelligence deficiencies, indecision and delay, combined with fierce Ottoman resistance thwarted headway and success and mired the belligerents in an entrenched battle of attrition and consequential heavy casualties. The British authorized evacuation began in December 1915, and ended the following January.
An architectural drawing of Dylan Thomas’s Majoda bungalow in New Quay, Ceredigion has recently been purchased by the Library. The poet lived at Majoda from 1944 to 1945 where he found creative inspiration and started to write Under Milk Wood. Here he also succeeded in furthering his reputation both near and far -and what better fillip for any all-too-quiet, war-weary community than a resident Dylan Thomas perking things up?
The plan is associated with a notorious incident at Majoda on the night of 6th March 1945 when Captain William Killick, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) Commando and also Dylan’s neighbour and erstwhile watering hole chum appeared with a Sten gun and hand grenade and fired into the bungalow in which Dylan and his family were residing. Three friends were also present at the time. The grenade (which had no detonator) was not deployed and luckily there were no casualties. The ferment led to a court case in Lampeter which was covered by the major newspapers and portrayed in the semi-biographical film The Edge of Love in 2008.
Captain Killick, who had recently returned from active service in Greece, was venting his spleen following tensions with Dylan which included the relationship between Dylan and the Captain’s wife, Vera, with whom Dylan had grown up in Swansea.
The plan was commissioned from an Aberystwyth architect specifically for the court case. PC Islwyn Williams was the village ‘Bobby’ who investigated the incident and whose pencil notes appear on the reverse of the plan. These notes describe his observations at the scene – primarily the location of bullet holes.
Captain Killick was fortunate in being acquitted of all charges, including attempted murder. In both court and local community there had been some sympathy for the soldier who had survived several highly dangerous war missions behind enemy lines and indeed had been described by the SOE as having ‘an excellent operational record’.
Murdoch Mackenzie (Senior) contributed more enduringly to British theoretical and practical hydrography than any other individual. Born in Orkney in 1712, this grandson of the Bishop of Orkney had a mathematical aptitude which brought him into contact with mathematician Professor Colin Maclaurin who successfully advocated Mackenzie’s suitability to undertake a hydrographic survey in the Orkney Isles from 1742. Here, Mackenzie had valuable contacts to aid his work which resulted in the most precise and comprehensive marine survey yet undertaken in the British Isles. In 1750 his charts were published as Orcades, or a geographic and hydrographic survey of the Orkney and Lewis Islands.
With Admiralty patronage, Mackenzie then embarked on a much grander project. He was commissioned in 1751 to survey the west coast of Britain and the entire coast of Ireland, a twenty-two year task which culminated in the publication of two chart volumes in 1774 and 1776.
By 1757 Scotland’s west coast mainland and islands had been surveyed. There followed a ten year survey of Ireland before his return to Great Britain’s western shores. In 1770 the survey ended in Pembrokeshire, the Menai Strait being omitted, having been regarded by Mackenzie as unnavigable for larger vessels.
Mackenzie’s tried and tested surveying methods were acceptably accurate. They were also relatively swift, as is apparent from the prodigious length of coast surveyed in twenty years. This achievement was also particularly commendable bearing in mind the limitations of his surveying and monetary resources.
On Mackenzie’s retirement in 1770, he was succeeded as Admiralty Maritime Surveyor by his nephew, Lieutenant Murdoch Mackenzie (Junior). In 1771 Lieutenant Mackenzie continued where his uncle had ended by surveying the Bristol Channel.
This ‘Year of the Sea’ blog highlights the initial bourgeoning of English hydrography, focusing on the work of Captain Collins, who also surveyed the Welsh coast.
In 1657 hydrographer and printer Joseph Moxon ventured into what had traditionally been the Dutch preserve of marine chart production with A Book of Sea Plats. These charts of European waters were nevertheless of Dutch origin.
John Seller envisaged an atlas containing charts surveyed, drawn, engraved, and printed at home. He was appointed Royal Hydrographer and remarkably secured a successful thirty-year order forbidding the import of Dutch ‘Waggoner’ charts (see Waghenaer’s ‘Spieghel’, our preceding maritime blog). Alas, Seller’s ambitions were beyond the means of an individual bookseller and instrument maker. Samuel Pepys later wrote that private individuals were incapable of such huge undertakings, and yet from 1671 Seller’s The English Pilot with its defects and partially refreshed old Dutch plates, progressively ousted ‘Waggoners’ from England.
In 1680 Captain Greenvile Collins began lobbying for a British survey. Collins, an experienced Royal Navy captain and skilled hydrographer was commissioned by King Charles II in 1676 to survey home waters and was promised significant assistance. Collins’s seven year survey began in 1681 and in 1693 his charts were published in Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot.
The survey demanded rigorous coastal measurements and the precise coordinates of headlands. Progress was bedevilled by financial shortages and the waning interest of supporting bodies. Collins’s proposal to survey Ireland in its entirety was not realized.
Collins’s Pilot was the first systematic survey and first maritime atlas of British waters to be engraved and printed in London from original surveys and included forty-eight charts together with sailing directions, tide tables and coastal profiles. Despite inaccuracies and shortcomings the work was an immense advance for British navigation and validated Collins as one of history’s foremost hydrographers.
The Pilot, little altered, was issued between 1693 and 1792 and on at least twelve other occasions. Inevitably, by 1792, it was regarded as requiring considerable improvement.
The Library holds a 1779 copy of this atlas and several individual charts variously dated. Our illustrated charts of the western coasts of Wales and Milford Haven are dated 1693.
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.