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).
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 events.library.wales
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.
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.
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.