The National Archives has one of the world’s largest collections of historical mapping, with millions of maps and sea charts spanning seven centuries and showing places around the world. Ranging from the 14th century to the modern day, most date from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The British Isles and places all round the globe are represented.
These maps illustrate the business of central government, the military and the higher law courts, on matters such as international boundaries, former colonies and journeys of exploration, defence and administration. Maps together with relevant papers such as reports and letters can tell a greater story than either can alone.
Geographical readers are being invited on an series of exclusive tours ‘behind the scenes’ of the National Archives map collection. Readers are offered a discount to the normal price for these limited place trips around the cartographic treasures stored in the Archives’ headquarters in Kew, West London.
To book your place on one of the tours, simply visit this link and use the code ‘Geographical’ to gain access. The tours are taking place during January and February 2018 and cost just £8 per ticket. Places are limited to just 12 visitors per tour so book fast to ensure your place!
This pictorial Tudor map of Middleton in Norfolk was made to be seen around a court room table. Some of the detail in the lower half below the ‘sewer’ (in blue, running across the centre of the map) is shown seemingly ‘upside down’, which may represent land claimed or contested by the second party in a legal case. The castle is now just a mound but here is shown complete, along with houses in the town, and detail of the layout of meadows and commons.
Early manuscript maps were only made for some places, as and when they were needed, but where they survive as here they can allow us to glimpse what villages and landscapes looked like as seen through the eyes of local mapmakers many centuries ago.
This is one of a number of original maps and charts in the National Archives from Captain James Cook’s voyages of exploration. It was drawn by Lieutenant Richard Pickersgill, one of the naval officers under Cook’s command, and shows Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, where the expedition stopped for supplies on its outward voyage in October 1772.
The chart shows features such as Table Mountain and other high points which could be seen from onboard the ship, and the numbers in the Bay are soundings to indicate the depth of water, which was essential information for seafarers. The compass indicator points to north at left, with east at top of the chart.
Pickersgill drew this in his log book alongside his written record of the voyage, which together with the other records from Cook and his men, was to greatly expand geographical knowledge of the world.
This map shows an area now in Georgia and Alabama which was Creek Indian territory, and is surrounded by images of the Creek people and their way of life. At top right are drawn weapons such as tomahawks, clubs, and a bow and sheaf of arrows. At top left is a ‘hott house’, which was a winter meeting house, while below it is pictured the public square, a ceremonial and social space where meetings were held outdoors in the summer.
The map was drawn by an Englishman called William Bonar who was aide to the Governor of South Carolina. Bonar had been caught spying by the French in one of their forts, then rescued by a party of pro-British Creeks, and he may have drawn this map while staying with them. It features the many creeks which gave the people their English name, the lands of adjoining peoples and the trading routes between them.
The National Archives holds many maps of early colonial America which range from single fort plans to detailed terrain mapping of what was then, to the English, largely unexplored lands.
This map of part of central South Africa looks simple but records the complex interplay of boundaries, alliances and peoples in the area in 1885, from the perspective of the British Foreign Office.
Few people now would recognise the names of Griqualand and Pondoland in the map’s title, on the southeast coast of South Africa with Natal to the north, but Spion Kop at the top of the map became famous for a battle there during the Second Boer War 15 years after this map was made.
Lands in pink are labelled ‘Under Her Majesty’s Rule’ – referring to Queen Victoria – while those in green are noted as those of ‘Her Majesty’s Allies’. The relative locations of peoples such as the Galekas, Fingoes and Pondomisi are shown within the border, while the word ‘Bushmen’ appears outside it, at the top.
This was part of a vast map library used in the course of diplomacy, which is now held at The National Archives along with a wider body of historic boundary material which is still available today for research in the peaceful resolution of border questions.
This map is one of many produced in the Second World War by the British military intelligence branch, MI9, to aid military personnel in their attempts to evade capture by the enemy or to escape once caught. It shows a well-used escape route out of Germany (at top) southwards to safety in Switzerland, which was neutral in the conflict.
The suggested crossing for escapers was in an area called the Schaffhausen Salient, where the German-Swiss border (shown as a red line) is complex and irregular in shape. This map may be similar to ones likely to have been used by men such as Airey Neave, the first British officer to escape from Colditz (off the top of the map) who crossed successfully into Switzerland at a point shown on this map, from the German town of Singen (centre right) to Ramsen, in Switzerland (lower right).
Many escape maps were printed on silk and rayon to avoid the rustling noise made by paper, and sewn into uniforms or smuggled into prisoner of war camps inside items such as board games, to aid escape plans.
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