Break out the bunting!

Republicans should look away now (unless a fondness for bunting and street parties outweighs any qualms you may have; if that’s the case, you can still skip to the end of the post, and I’ll throw in a map with republican connotations just for you).

As this is the first Diamond Jubilee in 115 years I can hardly let it pass without making a special royal window. Here are a few of the items I’ll be including.

This is Macdonald Gill’s 1937 map of the Coronation procession of the Queen’s father, George VI. This is from the deluxe edition of the souvenir programme, picked out in gold:


The programme (and Gill’s map) appeared in three forms: a miniature edition; a full-size but basic edition for 1 shilling, and a deluxe edition at 2/6, complete with tassels.

I also have the 1937 Coronation edition of the A1 Atlas, a forerunner of the A-Z, in lovely condition. The AA’s 1953 Coronation Day map contains handy advice for motorists on road closures (most of central London … it’s nothing new) and how to apply for windscreen labels and other permits.

Here is the Daily Telegraph’s souvenir map for the present Queen’s 1947 ‘austerity’ wedding. Drawn by P. Zadwill after N.V. Gray, it’s a pictorial map of London which, stylistically, owes more than a nod to Gill:

Skipping ahead to 1953 and the Coronation itself, here’s the official London Transport map of the processional route:

And this is a striking poster advertising the Coronation Cruise on board the ‘Green Goddess’, the green-liveried Cunard liner RMS Caronia:

Named by the present Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, the Caronia made her maiden transatlantic voyage in 1949. She was a state-of-the-art vessel, fitted out with en suite bathrooms and an open air swimming pool, but the golden age of liner travel (as opposed to cruising) was all but over, thanks to competition from a new generation of long haul jet airliners. After a decade in service the Caronia was refitted as a cruise ship, and within a quarter century of her launch she was broken up for scrap.

Only the most prescient passengers might have guessed at that in 1953. The Coronation Cruise seems to have been aimed at the American market. After a luxurious European cruise (see map …) the ship docked in Southampton where she became a floating hotel for the duration of the Coronation. On the day itself, her 500 passengers were conveyed by specially chartered Pullman train to London, where seats had been reserved for them at the specially built viewing stand at Apsley House. There’s more information here:

The language of the map is interesting. The Anglo-American flags make perfect sense in context. The faintly baroque dolphins, flying fish and scallop shell all seem very ‘new Elizabethan’, and the depiction of the Spanish Armada clinches the reference, harking back to the perceived glories of the first Elizabeth’s reign - some swashbuckling fun after all that austerity. Unlike the other maps we’ve looked at here, which were made to inform and entertain pretty much anyone attending these events, this one was aimed at a wealthy few; acknowledging that, I still find it a joyful, optimistic map. 

However, if all this pageantry is too much for you, here is something entirely different, John Speed’s map of Scotland:

When originally engraved c. 1610 the decorative border featured James I and VI and his family; during the interregnum the royals were burnished from the plate, usurped by an entirely plebian ‘Scotch man’ and woman, and ‘Highland man’ and woman, never to be restored (unlike James’s grandson, Charles II …) Perhaps it is more surprising that the royal arms remained undisturbed on the rest of Speed’s county maps. The tradition dates back to Saxton’s series of English county maps in the 1570s, the first national atlas of any country. Elizabeth I contributed towards the engraving of the plates, and the appearance of her arms has none-too-subtle undertones of royal authority and control.   

And here’s the window itself:

Battles of the Atlantic, 1914 and 1943 

The Atlantic was a key theatre in both world wars. The German aims were the same in 1914 and 1939: to sever Britain’s supply lines from North America without bringing a neutral United States into the war. These propaganda maps cover the two campaigns, from a German and British perspective.

In 1914 submarine warfare had been a potential menace for half a century (really - C.S.S. H.L. Hunley, 1864), but was still untried on a large-scale. The new weapon was greatly feared and the notion of civilian merchantmen and liners being sunk without warning by an unseen enemy was widely regarded as barbaric. The Germans had to tread carefully, but British countermeasures (such as Q-Ships) made surfacing, and allowing passengers and crew to take to the boats before sinking their vessel, extremely hazardous. The first foray into unrestricted submarine warfare culminated in the sinking of the Lusitania - a propaganda disaster - and the Germans reverted to cruiser rules. In 1915 their calculations were correct: there simply weren’t enough U-boats to enforce a blockade and starve Britain into submission before the U.S. could enter the war. Campaigns such as this one, encouraging soldiers of the German Third Army to buy war bonds to expand the U-boat fleet, sought to change the balance: 

The poster is by German artist F.W. Kleurs (1878-1956), published in Mainz, and it’s a simple but powerful image. An impenetrable ring of U-boats strangles the British Isles. I like the way that the white cliffs of Dover have been extended around the whole coastline, and the star-shaped fortifications surrounding the British cities makes them look suitably militaristic and menacing. By 1917 the U-boat fleet had more than doubled; Germany was starving, and the German High Command calucated that if they acted quickly they could knock Britain out of the war before U.S. intervention could be decisive, even if America did choose to enter the war. Unrestricted submarine warfare resumed in January 1917. The German gamble failed: as predicted the U-boat campaign was a decisive factor in drawing America into the war, but (eventually) the convoy system provided adequate protection and the supply lines held up. There was no swift knockout blow.     

The German Kriegsmarine of the Second World War wrestled with similar problems a generation later. This 1943 British propaganda poster, The Battle of the Atlantic, by Frederick Donald Blake (1908-97) is a reasonably well known image, but one generally encounters the 1943/44 editions with English text. However, Blake’s posters were part of a series produced for distribution abroad in various languages including French, Dutch, Arabic and - as here - Portuguese, bringing the Allied message to the widest possible audience. 

Like Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s right-wing Estado Novo Portugal remained neutral (although Lisbon was a hotbed of intrigue and espionage). Blake’s message for any wavering Portuguese is pretty forthright, the very antithesis of the first poster we looked at. Britain is, effectively, Orwell’s Airstrip One: nothing but factories, shipyards and gigantic concrete runways. Far from being enclosed by a U-boat ring of steel, waves of Allied aircraft radiate out, and with air supremacy comes protection for the convoys steaming in from North America and those steaming out, the Arctic Convoys bound for the USSR, and convoys bound for the Mediterranean. In the mid Atlantic U-boats are scattered and destroyed: 

And Fortress Europe is under constant attack, with aircraft and parachute mines battering the strategic targets such as railways, docks and submarine pens:

As propaganda, Blake’s 1943 poster isn’t necessarily constrained by reality, but successful propaganda often manipulates a perceived truth, and the Battle of the Atlantic really had turned decisively in the Allies’ favour in the Spring of that year. In March 1943 the U-boat wolf packs came as close as they ever did to cutting Britain’s Atlantic lifeline, and supplies of fuel and other vital resources reached critical levels. The situation was reversed within two months: Allied resources were freed from other theatres, and new long-range aircraft - which could now be fitted with a new sea-scanning radar and airborne depth-charges - closed the mid-Atlantic gap. The wolf packs were harried out of existence, and losses to Allied shipping were negligible in comparison with what had gone before. In May (dubbed ‘Black May’ by the U-boat crews) the Germans lost 34 U-Boats in the Atlantic - an unsustainable one submarine for each Allied ship sunk. One lucky convoy (SC 130) escaped entirely unscathed, while five of the attacking U-boats were destroyed. Dönitz conceded defeat. One-sided as Blake’s vision is, it reflects the changed strategic situation.

The artist, Blake, trained at Camberwell School of Art but had been working as an architectural draughtsman. His stint as a war artist for the Ministry of Information opened new doors for him postwar, as a successful commercial artist and respected painter.

The first of these maps was a recent purchase from my friend Ken Fuller of Marchpane (he specialises in children’s and illustrated books but - like most of us - he has a much broader range of interests which are reflected in his stock). The map by Blake came from Portugal, and presumably it had been there since the 1940s. I’ve yet to see any of the series with Arabic or Persian text, but the Portuguese climate (actual and political) has probably been more conducive to preservation.

UPDATE: Nov 2012. Recently purchased the version with Arabic text:

My thanks to Ali Ansari and colleagues at St Andrews. I wondered if the text varied from the original, or was slanted in an particular direction, but it is apparently a faithful rendition of the English:

"A ceaseless battle is raging in the Atlantic. The Axis U-boats’ intention is too isolate and starve Britain. But as the U-boat offensive mounts so too to Britain’s protective measures. More and more vessels are safeguarding convoys. The U-boat’s Atlantic Bases are being pounded by the Allied Air Forces and the entrances to their harbours are being mined from the air. The factories where they are built are being crippled by bombs. All these measures enabled Mr Churchill to say, when reviewing the U-boat campaign in May 1943: "Our killings of the U-boats … greatly exceeded all previous experience and the last three months, and particularly the last three weeks, have yielded record results".

Mercator’s ‘Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio’: mapping the Northern lands.

Another old friend for your consideration. Mercator’s depiction of the Arctic regions and North Pole (Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio) remains perennially popular with collectors and scholars alike. Perhaps I’m coming too late to the table for fresh analysis of the content, but few maps capture the problems faced by early cartographers quite so well. The basic configuration of the islands was not wholly original, but Mercator was the first to devote a separate copper-plate to a map of the Arctic; he had tough decisions to make when sifting evidence gathered thousands of miles from his home in Duisburg, some of which also reached back across several centuries (to the age of Arthur, if the sources were to be trusted). This is a map by one of the greatest cartographers of his own or any other age (variants of Mercator’s projection are still in use, even by the latest online street mapping services) and yet there’s a rich vein of myths and legend blended - seemingly without prejudice - among genuine discoveries. It’s so very wrong.

First issued in 1595 by Mercator’s son, Rumold, shortly after Mercator’s death; our example was printed from the second state of the plate in 1623, and it was hand-coloured at the time.

In reality there isn’t even a landmass at the Pole. But allowing for the fact that the region was largely unknown (Ross and Parry launched the modern era of Arctic exploration in the second decade of the nineteenth-century, and Peary - probably - reached it for the first time as recently as 1909) how did Mercator ever imagine it looked like this?

At the Pole itself he shows a naturally occurring magnetic (lodestone) mountain, the Rupes nigra or black rock - an ancient idea. Surrounding it is a powerful whirlpool, drawing off water from all the seas of the world and sucking it deep into the earth. The whirlpool is fed by four rivers with formidable currents (note the deltas which ought, I suppose, to be at the mouths of the rivers closest to the whirlpool, if the normal laws of geography are observed) and these rivers divide the surrounding landmass into four islands. Pygmies, four feet tall, are said to inhabit the island closest to Europe - possibly a folk memory of the people the Norse settlers of Greenland called Skraelings, the ancestors of the Inuit. 

Mercator is careful to cite his sources. Unfortunately all are lost to us, their contents known chiefly from Mercator’s own summary in a letter he sent to John Dee (and from later maps, including Mercator’s own). Mercator had read Jacobus Cnoyen’s Itinerarium, a work drawing on the Res gestae Arturi britanni but principally a summary of the Inventio fortunata. The latter text was allegedly composed by an Oxford Friar in the fourteenth-century (probably not Nicholas of King’s Lynn, as Mercator supposed) who compiled a report of his travels in the far north and possibly created a map of his own. The underlying assumption was that King Arthur had sent settlers to the Arctic, and the author of the Inventio fortunata had met their descendants. It was a convenient intellectual justification for Elizabethan and Jacobean seafarers, exploring the region in search of the Northwestern and Northeastern passages to Asia. 

From separate (Italian) sources we have the mythical island of Frisland, confused with Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes, but here shown south west of Iceland and wholly imaginary.

There is some excellent map-making going on here. Mercator was aware of the latest discoveries by Martin Frobisher and John Davis. And note the revisions by Hondius affecting the region north of Russia (Hondius owned Mercator’s plates by this time and made a commercial success of the Atlas. Our example is this second, revised state; to compare it with the first, here’s the Princeton copy: The coastline of Nova Zembla has been amended and, at the centre of the map, part of the lower right-hand island of the four flanking the Pole has been burnished out altogether; a truncated coastline has been tentatively dotted back in, separating off Greenland and allowing space for new discoveries just north of (Hugh) Willoughby’s Land (another fictitious island). And yet, whatever tinkering Hondius carried out, he allowed Mercator’s basic concept to stand and continued to publish the map. He may have found errors in the detail, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary a map based on a series of lost manuscripts (even Cnoyen’s account had vanished by Hondius’ day) continued to appear in the most modern atlases.

This wasn’t just the view from Duisburg/Amsterdam. It might seem highly unlikely to us that King Arthur despatched thousands of his countrymen to the Arctic, and the garbled travel account of a mediaeval Oxford scholar seems a slender thread to trust with one’s life, but for Elizabethan/Jacobean Englishmen these were valuable precedents for their own hazardous voyages of discovery, in search of the supposed Northwestern and Northeastern Passages which are depicted with such certainty on Mercator’s map. The prize was rich enough: a fast route to China and the Indies, free from Spanish or Portuguese competition, and if Englishmen had navigated those waters before then so much the better. To modern eyes Mercator’s blend of historical, and one might even say literary sources, with reports from navigators of his own age (some more reliable than others) seems curious and archaic. We expect nothing short of total accuracy from our own maps. Early modern readers, by contrast, were accustomed to the idea of reading a map on several different levels.  



Pictorial plans of London: MacDonald Gill and beyond.

This post is something of a work in progress, so please check back now and again to see if I’ve been able to expand it. So far I’ve tried to avoid some of the most well-known maps, but in this instance there’s no excuse for not beginning with MacDonald Gill’s playful and eccentric Wonderground map of London. Apologies if you know it already, but it always repays another look:

Gill’s map was commissioned by London Transport in 1913, and was so successful that it was offered for sale to the general public the following year. The map I have here is an example of that issue: The heart of Britain’s Empire here is spread out for your view … You have not time to admire it all? Why not take a map home to pin on your wall! And of course, most purchasers took Gill’s advice and did just that, which is why it has become scarce today …

With this map Gill inspired a whole genre of comic map-making, filling his map with poems, puns and in-jokes (some bad, a few inexplicable). One needs hours to ‘admire it all’ (unscramble might be a better word). Here’s how Gill treated one of my favourite places in London, the zoo:

It’s a much more entertaining way of showing how the Underground Stations relate to surface topography than anything dreamt up previously, but the style is better suited to pleasure than business and I note that most maps of this genre focus on West London rather than the City or the East End. The blend of old and new seems typically Edwardian, summed up in this detail from the upper left corner:

The curvature of the horizon is decidedly medieval (Arts and Crafts, anyway), while the aeroplane and motorized omnibus bring us firmly into the Twentieth Century. The speech bubbles are Gill’s own. 

Gill went on to create further maps for London Transport, including a series of ‘straight’ pocket Underground maps in the 1920s; he also designed the font used on headstones by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and numerous posters for bodies such as the Empire Marketing Board. I suspect that he was more commercially successful than his brother, Eric. A new carto-bibliography of his work is expected soon (following last year’s MacDonald Gill exhibition in Brighton), and in the meantime I refer you to Elisabeth Burdon’s excellent article:

I’d like to devote the rest of this post to other maps which were show clear signs of being influnced by Gill’s work. This map is more blatant than most:

Published by Alexander Gross’s firm, Geographia Ltd in the 1930s, it’s unsigned.

The visual and verbal puns (the long arm of the law reaching out from Scotland Yard, the ink spilled on Fleet Street …) and historical and topographical notes are typical of Gill’s work. But it certainly isn’t. Mind you, it was popular enough for Geographia to issue it in jigsaw form:

This is the standard Geographia London Pictorial Map, published in numerous editions between the 1920s and 1950s:

Not terribly inventive, perhaps, but worth including as the early post-war editions are among the only maps to show the blitzed area in the City of London:

The area left blank on the map had almost reverted to the heathland it had been centuries before, carpeted with rosebay willowherb and ragwort. Some streets could only be identified from temporary wooden signboards. Leaving the map blank seems entirely logical - it’s surprising how few cartographers followed suit.

Here’s Leslie Bullock’s Children’s Map of London, c. 1938:


Bullock worked closely with Edinburgh publisher John Bartholomew and Son over a long period. All royalties for this map were donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital. In the margins are nursery rhyme scenes and the map is flanked by the Biblical giants Gog and Magog, long associated with London.

There are scattered quotations, but the map is not as crowded as Gill’s (I suspect Bullock lacked Gill’s talent for whimsical quippery). However, there are echoes of Gill’s work here - I doubt Bullock’s map would have existed without it. I’m also going to include Kennedy North’s 1923 British Empire Exhibition map:

North’s debt is principally calligraphic - the lettering is clearly inspired by Gill’s 1920s Underground maps - although one might also look at the bold use of colour and details such as the buses, cars and trams. Note North’s impressive attempt to reduce the Underground system to diagramatic form almost a decade before Harry Beck.

I’ve been assuming that Kennedy North is Stanley Kennedy North: artist, illustrator, picture restorer, socialist, folk dancer and general bohemian. Commercial work (e.g. for Shell Oil) seems to be signed simply ‘Kennedy North’, but it seems unlikely that there would be two similarly named artists working at the same time. If I spot a definite link I’ll update this entry. [Update May 2012: two members of the artist’s family have been in touch to confrim that this is indeed SKN; he made other maps - possibly another post to follow.] 

The unusual thing about this reduced, pocket version of Kerry Lee’s poster is the way it’s folded. A customer in my shop pulled out a very similar (modern) map of London only the other day. The ‘uniquefold’ patent is dated 1948, which ties in with the reference to British Railways (nationalised in that year). 

Here is an early 1950s pictorial map by Francis Chichester (aviator, yachtsman and map-maker), again in jigsaw form:

Chichester had initially bought up surplus wartime Air Ministry maps and turned them into jigsaws (possibly among the most joyless age of austerity toys ever, though I’d still like to find one). However, this one of Chichester’s original maps. Significant landmarks are shown pictorially, but there are no puns.  

And finally, The Daily Telegraph Picture Map of London, probably 1950s:

Designed by Vale Studios for Geographia, it is entirely distinct from the Telegraph’s 1947 Royal Wedding map by Zadwill and Gray, which I’ve illustrated here: Here’s a detail:

More to follow as I find them!

The course of true love …

I’m not much of a one for Valentine’s Day in the ordinary run of things, but I feel like making a special effort this year. So here are one or two whimsical ‘maps of matrimony’ - a popular nineteenth century genre which seems to have fallen by the wayside. You can make up your own mind as to whether that’s a good thing or not. Here’s a hand-drawn example:

The ragged coastline bears a passing resemblance to south western England and Wales - perhaps the ghost of a geography lesson (copying out maps was quite common in the schoolroom). At the top (north?) of the map we come first to the ‘Quicksands of Censure’ the ‘Isles of Temerity’ and the ‘United States of Agitation’ before passing through the ‘Province of Jewellers & Milliners’ and the ‘Mountains of Delay, inhabited by Lawyers’. Heading south we finally reach the ‘Port of Hymen’ which is located in the ‘Electorate of Bridesmaids’ (is it just me, or is that highly suspicious?) rather than the ‘Region of Rejoicing’. Crossing the Gulf of Matrimony and the River of Congratulation we reach … Petticoat Government.

Here’s a popular postcard on the same lines, c. 1900:

The principal tributaries of the Truelove River, the rivers Edwin and Angelina, have their sources in (respectively) Indifference Hill and Fancy Free Plateau. Once joined, they pass through Evasion Rapids, Sentimental Meadow, Separation Deep, Misery Marsh etc before emerging into Altar Bay and Honeymoon Island. Angrysire sounds best avoided …

If all this is getting a bit sugary for you, here’s French caricaturist Paul Hadol’s take on the state of love and marriage in France in 1869:

In map circles Hadol is probably best remembered for the satirical map of Europe he created on the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, but as this map prepared for weekly magazine L’Eclipse shows, it wasn’t the only time he toyed with cartographic imagery. His imaginary island is laid out in the traditional heart-shape, but on closer inspection the inhabitants prove terribly worldy. The island is split into three provinces by the rivers Absinthe, Gold Mine and Reconnaissance, which rather sets the tone. 

'Tenderness' is a woman hurling a (full) soup tureen at her husband, and only if one can navigate La Mer Dangereuse, past the suicide rocks, can one hope to reach ‘the unknown country of the Good Woman’ … I do hope someone bought M. Hadol a giant plush teddy bear that year.

Here’s another detail:

Only because I thought it would be more fun to leave you all with Billets doux and Grand Esprit