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Manuscript map collections

The manuscript map collections of the British Library are among the finest of their kind. Most of this material is to be found in the Department of Manuscripts but there are significant exceptions, notably King George III's Topographical and Maritime collections, held by the Map Library, and those in oriental scripts curated by the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections.

 Queen Mary Atlas

Diogo Homem, Queen Mary Atlas. 1558. Department of Manuscripts. Add. Ms. 5415A. fols. 13v. and 14. Copyright © The British Library Board


Manuscripts Collections Most manuscript maps are preserved by the Department of Manuscripts and are searchable on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. These are viewable only in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Maps Collections The manuscript maps of King George III’s Geographical Collection, as well as manuscript maps which relate directly to printed mapping, are held by the Map Library. These maps may be searched and ordered in Explore the British Library, and must be viewed in the Maps Reading Room.

Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections Manuscript maps from the Far East and Asia contained in Oriental scripts are searchable in Explore the British Library. Materials may be examined in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

The majority of manuscript maps are listed together in the following (no longer updated) printed resources, available for consultation in both the Maps and the Manuscripts Reading Rooms.

Catalogue of Manuscript Maps, Charts and Plans ... (1844-60, reissued 1962). 3 Volumes, HLR 912.016. Organised geographically, with an added index for searching by author, this printed catalog brings together all manuscript maps in the collections in 1962.

Indexes to Manuscript Maps (1992). Maps Ref Z.1.(1.) / also MSS open access. Organised according to date, cartographer, and geographic location, this three-volume printout of a database contains entries for all manuscript maps (but not views) in the British Library collections acquired before 1992 


Trench map of Fricourt

Trench map of Fricourt, 1916 from: Siegfried Sassoon, Autobiography & miscellaneous related material 1913-46. Add. MS 62550C, f.43. Copyright © The British Library Board

Maps in the Department of Manuscripts

These collections run to many hundreds of volumes containing maps, as well as several thousand separate charts, maps and plans. They include medieval copies of Roman cartography and range from the tenth century to the twentieth. The primary importance of this material is for the study of the development of west European terrestrial cartography up to the mid-seventeenth century (with special reference to Britain). The collections are also strong in marine cartography (including portolan charts from the fourteenth century) and large-scale military and civil mapping of the United Kingdom, western and central Europe, the Americas and Australia in the period up to 1860. Mapping by nineteenth-century African explorers is also well represented.

The following collections include significant holdings of maps: Althorp, Arundel, Cotton, Harleian, King's (i.e. George III's library, as distinct from his topographical collections), Lansdowne, Royal (i.e. the 'Old' Royal Library presented by George II in 1757), Sloane and Stowe. Several of these incorporate other, older collections. The largest number of maps is, however, to be found in the 'Additional' and 'Egerton' series of manuscripts, which themselves comprise numerous collections and archives since the 1750s.

A number of important printed maps are to be found among the holdings of the Department of Manuscripts, most notably perhaps, the proofs for Saxton's county maps of the 1570s.


  • Finding Manuscript Maps in the United Kingdom. British Library Map Library guide, online, 2005.
  • How to find manuscript maps in the British Library. British Library manuscript map guides No. 2. 1989.
  • How to find estate maps in the British Library. British Library Map Library guides no. 2. 1998.
  • M A E Nickson. The British Library: guide to the catalogues and indexes of the Department of Manuscripts. Third edition revised, with additional bibliographical information, by J Conway. British Library, 1998. Maps Ref Z.2.(4.)