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Topographical prints and drawings: British Library printed catalogues by department

The British Library holds hundreds of thousands of topographical views, the most comprehensive and important collection in Britain.

The Department of Manuscripts

If you are keen to research manuscript (i.e. drawn, rather than printed) topographical material in the Library, it is also worth looking at specialist guides to the British Library's collections.

Llanthony Abbey, Monmouthshire

Llanthony Abbey, Monmouthshire; watercolour by Charles Alban Buckler, c. 1880. © The British Library Board.


Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861.)

This catalogue was intended to include every manuscript map or topographical drawing in the British Museum as of 1850. This was a very large undertaking, and did not go well: volumes one and two were published in 1844, but while volume three was ready for press in 1861, it was destroyed by fire at the bindery in 1865, and so not actually published until 1962!

The preface to the third volume states that the catalogue contains over 22,000 works, and that a fourth volume is planned. Most of the cataloguing for this fourth volume was actually carried out, but has since been lost.

The entries have been scanned for Explore the British Library. Items held by the Department of Manuscripts are listed, but are not orderable on that system.

Catalogues of Additions to the MSS in the British Museum 1783-1995 [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1843-1999), continued as part of the Manuscripts online catalogue and as print-outs in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Some volumes of topographical drawings are given useful detailed descriptions in the Catalogues of Additions to the Manuscripts. These use a simple index system and can be searched for particular places (from county to parish for UK locations), under artist's name, and/or under the headings Topography, Maps, Plans, and Art.

Class Catalogue

This is a paper subject guide to the Manuscript Department's collections which was maintained until 1930. Available in the reference section of the Manuscripts Reading Room, the relevant sections are


  • General, Europe, Asia, Africa, America vol.58
  • English counties vol.59-62a
  • Wales , Scotland , Ireland vol. 62a

Surveys (British Isles) vol. 62b

Engraved Views vol. 93 pp.5-11, 187-97

Barley, Maurice Willmore. A guide to British topographical collections, with contributions by P. D. A. Harvey and Julia E. Poole. (London, 1974.)

Maurice Barley lists the British Library's topographic manuscript collections other than those included in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts and Plans. He accounts for 60,200 individual topographical drawings or watercolours, and lists a further 424 volumes without disclosing their contents.

Payne, Ann. Views of the Past: Topographical Drawings at the British Library. (London, 1987.)

An overview by category and period, with colour reproductions.

Cambell, Tony. Indexes to material of cartographic interest in the Department of Manuscripts and to manuscript cartographic items elsewhere in the British Library. (London, 1992.) 

Tony Campbell includes panoramas in his main listing, with an index to pre-1800 topographical drawings which lists approximately 450 collections.

In addition, some important Manuscripts topographical collections are the subject of separate published catalogues that include reproductions, e.g. The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, 3 vols. (New Haven and London, 1985-88), and Northamptonshire in the Early 18th Century: the Drawings of Peter Tillemans and Others, ed. Bruce A. Bailey, Northamptonshire Record Society (1996).

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.