Manuscript maps

Diogo Homem, Queen Mary Atlas. 1558
Diogo Homem, A chart of the Southern Atlantic Ocean, ff.13v-14, from ‘The Queen Mary Atlas,’ London, 1553. Add.MS 5415.A

The manuscript map collections of the British Library are among the finest of their kind, notably King George III's Topographical and Maritime collections.

About the collection

We have many hundreds of volumes of hand-drawn maps, as well as several thousand separate charts, maps and plans. They include medieval copies of Roman cartography and range from the 10th to the 20th century. The primary importance of this material is for the study of the development of west European terrestrial cartography up to the mid-17th century (with special reference to Britain). The collections are also strong in marine cartography (including portolan charts from the 14th 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 19th-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.

    What is available online?

    Online material includes:

    What is available in our Reading Rooms?

    Most manuscript maps can only be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

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

    Maps from the Far East and Asia in Oriental scripts are searchable in Explore the British Library. They can be examined in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

    What is available in other organisations?

    Manuscript maps are held in a variety of other collections in the UK and abroad. Tithe and enclosure maps are held in the National Archives. Local estates maps are also to be found in local record offices and history centres.

    Further information

    • 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.)

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