Antiquarianism

How did amateurs, collectors and enthusiasts record the past before the development of history as a modern discipline?


The prospects of the two most remarkable towns in the north of England for the clothing trade, viz. Leeds, As it appears from Holbeck Road, and Wakefield, As it appears from London Road, by William Lodge.

Local historians in the 18th century

Article by:
Rosemary Sweet

Writing local histories was a favourite hobby of many in the 18th century who had spare time, money, and a desire to find out more about their towns and country. Rosemary Sweet examines some of the motivations of local historians and the usefulness of their work for historians today.

Read more
The South East Prospect of the City of Bristol

Samuel and Nathaniel Buck – Past and present in the national landscape

Article by:
Andrew Kennedy

Andrew Kennedy explores how brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, the leading topographical print-makers of the 18th century, pictured Britain's historical relics as well as its contemporary, rapidly modernising towns and cities.

Read more
Plate showing Painting of the Combat of St George with the Dragon after an original fresco on the Nave of the Chapel of the Trinity at Stratford upon Avon

The Nichols family and their press (1777–1873)

Article by:
Julian Pooley

For three generations the Nichols family was central to topographical research and publication. Julian Pooley explores how as editors of the Gentleman’s Magazine, printers of county histories, collectors of manuscripts and founder members of historical societies, John Nichols (1745–1826), John Bowyer Nichols (1779–1863) and John Gough Nichols (1806–1873) were integral to the antiquarian community during a century of change.

Read more
Peter Tillemans (about 1684-1734), A View of the Country about Northampton taken from the Road between Northampton & Kingsthorpe, September 1721, monochrome wash over pencil with pen and ink, 21.8 x 45 cm, Add MS 32467, f.166

Taken from the road: Peter Tillemans in Northamptonshire

Article by:
John Bonehill

A group of drawings in the British Library’s Manuscripts collection tell the story of Peter Tillemans’ work for the antiquary John Bridges. Touring Northamptonshire with Bridges in the summer of 1721, the drawings depict the county’s contemporary topography and rich antiquarian history. John Bonehill explores further.

Read more
A view of the tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming in Lincoln Cathedral by William Sedgwick.

The antiquarian tradition

Article by:
Ann Payne

Ann Payne traces the beginnings of the antiquarian tradition of recording and promoting history through topographical drawings in the British Library’s collections.

Read more
Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, The Great Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, 1780–1791, watercolour, Add. MS 5670, f.38

‘Everything Curious’: Samuel Hieronymus Grimm and Sir Richard Kaye

Article by:
Brett Dolman

Over 3000 drawings by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm are housed in the British Library’s Department of Manuscripts: the impressive result of over 20 years touring to record ‘everything curious’ in England. A project funded the antiquary Sir Richard Kaye, Grimm’s drawings capture local history and contemporary life in England in the last decades of the 18th century. Brett Dolman explores.

Read more
Bodiam Castle, by James Lambert.

Watercolours in William Burrell's Collections

Article by:
John Farrant

William Burrell’s topographical collections at the British Library include 1,300 watercolours of views, antiquities and buildings, a treasure trove for researchers as John Farrant explains.

Read more
A view of Killaru churchyard on the Isle of Islay by John Cleveley, junior.

Itinerant view takers

Article by:
Ann Payne

Ann Payne, former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library, outlines how topographical views were often the result of artists touring in Britain and beyond.

Read more
Lucas de Heere (1534-84), Stonehenge, about 1573-5, pen and ink on paper

Topography and prehistoric Britain

Article by:
Sam Smiles

Britain's prehistoric landscapes are depicted in prints and drawings across the British Library's collections. Sam Smiles, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Plymouth, explores further.

Read more
Journal of a Ten Days’ Tour from Uley in Gloucestershire by way of Ross

Domestic tourism in Great Britain

Article by:
Rosemary Sweet

In counterpoint to the ‘grand tour’ of Europe, domestic tourism also saw a dramatic increase in the 18th century. Improved roads, health benefits and the chance to discover unfamiliar parts of the country were all stimulants for domestic travellers, writes Rosemary Sweet.

Read more
A view of a picnic on Staple Island by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm.

Topographical drawings at the British Library

Article by:
Ann Payne

Former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library Ann Payne provides an introduction to the scope and content of the extensive collections of topographical drawings at the British Library.

Read more
Portrait of William Burrell by Robert Laurie (after Richard Cosway).

Dr William Burrell's 'Intended History of Sussex'

Article by:
John Farrant

The British Library holds William Burrell’s research materials from the 1770s and 1780s towards a history of Sussex which remained unpublished at his death in 1796. John Farrant explores how his work was of great value to later historians and underpinned the county histories which appeared between 1815 and 1835, while the 1,300 watercolours of views, antiquities and buildings continue to be a treasure trove for researchers.

Read more
Francis Grose, by Francesco Bartolozzi after Nathaniel Dance.

Captain Francis Grose – populariser of antiquities

Article by:
John Farrant

John Farrant takes a look at the work of 18th-century antiquarian Captain Francis Grose, whose hobby for making sketches – many of which are now in the collections of the British Library – culminated in the publication of works on the antiquities of Britain.

Read more
Samuel Buck (1696-1779), Drawings from the Yorkshire Sketchbook in Another volume of Mr. Warburton's collections for Yorkshire, containing a great many views of towns, ruins, gentlemen's seats, &c. chiefly pen and ink sketches, several of which are very neatly executed, 1719-20, pen and brown ink, Lansdowne MS 914, f.209

The brothers Buck

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

Alice Rylance-Watson provides an overview of the work of brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck: two topographers whose prints popularised prospects of Britain in the 18th century.

Read more
Richard Lyne (active about 1570-1600), Angliæ Heptarchia, about 1574, hand-coloured engraving, Harley MS 5957, f. 8, no.13

The Bagford Collection

Article by:
Antony Griffiths

Antony Griffiths explores the print collection of John Bagford (1650–1716), a trained shoe-maker, book seller and library agent who helped to form the libraries of Robert Harley and Hans Sloane. Encompassing grub-street satires, views, rare maps, book-fragments, title-pages and much more, Bagford’s is a hugely important resource in the history of printmaking and bibliography.

Read more
Summary: Nocturnal scene; a group of men watch the eruption of Mount Vesuvius from a pier next to a tower, with harbour and lighthouse at left, sailing ships and Bay of Naples at right and flames and clouds of smoke from the volcano covering the sky in the background; within painted frame with black edge, annotated with title in white ink below.  Summary: Titled ‘Molo di Napoli, con terribile eruzione del Vesuvio mandata fuori la sera de 15 del mese di Giugno, 1794; ad ore 2 di notte.

A royal armchair traveller: The Grand Tour and the King’s Topographical Collection

Article by:
Mercedes Cerón

George III never visited Italy. Instead he collected prints, drawings and guidebooks enabling him to travel virtually to antiquity's greatest architectural and artistic sites. Mercedes Cerón explores this rich collection of Grand Tour material to shed light on George III's particular brand of armchair tourism.

Read more
The South Prospect of St. Paul's Church London, 1720, RECTO

How views of St Paul's reached St Pancras

Article by:
Kate Heard

Kate Heard traces the journey of a British Library print depicting St Paul's Cathedral – from its early history in the archive of one of England’s greatest print collectors to the library of King George III.

Read more
The entry of a Viceroy into Naples

The collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo at the British Library

Article by:
Mark McDonald

Cassiano dal Pozzo's collection of prints and drawings is one of the most important collections of the early modern period. It was an attempt to embrace the entirety of human knowledge through visual media. Mark McDonald reviews some of the prints acquired by George III and now held at the British Library.

Read more
A Sassanian bas-relief at Nakshi-Roustam with Ker Porter sketching it, by Sir Robert Ker Porter.

Painting Persepolis

Article by:
Christopher Wright

Sir Robert Ker Porter's accounts of his travels in the Middle East gave a glimpse into a region that was largely unknown to most Europeans. His original watercolours provide a compelling visual source and are both descriptive of their settings and beautiful works of art in their own right. Christopher Wright recounts Porter's journey into an unfamiliar and enchanting landscape.

Read more
Anonymous, William Segar, Garter Principall King of Arms, pen, ink and bodycolour on vellum touched with gold, 1616-1707, (British Library, Harl 2024, f. 69).

The manuscript remains of the Randle Holmes, herald antiquaries of the 17th century

Article by:
Nigel Llewellyn

Nigel Llewellyn explores the manuscripts of Randle Holme, a name shared by four successive generations of herald painters and genealogists hailing from Chester.

Read more
Charles Turner (1773-1857) after Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), Norham Castle on the Tweed, London, 1 January 1816, mezzotint and etching

Turner's topographical watercolours

Article by:
Sam Smiles

Sam Smiles shows how topography was central to JMW Turner's output, and how his career was arguably built on designing topographical views for print publication.

Read more
The feast of the gods, by Claes Jansz Visscher after David Vinckboons.

Terra incognita: the Beudeker Collection

Article by:
Anna Simoni

An introduction to the Beudeker Collection of maps and views of the Netherlands and Belgium in the British Library by the late Anna E. C. Simoni.

Read more
A view of Irnham Mill from the Luttrell Psalter.

Early topographical drawings

Article by:
Ann Payne

When does topography begin? Ann Payne, former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library, describes early examples of topographical views from the British Library’s collections.

Read more

The Scots Roll in Thomas Wriothesley’s heraldic collections

Article by:
Grant Lewis

Grant Lewis examines the 16th century collections of Sir Thomas Wriothesley and how his ownership of the Scots Roll illustrates how heraldic illustrations were used.

Read more
view of wynnstay

Fidelity and elegance: The aquatint landscapes of Paul Sandby (1731–1809)

Article by:
Ann Gunn

Ann Gunn explores Paul Sandby’s pioneering achievements in aquatint through prints in the King’s Topographical Collection. A printmaking technique popular for its ability to mimic the effects of watercolour, Sandby used aquatint to reproduce many of his own landscape drawings created on tours of England and Wales.

Read more
Image of Soane's watercolour entitled 'View of monk's parlour looking north'

The Description of the House and Museum of Sir John Soane

Article by:
Tom Drysdale

Sir John Soane, an architect and avid collector of art and antiquities, spent years designing in his Lincoln's Inn Fields home and curating his collections within it. As Tom Drysdale highlights, an extra-illustrated volume in the British Library reveals how Soane's unique house-museum evolved.

Read more
Frederick Charles Husenbeth (1796–1872), Fresco at St Nicholas’ Church, Yarmouth, undated, pen and ink and watercolour, Add MS 23062, f.31.

Dawson Turner’s Index

Article by:
Martin Hopkinson

Dawson Turner commissioned drawings by his family and local and nationally-significant artists such as John Sell Cotman to accompany Blomefield’s History of Norfolk. Martin Hopkinson tells the story of Turner’s project, exploring some of its many highlights.

Read more
William Pitt, Anecdotes of the Life of ... William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and of the principal events of his time [compiled by J. Almon]; with his speeches in Parliament ... 1736 to ... 1778, ed. by John Almon (London: J.S. Jordan, 1793), Davis 174-176

English Landscape Bindings

Article by:
Philippa Marks

With reference to examples in the Henry Davis Gift, King’s Library and beyond, Philippa Marks explores why topographical views became decorative motifs for 18th – 19th-century English bookbindings.

Read more
klencke atlas folio 38

The Klencke Atlas

Article by:
Tom Harper

Tom Harper tells the story of the Klencke Atlas. One of the largest atlases in the world, it was presented to Charles II by the Dutch merchant and scholar Johannes Klencke in 1660.

Read more
Theatre, Yarmouth. The manager has great pleasure in announcing, that he has succeeded in forming an engagement, for six nights only with that highly-popular actress, Miss Ellen Tree, of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, also, for the same period, with Mr. G. Bennett, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, who will have the honor of appearing on Monday, 17th August, 1840, upon which occasion will be acted Sheridan Knowles' celebrated play . . . entitled Love. Huon, by Mr. G. Bennett. The Duke, Mr. H. Mellon-Prince Frederick, Mr. Biddell . . . The Countess, by Miss Ellen Tree . . . A comic song by Mr. Munyard. In conjunction will be produced (for the second time) a drama of peculiar construction, entitled the Ladies' Club! . . . Major Mortar . . . Mr. W. Davidge. Hon. Mr. Derby . . . Mr. S. Davis - Mr. Twankay . . . Mr. Biddell . . .,  [Great Yarmouth], printed by C. Sloman, King-Street, Yarmouth, [1840], 49 x 19 cm, N.Tab.2012/6(1ii) (199)

Dawson Turner and the social landscape of 19th-century Great Yarmouth

Article by:
John Boneham

Held here at the British Library, Dawson Turner’s collection of printed ephemera contains a wealth of material relating to life in Great Yarmouth in the 18th and 19th centuries. John Boneham explores the history and contents of the collection, which encompasses subjects as wide-ranging as politics, religion, science and transport.

Read more
Samuel Buck (1696-1779), Drawings from the Yorkshire Sketchbook in Another volume of Mr. Warburton's collections for Yorkshire, containing a great many views of towns, ruins, gentlemen's seats, &c. chiefly pen and ink sketches, several of which are very neatly executed, 1719-20, pen and brown ink, Lansdowne MS 914, f.209

The brothers Buck

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

Alice Rylance-Watson provides an overview of the work of brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck: two topographers whose prints popularised prospects of Britain in the 18th century.

Read more

Richard Gough: the father of British topography

Article by:
Bernard Nurse

Bernard Nurse highlights the seminal work of the antiquary Richard Gough (1735-1809), exploring his topographical collections now held at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library.

Read more
The Holy Bible ... Carefully printed from the first edition - compared with others - of the present translation. With notes by ... Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man: and various renderings collected from other translations by the Reverend Clement Cruttwell, the editor. Bath : R. Cruttwell, 1785.

Fore-edge landscapes

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

Alice Rylance-Watson explores the practice of fore-edge painting – the painting of an image on the edge of a book.

Read more
M. J. Starling after T. Allom, The Lion Brewery, Lambeth, for ‘A Topographical History of Surrey’ (Dorking: Robert Best Ede; & London: Tilt & Bogue, 1841-8), etching and engraving  British Library 1572/279]

Lambeth’s topographical image

Article by:
Amy Concannon

With important antiquarian sites like Lambeth Palace and places of popular entertainment like Vauxhall Gardens, the London parish of Lambeth was a rich resource for topographical artists and writers at the turn of the 19th century. It was also a landscape in flux: a traditional ‘rural retreat’ on the Surrey side of the Thames undergoing rapid urbanisation. With a particular focus on the work of Lambeth-born topographer Edward Wedlake Brayley (1773–1854), Amy Concannon explores how contemporary producers of topographical material – both visual and textual – negotiated the changing landscape of Lambeth.

Read more
The Reading Room, 1857, medium, dimensions, published in The Illustrated London News, vol.30, 8 May 1857 (London: Illustrated London News & Sketch Ltd., 1842

Quart into a pint pot: the accommodation problems of the British Museum Library

Article by:
Phil Harris

The King’s Topographical Collection joined an ever-expanding collection at the British Museum. Phil Harris looks at the changes made to the British Museum and British Library to cope with the volume of material they contain.

Read more
[THE DISTRIBUTION OF HIS MAJESTY'S MAUNDY, BY THE SUB-ALMONER in the Chapel Royal, at WHITEHALL] / S.H. Grimm ad nat del.

What is K.Top?

Article by:
Felicity Myrone

George III's extensive collection of maps and views is known as the King's Topographical Collection or 'K.Top' for short. Felicity Myrone explores the history and extent of this rich collection, encompassing up to 40,000 items.

Read more
A view of Fountains Abbey by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm.

British topography: ‘Our real national art form’?

Article by:
Felicity Myrone

Felicity Myrone explores how topographical art has been defined and categorised since the 18th century – by artists, critics, art historians and collectors.

Read more
View of the back of Whitehall with figures sitting in the foreground; ruins in the middle ground; a horse and cart on the right. Paper bears a Whatman watermark.

Putting topography in its place

Article by:
Felicity Myrone

Felicity Myrone explores how the ‘placing’ of topography and the collections’ perceived status and current accessibility at the British Library is the result of complex and often unintentional sequences of events.

Read more

Prints and drawings at the British Museum and British Library

Article by:
Felicity Myrone

Felicity Myrone explores how prints and drawings are generally encountered in museum and library collections, and how this affects their meaning and status.

Read more
A hand-coloured impression of a print of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, after J.M.W. Turner, published in 1832.

Literature and the transformation of topography: the case of Kenilworth Castle, 1700–1850

Article by:
Dale Townshend

Dale Townshend examines the cultural transformation of the ruined Tudor palace at Kenilworth following the publication of Sir Walter Scott's tragic romance in 1821.

Read more
View of a natural harbour on Innisfallen island, Killarney

A Picturesque Tour of Killarney

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Finola O'Kane examines how Killarney, County Kerry rose to become one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in the 18th and 19th centuries

Read more
Castletown

Ralph Thoresby’s album of 17th century views of the Isle of Man

Article by:
Eva Wilson

Eva Wilson discusses the history and scope of the earliest surviving pictorial record of the Isle of Man, an album of views owned by antiquarian Ralph Thoresby.

Read more
Ruins of the ancient monastery on the Island of Oronsay

Thomas Pennant and British topography

Article by:
Sileas Wood

Sileas Wood offers an introduction to the tours, travels, and topography of Thomas Pennant.

Read more
Etching of Wotton in Surrey by John Evelyn

John Evelyn’s views of Wotton, Surrey

Article by:
John Bonehill

John Bonehill explores John Evelyn's views of the house and gardens at Wotton in Surrey, the Evelyn family seat.

Read more
Extract from 'A briefe sonet declaring the lamentation of Beckles, a Market Towne in Suffolke'

Antiquarian interest in early modern ballad collection

Article by:
Harriet Phillips

Harriet Phillips explores antiquarian interest in early modern broadside ballads.

Read more
Engraving of Stonehenge

Inigo Jones and the Ruins of Stonehenge

Article by:
Alexander Wragge-Morley

Alexander Wragge-Morley examines Inigo Jones’s theory that Stonehenge was a temple built by the Romans.

Read more
ink drawing of a Mithraic sacrifice

Mithraic scenes in Micklegate

Article by:
Richard Johns

Richard Johns examines how the 18th-century discovery of a Roman relief sculpture at Micklegate reshaped modern understanding of York’s long history.

Read more

Further themes

Antiquarianism

How did amateurs, collectors and enthusiasts record the past before the development of history as a modern discipline?

Country

Idyllic views, working landscapes and natural wonders: explore the allure of picturing the countryside.

Military and maritime

Before photography, what role did handmade images play in military and maritime enterprise?

Science and nature

Discover images of the natural world treated as objects of fascination.

Town and city

Pictures of the built environment: how do they reveal religious, political and social history?

Transforming topography

Changing ideas about the nature and purpose of views and records of place.