Town and city

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


John Bowles' Pocket Map of London.

Maps, guidebooks and topographical prints of London by the Bowles family

Article by:
Alison O'Byrne

In the 18th century, a whole range of works catered to new arrivals in London. Alison O’Byrne explores how these works – including guidebooks, pocket maps, and views of the city – offered different kinds of topographical information to enable visitors to find their way through the streets of the capital.

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Richard Reeve, after Samuel Rawle, Vauxhall on a Gala Night, from Modern London (London, Richard Phillips, 1804), etching, 10349.h.13 (plate opp.p.456)

Accumulating London

Article by:
Matthew Sangster

Advances in print technologies, a growing consumer base and the interventions of clever entrepreneurs led to a burgeoning of prints of London in the 18th and 19th century. Matthew Sangster considers the ways in which these prints represented and organised the city, placing them onto a digital map of London to reveal the geographical and cultural patterns they trace.

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Wenceslaus Hollar's 1675 map of the city of London, Westminster and Southwark after the Great Fire

Wenceslaus Hollar as a map-maker

Article by:
Peter Barber

Former Head of Map Collections at the British Library Peter Barber explores Wenceslaus Hollar’s interest in and experience of creating maps to picture place and convey his political opinions.

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PANORAMIC VIEW of that part of Ratisbon west of the cathedral, painted in water-colours by G. Scharf, sen.; 1845. Paper; 6 ft. 1/2 in. X 1 ft.

The spectacle of the panorama

Article by:
Markman Ellis

What was a panorama? Markman Ellis explores the evolution of this immersive form of topographical art.

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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.

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Fragment of a city plan labelled ‘Tuba’.

Picturing cities

Article by:
James Elliot

What were early topographical views used for? Former British Library maps curator James Elliot explains the origins of town plans, ‘picture maps’ and bird’s eye views.

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City of Dublin, by Thomas Sautelle Roberts

The city of Dublin

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Georgian Dublin was a booming city. In this article, Finola O'Kane looks at the ways in which the Irish capital was shaped by its topography and represented in topographical art.

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PLAN of the CITY of NEW YORK, in North America : Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767 / B. Ratzer, Lieut.t in His Majestys 60th or Royal American Reg.t. Bernard Ratzer, cartographer., London : Publish'd according to Act of Parliament, Jan.y 12. 1776 by Jefferys & Faden, Corner of St. Martins Lane, Charing Cross, Jan.y 12. 1776., Maps 1.Tab.44.

The baroque city: town plans of the 18th century

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot explores 18th-century plans of European and English cities to reveal how urban cartography and urban design developed over the century.

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City of Cork, by Samuel Alken after Thomas Sautelle Roberts.

Cork City and Harbour

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Early topographical views of Cork emphasised its connection to the sea, but this was to change over the course of the 18th century, as Finola O'Kane discovers.

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Robert Adams, Plan of Flushing (Vlissingen), 1588. Cotton MS Augustus I.ii.105.

Early plans in the British Isles

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot traces the development of British town and country plans from the earliest examples in the Library’s manuscript, map and topographical collections to those produced towards the end of the 17th century.

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Giuseppe Vasi's Panorama of Rome

Giuseppe Vasi's panorama of Rome and related publications

Article by:
John E. Moore

John E Moore, Professor of Art at Smith College, explores the world of Giuseppe Vasi: a Sicilian engraver who made Rome's topographical image the object of his life's work.

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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.

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Braun & Hogenberg and after: the town plans of the 17th century

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot explores the influence of Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg's seminal atlas, the Civitates Orbis Terrarum, on 17th-century map-making.

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Recording cities in print

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot traces the early development of the printed topographical view.

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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.

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A Fire Insurance Plan of the City of Leeds.

Fire and the sword

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot discusses town and city maps from the 17th to the 19th century, and the ways in which they reflect the issues of urban growth.

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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.

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Jan Ziarnko (1575-1630), Ville Citte Universite de Paris, published by Anthonie de Vuauconsains, Paris, 1616, 67 x 78 cm, Maps CC.5.a.500.

The printed map as a tool of political struggle: Paris is well worth a… map

Article by:
Małgorzata Biłozór-Salwa

Małgorzata Biłozór-Salwa explores how maps were used as political tools by successive French rulers: re-issued and re-worked to include royal portraits emphasising their symbolic control over the capital city.

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KNOLE PARK in Kent, the seat of his Grace the DUKE of DORSET. / P. Sandby R.A. pinxt.; M.A. Rooker sculp. Illustration to: 'The Copper plate magazine; or, Monthly treasure, for the admirers of the imitative arts'. (London [England] : printed for G[eorge]. Kearsly, no. 46, Fleet Street, 1774-1778.).  View of Knole Park, the large and sprawling house beyond with turrets on either side of the gatehouse, a lake and woods in the park beyond, a carriage driving along the road, a large tree to the middleground with an encircling bench with a gentleman reading a book, three elegant riders with a dog to the foreground.

Country houses and The Copper Plate Magazine

Article by:
Jocelyn Anderson

The King’s Topographical Collection includes dozens of extraordinary albums of images, organised geographically. The images within these volumes, however, vary considerably: some are maps, some are watercolours, and some are prints. Jocelyn Anderson discusses prints of country houses from The Copper Plate Magazine: now spread across George III’s Collection, these views were originally part of a single series.

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A View of the Wilderness, with the Alhambra, the Pagoda and Mosque at Kew

The gardens at Kew

Article by:
Jocelyn Anderson

From 1757 the royal grounds at Kew were transformed with a fabulous scheme of ornamental buildings and pleasure gardens. Engravings in the King’s Topographical Collection document the project, which was undertaken for George III’s mother Augusta. Jocelyn Anderson explores.

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Plan for the Adelphi, by Robert and James Adam.

Robert Adam and the King's Topographical Collection

Article by:
Peter Barber

Peter Barber looks at works associated with the Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and his brothers in George III's collection of topographical prints and drawings.

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A View of the House and Part of the Garden of Sir Francis Dashwood Bart. at West Wycomb in the County of Bucks.

Pleasure in pleasure gardens

Article by:
Stephen Bending

During the 18th century, public and private gardens were designed as realms for entertainment, polite sociability and leisurely retreat. With reference to items in the King’s Topographical Collection, Stephen Bending explores how pleasure gardens were depicted in contemporary engravings – from the bustling commercial gardens of London to the landscaped parkland of a gentleman’s country estate.

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William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks, published by William Daniell, London, 1808, aquatint with hand-colouring, plate 49.6 x 86 cm, on sheet 59.2 x 93.1 cm, British Library, London, Maps K.Top.21.31.5.c.PORT.11.TAB.

The New London Docks (1800–1830)

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

From 1800, London’s dock system was revolutionised, and many commemorative prints were published to celebrate the transformation. William Daniell’s prints of the new docks represented London’s modernisation in particularly exultant terms. Alice Rylance-Watson explores.

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Survey of the Country on the Eastern Bank of the Hughly, by Mark Woods.

A map of Kolkata in 1785

Article by:
Rosie Dias

A single map may serve many purposes. A survey of the River Hooghly near Kolkata in India by East India Company Captain Mark Wood, now in the British Library, is no exception, as Rosie Dias discovers.

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View of Étretat in Normandy by Louis Garneray

Louis Garneray and topographical painting as border control

Article by:
Kelly Presutti

Kelly Presutti explores how topography was deployed as an instrument of state formation in Louis Garneray's Vues des Côtes de France.

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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.

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Figures loading cargo from a boat onto a cart led by horses; a river in the centre of the scene; houses on the right bank and in the distance; trees on either side; TWICKENHAM. / Drawn by Pugin ; Engraved by J. Hill. John Hill, 1770-1850, printmaker. [London] : Published Feby 1 1811 by T. Clay No 18 Ludgate Hill London., [February 1 1811]

Richmond and Twickenham: A Modern Arcadia

Article by:
Martin Postle

A royal enclave, an artistic and literary hub, and an elegant suburban retreat, Richmond-upon-Thames was ideal subject matter for 18th and 19th century artists and printmakers. Their depictions of the area are well represented in the King's Topographical Collection, leading Martin Postle to explore why so many made this culturally rich London borough the focus of their work.

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Map of the Eure River from Pontgouin to Versailles

Mapping Europe’s waterways in George III’s Topographical Collection

Article by:
Mercedes Cerón

George III’s Topographical Collection includes maps and views representative of ‘Canal Mania’: the intense spate of canal-building which took place in the late 18th-century Britain. Mercedes Ceron explores further.

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View of the Cascade in the Garden, by John Spyers.

John Spyers, topographical artist

Article by:
Tom Drysdale

John Spyers is best known for his association with the landscape gardener 'Capability' Brown, but his independent role as a topographical artist has received little attention, as Tom Drysdale explains.

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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.

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A map of the roads through England, Wales and part of Scotland from Daniel Paterson's British Itinerary (1785)

The natural world through early modern strip maps: a narrow view of nature

Article by:
Daniel Maudlin

Drawing on the British Library’s collection of 18th-century road maps, travel guides and atlases, Daniel Maudlin considers how the road-building boom of Georgian Britain and British America transformed actual and imaginative experiences of travel.

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A Fire Insurance Plan of the City of Leeds.

Fire and the sword

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot discusses town and city maps from the 17th to the 19th century, and the ways in which they reflect the issues of urban growth.

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A woodcut map of Peking from c.1900.

Industry and Empire: the town plans of the 19th century

Article by:
James Elliot

James Elliot explores the development of town plans through technical and social change during the 19th century.

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Glennan in the County of Monaghan

An Irish Cabin on the Commons of Bray

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Finola O'Kane investigates how topographical depictions of cabins, cottages and dwellings shaped perceptions of Ireland in the 18th century and beyond.

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The South Sea Scheme, by William Hogarth

William Hogarth’s 'The South Sea Scheme' and the topography of speculative finance

Article by:
Clare Walcot

Clare Walcot explores the significance of the London landmarks depicted by William Hogarth in his printed satires on speculative finance

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Thomas Sandby panorama of Nottingham

Exercises in perspective: A sweeping view of Nottingham Market Place by Thomas Sandby

Article by:
Alexandra Ault

Alex Ault examines Thomas Sandby's drawings of his home town, Nottingham; paying special attention to a newly reattributed panorama of the city's market square, from the King's Topographical Collection.

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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.