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Some historical sources on intelligence testing, eugenics and the special education needs of children

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 24 August 2020

I have been studying key texts on the history of schooling during the interwar period for my research. In this post, I highlight some of the sources from the late 19th century to the end of the period between the two wars that are relevant to the history of special education needs or, more precisely, the history of intelligence testing and eugenics and the exclusion of children with learning difficulties in state-funded schools. Many of the labels used to describe children with disabilities are offensive to us now and it is, therefore, important to consider the use of these within their historical context.

Sandlebridge Schools at Warford

Sandlebridge Schools at Warford

The history of education is replete with references to mental health issues in the legislative acts and books dating from the first half of the 19th century to the recent past. The first piece of legislation that deals with the issue of provision “for the care, education and training of idiots and imbeciles” was the 1886 Idiot’s Act of Parliament. It was the first time that the UK government had differentiated between those with mental health problems (‘lunatics’) and those who had learning disabilities (‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’). In 1902, the first facility that included children with special needs, and differentiated between the ‘mentally subnormal’ and the ‘ mentally ill’, was Mary Dendy’s Sandlebridge Colony in Great Warford, Cheshire. Dendy (1885-1933) was a typical feminist educator who showed compassion and humanity but from the vantage of one who wanted control in preventing social degeneration.  She was an advocate of Francis Galton’s (1822-1911) eugenic theories and her address at the Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics in Manchester in 1902 confirms the similarities of her views with Galton’s. Galton (who was the half-cousin of Charles Darwin) had published his book Hereditary Genius in 1862 and by the early years of the 20th century had begun to question the ‘civic worth’ of the ‘feeble-minded’. Dendy believed that the ‘feeble-minded should be segregated in order that their deformities were not perpetuated through marriage into future generations – forced sterilisation was actively promoted by the Eugenics Education Society which many eminent educationalists of the day belonged to. In Dendy’s opinion, the ‘degenerate children’ were incapable of being educated in the normal schoolroom and these children should be sent to special residential homes where they would be taught a livelihood to make them useful members of society. Her views are expressed in the 1911 publication Schooling of the Feeble-minded Children

The debates about eugenics, social responsibility, ethics, religion or the ‘biosocial’ (genetic dispositions) aspect of race continued during the early part of the 20th century and several reports were published by the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded (set up in 1904) which culminated with the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. This Act ensured the institutionalisation of the “feeble-minded’ and “moral defectives” such that they were removed from the institutions established as part of the Poor Law – thus incorporating the ideas the eugenicists, including Dendy, had been advancing. John and Samuel Wormald’s Guide to the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913: containing a legal and general exposition of the Act, with suggestions to the local authorities, managers and others for the organization and administration of the work dealing with the mentally defective is in the IOE’s special collections. The Wormalds, father and son, were active in the eugenics movement. John Wormald was a solicitor and for many years the Chairman of the Schools and the Special Schools, Boarding-out and Care Committees for the Mentally Defective in Leeds. The guide was written for those who are “actively concerned about the welfare of feeble-minded or defective persons”:

Imprisoned in our jails, confined in our Industrial Schools and maintained in the wards of our Workhouses are a large number of people who ought not to be there at all, and who are too often only injured by their present treatment, which is both costly and ineffective….The new powers of guardianship will be welcomed by those who are familiar with after care work in connection with these children. Very often such children will never need institutional treatment if these powers be wisely exercised but they will need the guiding and protecting hand whose continued presence the Act makes possible. … They will afford scope for the noblest exercise of the religious spirit, in training, tending and cheering lives, which at present are needlessly darkened, but which are capable of a real, though it may be a limited development; and are keenly sensitive to many simple joys of which they are now deprived (Wormald & Wormald, 1913, p. vii).

The above gives the impression of being quite caring but Wormald’s son Samuel, a member of the Eugenics Society, later became the notorious Executive Officer of the Mental Deficiency Meanwood Park unit in Leeds. He is remembered today for his often ruthless removal of more than 2,000 people (children, unmarried mothers and factory workers) considered to have a disability from society because he believed that “…by being allowed to repeat their type, the feebleminded are increasing the ranks of the degenerate and wastrel classes with disastrous consequences to the entire community”(Digital Archives of the Meanwood Park Hospital).

George E. Shuttleworth, a pioneer psychologist and Medical Examiner for the School Board in London, and did much to promote an understanding of differences between the different types of children deemed to be ‘subnormal’. It was through his persistent efforts that provision was made for children with disabilities. He devised teaching methods and set up “special” schools for children considered to have ‘mental deficiencies’. His book, Mentally Deficient Children was the standard text on the subject and ran to five editions from 1895 to 1922. The British Medical Journal suggested that the book was so widely read that “there can be few psychiatrists throughout the civilised world to whom his name is not familiar”.

In the preface to his book, Shuttleworth explains the various terms used to describe these ‘feeble-minded’ and ‘backward’ children suffering from ‘retarded mental development’. Shuttleworth included in the 2nd edition of his book two additional chapters that give an account of an inquiry on the educational training of children with learning disabilities by a Committee under the Education Department of which he was a member. The School Board for London adopted the recommendations for practical measures proposed by the Committee as did several other school authorities. His advice was that the “mentally-feeble child is specially incapable of comprehending abstractions: all instructions, therefore, must be presented in a concrete form, which it can not only see, but when possible grasp in the hand as well as in the mind” (p. 100). Shuttleworth’s papers are held at the Wellcome Library.

Schooling children with special education needs was also considered by educationalists and psychologists on the Continent. In the early part of the 20th century, the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911) had been commissioned by his government to find a way to measure intelligence as a way to find out which children needed additional assistance. His theories, and those of his collaborator Dr.Theodore Simon, are included in The Intelligence of the Feeble-minded which was translated into English and published in 1916. In this book, we get a glimpse of Binet’s discoveries which he obtained by observing children. Binet and Simon developed the Intelligence Quotients or IQ tests to determine the mental age and ratio of a child’s intelligence. These tests were also used to gauge the intelligence of the men recruited to fight in the First World War. Later in the mid-1920s, ratios for each group of ‘mental defectives’ were set out – idiots had an ‘Intelligence Quotient’ or IQ of under 20, imbeciles were those with a mental ratio of between 20 and 40 and feeble-minded were those that had a ratio of up to 60 – these were published in the British Journal of Psychology (July 1926, pp. 20-53).

Other relevant books in the Special Collections include the Feeblemindness in Children of School Age by C. Paget Lapage published in 1911. Lapage was a medical doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Manchester and a lecturer in School Hygiene at Manchester University. His book was aimed at school medical officers, teachers and social workers who deal with feebleminded children. In Lapage’s view, effective methods of dealing with the feebleminded were of immense importance to the national welfare of the community as “feeblemindedness is an inherited taint handed on from generation to generation, and that every feebleminded person, who is a free and unrestrained agent, may, by becoming a parent, transmit and taint and so affect tens or hundreds of future generations” (p. viii).

The Education of Mentally Defective Children: Psychological observations and practical suggestions by Alice Descoeudres (translated from French into English by Ernest F. Row) was published in 1928. In the previous year, an amendment to the Mental Deficiency Act enabled those who had mental health problems through illness or accident to be included in the group that could be supported in specialist institutions. The book acknowledges the difficulties of working with ‘defective children’ stating that “WE have to contrive in a variety of ways to arouse their [these children’s] interest, to awaken and hold their attention, or develop their will power, to gain their confidence, and to strengthen their characters” (p. 7).

Image of Cyril Burt

Cyril Burt (1883-1971)

Lastly, no list on this subject would be complete without reference to the work of Cyril Burt who influenced the structure of the schooling system in the interwar years with his work on psychometrics or the science of measuring mental capabilities. Burt was the first part-time school educational psychologist to be appointed by the London County Council (LCC) in 1913. From 1924, he was a part-time lecturer at the London Day Training College (which became the Institute of Education in 1932) and in 1931 Burt was appointed to the Chair of the Psychology Department at UCL, taking over the position from Charles Spearman. Burt had been introduced to Galton’s work at an early age and developed mental testing in schools in 1909 whilst working as Lecturer in Psychology and Assistant Lecturer in Physiology at Liverpool University. This work continued whilst he was at the IOE and at UCL. His belief that the innate intelligence of children could be measured to judge their capabilities is demonstrated in the book  Mental and Scholastic Tests published in 1921. His initial report for the LCC on The Backward Child was published in 1923 but the most influential work was his The Young Delinquent (1925) which established the acceptance of psychometrics and its hegemony for pedagogy for the future decades.  Evidence of his thinking is presented in The Subnormal Mind which was published in 1935.

The above sources are examples which illustrate that eugenics was prevalent and permeated educational thinking in the early 20th century. The  marginalisation of children continued in the interwar years (albeit in a less draconian manner) for if children did not fit the norm in terms of their mental or physical capabilities, they were segregated in the schools or excluded altogether.
If you would like to view any of the texts mentioned above, please contact us when the libraries open.

Innovating for online teaching, events and public engagement

By Tabitha Tuckett, on 12 August 2020

Parts of this blog also appear in a post on the UCL Teaching And Learning blog

 

How do you teach the materiality of rare books, manuscripts and archives without the materials themselves? That was the challenge facing Special Collections’ staff when, at just a few days’ notice, academic activities suddenly moved online two weeks before the end of Term Two, just when students’ deadlines were looming.

Special Collections ordinarily runs roughly 50 classes a year, embedded across the University’s curricula and involving up-close encounters with physical collection items for over 1,000 students. Add to those a further 50-odd events a year supporting academic research and public engagement, from conferences to workshops to festivals. With getting up-close to most things – collections or humans – suddenly cancelled, we faced an innovation challenge, and had a lot of collaborators and participants to contact very fast in those first few days.

Student coursework

Our immediate challenge was students’ assignments. Over the past eight years, the Academic Support Team at Special Collections has worked with academics to develop modules that require in-depth study of our unique collections. Now, students needed to finish their coursework at a distance.

Impressively, many were already well acquainted with the features that made their chosen items unique, such as this Early Modern hedgehog:

Hedgehog doodle under the printer's details on the title-page: 'Imprinted .. at the signe of the hedg-hogge'

Title-page from Castiglione, transl. Thomas Hoby, The Covrtyer (1561). UCL Special Collections, STRONG ROOM CASTIGLIONE 1561 (2)

But as enquiries arrived about items not yet digitised, we worked with students to re-frame their essay or dissertation questions so that work could be completed to a high standard despite our reading rooms being temporarily closed. For those working on printed material rather than archives, our rare-book cataloguers also searched for online images of similar features in other institutions’ collections – bindings, annotations, scripts, bookplates, printers’ marks – or images of other copies as close to the same imprint as possible – not an easy task for hand-printed books, which are each unique. This was a new area of collaboration between Special Collections’ Academic Support, Rare Books, and Retrospective Cataloguing teams, and sharing expertise greatly increased the speed at which we could get responses out to students who were working to coursework deadlines.

Digital images

In the process, we learnt a lot about the limitations of many institutions’ platforms for digitised special collections. It is often surprisingly difficult, for example, to discover which copy, and whose, you are looking at, let alone find your way to the full catalogue record for the physical original.

So our Digitisation Team, while waiting to be able to access the physical collections to photograph more items in full, have pulled together as many existing single images of our own collections as possible. Starting with rare books to supplement our existing Digital Collections, they are uploading more images every day to a new rare-books area of our Digital Collections, complete with collection descriptions lower down the page. We’re aiming, where we have them, to include images of features often omitted on other sites, such as bindings, annotations and provenance marks: anything that enhances the sense of the three-dimensional materiality of our items.

Meanwhile the cataloguers are checking that the metadata for our images matches that on our catalogues. Crucially, they are adding a link from the library catalogue record of the physical original through to the digital images. See, for example, four images from this book of maps and images of Shoreditch, now available from the catalogue record for UCL’s copy of the physical original.

map of Shoreditch

Map from Shoreditch And The East End by Walter Besant (1908) LONDON HISTORY 1908 BES

Preparing for Connected Learning

Next we needed to find ways of fitting our summer and autumn programmes into UCL’s plans for online learning. Most of our activities involve object-based learning, so to prepare asynchronous resources, we needed both digital images and ways of allowing students and participants to explore our collections in three dimensions. We also needed to develop online forms of live interaction. This is needed both to provide engaged learning for our taught-course students, and because our public audiences expect our online-events offering to match those of other institutions, including museums’ and other organisations’ public-workshop series.

After extensive software testing, we found ways for students to join events with a second camera in order to show books and archives live. We hope to use our own visualisers to teach with our collections, even if students are logging on remotely, and to confirm with researchers and academics which features of an item need high-quality digitisation for their work. I secured access to UCL-supported software for recording videos with a half-and-half split screen, to compare, for example, a manuscript and its transcript, or two similar printed title-pages. Our exhibitions staff has started creating videos to bring our physical exhibitions to life online.

To make all of these resources, tools and events available to our students and academic partners, I secured a Moodle site for Special Collections for which we can set an access key for each group of users. That means our future suite of resources can be re-used, in different combinations and with different contextualising information, across the many modules and courses we support, saving us time. It also means we can use UCL-supported software such as Blackboard Collaborate to run live events. We’ve developed online booking and feedback forms. Finally we’ve arranged training for the whole team, and access to courses on UCL’s Connected Learning strategy.

Launching our online teaching and events programmes

All that remains now is to work with our academic partners to agree how we can support each module and academic project, and begin to prepare and trial events and resources. It has been extremely hard work, and personally I’d like to thank the Academic Support Team and the rest of our colleagues for adopting new ways of working and achieving so much so quickly.

But it’s been worthwhile when we’ve experienced how incredibly resilient our students have been. They have had to think thoughtfully and creatively about research and coursework while trying to secure flights home, changing time zones, moving back in with parents they’d hoped to move on from, finding their home city changed in the grip of the pandemic, or coping with the illness of family and loved ones.

This is a generation of students that is facing more challenges than most, so we were all the more impressed by the online exhibitions created by our BASc students (‘Attention’, for example, showcasing our Brazilian process poetry) and the overwhelming 64 applications for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize  from students at universities across London.

A hand unfolding a paper envelope from Virgula magazine

Special Collections’ copy of Virgula, as shown in the online exhibition ‘Attention’, created by UCL’s BASc students

Launching this year’s Rare-Books Club online, I have tried to programme as many student speakers as possible, before they face the challenge of job-hunting in a recession. Students and experienced researchers in the series have presented passionately on collecting Black British publishing, exploring fictitious publishers in the 17th century, developing the terminology that 19th-century book-bindings deserve, how our catalogue can provide context for the books of the Galton Laboratory Collection, and many other topics. We have been overwhelmed by the popularity of these sessions, with audiences reaching well over 100 at times – far greater than we could ordinarily accommodate in our physical reading room. Although chairing and moderating such large sessions online has been new and challenging for us, it has also enabled us unexpectedly to reach new audience members from Asia, Europe, the US, and Australia, and we look forward to engaging with them further in the future. We have recorded the sessions, and are rapidly learning how to caption and produce transcripts for the often specialist language used. I hope to make these publicly available as a series later in the year.

Meanwhile, here are even more ways to explore our collections from your armchair:

More online exhibitions by BASc students:

Further viewing, listening and reading:

Results announced for Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize 2020

By Tabitha Tuckett, on 9 July 2020

Books on shelves

The winner – Alexandra Plane – and six other finalists have been announced for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, which aims to encourage students at an early stage of collecting physical books, manuscripts and printed material.

The competition is open to any student studying for a degree at a London-based university, and this year received a record-breaking 64 applications – the largest number in the prize’s history. Universities represented included Birkbeck, Queen Mary University of London, Goldsmiths, SOAS, King’s College London, and UCL which hosted the prize for the first time this year.

Collectors under lockdown

Despite the pandemic, students applied from wherever they found themselves during lockdown, from Norway to Texas, Bulgaria to China, Vienna to North Wales, with many applicants unexpectedly reunited with, or separated from, their collections.

The range of collection themes was similarly wide, from Singaporean debut poets to Slovakian Beat poetry, Norfolk history to a 20th-century novelist who used eight different pseudonyms, photobooks and queer manga to bilingual parallel texts and women’s genealogical health.

Finding the collectors of the future

The guidelines of the competition specify that ‘the intention is to encourage collecting and we expect that applicants’ collections will be embryonic, so their size, age and value are irrelevant. What is much more important is the enthusiasm and commitment of the collector, the interest of the theme and the vision of how the collection will be developed’. But selecting a winner from so many applicants was a challenge.

After a process of longlisting, shortlisting and interviews, the judges have chosen Alexandra Plane for ‘Books that built a zoo’: her collection of works by Gerald Durrell. Alexandra is studying for an MA in Library And Information Studies at UCL.

The other finalists were:

  • Imogen Grubin for her collection of early 20th-century editions of Victorian literature
  • Blake Harrison who collects material on James Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Jiayue Liu for a collection of early 20th-century English Private Press editions
  • Naomi Oppenheim who collects editions produced by Black British publishers in the mid 20th century
  • Bori Papp for her collection of Hungarian translations of English literature illustrated by the artist Piroska Szántó
  • Kit Rooney for a collection of hand-written inscriptions in books.

See the finalists present their collections online

Join us for this summer’s UCL Rare-Books Club Online, every Tuesday lunchtime, to hear the winner and finalists discuss their collections and present some of their books, starting on 14 July with Alexandra Plane, introduced by Anthony Davis.

Judges

The judges included representatives of the UK’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the UK’s Bibliographical Society, and Senate House Library who hosted the prize last year, as well as UCL Special Collections.

For the Special Collections team, it was also a great pleasure to collaborate this year with the founder of the prize, Anthony Davis, and to share his inspiring enthusiasm for books and collecting with the students. We hope many of them will continue to develop and cherish their collections long into the future.

 

 

Conserving the UCL Islamic Treasures: Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan: MS Pers/1

By Angela Warren-Thomas, on 29 May 2020

UCL’s Special Collections contains UCL’s collection of historical, academic and culturally significant works.  It is one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. Included in its holdings is a collection of Islamıc manuscripts, Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan (“Romance of the Sultan Akbar”), (MS PERS/1), is one of the manuscripts in this collection.

The conservation of this manuscript was carried out by Fatma Aslanoglu, Project conservator 

Figure 1 UCL Special Collections The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan

The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan by Mír shams al-Dín Faqír Dihlavi originally written by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), is a copy of part of the Mesnevi poem collection.  Written in Persian using carbon ink and Ta’liq calligraphy, the manuscript contains a poem written for Sultan Akbar in 1749.  Bound in an Islamic style using the Lacquer technique, the book came to the conservation department because the binding was very tight, causing restricted opening and making access and handling for any purpose unsafe.

 

Figure 2 Opening limit due to tight binding

A preliminary examination of the manuscript determined that it had undergone previous repairs, the binding was now too tight compressing the textblock preventing free opening, causing distress and damage. It was decided to rebind the manuscript thus alleviating these problems, and ensure safe access to this important collection item. It appeared that during previous repairs, the original covers were reused but the leather on the spine had been replaced. Figure 2 shows the extent to which the manuscript opened without undue force.  In addition to the problems created by the spine repair, superficial dust, separation of the text block and cover, tears, and stains were noted, along with fragility of the end leaves due to the acidity present in their paper, these conditions contributed to different but significant deteriorations in the manuscript.

The first step was removing the cover from the text block.  The leather covering of the spine consisted of two pieces of leather, one attached to the left board and one attached to the right board. This is a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings and made it easier to separate the covers from the text block.  The spine leather removal was carried out using Methylcellulose to hydrate the adhesive, allowing easy mechanical removal.

Figure 3 Removing the cover and spine from the textblock

It became obvious as the removal of the binding progressed that the manuscript had not been fully disbound during the old repair. The original leather spine covering was still present under the new leather added during the repair. The sewing appeared untouched but the original primary endband sewing and endbands had been renewed.

Figure 4 Original spine residue (left) old repair primary endband thread (right)

The original leather and adhesive – probably ciris, a traditional paste made with the root of a yellow asphodel -were still preventing the manuscript from opening fully.  Using Methylcellulose, the spine was hydrated, and the residue removed.  The original spine lining, a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings, and adhesive was then removed from the text block.  After removing all the original leather adhesives and lining from the spine, the text block started to open fully.  This allowed the original sewing of the text block to be preserved.

Figure 5 Spine leather residue (left) textile lining (mid-left) residue cleaning process (mid-right) spine diagram (right)

Figure 6 Spine after residue clean

With spine cleaning complete, the tie-down sewing and endbands added during the repair were removed.  The text block had three sewing stations, in some of the gatherings; some threads were detached or broken.  New thread was attached to the existing thread and the sewing repaired using the original sewing holes.

Figure 7 textblock sewing consolidation

During the old repairs, new end papers were attached; the paper used for these is now known to be highly acidic therefore, a decision was taken to remove them from the textblock.  Fabriano paper was used to create new end leaf papers.

The original textile spine lining was not strong or wide enough to hold the text block because its width had been trimmed during the old repair.  A new textile lining was adhered to the text block with excess left along the front and back joints, for later reattachment of the boards.

Following the repair and stabilisation of the textblock spine, it was now possible to proceed with the dry cleaning of the textblock using a soft hake brush.

Paper repairs were carried out using re-moistenable Japanese tissue paper (Japico 0.02/3.8g – Using 4% (w,v) Methylcellulose).  These two processes were completed after the spine-lining repair because the spine and sewing were so sensitive to opening and closing.

Another form of paper repair undertaken was the removal of paper layers adhered to the folios from the adjacent pages.  The delaminated pieces were removed mechanically with local humidification and a spatula.  They were then reattached to their original places using 4% Methylcellulose.

Figure 8 Paper repair

The new spine lining was trimmed at the head and tail of the textblock.  An additional traditional leather core was added to the head and tail of the spine to further stabilise the structure.  The primary endbands were sewn through the spine lining.  It was decided to not re-use the endband created during the old repair.  An endband with a chevron pattern was added.

Figure 9 Primary endband (left) chevron patterned endband (right)

A barrier between the spine and the text block, using the hollow back method, was created using Japanese tissue and pasted with wheat starch paste (1:6).  This technique ensured that the manuscript would be able to open comfortably and therefore prevent any further damage to the gilded decorations present on all the pages.

 

After the textblock treatments, the boards were reattached to the text block.  The spine lining extensions were positioned within the original board layers using wheat starch paste.

Figure 11 Reattaching covers to the textblock

The spine leather was then pasted onto the hollow back present on the spine with wheat starch paste. Japanese tissue appropriately toned using Schmincke acrylics was added to the inner joint, the final process carried out to complete the conservation.

Figure 12 Attaching leather to spine (left) adding inner join with coloured Japanese tissue (right)

Working on The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan manuscripts was a rare occasion to work on non-Western binding structures and a first-hand learning experience under the expert guidance of Fatma, for the conservators at the Conservation Department.

For more information about this manuscript please visit the UCL Special Collections page.  (https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/Book/Article/2/9/48/)

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are unfortunately unable to provide an image of the final state of conservation.  We will update this article with a photograph as soon as possible.

 

London History Maps

By Harriet S, on 14 May 2020

The retrospective cataloguing team recently embarked on a project creating records for London History Maps, ca. 300 Special Collections maps, atlases and panoramas of London and the surrounding area.

The size of some of the maps was a little problematic (see images!), and finding appropriate locations to safely examine them was difficult in the busy Science Library. With a little planning, however, we were able to schedule map cataloguing time for when the office is at its emptiest, and at times (carefully) use floor space as well as any available desk space.

Finding London University in Cruchley’s New Plan of London, [1829?]

Maps also require extra fields in catalogue records, such as scale and coordinates, and there are elements of vocabulary that cataloguers are not usually accustomed to using, for example identifying whether gradient is marked by hachures or bathymetry.

Thankfully, there are a number of helpful internet tools out there (such as this one to discern scale), and we discovered the “Bounding Box,” a website by Klokan Technologies, a Swiss company specialising in online map publishing. The bounding box tool gives approximate coordinates when adjusted to contain the area of the individual map. This is particularly helpful when many of the older London History maps do not operate on coordinates at all, but rather have numbered or lettered grids for reference to that map alone. Those that do, often have St. Paul’s, the centre of historic London as the meridian, not Greenwich. In fact, it was not until the 1880s that maps had any consensus as to what meridian to refer to, and many chose the centre of their respective cities/countries rather than settling on an international standard.

Panorama of London

I think we’re going to need a bigger floor!

Finding their objective coordinates would have been a very arduous task if we had needed to relate to other maps, so the Bounding Box has been an invaluable resource to help us provide as much detail as possible. The site even helpfully provides coordinates formatted specifically for MARC cartographic fields 034 and 255.  Alongside these websites, we also shared expertise and created standard phrases for common occurrences, such as the way the maps have been cut and mounted, and cartographic detail extending beyond the neat line (border) of the map.

A sparsely populated Camberwell and Peckham in Cary’s New Plan of London, 1839

With the nitty gritty out of the way, we had space to focus on the content of the maps. Many are beautifully engraved and hand-coloured, with parks showing detail up to the individual tree or flowerbed and the individual docks labelled along the Thames. Some maps emphasise railways, hackney carriage routes or walking distances, some even show the network of sewers! What is most striking is how different London was, and how quickly its expansion occurred. Up to the late 19th century, the land North of Regent’s Park dissolves into fields and farms, and South of the River is even less urbanised. Some maps even split boroughs into landowners’ estates. On a personal level, seeing UCL campus slowly emerge on the maps was particularly interesting.

The retrospective team began cataloguing London History Maps in February 2020, and almost half the collection is now online. Further map-related posts to follow when we regain access to our physical collections.