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London History Maps

Harriet S14 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.

The Power of Print

ucylppr19 February 2020

The Outreach team at UCL Special Collections have spent a great six weeks delivering an after school club to Year 7, 8 and 9 pupils at William Ellis School. Pupils attended in their free time to explore how written texts have been produced through the ages and to learn about some of the ways printing has influenced western society.

Each session involved a hands on art or craft activity, producing manuscripts complete with calligraphy and gold leaf, block prints of historiated initials and lino cut illustrations. We are proud to share the end results of this final task with you – pupils were asked to choose a poem from a selection and to create an image they felt represented the poem in a lino print.

A black and white lino cut depicting a cactus, a hand reaching towards it and a porcupine looking on.

Porcupines

By Marilyn Singer

Hugging you takes some practice.

So I’ll start out with a cactus.

(Poem taken from the Poetry Foundation)

A black and white lino cut depicting a personified cactus with feet and a geometric criss-cross pattern across its body.

Trees
By Joyce Kilmer

Two black and white lino cut prints, side to side, depicting the same close-up pattern of wood grain.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

(Poem taken from the Poetry Foundation)

 

Extract from The Cloud
By Percy Bysshe Shelley

A black and white lino cut of a personified cloud (with a smiley face), distributing rain.

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

 

To Catch a Fish
By Eloise Greenfield

It takes more than a wish
to catch a fish
you take the hook
you add the baitA black and white lino cut print showing a fish swimming towards a fishing hook on a rod.
you concentrate
and then you wait
you wait you wait
but not a bite
the fish don’t have
an appetite
so tell them what
good bait you’ve got
and how your bait
can hit the spot
this works a whole
lot better than
a wish
if you really
want to catch
a fish

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

 

A black and white lino cut print of the profile of an eagle, standing a the edge of its nest.

The Eagle
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

(Poem taken from The Poetry Foundation)

Outreach Touring Exhibition Makes its Way to Stratford

ucylppr19 October 2017

First Stop; Stratford Library

UCL Special Collections have been busy putting together an exhibition that combines items from the Main Library exhibition East Side Stories and Newham Borough’s own archival items.

The exhibition in Stratford Library

The exhibition in Stratford Library

This ‘pop-up’ exhibition features historic photographs, archival documents, maps and rare publications that tell of East London’s rich and fascinating past.  As the banners tour all of Newham’s 10 public libraries, we’ll be running a range of different workshops to deepen engagement and to create opportunities to record local people’s oral histories.  Many of these activities will take place in Newham Heritage Week.

Posters for the exhibition in pride of place at Stratford Library

Posters for the exhibition in pride of place at Stratford Library

Poetry from the Archive
We’ve kicked things off with three poetry workshops in Stratford and East Ham libraries.  These groups are already well established and participants enjoy writing poetry in an inclusive and positive environment. They were keen to engage with the forthcoming exhibition and the archival items we brought to them.  Poems ranged from sombre, thoughtful pieces about racial tensions and migration, to playful tales of the quintessential cup of tea at a Newham street party in the 1920s.

The Saturday morning group in full swing

The Saturday morning group in full swing

London Memory Archive and UCL East

The oral histories we record will be the beginning of a new initiative, the London Memory Archive, which will be part of UCL East’s Culture Lab.  It’s a timely opportunity to start developing a collection that reflects the memories and perspectives of a local community that UCL will soon be neighbour to.

Successful Funding Bids

To support the project, and to help lay the foundations for a longer term relationship with Newham and its library and archive services, we’ve sought external funding.  We are pleased to announce that we have been successful in a UCL Culture Beacon Bursary grant and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.  This means that we are able to buy the equipment needed to make archival quality recordings, receive specialist oral history training, pay for the printing of the exhibition and promotional material and all workshop resources, as well as support volunteers’ involvement throughout.

We hope that we will be able to collaborate with Newham in further touring exhibitions that make use of the research and digitisation that takes place for the Main Library exhibition and also gives us a chance to bring a different edge to the narrative told.  Newham has an incredible collection of historic photographs, for example, which often bring the content of an item from UCL’s collection to life.

Be sure to check back for further updates and photographs of Special Collection’s outreach work!

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Treasures Day 2017: Warhol, convicts, and Beethoven’s fish

Helen Biggs9 June 2017

Despite the weather doing its very best to soak visitors, staff, and precious manuscripts, this year’s Treasures Day, Treasures of the Written Word, was a complete success. After shedding their dripping coats, brollies and bags, guests were treated to a range of delights, with 20 different displays on show throughout the afternoon, as well as a live demonstration of SCAR’s conservation work.

IMG_20170606_162222

The conservators’ table included some rather familiar looking building plans

Visitors came from as far afield as Newcastle, and as close as the security desk at the front of the Roberts Building. Some popped in as they passed us on their way to another Festival of Culture event and some came back repeatedly to make sure they got a chance to see everything on display. One guest even brought with him his own 17th Century German astronomical manuscript, for which he received an expert opinion from a Warburg professor who also happened to be visiting our event at the time.

Popular exhibits included a 16th Century Italian Mahzor from our Hebrew and Jewish Collections, and the 1966 issue of the multimedia magazine Aspen edited by none other than Andy Warhol, held in our Little Magazines collection. But given that a live reading of 1984 was running concurrently at Senate House, it’s probably not surprising that the most in-demand item was George Orwell’s notebook containing manuscript notes for the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Our collections may be largely historical, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have anything new on show. Dr Tim Causer, Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project in UCL’s Faculty of Laws, has just had his first book launched by UCL Press. His edition of Memorandoms by James Martin, drawn from manuscripts held in the Bentham collection, challenges the myths and fictions around the earliest Australian convict narrative. For Treasures Day, Tim joined us to show his own opus next to the original manuscripts he used in his work.

Memorandoms by James Martin is now available at UCL Press as a paperback, hardback, or free Open Access pdf download.

As a member of SCAR I, of course, don’t have any favourites among our collections, but I was immediately enamoured with the brief note from the great composer Ludwig Beethoven we had on display. It doesn’t offer great insight into his compositions, but does give some insight into his taste in fish, as he instructs his “Kitchen Procurator” that “decent pike … alone is to be preferred to all the rest” before asking about the price of the local farm butter.

A huge thanks to everyone who braved the storm to come and see us, to all the UCL staff who helped us run the event, and especially to Tabitha Tuckett, Rare Books Librarian: Academic Support and Events, for the amazing job she did in organising and delivering another successful Treasures Day.

Beethoven, Orwell and more on display – Tuesday 6 June, 12-4.30pm

Tabitha Tuckett26 May 2017

You are warmly invited to this year’s Treasures Of The Written Word on Tuesday 6 June, 12 to 4.30pm, in the Roberts Building Foyer. The event is open to all, and booking is not required: just drop in.

This annual event is a chance to see some of the treasures held in the library’s Special Collections, Archives and Records, and to talk to the staff who work with them. This year we’ll also have students and volunteers talking about their Connected Curriculum projects with the collections, and our popular conservation demonstrations. See below for the full programme.

poster

Highlights will include a letter by Beethoven, George Orwell’s notes for his novel 1984, miniature children’s books from the 1700s, one of the first printed anatomy text books with pop-up diagram from the C16th, illuminated Mediaeval manuscripts in Hebrew and Latin, some of the earliest European music notation to survive, model furniture belonging to archives on the history of school education, documents on the history of UCL itself, radical design from rare C20th magazines, newly discovered Bentham manuscripts describing a dramatic prisoners’ escape, and selections from the fascinating Huguenot Library.

volunteers with Bible

You’ll also be able during the first session to ask our students to look up your favourite words in early dictionaries, or find out whether your favourite area of London was anything more than fields in our C18th London maps. In the second session you can have a go at transcribing Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting, or at other times during the event hear how digitising rare materials can aid research.

Timetable

12 – 1.30pm

  • Rare printed books
  • Mediaeval manuscript fragments
  • Institute of Education rare books
  • History of UCL
  • Digitising rare materials

1.30 – 3pm

  • Orwell collections
  • Educating children – archives from the Institute of Education
  • Hebrew and Jewish collections
  • Bentham manuscripts
  • Transcribe Bentham

3 – 4.30pm

  • Mediaeval and Renaissance books
  • Archives and manuscripts
  • C20th poetry and small-press collections
  • Huguenot Library
  • Digital collections

12-4pm

  • Live conservation demonstrations

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Special Collections, Archives and Records team.