Thursday, 6 December 2012

Maps are forever...

... or they are Man's best friend. I'm a big fan of the British Library, not only because it's next to Kings Cross station I alight when coming to London often (or rarely hop onto the Eurostar at nearby St Pancras to Bruxelles or Paris) - has an amazing array of old maps, which they just finished georeferencing through a significant effort in crowd-sourcing (the 21st. c. variant of volunteering).

These maps are now linked to Old Maps Online of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project at University of Portsmouth UK. And being an amateur medievalist* myself, I set the time slider atop the page to between 1000 and 1725, and presto! up comes a 1610 map of "Cambridgshire : described with the deuision of the hundreds, the townes situation, with the armes of the colleges of that famous vniuersiti and also the armes of all such princes and noblemen as haue heertofore borne the honorable tytles & dignities of the Earldome of Cambridge [sic]" - isn't this map a beauty?

Click image to enlarge

I explored on-line the villages north of Cambridge - a fascinating area spanning Iron Age forts and dykes, Roman roads and ports, medieval moats and churches, and irrigation ditches and canals that survive to this day throughout the region (refer to HC Darby's books in the link above*) - if you zoom into between Cambridge and Ely, you will notice the parishes in capital letters, the towns and villages with exquisitely detailed symbols, and the rivers and hills in artistic detail, sometimes fanciful (just south off this frame, the Gog Magog Hills rear up like the Rocky Mountains!).

As Napoleon once said, major battles lie always across the edges of two map-sheets. A corollary here is that areas or interest lie along map creases or folds. In addition the map area along the central fold  got torn and smudged. So I copied and restored a small portion using Adobe Photoshop Elements, eye-balling the  discontinuities to slide and slightly distort the map back into a semblance of continuity.

Click image to enlarge

From top to bottom you can see the Ouse and Cam Flu (as in fluvial on the French fleuve), Denny, Cottenham, Waterbeache, Longsta(nt)on, Mylton, Histon (Imp)ingt(on) and Cambridge across the river. Note how the font size depicts towns that were more important then: Reche (now Reach) had been a Roman port once, and shows far larger than Cambridge even! Also the current new town of No(rt)hsto(w) appears as a capitalised parish name then. Fulburne in small font still exists but Fledische in large print no longer does. And Chester is a name whose Roman origin signifies castle, of which Castle Hill remains in Cambridge. Also the importance of river crossings at that time can be seen as bridges drawn on the map - interestingly Ely, just north off this frame, features a bridge not an island - and the pathways follow river banks, but there is no sign of significant thoroughfares here...

Anyway I could go on and on, I'll let you travel with your fingers or your mouse on this map dating back 402 years c/o  Image Delivery Service at Harvard University Library. Enjoy!