Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Gough Map

I made a big discovery when I was six and it was this: How To Draw Maps.

I was in a plane travelling back from Italy and there was no cloud. I looked out of the window, and suddenly what seemed to be the entire South Coast of England was spread out below us. It was fascinating.

So I realised that what they must do, in order to make maps, was to fly in a plane, turn it sideways, put a piece of tracing paper on the window and draw round it.

I was glad I'd got that one sorted. One more thing in the world that I now understood.

And so began my love affair with maps. When I was at school we did a lot of poring over Ordnance Survey maps in geography and I liked learning all the little symbols and imagining that I was there. I particularly liked it when we measured the contours to draw a sideways view of the shape of a hill - it was great! I wonder if anyone still does that?

In the later years of secondary school I used to try to learn maps in as much detail as I could. At one point I could sing all the countries of South America - I still can, just about, though some of the names have changed! I learned how to draw a sketch map of the Great Lakes and reproduced this faithfully in my 1972 O-level exam, with lots of colouring in using Lakeland pencil crayons. Anyone lost Chicago and want to know where to find it? Well I can tell you.

A couple of months ago on television there was a series of programmes about mediaeval Britain, where the presenter travelled around Britain using the Gough Map from 1360 as a guide.

I'd never heard of the Gough Map but if you click on this link you will find it. It's Great Britain, certainly, but not as we know it.

It's lying on its back for one thing. Scotland to the left, Cornwall to the right and a lot of little islands scattered all around with more abandon than accuracy.

Of course, since the world was flat in those days, it was fine for Britain to lie down. The South gets more detailed attention, in general, than the North - yes, some things just haven't changed, have they?

The Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands are easy to identify but it all goes a bit random round the sausage-shaped Scotland.

It's clear what's important though. The rivers, which are green and flow in pretty curling patterns, with the Thames and the Severn being very prominent. The settlements are all marked with red church spires, and the roads are marked in red. It's all coloured in nicely: a quality which, I must point out, it has in common with my 1972 Sketch Map of the Great Lakes.

Actually, what's surprising to me is not the inaccuracy, but the accuracy. How did they know even as much as they did, without any modern aids such as tracing paper and aeroplane windows?

I loved the Gough Map. Every time it made an appearance in the programme I would try to look at it more closely in an "Oh look! There's Edinburgh!" kind of way. From time to time I would utter feeble cries of "I want it! I want it!"

Sadly, I knew that the Bodleian Library in Oxford was never going to give up its prize. However, luckily for me, a hundred years or so after the Gough Map was drawn, William Caxton very kindly developed the printing press, so that Olli and Gareth could buy me a copy of the Gough Map for Christmas, which they did. Hurrah!

So there it is, framed, on the wall of our house in Leeds. Wonderful.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny that - I would have said the UK was lying on its tummy not its back. But Scotland to the left seems a good place to put it.

PS It's a 'sidsmodl' as the verification word would have it.

10:10 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

What a co-incidence. I also love maps Daphne. I possess many and love to pore over them - reading them like books. At the top of our stairs is a framed reproduction of Saxton's Map of Yorkshire (1577)- the original is housed in the British Museum. It is breathtakingly accurate. How the hell did they do it? I will never know.

12:24 am  
Blogger Shooting Parrots said...

It must be me, but I think the Gough Map looks rather rude.

Like you, I love maps though, and also enjoyed creating the contour elevations when I was at school. That and colouring maps with neat blue edges for the sea.

My favourites these days are the large scale Victorian town maps that are so detailed you can even see the pews inside the churches!

12:54 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

We did the contours thing in school in Ireland, but Rob, four years older than I, didn't do it in his school in Essex.

I love different projections in world maps. Love them madly.

2:26 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I love maps, especially old ones.

6:23 pm  

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