Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘maps’

More on the spread of death

Or, the perils of trusting a map

Semi-regular readers might remember that, about a month ago, I posted about Greenbank Cemetery and its history, and looked at the available historic maps online to track its growth through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This weekend I went back to Greenback for the first time since I wrote that post, partly for the autumnal atmosphere and partly to see how much evidence is visible on the ground for the different phases of growth I identified on the maps.

The cemetery today is bounded by roads to the north and south, Greenbank Road and Greenbank View. One thing I discovered when writing the previous post is that, according to the maps, there was a phase when there were bands of allotments between the roads and the cemetery itself. The allotments seem to have been created in the Edwardian period; later, the cemetery was extended and swallowed them up. When I visited the cemetery this weekend I went to look for evidence of the northern allotment. The boundary between the cemetery and the allotments (not to mention the field that preceded them) is still clearly evident on the ground.

Former boundary of the cemetery, now a path

The area on the left has been part of the cemetery since, I think, its first expansion in 1880. The area on the right, where graves are packed in much more closely together, was a field at that point, then became allotments, then cemetery. If you poke around, there’s some signs that the edge of the cemetery might have been a haha-style sunken wall.

Possible former cemetery wall, with walling stones now used as makeshift steps

These four trees would have been on the boundary originally. I wonder if they were planted because there was a gate here from the allotments? There’s nothing marked on the map, though, and the map is quite thorough at including the cemetery’s paths, so they may not have been planted until the cemetery was extended.

Four trees straddling the former cemetery boundary - possibly a former gateway?

I said previously that the extension of the cemetery over the allotments “must have happened some time after 1938, as a 6-inch-scale map revised that year still shows the allotments”. That map’s available on the National Library of Scotland website; here’s an extract from it.

Greenbank in 1938, apparently

However, on walking round the area of allotments shown on this map, I quickly found that an awful lot of graves are of people who died before 1938. The dates on the headstones run back over ten years before that, to the mid-1920s.

Monument to John Smyth, d. 10th Feb 1926

Monument to Ena Sargant (d. 27th July 1925) and Patricia Sargant (d. 13th March 1925)

Monument to Jesse Jordan (d. 16th March 1930), Clara Jordan (d. 19th December 1930) and Agnes Flemming (d. 18th September 1924)

The 1920s-dated monuments run all the way up to the road, so it wasn’t a case of the cemetery taking over the allotment step by step either. Although it’s not unheard of for people to be reburied, or for people to be commemorated on headstones in spots they’re not buried in, there are so many 1920s monuments in this part of the cemetery that you can’t really use that explanation for all of them. So, unless I do at some point find some evidence that there genuinely was some sort of mass reburial and movement of graves in Greenbank Cemetery in the late 1930s, something like a Bristolian version of the building of the Paris catacombs, we have to conclude that this is a mistake on the map; or, more likely, that the map isn’t a full revision and the change in size of the cemetery was one of those changes in the real world that the Ordnance Survey didn’t bother to draw onto their maps at that point in time.

If I had copious amounts of free time, it would be very tempting to create a full catalogue of all of the monuments in Greenbank and their dates, and then develop a typology of changes in funerary design, spotting trends between different undertakers and stonemasons. It would be even more interesting still to then do the same for another large Victorian cemetery in a different part of the country, and track the regional differences. Sadly, I have nowhere near enough free time to embark on such a project. I’ll just have to wander around the cemetery, spot things like this occasionally, and enjoy the views.

Greenbank Cemetery

Greenbank Cemetery

On the map

Or, a curious Ordnance Survey oddity

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the other day I posted an intriguing extract from an Ordnance Survey map I’d never noticed before: a railway station that has a long, peculiar siding shown on a particular revision of the One Inch map, that isn’t shown on other revisions of the same map; that isn’t shown on other contemporary Ordnance Survey maps of different scales, and that isn’t mentioned in any books I’ve seen that cover the railway line in question. Now, this isn’t a post about that particular map, and part of the reason is that the OS spotted my tweet, and suggested I investigate the OS-related holdings in the National Archves, as they may contain notes that answer the question. There’s also another lead I want to chase up, which might contain more information, and I didn’t really want to write half a post.

However, it did remind me of another smaller Ordnance Survey curiosity that has intrigued me for years, even though it’s not that much of a mystery. Back in the 1970s, my dad wanted to walk the length of the Pennine Way; and as part of his planning, he bought a number of guidebooks and a copy of every Landranger sheet that covered the route. It’s quite a stack of maps to take along with you, even at Landranger scale, so I’m not sure how easily he would have packed them all; however, as he never did the walk, he never faced that particular challenge. The walk—if you do it in the usual direction from Derbyshire to Scotland—starts here, on Sheet 110.

A small extract of Sheet 110

There’s Edale and there’s the start of the Pennine Way; its original route up onto Kinder Scout, not the current one. There’s Mam Tor, before the road across its flanks was permanently closed, and the railway line past Hope and Earles Sidings. Look what’s odd, though. The typefaces roughly North of Edale and roughly South of Edale are different. The north (and most of this sheet, and every other sheet of this vintage) uses a set of sans typefaces; the south uses a serif typeface.

I remember poring over all of my dad’s Pennine Way maps as a kid, and being intrigued by the sudden switch in font, which applies to a strip of land all across the bottom of this map. To be honest, though, it’s fairly easy to explain. I said earlier that this is a Landranger map; but when it was published, that name hadn’t been invented. At the time these were the “1:50,000 First Series” maps, published and prepared in double-quick time in the first half of the 1970s to keep pace with the project (never quite completed) to switch the UK over to metric measurements. The First Series were produced by taking the previous generation of One Inch maps and photographically enlarging them, to expand them from 1:63,360 scale to 1:50,000. They then had changes applied to bring major features, motorways and such, up to date. As they were published in 1974, all the county boundaries were replaced with the newly tidied up and rationalised ones. Presumably sheets covering South-East Wales had the national boundary moved from Cardiff to Chepstow, and the note about the disputed status of Monmouthshire removed from the key.

All the First Series map covers included a paragraph of information about the process, and a little diagram in the key explaining how old the maps used to make each sheet were. Here’s the diagram for Sheet 110; the wonkiness is from me holding it up to the camera badly.

The source maps

That strip along the bottom, revised 1960? That’s the part of the map that uses different fonts to the rest. Intriguingly, though, the major part of the map is from an older revision, albeit only a couple of years older. I wonder why this particular One Inch sheet with the older set of typefaces crept through to the First Series of metric maps, and why it wasn’t made consistent with the rest.

Incidentally, it’s only the First Series that were produced by enlarging the One Inch maps. The 1:50,000 Second Series were drawn from scratch, with their own new typeface, and with new, metric contours at 10m intervals. The First Series still had the 50ft contours of the One Inch maps, but relabelled to the nearest metre, giving you odd contour line measurements such as 76m and 427m.

Maybe one day I will solve the other map puzzle, search through the records at Kew, find out the answer to my railway siding puzzle and post the answer to that here too. We live in hope. As, indeed, do the people in the bottom-left corner of that map extract.


In which we wish for better maps

Maps are wonderful, lovely artefacts. I love to spread one out and read it like a book, analysing every square. Nowadays, though, I only do it for pleasure. Because, for practical reasons, if I want to plan a route or look somewhere up, it’s usually much much easier to go online for it.

There are downsides to this. Google Maps are nowhere near as good as a paper map. Their cartography just isn’t up to the same standard. They include roads, railways, rivers, and that’s about all. No buildings, no landmarks, no landscape. In Britain, Google Maps have the slightly odd habit of only including railway lines with passenger services,* and there seems to be no contours and few footpaths.

Google, though, are nowhere near as low-quality as Yahoo Maps. Since I bought a full Flickr account, I’ve used Yahoo Maps a lot, to record where I take my photos; and there are just so many places where Yahoo’s map doesn’t match reality. Take, for example, somewhere I visited recently with my camera: Battersby, on the edge of the North York Moors national park. This is Google:

Battersby, from Google Maps

For comparison, this is the Yahoo version at the same scale:

Battersby, from Yahoo Maps

Never mind the lack of street names, and the general lack of contrast which makes it difficult to see where the roads run, especially within the National Park. Where exactly does that railway run? Where is the park boundary? The park boundary does indeed follow the line of the railway; but what shape is it? There’s a big difference there, just because Yahoo’s maps don’t include enough detail, apart from for roads, to be at all accurate when zoomed in. Rivers are just as bad, and apparently have zero width too.

If you really wanted to know the answer to the park boundary question, incidentally: it’s Google that’s right, as you can see by looking at Streetmap, who license the Ordnance Survey’s maps. Now that’s what a map is supposed to look like.

* It probably derives from the Ordnance Survey’s long-standing division between “railways” and “freight lines, sidings or tramways”, which dates right back to the start of the One-Inch series. It was bad enough when Landrangers, at I think the Second Edition, dropped the distinction between single-track and multiple-track railways. I have some First and Second Edition Landrangers somewhere, so I’ll have to check when the single-track railway symbol disappeared. First Edition were the last One-Inch maps photographically enlarged, which leads to some odd discrepancies on them;** the Second Edition were redrawn.

** for example, on the First Edition Sheffield and Huddersfield Landranger map (sheet 110), a chunk towards the south of the map is lettered in a different, older, font, which suggests that part of the map was derived from a rather earlier original than the rest of the series. I’ll scan a section some time to show you.

Update, August 30th 2020: At some point in the last 10 years, Google Maps’ coverage of railways became much better, not only including non-passenger railways, but detailing the coverage down to individual tracks, not just lines of route. So hurrah, on that point at least!

The Diagram

In which we study some design history

I’ve recently been reading a book about design history, about the design of an icon. Mr Beck’s Underground Map, by Ken Garland. It is, as you might imagine, about the London Underground Map, concentrating on the period from the 1930s to the 1950s when it was designed by Harry Beck. In many ways it’s a sad story – Beck, throughout his life, felt that he had paternalistic rights over his map;* London Transport disagreed, treating the map as its own property. Which, of course, it was. In the 1960s, when London Transport turned to alternative designers, he became obsessed with producing his own versions, in the hope that London Transport would take his design up again.

Nowadays, Beck is always remembered as the map’s creator; his map was the first in Britain to abstract the network and present it topologically. The modern map, though, isn’t really based on his. It’s based on one of its 1960s successors, by Paul Garbutt; it was Garbutt’s first design that settled on black-and-white interchange symbols, and the modern proportions of the lines.

Design archaeology is hard, sometimes. There aren’t any old underground maps on display at stations, because they’re all outdated. Sometimes, though, you can spot things still lurking from days past. Some of the Phase One Victoria Line stations still have signs unchanged since they opened, in the days of the first Garbutt map. The northbound platform at Green Park, for example, has what looks like an original line diagram on the wall: it has a dotted-circle for National Rail interchanges, a characteristic of that time;** and Highbury and Islington is shown as a Northern Line interchange. It’s interesting to see. There aren’t any Beck-era signs anywhere on the underground, as far as I know, which is something of a shame; but it’s good that there are still examples of old designs surviving. It’s good to have history around us.

* or “The Diagram” as the book calls it throughout. Which, technically, is right.

** The modern double-arrow “main line railway” symbol was introduced in 1964, off the top of my head, but didn’t become widespread for a few years

Names and geography

In which we see where the family used to live

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent a while today playing with the Surname Profiler website,* looking at how distant relatives are spread around the country, now, and 125 years ago. As I was expecting, in the 19th century my mother’s family was very heavily concentrated in one area:

The Mother's family in the 19th century

…because we know from her genealogy research that her father’s ancestors have lived in this village and the neighbouring one for as far back as anyone can trace.

I was also expecting to find that today, we would be spread all over the country, what with modern transport making migration much easier.** However, our own family just demonstrates what the research project proved: in the words of the project leader, “migration is traumatic.” We don’t seem to have moved about much at all:

The Mother's family now

Of course, that’s for a name that isn’t common anywhere – that site suggests that the majority of people with our name live within our local phonebook area, and that phonebook lists about 30 numbers under it. If you have a more common name, individual family movements won’t show up. Another branch of my mother’s family – still with a fairly obscure name – is from Cornwall. In 1881, almost all of them lived west of Bristol:

A different branch of the family in the 19th century

Our branch of that family, at the time, lived in Brixton. Not the one in Devon, though, the one at the end of the Victoria line, in a completely blank part of their family map.

* Update, August 22nd 2020: It since seems to have disappeared from the Internet.

** “Nor should we forget the benefit in rural human genetics brought by the railway: with less intermarrying the ‘village idiot’ has disappeared” – David St. John Thomas, The Country Railway, 1976.