Layers of London Webinar

The Historic Towns Trust's cartographic editor, Giles Darkes, took part in a webinar on Thursday 28th May explaining the way that the maps of medieval London and Tudor London were created.  These maps are two of many maps of the nation's capital that form part of the Layers of London project where viewers can fade maps of different periods in and out and compare them to a base-map layer which shows London as it is today.

The two maps are part of the series produced by the Trust, and are available in printed form as well as on the Layers of London website. 

If you're interested to see the webinar and learn more about how the maps were made, the webinar is available to see on YouTube here.

Oxford atlas and Radley History Club

Trustee and map-addict Nick Millea gave a talk to Radley History Club, in Oxfordshire, in March 2020, and the following report has been written by them:

'On 9 March, Nick Millea, Bodleian Map Librarian, presented a fascinating selection of old and new maps of Oxford. They will be collected and described in the British Historic Towns Atlas Volume VII: Oxford, to be published in autumn 2020.

'The famous early map by Ralph Agas (1578) gives a detailed ‘bird’s flight’ view of the city from the north. The original is darkened and worn, but the Bodleian also has Robert Whittlesey’s clear re-engraving made in 1728. On Agas’s map, the city centre still includes many gardens, and there is open country north of Broad Street.

'David Loggan’s beautiful map of 1675 shows the city centre more crowded. Every building is depicted, again viewed from the north. Loggan included minute details, such as a (still existing) kink in the wall of Trinity College.

'The noted antiquary Anthony Wood had in his collection an anonymous (and unexplained) map of ‘Oxforde as it now lyeth / Fortified by his Ma[jes]ties forces an. 1644’. It shows the Thames running southwards to ‘Abbington’, but flips the north and south of the city. Wood annotated it as ‘made very false’.

'The Atlas will include specially prepared new maps, showing for example the halls which preceded the colleges, medieval inns, the (very complicated) city parish boundaries, watercourses, turnpike roads around Oxford, and the growth of the suburbs.

'Answering questions after his talk, Nick Millea confirmed the existence of a very detailed map of Oxford prepared secretly by the Central Staff of the Soviet military. Mysteriously, it identifies a sub-post office in Marston, and University College, but no other colleges or university buildings.'

Map of Tudor London revised and reprinted

The Map of Tudor London has been reprinted and has been available again since early March 2020.  We've taken the opportunity to review and revise it and undertaken some minor corrections.  There are additional names to streets in Southwark, and the Tower of London has been revised to better reflect the layout and names (for example of towers on the curtain wall) which were there in 1520. We have added street markets as well.  The directory of streets and buildings on the reverse has also been updated to reflect the additional information we have included.

The map is available from all good bookshops and on-line retailers with a RRP of £9.99.


Map of Medieval London launched

In the wake of the success of the Map of Tudor London, and the wide interest in mapping the city of London that exists, we have produced a Map of Medieval London, presenting a view of how the city looked between about 1270 and 1300.  This was still the city that Thomas Becket knew. It's religious foundations were still be shaped, and their presence in the city was much less noticeable than it was in 1520, but they were there nonetheless.  The map also includes Westminster around 1290; at that time London and Westminster were even more distinct settlements than they were in 1520, London the seat of commerce and a much larger population, Westminster the seat of the King at Westminster Palace, and the site of England's most significant religious foundation at (Benedictine) Westminster Abbey.  The map was published on October 21st 2019.

The map was launched at Skinners' Hall in the City of London on October 21st, by kind permission of the Master and Warden of the Worshipful Company of Skinners.  We were very pleased to have Sir Simon Jenkins as guest of honour.  Sir Simon, who has just published A Short History of London, gave a fascinating talk on how Londoners have three times avoided the complete reconstruction of their city - probably against their will!  The launch was attended by over a hundred people and sales of the new map were brisk.

Sir Simon Jenkins and HTT Chair Prof Keith Lilley at the map launch

The launch event at Skinners' Hall

New map projects

As part of the very diverse activities associated with Coventry's status as UK City of Culture in 2021, we are working with a local charity - Medieval Coventry - to publish an Historical Map of Coventry.  Since the Historic Towns Atlas of Coventry was published in 1975, a very great deal of work has been undertaken on the history of the city which was the fourth most important town in medieval England . The city has a rich medieval heritage, and although many buildings were destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, there are many medieval  sites still findable in the city which bear testimony to Coventry's wealth and prosperity.  A team under the editorship and guidance of Mark Webb is working on the map, with a view to publication in autumn 2020.  A large grant towards the project has been secured from English Heritage.  The map is now at an advanced stage of preparation and will be published in autumn 2020.

We're also  working with the Canterbury Christ Church University and Canterbury Archaeological Trust to publish an Historical Map of Canterbury also in autumn 2020.  The year 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of  Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. As well as its associations with the cathedral, Canterbury has a long and complex history as a settlement in its own right, and the map will summarise on a single sheet the city's history from its Roman foundation until the more recent past.  We hope to proceed to a full atlas after the publication of the map, and much of the work involved in the creation of a map will feed into the atlas publication.

We're also working on a project to map Bristol in 1480, and an enthusiastic team of historians and archaeologists has been assembled in that city to move the project forward.  We have secured a good deal of the funding, not least by a grant from the University of Bristol, for what will be a very exciting map.  We are now starting work on producing the map and expect it to be publishged in autumn 2020.

Events planned for  2020 postponed

In 2019, the Historic Towns Trust celebrated fifty years since the publication of the first atlas in the series, volume 1, in 1969.  The trust was planning more public events to explain and advertise the work of the HTT and the publications that it produces.

Unfortunately, because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the plans for events at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, and in Scotland have had to be put on hold for the time being.  As soon as we have more news about when we might be able to reschedule events, we'll let you know. 

Ambitious plans for more atlases

The Trust has ambitious plans to produce atlases of a large number of towns and cities across Great Britain, and to address the relative lack of towns in Wales and Scotland that have been covered to date.  A long list of possible towns and cities has been drawn up, including not only Welsh and Scottish towns but industrial cities in the north of England.  We are now looking at which of those may be suitable for further research and which may lend themsleves to an atlas project.  For an atlas to be produced, a local team has to be assembled and money raised to pay for its production. Given that an atlas costs of the order of £80,000 to £100,000 to produce, each project that we embark on has to be accompanied by a substantial fund-raising campaign, and running such a campaign takes time and patience. We hope that the next atlas in the series will be of Canterbury, as noted above.

The trust is also set to embark on a substantial fundraising campaign to increase its core capital, to fund the administration and project management that accompanies its work and which has grown as its output has also increased. To that end, we are delighted that Dr Alice Prochaska has joined the trustees to help head development and fundraising.  Dr Prochaska was until recently Principal of Somerville College, Oxford and is also an historian of repute.  We are delighted that she has offered to lend her substantial experience and expertise to the trust.

Using atlas material

The Historic Towns Trust is always pleased when researchers use maps from the Historic Towns Atlas volumes for research and illustrative purposes.  Recently, we've given permission to use two maps of Cambridge from volume II to be adapted as illustrations for a collection of essays on Commemoration in Medieval Cambridge. We've also been asked if the map of London in 1520 can be used and enhanced with additional information on legal inns in the Holborn area.

Further details on how to ask permission for use of maps can be found here.  If it's for a legitimate purpose that complements the HTT's charitable aims, we usually say 'yes'!