Maps and Atlases

The Bodleian map collection holds 1,500,000 sheet maps, 20,000 atlases and a rapidly expanding selection of geospatial data. Maps are held from all parts of the globe, with topographic and thematic maps dating from medieval times to the present day. As a library of legal deposit, the Bodleian assumes not only a university-wide role, but also a national and international one resulting from the wealth of its holdings. Deposit of Ordnance Survey (OS) material has resulted in an almost complete collection of OS mapping being held in the Library (Ordnance Survey itself was bombed in the Second World War, so their own collection is far from complete).

The result of almost four centuries of building the collections is a veritable treasure trove of cartographic materials. Major acquisitions have included the arrivals of Richard Gough’s collection of maps in 1809, and more recently the Todhunter Allen collection in 1987. During the late eighteenth century, most of the county maps then being published in Britain were claimed by the Library, while the nineteenth century saw the commencement of the unbroken deposit of OS mapping.

The antiquarian (pre-1850) collection is considerable, including the ca. 1390 “Gough Map” – the oldest surviving geographically-recognisable map of Britain. There are also manuscript portolan charts, designed for safe passage at sea, and produced in Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, as well as Britain; numerous (primarily English) estate plans, for example the Laxton Map of 1635, showing the open field system of this particular Nottinghamshire village, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Bodleian holds the accompanying terrier describing each of the thousands of individual plots marked on the map, and that the Laxton landscape remains largely unchanged into the twenty-first century; the Agas map of Oxford (1578); and Hamond’s map of Cambridge (1592).

Around 500 maps and atlases are available on Digital Bodleian, with more to come soon. Digitized highlights include:

  • MS. Marsh 294, a copy of a 16th century Arabic portolan atlas containing a world map, regional maps of the Mediterranean, and astronomical and chronological tables.
  • Wood 276b, the "false map of Oxford". This map looks right at first glance, but several locations in the city are misplaced, with streets and landmarks in the north appearing in the south, and vice-versa. This was a deliberate attempt to confuse - it was created in 1644, at the time of the first siege of Oxford in the English Civil War.
  • C17:70 Oxford (7), the "Drink map of Oxford", an 1883 map created as a warning by the Temperance Union for Oxfordshire, which showed it was possible to buy a drink in every 22nd building in Oxford.
  • (E) C17:70 Oxford (12), the Loggan map of Oxford, town plan from 1675 showing buildings, gardens and streets in fine detail. The ground plan of the city centre has hardly changed since.
  • MAP RES 79, the Saxton map of Oxfordshire. Produced by Christopher Saxton, the first modern English mapmaker, as part of his survey of the whole of England and Wales. It shows county boundaries, settlements, rivers, hills, woodland, some bridges, and gentlemen’s parks. Saxton’s maps became the cartographic blueprint for all county mapping for the next two centuries.

For more about the Bodleian map collection, please see the Map Room website.