Cartophile, is that the word for somebody who loves maps?  Well it is now.  I am a cartophile.  Old maps, new maps, imaginary maps, any old map, I love them all.  Imagine my excitement when I spotted that the British Library has delved into its extensive collection to put on a show of over 200.  Despite the title not all of the maps on show are twentieth century, Mercator’s atlas is here, but rather the focus is on the century when maps went from being the preserve of the wealthy to being readily available to all of us.  Sometimes when you look forward to something it can be a disappointment.  Not this show.  It even has a map on the floor!

Maps and the 20th Century

Right at the beginning, there is, naturally, a map of the exhibition; an electronic one that shows where all your fellow cartophiles are.  As they move from looking Mercator’s map to the General’s map of the Somme, you see their representative dot move.  That General’s map, it has all the familiar Ordnance Survey symbols and some nifty decoupage to make understanding the contour lines easier.  The Tommies’ map is shown next to it, far more portable copies for them.  During war time accurate maps are as vital as good guns.  On show though is a map of Brighton dating from 1990.  No war then, I hear you cry.  What makes this one unusual is that all the text is in Russian, it was one of a stash of maps found in Latvia after the Soviet Union collapsed.  A scary thought that the Russians had such detailed maps of the UK.  Soliders are often handed escape maps printed on fabric; after the Second World War one ingenious seamstress got round rationing by making this dress out of silk escape maps.


Its not all war.  Anybody who has ever visited London will have navigated their way around the tube system using a map that shows how the routes connect rather than where they actually are.  Harry Beck was the man who came up with this idea, on show is his original sketch.  It is just round the corner from Tolkein’s notebooks containing his own sketch of Middle Earth, along with incredibly detailed plot notes.


Even if you don’t feel the need to collect every single sheet in the Ordnance Survey Explorer series, this is a fascinating exhibition.  Maps and mapping changed completely during the twentieth century going from being the preserve of the wealthy to mass ownership.  Now everybody keeps an electronic map in their pocket but the paper ones continue to exert a fascination for me.  As you would expect, the British Library has a fine book shop and I love the café.  Most people tap away on laptops, those that don’t either chat over book strewn tables or sit with their nose in a book.

British Library, 96 Euston Road London NW1 2DB
4 November 2016 – 1 March 2017
Admission: Adults £12, children and members free, other concessions available
Open:  Monday – Friday 9.30am-6pm, Saturday 9.30am-5pm, Sunday 11am-5pm



  1. aandj8804
    November 22, 2016 / 2:11 pm

    That looks like an interesting exhibit. It’s so neat that someone made a dress out of a map printed on fabric! I wonder who wore it?

  2. November 23, 2016 / 8:21 pm

    Despite my terrible navigation skills I love maps! I have four big tins of OS maps (and some inferior others) that I love to get out. Although my local map should probably be in the museum exhibition – it’s 20+ years old and is completely out of date.

    • Catherine
      November 23, 2016 / 8:28 pm

      We are on the edge of four sheets and so had one specially printed, you could treat yourself to a new one!

  3. November 23, 2016 / 10:23 pm

    You’ve found another fabulous exhibition that is all but made for me – I love maps, adore them and would happily cover most things I own in map print (so far I’m stopping at phone case, tablet cover and wall art). I am not the best at actually reading them, but they’re such fascinating creations and the older ones are usually beautiful. One for my list! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • Catherine
      November 23, 2016 / 10:32 pm

      They have some appealing map Christmas baubles in the shop!

  4. November 23, 2016 / 10:42 pm

    I’m joining your cartophilia group! I love maps too! I want that dress, it is absolutely amazing. Do you know how long the exhibition runs for, I would love to see this? #citytripping

    • Catherine
      November 23, 2016 / 10:59 pm

      You’ve got until March 1st 2017.

  5. November 25, 2016 / 11:51 am

    An exhibition I would be very interested in! I do find maps fascinating and could stare at them for hours so this is spot on. I love the map dress too! #citytripping

  6. January 21, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    I love maps and have a small beginnings of a collection myself after working on a map project myself. i would love to see this but unfortunately no trips back to London until may

    • Catherine
      January 21, 2017 / 7:35 pm

      That’s a shame, maps are so endlessly fascinating!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: