Resource | George III’s Topographical Collection at the BL

Posted in resources by Editor on May 5, 2013

Within the British Library’s online gallery (which includes some 30,000 images), a series of online exhibitions highlight particular collections and strengths. One example, the King George III Topographical Collection, underscores how rich are the visual holdings of the British Library, notwithstanding common assumptions that all pictorial materials are now to be found at the British Museum. In fact, this collection alone include approximately 50,000 items dating from 1500 to 1824. Roughly 40% addresses the British Isles, 10% Britain’s former colonies, and a third key sites of the Grand Tour (particularly Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Germany). -CH

Nicholas Hawksmoor, The west front of Wapping-Stepney Augt 1714, Pencil and ink on paper

Nicholas Hawksmoor, West Front of the Parish Church Wapping-Stepney
pencil and ink on paper, August 1714 (London: British Library).

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From Peter Barber’s introduction at the BL:

Few of King George Ill’s varied interests seem to have been stronger than his fascination with geography. As a child of eleven, when he had barely learned to read, he was painted sitting next to a globe with his brother, the Duke of York. Though an unpromising pupil, George grew into one of the most cultured of English monarchs when he succeeded his grandfather at the age of twenty-two.

Topography was one of the King’s favourite studies: “he copies every capital chart,” observed a contemporary, “takes models of all celebrated fortifications, knows the soundings of the chief harbours in Europe and the strong and weak sides of most of the fortified towers.”

Scattered on shelves and tucked away in drawers of the royal palaces were a considerable number of atlases, maps, plans and charts that had been part of the working libraries of sovereigns and their consorts since the Restoration in 1660. On this foundation, George III began building his topographical collections from the mid-1760s, a period during which Britain was becoming the most prolific, and arguably the most technically skilled, producer of maps and prints in the world.

The King was well served by his librarian, Frederick Augusta Bamard, who employed agents throughout Europe in his mission to acquire large, ready-made collections as well as individual maps and atlases. As ’new found lands’ were opened up beyond Europe by commercial exploration, their territories were mapped and their place-names given the British imperial stamp: Georgia, Georgetown, King George’s Sound. Single maps and bound volumes formally presented to the King by his subjects at home and abroad, and by the occasional foreign visitor, were incorporated into his collections. . . .

The full introduction is available via the online exhibition here»

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