The Tower of London is always a place that appeals to lovers of English history. I like to compare old maps of the place, to see just how it has altered over the centuries. Here is one from Georgian times, 1725. Medium: pen and ink on paper.
18th century map of the Tower of London.
Why am I making such a fuss of it in this post? Not because of the Tower itself, but because of the decorative detail beneath - all the ships and boats on the river Thames to the south. Here are some close-ups of these magnificent little drawings. The ships themselves are beautifully rendered in pen, little snapshots of life on the water. They also show us how the ships were rigged, and how people got to them by smaller vessels and so on. It also reminds us of just how busy the Thames was downriver from London Bridge, the docklands of old London.
Towing - that looks like very hard work. Click to enlarge.
Ship ahoy, m'Hearties!
Tower of London and the Docks
The ships themselves are beautifully rendered in pen, little snapshots of life on the water. They also show us how the ships were rigged, and how people got to them by smaller vessels and so on. It also reminds us of just how busy the Thames was downriver from London Bridge, the docklands of old London.
Forget about the Tower - I want to go join the navy!
There was, of course, no need, no practical reason to do all these little drawings to accompany a map of the Tower of London. But that’s just the way folks were in those days: there was no problem combining the decorative with the practical.
Maps, almost right up to the 20th Century, were often delightfully self-indulgent in terms of there incidental doodles and drawings, but in our own times this has become less and less of a feature of modern cartography. Maps are becoming digital now, sat-nav or google style. No room for decorative features there.
The only relic from the glorious past of map drawing in our own times is probably the Ordnance Survey maps, which with their artistic covers and sympathetic colours inside, developed through the 20th Century to be a perfect blend of technology and art. Just look at this legend from a 1935 Ordnance Survey map!
Just look at all those railway lines. All those trees and gravel pits!
Maps that were a delight
Useful but also gorgeous and very evocative of the times, too, in which they were produced. Because of the changing fashions of design, the covers from the early part of the 20th Century are often a delight in themselves.
Ah, out in the good fresh air with a pipe of tobacco! It's almost enough to make you take up smoking.
Who wouldn't want to pull on the walking boots and head out after getting hold of a map like that! Just to be out in the fresh air with your automobile and pipe.
Perhaps those seeing the plan of the Tower of London way back in Georgian times would have felt equally inspired to join ship and sail the world? Or at the very least perhaps go and get a job in the docks. Maps, when suitably decorative, motivate and inspire. They excite the imaginatioin and take us to places we cannot go to in reality - to places long ago or far away. And I think that is part of the fascination we have for them.