In the summer of 1891, John Bartholomew & Co. launched a cartographic tour de force whose sheer magnificence continues to awe. Bartholomew’s Plan of the City of Edinburgh with Leith and Suburbs. Reduced from the Ordnance Survey and Revised to the Present Date by John Bartholomew, or the Large Plan of Edinburgh & Leith, as it’s more usually known (for obvious, laconic reasons) is a map of superlatives.
It is comprised of twelve sheets that when viewed together measure 6ft. 4in. high by 5ft. 2in. wide. Work on it began in 1880, coming to fruition a mammoth 11 years later. The printing alone took 250 hours, utilising a total of 45 lithographic stones and requiring a total of 25,000 pulls (a pull being the number of times the paper goes through the printing press, once for the outline and then once for each colour). The work was staggered, Sheet 1 went to the press on 10 June 1891 and Sheet 12 on 18 June 1891. A modest 500 copies of each were printed but even so, the final cost was an astronomical £125 (£75 to produce the map and £50 in royalties). To put that into perspective, this would equate to around £13,500 by today’s standards. And this doesn’t even include the engraving costs, essentially comprised of staff wages, which add a further £75 to the total.
The prospectus describes this map as ‘the finest and most elaborate Map of the City and Suburbs ever produced’, and whilst the stringency of this statement might be hard to support, it is unquestionably a gorgeous and engaging map. What strikes one at first is the pleasing overall effect that the map has; a minty green softens the predominance of business-like shades of grey, and it sprawls itself languidly across the sheets when seen in its entirety. When seen up close it is no less impressive. As Leslie Gardener writes best in Bartholomew 150 Years, ‘Every lamp-post is dotted…so are the flower beds in the gardens, the garden sheds, the stairways and steps of the courts and closes…You may trace the seating arrangements in the Surgeon’s Hall, count the stalls in the Court of Session…and study the display cases in the Science Museum’.
This level of detail derives from the fact that the map is based on Ordnance Survey’s 5ft. to a mile map of Edinburgh, a 56 sheet cartographic behemoth. Bartholomew shrunk this to a more manageable 15 inches to a mile, but without diminishing the detail.
The printed maps are supplemented by the original copper plates, seen here spun by the power of technology, to show the plate ‘the right way round’.
I am not alone in being an ardent fan of this map, it has recently been scanned, stitched, geo-referenced and overlaid onto Google Maps in a project funded by Visualising Urban Geographies, ‘a project that provides mapping tools for historians’. This painstaking work, a labour of love, allows the maps to be viewed as a whole for the first time (the removal of the margins allows for seamless travel from one sheet to the next) whilst the overlaying allows 1891 Edinburgh to sit in contrast with 2011 Edinburgh. Do have a look, you will find the map here.