The Evolution of a Map

It is largely agreed that John Bartholomew & Son. Ltd. can lay claim to a distinguished and deserved reputation as regards the quality of their maps and their ability to innovate. Successive generations pioneered new projections, new types of content and even new methods of folding, but arguably the pinnacle of all of this innovation was their hugely popular and highly influential “half-inch” to the mile series of maps. 

These maps proved successful for two principal reasons; firstly, they were on a very useful scale and secondly, they innovatively made use of contour layer colouring, a technique that greatly improved the way in which landscapes were portrayed.

To begin with, Bartholomew printed these maps as stand-alone sheets and by 1886 the whole of Scotland was covered. They soon took up the challenge of turning them into a series though, and this was first pubilshed under the title Bartholomew’s Reduced Ordnance Survey of Scotland.

The maps were prodigiously popular amongst members of cycle touring and later, motor touring groups and clubs. The contour colouring indicated at a glance the type of terrain a route might present, and the scale achieved the difficult ability to see just enough detail but also, just enough generality.

The Cyclists’ Touring Club in particular adopted this series with a passion. From the late nineteenth century their logo even appeared on the maps. This was probably the least that Bartholomew could do since they looked to the army of CTC members (60,449 at its peak) as a cheap, extensive and reliable source of revision, suggestion and opinion.

Bartholomew invested a lot of time and effort into the half-inch series. By the end of the nineteenth century they were beginning to expand the series to cover the whole of Great Britain. They were revising the most popular sheets every couple of years, ensuring that their maps were more up to date than their main rival, Ordnance Survey. Popular sheets had print runs of several tens of thousands per edition, involving nearly 20 different layer colours for the more complicated sheets.

By the late twentieth century, Bartholomew had phased the series out. It was no longer competitive against a new breed of touring maps along the lines of A to Z. This once ubiquitous map had served its purpose and run its course. But if it is now largely forgotten then it does leave one lasting legacy perhaps; the use of colour to depict height and depth.

Work on cataloguing and preserving the Bartholomew Archive allows Bartholomew maps to be appreciated in a new way. Although one half-inch map may look much like another, comparison reveals a startling degree of difference, experimentation and sometimes, failed innovation. The following images are all enlargements of the preceding zoomable maps (Sheet 16 – Braemar and Blair Atholl). Spanning only 15 years, the degree of difference is immense. The map printed on 24 December 1902 is particularly remarkable for its use of pink tinting, an innovation that I have not seen on any half-inch map before. Which of these do you think best conveys the heights and depths of the Cairngorms?

15 August 1890.
16 August 1892.
26 July 1894.
10 August 1899.
24 December 1902.