Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Gough Map on display

Going into the Bodleian this morning I found that the Gough map, the oldest road map of Britain, and dating from 1355-66, is on display in the Proscholium until June 26th. The map depicts Great Britain and its off shore islands, the east coast of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the coast of Europe from Denmark to France.

File:Gough Kaart (hoge resolutie).jpg

The Gough Map
Scotland is to the left, East Anglia and Kent to the top right

The exhibition entitled “Linguistic geographies: three centuries of language, script and cartography in the Gough map of Great Britain” is a rare public display of the map, together with a copy of Richard Gough’s ‘British Topography’ and its engraving of the map that gained his name. It was Gough who bought the map for 2/6 in 1774 and presented it to the Bodleian in 1809.

This display provides visitors with a valuable opportunity to see close-up the fine details of the map, and in particular the writing that appears on it. The map’s script is a key to understanding its making and use, and the exhibition will offer new interpretations based upon the on-going “Linguistic Geographies” research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The evidence indiactes a retouching of the map in the early fifteenth century, suggesting a contemporary awareness of its importance.

The Bodleian map room's illustrated description of the map can be read here, and there is an article about the map from Oxford Today available here which provides a good introduction and discussion as to how it was made. The modern task of conserving it is described here.

The map is a wonderful insight into the world of the mid fourteenth century, of the relative importtance of cities and towns, of the extent of geographical knowledge and miscellaneous information. Thus Brutus' landing at Totnes is recorded, as well as the fact that in the Scottish Highlands "Hic habundant lupes"is written alongside a drawing of a wolf. I remember buying an Ordnance Survey copy as a boy and poring over it, identifying places and appreciating the extent of the knowledge which had created it.

One explanation for the creation of the map is that it was made for the Council chamber at Westminster as a reference work - which once more is a reminder of the sophistication of English medieval government.

Lindsey Warne, Oxford Union bursar

Detail showing the area around Oxford.
Oxford is at the bottom left, with Abingdon to the right.
Wallingford is between and above them, with Reading at the top.
The rivers are shown in green, and roads or distances by the red lines.

If you are in Oxford this display of this great national treasure is well worth seeing - and in the same set of buildings as the major exhibition Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible, which is on until September 4th. I have not got in to see that yet but will post about it whenI have done so. There is meanwhile a way to Visit the exhibition online.

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