Mapped: The whole of underground Manchester

I’ve always been fascinated by the hidden tunnels and chambers beneath our streets and Manchester has more than its fair share. I bought the book Underground Manchester a few years ago and thought it pretty comprehensively covered this secret world most of us know nothing about. However, a recent article in the Manchester Evening News shows that the city has many more stories to tell.

Mancunian enthusiast Mark Crossfield has spent the last few years putting together Hidden Manchester – a site dedicated to his love of the Manchester Underground. The MEN article contains a few good examples, but I thoroughly recommend a look at the site as it is packed with information.

Cartographically, it is not very exciting – just a push-pin overlay on a satellite basemap – but all the features have popup information with links for further reading. There isn’t any attribution on the basemap (I think it’s Google) and it doesn’t seem to be possible to switch to a vector map instead of imagery or turn on a street labelling layer either, but this map is definitely more about content than presentation. The sources page is full of interesting links and is probably worth the price of admission alone. There is certainly enough here to keep me quiet for some time.


The First Casualty of War

It seems like you can’t move without falling over a World War I anniversary at the moment, and in the Guardian last week there was a full page reproduction of a page from the Manchester Guardian of one hundred years earlier.

Manchester Guardian 5th August 1914

Fans of Alexander Gross’ Geographia Ltd will know all about his decision to sell high quality maps to the Telegraph in the run up to the war, but it looks like the Guardian had to throw something together at the last minute. This map of the North Sea is particularly ropey – it looks like I drew the coastlines of Norway and Denmark with my eyes closed. They say the first casualty of war is the truth, and this map seems to be telling more lies than most. If its only task is to show the rough position of May Island, however, it is performed adequately. There is at least a north arrow and a scale, and everything is spelled correctly. Maybe spending a bit more time on the Scottish border would have been good though. Compared to other cartographical cock-ups from media outlets, perhaps it is forgivable.


The main map at the head of the page looks a little less rushed, but is still kept fairly simple. Some of the borders are obviously different to today’s maps, but contemporary maps show they are not far off.

The other insert map, of eastern Belgium and surrounding countries, is also a bit scrappy. Some of the defects here could be due to the reproduction of a hundred-year-old newspaper though. I find it hard to get a sense of the region we’re looking at, without any coastline in view, but this map gives a good idea of how the Kingdom of Belgium looked at the time.

When is a map not a map?

I took a trip to Sheffield today, mostly to see an old friend, but also to visit Inside the Circle of Fire: A Sheffield Sound Map at the Millennium Gallery. This exhibition was put together by Chris Watson, a founder member of the legendary Cabaret Voltaire, but with a subsequent career as a sound recordist, specialising in natural history. I was intrigued by the idea of a sound map, and was interested to see how sounds could be placed in a geographical context. As the exhibition blurb says,

In this ambitious new exhibition, Chris will transform the Millennium Gallery into an immersive ‘sound map’ of Sheffield, charting its boundaries on the edge of the Peak and travelling its waterways to the bustling heart of the city.

Unfortunately, I must have misunderstood, as the exhibition is not a map in any sense that I’m aware of. It was interesting, and I would have stayed to listen to the whole work if I didn’t have a bored child with me who wasn’t having any of it (though he did raise a smile when the terraces of Bramall Lane started to reverberate to the sound of Seven Nation Army). The gallery was dimly lit, with projections showing black and white images of the city (though with no explanation or location). In the centre of the room were four couches set facing each other; other benches were placed along the walls, and cushions were on the floor, to give different perspectives of the work.

While we were there, we heard church bells, birdsong, a woodpecker tapping at a tree, various industrial sounds, football chants, etc., but they were just sounds, coming from nowhere (or from everywhere, depending on whereabouts in the gallery you sat). There was no sense of where these sounds were located, where they belonged. I know I’m probably being a square who’s trying to find meaning and force an explanation onto something, but that’s not the point. I’m quite happy to enjoy this piece as a sound installation, or a sound collage, or a soundscape (as the guy lying on the couch with his eyes closed clearly was. Unless he was asleep), but it’s not a map. To me a map shows the relationship between items, rather than randomly serving them up without explanation.

That said, I would love to see it again, or maybe get a podcast and while away those long train journeys listening to “an affectionate portrait of a city that the 19th century writer John Ruskin called ‘a dirty picture in a golden frame.’“.

Linguistic Geographies

Just a quick post about something interesting I saw earlier today.

If you search Manuscripts Online for ‘map’, there are 1320 results to wade through, but the resources section also contains a link to the Gough Map – apparently one of the earliest maps to show Britain in a geographically-recognizable form. There is plenty of background reading about the origin and purpose of the map and also a section on the digitisation process (spoiler – they used ArcGIS).

The map itself is searchable by modern name, medieval name, or appearance, so here is an example shot of where I live. The place marker is on Skipton – symbolised with a largish castle and labelled skiptou(n) – the hamlet of Manchester (labelled manch..) is to the right, and Bradford – a single building marked bra[dford] – above. There isn’t much other detail in this area, but a number of rivers originate nearby, suggesting it is high ground. At the top left of the image is the vast metropolis of York (Eborienc), clearly one of the most important cities in the country at that time.

Gough Map

Gough Map © 2011 King’s College London

Rolling in the aisles

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog front recently, partly due to illness and partly due to a top secret side-project that I will hopefully be able to talk about here at some point.

So, to get back in the saddle, here’s a quick look at something interesting I saw on the Edward Tufte forum. Towards the end of a discussion on instructions at the point of need, a user posted this image of a supermarket cart/trolley (delete according to which side of the Atlantic you are on).

Supermarket map

What a brilliant idea, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wandered round and round a supermarket trying to find a particular item. Or even a whole section sometimes. Why don’t more supermarkets do this?

Well, unfortunately, supermarkets are businesses, rather than existing as some kind of public service, and they have many ways to make sure you part with as much of your money as possible. Not only do store layouts frequently change (which would require regular updates to the maps), but it is in their interest for shoppers to get lost and be tempted by all the other lovely goodies on offer. As the excellently-named James Intrilligator of Bangor University says here,

“It’s no coincidence that supermarkets don’t provide shoppers with clear maps of the store layout, that the names of aisles are often ambiguous or that they keep moving things around. It’s not to improve displays or make shopping more efficient – it’s to keep you lost, confused and receptive to their advertising of premium brands and aspirational products.”

So, props to Bloom Grocery Store (or Food Lion as it seems to be called now) for helping out customers in this way. If only we came across this kind of thing more often.

Tubular Fells

Spotted in the window of a Keswick bookshop:

Wainwright map

‘Tubular Fells’: All 214 Wainwrights on one colourful poster!

There is an endless amount of recycling in popular culture, from tv and movie remakes, to pop bands covering and re-covering old hits, to “Keep Calm and Carrry On” (which seems to be everywhere), to Harry Beck‘s famous tube map.

Often the imitators are of a lower quality or completely miss the point of the original. For example, the ‘Keep Calm’ poster’s great strength is not only its simplicity, but the choice of font, Gill Sans. Some of the reproductions use a different font, so don’t have the same impact.

There have been many reworkings of the tube map, and one of the earliest (and I think most successful)  was Simon Patterson’s ‘The Great Bear’. Stations were renamed after famous people and lines given themes such as explorers, philosophers, comedians, etc. The artist has obviously put a lot of thought into these, as some people fall into more than one category (for example, Gary Lineker was at the intersection of footballers and artists).

A little less thought has gone into the Wainwright poster though. The map is nicely and simply laid out, and I like how the Lakes have been generalized into rectangles, but I’m struggling a bit with the map’s actual purpose. I haven’t looked at a Wainwright book for a few years, but as far as I remember, each book contained a number of different walks over the peaks in a certain area (with the exceptions of the Cumbria Way and Coast to Coast of course). I don’t think each book showed just one continuous route over every summit, which is where the tube map analogy falls down.

Then again, maybe I’m just finding fault where there isn’t any. It’s certainly a lot better than this “map”:

Direction map

I think I’d need another map just to work out where it is. Oh well, at least they’ve given the postcode, so you can put it in your satnav…

You can bank on the Wales

I love browsing through second-hand book shops, charity shops, and jumble sales, looking for old maps. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and you can often pick up some real gems for just a few pence. Some of the most interesting maps in my collection are just “throwaway” maps, produced by tourist boards, petrol stations, shopping centres, or, in this case, banks.

The Bank of New South Wales produced this lovely pocket map of Sydney and suburbs, with a bit of local history, public amenities, bank branch locations (very important, obviously), and interesting cartography thrown in.

Sydney and suburbs map cover

Turning it over shows a short history of Sydney and part of the index. Perhaps the cartographer was not aware this section was being added to the map, because the Tank Stream isn’t marked  – I couldn’t find it at least. It would have been nice to know whereabouts in the bay the city was founded.

City of Sydney history and index

Inside is a detailed map of the city centre, with area and street names, important buildings with key numbers to labels in the legend, and so on. Grid references are provided, but the lines are left out so the map does not appear too cluttered. I like the fact that you can tell this map is hand-made. The text size and shape is ever so slightly inconsistent, and there are one or two omissions. Perfection is overrated though, in my view – it’s like buying a loaf of bread from your local baker, rather than a plastic-wrapped plastic loaf from the supermarket.

Sydney city centre

There are a number of interesting details, most of which could be easily reproduced in a modern GIS package, but must have taken some time to draw correctly. In the examples below, the road casings are the same colour as the Haymarket label, so they have been split around it (1). Some names have been abbreviated – to show this has taken place, the last letter(s) of the word are in superscript, with a dot placed underneath(2). In the third example, Wattle St has been hyphenated to fit around the Macarthur St label. I haven’t seen this kind of fitting strategy before – presumably it’s not a a very popular solution.

1.Sydney example 1 2.Sydney example 2

3.Sydney example 3

All the street labels on the map are written in the same direction (bottom – top or left – right), so streets such as George St have been labelled upside down (4). I think there is a mistake on Haig Av – the ‘v’ is full size and the dot is to the right, instead of underneath it (5). In example (6), the text is drawn smaller to fit into the street feature.

4.Sydney example 4 5.Sydney example 5 6.Sydney example 6

A different font was used for the water feature names (7) – a chance for the cartographer to try out some different handwriting perhaps? And finally, a clue to when the map was produced. The famous Opera House was under construction between 1957 and 1973. If you look back at the front cover, there is in fact a small ‘7/62’ in the bottom corner, which may have been some kind of reference number, but is more likely to be a date.

7.Sydney example 7 8.Sydney example 8

Finally, a quick look at the suburbs section of the map – there aren’t so many interesting details here, although you do get a sense of the size of the city. It has indexes either side showing bank branches (again!) and suburb names, but it is slightly too big for my scanner, so just the map is shown here.

Sydney suburbs