A quarter of bruised Aleppo galls

It has been a week of highs and lows: high, having an article published (see below); low, thinking I am reading about Ordnance Survey printing processes circa 1875, only to realise I am witness to Colonialism in action. Look at the materials listed here: “a week solution of powder of Tripoli…”, “… varnished on the reverse side with Japan black”, “The plates are of the best Silesian zinc”, “… and smoothed with a piece of steatite, known in the trade as snakestone or Water of Ayr stone.” “A mixture of Paris black, Castile soap, white wax, tallow or sweet oil, and shellac …”, “Copper-plate printers’ ink consists of Frankfurt black and a little indigo or Prussian blue …”, “… three ounces of Burgundy pitch …”, “… three quarts of moderately thick gum Arabic water …”, “… finely powdered bitumen of Judea.” “… a quarter of bruised Aleppo galls in a quart of water …”. Each material named by provenance (I am beginning to interrogate text like a geographer). It was the mention of ‘Aleppo’ that had me tracking back for the other products named by the places where we meddled in people’s lives, took things from them and called it ‘trade’; sending me to the doors of despair.For me contour lines on a map represent freedom of traverse, I forget that the intention of the Ordnance Survey then was not to enable artists to go wandering in the landscape, but rather for quantifying or qualifying land for defence and attack or ownership, taxes, railways, trade: generally, the transfer of money and belongings to those who already have enough. Yet now targeted OS adverts on Facebook exhort me to eschew the gym and subscribe to their products to get into the hills; how times have changed. You follow this blog because it’s about contour lines, no? So, here’s my own ‘advert’; you could do a lot worse than give this article – free to download, and written with the wonderful Emeritus Professor Robin Johnson – a peruse over breakfast tomorrow.

Quotes and images from: Lieut.-General Sir Henry James, Account of the methods and processes adopted for the production of the maps of the Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom..., (London: Longman & Co, 1875), 175-212.
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Body Doubles

“A map is a representation on paper – a picture – you understand? – a picture – showing, representing this country – yes?” Books have been written on what maps are and are not; I know, I am presently wading through them for the PhD. In amongst the dry, the erudite and the dull are gems that are causing me to rethink what I assumed to know. First up among them are the 19th Century training manuals used to teach cadets to draw maps. To explain the contours of a landscape some required students to study the body: above on the left, a face is depicted through contour and hachure, it does little to reveal features or character, it is designed to give accurate elevation of the nose: an unusual characteristic for a portrait. So, there is on the one hand the body as ‘body double’ for landscape and then, as alluded to in the previous post, the bodies of the surveyors in the landscape.

The quote at the beginning is from Brian Friel’s Translations (1981, with many thanks to Matty for alerting me to it), where creatively imagined transactions between OS men and locals abound. How peculiar they would have appeared, these men traversing their land with chains. It’s easy to forget colour when thinking of the past: black, white and sepia have a stranglehold on imaginings, but thanks to the painting cited in the previous post, I now see a sluagh of Red coats in Green fields. As if some 20th Century ‘Land Art’ or Site-Specific Performance strayed the bonds of time.

Posts will be less frequent now that I need to be serious and orderly with regard to learning, but to those among you who enjoy reading (to the end), I wish you a very happy new year!

The image is taken from VRV Streffleur’s Der gegenwärtige Standpunkt der Bergzeichnung in Plänen und Landkarten, 1868.With thanks to Anne Taylor, Head of Map Department, Cambridge University Library and the Charles Close Society.
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Island Life 2: midst the stormy billows of the North Sea

“While the attractions of transportation to Australia, &c. operate in some degree as a premium to crime, more especially since the discovery of the gold regions, it is thought that the dreary prospect of passing some joyless years in the midst of the stormy billows of the North Sea would tend much more to deter from crime, and from its sobering effect on the mind, would afford a better chance of reclaiming the guilty from their vicious habits.”                                           Island of Rona, a dependency of the Lews. Burnaby, 1852

It was the Laird – and arguably biggest villain – of Lewis proposing Rona the site of a new Penal Colony, and Captain Burnaby – head of the first Ordnance Survey there – sent to investigate Rona’s potential. Of these key players we have records, albeit patchy and incomplete; but with regards the individuals making up the survey teams stationed there, what remains of their stories? Over the 49 sheets of first edition 6” maps of Lewis the drawing styles change markedly, not all the hill ascents are spattered with Bench Marks, so how much autonomy did individual surveyors have? Most of the OS men (and Burnaby himself) were posted near Stornoway, but according to the 1851 census 20 OS men were residing in the North of the Island, should we presume they were responsible for maps 1-5 of the series?  The Laird was planning major works including: croft clearance, deer parks and new roads:

“Walked over the line of proposed road between Ness and Tolsta, there are nearly 100 men at present … They are paid at the rate of 1/- per yard of finished roadway one half in Destitution Meal and the other half credited to their rents…”                                                    From John Munro Mackenzie: Chamberlain of Lews Diary for 16 August 1851. According to the Chamberlain’s diary he met with Burnaby at least 14 times that year, who gave Burnaby orders: the OS, or the Laird? And how was the decision arrived at to contour every 25ft? On beginning this research I romanticised the longevity of the survey as a simple love-affair with island life. But it appears more likely a result of the Laird’s demands for detailed maps to expedite his proposed structural changes to the island. Building a picture of island life has been greatly aided by the Masonic Lodge on Stornoway whose records date back to 1767. Thanks to them I know which OS men or ‘Sappers & Miners’ joined the Masons whilst on Lewis, others will have joined elsewhere. I had assumed there to be a photo of the surveyors amongst their records, so when we couldn’t find this, I went back to my source who clarified ‘a painting’, not of ‘OS men’, but in honour of an event that took place in 1847. Of the remarkable 84 figures depicted, 5 are OS: Captain Burnaby and Corporal Kielle resplendent in red (I hadn’t noticed their uniforms in the b&w copies I initially saw). Sappers and Miners: Matheson, Stafford & Auckburn fare less well, skulking in the back row minus uniform, though Stafford seems to be sporting a bow tie. According to the census Matheson worked as a Clerk, but of the others: who had taught them surveying? And were they previously stationed in Ireland? Having jumped forward in time with this Summer’s Lewisian foray, I need to begin research in the place where the OS first adopted contour lines… Ireland next stop.

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Looking for Meaning

Ten years ago, I lived beside a single-track road with no name. Walking it, I often had the feeling it was trying to communicate with me; in autumn, through a complexity of pattern left by the scattering sycamore seeds, in winter – a particularly compelling season – the judder track left by a jag-tooth snow plough. I would walk the road, studying the ‘signs’ for a message, never even figuring out what language it would be: नीचेदेखकरअर्थकीतलाशमें?Two years ago, whilst studying in Cambridge, I began noticing a different road grammar: full-stops, ‘nothings’, big fat zero’s littered the streets; clustered in the vicinity of the campus, they exuded a peculiar fascination and I began to ‘log’ them. The project – which resulted in an exhibition – ended some time ago, but my eye won’t let go and still I note them, stopping to stare when I see a particularly engaging composition.Now there is a new focus: not straight down, but sort of knee-height. I worry I have the demeanour of a dog assessing walls to mark. Street corners, have stolen my gaze. (My partner tuts under his breath each time I slow down… I bagged three bench marks between pub and home last week, where I’d seen none before; I’d never looked. It is a route that used to be taken up with a perusal of utility covers from yet another project, I still like to note them for they speak of local foundries, dates are often present and hints of the story of the fight against cholera).Just last Saturday, walking to the Art Houses event in Whitley Bay, I’ve stopped dead, the group I’m with tugging my ‘virtual leash’ as the traffic lights change, but I’ve sniffed out a particularly interesting bench mark, plus what? Signature? First attempt? The light already low – and as the only one interested – it’s a poor photo snapped quickly, but I think you can see what I mean? It might be worth a second visit.Looking for something, or looking for nothing, I know I now have my ‘eye in’.

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Bench Marks Revisited

It’s safe to say I have returned from Lewis with more questions than answers. A trip to the standing stones at Calanais revealed you don’t need to travel 5,000 years back in time to unearth mysteries. No one knows exactly why the stones were erected, Patrick Ashmore says: “The most attractive explanation… is that every 18.6 years, the moon skims especially low over the southern hills. It seems to dance along them”. This doesn’t explain why in the second OS survey of the area (in 1898) there seems to be a track running right through the middle (had stones been removed?) and a Bench Mark (89.1ft) incised potentially into one of these ‘druidical remains’! I am pleased to report the track swings to the west of the circle and I could not find this OS graffito (also, neither track nor this particular BM, are recorded on the first survey: 1849-52).The short walk south from stone circle to shore-line passes the recorded ‘sites’ of two other Bench Marks and a ‘trigonometrical station’ (triangle with a dot in the centre), which appears on both maps at the summit of a mound titled ‘Cnoc an Tursa’. I’m not sure what would have been used to mark the place at the time, there is no ‘trig point’ extant (as we would know it), but a careful perusal did reveal a faint Bench Mark in roughly the right place.I have been trying to untangle what it is about B.M.s that I find so entrancing, I know why I’m drawn to contour lines, but there’s something about a mark hewn in a landscape that when repeated on a map – in roughly the same shape and form (vastly reduced size obviously) – beguiles. They served a purpose: fixing altitudes, and were incorporated for 100 years or so, although I have discovered neither start nor end date, nor why that particular symbol was enlisted; indeed in the landscape its format changes a great deal, if the site is not vertical it may be devoid of horizontal top bar. According to Jochta: Used and made from the 1800s to around 20 years ago… A familiar horizontal levelling line with a three-line arrow pointing towards it (usually upwards). Each one is unique depending on the mason who cut it, some are plain, some decorated. Some roughly cut, some exquisitely cut with high accuracy. Whilst I’m busy with the questions: is this symbol a particularly OS British/Irish thing?

The only Bench Mark (39.6) to appear on both 1st and 2nd edition of the 6” maps is on the corner of ‘Callernish Inn’ (1st) or ‘Post Office’ (2nd) and is – as with so many B.M.s in Scotland – sadly lost beneath a rough coat of pebble-dash.Bringing us to the B.M. on the beach mentioned in a previous post, it doesn’t appear on the 2nd edition, so I presumed it washed away by storm and tide. According to the Modern OS Explorer Series (458), the beach is made up of boulders, loose rock and mud, which is what you see (under a hefty carpet of sea-weed). We scrambled across to the visibly biggest boulder, and whilst I skidded around its base searching at ‘knee-height’, Cal and Julia leapt to the top and: Huzzah! There it was.

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Island Life: Lewis, 1851

“The thing about an island… is that you feel you can know it. You feel your mind can encompass everything in it, everything there is to see and to learn and to comprehend. You feel you can contain it…”

Perhaps this is how the OS men felt on Lewis, and before them, perhaps those early Surveyors of Schiehallion (a mountain which often appears to float – island-like – adrift from surrounding chains). Perhaps also too, in the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal where the OS first explored using contour lines on maps, a do-ably sized chunk of land: specific, delineated. The plan, come September when I begin PhD studies, is to tackle the Irish Survey, so visiting Lewis last week was a practice run; an opportunity to get a feeling of how the OS went about their work in these far-flung places.I am hugely indebted to Margaret from Stornoway Library for trawling the 1851 census before I arrived. What has emerged (over 29 pages) is a snapshot into the lives of 80 OS men registered as living on Lewis then. In amongst the fishermen and fish-curers, shoe and straw-hat makers, are the chainmen, draftsmen, surveyors, clerks and officers of the Ordnance Survey: stationed in local houses and in Inns (run perhaps by a Proprietrix!) Marrying in, having children, making and living their lives on the Island.Over half of them were Irish (or with Irish wives) suggesting – prior to Lewis – some would have been stationed in Donegal, was one of their number involved in those first forays into drawing contour lines on maps?There’s more to follow regarding other Lewis-based discoveries, but I am sad to report missing a photograph that would have put faces to names. Allegedly Stornoway Masonic Lodge held a photo of the OS men. I was stood a drink, told some tall tales, given time to wander the wood-clad corridors (occasionally hung three deep in pictures of men in aprons), but of the photo I sought was no trace.

Opening quote from: The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack.

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Missed Signs (Bench Marks, Flush Brackets, Cable Markers)

Getting ready for Lewis entails getting my ‘eye in’, I need to be more proficient in spotting Bench Marks. Last week I found out I had lived many years within a gnat’s crotchet of some of the best in the country – who knew? – I’ll come back to that.I am on ‘the Angel’, also known as the number 10 back from Birtley, thinking idle Bench Marks thoughts when, at the Shipcote bus-stop, I spy what surely is my first Flush Bracket, best described as a rare metal version of a Bench Mark. I go back, take a photo and send it to Ian from bench-marks.org.uk who quickly dispatches these hopes; it’s nothing more than a cable marker: rookie mistake.Relaying this story to a good friend of generous spirit and a shared love of street furniture, we hatch a plan to find two Flush Brackets, which – according to the data-base – are both extant and within the vicinity of her place. Picnic packed, we head out on our ‘adventure’, the first is at Rookery Farm but behind a gate warning: beware the dog, thinking the second will be simpler, we heed the sign and head instead for ‘the railway bridge’ where we assume access will be a deal easier. But no. Firstly, how many facets can a bridge actually have? Having crawled along, around and over it, pulling back ivy and undergrowth, we traipse back to car and phone/internet for the exact location details. It then emerges our destination will entail climbing two fences to enter a field holding a high-spirited nag, then another fence onto the railway embankment – no picnic. Although it’s Bench Marks rather than Flush Brackets I’m really looking for, I hope Lewis isn’t going to be like this.Which brings me to www.jochta.com and the saddest part of this post. In May this year I went back to Goring for the first time since we’d shifted mum to a care home. This trip was to scatter her ashes on Lardon Chase. We take a walk by the river, stay at the YHA as the house is no longer hers/ours, and eat at the pub we always ate at with mum. And I wonder after 50+ years whether this is the last time I will visit. All these years, all those years, and it turns out Goring, Wallingford, Pangbourne are rife with OS street furniture/markings. I have been regularly passing not only Bench Marks and Flush Brackets a-go-go, but actually quite rare ones at that. And all this time, I am ashamed to say, I never spotted one. Though in my defence, I was never looking for them. Then.

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