Click here to skip to content

Topographical collections: an overview

The British Library holds hundreds of thousands of topographical views, the most comprehensive and important collection in Britain.

By 'topographical view' we mean any depiction of an actual, specific site, if the primary purpose is to identify a place, but excluding maps or photographs.

Size:

  • The topographical collections are found in various departments across the Library.
  • The majority of the topographical images have not been catalogued, but the works accounted for so far may number over 800,000.
The ruins of Caerphilly Castle

The ruins of Caerphilly Castle; watercolour by Captain Archibald Robertson, of the Royal Engineers, c.1780-1790. [Maps K.Top.47.37.c.] © The British Library Board.

Scope:

  • The topographical collections date from around the fourteenth to the twentieth century
  • The coverage is worldwide, with a particularly strong representation of Britain and its former colonies, and the parts of Europe associated with the Grand Tour.
Detail of Panoramic View round the Regent's Park

Detail of Panoramic View round the Regent's Park; drawn by Richard Morris, engraved by S.H. Hughes, published 1831. [Maps 14.a.29] © The British Library Board

Enlarge

Range:

  • The topographical collections include the work of major artists (such as Hollar, Grimm, Sandby, or Turner) as well as many lesser-known or anonymous figures (including amateur artists, antiquarians and military draughtsmen).
  • A wide range of media are represented (such as prints, drawings, watercolours and oil paintings).
  • Many different formats are employed (for example townscapes include panoramas, distant views, bird's eye views or 'prospects', street scenes and studies of individual buildings).
  • The views are presented in several ways (such as in the form of illustrations to illustrated books or periodicals, loose prints, albums, extra-illustrated books, sketch-books, notebooks and information collected for county histories).
The interior of the great hall at Cowdray, West Sussex

The interior of the great hall at Cowdray, West Sussex; watercolour by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, 1782. [Add MSS 5675, f. 14 (no. 20)] © The British Library Board.

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.