‘Map of a Nation’, R. Hewitt

“Many Hanoverian officers and soldiers turned to drink while working in north and west Scotland, and the Chief Engineer there was forced to apologise to the Board of Ordnance for the ‘scandalous Scrawl and form’ of one of his underlings’ reports, commenting with wry displeasure that ‘I fancy he has consulted the Dram bottle.'”

‘Map of a Nation’ is a brilliant work detailing the long and important, I dare say, story of the Ordnance Survey through a century from the mid-18th to the mid-19th. This story is portrayed mainly through the actions and dealings of the the chiefs of the Survey.

Rachel Hewitt has woven us a story of how Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland were first (officially) surveyed through incredible difficulties, and all that due to an infatuation with mapping. The added bits of information of how the people and newspapers reacted to the publishing of maps for areas which people frequented — and maybe, most of all, how people reacted to their lands being surveyed — likewise adds a certain level that is maybe not as present in many books which try to deal with history.

So, aside an interesting book on history where the main characters have been well used as the anchorpoints of the story, we also get an astonishing variety of viewpoints, and maybe, on a lesser scale, a fair amount of rather interesting but overall less related information. [I could say it is one of those things that will be useful in the future in the pub though… “so, you know why the Ordnance Survey moved away from London? Oh… you didn’t know they used to be in London? :)”].

Maybe I should mention that though I do praise the book, it did not captivate me entirely all the way through, but I think that might have had a fair bit to do with my own motivated state of reading it. So, not all flowers and gold, but close enough for what we’re dealing with.

“William Roy had been arguably responsible for the Ordnance Survey’s foundation, but William Mudge had taken charge of it for twenty-nine years. Under his watch, the Trigonometrical Survey had travelled all the way from Land’s End in Cornwall almost up to the Shetland Islands.”

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