Maps at the Dorset County Museum

I recently spent the final week of October in Weymouth with my family and we had various outings along the Dorset coastline and a day in Dorchester including the Dorset County Museum.

Now (a) I was on holiday, and (b) I was with my Mum; so I will tell you there is a good variety of mapping on show and tucked away in drawers around the museum but this is just a brief and light look at a few examples I passed and rather poorly photographed on my phone.

Firstly the museum itself is a summary of Dorset’s history, and reflective of much of the history of Britain as a whole; split into 6 or so rooms covering themes and eras from the Jurassic geology of the area – where I had fun dressing up as a dinosaur – through to portraits of notable people even of present day.

In the exhibition hall, the current exhibition entitled ‘A Dorset Woman at War’ tells the timelined story of Mabel Stobart, who fought for womens rights and established the first womens medical division by establishing field hospitals in Serbia in the first World War. A great idea but the timeline display was far from what it could have been — I had in my head how great the timeline works at the Genocide Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, and this is rather poor in comparison. But it is a temporary display and I suspect on a tight budget. Anyway the map in this room, as one might have guessed, is of Stobart’s travels and stays through Montenegro and Serbia.


On the balcony, there are many drawers that visitors are encouraged to pull open. Inside one I found this antique map that depicts Dorchester at large scale and shows the property ownership across the town, which was split between two owners the Earl of Shaftesbury and another gentleman whose name escapes me. Sadly the photograph is terrible but believe me that the pastels used for the overlay colours were beautifully chosen to be strong enough to show a subject matter yet pleasing on the eye, and these were over a monochrome base map akin to the linework of OS MasterMap Topography Layer, all achieved in the 17th century (I think, on the basis that that is when most of the Earls of Shaftesbury lived).


In the next photograph we have a map depicting the age of each sector of the town, so demonstrating the growth of the town and the change in town limits by official boundary.


The next map featured in the entrance to a room about Maiden Castle, one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe, and the remains found in the area. Several skeltons are on display and various other artifacts. The map in the entrance way shows the 150 known Mesolithic sites in Dorset as the distribution of Portland chert tools. There are no bumps of hollows on the landscape to signal mesoltihic areas, so they are only found by experts covering the ground on foot and finding tools, etc. from the period. It is a very simple point map with the potential for a somewhat more exciting creation to made from the same data I feel. Easier to photograph though! And there is something about the simplicity of it that I like and it works suprisingly well as a map too.


Almost in a side-room and given a very shiny appearance with the glass over the black ink, was this Ordnance Survey map with an added overlay of the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the area. I often argue that our (OS) rasters are not suitable backdrops as they are full topographic maps with little room for overlay. But this is a very good example to the contrary. That said, these older OS maps did have far less colour and far less clutter (no tourist symbols, etc.).


Finally, just before heading to the coffee shop, upon returning to the balcony, I snapped this map which appears to show (amongst the many reflections on the photo) the medieval town of Dorchester above the outline of the existing town footprint. A simple yet effective idea.


Some poor quality photographs for which I apologise. I blame my holiday mood mixed with my mobile phone and difficult lighting. I was just going to delete them but then I realised that they show quite nicely how maps can be useful to depict different stories and do so in a very efficient manner. They also show me as a cartographer how the practical methods and designs may have evolved but the logic of cartography along with the principles, theoretical techniques and even to a degree use of colour and so on, hasn’t really changed over time.

Whilst we make a lot of cartographic styles for web and mobile these days, myself and the rest of the CartoDesign team at OS do always make note of paper maps we collect on our travels, and maps in museums and other exhibitions and attractions are so valuable to have in the back of our minds when we think about design.

Maps in all images assumed to be © Dorset County Museum, 2014


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