#41 The Mighty Atlas

Hidden behind normal freestanding shelving holding books, the second floor of the Berkeley Library contains a number of slightly odd deep shelves – with rollers at the front! – dotted around the outer edge of the reading rooms. They are original parts of Koralek’s design, intended to house large map volumes – “atlas cases”. The maps are long gone but the empty shelves demonstrate Paul Koralek’s attention to detail.

Our Map Librarian, Paul Ferguson, gives an overview of these unconventional shelves and the maps they were intended to hold:

Arranged in eight groups of three or two stands of four shelves each, the four in the north section accommodate 48 shelves, while those in the Research Area were wider and accommodated 32 shelves. Like other Library furniture the supports were made of poured concrete, the shelves themselves made of plywood, each with a quirky built-in roller at the front to aid removing and replacing the heavy books. The concrete stands are supported only at the back; the sides and central supports are cantilevered so that the floor under the shelves is unhindered by footings. The tops are finished in leatherette and provided a handy flat surface to consult the maps. Located below the glass roof, there is a void behind each unit allowing light and air to penetrate to the floor below.

The atlas cases, with apologies for the awful photography.

The cases originally accommodated large volumes of bound Ordnance Survey maps. Those in the Research Area were six-inch maps of each of the counties of Ireland dating from 1832 to 1845, presented by the Lord Lieutenant on publication. When the German geographer Johann Kohl visited the Long Room in 1843 he found them the most interesting item to be seen in the Library. In summer of 1913 the Library had new editions bound up, doubling the number of Irish volumes. By the 1950s these heavily used maps were located in the 1937 Reading Room.

A second group of volumes related to the north of England and south of Scotland, and these were the earliest detailed Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain made in the 1840s and early 1850s. They were also the first British OS mapping received on legal deposit and, like the Irish maps, they were presented bound in volumes. However, given the huge numbers of maps involved, the Ordnance Survey discontinued binding by the mid-1850s and thereafter the maps arrived in Trinity as flat sheets. The growing number of loose maps was stored first in the Magnetic Observatory that stood in the Fellows’ Garden, and from the mid-1950s in the Chapel Basement and the basement of House No. 6. A photograph of the maps in the Chapel Cellars appeared in the ‘Library extension appeal’ in 1958.

Although maps may have figured in the ‘Library appeal’, a few months before the official opening it was realised that ‘There is no provision for maps in the New Library’. Ignoring Koralek’s atlas cases, Dr Gordon Herries Davies wrote a stiff memo to the College Board on behalf of the Geography Department, describing the deteriorating map collection and asking for a committee to consider necessary map accommodation and the appointment of a Map Librarian.

Unfortunately, it would take another twenty years before the maps were afforded a dedicated space and specialist care in the converted Old Gymnasium in 1987. In the interim, housed in Koralek’s atlas cases, the bound maps of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Peeblesshire, Linlithgowshire, Berwickshire, Haddingtonshire, Wigtownshire, etc., attracted little use over the years except by the occasional inquisitive student. In 1983 History student Mike Ashworth, himself from the north of England, undertook a voluntary project under the supervision of the Conservation Lab to remove the accumulation of dust and dirt.

On the other hand, the Irish maps received a lot more use and some of the volumes began to sustain damage through wear and tear, and one sheet even went ‘missing’. Not surprisingly it was decided to replace some of the shelving with plan chests that could be locked, and then Deputy Librarian Peter Fox persuaded BP Ireland to fund the acquisition of metal cabinets. The only problem was that cabinets would not fit into the shelf spaces without the removal of the central supports. So this was one of the first occasions that concrete-cutting equipment had to be used to alter some of the Berkeley’s fixtures and fittings.

All of the Irish maps previously stored in the Berkeley atlas cases are now available in the purpose-built Glucksman Map Library located in the Ussher Library basement. The atlas case spaces in the Research Area have been neatly converted into desks.

The Glucksman Map Library.