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From Strip Map to Sat Nav

Notes will follow shortly

Image: SatNav - TomTom 740 GO

SatNav Gets... Everywhere

Male drivers are alleged not to like asking the way when they are lost. I sympathise to some extent with that view. It always seems much more fun working out directions for yourself. There are plenty of clues. Go downhill and you will (usually) be heading towards a stream or river, which if known might help decide the next route to follow. Tall buildings are often (not always) a sign of a city centre. The moss grows on the north side of trees – at least in the northern hemisphere.... no, that’s not much use, it’s more like Joke Number 37 in the geographer’s fun book. Knowing that at midday the sun is due south, at least for GMT, can actually be helpful. But having done a great deal of driving in strange places in my time I have also done a great deal of asking the way. When you have an appointment to keep and time is pressing it’s a matter of necessity. Many years ago I gave a lecture in Edgbaston, Birmingham. It was easy finding the place from home in Shropshire. In the dark after the event it was a different matter. I well remember going past Winson Green Prison and fifteen minutes later going past it again. On that occasion I spotted signs to the M6 and got on to it. My relief was short-lived as I realised I was heading south.....

Men might not like asking the way, but they love gadgets and gadgets in cars are a must-have accessory. When my wife and I first encountered satnav in the flesh as it were we were in a hire car in the USA. Besides the dashboard set there was a computer with a CD-Rom fixed in the trunk. The instructions came from a voice we named ‘Olga’ as if it was that of an unfriendly Russian policewoman. Go past the turning specified by Olga and there would be a pause followed by a hurt admonition - “recalculating row-t”. Now we have our own polite Englishman named Simon who lives in a tiny box stuck on the dash. Ignore his instructions? – no prob. Dear Sy carries on with a new commentary as if nothing untoward had happened. That boy could have been MC at the Royal Wedding and carried it off to perfection. Like a modern Jeeves (without being one bit snooty) he can tell us where the best price for diesel can be obtained, warn of road holdups – advising on a change of route if needs be – point out a few tourist attractions and useful shops and where the next speed camera is. He did blot his copy book once over an incorrect road layout near Maidstone, but on that occasion we did know he was getting it wrong and took no notice.

How on earth did people manage in the days of Simon’s ancestors? Nothing like as well is the answer, but since what John Ogilby, John Senex and others pulled out of the hat marked ‘latest clever innovation’ looked like a godsend, people probably were very happy indeed. Except if the little maps involved had an error in them......

First, the beautifully-drawn ribbon map appeared, then the more utilitarian strip map. Satnav systems have a great deal in common with both of them.



Image: John Ogilby road map

John Ogilby's map of the routes from Newmarket to Wells-Next-The-Sea and Bury St Edmunds, 1675
[from Wikipedia Commons]


Image: John Senex strip map

The First Strip Maps

Making a journey a few hundred years ago would have been a serious adventure. Not least of the problems might well have been the risk of getting lost on the route. Once beyond the familiar home ground the traveller had to rely on what mileposts and sign posts might have been erected or the helpful directions obtained from people along the way. Problems of accidents, bad weather or attacks by robbers always threatened. The earliest form of media aimed at helping travellers were printed – atlases and strip maps. The atlas was good for planning long overland treks or sea voyages but of little use for the greater number of people setting out for much shorter distances. A different kind of atlas map was needed for them.

In 1578 Christopher Saxton completed the first atlas of England and Wales, commissioned by Lord Burghley. It had taken only eight years of surveying, engraving and printing. Saxton’s maps were made county by county. They showed the coast where appropriate, the major rivers and towns. Hills were suggested by drawings which were little more than symbols. These maps were good for general purposes but were very basic for travellers. Almost a century later John Ogilby, a Scottish translator and publisher, produced his influential atlas using ‘ribbon' or 'strip' maps as shown further above. Ogilby used the standard mile of 1,760 yards instead of variations found within different regions. He also used the scale of 1 inch to 1 mile which became a standard for the later Ordnance Survey. A hundred maps covered the country.

The Ogilby maps were large, with each page 51cms wide and 47.5cms high. So the innovation of John Senex in producing what he called a “portable” atlas in 1719 was of great use to the traveller. His atlas measured 21.2cms by 15.6cms. He used a different scale at about 2-2.5 inches per mile. The page example shown above illustrates the ways in which care was taken to give clear details useful to the road user. Incidentally, the survey method used a wheel device which the surveyor pushed along in front of him and which gave the distance travelled on a simple counting dial. They could also be attached to carriages.

Click here for more information on John Senex

Image: Dunlop map guide - London to Edinburgh




Image: AA strip map c1955




Image: Pratt's Road Atlas - 1914

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