On the Bookshelf

By Observer Reporter in Feature

Sea Charts of the British Isles explores, through a series of historic charts, the multitude of sea ports, fishing and commercial harbours, naval bases, dockyards and seaside havens that have supported local life, and defended and imported for the nation.

Travelling along the coastline clockwise from London and the Thames Estuary, the charts range from naive and artistic medieval charts to detailed Victorian surveys. They reveal a wealth of information about the developing understanding of these shores, including the dangers of rocks and tides.

Furthermore, they bring home the changing nature of our coastline. Some reveal place names now lost to the sea, and ports now stranded miles inland owing to the silting of bays and estuaries.

The charts included are by many great names in British chartmaking, such as Captain Greenville Collins, Lewis Morris, Professor Murdoch Mackenzie and his nephew of the same name, Graeme Spence and the surveyors of Sir Francis Beaufort’s ‘Grand Survey of the British Isles.’

The charts are complemented by navigational views that illustrate the approach to sounds and villages from the sea. Through the stories of chartmakers and publishers, coastal defence and trade, the development of navigation and the production of ever more accurate surveys, these charts also highlight the rich historical and cultural diversity in the British Isles.


Lieutenant Commander John Blake was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, London, in 2006, in recognition of his authorship and contribution in the field of navigation. He served nearly 12 years as a sea-going officer in the Royal Navy, followed by five years in the Reserve. Born in Tenby, he was educated at Brighton and Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and today lives in Wiltshire. In 1996, he and his wife initiated the licensing of the archives of maritime cartography in the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, producers of Admiralty charts, gaining a comprehensive knowledge of them.

John Blake writes and lectures on maritime history and is an enthusiastic small boat sailor. He contributed the offical entry on cartography to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History. He is the author of The Sea Chart; Charts of War and Titanic, A Passenger’s Guide Pocket Book and contributed to Ship - A History in Art and Photography (edited by Professor Andrew Lambert), all published by Conway.

• The book, published by Bloomsbury Publishing and priced £18.99, also contains a foreword by former Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral of the Fleet, the Lord Boyce KG GCB OBE DL, Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle.

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