(james benedict brown) on the road

The Christmas present

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 19 December, 2007

I was initially cautious when my tutor smirked and said he had a Christmas present for us. I expected it to be a stack of reading or a lump of work to take home over the four week vacation, and in a way I wasn’t far off. But the ‘present’ actually surprised me. Earlier this year, in preparation for the closure and relocation of the Geography and Town Planning Library, the University of Sheffield disposed of a huge number of outdated maps of the United Kingdom. While this might seem a criminal act, the maps were part of the School of Geography – not History. Newer maps are released all the time, and most students in my department now needing high quality maps for design projects can access constantly-updated CAD or image files from online databases such as Digimap.

Much to my annoyance, I wasn’t in Sheffield when the disposal was announced, but I offer my respect to the university for at least announcing that the maps were going to be chucked and that anyone who was interested could come and salvage as many sheets as they liked before the skip came.

I’ve already been given a map that was saved from this collection – one of Belfast made in the very early eighties, which is now pinned up at the top of our staircase at home. But last week I received another, as did every other student in Studio 9, with the instruction to “work on” the image over the holiday. It shows Sheffield’s city centre, as surveyed in 1953 by Ordnance Survey, at a scale of 1:1250. 1953 was the year in which Stalin died; Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and the eastern coast of England was battered by the worst floods of that century. But what happened in Barker’s Pool, Fargate and West Street that year? I’m becoming familiar with the Local Studies department of Sheffield City Library, using their archived newspapers and collection of books to find out a little bit more about what could have been going on almost 55 years ago.

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