By Kenneth Maclean

The original of this map can be found in the 1919 Scottish Geographical Magazine. It was a special issue devoted to Edinburgh, which included an overview ‘Survey‘ by Patrick Geddes; an article on ‘Primitive Edinburgh’ by his architect son-in-law, Frank Mears; a varied mix of historic black and white maps and views of the city assembled by William Cowan and Harry Inglis; and a concluding editorial epilogue by Marion Newbigin. But perhaps the outstanding feature of the magazine was the bold, colourful, folding ‘Chronological Map of Edinburgh Showing Expansion of the City from Earliest Days to the Present’ by John George Bartholomew (1860-1920).

For the urban geographer and historian, this map well demonstrates the innovative cartographic skills fostered by John George.  From his early days with the company, John George had encouraged successfully the replacement of hill shading with contours combined with layer-colouring for their topographic maps series. Here was the opportunity to apply different colours to highlight the expansion of a city. Three main tints were used: red for ‘Old & Medieval Edinburgh’ before 1750; blue for ‘Renaissance’ Edinburgh, 1750-1850 ie the New Town; and brown for Modern Edinburgh, 1850-1919. Within the three categories, there were shorter chronological sub-divisions shown in varying shades of the three tints. Consequently, the general impact of this map is very striking: the colours draw readers into not just the growth phases but also highlight the variations in relief which characterize Edinburgh’s site and influenced settlement morphology. The interplay of tectonic activity and glaciation can be seen, for example, in the craggy volcanic mass of Arthur Seat and Salisbury Crag, a pronounced barrier to any full concentric urban growth; in the narrowness of the crag and tail hosting the cramped houses of the old town; and in the drained sites of post-glacial lochs e.g. the Burgh Loch (The Meadows). As Geddes notes in his ‘Survey’ article, the map’s colours effectively reinforce the spatial socio-economic disparity in post-WWI Edinburgh: between the over-crowded, generally low-status High Street-Canongate area, and the geometric spaciousness of the higher-status residences of the New Town.  Additionally, the colours remind us that such a map is palimpsest: the pronounced red colour well demonstrating not only the capital’s historic core but the relic nature of historic roads and older buildings eg tower houses and castles randomly scattered across the map’s Georgian and Victorian extensions.       

Overall, the map is a fitting tribute to the expertise of J.G. Bartholomew, his knowledge of and affection for his native city and his long-standing support and encouragement of the R.S.G.S. of which he was a founding member. It also serves as an appropriate memorial to him, as it was probably one of the last maps which he drafted. And for the present writer, native-born and educated in the city, it reaffirms one’s affection for the capital city and its individuality.