28 September 2016 | 12 °C

History | By: M@

British Library Releases Shed Loads Of Old Images Into Public Domain

British Library Releases Shed Loads Of Old Images Into Public Domain

The British Library just released over 1 million old illustrations into the public domain via Flickr, and scanned by Microsoft. The pictures date from the 17th to 19th century and include "maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more". Many are pertinent to London.

The data dump is just a starting point. The library hopes that browsers will use the collection in creative ways, and it will release a crowdsourcing application next year so users can help improve descriptions of the illustrations.

For now, we can only search for keywords in the book titles, not figure legends. And, because it's on new-look Flickr, the search box is about as easy to handle as a wasp-drawn chariot. Still, if you do find stuff of interest, you can download any image you like, and put it to any creative purpose without fear of copyright infringement.

We took a look at the figures from two London-themed books, "A Comprehensive Scheme for Street Improvements in London, accompanied by maps and sketches" (Arthur Cawston, 1893), and "A History of London ... With maps and illustrations" (William John Loftie, 1884). Without having the physical copies to hand, we're not entirely sure of the context behind the images, but we've had a go at interpretation in the figure captions below. Links to larger scans can be found beneath the image gallery.

A view of the Thames from Waterloo Bridge, with some significant alterations to the South Bank.
A view of the Thames from Waterloo Bridge, with some significant alterations to the South Bank.
Another view of the South Bank as it might have been. The labels identify a coffee shop and (prophetically) an aquarium on the site of the future County Hall.
Another view of the South Bank as it might have been. The labels identify a coffee shop and (prophetically) an aquarium on the site of the future County Hall.
A new scheme for Hyde Park.
A new scheme for Hyde Park.
A novel plan for St James's Park, showing Venice-like canals and gondolas.
A novel plan for St James's Park, showing Venice-like canals and gondolas.
How Lincoln's Inn and Fields could be improved. It's not clear whether we're looking into a radically altered 'Fields', or from the Fields into a radically altered Lincoln's Inn.
How Lincoln's Inn and Fields could be improved. It's not clear whether we're looking into a radically altered 'Fields', or from the Fields into a radically altered Lincoln's Inn.
A view of Temple, presumably (given the title of the book) showing how it could be improved rather than an actual view. We're struggling a bit with the view here. It has to be Fleet Street, but the gothic building on the left doesn't look like anything in the area. Any ideas?
A view of Temple, presumably (given the title of the book) showing how it could be improved rather than an actual view. We're struggling a bit with the view here. It has to be Fleet Street, but the gothic building on the left doesn't look like anything in the area. Any ideas?
Ryther's Map of 1604. One of London's oldest maps that rarely gets published.
Ryther's Map of 1604. One of London's oldest maps that rarely gets published.
An attempt to draw Saxon London (in 1884). Subsequent archaeology has uncovered additional finds, like the presence of the Roman amphitheatre at Guildhall, which would have no doubt been a notable feature at this time. The inclusion of Canute's Trench in Southwark is probably a fanciful addition.
An attempt to draw Saxon London (in 1884). Subsequent archaeology has uncovered additional finds, like the presence of the Roman amphitheatre at Guildhall, which would have no doubt been a notable feature at this time. The inclusion of Canute's Trench in Southwark is probably a fanciful addition.
The Portman Estate in 1745. Note that Marylebone Road (the New Road) had not been built at this time, and fields and hedgerows dominate the estate.
The Portman Estate in 1745. Note that Marylebone Road (the New Road) had not been built at this time, and fields and hedgerows dominate the estate.
A plan of Cheap (i.e. Cheapside) in medieval times. Some of this will be speculative.
A plan of Cheap (i.e. Cheapside) in medieval times. Some of this will be speculative.
The lost rivers of London.
The lost rivers of London.

Last Updated 16 July 2015

jheald_public

Wikimedia Commons (the image-bank arm of Wikipedia) has got got a project going, to try to make a subject and place index to the books in the collection, at

https://commons.wikimedia.org/...

A so-far incomplete list of titles relating to London can be found at

https://commons.wikimedia.org/...

It’s early days yet and the listings at the moment are still pretty
incomplete — but with luck the index will grow and grow over the next days and weeks, if everyone finds and adds things.

Commons also has up a full list of all the titles that were scanned to create the collection, at

https://commons.wikimedia.org/...

– which may be an easier thing to look through than Flickr itself

londona729

I love these pictures and London's history!