Countdown to Bartholomew Archive exhibition

Posted 6 July, 2012 13:04 by Karla Baker

We are in the midst of preparing for a major exhibition of Bartholomew Archive material, due to run from December 2012-April 2013 (I will pass on dates when I have them).

The exhibition will focus on map production techniques at Bartholomew as seen through the eyes of its highly skilled staff and directed by its colourful managers. The exhibition will follow the life story of Bartholomew maps from the compilation of source material, to hand-made ‘graving tools, to the noise of the printing room floor. Visitors will have the chance to meet one of Bartholomew’s most influential characters, John George Bartholomew; to enter the upside down and back to front world of the copperplate engravers before reflecting on the ways in which modern technology may have altered our relationship with maps.

The exhibition affords us the opportunity to display some of the key treasures of the John Bartholomew collection of rare and antiquarian atlases as well as some of the unique manuscript maps that can be found in the Bartholomew Archive.

To mark the occasion, each month until December this blog will focus on items that directly reflect the theme of the exhibition. This month the focus is Bartholomew’s premises on Park Road.

draughtsman room

The firm of John Bartholomew moved to Park Road in 1889. It was arguably the pivotal point in the firm’s history. Between 1888-89, John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) took control of the firm from his father John Bartholomew Junior (1831-93); the firm went into partnership for the first time in its history with the publisher Thomas Nelson, becoming John Bartholomew and Co.; they moved to their first ever purpose built premises and they restyled themselves the Edinburgh Geographical Institute. This sequence of events was to have a profound affect on the future fortunes of what had hitherto been a relatively modest printing and engraving concern.

machine room

Thomas Nelson (an Edinburgh firm of even greater age than Bartholomew) built Park Road, with Bartholomew paying them back via rent, as well of course, via printing work. John George was never enthusiastic about partnerships and there are telling snippets in the archive about his dissatisfaction. In perhaps the most stark comment he privately reflects that he is,

“Determined to end the T. N. [Thomas Nelson] partnership at any cost. To continue would mean ruin to the business and a breakdown on my part – It is impossible to work with so much unpleasant friction & jealousy”

Relief finally came in 1911 when John George removed his beloved Edinburgh Geographical Institute to their most famous home on Duncan Street.

litho room

There were positives and negatives to working at Park Road. On the negative side was the attraction that the building appeared to have for rats. A former employee recalled,

“They [the rats] seldom appeared in the day time but one day, when we were all busy at work, one of the draughtsmen jumped up and knocked over his stool with a great clatter. Next we saw him standing with his hand behind his back clutching at the top of his trousers. A few moments afterwards he jerked out the back of his shirt and a dead rat fell out on the floor”

map mounting room

But on the other hand, its unusual floor plan did have some advantages,

“For weeks before the annual staff picnic there was practicing for the sports, the long corridor between the offices and the printing room being a favourite sprinting track”

There is far more to say about Park Road than can fit in a blog, so with appetites whetted, I look forward to seeing you in December!

floor plan

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