The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Music

Barbican Centre, London, EC2: The Cinematic Orchestra, 30 June

The Barbican hosts Jason Swinscoe's Ninja Tunes project. Combining jazz improvisation, sampled soundtrack music, film images and dance music tropes, this orchestra achieves a variety and beauty not to be underestimated. Originally written for a string quartet, from visuals such as René Clair’s surrealist Entr’acte (The Cinematic Orchestra) and Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space (Dorian Concept and Tom Chant), the final product has a depth of emotion which can take the breath away. This is their final date in the UK before they move on to Italy.

Literature

Hampstead Heath, London: Walking Book Club, 1 July

This week the book-lovers from the Walking Book Club will turn to Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Written as a fictional companion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, this novel follows newly-widowed Lady Slane as she rents a house in Hampstead to begin a new life. Introducing the reader to a variety of Lady Slane’s new friends and a few figures from her past, this novel extols the virtues of following one’s desires, no matter how late in life. This free event, open to all readers and their walking companions, offers participants a chance to discuss the book in an informal setting.

Cinema

Queen of Hoxton, London, EC2: Easy Rider, 1st July

The Rooftop Film Club gives cinema lovers an opportunity to see classic films in the open air. On Sunday they give their screen over to Easy Rider, the 1969 classic directed by and starring Dennis Hopper. Easy Rider is the tale of two bikers who head from LA to Florida to retire after a major cocaine sale. A cult favourite, this film discusses themes of freedom, boundaries and establishment and offers a detailed portrait of its time.

Theatre

AE Harris and mac Birmingham, Birmingham: Be Festival 2nd July- 8th July

This year’s Be Festival is the third to be held in Birmingham as part of a Europe-wide project to unite cultures and individuals through theatre. This year, mac Birmingham will host the winning show from the BE festival 2011, As the Flames rose, we danced to the sirens, the sirens by the Sleepwalk Collective. AE Harris will show four thirty-minute shows each night from  this year’s entrants, each accompanied by dinner, music, drinks and an after show party. All shows come from across the continent and are designed to be viewed and understood by everyone, regardless of language.

Exhibitions

Piper Gallery, London W1: Inaugural exhibition: Then and Now: Edward Allington and Vaughan Grylls

This week marks the launch of a new contemporary art gallery. Piper Gallery will represent artists who are continuing to produce innovative work at least 40 years into their careers. Those exhibiting include Edward Allington, Tess Jaray and Francis West.

The Cinematic Orchestra will be playing at the Barbican Centre on 30th June. Photo: Getty Images
JOHN OGILBY/PRIVATE COLLECTION/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
Show Hide image

Why did Britain's first road atlas take you to Aberystwyth?

Alan Ereira's new The Nine Lives of John Ogilby tells the story of a remarkable book – and its remarkable creator.

John Ogilby was a talented dancer with a bright future. Performing at White Hall Palace in February 1619, the 18-year-old leapt higher than ever to impress the watching James I and his queen. But then, crashing to the floor with a torn ligament, Ogilby never danced again. It was one of many misfortunes he overcame in a remarkable life. He went on to become a theatrical impresario, the deputy master of the revels in Ireland, a poet, a translator and a publisher of ancient classics. He even organised the public celebration of Charles II’s coronation. He was also an accomplished soldier, sailor and spy, as Alan Ereira reveals in this entertaining account of his “lives” and times.

It was a remarkable collection of lives for a man born in Scotland in 1600 and raised in poverty, the illegitimate son of an aristocrat. Yet Ogilby’s greatest achievement was to put Britain on the map when he was appointed “His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographick Printer” in 1674. His Britannia is the first detailed road atlas ever made. It opens with a map of England and Wales showing, he wrote, “all the principal roads actually measured and delineated”. It contains a hundred or so beautifully engraved plans of roads as winding ribbons sliced into sections. Rivers, forests, villages and bridges are included as landmarks.

Embracing the new science of measurement and experiment championed by the Royal Society, Ogilby’s surveyors used a wheel with a circumference of 16ft 6in and a handle that allowed it to be pushed along, as well as a clock face that recorded journey distances. With no universally agreed length of a mile, Ogilby chose 1,760 yards. Britannia led to the accurate measurement of almost 27,000 miles of tracks, paths and roads, though only about 7,500 are depicted in the atlas at one inch to the mile.

Britannia was published in September 1675. There were few who could afford it, at £5 (roughly £750 in today’s money), and it was too heavy to carry. Instead, travellers found their way around the country by following printed itineraries, with lists of the towns to pass through on any particular journey.

Britannia is not, as Ereira explains, an atlas of commercially useful roads of the day. The first journey is an odd one, from London to Aberystwyth, then a town of fewer than 100 houses and a ruined castle. Some of the roads chosen were no longer in use, while important routes such as those to Liverpool and Sheffield were left out.

But the choice of roads in Britannia begins to make sense as being those necessary for the royal mastery of the kingdom. The London to Aberystwyth road led to mines nearby. In the days of Charles I those mines contained lead and silver that helped the king pay his soldiers during the civil war. Britannia was a handbook, Ereira explains, for a conspiracy leading to a new kingdom under a Catholic king.

Ever since the start of the Reformation, Europe had been rumbling towards a religious war. When it came on the mainland it lasted 30 years and left millions dead. The subsequent Peace of Westphalia led to a new map of Europe, one of countries and defined frontiers instead of feudal territories with unclear borders and independent cities. England was not included in the peace but shared in its vision of separate sovereignty. This led to different results in different places. In France, the king became an all-powerful despot; in England it was the ruler who lost power as parliament emerged triumphant.

In 1670 Charles I’s son Charles II decided to throw off the restraints he had accepted as the price of his restored monarchy. He wanted to be the absolute master in his land. To achieve this, he entered into a secret treaty with the French king Louis XIV. Charles needed money, an army, allies to execute his plan, and detailed knowledge of the kingdom; Louis was willing to bankroll the venture as long as Charles converted to Catholicism. Britannia was a vital part of Charles’s strategy to assert military control: he would use it to help land and deploy the 6,000 French troops that Louis had promised him to assist his forces. The pact remained a well-kept secret for nearly a century, even though it soon fell apart when the French and British got bogged down in a war with the Dutch.

No matter. Ogilby died in September 1676 and in 1681 Charles II dissolved parliament for the last time during his reign. “Britannia provided an extraordinary grasp over the business and administration of the 399 communities that it identified in England and Wales, and the crown took a grip on them all,” Ereira writes.

In this way, the atlas played a significant part in enabling the king’s revenue to grow by one-third within a few years. No longer needing financial help from Louis, Charles ruled by divine right, exercising absolute power until his death in 1685. The lesson of Britannia was that whoever controls the map controls the world.

Manjit Kumar is the author of “Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality” (Icon)

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge