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Autumn Newsletter 2016

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In the Summer issue I wrote about Nursery Rhymes of London Town, the collection of nonsense rhymes written by Eleanor Farjeon and illustrated by MacDonald Gill.  Centenary displays and talks are taking place at a succession of venues this autumn: Westminster Archives Centre, Burgh House in Hampstead, as well as public libraries in Kensington, Fulham and Holborn (for details see Events).

A major British Library exhibition ‘Mapping the Twentieth Century‘ opens on 4th November.  The curator, Tom Harper, believes that Max was one of ‘the two most original mapmakers of the century‘.  Two of his maps will be on display – the Great Circle Map (see article in newsletter Autumn 2015) and the original pen-and-ink artwork for the Time and Tide Map of the Atlantic Charter (1942).  In the following article Andrew Johnston describes his personal connection to the map and the historical background behind its creation.

Max Gill and the Atlantic Charter

Max Gill was my uncle, but sadly I never knew him as he died only a few months after I was born. A regular feature of my early childhood was making the exciting trip by steam train to stay with my aunt Priscilla in the remote cottage that she and Max had bought together in 1939. Priscilla would sometimes talk fondly of Max – how engaging he was, what a wicked sense of humour he had and how sad it was that I never knew him. 

 The memories of Max were obviously happy, but they were not something she chose to dwell on.  So he remained a shadowy figure, rooted in the past with not even a photograph on the wall to show me what he looked like.  

One thing that was on the wall however was a rather frayed and faded world map entitled ‘The Time and Tide Map of the Atlantic Charter’.  What I remember most is the detail, showing people of different races, exotic animals, ships, even an aeroplane.  Dominating the scene was a man stripped to the waist and wielding a sledgehammer.  Around him lay a junk-yard of military hardware, which he was busy smashing to pieces – an image guaranteed to appeal to any small boy!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.What it actually represented was the symbolic beating of swords into ploughshares in the better world that was meant to follow World War Two – the world my generation was lucky enough to be born into. Behind the man with his hammer, a ploughman and his team of horses were putting the re-forged metal to good use, tilling a peaceful landscape of open fields.

This was the bright future that Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill and America’s President Franklin Roosevelt resolved to work towards, when they met in August 1941 on board the battleship ‘Prince of Wales’ off the coast of Newfoundland.

American public opinion was firmly neutral, but still supported Britain’s lonely stand against the evils of Hitler’s Germany.  The compromise was a joint declaration of shared ideals – the Atlantic Charter – and Max was commissioned by the magazine Time and Tide to celebrate the event with one of his distinctive decorative maps.  Only four months later Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, America entered the war and Britain was no longer fighting alone.

Following my aunt’s death I inherited her cottage and only then discovered how much of Max still survived there.  For Priscilla had kept all his work, carefully rolled up and tucked away in cupboards and drawers.  Among these treasures it was a joy to discover the pen-and-ink original artwork for the Atlantic Charter map.  On its wrapping paper she had written ‘may be valuable’.  The fact that it is soon to take pride of place as a key exhibit in the British Library’s forthcoming exhibition on maps in war and peace, suggests she was probably right!

Christmas is coming … or so the shops would have us believe!    
The London Transport Museum is now selling Wonderground jig-saws, notecards and a 2017 calendar.  Also, notecards of five illustrated Nursery Rhymes are available to buy at display venues and talks.

Next Time…
During the last year I’ve found two ‘lost’ painted maps.  In the coming newsletters I’ll be sharing my discoveries with you all.

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