The Bartholomew Archive
Family and firm
By the late 19th century, Edinburgh was established as the centre of Scotland's flourishing publishing industry. The family firm John Bartholomew & Son Ltd can take some credit for this.
The business started small, but it was soon to become one of finest publishers of maps and atlases in the world.
On this page:
- Buildings and owners
- George Bartholomew
- John Bartholomew senior
- John Bartholomew junior
- John George Bartholomew
- John Ian Bartholomew
- John C, Peter H and Robert G Bartholomew
- Useful links
Buildings and owners
The Bartholomew mapmaking firm was located in several parts of Edinburgh over the years. In 1859 it was an engraving and lithographic establishment based on North Bridge. The firm moved to Brown Square in 1869, and then to Chambers Street in 1876. By 1889 the company was also a printing firm, and moved to a bigger building on Park Road. In 1911 the Bartholomews moved their offices to even larger premises on Duncan Street.
The firm became a private limited company – John Bartholomew and Son Ltd – in 1919. It remained a family business, passing from son to son, until 1980 when Reader's Digest bought out the firm. The News International Corporation bought the company in 1985 and the family's formal association with the business ended in 1987.
Since 1989 the business has been owned by HarperCollins Publishers.
George Bartholomew (1784-1871) was the first of the Bartholomew engravers.
At the age of 13 he started an apprenticeship with Daniel Lizars in Edinburgh. Bartholomew then worked for Lizars as a general engraver.
George's major works as a map engraver include his contribution to Lothian's plan of Edinburgh (1825) and plans of Leith for Wood's Town Atlas (1828).
John Bartholomew senior
John Bartholomew (1805-1861) followed in his father's footsteps as an engraver. He completed his apprenticeship with William H Lizars in 1826. He then did contract work for Lizars and other major publishers like A & C Black, Blackwood, Collins and W & A K Johnston.
John senior engraved:
- The 1832 GPO Directory Plan of Edinburgh
- Maps for Lizars Edinburgh General Atlas (1835)
- Maps for Black's General Atlas (1846).
John Bartholomew junior
The second John Bartholomew (1831-1893) trained with his father. He then completed a further two years in London under German cartographer August Petermann. On his return to Edinburgh he established a separate office at North Bridge. Soon after, he bought steam presses and expanded from contract engraving into lithography and printing.
In the early years John junior did a lot of jobbing printing. He gradually began to specialise in map production and initiate his own map and atlas printing ventures. John Bartholomew was the first person to use layer-colouring to indicate land heights and sea depths in Baddeley's 'Guide to the Lake District'. He also prepared maps for Black's 'Tourist Map of Scotland' and Fullarton's 'Royal Illustrated Atlas'.
John George Bartholomew
John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) entered his father’s office aged 17 and succeeded him in 1888. The firm then went into partnership with publisher Thomas Nelson, moved into much larger premises and greatly expanded its operations.
John George had ambition and vision, particularly with regard to geography. Hoping to create 'a site for the promotion of national geographic knowledge', he renamed both firm and building 'The Edinburgh Geographical Institute'. Bartholomew helped to establish the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1884). He also supported Patrick Geddes' proposal for a National Institute of Geography (1902) and the teaching of geography at Edinburgh University (1909).
Major mapping initiatives in the firm at this time included:
- The 'Survey Atlas of Scotland' (1895)
- Two volumes of the 'Physical Atlas' – 'Meteorology' (1899) and 'Zoogeography' (1911)
- The Geological Map of Scotland
John George further developed his father's contour layer-colouring technique in the Reduced Ordnance (Half-Inch) map series for Scotland, England and Wales. He also negotiated for the 'Times Atlas of the World' – the Bartholomew firm's major production and its most famous title.
The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) awarded John George Bartholomew the RGS Victoria Medal in 1905. Edinburgh University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws in 1909 in recognition of 'his pre-eminence as a cartographer and of his signal services to geographical science'. In 1910 Bartholomew received the honour of Geographer and Cartographer to the King for Scotland, a title held by the firm until 1962.
John (Ian) Bartholomew
After studying cartography in Leipzig, Paris and Edinburgh, John (Ian) Bartholomew (1890-1962) served with distinction in France and Belgium during the First World War. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1915.
John became manager of the business on the death of his father. He was responsible for completing 'The Times Survey Atlas of the World' in 1922. Other major atlases and gazetteers followed. Between 1955 and 1960, John (Ian) published the five-volume 'mid-century edition' of 'The Times Atlas of the World'.
John Bartholomew adopted new map projections designed to suit new mapping needs (e.g. maps for air travel). He also strongly supported the principles and guidelines for consistent place names put forward by the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names. He embraced new technology and marketing opportunities. It was at this time that the name Bartholomew truly became, as its advertising declared, 'synonymous with maps'.
After his death, John's family donated a collection of his atlases to the National Library of Scotland. Read more about the John Bartholomew Collection.
John C, Peter H and Robert G Bartholomew
John C Bartholomew (1923-2008) studied geography at Edinburgh University. He then worked as an apprentice cartographer under his father. In 1951 he succeeded his father as Director of the Bartholomew firm. His brothers Peter (1924-1987) and Robert (1927-) became Chairman and Production Manager.
The Bartholomew brothers produced the five-volume 'Times Atlas' and its succeeding 'Comprehensive' and 'Concise' editions. They also published the 1:1 million National Series developed from the earlier Half-inch 'Reduced Ordnance Survey' series. In the 1970s they took on many new ventures, including the 'Bartholomew Family Atlas of the World' (1983).
Like his father and grandfather, John C Bartholomew was active in the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and interested in promoting the teaching of geography. He had dealings with the Bartholomew business under Readers Digest and HarperCollins management. He was also involved in commercial and private map projects until shortly before his death.
John C's personal legacies include:
- The indicators for Berwick Law summit in North Berwick and the Braid Hills in Edinburgh
- The guide plan of Edinburgh Zoo.
Websites with more information about the Bartholomew family and firm:
- Bartholomew: a Scottish Family Heritage
- Collins Bartholomew
- David Archer Maps – deals in old Bartholomew maps
- Wikipedia – 'John Bartholomew and Son' entry
There is also a good entry for Bartholomew in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. You can use this digital resource within the National Library of Scotland if you have a reader's ticket.
For more maps-related sites, see the NLS Map Collections links page.
Top of page