Tracks in Time – Tithe Maps for Leeds

Popped along to the official launch of West Yorkshire Archive Service’s (WYAS) Tracks in Time website and their new online mapping application, held at the City Museum. Earlier the prototype was leaked onto Secret Leeds to an enthusiastic response. I’d always been interested in this project, having been made aware of it when I was asked for some advice about it in the very early days of the project, by me living in Leeds, and recently with our work with the New York Public Library georectifiying and digitizing their historical map collection – so it’s really good to see it out there and completed!

Its a nice application (even if it has a bit of an old fashioned/council GIS feel to it) and works well, that used the code from a similar Cheshire Project.  The project is the culmination of some Lottery funding and although the Archive service is for the whole of the county, the project was restricted to Leeds. Gardline Infotech were contracted to do the offline GIS portion, and the folks at WYAS, with Leeds City Council and Cheshire Shared Services who put together the online version.

The system has two map panes, on the left tithe maps and on the right some more modern reference maps.

leed tithe map application

There is also  layers for land use and who owns what. Users can search for people and get these selected on the map – it’s a great resource. Searches can be exported as CSV file, which gets marks from me. Unfortunately, both these exports and the maps miss out the land value data, which had been transcribed, apparently due to a technical limitation in the software, which is a great great shame. I’d love to be able to compare the price of land as it was then to house prices now.

I think it was Stephanie? from WYAS, who was describing how it was not only people that can be searched, but corporations or other owners. A search for “railway” for example gave results for all those portions of land taken for new railways. Railway companies such as Leeds & Bradford Railway Company and North & Midland Railway are recorded, with land also taken for railway stations. On the map we see that the present day lines of the railways, before the lines were built. Its a particularly good resource for that time of the industrial revolution, and is strong in the north of england where a lot of the industry was taking place.

leeds west yorkshire tithe map

The 58 hand drawn tithe maps were scanned, georeferenced and digitized. The digitized vectors were tied together with volunteer transcribed apportionment information – over 29,000 records!

The maps are hand drawn.
The maps were scanned by the Coal Authority in Nottinghamshire. They have the largest facility in its kind in Europe. Some of the maps took up the entire table – they were over 3m long!

Tithe maps were not meant to be definative maps of boundaries or for navigation, they were never meant to be a record of rights of ways and roads. As a consequence, these maps have parts where some areas are out by 60m or more. Its also important to remember that the maps are hand drawn. There were only ever 3 copies of each made – one sent to London, one to the Diocese and one to the Parish. The Archive Service had a copy of all of the maps but sometimes only one of the were found – and some were in poor shape.

We had a chat with the representative from Gardline Infotech whose name I didn’t catch and Peter Lythe, the project manager for WYAS – and discussed some of the challenges.

Georeferencing the maps proved troublesome – in particular where maps had folds and some where the original surveys were inaccurate. The side by side panes help to disguise some of the inaccuracies where they occur. They used the historical buildings data to help pin point some of the areas on the maps, and then used OS MasterMap to get the tie points. Yes, I can hear alarm bells ringing too – by using OS Master Map, the georectified maps are derivative works of Ordnance Survey, and so you’d need to have an OS license to use them.

Gardline used Cadcorp and FME mainly to vectorize the data, and they did a good job.  I don’t think the vectors can be downloaded either – if they were the digitized land parcels vector GIS files would also be under this same license. There was never a requirement to make available these files available to the public at large for free – so nothing wrong happened, just another missed opportunity. The good news is that the transcribed data is separate from the maps and can be accessed and downloaded (without the land values field) – and the scanned source imagery would be free of OS tie-in and it wouldn’t take too much to georectify the source maps (and even remaining ones for the whole county) and vectorize them in a collaborative and open manner, as we’ve seen.

Overall it’s a plus to the city and a marvelous resource of the past for the future.


AGI North’s Where2Now Conference

Yesterday we had a great one day packed geo-conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Cheers to all the sponsors, the AGI, Rollo for organising it and GeoPlan for hosting it. Folks from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft were present.

Presented about Open Historical Maps – with the example of the collaborative georectification and digitization application being built for the New York Public Library. You can see the slides here:

Some things of note:

  • Theres nothing geoSpecial about geoSpatial.
  • GI is just bits on computers.
  • Google does testing of their cartography and maps live on users and have metrics to see how these groups interact with them.
  • Any successful geo presentation must either have a Vermeer’s Geographer painting or Snows infected pump.
  • Microsoft Bing maps are looking bling with the OS stuff.
  • Ordnance Survey looking to release toolkits in a box using OpenLayers, Geoserver etc. No vendor locks ins there!

All the presentations were filmed,
and should be able to be viewed here:
also  keep an eye on for some more slides as and when.

GI Market in the UK

It’s going down the pan, the experts say, the market is shrinking but it really is the time for LBS! At a recent meeting of the newly formed AGI North Special Interest Group, in Leeds, Andy Wells from Inforterra spoke about the Service and  Suppliers SIG, and focused on the report they commisioned on the UK Geographic Industry.

The full report by Andy Coote costs membership of the AGI + the group, but the summary was published (possibly here?). Some highlights from the talk:

  • External drivers: Recession – cost reduction. Regulation. Enterprise computing. GI awareness – “google maps paradigm”
  • Tech drivers: Web2.0, sas, oss, crowdsource, ubiqitous
  • Commercial sector: land & property: huge area. But, halt in construction work. expect 50% less income. Insurance: more use for risk management (assoc. with climate change). Transport, tied in with fuel and logistics
  • Central govt: lack of direction. defence ok for operational stuff. uncertainty re: INSPIRE & transformational govt.
  • Local govt: Market is very tough. Reoganisations. No e-govt monies left. Problem with software licenses using only a fraction of capabilities.
  • LBS: GROWTH. Pointers = teleatlast, navtaq. Future, 3D real worlds in games. Venture capitalists entering mkt.

Growth preditctions:

  • Government: 0-5 %
  • Utilities: 5-10%
  • Commercial: 10-15%
  • Consumer (LBS): >100%

The service and systems group also served to fufil some other roles, market assessment, informal networking, sharing of tendering processes, and the aim to grow geographic capacity as a whole. They are collating a vendor neutral database of case studies of the use of GI, which should be of benefit to all.

Digital Geography in a Web 2.0 World

Attended “Digital Geography in a Web 2.0 World” in Manchester on Monday, hosted by the National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS) which support from ERSC. Primarily it was showcasing relevant projects of the Centre’s “Nodes”, from Leeds, Nottingham, Bristol, Leicester, although most of the talks were from University College London (UCL). NCeSS expressed an interest with working with OpenStreetMap and other data sources, and seems to be a good initiative – somewhat designed to make palaeographers adopt some new “emerging” practices .

Talks included “The Names project: profiling for the public and by the public”, “GMapsCreator and MapTube”, “sim city for real”, “3D visualisations”, “Intelligent Agents”, “Web 2.0, Neogeography and the Virtual World”. Interesting stuff overall, even if it showed the time lag between academic research and the current state of the art.

Now for some observations:

Andrew Hudson Smith, in a talk entitled “Web 2.0, Neogeography and the Virtual World” missed the point about OpenStreetMap somewhat – talking about his iphone, and how it was cool, as it had a GPS on it – he talked about OSM, as it “tracks you around automatically” and “GPS traces are automatically uploaded, where it makes maps”. He did showcase some of the work of UCL in Second Life, particularly in visualisation of some GIS concepts, such as Schelling’s segregation model, the game of life, which was interesting.

Richard Milton talked about GMapsCreator, a nice bit of kit that “takes a shapefile containing geographic areas linked with attributes and automatically generates a working Google Maps website from the data.”  – written with GeoTools, too. He also introduced MapTube is “MapTube is a free resource for viewing, sharing, mixing and mashing maps online”. It has a nice interface, you can layer and reorder KML and google tile layers on top of each other – although in practice it seems to exist as a showcase for outputting UCL maps. For example the map they did for Radio 4 Mapping the Credit Crunch. You can only link to a map, no embedding, no GeoRSS, no sharing. Would be nice to see some kind of discovery of datasources, publishing the catalogue to make it findable by search engines etc .The issue of copyright of some layers seems to have been skirted somewhat.

Martin Clarke. SimCity for Real. Urban and regional modelling. There was a bit of discussion at the end about the intention to increase the user base of these models. The response was that “oh, models are so complex, we cant have non-experts using this”. This is for non-expert academic and policy makers, let alone members of the public! “If people made dodgy analysis about where to place a new shop, then it would disastrous!”. Same arguments about opening up spatial analysis, until Google changed things and about public data (people would misinterpret it!). Shame. If Web 2.0 is about democratising data, web 3.0 would be about democratising the analysis of data.

Asked whether these models are used for public policy – the answer was that no, councils etc. whilst getting models and bespoke modelling software – they do not use it for making decisions. Then explained that their private customers (they have a consultancy in addition to academic use) used it, as it could be proven that money could be saved. So there is a monetary incentive not to release this analysis as service. Interesting that this public research body is indirectly helping private consultancies. Perhaps in the future grants should be awarded on condition that research and tools be open to citizens?

Most interesting presentation was from Nottingham University.

The Locata game is a game to test spatial awareness – you see a map, or relief model, and given an image of a view shed, you have to work out where that “photo” could have been taken. It requires Shockwave to play, so I didn’t test it. Another application they developed which I didn’t try, but is worth a look is “geoCode” – “Simulating QR Code Location-based Services”

Second Life got a few mentions in a few of the presentations – we are now seeing the first results of the wave of research projects using the software started 1-2 years ago, when the hype was big. Furries were mentioned about being a hindrance in publishing and talking about research! But things were interesting especially regarding the potential to use it as a virtual learning environment – and for demonstrating 3D agent based models.

Have fun at the Bradford Mapping Party! 27-28 September

Bradford, the city in West Yorkshire that is quite undermapped is having an OpenStreetMap Foundation organised mapping party! 27th & 28th September, 2008. Help put this city on the map.

The intention is to help build up a community of local mappers, whilst mapping as many highways, cycleways and footpaths as possible within the A6177 ringroad.

There’s GPS units to borrow, full training given. Come along for a couple of hours or the whole weekend. Everyone welcome! Have fun!

overusing the word “open” at where2.0

Where 2.0 has started, alas, I’m not attending in person this year, but Nick Black spotted that my image is there instead, on the conference programme!

Big big thanks to who are streaming most of the sessions, plus are archiving a lot of them too if you miss them. Also, the irc backchannel is #where2008 on freenode. The current over-used and misused word is “open”. (last year it was “GeoRSS”).

For live blogging, John Mckerrell is doing exhaustive transcribes too.

Things of note so far:

google includes geosearch in it’s API, and tries to kill Mapufacture. People freak out about augmented reality enhanced police states. Dash opens their API, ESRI and google have a “partnership”. This partnership, basically uses google earth and Arc Server may give a push into good open source / Free Web Processing Servers, as more people see the value of real geographical and spatial analysis, and not wanting to pay tens of thousands for a paleo-program and a new server with ridiculous specs for the privilege.