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This map is fascinating. Really. It reminds me of something I could’ve seen in a geography textbook my mum kept from her Highers. See here for a bigger size. There’s something to be said about older design from before computers were so widespread. There are certain rules that today’s maps follow that can sometimes make them appear bland, robotic, or uninspired. By means of contrasts this map has:

  • a bold, contrasting and colourful palette;
  • thick line-work rather than the precise thin lines you see today;
  • generosity in non-informative features (there are decorative features on the map that do not serve a purpose)

But enough about design, let’s get on to the really cool stuff about this map.

Energy

The first thing to note is that there isn’t really any mention of North Sea oil and gas. We’re all aware that Britain didn’t have a nuclear focus until after the second world war, but perhaps oil and gas history is a bit less well-known. At the time gas in Britain was created with coal, which is one reason behind the prominence of coal reflected in the map above. I wrote something about this gas from coal a while back, which is typically called ‘town gas’ if you’re looking to learn about that.

So how did we make the jump to producing our own gas, and actually looking for that gas miles out into open sea? Well, the first thing was high demand. In fact, demand was so high that in 1959 Shell trialled the first super-cooled and shipped gas (read: LNG) from the Gulf of Mexico to Britain. By 1964 Britain was regularly shipping in LNG from the more local Algeria.

Yet LNG was bought at a premium, and post-world war/early Cold War, independence and energy security were important. In the same year (1959) that Shell sent the first super-cooled gas to Britain, The Dutch discovered a large gas field in the North of their country. This gave the British a rationale to start searching for gas in their own back yard, starting in 1962. In 1967 the discovery of both oil and associated gas allowed the UK to switch from manufactured and imported gas, to local, natural gas.

What I love about this map is that it tells part of that story. Coal had already become largely obsolete in transportation, but this map signals that it still played a strong role as one of our domestic resources, that is only coming to an end now – with the government’s phaseout of coal and some market factors on top of that. I’d love to see an updated version of this map, with a full set of wind, solar, gas, hydro, geothermal, and biomass resources for energy on show.

One thought on “Great Britain: her natural & industrial resources (circa 1942)

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