May 10th, 2016


Mapping Belgium in 1777 and 2016

Belgian local historians are very fortunate from the cartographical point of view: almost all of what became the entire country was mapped in 1777, by Count Joseph de Ferraris, and the results can be consulted online at the Royal Library's website. I'm contrasting below with Google Maps screenshots of the same places now.

Our village is clearly shown, though as Vieux-Heverlé rather than Oud-Heverlee, with today's street pattern almost unchanged.

You can see that there are a lot more houses now - and yet the forest seems to have encroached a bit on the agricultural land as well. The railway, sweeping from top centre to bottom left, was built in 1855, as far from 1777 as 1938 or 2094 are from today. The land across the railway from the village is now marshy with two large ponds, popular with bird-watchers. In 1777 there seem to have been no ponds, but it looks marshy.

Zooming in on our own corner of the village:

It becomes clear just how many more houses there are now than there were then. The church (large yard to left of the top centre) and the parochial hall (just south of it, on the corner) are still there now; so is the house in the middle of the top side of the central triangle (though its line runs north-south in real life rather than east-west as in Ferraris' map). There are no more than a dozen buildings in 1777, perhaps three or four times as many now.

The growth of construction is much more drastic in what is now the European quarter of Brussels, where I work.

Within the city walls, not all that much has changed; but the rolling countryside separating the city from Etterbeek has been completely covered with the 19th-century blocks and 20th and 21st-century offices of the European quarter. A couple of green patches remain, the Parc Léopold, Squares Marie-Louise and Ambiorix, and the western end of the Parc Cinquantenaire, but otherwise it's gone awfully grey. The old village core of Etterbeek has been reincarnated as Place Jourdan, where you can buy what are reputedly the best frites in Belgium (as Angela Merkel recently discovered). Google barely shows the Chausée d'Etterbeek, which is the main road visible in 1777; in real life, it has a slightly furtive feel as it dips under the Rue de la Loi and snakes past the back of the Justus Lipsius building. Some of the other old roadways remain for a wandering lunchtime sandwich-hunter to explore. But most of the ancient paths have been buried by the expansion of the city, and the more visible breach in the blocks is the railway line of 1854 (a year before it came to our village).

British readers can play this game too thanks to the National Library of Scotland digitising historical Ordnance Survey maps of England, Scotland and Wales, and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland doing the same for its archive. Others may want to check here.

30 Days of Shakespeare: Day 17 - your favourite speech, revisited

Posting yesterday, I forgot of course the one Shakespeare speech we have written in his own hand, from Sir Thomas More, never performed in his lifetime. We are in London in 1517; anti-immigrant riots are about to break out; Thomas More, the sheriff of London, succeeds where his aristocratic superiors fail and quells the mob, shaming them into submission to lawful authority. He tells the crowd that by using unlawful force against the immigrants ("strangers") they risk destroying the basis for the stability of their own society, a message that remains grimly appropriate for the present day.
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to th' ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
Here is Sir Ian McKellen delivering it.

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