Digital Reconstruction and Display of Landscape Models: Reviving Mayson’s Ordnance Model of 1875


Gary Priestnall (lead, Geography, UoN), Mike Heffernan (Geography, UoN), Katharina Lorenz (Classics, UoN), Keswick Museum (Catherine Stead, Curator), Ordnance Survey (Glen Hart, Head of Research)

Overview of the Project :

This project aims to use a range of digital technologies to explore the role of maps and landscape models in the nineteenth century tourist industry. The specific case study is a physical model of the English Lake District created by Henry Mayson in 1875 which gave tourists to Keswick, Cumbria an unprecedented view of the landscape they were about to explore. Huge efforts went into creating this model which faithfully represented the contours and other details of the Ordnance Survey mapping which had recently been surveyed but which were not at that time available to the public in any form. The model is believed to have been displayed until the 1960s but all that now remains are some mouldings created ‘for future use’, found in storage in 2012. These moulds are being captured using laser-scanning technology in order to digitally reconstruct the scale and detail of the original model and create an exhibit for Keswick Museum which aims to explore and celebrate the original Victorian visitor experience whilst utilising contemporary digital display technologies.


may1Physical landscape models are often used in public settings to help convey a sense of spatial context for visitors, using geographical features such as mountains, lakes, buildings and roads to provide a frame of reference. Before computer-based maps or even paper-based maps were available to tourists visiting an area these models provided unique and privileged views, and were displayed in prominent locations. One such model was that created by photographer Henry Mayson in Keswick, Cumbria in 1875, which was larger and more detailed than other models displayed at that time and which became a popular tourist attraction long before people would have had access to maps of the area before they visited. The poster advertising the exhibit  read “The model has been constructed mathematically from the Ordnance Survey… Parties visiting this model will see the correct topography of the Lake District, and can thereby readily plan either long or short excursions as time will permit. They will also gain a better idea of the whole of the Lake Country than is to be obtained from any other source”.

Aims of the Project:

We aim to discover more detail about the processes used by
Mayson and sculptor Raffaelle Monti to create the model and the moulds, and about the
way it was displayed to the public. The moulds themselves are bulky and difficult to
interpret so a major aim of the project is to re-present this archive in the form of a public exhibit to illustrate all aspects of the model’s creation and public display, along with examples of present day mapping and model production supported by the Ordnance Survey. In addition to designing a display which can convey the scale of the original model we will digitally reconstruct parts of the model and through vertical projection show how they correspond to the original Ordnance Survey mapping and to modern geographic representations.

Research challenges:

The motivation for this project is in part fed by a recent interest in the development of the Projection Augmented Relief Model (PARM) technique, where physical landscape models are used as part of a public display, enhanced by digital map data and imagery projected down onto the model’s surface. The context of public display, the fidelity of the models, and the notion that they provide a richer sense of spatial context than maps or even interactive virtual globes, all contributed to seeing great relevance in the Mayson model. In addition the historical context of its role in presenting visitors with a detailed view of the landscape, before Ordnance Survey mapping saw popular recreational use, suggested a project which combined the interests of Geographical Information Science with the Digital Humanities. Previous discussions between Priestnall and Lorenz beginning through the Pervasive Media Group at the University of Nottingham had identified a common interest in the role of spatiality as a key element of developing cultural understandings in both researchers and more general audiences, and so combined with the development of 3D scanning capabilities within the Digital Humanities Centre led by Lorenz, a clear way forward emerged. The key research and methodological challenges are seen as:

  • How can this combination of 3D scanning, 3D prototyping and digital mapping be used to explore the role of spatial context in assisting with the process of interpretation?
  • What can we learn about the role of maps and models in the nineteenth century through this case study?
  • How can we develop a work flow to digitally capture the necessary fidelity of the terrain moulds such that the
  • important geographic information is preserved?
  • Can we reference the laser-scanned data to contemporary multi-dimensional geographic data?
  • How can modern 3D prototyping techniques be used to display recreations of the original model but also to exploit the affordances of digital projection to texture the model with not only the original ‘natural’ colours used on the 1875 model but also the First Series Ordnance Survey mapping that was used to create the model, along with modern Ordnance Survey datasets including aerial photography and digital map products – to engage people in the changing practices of map making and map use.
  • How can we configure an exhibit to engage people in the processes involved in creating the original model when it cannot be displayed in its entirety?
  • Using laser-scanning we will digitally capture each of the remaining moulds and produce a selection of ‘positive’ models using 3D prototyping techniques (below). Each ‘point cloud’ from the scanner can be digitally flipped, cropped and then referenced to the present day coordinate system. We intend to compare the level of detail and style of portrayal to modern day digital product such as ‘Terrain 5’, a digital terrain model from the Ordnance Survey.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.29.17

Project Outcomes Intended outcomes include:

  • A complete digital record of the model moulds (Dig
  • Digital point clouds, separate reconstructed digital terrain surfaces, photographs, and codification scheme on the physical artefacts themselves).
  • An exhibit describing the process, featuring original moulds, historical documentation, touch screen-based mixed-media descriptions of the reconstruction process, to-scale 3D prototype display of the terrain derived from the featured mould enhanced with projection to show the original Ordnance Survey map, the original land cover as would have been painted on the model, but also map and image layers derived from contemporary Ordnance Survey data. Research paper for Digital Humanities conference (for example DHC 2014, Lausanne, Switzerland) or journal (for example Int. Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing).
  • Related specifically to the Mayson model we will explore a more ambitious re-display of a full size model derived from the data captured during the scanning procedure, using the exhibit produced here as a pilot to demonstrate the process. In addition to the Keswick Museum and the Ordnance Survey this will involve liaison with the Cumbria Museums Consortium (in particular the Director Jane Gibson) and Visit Cumbria (contact: Sandra Wood).
  • A more general proposal for external funding to explore the use of 3D scanning, 3D prototyping and digital map technologies for promoting understanding and alternative interpretations.

Along with illustrating the process of digitally reconstructing parts of the model, we will integrate what remaining artefacts have been found relating to the Mayson model (see figure below, left and centre) which include some of the original Ordnance Survey map sheets, a positive painted piece of model presumed to have been made as an example of what could be done, and many posters used to advertise the model at the railway station, in hotels and other public venues. Finally various techniques for conveying the scale of the original model will be explored from graphical mock-ups (below right) to situated Augmented Reality displays and projection installations.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.29.08
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About Time/Image

TIME/IMAGE is a heritage and collections consultancy. We predominantly work to enhance historical and cultural collections through research, digitisation, curation, creative promotion, and improved online presence. We offer a diverse range of services to help enable access, encourage exploration, and provoke engagement. We’re always happy to hear about new collections and projects, so if you’d like to have a chat, please get in touch.

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