The World Described

Every so often in a school you find a bequeathed work that, for some reason, has remained out of sight for decades before being rediscovered. This happened to us a few months ago when we found Herman Moll’s The World Described Atlas. It had been stored away in a cupboard, forgotten. As a geographer, I was blown away by the discovery of this amazing atlas. To see first-hand the exquisite work of Moll’s cartography, and glimpse the world Herman Moll occupied during the early 18th century has been a privilege. The atlas signified to me, how the world moves forward, and made me consider how we respond and adapt to these changes. It also made me think about our responsibility in owning such a significant and historically important piece of work.

Over these last few months I have thought long and hard about this responsibility. Selfishly, I would love to keep the Atlas in school, but I know we don’t have the facilities to look after it properly. Under our care, I know this magnificent piece of work would deteriorate, and with this thought, we met with book and map experts to consider our options. With each meeting I came back to the original sentiment behind the bequest.

When Mrs Norma Wilkinson, a Dame Alice Harpur School Geography teacher, sadly died in 1968 the Atlas was given to the school by her husband, so that her memory and love of the subject could be cherished and imparted to future generations of students. Sadly, the book is very fragile, we cannot allow the girls to touch it nor can we let light damage it, the book would continue to be locked away for few to see. In doing so, we are not being true to Norma’s memory. By putting the proceeds from today’s sale towards the Geography department, and investing in a high-tech weather station and reproducing the maps for our walls, we can remember Norma, as she would have wished, through the study of the subject she adored.

As the hammer went down this morning, although I felt a moment of sadness to think I would not to have another glimpse of those exquisite original pages, I know for Norma and the study of Geography at BGS, we have made the right decision.

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