A unique ‘mathematically accurate’ 3-D model of the Lake District which would have offered Victorian tourists their first bird’s eye view of the region is being explored as part of a University of Nottingham research project.
The work led by Dr Gary Priestnall, of the University’s School of Geography, is aiming to recapture the sense of wonder which the 15-foot square Mayson model would have inspired when it was unveiled in Keswick in 1875.
The project, which centres around what is believed to be the one last surviving, beautifully hand-painted piece of the model, as well as 140 of the original plaster moulds used to create it, has spawned a new exhibition due to open at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery on Monday February 9.
Dr Priestnall said: “Physical relief models offered visitors unprecedented views of a landscape long before it was common to plan a trip using maps or to have seen an aerial image. Mayson’s Ordnance Model of the Lake District was innovative in attempting to provide such an accurate and faithful landscape model as a visitor attraction.
“The attention to detail in the model was incredible. It is hard to imagine what an impact this would have had on visitors who would not have seen anything like it before.”
Emergence of tourism
Photographer Henry Mayson and his brother Thomas, who commissioned the model from sculptor Raffaele Monti, came up with the perfect Unique Selling Point for their attraction. Visitors flooding into the area from the newly constructed railway were told that it was the most accurate 3D representation of the landscape they were likely to see, and that it was faithful to the relatively new Ordnance Survey (OS) maps which had become de rigueur. Posters at the railway station promised visitors they would “gain a better idea of the whole of the Lake Country than is to be obtained from any other source”.
The model, which included intricate details of the landscape in a six inch to one mile scale, was housed in the Maysons’ photographic studio on Lake Road, Keswick. The building was on the main route taken by visitors from the railway station down to the popular viewpoint at Crow Park on Derwentwater. Keswick was becoming a major gateway to the Lake District for the rest of the UK during the emergence of Victorian tourism. At a time when maps and travel guides were expensive and aimed largely at wealthy travellers, the Mayson model became the first stop for people arriving from large industrial cities like Manchester and Glasgow so they could plan their itineraries and walking tours.
By the 1970s, the model and photographic studio had fallen into disrepair. Attempts to find any remaining pieces of the Mayson model have so far failed.
However, one original tile thought to be a sample produced by the sculptor, and 140 negative moulds that were used in the creation of the model were discovered recently.
Dr Priestnall has worked with Dr Katharina Lorenz
at the University’s Digital Humanities Centre
to digitally capture the moulds using a high-precision laser scanner. These laser ‘point clouds’ were then processed and digitally inverted using a Geographical Information system (GIS) within the School of Geography.
Dr Lorenz said: “3D laser scanning provides an excellent means for the quick, cost-effective, and non-harmful documentation of heritage artefacts. As the Mayson project demonstrates, it can also be a really useful technique for piecing together fragmentary evidence because it enables researchers to try out different configurations – this is crucial in the process of heritage reconstruction.“
Next, a team at the University’s Centre for 3-D Design in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment led by Sarah Thomas used the detailed digital data and the latest milling technology to produce authentic blank replicas of the some of the model’s tiles.
The new exhibition has been created by Dr Priestnall in collaboration with the museum’s Curator Sue Mackay and is being run in partnership with Ordnance Survey.
“The exhibition will be a great spectacle, much as the original model would have been,” said Sue Mackay. “The work which Gary and his team have done really breathes new life and meaning into the plaster moulds, re-interpreting them for a 21st century audience.”
Visitors will have the opportunity to see the last remaining original tile, the original Ordnance Survey maps used to create the model, and many of the posters used to advertise the model. Also, a floor map of the Lake District at the scale of the original model will place several digitally reconstructed replica pieces into context, raised above the floor map on plinths.
Bringing a masterpiece to life
Modern technology will also be used to project a series of layers of different types of maps, imagery and animation onto a larger section of replica model to give a sense of the developments in land cover mapping since Victorian times.
Bringing the story right up to date, a thrilling virtual ride over the Lakes will be provided by modern digital modelling techniques constructed from current Ordnance Survey data.
OS spokesman, Robert Andrews said: “It’s been a delight to see how our 21st century technology, maps, digital information and comprehensive aerial surveying techniques have helped bring a 19th century masterpiece to life. When Dr Gary Priestnall came to us with his ideas many months ago we were only too happy to help and now his painstaking work and dedication is becoming a reality.”
Dr Priestnall added: “Digital techniques offer many ways to present landscapes to visitors in engaging ways, and to let them explore dynamic virtual models. Something that can be difficult to convey via a computer screen, however, is the broader landscape overview, which allows people to understand the spatial relationships between places of interest. This is something that physical relief models do very well. Today we have many options for digital survey of the landscape, much of which takes place from aircraft, coupled with 3D printing and milling, so we have a great opportunity to explore the power of physical models again using digital technology to help create them. I believe that physical landscape models can play an important part in the modern visitor experience.”
The new exhibition, The Grandest Views: Models of Lakeland from Victorian Times to the Present Day, runs at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery from February 9 to May 17.
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