The Map That Came To Life: A Memento from Childhood
Ask a dozen adults to each name a treasured item from childhood and the chances are you’ll hear a dozen different answers. Every child finds wonder in something that is unique to them. For me, that treasured item is a picture story book titled The Map That Came To Life, originally published in 1948 by the Oxford University Press.
This richly illustrated and somewhat romanticised view of the post-war British countryside tells the story of two children, John and Joanna, who, whilst holidaying at their Uncle and Aunt’s farm, ask permission to visit a country fair in the nearby town of Dumbleford.
“Of course you may go,” said Uncle George. “It’s only a few miles from Two Tree Farm. I suggest you start out early and walk there. And you must take your lunch with you. It is a very interesting walk. I’ll show you.”
He opened a drawer under the bookcase and brought out a map – an Ordnance Survey map. 1 He opened it and laid it on the carpet. The children knelt beside it while Uncle George pointed out first Two Tree Farm, then the little town of Dumbleford, and finally the common nearby – Coldblow Common – where the fair was to be held. He showed them the roads, the lanes and the field and woodland paths they would walk along to get to the fairground.
With Uncle George’s help, John and Joanna learn how to relate the map’s legend to features in the surrounding landscape. Then, with the appropriately named ‘Rover’ the farm dog at their side, they plan their grand day out.
We’ll rejoin John, Joanna and the appropriately named dog once they’ve finalised their route, but first let’s meet the two friends who created The Map That Came To Life.
The Names Behind the Book
Henry ‘Harry’ James Deverson (1908-1972) was born in Bromley, Kent (South-east England). Whilst publicly available information about his youth is scant, it is known that he was raised in Sidcup, Kent and had a younger sister named Mona. Henry developed an early interest in writing and photography, which would later become the basis for a career in photojournalism. He’s best remembered as the art editor for Picture Post, 2 published by Hulton Press 3 from 1938 to 1957. 1938 was also the year that he married; a union that produced two daughters, one of whom is the (now retired) journalist and writer, Jane Deverson – co-author of the 1965 book Generation X. 4
The professional yet amiable ‘Dev’, as he was known to colleagues, had a knack for talent spotting. He mentored many an up-and-coming photographer, 5 including the young Lord Snowdon 6 – socialite, portraitist and one-time brother-in-law to Queen Elizabeth II.
Deverson’s illustrator for The Map That Came To Life was Ronald George Lampitt (1906-1988). 7 Born and raised in Worcestershire, the naturally talented Ronald taught himself to paint and draw, later earning a place at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London. However, his father refused to let him attend, advising his son to instead ‘get a proper job’. Ignoring that advice, Lampitt focused on making a living as a landscape painter and illustrator – and by the 1930s he was a successful commercial artist, designing some of the most memorable railway poster art of that decade.
Deverson and Lampitt’s paths crossed at some point during this time, probably when Lampitt was working with the Artists Partners Agency in London, and they quickly became firm friends. Coincidentally, the same year Deverson married, Lampitt married Mona Deverson. The newly-weds established a home in Kent, where they would raise two daughters.
With the outbreak of World War II, Deverson joined the Ministry of Information, where he effectively became the chief censor for its photographic division. Lampitt’s war service was spent with RAF Intelligence. He created meticulous, hand-drawn maps for allied bomber crews, based on aerial reconnaissance photographs. It was this period of his life that started Lampitt’s fascination with aerial views, which he would later use to great effect in The Map That Came To Life.
In the latter post-war years, Deverson became Picture Editor for The Sunday Times (then in London’s Fleet Street), later moving on to assume the position of Managing Editor at Wolfe Publishing. He also wrote the storyline for the cartoon strip Joanna of Bitter Creek, which appeared in the children’s newspaper, Junior Express 8(published by The Express newspaper group in 1955) and in 1957 he contributed to the children’s annual Swift. 9
Lampitt returned to commercial illustration and with help from Deverson’s wide range of contacts, found steady employment contributing cover art for various publications, including the patriotic John Bull magazine, 10the British edition of Reader’s Digest and the children’s educational magazine, Look and Learn. 11 He also contributed designs for Medici Cards, the Whitbread calendar; and illustrated The Story Of Lassie for the British tabloid comic Mickey Mouse Weekly, 12 published by Odhams Press. 13
Twelve years after The Map That Came To Life appeared, the pair again combined their talents to create a variety of children’s titles. These included the historical storybooks Mainly For Children (1960-1962, published by The Sunday Times), The Open Road (1962, a follow-up to The Map That Came To Life) and The Story of Bread (1964), published in partnership with the industrial giant, Rank Hovis McDougall. The latter half of the ’60s and early 1970s saw Lampitt creating both cover art and illustrations for titles in the Ladybird 14 range of children’s books. Both the books and Lampitt’s Ladybird artworks are now highly valued by specialist collectors.
Sadly, Deverson died at the relatively young age of 63, on the 18th of September 1972. His obituary in The Times remembered him as ‘A warm and kind person, interested in everyone he met. He won the affection of all who knew him and he will be greatly missed.’ 15 Lampitt outlived his brother-in-law by some sixteen years, dying in October of 1988, at the age of 82; after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. A private, family man with a small but select circle of friends, he had never actively sought the limelight, so it’s ironic that Lampitt’s name has become the better known of the pair. Today, prints of Lampitt’s illustrations, railway posters and landscapes are available online, whereas Deverson’s name seems to have been relegated to little more than a footnote in the annals of British print media. However, the partnership of Deverson and Lampitt will forever be associated with educational children’s books, which encouraged generations of inquisitive young minds to explore their world with open eyes and a sense of adventure. Even if nothing else, that’s a fine legacy to leave.
The period in which The Map That Came To Life appeared was one of austerity; a time of ‘Make Do And Mend’ 16 and supplementing still rationed food supplies 17 with home-grown produce. As for television, regular programmes had resumed in 1946, 18 but other than the Sunday afternoon Children’s Hour, 19 the BBC had little to offer young audiences. That small, flickering screen was yet to make any significant impact on those who, for the large part, still played outdoors and made their own entertainment. Deverson and Lampitt tapped into this vein of healthy, youthful exuberance by offering their readers an imaginative, immersive experience (John and Joanna’s day out), whilst subtly teaching a new skill. By following the story and, like John and Joanna, learning to relate the map’s legend to features in their own surrounding landscape, children gained a sense of empowerment from the practical and immediately applicable knowledge they acquired.
Interestingly, this empowerment of the youngster was recently commented upon, from a slightly different perspective, by a visitor to the diaphania blogspot. He had once used images from The Map That Came To Life to illustrate a talk about the visual narrative of post-war Britain.
A colleague at the time…was from Slovenia…once part of soft-communist Yugoslavia. When she saw these pictures of John and Joanna…she confirmed immediately my identification of them not as rural middle-class kids…but as Young Pioneers, striding with confidence and optimism into the future. Only the red neckerchiefs are missing. 20
We can only wonder what Deverson and Lampitt might have made of this interpretation – but if a simple, home-spun children’s story can manage to cross an ideological divide, then so much the better. If there’s one wish all loving parents have for their children, it must surely be to see them stride with confidence and optimism into the future.
The Journey to Dumbleford
With a packed lunch made by Aunt Mary, our intrepid ‘Young Pioneers’, plus Rover, set off down the lane from Two Tree Farm, passing Pedro (Uncle George’s prized bull) and a field of turnips. The first feature they recognise from the map is the duck pond on the road to the hamlet of Blegdon, from where a signpost indicates the road to Dumbleford. John and Joanna choose the scenic route instead and climb over a stile to follow a public right of way that leads to Badger’s Common.
Shortly, they happen upon a gipsy encampment where bare-footed children play, smiling at John and Joanna as they pass by. John spots a small, yellow bird, which he misidentifies as a canary, but Joanna politely corrects him, identifying the bird as a yellowhammer – ‘one of the finch family, which looks quite like a canary at first glance.’ John adds the name to his notebook. The pair stop briefly to check the map again, then it’s on to their next port of call – the village of Greenleigh.
Here, the small, steepled church catches their attention and they meet the verger. Whilst Rover obediently waits outside, the verger conducts a guided tour, pointing out, amongst other historic features, a beautifully carved Jacobean pulpit and choir stalls. He also informs them that the village hall was once a tithe barn. ‘Tithe is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tenth part, and it was this proportion of his produce that a farmer made over towards the upkeep of the church,’ Deverson’s text explains. A brief visit to the village shop follows, for lemonade – and water for Rover – then onwards, pass the grandly appointed Greenleigh Manor and the war memorial, from where the map directs the trio towards a blacksmith’s forge and a derelict windmill.
To the right of the windmill their path runs alongside a coppice of fir trees, where a cock pheasant scurries for cover at the children’s approach. A little further on and they come in sight of a narrow river. “Its name is Meander…But it’s not meandering now – it’s running quite fast!” jests Joanna. According to the map, there’s a ferry crossing – marked with an ‘F’ to indicate foot passengers only. As if by magic, the ferryman appears, pulling a flat-bottomed boat across the river by means of a thick wire passing through two looped, upright iron supports on one side of the boat. Once across the Meander, and having thanked the ferryman, John and Joanna check the map once more, then make their way to a nearby lake, where they enjoy Aunt Mary’s packed lunch. She’s even remembered to include Rover’s favourite biscuits.
Although Lampitt’s map is an accurate, objective representation of the route John and Joanna take to Dumbleford, his accompanying illustrations are subjective, insofar as they portray a landscape untouched by the recent war. There are no remains of downed enemy aircraft in the fields and no abandoned defence installations hidden amongst the leafy lanes and hedgerows. Lampitt instead paints an idyllic vision of the British countryside, albeit one that is undoubtedly influenced in part by his own childhood. He uses vibrant colours and soft contours to create lush green meadows and marshlands, fields of golden haystacks and sky-blue lakes and rivers. This is a Britain that, in reality, never was – but it’s still rather beautiful in its innocence and simplicity.
Similarly, Deverson’s text ambles along at a gentle pace, exuding old world charm. Through John and Joanna’s interactions with those they meet along the way, Deverson subtly extols the virtues of working the land, politeness and respect for one’s elders, and the preservation of Britain’s cultural and historical heritage. Even the gipsies make camp without being hindered by draconian by-laws. Deverson also manages to weave a few history lessons into his narrative; and the references to Church architecture and bird-watching reflect Lampitt’s interests, foreshadowing his later artwork for Ladybird books.
The only dramatic event that threatens to spoil an otherwise perfect day is a fire in Dingle’s wood, which John bravely fights with a yew branch whilst Joanna fetches extra help to tackle the blaze. Afterwards, Tim, one of Mr Dingle’s farmhands, says the fire was probably caused by a carelessly discarded match. “I don’t hold with anyone lighting fires in woods at all…it’s far too dangerous.” As a reward for their quick thinking and resourcefulness, Mrs Dingle treats John and Joanna to a large bowl of loganberries and cream – these children are certainly well fed!
A little later and John and Joanna crest a hill, where they stop again – to enjoy the sight of a steam train racing across a viaduct. From there they descend into the valley, passing grazing sheep, a mill race and a reservoir that supplies the town of Dumbleford. After discovering two small, lost children and returning them to their parents, our intrepid trio pass through the village of East Stanton, where, close-by, they briefly investigate three Bronze Age tumuli.
Next, they come upon a ruined abbey, once a monastery and learn that the monks used to stock a nearby pond with fish, to provide themselves with food, and a little recreational fishing. Crossing a small, humped-back bridge, John and Joanna are suddenly startled by the roar of an aeroplane engine. To the left is Dumbleford Airfield and John is delighted to spot ‘the new De Havilland Dove…a Percival Proctor and an Auster.’ His bird-watching skills may be a little rusty, but the boy certainly knows his aircraft! Opposite the airfield a road to the right leads to Coldblow Common and as the children walk along it, in the distance they hear fairground music. Even Rover is excited!
It’s been a long day for our young pioneers, but Uncle George is patiently waiting for them in his pony and trap on the far side of the fairground. On the return journey to Two Tree Farm (this time by road), John and Joanna relate all that’s happened to them – including the Dingle’s wood fire and rescuing the lost children of Hollyhill.
Uncle George turned and smiled at Joanna and said: “So now you really know what I mean when I talked about the map coming to life, don’t you?”
Joanna smiled back at him. “Yes,” she said. “And I hope we shall be able to make it come to life many more times during this holiday.”
“And so do I,” said John.
And so they did.
The Open Road
In the 1962 follow-up to The Map That Came To Life, John and Joanna are once again holidaying with their Aunt and Uncle. Lampitt’s illustrations have lost none of their charm, but now the adventurous day out includes Uncle George (fashionably nicknamed ‘Ug’ by his niece and nephew) and his shiny red, Hillman Minx motorcar. This time their destination is not a local fairground, but the seaside.
There’s no negative connotation to be drawn from the increased road traffic, busy towns and multi-storey car parks, or the recently opened M1 motorway. Indeed John and Joanna are ‘thrilled at their first sight of the broad, spacious carriageways with their three traffic lanes.’ This is a land in harmony with tarmac and concrete. There’s even a touch of product placement for the British motor industry. As Ug’s Minx passes a car-transporter loaded with brand new Minis, Deverson’s text reads: ‘Would they soon be bowling along the sweeping highways of North America or weaving their busy way under African skies…?’ How prophetic those words would soon prove to be.
Putting aside the floating timeline (the teenage John and Joanna should be in their late 20s), Deverson and Lampitt strive to faithfully reproduce the rapidly changing landscape of 1960s Britain, although the story’s sub-plot is no longer about learning how to read a map. Instead it’s promoting the motor car as a means to explore beyond the limitations of a simple country walk. Whereas John and Joanna had previously taken the best part of a day to walk the four miles to Dumbleford fair – admittedly with a few breaks and some drama along the way – in The Open Road that same distance is covered in a matter of minutes by car. “There are nearly nine million motor vehicles of all kinds on the road,” Uncle George proudly tells John as they speed along the M1. The motor car is now King and the world is shrinking as the children grow. This is not intended as a criticism of The Open Road, merely an observation. Both books are of their time and should be viewed with this in mind. However, some of the innocence found in The Map That Came To Life has inevitably been lost in its follow-up, and the past has indeed become a different country.
The Story Comes Full Circle
As we grow and mature our tastes and interests change. We put away those childish things and, more often than not, forget them. Sometimes it takes decades to truly appreciate what we once had, but if we’re very lucky, those simple joys from childhood can be rediscovered and enjoyed once more.
Recently my, now old and battered, copy of The Map That Came To life came into my possession once more. Over the past forty-or-so years it had journeyed through the extended family, from one branch to another, until it was uncovered – quite by chance – by a cousin, at the bottom of a packing crate, under a heap of discarded toys. The dust cover had long since disappeared, the spine was broken and several pages were mottled, ripped and detached. The Map That Came To Life had clearly suffered under careless hands, so now it deserves to retire with dignity.
Whilst examining the damage, I was surprised to discover the book was a first edition. An internet search revealed that in 2018 a near-mint condition first edition had sold at auction for £900 (approx 1001 Euros or US$1127). Of course it’s doubtful that mine would reach even a ‘tithe’ of that amount on the open market, but the true value of a cherished childhood memory can never be measured by mere money. The touch and smell of those old, crackling pages transported me back in time – to a tousle-haired boy in shorts, with freckles, muddy knees and a penchant for climbing trees. The Map That Came To Life had to be saved.
The cost of a full restoration is presently beyond my means. So the book has been carefully wrapped and stored, well away from light and the elements, and, in the meantime, an alternative plan has been hatched. With very generous help from The Visual Telling of Stories website, 21 good quality scans of a 1954 edition have been obtained. They’ll require a little digital clean-up to remove a few marks and tidy the edges, but once printed and bound, a facsimile of the original will join the many other treasured books on my shelves. I’m tempted to title it: The Map That Came Back To Life.
- Ordnance Survey (OS) is the official UK Map-making agency. See: https://ordnancesurvey.co.uk ↩
- http://www.lacrossehistory.org/literature/cached/AlltheBest.pdf ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Deverson, Jane. Generation X. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26339959 ↩
- Deverson, Harry. Talking About Photographers: Bert Hardy. Camera World. Second article. Two installments: October (Pages 184-187) and November (Pages 222-224) 1956. ↩
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Armstrong-Jones,_1st_Earl_of_Snowdon ↩
- https://ladybirdflyawayhome.com/ronald-lampitt/ Also see: https://bearalley.blogspot.com/2010/02/ronald-lampitt.html ↩
- BLIMEY! The Blog of British Comics. Junior Express. http://lewstringer.blogspot.com/2015/06/junior-express.html ↩
- http://comiczine-fa.com/features/the-best-of-british-swift ↩
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bull_(magazine) ↩
- https://www.lookandlearn.com/history/Look-and-Learn-History.pdf ↩
- International Companion Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature. Routledge. p. 245. ISBN 978-1-134-87993-9. ↩
- http://www.history-pieces.co.uk/Docs/Odhams.pdf ↩
- https://www.vintageladybird.com/ See also:http://www.ladybird-books.com/ ↩
- The Times. Obituaries. 21st September 1972. No direct URL link available. ↩
- https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war ↩
- https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-rationing-in-the-second-world-war. Also see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9wNJ78S2GY ↩
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/birth-of-tv/resurrection-1946 ↩
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/research/programming/children-and-the-bbc ↩
- http://diaphania.blogspirit.com/archive/2008/10/09/lampitt-s-living-maps.html See comment made by Paul Stiff. 3rd of November 2008. ↩
- http://www.fulltable.com/vts/aoi/l/lampitt/map.htm ↩
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