Worker found bundle of rags stuffed into a chimney – it turned out to be a priceless 17th century artifact

August 17, 2017 12:15 pm Last Updated: December 4, 2017 11:05 am

With the advancements in technology, a physical map is nowadays not much of a thing to be admired. But this was not the case in the 17th century. The fine maps of that time were very expensive, and only the rich and powerful had these invaluable possessions with which to flaunt their royal standards.

One such world map of late 17th century was handed in to the National Library of Scotland a few years ago. It was identified as the work of the Dutch engraver Gerald Valck. It was one of the only three copies that were known to exist.

It is widely known as the “Chimney Map.”

The rediscovery of this map was due to an interesting chain of happenings.

One day, electrician Colin Davidson was doing some routine work on a very old home, when he came across an opening that was just stuck.

“I was just getting cables through and this thing was stuffed in a hole,” Davidson said. Originally, he thought it was a bundle of rags.

But then as he pulled and tugged bits and pieces of it out, “I could see little bits of writing on it.”

He thought that perhaps this thing he found meant something to someone, so he put it in a plastic bag to put in his van and take home. As he gathered up the pieces, he saw that it was so old and worn and parts of it were flaking off and there must have been a hundred scraps.

His first thought was to sweep it up and toss it out, but then a thought stopped him: Maybe this is important to someone.

So Davidson took care to make sure he got all the pieces, and then took it home.

His wife took one look at the dirty bag and said, “Oh, you’re not taking it in here,” so he didn’t.

This was back in 1988.

Davidson had no need for the mysterious artifact, so he took it to friend and coworker Les Yuill’s house, and they kept it in Yuill’s garage inside an old paint container.

“For the next 10 years, it was in and out of the paint container, showing it to friends,” Yuill said. Then he met Brian Crossan.

“It was a bag  of rags, and I thought, ‘What on earth is this?'” said Crossan, a schoolteacher and map enthusiast.

Then the two were looking at the map and noticed it had the bearing of King William III, so they knew it was from around 1690. The two thought the map was beyond repair, but possibly of some historical significance, so Crossan brought it down to the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

“I never dreamt they would be able to restore it,” Crossan said.

But in 2016, conservationist Claire Thomson decided to take on the tremendously difficult task of restoring the map—and discovered there was much more to the story than they thought.

The map was in such a bad condition that it fell piece by piece whenever and wherever it was touched.

“I was quite horrified, I had never seen anything in such poor condition,” Thomson said. “It was so badly deteriorated.”

It turned out to be a rare wall map of the world produced by Dutch engraver Gerald Valck—with only two other copies in existence.

Library researchers determined that the map style was based off of London maps of the time, but with a distinctly Dutch perspective of the world.

“It represents a world view as seen from Amsterdam, complete with colonial ambitions. Australia, for example, appears as New Holland and the rivalry with their old enemy Spain is represented by a depiction of atrocities committed by Spanish invaders in South America,” according to NLS.

“By naming new countries and towns you sort of claim, and you say ‘right, this is mine, I’ve explored this,'” said Esther Mijers, lecturer in history at University of Edinburgh.

There are fascinating details both decorative and symbolic for the time, including the location of many sea battles (“The Dutch are very very good at forcing their way into new areas,” Mijers said), and even a goat standing on a mountain in a corner.

The restoration of the map was reaching it’s completion in December, 2016. The map was prepared for a temporary display in the National Library in March 2017.

The reason why the map was hidden and the original ownership of the map is still a mystery.

Crossan and Yuill embarked on a journey to search for the house to which the map originally belonged to in an attempt to find more clues.

“It was an absolute nightmare. To find the actual house where it came from was going to be probably impossible.” said Les about their search experience. For about 8 months, they kept on searching.

They finally found the house in December 2016, being Drumnahoy Millhouse, Sauchan.

Thomson was in awe: “I never thought we’d ever track down the house that the map came from. A lot of time that I was working on it, I imagined the house that it came from. I had a picture in my mind. I didn’t actually realize that one day I’d be actually looking at the room that the map was found in.”

Robert Paterson, the owner of the house, said: “The map of course is hugely important to my family. It was found in our house. It was found under the bedroom that my daughters used.”

Drumnahoy Millhouse was a part of the Castle Fraser Estate, before 1988. However, the house is also at a very small distance from Cluny Castle.

Cosmo Linzee Gordon, who belongs to the Gordons of Cluny, the possessors of the Cluny castle, said when he first heard of the discovery, “it was hugely exciting.”

He also stated the possibility that the Drumnahoy Millhouse may had been a part of the Cluny estate, as the estate was very huge and the house containing the map was very much close, “less than a stone’s throw away”, according to him.

The map also could have been displayed at the Castle Fraser. Andrew Fraser was the 4th Laird when the map was made. But according to Bryce Reid, a NTS guide, the map may not have belonged to Andrew Fraser either. Bryce states that Andrew Fraser inherited the estate when it was crippled by debt. So it would have been least possible for him to buy such expensive masterpiece when being in a dire debt.

Also, there is a chance that Eliza Fraser, the 5th Laird, may had owned the map.

In March 2017, the Chimney Map was displayed after its recovery. While the map was not completely restored, Thomson and team were able to make it very close to the map’s original design.

The display had been successful, and a temporary display was also done at Castle Fraser in June 2017.

With the expertise of the NLS team and Claire Thomson, the ‘Chimney Map’ is now available to the world to see. While it still holds some unsolved mysteries, it is a legacy to bewilder at.

Watch the beautiful restoration process below: