Visit the Heart of Kent
- Credit: Archant
In our seventh visit to the centre of our county in International Map Year, we look at a little-known but vast Soviet Union global mapping programme so detailed it included Lenham, the closest village to the heart of Kent
In July 1964, at the height of the Cold War, a detailed and closely guarded map was running off of the production line at a Soviet military map factory in Moscow. It doesn’t show key battle grounds in Vietnam or secret weapons facilities in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead, near to the centre of the map, lies the village of Lenham – close to the heart of Kent
Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that Lenham was a prime Soviet target in the 1960s; rather the map in question is just a tiny part of a vast global mapping programme undertaken by the military of the Soviet Union from the end of the Second World War until the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. The maps range from topographic maps of large areas, at scales between 1:1,000,000 and 1:50,000, to highly detailed plans of thousands of towns and cities around the world at 1:10,000 and 1:25,000.
Produced using the same specification across the world, this ambitious mapping project far exceeds any attempts by ‘the west’ to map the world before or since but, as the maps were produced in secrecy, the true of extent of the project has only begun to emerge fairly recently.
The Heart of Kent is included on a 1:100,000 map with Maidstone at its top-left hand corner and Dymchurch in the bottom right. Drawn up in the days before the M20 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the map shows a rural area, dotted with orchards, fields and tiny hamlets.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the map is its use of Cyrillic script. The names of Kent’s towns, villages, rivers and woods are all spelt out phonetically in the Russian alphabet. Although it is strange to see familiar places shown in such an unfamiliar way, this practice ensured that all place names could be correctly pronounced by a Russian speaker using the map. The label ‘?????’ (Lenem) thus avoids any confusion which might be caused by the silent ‘h’ in Lenham, a letter which has a throaty, guttural sound in Russian.
Although various local landmarks are shown on the map, with a large cross marking St Mary’s Church in the centre of the village, it is clear across the whole of the Soviet mapping programme that the priorities of the map-makers were features of strategic or economic importance.
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Particular attention is given to the railway line which runs to the south of the village. Not only is the location of the line and its stations marked, but an incredible amount of additional detail is also included. The Soviet cartographers note that Lenham station has one building, to the north of the line. They also note that there are two sets of tracks, both electrified.
The locations of cuttings and embankments are also not overlooked, nor the contours and elevation information across the map. Just north of the railway line a small corn mill is shown; the area’s predominantly agricultural economy was also deemed worthy of inclusion.
Attention has also been paid to the way in which the name of the village has been written on the map. The size of the text indicates that the village had a population smaller than 2,000, while the underlining of the name shows that the railway station shares the name of the village.
The use of larger text for nearby Harrietsham indicates a slightly larger population, while highlighting the attention to detail given to each element of the map; no village was considered too small to research. With the same attention, or more, given to much of the rest of the world, it is clear that an enormous amount of human endeavour and resources would have been needed to bring the Soviet mapping project to fruition.
A major question emerges when looking at this forgotten Cold War map: where did all this information come from? Although there is no evidence to suggest that Soviet spies patrolled Lenham’s central square during the Cold War, it is likely that an assortment of any obtainable maps and documents were used.
While Soviet satellite imagery would have provided a general picture of the lie of the land, directories, road atlases and even British maps from as early as the 1920s, captured from Germany after the Second World War, are likely sources of the more descriptive information.
Readers may ask why the Soviet Union would attempt such an immense project in the first place. A planned invasion, nuclear targeting and civil administration after the global spread of communism have all been mooted as possible motives. With the archive doors of the Soviet mapping organisations still firmly closed, these elusive maps will doubtless remain the subject of speculation for many years to come. wWith thanks to …
Martin Davis, University Instructor at Canterbury Christ Church University, associate member of the British Cartographic Society and Reviews Editor of The Cartographic Journal (UK).
Martin was awarded the British Cartographic Society’s Ian Mumford Award for excellence in original cartographic research for his work on Soviet mapping.