2013 - 14 : Indoor Meeting Reports

20th September 2013 : A Short History of Maps - David Carder, MAAG

Our scheduled speaker, Mark Williams, was unable to attend, so David Carder, at very short notice, gave a talk adapted from his adult education classes.

One of the first reasonably accurate maps of Britain was by the famous Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) in his 1595 world atlas, the first time the word "atlas" was used as a description.

English County Maps
The 16th century was a great period of map-making in Britain. The re-distribution of monastic property after the Reformation meant that estate maps were needed by the new secular landowners, and the state wanted maps, partly because of the perceived threat of rebellion from Catholics or Puritans.

The first English printed maps were a County Series by Christopher Saxton (c.1540-c.1610), who published 34 maps (some with more than one county) in a bound volume in 1579 – the first British atlas. The maps were commissioned for state use, and the project was to have such a lasting significance that Saxton came to be called ‘the father of English cartography’.

Perhaps better known was John Speed (1552–1629), whose county atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was first published in 1611 with further editions in 1616 and 1627. Based mainly on Saxton’s maps, improvements included Hundred boundaries and town plans.
Later county atlases by various map-makers introduced various innovations.

John Sellar (1630-97) produced a set of county maps in 1695, which were amongst the first to show longitude - at that time the prime meridian went through St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1742 Thomas Badeslade (fl.1719-42) published a county atlas which included descriptive notes on the counties and their main towns. And John Norden (1548-c.1625) introduced two innovations still used today: a grid system for map references, and triangular tables of distances between towns.

Early road maps
Whilst many of the county maps showed places and rivers in reasonable detail, the depiction of roads was limited; the early county maps showed no roads at all, so long-distance travel was difficult.

Strip maps, showing the routes between main towns, had been used by Matthew Paris in about 1250, but only on a limited number of routes, mainly for pilgrimage. That all changed in 1675 when John Ogilby (1600-1676) published a set of 100 strip-maps for England and Wales, using a standard scale of 1 inch to 1 mile. Each route was accurately surveyed and depicted in great detail.

The Ordnance Survey
In 1791 the Board of Ordnance authorised the triangulation of Great Britain, driven by fears of French invasion. The survey of Kent was first to go ahead in 1795. Critical communication routes, such as roads and rivers, were to be shown clearly and accurately. Attention was paid to woods that could provide cover for ambush, and elaborate shading was used to depict the contours of terrain that might offer tactical advantage in battle.

Preliminary drawings were made at scales from six inches to the mile, for areas of particular military significance, and three or two inches to the mile elsewhere - these "field drawings" are available on-line from the British Library (see Links).

The map of Kent was privately published in four sheets in 1801, but did not form part of the “regular series”. A different design was used for the first regular series map, of Essex in 1805.
In 1858 a Royal Commission recommended the scales to be used for Ordnance Survey maps: 1 inch and 6 inches to the mile for national mapping; 1:2,500 (25” to the mile) for cultivated rural areas; and 1:500 (125” to the mile) for towns.

The 1:500 series was soon abandoned as being impractical, but many sheets were published and show urban areas in amazing detail, including the internal details of public buildings.

After WWI the Ordnance Survey introduced maps aimed at motorists, cyclists and walkers: the Popular Edition one-inch series, from 1919, and the “MoT” half-inch series, from 1923, showing the newly introduced road numbers. Commercial companies also started to produce popular maps, notably Bartholomew, whose half-inch-to-the-mile series, first published between 1919 and 1924, are arguably the most attractive maps of Britain ever produced.

Town Plans
Few town plans appear before the 16th century, as most towns were so small as to make a plan unnecessary. These early plans are really "views", with buildings shown in elevation. Examples include Norwich, by William Cunningham in 1558, and Oxford, by Ralph Agas in 1578, which shows the buildings and plots in stunning detail.

For London, the so-called ‘Agas’ map (probably not by Ralph Agas) is the earliest printed map; first printed between 1561 and 1571.

The first comprehensive set of town plans was included in John Speed's county atlas of 1611, with plans of the main towns of each county included as insets.

In modern times the landmark town plan was the London A to Z atlas, produced in 1936 by Phyllis Pearsall (1906-96). Although not the first street atlas of London it was the most comprehensive, covering more than 23,000 streets, mews, squares, avenues and alleys, and including house numbers. It was up-to-date, fully-indexed, pocket-sized and affordable.

Historic Maps of Kent
The first known map of Kent is by William Lambarde, c.1570, amended around ten years later to show the main roads and bridges.

Philip Symondson’s Map of 1596 shows the county in great detail, with parish churches depicted, apparently, accurately - a little known resource. Speed's 1611 map of Kent is largely based on Symondson rather than Saxton, and includes plans of Canterbury and Rochester.

Other early maps of Kent include those by William Kip, c.1637, Johannes Blaeu, 1642 (published in Amsterdam), Richard Blome, c.1673 and Robert Morden, 1695. Detailed later maps are by Andrews Drury and Herbert, 1769 (two inches to the mile, but of variable accuracy), and the maps included in Edward Hasted's History of Kent, c.1780.

Four of Ogilby's strip-maps of 1675 include parts of Kent: 18, London to Dover; 20, London to Hythe; 31, London to Rye; and 93, Chelmsford to Gravesend.

Christopher Saxton: http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/june2002.html
John Speed: http://www.raremaps.com/index.html
John Ogilby's strip-maps, 1675: http://www.fulltable.com/vts/m/map/ogilby/mna.htm
OS field drawings: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/ordsurvdraw/index.html
Historic map extracts of places in Kent: http://www.hereshistorykent.org.uk/ChooseArticle.cfm
Genmaps - old maps of British counties: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~genmaps/index.html
Old-Maps - historic OS and other maps: http://www.old-maps.co.uk/index.html
Printed maps of Kent, 1575 - 1900: http://www.oldkentmaps.co.uk
Historic 20th century road maps: http://www.sabre-roads.org.uk/maps/
Agas's map of Oxford, 1578 (extract): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ralph_Agas_map_of_Oxford_1578.gif
Map of London attributed to Agas, c.1600: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Civitas_Londinium_or_The_Agas_Map_of_London.jpg