Historic Maps from the 1600’s

Chapter 5

With the capture of Jamaica from Spain (1655) and of New Amsterdam (New York) from the Dutch (1664), and the foundation of Carolina (1663), Pennsylvania and New Jersey (1682) and Georgia (1732), maps by colonist surveyors multiplied rapidly. Mayo shows Barbados, which was always the political centre of the West Indies, as covered with sugar refineries. The cartouche of this map is mainly in the style of 1680, with pseudo- classical figures added. From 1660 onwards the sea came into the daily life of the English people as never before, and the naval contest with the Dutch and the growth of sea trade England’s exports increased fourfold between 1660 and 1700 creating an urgent demand for charts. In 1670, John Seller, having obtained the title of Hydrographer to the King, began the publication of volumes of charts of the northern coasts of Europe entitled The English Pilot and The Coasting Pilot. Of most of these, however, Pepys remarked “he had bought the old worn Dutch copper plates for old copper and had refreshed them in many places, a fact obvious on inspection”, though Seller obtained few original charts from Englishmen like Sir Jonas Moore. Perhaps h consequence of this, Charles II commissioned Captain Greenvile Collins in 1676 to chart the coasts of Great Britain. The result, his Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot, 1693, was the first original engraved sea-atlas by an Englishman, after Dudley’s Arcano, and covered the whole English coast, part of the east coast of Scotland and selected Irish harbours. The charts were finely engraved, and though they seldom gave latitudes or even longitudes, showed coastal features, soundings, shoals, anchorages and docks denoted by an X in detail, with numerous bearing-lines from points out at sea to prominent landmarks.

old coasting pilot maps detail

Detail from an Antique Sea Chart of the North Sea by Captain Greenville Collins

Many obscure local pilots began to show remarkable knowledge and skill in charting after about 1730. An outstanding example is a chart of the coast between Furness and Anglesea published by Sam. Fearon and John Eyles of Liverpool in 1738, which was almost modern in its style. It is the first known chart with the prime meridian drawn through Greenwich. The sea bottom-mud, gravel, shells, red mud, etc. is described as on modern charts; arrows indicate the set of the tides, and Roman letters in different places the time of High Water at full and change of the moon. Beacons and buoys are shown; legends over dangerous rocks and shoals indicate their depth at different states of the tide; the magnetic declinations given; all enhanced with attractive and useful silhouettes.

Such few ocean charts as Englishmen made were generally drawn, not upon Wright’s projection, but were “plain charts” with equidistant parallels. After 1700 longitude was reckoned West as well as East. Early in the Century the English began to use French instead of Dutch charts for long voyages, for the French had become the world’s leading navigators. The credit of first throwing open the Pacific Ocean to the world belongs, however, to English buccaneers and many charts of the unknown Pacific were brought home by them between 1683 and 1691. At Wapping, Captain William Hack, probably a retired buccaneer made beautifully coloured copies of these. They were sold in sumptuous volumes called “South Sea Waggoners,” and Lamb’s words “Dusty maps of Mexico, dim as dreams, and soundings of the Bay of Panama” were inspired by one of these, preserved in the South Sea Company’s House.

Compass Variations in Cartography

Compass Variations by Edmund Halley

In 1688 Edmund Halley, Newton’s friend, published a meteorological chart of the trade winds, which was invaluable to the merchantmen of the East India Company; but his two charts showing the magnetic variation over the Atlantic (1701) and over the whole world (1702), for the year 1700, were of incalculable benefit to all navigators, only to be compared with the introduction of the compass.

Historic Map Making in England . . . the 1700’s

old estate plan


State of Captain LOHN BARKERS Lying in the parishes of Laxfield & Shadbrook in the County of Suffolk which Contain as in the Tables of Contents.

During the age which produced Pitt and Washington, Cook and James Watt, map-making in England made prodigious advances. In 1759 the newly formed Society of Arts offered an annual reward for an accurate survey of any English county on a scale of 1″ to 1 mile. The first map to win this was Devonshire (1765) by Benjamin Donn, a teacher of mathematics at Bideford. It was a plainer map

1765 Benjamin Donn Wall Map of Devonshire

Historic Old Maps: Benjamin Donn Wall Map of Devonshire 1765

than any before it, but more scientific, and covered twelve sheets. Inset were large and valuable plans of Exeter and Plymouth. It was engraved by Thomas Jefferys, who was also an expert surveyor and a map publisher. In 1752, indeed, he had issued the last known edition of Saxton’s atlas from the scratched and battered old plates. He became Geographer to the King, and from 1766. onwards he surveyed, engraved and published several county maps which set a new standard in cartography. Though similar to Donn’s Devonshire, they are distinguished by the use of the meridian of Greenwich.

Between 1765 and 1808 thirteen county maps received awards from the Royal Society of Arts, and over thirty others, of equal or greater merit, were brought out by other men, previously unknown, whose work reveals the proficiency attained by surveyors by 1790. Many of them were also their own engravers. These county maps were the most beautiful since Saxton’s, and of course much superior cartographically. They had many common features. Since their scale was one, often two, inches to the mile, they covered several sheets, which generally included two or more large inset town-plans. The meridian was usually that of Greenwich, and on many there were also county meridians drawn through the capital towns. The triangulation upon which the map had been constructed was often printed for inspection. The angles were observed from hill tops and church towers just as in Cuningham’s time, but the triangulation was spherical, “reduced to a horizontal plane.” Everything was shown in plan with the exception of “seats” and churches, which remained “in prospect,” probably to attract subscriptions from the squire and parson, and the names of landowners were supplied in handsome Italics. Woods were depicted as compact clumps of little tree tops, parks were often stippled in colour almost exactly as on modern Ordnance Survey maps, and distances were marked at milestones. Coasts were lapped by delicate, receding wave lines, a convention first found on English maps in 1731. The representation of relief by vertical shading was improved although in America, Jefferys was just then introducing “woolly caterpillar” ranges of mountains. While some publishers restricted colour to borders, boundaries and main roads, most of these maps were coloured delightfully. They express the good taste of the age and depict an England in which eighty per cent of the population was still rural. The colour wash was lighter than in earlier periods, and the whole surface of each Hundred was tinted in a different hue from its neighbours. The double

jeffrey map of yorkshire.

Detail from T. Jeffery’s Map of Yorkshire 1771

Triangulation on an old map


graduated lines round the maps were filled with a band of buff, and the main roads were the same colour; towns were scarlet (“an exceeding glorious Red,” wrote one colourist), water blue and woods grey-green. Italic lettering was confined to minor features, but it was graceful, and “Old Print,” or Black Letter was used for Roman camps and roads. Although the ‘Explanation” was retained, many of the old and complicated symbols were dropped. Such large maps were, however, only suitable for libraries, and in 1787 John Cary, an enterprising publisher, began to issue small county atlases, which were cheap and showed the roads at a glance. The growing seasonal influx of the gentry to fashionable Spas and seaside resorts kept the mail coaches busy, and Cary was engaged in 1794 by the Postmaster General to survey the main roads of the kingdom, covering some nine thousand miles. The plates in his Survey of the High Roads from London to Hampton Court are very pleasing, and as brightly painted as the four in hand coaches which the Prince of Wales drove with elegance and dash. A list of local inns heads each plate, and the lines from the roads indicate points from which handsome residences can be viewed.

cary map = london to high wycombe


The movement started by the Royal Society of Arts soon spread to Scotland. Between 1772 and 1783 John Ainslie produced a fine and accurate map of the country in nine sheets, a large plan of Edinburgh and five county maps at 1″1 mile. Andrew and Mostyn Armstrong, though their work was less reliable than Ainslie’s, made four other county maps. on the same scale, and Charles Ross and James Stobie carried on the work in other counties and cities. The maps were reduced and collected in Mostyn Armstrong’s little Scotch Atlas, 1777. [LINK https://oldmap.co.uk/product/old-map-ireland-by-beaufort/LINK  In Ireland the building of fine Georgian mansions all over the country was accompanied by a demand among the gentry for large-scale maps. Five county maps, two of them by Arthur Nevill, and a map of the diocese of Meath were published during 1770-1797, and improved maps of Ireland were produced by Rev. D. A. Beaufort in 1792 and Lieut. A. Taylor in 1794. Beaufort had a strong ecclesiastical bent, marking every possible kind of curacy and chapel of ease, but Taylor was chiefly interested in the roads, which he showed clearly.

Ireland Beaufort Map Detail

Ireland by Daniel Augustus Beaufort 1797

The Hibernian Atlas, 1776, by Bernard Scalé, though small, contained accurate, well engraved maps. G. Taylor and A. Skinner did for Scotland and Ireland what Ogilby had done for England a century earlier when they published A General Map of the Roads of Scotland (1776) and Taylor and Skinner’s Maps of the Roads of Ireland (1778). These are volumes of strip-maps, charmingly engraved and giving the names of the owners of country seats near the roads.

The manuscript maps of this period were also more handsome than any since 1610. Estate plans became very numerous, for every county landowner thought it wise to have his tenants’ fields accurately surveyed, and agreeable to have his estate, often with “prospects” and artificial lakes by Capability Brown, mapped in colours. Among the best of the many good estate surveyors were Thomas Richardson, who made a glorious map of the Royal Manor of Richmond (1771) and Joshua Rhodes, who mapped most of semi-rural Kensington.

Instruction in “The Use of the Globes, Terrestrial and Celestial” was part of the education of every young gentleman and gentlewoman in those days. This is something we should never have abandoned, for it can make the mysteries of geodesy, latitude and longitude, and map projections simple to any student. Modern globes just don’t compare in beauty nor usefulness with those of 1790.

As England rose to naval and commercial supremacy on every ocean, charts of foreign waters by English sailors became numerous. The determination of longitude, which for centuries had been a problem for navigators, was made comparatively easy by the accurate chronometers constructed by John Harrison in 1765-71. James Cook, once a hand on a Whitby collier, first won distinction in the Navy by charting the River St. Lawrence below Quebec in preparation for General Wolfe’s victorious assault in 1759. The charts which he, with Michael Lane, made of the coasts of Newfoundland in 1763-67 were so good that they were republished for years after. Jefferys’ North American Pilot and his Western Neptune (1776-80) reveal his great versatility, though the originals of his charts were drawn by long forgotten pilots, such as Anthony Smith, author of a splendid chart of Chesapeake Bay.

In 1757-62 Alexander Dalrymple, a clerk under the East India Company at Madras, perceiving the great possibilities of trade in the East Indies, made several voyages their and onwards into the Pacific. He taught himself sea surveying, and in 1779 the Company appointed him its hydrographer. In 1794, when the Admiralty decided to establish a Hydrographic Office, he was made Hydrographer and is the initiator of our modern Admiralty charts.

Decoration on both charts and maps was confined to the title and dedication. The title was often set in a romantic pastoral scene with a spreading tree and a placid river, tastefully coloured and fit to illustrate the contemporary song, “By thy banks, gentle Stour”; the dedication had a rococo frame. The light rococo style in ornament succeeded the late Renascence style in around 1740, like a minuet following upon an oratorio, and became very popular through Chippendale’s use of it in furniture. It soon appeared on maps and was much favoured by draftsmen of estate plans. As in the last period, a stock subject was pseudo-classical female figures surrounded by products of the country represented; but now the ladies were more alluring, resembling contemporary portraits of Duchesses as Juno, and artistically grouped. A variety of handsome copper-plate styles of writing, Italic and Roman, were combined in the title and dedication. After 1780 flourishing inscriptions, framed in a medallion such as the Adam brothers had made fashionable, were the only decorative features on many maps.


In 1801, just two hundred years after Woutneel’s first map, the publishers of English county maps encountered a competitor which eventually eclipsed them. This was the Ordnance Survey. After completing the Military Survey of Scotland, General William Roy had greatly desired to see a national survey established. His opportunity came when a partial triangulation of Kent was decided upon, so that English and French geodesists, working from Dover and Calais, could determine the difference in longitude between their national Observatories at Greenwich and Paris. For this Roy measured a baseline at Hounslow Heath in 1784. Though he died in 1790, the Duke of Richmond, Master of the Ordnance, continued the triangulation, and in 1791 formally established the Ordnance Survey, with headquarters at the Tower. Its officers, among whom a young Lieutenant, William Mudge, was the leading spirit, had orders to map Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex on a scale of 1″ to the mile. The instruments which they needed were supplied by Jesse Ramsden, a Yorkshireman who was then the most skilful instrument maker in the world. In 1801 the Trigonometrical Survey, as it was then called, published its first map, Kent, in four sheets; and Essex, issued in 1805, began the series of 1″ sheets which became a part of daily life during the 20th Century. The Ordnance Survey was a branch of the Royal Corps of Sappers and Miners; and its first officers had to be not only expert surveyors, mathematicians, and astronomers, but hardy mountaineers.

The first task, the triangulation of Great Britain and Ireland, took over fifty years. Of many bases measured, those on Salisbury Plain (1849) and at Lough Foyle (1825) are the two principals. The largest, or primary, triangles had sides of 35 to III miles long, the smallest had sides between 1 and 2 miles long, and within the last the chain men began their work. The trigonometrical stations were usually on hill-tops, but church-towers, such as that at Norwich whence Cuningham had observed the angles to neighbouring churches in 1559 were often used. These points are marked on the O.S. sheets by little triangles. The levelling, that is, the determination of all heights over the whole country, from Hampstead Heath to Ben Nevis, in order that areas might be represented accurately on a horizontal plane corresponding to mean sea-level, took over sixty years.

The first edition of the 1″ O.S. map was completed in 1853. The sheets were uncoloured and decorously official, except for ornamental engraved handwriting in the titles, and a border of neat strokes joining the graduated double lines round the map. Parks and farmyards were stippled, sands and rivers represented by wave-lines, but gentlemen’s seats were no longer distinguished by their owners’ names, as the Ordnance Survey did not seek patronage or subscriptions.

Meanwhile Jefferys’ principal successors, William Faden, Aaron Arrowsmith, Cary and Thomson, had made English maps the best in Europe. They and the army of professional men who had worked for them: surveyors, draftsmen, engravers and colourers, naturally viewed the Ordnance Survey with suspicion and disapproval but their business was little affected at first. The world, which was growing larger almost every day, was still their oyster, and they published some fine atlases and new maps of distant lands, especially of those recently discovered in Western North America, the Pacific and Australia. Nor was England yet lost to them, for the first O.S. sheets came out, of course, very slowly. Two fine series of county maps at 1″ to the mile, surveyed and published by A. Bryant and C. and J. Greenwood respectively, 1820-1834, are typical of this period. Though very like the O.S. maps in most respects, including the ornamental lettering of the titles and the borders, they were better because such important details as the county, Hundred and parish boundaries were made clear in “Explanations.” The early O.S. maps bore no list of symbols, nor did they copy the maps of 1770 by using Black Letter for antiquities until after 1830.

A. Bryant and C. and J. Greenwood Salop, c.1831

Salop by A. Bryant and C. and J. Greenwood c.1831

Views engraved on steel were then becoming popular for their delicate effects of light and shade, and from about 1825 to 1852 a number of maps such as Moule’s Sussex were thus engraved.

Lithography, or printing from soft stone, largely took the place of engraving in the production of English commercial maps after about 1852. It was a quick, cheap process and had been used to print British army maps during the Peninsular War. Most of the commercial maps of the second half of the nineteenth century were lithographed and unattractive, though accurate enough.

The earliest maps of the Ordnance Survey on a scale of 6″ to the mile were of Ireland. The extent of the properties held by many landlords was in dispute, for the lands acquired by them in the seventeenth century had been in “plantation measure,” in which the acre was 1.63 of the statute mile. In 1825, therefore, Parliament ordered a survey of Ireland. Thomas Colby, a man who equalled Mudge in talent and originality, was then Director-General, and by 1847 he had published a 6″ map of the whole country.

The success of this 6″ map of Ireland for the valuation of land caused a similar map of Great Britain to be begun in 1846. Sir Henry James, the Director General of the Survey, realized however that what the nation

and its individual citizens chiefly needed was a large-scale cadastral map that would show in detail every parcel of land in the country. For lack of such a map the railway companies and the officials employed under the Tithe Commutation Act were spending millions on maps surveyed by private engineers, and the industrial areas which were then spreading fast across the face of England called for large scale maps. Accordingly, he planned what we now know as the twenty five inch map; but not until 1864 did the O.S. obtain the authority, the men and the money to proceed with its full programme. This comprised the 1″ or “topographical map’ revised, the 6” or “county plans,” the 25″ or “parish plans,” and finally plans on a scale of 1 : 500 for every town with over four thousand inhabitants. The first edition of the 6″ was published in 1846-96, that of the 25″ in 1846-93, and all have since been revised. The five-foot plan of London was finished in 1871. In 1875 the 25″ was approved as the legal “Public Map” for the transfer of land; in 1879 the establishment of Local Government all over the country caused the representation of the old ecclesiastical parishes, Hundreds and Wapentakes were to be discontinued in favour of civil parishes; while soon afterwards the wasteful and confusing system of publishing the 25″ sheets as parish maps was also discontinued. In Ireland and Scotland branches of the O.S. mapped those countries on the same methods and scales as England.

early os map st ives bay

ST. IVES BAY From the Ordnance Survey one-inch Map, 1st Edition, 1809

On the familiar 1″ maps engraving was continued longest. By 1853 vertical hill shading became hachuring, a system invented to express gradients by the closeness of the shading. Though picturesque, it entailed great labour and was never very accurate. A far better method, contours or lines joining points of equal height on hillsides, was used on the 6″ sheets from the beginning, first in black, then in blue and finally in red. The age-old custom of colouring maps by hand ceased in 1902.

In the 1890s the one-inch sheets suddenly appeared in a much more attractive design, largely because of the increase in the popularity of cycling and a demand for maps which the common man of the time could understand. A list of conventional symbols, at first uncoloured and simpler than Norden’s or Jefferys’, was inserted; hachures were tinted a pleasant brown, which did not obscure other features; a marginal index in figures and numbers appeared; blue wave lines and submarine contours surrounded the coasts; roads were yellow, woods green and contours red. The Popular edition, begun after the World War, was brilliant with Elizabethan colours and had an illustrated cover which, even to the Royal Arms, was a modern version of the pictures which adorned the titles of maps in 1770. Hachuring or hill-shading was omitted, after a life of nearly two centuries. The spread of hiking brought in a symbol for Youth Hostels, and motorists made a classification of the roads necessary namely A,  B and others. These were red, yellow and plain, just as post-roads and turnpike-roads had been blue and yellow in 1835. Much more attention was paid to lettering, which became varied and artistic. The excellent Fifth edition (1931), was drawn on a transverse Mercator projection. It shows many features formerly found only on the large-scale plans together with very modern ones, like electric pylons; the table of symbols has expanded and has, at last, a name, “Reference”; and the A lettering includes some delicate Italics the reference grid has being replaced the marginal index.

OS Map Kineton Warwickshire

OS Map Example: Kineton in Warwickshire

The maps of the Ordnance Survey, from the beginning in terms of functionality and accuracy became the best in the world and remain the most informative and most artistic. The Ordnance Survey has become an integral part of our national life, for there is no public body, from Rural District Councils and Sewerage Commissions to the War Office, the Land Registry and the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions, which is not deeply in its debt. They were to play and still do play a great part in England’s future development as we move into a digital age.

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