Archaeology in Marlow welcomed John Leighfield to Liston Hall on Thursday November 13th, when he presented a fascinating history of maps from their earliest beginnings up to the present day. He illustrated his lecture with a slide show of maps through the ages and brought copies of many of these maps which the audience had the opportunity to examine after the talk.
Mr. Leighfield covered the development of maps over four millennia, from a Bronze Age rock carving, through the revolution brought about by the printing press and right up to the digital maps made possible by the Internet today.
His first slide showed the oldest known map, the Bedolina Map. The map is cut into a rock located in the Park of Seradina in Northern Italy. It dates from the Bronze Age, about the middle of the second millennium BC. Moving on, he showed a picture of a Babylonian world Map on a clay tablet dating from about 600 BC. These primitive maps mark the beginning of man’s need to locate his position in the world, but the earliest maps of England and Wales date from the end of the first millennium AD.
The ‘Anglo Saxon Map,’ dating from the end of the 10th century, is an early attempt to map England and Wales; but the ‘Gough’ Map is the first map in which we can see the distinctive outline of England and Wales. The orientation is different, with East at the top of the map, and this reminds us that the convention of putting North at the top was not established until later. The ‘Gough’ map dates from around 1360. It was drawn in ink and hand-coloured on two skins of vellum. The map was donated to the Bodleian Library in Oxford by Richard Gough in 1809. In the 14th Century, only one manuscript map could be produced at a time. However, the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century was about to revolutionize the making of maps.
Gutenberg’s printing press and improved surveying techniques led to major advances in cartography during the 16th Century. Christopher Saxton used the new technology to produce one of the first regional atlases in the world. Saxton was funded by Thomas Seckford, with the backing of Queen Elizabeth, whose authority Saxton used to gain access to useful vantage points throughout the land. He travelled throughout England and Wales, surveying and drawing. His first maps (including Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire) appeared in 1574, while the complete atlas was ready by 1579. Saxton employed skilled engravers to produce the maps.
Mr Leighfield described the process by which craftsmen engraved the drawings for the maps onto copper plates which were then inked. Sheets of paper were pressed on to the inked plates to produce a print. The print could be hand-coloured. Many maps could be produced from the same plates. Lack of copyright restrictions also meant that others could take information from Saxton’s maps and use it in their own publications. Saxton had combined Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire on the same page. Buckinghamshire appears as a map on its own for the first time as an illustration in the 1607 edition of Britannia, a history book by William Camden. The maps are finely engraved by John Kip and William Hole (who engraved the Buckinghamshire map) using information from Saxton’s maps.
Later mapmakers continued to use Saxton’s maps to create atlases of their own. One of the best known is John Speed, who took the basic information from Saxton and added small town plans and divisions of the counties known as ‘hundreds’. His maps are very finely engraved and went through many editions. Samuel Pepys was obviously very proud of his Speed atlas and mentions it several times in his diaries. Michael Drayton used maps to illustrate his Poly-Olbion, a collection of poems published in 1613. The maps have only basic geographical details, but plenty of mythological figures.
For example, the map of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire is dominated by an illustration of the marriage of the Thames and the Kennet, shown as King and Queen with attendants. It is noticeable that there are no roads on these maps. It was not until 1675 that the roads of England and Wales were mapped by John Ogilby and published in his Britannia. Using his maps, roads were added to maps made from the engravings of the Saxton and Speed atlases.
Maps continued to be produced under the impetus of private enterprise through the 18th century. In 1759, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (now the Royal Society for Arts) advertised for original surveys of counties at one inch-to-the-mile. One of the last surveyors to produce maps before the advent of the Ordnance Survey was Andrew Bryant who, in 1823, produced a map of Buckinghamshire at 1½ inches-to-the-mile. Working at about the same time was John Cary, recognized as one of the most accomplished cartographers, who produced his finest maps in 1809 with the publication of the New English Atlas. It was at this time, fearing invasion following the French Revolution, that the Government recognized a need for good military maps; this was the beginning of the Ordnance Survey.
The Ordnance Survey had its origins in the Board of Ordnance, which was responsible for supplying munitions to the army. The Board received instructions to map the southern coast in readiness to defend the country during the Napoleonic Wars. While the danger of invasion receded after the battle of Trafalgar, the Survey continued. The question of scale was debated; in addition to 1 inch-to-a-mile maps, both 6 inches-to-a-mile and 25 inches-to-a-mile maps were produced. The Ordnance Survey gathered momentum to become the main mapping agency for the country. In 2001, Ordnance Survey launched the digital OS Master Map made possible by the Internet, which has produced another revolution in mapmaking.
Mr. Leighfield brought his talk to a close with a look at how the Internet has transformed mapmaking. Many of us are familiar with Google Maps and Multimap. Newer still is Wikimapia – a website which allows the user to produce maps of his own locality. Mr. Leighfield also introduced us to the People’s Map. This allows the user to produce their own map with the features they want to highlight, from which it is possible to switch to an aerial photograph of the same area. Just as it has affected other aspects of our lives, the Internet has changed the way we use maps. Maps have come a long way since the rock carvings of our Bronze Age ancestors.
Following the conclusion of Mr Leighfield’s talk, he distributed CD’s and hard copy colour hand-outs of his talk, some of which were later circulated to members who were indisposed on the night.
We are very grateful to Mr Leighfield for a fascinating and informative talk on maps, with special reference to Buckinghamshire. Instead of taking a fee, Mr Leighfield preferred that half of the profits from his talk be forwarded to Helen and Douglas House, a charity which provides hospice care for children and young adults, which has subsequently been effected.