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Maps Of Yorkshire Throughout History

Walks & Maps

Maps of Yorkshire

Around the year AD899, the Vikings outlined the first Yorkshire maps and boundaries. These boundaries followed the course of the county’s natural river systems.

The Northern boundary of the region governed the banks of the River Tees. The River Derwent, which flows from York to Whitby, marked the boundary between the North and East Ridings. The Humber Estuary, the largest natural boundary, separated East Yorkshire with Lincolnshire. Several centuries later, the Ouse’s flow was mapped.

In mid-16th Century, there was an increased understanding and production of maps. This was because of advanced in printing methods from copper plates. Also, there was an increasing need for them by the military.

Christopher Saxton

The first known map of Yorkshire existed in 1577 and made on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I by Dewsbury-born cartographer Christopher Saxton. Christopher is known as the first person to produce county maps. Saxton collected them to form the “Atlas of England and Wales, published in 1579 and the first of its kind. He learnt his mapping skills from his master and vicar of Dewsbury, John Rudd, who had attempted to create similar maps of English regions.

Together they travelled the country and produced the atlas which started in Norfolk around 1574. They completed the Yorkshire version in 1577 and to date remains the first complete map of the three Ridings ever made.

Flemish engravers were the best in the world. They were commissioned to etch the names, symbols, depicting churches and clusters of buildings for larger, more important settlements.

Also included are natural features, such as rivers, hill ranges and areas of forest, which were more abundant in 16th Century Yorkshire. Bordered by the “ring fences”, the areas of circles are parkland. The other thirty-three counties could be engraved onto one copper plate. Yorkshire is so big that it needed two.

Maps saxton's atlas 1579
Maps saxton’s atlas 1579 – Credit: wikipedia

Illustrations were around the side of the maps. Although these early maps served a practical purpose by including pictures such as boats and sea monsters, it added to their ornamental value. The work of the ageing Rudd and the younger Saxton are so detailed and pioneering. Queen Elizabeth gave them exclusivity of their work for the next ten years. This means no one could copy them.

John Speed

A generation later another cartographer, John Speed produced his atlas. “The Theatre of The Empire of Great Britain,” from 1605 to 1610 and based on some of Saxton’s earlier work. In his book he included individual county maps. It included five regions of Ireland and a complete map of Scotland.

The map that John Speed created of Yorkshire in 1610 is one of the most famous “ancient” maps of Yorkshire. His work also included town plans of major towns such as Hull and Richmond, and coats of arms for the aristocratic families in the area.

Speed’s maps and atlases were re-issued and printed right up to 1770, and used throughout this period as the standard maps of the British Isles. In early maps of Yorkshire, roads, which had existed in the county since Roman Times, were not included.

John Ogillby

Travellers who usually travelled on horseback needed an additional book. These books described routes and places. John Ogilby’s maps of Yorkshire in 1675 used the standardised measurement of one mile.

They regarded this unit of measurement as 1760 yards, but only caught on around the London area. Around the country the length of a mile varied and created confusion amongst travellers and mapmakers alike. Ogilby’s maps were the first to use the standardised 1760 yard rule and helped make the length of a mile consistent throughout the country.

Thomas Jeffrey’s

Another person to take up Yorkshire mapping was Thomas Jeffrey’s, the official cartographer to King George III. He printed a series of county maps including and updated map of Yorkshire.

Jeffrey’s map was the first to be printed on a scale of one inch to one mile. It outlined the position of buildings within a settlement, represented by black rectangles. They also used contour lines to display the height of the land for the first time on a Yorkshire map.

Ordnance Survey

Maps of Yorkshire from the late 18th Century onwards would fall into the hands of one of the best-known map-making companies in the world. This company is called Ordnance Survey. The organisation had existed since the French Revolution of 1789 for the military. Their first job was to map vulnerable parts of the South Coast to stop the spread of revolution over the Channel.

Like everywhere else with the Industrial Age, Yorkshire was changing. New canals and railways needed including on maps of the area and the expanding towns of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield. We needed more and better access. They produced new six inch per mile maps of the three Ridings in 1848, including their new features in an ever-changing landscape.

Ordnance Survey became the standard bearers for mapping to the present day. In the 20th Century, maps needed a yearly update to include new roads, motorways, bypasses and even speed camera locations. Some maps became localise and detailed, containing only a few places. These were first aimed at walkers, a popular pastime in the county.

Yorkshire Boundaries

Until 1889, the three Ridings outlined by the Vikings in the 9th Century had remained almost unchanged. Maps produced before had the same boundaries. The city of York became part of the West Riding and therefore not a county in its own right.

In 1974, the whole map of Yorkshire was re-drawn to incorporate Humberside. This included parts of Lincolnshire, and the South Yorkshire Region, which formed out of the old West Riding. Some places, such as Barnoldswick and Middlesbrough, were no longer part of the Great County and excluded from all of its maps.

In 1996, the maps had to be re-drawn yet again, after Humberside and Cleveland were abolished. The south bank of the Humber returned to Lincolnshire and the East Riding restored, albeit in a smaller version than before, reflected in the maps of its time. Modern map-makers had to put up with the whim of politicians. However, they were helped by the technology in which to keep up with the changes.

Digital Technology

Maps yorkshire boundary changes
Maps yorkshire boundary changes (Credit:
Maps ordance survey
Maps ordance survey (Credit: wiki commons)

Advances in digital technology have meant a change in the way we view maps. A few clicks on Google Streetview can have you walking virtually down “The Shambles” in York or up Buttertubs Pass without having to get out of your chair. Every shop, pub, business, school, church, and address is now available to find, complete with directions. 

Mobile phone apps and car navigation allows us to travel the county’s road system under computerised instruction. We’ve come a long way from Rudd, Paxton, and Speed with features etched into copped plates and sea monsters in the ocean.

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