Maps Of Yorkshire Throughout History

Walks & Maps
Walks & Maps

The Vikings outlined the first Yorkshire maps and boundaries around the year AD889 and followed the course of the county’s natural river systems. The banks of the River Tees governed the northern boundary of the region. The River Derwent, which flows from York to the Coast at Whitby, marked the boundary between the North and East Ridings. The Humber estuary, the largest natural boundary, separated East Yorkshire with Lincolnshire, while the Ouse’s flow was not mapped until several centuries later.

The mid-16th Century saw an increased understanding and production of maps. This is because of advances in printing methods from copper plates and an increasing need for them by the military for battle. The first known map of Yorkshire existed in 1577 and made on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I by Dewsbury-born cartographer Christopher Saxton. He 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 during this period. Because of this, they were commissioned to etch the names of each place, symbols, depicting churches and clusters of buildings for larger, more important settlements. Also included are natural features, such as rivers, hill ranges and area of forest, which were more abundant in 16th Century Yorkshire. The areas of circles, bordered by the “ring fences” are parkland. The other thirty-three counties could be engraved onto one copper plate. The great county of Yorkshire is so big that it needed two.

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

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

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. You can buy both as either a replica wall chart or jigsaw from the website. 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.

Map john speeds 1610 map
Map john speeds 1610 map

Speed’s maps and atlases were re-issued and printed right up to 1770, and used widely 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. Travellers needed an additional book to find their way around the county’s network, usually on horseback. These books were a description of routes and places. John Ogilby’s maps of Yorkshire in 1675, included roads and a consistent, standardised measurement of one mile. This unit of measurement was regarded 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.

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

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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 to be included on maps of the area and the expanding towns of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield. More and better access was needed. 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. Throughout the 20th Century, with the popularisation of cars, maps need an update yearly to include new roads, motorways, bypasses and even the locations of speed cameras. Some maps became localised and detailed, which contained only a few places, aimed first at walkers, a popular pastime in the county.

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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.

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 in-car navigation enable us to travel the county’s road systems under computerised instruction. It’s a long way from Rudd, Paxton, and Speed with the features etched into copper plates and decorated with sea monsters in the ocean.

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