Yorkshire Maps

The first Yorkshire maps and boundaries were first outlined by the Vikings around the year AD889 and followed the course of the county’s natural river systems. The northern boundary of the region was governed by the banks of the River Tees. 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 it were not fully mapped until several centuries later.

The mid-16th Century saw an increased understanding and production of maps, due to 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 was made on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I by Dewsbury-born cartographer Christopher Saxton. He is known to have been the first person to produce county maps, which were collected 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 previously attempted to create similar maps of English regions.

Saxton's atlas 1579
Saxton’s atlas 1579 (Image source: wikipedia)

Together they travelled the country and started producing the atlas, which started in Norfolk around 1574. The Yorkshire version was completed in 1577 and to date remains the first complete map of the three ridings ever to be made. Flemish engravers, the best in the world at this time, were commissioned to etch the names of each place, symbols, depicting churches and clusters of buildings for larger, more important settlements. Natural features, such as rivers, hill ranges and area of forest, more abundant in 16th Century Yorkshire were also delicately included. The areas of circles, bordered by “ring fences” are parkland. While all the other thirty-three counties could be engraved onto one single copper plate, the great county of Yorkshire was so big that it needed two.

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

A generation later another cartographer, John Speed produced his atlas, “The Theatre of The Empire of Great Britain,” compiled from 1605-1610 and based on some of Saxton’s earlier work. In his book he included individual county maps, plus 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 and can be bought both as either a replica wall chart or jigsaw from the www.imfromyorkshire.uk.com website. His work also included town plans of major towns, such as Hull and surprisingly, Richmond, plus coats of arms for the aristocratic families in the area.

John speeds 1610 map
John speeds 1610 map (Image source: www.imfromyorkshire.uk.com)

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.

Oddly in early maps of Yorkshire, roads, which had existed in the county since Roman Times, were not included and travellers needed an additional road book to find their way around the county’s network, usually on horseback. These books were a description of routes and the places on them. John Ogilby’s maps of Yorkshire in 1675, for the first time included roads and a consistent, standardised measurement of one mile. This unit of measurement was officially regarded as 1760 yards, but this only caught on around the London area. Around the country the length of a mile varied and created confusion amongst both 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, who was 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 and 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.

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, Ordnance Survey. This organisation had existed since the French Revolution of 1789, for military purposes. 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, as well as the expanding towns of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield. More and better access was needed and new six inch per mile maps of the three ridings were produced 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 have had to be updated on a yearly basis to include new roads, motorways, bypasses and even the locations of speed cameras.

Some maps became highly localised and extremely detailed, which contained only a few places, aimed primarily at walkers, a popular pastime in the county.

An example of an Ordnance Survey Map
An example of an Ordnance Survey Map (Image source: wiki commons)

Until 1889 the three ridings outlined by the Vikings way back in the 9th Century had remained pretty much unchanged and any maps produced until then would have used the same boundaries to mark each riding from the other. 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 had to be re-drawn in order to incorporate the newly created Humberside, which included parts of Lincolnshire, plus the South Yorkshire Region, which was formed partly out of the old West Riding. Some places, such as Barnoldswick and Middlesbrough were no longer part of the Great County and had to be excluded from all of its maps.

In 1996 the maps had to be re-drawn yet again, after the abolition of Humberside and Cleveland. The south bank of the Humber was returned to Lincolnshire and the East Riding was 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, but luckily have been helped by technology in which to keep up with the changes.

The Yorkshire maps boundary changes.
The Yorkshire maps boundary changes. (www.yorkshireridings.org)

Advances in computer and digital technology have meant a change in the way we view maps today. 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 units 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.