High Weald

Article Index

Estate maps and records

Records drawn up to show land boundaries, buildings, issues of ownership and land use in connection with sale, lease, rental or transfer within estates are a major source of information for the post-medieval period. They include correspondence, accounts, surveys and maps. Estates often covered large swathes of the countryside and generated many and detailed records offering the potential opportunity to study subjects such as the development of agriculture and forestry. However, many such records have been lost or may still be in private hands and not available for public viewing. Given this, it may be difficult to study modern land holdings through their estate precursors, but if records do exist and are available they may provide valuable information for the researcher of historic landscapes.

Each record was drawn up for a specific purpose and so will show only that information relating directly to that purpose. For example, if a map was drawn up in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling within an estate, the areas surrounding that dwelling and not connected with the sale or rental may only be recorded minimally. However, farms on the estate will usually have had a map drawn up showing the boundary, land use of individual fields and wooded areas within the holding.

Some limitations of the use of estate maps should be noted:

a) access may be limited due to age and condition of the document; this will also have a bearing on the ability to photocopy, scan or photograph documents for research;

b) it may be difficult to transcribe the historic data onto a modern map base, particularly if there have been major changes in the landscape such as road and rail networks and housing developments;

c) a common problem is in the correlation of the modern land holding with the historic estate holding. With the fragmentation of estates over time, it is quite likely that the modern land holding falls within a number of estates making it difficult to obtain consistent and contemporaneous information across the modern holding.

A number of Record Officers have researched their estate record archives to compile terriers - guides which show the outlines of estate map coverage on a modern map base. These are extremely useful tools to assist the researcher in finding map coverage for the area of interest.

In the 18th century, many countries were surveyed and this resulted in a whole range of maps of varying scales and quality. For example, a survey by Richard Budgen produced 1inch to 1 mile scale maps for Kent and Sussex, both published in 1724. In 1795 Thomas Gardner and Thomas Gream also produced a map for Sussex at the same scale. These maps clearly show woodland, parkland, settlements and other features, although the detail is somewhat obscured on the Gardner and Gream map by the use of shading to show topography.

Extract from Budgen's map of Kent 1724

Extract from Gardner & Gream map of Sussex 1795

The long standing legal obligation for a tenant to give one-tenth (or tithe) of produce from the land to the landowner had been partly transformed during the process of Parliamentary enclosure in the 18th and 19th centuries. As part of this process, land was allotted to the tithe owners in lieu of tithe. At the beginning of the 19th century commutation of the tithe - the change to a fixed money payment - was an important issue in the whole movement for reform. In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act was passed and the processes which followed generated very useful information including land use, field and holding names, field sizes, names of owners/ tenants and farms.

The most important documents relating to the Act are the maps, which were drawn on a parish basis, often at a scale of 25 inches to the mile, and the accompanying apportionment volume. The map shows occupied and unoccupied buildings, fields, roads and tracks and water features. Individual fields and parcels of land are given a number which relates to the apportionment volume. In this volume, which is arranged first by landowner and within each landowner's estate then by tenants, information is given about each numbered field or parcel: field or dwelling name, land use and area. Thus is it possible to identify areas of woodland (and their name, size and owner/tenant) using the apportionment and then to locate them on the map.

Tithe maps and the apportionment schedules contain a wealth of information but they are large and unwieldy to use and it may be difficult to transpose data on to a modern map base. As the land use is not shown directly on the map the schedule need to be used in tandem with the map and as the schedule is not arranged geographically but by landowner, it can be difficult to locate the land parcel number within the schedule.

The first edition of the Ordnance Survey, dating from 1806 to 1816 with later additions, was originally surveyed at a number of scales but was eventually reproduced at one-inch to the mile. It is now widely available in a facsimile edition at 1:63,360 scale and published by David & Charles. Land use types such as woodland, heath, marsh, parkland, settlements and routes are shown on these black and white maps but details can be obscured by the sometimes heavy topographic shading used. These maps can give an overall impression but are of limited use for the detailed study of any particular holding.

Extract from First edition OS, David & Charles map sheet 87

Ordnance Survey County and National Grid Series

Ordnance Survey maps are available for different time periods, known as epochs. Of particular interest here are the first four epochs which equate to the first edition and subsequent revisions of the County Series as follows:

First edition County Series published between 1843 and 1893 = epoch 1
First revision County Series published between 1891 and 1912 = epoch 2
Second revision County Series published between 1904 and 1939 = epoch 3
Third revision County Series published between 1919 and 1943 = epoch 4

The County Series maps were produced at scales of 6" to the mile and 25" to the mile and provide a great deal of detail for historical research.

These maps were produced on a grid for each county. Each 6" map sheet is usually given a Roman numeral to identify it within the grid, e.g. XXX refers to the 6" sheet number 30.

Some 6" maps are available as one map sheet per each grid square, whilst others are more readily available split into quarters with each of the quarter sheets designated NW, NE, SW and SE. Some editions may also be available as double quarter sheets, e.g. NW and NE quarters printed together on one sheet.

Each 6" grid square is subdivided into 16 equal areas each given an Arabic number; each of these 16 areas is equivalent to the coverage of an individual 25" map sheet, e.g. XXX/3 refers to a 25" map sheet which covers part of the area covered by the XXX 6" sheet.

map epoch1
Extract from OS epoch 1 sheet

 map epoch4
Extract from OS epoch 4 sheet

A researcher using the Ordnance Survey maps needs to become familiar with the different signs and symbols used on the maps to denote features and land use types, particularly as some of these have changed with the different epochs. Printed guides explaining the symbols are usually available at County Record Offices. Here is an example of the different land use types shown:

Estate, county, tithe and historic OS maps are most likely to be found at County Record Offices, although many local studies libraries will also have a collection of historic maps and other materials available for consultation. Archivists and librarians can provide information on the maps in their collection as well as guidance on their interpretation; often they have compiled guides and keys to help the researcher locate potentially useful sources. They will advise as to any restrictions on the photocopying or photographing of the maps. Soe map sources are available for purchase in printed or electronic forms.