A1-The Great North Road

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Map makers


The first map is Roman but it got lost. Fortunately it was copied in the 13th century and in this form is known as the Peutinger Table.  Unfortunately the end of it which might have shown the Great North Road also got lost.  But here's a bit from France anyway.  The real thing is kept in Vienna.

 Extract of Peutinger Table reproduced from Kandaouroff



About 1250, Matthew Paris, a monk at S. Albans, drew four maps of Britain based on earlier world maps for their outlines.  While not actually showing the roads they contain an itinerary, drawn as a straight line, from Newcastle to London and on to Dover.  Its route passed through St Albans, now a little west of the Great North Road, Doncaster, Boroughbridge, Northallerton and Durham. The maps are kept at the British Library but Richard Gough had them engraved and published in his British Topography Vol I in 1780.

Gough's Paris Map



Here is Gough's description of the Paris Great North Road: Returning Southward through the centre of England we meet with Ripun [Ripon]; on a river Ponsfractus [Pontefract]; on the Dan, Danecast' [Doncaster]; then Blie' [Blythe], Neuwerc on Trente, Beawer [Belvoir-castle], Stanford on the Weiland, Leicest on the Sorey, Northaton, Dunestaple, Seus Albanus.  Prim. [primus] fluvius Anglie, the Thames, is represented as rising from two sources, Yse and Tame. Cherewelle, on which is Oxonia, runs towards it from the North-west; and lower on the Thames is Walingford.  On each side of London is this line:

Si pagina parteretur hic total insula longior esse debet.

From Durham to Dover is a line drawn like a road, and a branch of it from Dunstable to Leicester.  Another such line runs from Peterborough to Chester.


Gough's British Topography is a massive compendium of the state of the subject in 1780.  Not only does it contain fold out copies of the Paris maps, it is most famous for the inclusion of another medieval map that has come to be known as the 'Gough Map'.  The original vellum is now kept at the Bodleian Library and you can buy a facsimile from their on-line shop for £15. 

The original Gough Map from the Bodleian

The engraving published in Gough's British Topography

Click the thumbnail for a large version of this map.

It was probably drawn about 1360 but the author is unknown.  It is very crudely drawn but seems to be the earliest map that shows roads connecting the towns.  Quite a chunk of the Great North Road appears.  Gough gives this accompanying account in British Topography:

The late Mr. Thomas Martin shewed to the same society (Soc. of Antiquaries) at the same time (1768) a map on vellum, which he supposed to be of the age of Edward III in which the names of London and York were distinguished by large gold letters.  This map I purchased at a sale of his MSS, 1774, and shall subjoin the following account of it, to illustrate the copy made by Mr. Bafire, pl VI.  It is drawn on two skins of vellum, in a style superior to any of the maps already described... The roads are marked by lines, and even the miles in each stage.  But the greatest merit of this map is, that it may justly boast itself the first among us wherein the roads and distances are laid down.

The distances are given in miles, perhaps the old French miles of about 11/4 statute miles or maybe the local miles, which varied from area to area.  As a collection of itineraries it is accurate, with places in the correct topological relationship to each other but there is little attempt at a maintaining a consistent scale.  Nothing is known of its origin, purpose and use or its provenance before the Martin sale of 1768.   Both the Paris and Gough maps are reproduced in Harvey's Medieval Maps.

Throughout the Medieval period and right into the 17th Century, most maps showed towns and villages but left the roads out.  Christopher Saxton's county maps, published between 1574 and 1576 may have been the first comprehensive set of accurate maps of England.  Saxton created a 21-sheet, 8 miles to the inch, map of England in 1583. John Norden improved them and in 1610, John Speed published his county maps.  But most did not have the roads marked.  It was not until 1689 to 93 that Philip Lea added roads to a new version of Saxton's Atlas.  Before then one needed a 'road book' to find one's way about.  Road books were descriptions of routes with lists of places and directions but not maps.  Grafton in 1570 and Holinshed in 1577  wrote road books, both entitled Chronicles of Englande.  Norden's 1625 road book, An Intended Guide for English Travelers was the first to include a triangular distance table.  He also included some roads on his few county surveys.

In 1675 John Ogilby published the first really accurate set of road maps.  He had the main roads accurately measured with a 'Wheel Dimensurator' or 'waywiser' and recorded places on route, junctions with side roads, rivers and hills.  He used a scale of one inch to a mile, marking a dot every furlong along the road.  The statute mile, defined as 1760 yards, was made legal in 1593 but had been adopted only around London and Westminster.  The length of a mile was not at all standardised elsewhere.  Smith quotes from a 1617 commentary: a common English mile makes one and halfe Italian, but towards the north, and in some particular places of England the miles are longer, among which the Kentish mile is proverbially held to be extraordinarily long.  Ogilby's use of the statute mile did much to establish it throughout the country and the one inch to a mile scale became widely used in county cartography and eventually by the Ordnance Survey, having been established by the Act for the Uniformity of Measures in 1824.  Ogilby's maps were published in an atlas named Britannia. Each map page had the road drawn, rather quaintly, as if on a strip of rolled paper, about two and a half inches wide, with compass roses showing the orientation of each strip.  Pages with accompanying notes were interleaved with the maps.  Britannia contains a hundred pages of strip maps and over two hundred pages of text

Ogilby's Britannia was printed on folio sized paper, 21" high and weighed over 4 pounds, so was hardly the travellers' pocket book but it was not until about forty years later, in 1719, that John Senex published a quarto (8" x 10") copy, this being soon followed, in 1720, by Emanuel Bowen's octavo (8" x 5") version named Britannia Depicta or Ogilby Improved.  Map dealers, Richard Nicholson, have a nice biography of John Ogilby on their Antique Maps website.

Here are the plates for the Road from London to Barwick

Travel in the pre road map era must have relied on asking the locals, as is illustrated by Celia Fiennes.  This from "My Great Journey to Newcastle and to Cornwall" of 1698.  Whilst in Suffolk, she wrote: ...and generally the people here are able to give so bad a direction that passengers are at a loss what aime to take, they know scarce 3 mile from their home, and meete them where you will, enquire how farre to such a place, they mind not where they are then but tell you so farre which is the distance from their own houses to that place.

Celia Fiennes also comments on the pre-Ogilby variations of the mile: ...to Beckle which in all was 36 miles from Ipswich - but exceeding long miles - they do own they are 41 measured miles....

John Speed (c1552-1629) produced an atlas, in 1611, entitled The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine: presenting an exact geography of the kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the iles adioyning: with the shires, hundreds, cities and shire-townes, within ye kingdome of England.

But Ogilby took measuring the miles seriously.  Here are his notes from Plate IV of London to Berwick.   

We brought you in Plate the 3rd to the City of York, whereof we there gave a short account; reckoning from the Standard in Cornhill London to Micklegate  on the SouthWest of that City 192 Miles, and to the middle of the City about 192'4; By the direct superficial Protraction of the said road about 176 Miles; but the direct Horizontal distance not above 162 mile; This we mention, for that about 40 years ago Mr Norwood making the said Horizontal Distance 177 Miles, stated thence a degree of Latitude at 69'5 English Miles, which Mr Oughtred by an Angle to the centre of the Earth reduces to 66'25 and we incline to believe will not prove above 63 Miles; but hope shortly to adjust more accurately this important thesis.


However great an advance in cartography is represented by Ogilby's map, it is pretty crude by comparison with Armstrong's version a century later.  In 1776 he not only draws the line of the road much more accurately but also represents houses in their true positions and adds cross roads, rivers, hills shown by hachuring, Roman roads, battlefields with the crossed sword symbol etc.  Compare these two examples from the Great North Road near Newark.  I wonder if the 'Long' in Long Bennington came from Ogilby's exaggerated drawing!

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Captain Andrew Armstrong retired from the army in 1763 to set up a map-publishing business which his son, Mostyn, joined.  Although best known for their large scale county maps, Mostyn intended to produce a series of road books, of which only the London to Edinburgh and London to Dover volumes were published.

Here's Armstrong's 1769 map of part of Northumberland.  Thanks to Andy's North of England Page.

In 1799 Thomas Reynolds published Iter Britanniarum, his translation and annotation of the Itinerary of Antonius, within which he gives this map of Roman roads.  The Roman Great North Road from London through Royston, Lincoln, Boroughbridge and on to Hadrian's Wall is clearly marked.  Click on the image to enlarge.

John Cary (1754-1835) was the pre-eminent mapmaker and publisher of his time.  A prolific output combined with new standards of draughtsmanship and copper engraving.  His maps were functional, concentrating on content rather than decoration.  Cary was engaged, in 1794, to measure the post and mail-coach roads for the General Post Office.  These measurements were published in 1798 as his Itinerary.  He produced several atlases.  The New and Correct English Atlas of 1787 contained fine, quarto, county maps that gave special emphasis to the roads by distinguishing between major and minor roads.  The smallest was the Traveller's Companion at just under 4 by 6 inches.  It was first published in 1790 with later editions combined with the Itinerary.  

Continuation of the roads to Glasgow & Edinburgh, as far as Longtown & Morpeth, with roads to Scarborough, Whitby, Sunderland, and South & North Shields.

Creator (as stated on item): [By N. Coltman,] B. Smith sc.
Place of publication: London
Other publication given: published... by Laurie & Whittle, No. 53 Fleet Street
Date of publication: 1815


Contents description: map of Durham county, with parts of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire. Post roads from London are coloured buff; other main roads from London are marked with a heavy black line. The stylised, artificially straight marking of the roads may owe something to the strip map convention of the earliest road atlases. Distances from the principal places to London are given. Text on map: 'The road from York through New Malton, to Scarborough; and that from New Malton, through Pickering, to Whitby, are laid down on half the scale of the other roads for the purpose of giving them in their proper places'
New edition of the map originally published 12 Feb. 1806. Plate 21 from Laurie and Whittle's New traveller's companion, edition uncertain.


Thomas Moule was a writer on topography and heraldry and a bookseller.  He produced a series of steel engraved county maps in the 1830s, notable for their decorative embellishments and vignettes at a time when such decoration was going out of fashion amongst the mapmakers.

Joshua Archer's county maps from the 1840s contrast starkly with Moule's, being plain and functional.

Tourist Approaches from the South. For the country north of Yorkshire and Lancashire the best road is undoubtedly the Great North Road from London to Doncaster, and this road should be chosen if at all convenient.  For Newcastle go by Boroughbridge... So reads Harry Inglis' little book, The 'Contour' Road Book of England. It was published in 1911 and seems to have been written for tourists with motor cars at a time when motoring was still quite adventurous and hills had to be taken seriously.  It describes itself as,  A Series of Elevation Plans of the Roads, with Measurements and Descriptive Letterpress.  With 500 Diagrams and Maps.  The quality of road surface and gradients were of particular concern but 'Principal Objects of Interest' along the routes are also listed, albeit, briefly.

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Click on this thumbnail to see Inglis' description of the Great North Road between York and Newcastle.

A great resource on maps and their makers is the online book, Antique Maps by Carl Moreland and David Bannister.  Chapter 5 on road maps and Chapter 15 on English map makers are of particular interest.  Antique Maps of the British Isles by David Smith is a fine reference book.

John Warburton

According to the Blanchard Family History Society: In 1731, John Warburton, Somerset Herald (1682-1759) went on his famous tour of Yorkshire, noting all the landed and armigerous families of the county. The following year he produced his magnificent map of Yorkshire showing all the seats of the gentry in the County, and emblazoned around the map were hundreds of coats of arms of the families, referenced to the various seats.

The following was gleaned from Talking History: In 1749, Nathaniel Hill engraved two maps for John Warburton, Middlesex which is dated 1749, and Hertfordshire which is undated. At about the same time, Hill published a map of the country between Newcastle, to mark a proposed new route between these towns, but the map also included much information on the Roman antiquities of the region, particularly Hadrian's Wall. It is worth remarking that Warburton published a map of Northumberland in 1716, in which he included much information on Roman remains, and in 1753, Warburton published a book 'Vallum Romanum' covering much of the same ground, and Hill's map may be related to Warburton's activities. Warburton, John (1682–1759). Vallum Romanum: or the history and antiquities of the Roman wall, commonly called the Picts’ wall. 1753. The map of Yorkshire, by John Warburton, Somerset Herald, F.R.S., F.S.A., was made to a scale of two and a half miles to an inch from a survey by compass bearings and measured distances, the field books of which remain among the Lansdowne MSS. in the British Museum. Several volumes (Lansdowne MSS. 909-914) of Warburton's notes and memoranda contain references to Roman roads, and show that his map was produced after observation in all parts of the country. He had previously surveyed the Roman wall, and had published a map of Northumberland from actual survey, upon which Roman roads are laid down. The map of Yorkshire was published by subscription in 1720. A note on it says that The Roman military ways are shown by two unequal black lines, and when discontinued or broken off are not visible." The map shows that the meaning is that a pair of lines, a thick and a thin line, indicate a Roman road visible, and where the lines are broken, the road is not visible. Warburton's map is now very scarce, but there are copies in the Bodleian Library, and in the Bradford Free Library. A map of Yorkshire by Overton and Bowles, 1728, and other maps of the Ridings published about 1750 by E. Bowen, are evidently copied from it, the curiously expressed notes relating to Roman roads being repeated verbatim, except that a reference by Warburton in one of them to his map of Northumberland is omitted.

Warburton's map of Yorkshire shows roads in great detail.  Only forty-five years since Ogilby's Britannia but this is a much more sophisticated map.  Warburton was particularly interested in the Roman Roads, drawing them clearly but not always quite accurately, assuming that they were even straighter than they really were.  An example is seen just north of Scotch Corner.  He also marks Ricknield Street.  A striking feature of the way Warburton has drawn the Roman roads is that they seem to be superimposed on a landscape with an existing road network that is largely independent of the Roman roads.  It is as if the Roman roads had been abandoned and a new network had evolved, sometimes with roads running pretty much in the same direction.  This is particularly evident in the Leeming lane / Dere Street section between Boroughbridge and Scotch Corner.  Warburton's map suggests that by 1720 the Roman roads had been abandoned in favour of a local network.  By 1776 Armstrong's relatively accurate map shows Leeming Lane being used on the old Roman line.  Had the Roman road been reinstated or is Warburton grossly misleading?  In other respects the Warburton map is inconsistent in its reliability, with some details precisely matching the existing geography while elsewhere it is miles out.


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