Our Collections

Devon Maps

An extensive collection of maps in hard copy and on microfiche can be found in the Local Studies collection at Devon Heritage Centre. These can be extremely helpful to the local historian, by showing how the local community has changed and developed over the years. The family historian can make use of them to see how their relatives fitted into the local landscape. Listed below are the types of maps held by Devon Heritage Centre.

1. Early maps
2. Ordnance Survey
3. Town plans
4. Thematic maps

1. Early maps

The tradition of surveying is not so well developed in early centuries in this country as on the continent and much reliance was placed on written description of estates until the eighteenth century. Most local studies libraries only have engraved county maps whose interest is decorative rather than topographical.

The Local Studies Collectiony has examples of virtually every county map produced between the first survey of Devon made by Christopher Saxton in the 1570s until the mid 19th century. Until the first edition of the Ordnance Survey in 1809 all maps of the county were based on Saxton except Benjamin Donn's prize-winning survey of 1765. While Donn’s map showed only the main roads, side roads and tracks were first shown by the Ordnance Survey in the early 1800’s. Fields boundaries were also shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps but these were mainly schematic. It was not until the tithe maps of about 1840 (Held at the Devon Record Office) and the 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey plans from the 1860s that fields were represented accurately.

Apart from the Ordnance Survey, two cartographers have produced one inch to the mile maps of Devon: Benjamin Donn whose Map of the county of Devon was published in 1765 (reprinted by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society in 1965) and C. and J.Greenwood's Map of the county of Devon from an actual survey made in the years 1825 & 1826 (1827). Both are widely available in the Devon Heritage Centre and the Greenwood survey is available on the web with selective links to Donn's survey for some areas. The image below is of Saxton’s map of Devon, 1575.

Saxton's map of Devon 1575

2. Ordnance Survey

The establishment of the Ordnance Survey in 1791 brought a new standard of mapping to the British Isles. Photographs of the manuscript drafts used for the first edition of the Ordnance Survey one inch to a mile map of Devon are held in Devon Heritage Centre. They were produced at scales ranging from two to six inches to one mile between 1784 and 1809 and the originals are in the British Library. Although field boundaries are shown, these are normally schematic only.

The first edition (Old Series) of the one inch to a mile map covering Devon was published in 1809. The same plates were used until the 1880s with selective alteration for railways, new roads and other major changes. The facsimile published by Harry Margary in book form uses the earliest version of the plates' while the sheets published by David and Charles are taken from late electrotype plates, usually of the 1870s and 1880s and show railways. The second edition (New Series) was current in Devon from about 1886 to 1910, the third edition from about 1910 to 1918 the fourth edition (Popular Edition) from about 1918 to 1933, the fifth edition from about 1933 to 1939, the sixth edition (New Popular) from about 1946 to 1957 and the seventh series from about 1953 to 1972), at which date they were replaced by the 1:50,000 first series (1974-). The second (Landranger) series was introduced in Devon in c1985. While too small for detailed local history research these small scales were revised more frequently than the larger scales and can record major changes

County Series The large-scale survey of the British Isles was delayed by a dispute over the scale at which it was to be published and it did not commence publication in Devon until 1864. From this period the first edition of the six inch to a mile (1:10,560) and 1:2,500 plans of the Plymouth and Torbay area were published concurrently. Coverage of the remainder of the county had to wait until 1885-90. A second edition was published for most of the county in 1905-6 and revisions for the built-up areas also appeared, mostly in the 1930s. The central areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor were not covered at a scale of 1:2,500.The Westcountry Studies Library has the first and second editions of the 1:2500 and 1:10,560 sheets for Devon  on microfiche. Revised editions must be consulted in hard copy. Between 1855 and 1892 the Ordnance Survey published even larger scale town plans (typically 1:500) of the following towns in Devon: Barnstaple, Bideford, Brixham, Crediton, Dartmouth, Dawlish, Exeter, Exmouth, Ilfracombe, Newton Abbot, Plymouth, Tavistock, Teignmouth, Tiverton, Torquay and Totnes. Microfiches of these extremely detailed plans are available in the Devon Heritage Centre.

National Grid Series maps were introduced after the second world war. From 1945 large-scale Ordnance Survey plans were based on a metric national grid. The 100 Km squares which cover Devon are SS, ST SX and SY. Within these main squares references are given by counting first the eastings and then the northings. Thus a two figure reference (e.g. ST12 is accurate to within ten kilometres, a four figure reference (e.g. ST1234) to within one kilometre and a six-figure reference (e.g. ST123456) to within one hundred meters. A large collection of these maps are held in Devon Heritage Centre and a rough guide to the collection's coverage is set out below.

1:63,360/1:50,000 , (one inch to the mile) sheets covering  Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset 1945 to date.

1:25,000: ( two and half inch to the mile) sheets covering Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset  1945 to date.

The 1:10,560/1:10,000  (six inches to the mile) . for the whole of Devon together with parts of of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset . 1950s to 2000.

·The 1:2,500.(twenty five inches to the mile) Most of Devon although dates and editions may vary from place to place. 1945 - 1990..

1:1250. (fifty inches to the mile). Maps at this scale were only issued for major urban areas. Devon Heritage Centre has full coverage for Exeter and Exmouth with partial coverage for other towns. 1945 - 1990.

With the introduction of digital mapping from the early 1990's, the Ordnance Survey ceased to publish dated paper editions of maps at the 1:10,000, 1:2500, and 1:1250 scales.

The image below shows part of the centre of Exeter at a scale of six inches to the mile (Ordnance Survey sheet 80NW).

Exeter Ordnance Survey Sheet 80NW


There are few large-scale town plans before 1800, and most recent ones are derived from Ordnance Survey mapping. A great problem is that many publishers did not add dates of publication to town plans. Folded town plans held in the Local Studies Collection are usually filed alphabetically by place but are also frequently found in local guidebooks. There is a guide to maps of Exeter available on the web.  


Tithe Maps.
The tithe maps for Devon, mostly dating from about 1840 are deposited in the Devon Heritage Centre which also holds estate maps and other plans. The tithe apportionment books which accompany the tithe maps list farms and other premises with names of owners and occupiers. Field names are also included along with land use, acreage and the tithe rent payable. Tithe surveys, are often the earliest large-scale surveys of parishes, and are invaluable for tracing estates of major landowners. They also show roads and watercourses. Enclosure Acts with the accompanying surveys are relatively uncommon in Devon and largely confined to the east of the county. The tithe apportionment books have been indexed by the Friends of Devon’s Archives.

Geological Survey
Sheet numbering is based on the 2nd series 1:63,360 of the Ordnance Survey but sheets are now being reissued on the scale of 1:50,000. For many sheets there is a geological memoir which includes sections on economic geology. The Devon Heritage Centre holds geological maps at a scale of 1:50,000 for most of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.

Land utilisation survey
Produced at a scale of 1:63,360, mainly in the 1940s and not updated. Revised sheets are kept at Bedford College in the University of London. Devon Heritage Centre holds some sheets for Devon.

Land use maps
Only a very few sheets have been issued at a scale of 1:25,000. These are held in the Devon Heritage Centre.

Agricultural land classification
Published in the 1970s on the sheet lines of the 7th edition of the 1:63,360 Ordnance Survey mapping. For some sheets there is a brief accompanying memoir. There is also a 1:250,000 sheet for the whole region. Sets for Devon are held in Devon Heritage Centre.

Soil survey
Not all of the county has been covered at a large scale. For large-scale sheets that have been issued (some at 1:25,000, some at 1:63,360) there is normally a memoir. Some sheets are held in the Devon Heritage Centre.

Goad plans

Originally published for Exeter and Plymouth between 1888 and 1962, at a scale of 1 inch to 40 feet. They were updated by means of paste-on slips and are extremely detailed. Superseded in the 1970’s by paper sheets which are updated annually. The shopping centre surveys are compiled for the larger towns of Devon and are available in Devon Heritage Centre on aperture cards for the early maps and in hard copy for the post 1970 sheets.

Navigation charts
Besides those published by the Admiralty Hydrographic Department, the firm of Imray have published charts for yachtsmen. It should be noted that the Admiralty do not allow any copying from charts which are still in copyright. The Devon Heritage Centre holds archival and contemporary navigation charts for the Westcountry.