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Guides to Our Sources


Introductory Note

This guide describes the main types of maps held by the North Devon Local Studies Centre, but it is not a comprehensive catalogue. Most categories listed include Record Office and non-Record Office material. For more information on maps and how to use them the following books may be useful:

  • Maps for Local History, Paul Hindle, 1988
  • Maps and Plans for the Local Historian and Collector, David Smith, 1988
  • Maps for Family History (PRO Readers' Guide), William Foot, 1994

County Maps

Before the 18th century many maps took the form of cartouches, vignettes and views of buildings seen in profile or from some aerial perspective. Some of the earliest truly topographical works were the county maps, such as Morden's map of Devon, 1695 (Ref. B91add/1). Morden's map shows main roads and settlements as well as the boundaries of hundreds (local administrative areas); however, relief is shown only in vague, pictorial form and the differentiation between sizes of settlements is generalised.

In 1765 Benjamin Donn produced a set of county maps at a scale of 1 inch to 1 mile, showing roads and settlements in detail. His maps are useful pointers to the location of large houses and industrial sites, but tend to omit many minor roads and off-road buildings. A further series of 1 inch to 1 mile county maps was produced by Christopher and James Greenwood from 1817 to 1839, including for Devon (Ref. B91add/2). The Greenwood map is far more comprehensive than Donn's and includes features such as turnpike roads, canals and railways, heaths and commons, parks and windmills. The Local Studies Library holds copies of both Donn's and Greenwoods' Devon maps.

Estate Maps

These developed mainly from an increase in the number of estate surveys in the 16th century. They are therefore often accompanied by written surveys listing tenants, fields, acreages, etc.. There are no standard symbols for estate maps, they are often inaccurate and the earliest ones are often little more than birds'-eye views. Though the standard of map-making improved in the 18th century, they still tend to show what appealed subjectively to the landowner or his surveyor. In scale they can vary from 6 inches to 50 inches per mile.

Estate maps held at the Record Office include the following: Bideford Bridge Trust property, 1745 (Ref. 4274add/1); East and West Horwood Bartons, Horwood, 1788 (Ref. 2239add6/19); East Barton, Tiverton, c.1724 (Ref. 2309B/FS32) and Speccott Barton, Merton, c.1765 (Ref. B230/1). Others can be located by using the place name index (under 'estates'). Estate maps can also be found in archives deposited by solicitors and land agents.

Parish and Village Maps

The Record Office holds a number of parish maps which can be located through the place name index (under 'maps and plans') or by using the parish record lists; these include a map of Countisbury and Lynmouth drawn up after the union of the two parishes, 1886 (Ref. 1911Aadd/PB5), a map of 'Woolsery Town', ie West Woolfardisworthy, on linen, 1879 (Ref. 922A/PZ1) and a set of various early 19th century parish and estate maps (Ref. B138/1-5).

Town Plans

Localised street maps could be said to have come into being with the practice in the late 17th and 18th centuries of appending plans to leases. As for plans showing entire towns, they can sometimes be found in some 18th century guide books, insets on county maps or as perspective views. However town plans in general are rare before 1800.

From 1811 proposals to Parliament for town improvements such as street paving had to be accompanied by large scale plans; duplicates were kept by Borough Councils and may still be found in Town or Borough records (see the Record Office 'List of Collections'). The Local Studies Library holds town plans for Barnstaple, 1843, and Bideford, 1842, showing the names of town centre businesses and occupiers. The same information for Barnstaple, Bideford and Ilfracombe, c.1970-present, can be found on the Goad insurance maps which the Library also holds. At the end of the 19th century, the production of 25" scale Ordnance Survey maps largely ended the work of the private town cartographer.

Ordnance Survey Maps

The first Ordnance Survey 1 inch to 1 mile maps, known as the 'Old Series', produced from 1809 on, are available for Devon in book form at the Local Studies Library. The 'Old Series' is far more detailed than even the later Greenwood maps; they include archaeological sites, mines (with differentiations for copper and tin), fortifications, land features, etc..

25 inch scale 1st and 2nd edition maps for north Devon (c.1890, 1904) are available from the Local Studies Library on microfiche. The 6 inch scale 1st and 2nd edition maps (same dates) are held by the north Devon Athenaeum and on microfiche by the Library. The Record Office holds a selection of 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps, some with their original hand-colouring. It also holds a similar selection of 2nd edition maps, some revised for use with the 1910 Inland Revenue land valuations, along with various 1932 revisions, as well as some 50 inch scale plans for Barnstaple and Bideford. The Library also holds more recent Ordnance Survey maps of various scales for north Devon.

Ordnance survey maps are accurate, detailed and comprehensive. Those unfamiliar with Ordnance Survey abbreviations and symbols will find the following book useful:

  • Ordnance Survey Maps: a descriptive manual, J B Harley, 1975

Tithe Maps

Tithe maps were drawn up around 1840 for each tithe district in England and Wales along with accompanying apportionments. Maps and apportionments together record the owner, occupier, name, usage, etc. of each piece of land in the district. Tithe maps differ widely in scale and accuracy and there is little standardisation among them. The Record Office holds copies of tithe maps and apportionments for Devon on microfiche and original tithe maps for some north Devon parishes.

Enclosure Maps

The parliamentary enclosure, or hedging off, of open fields, common and waste ground mainly took place in Devon between 1750 and 1870. The re-allotment of each enclosed piece of land to its new owner is recorded in enclosure awards with their accompanying maps. Unlike tithe maps, enclosure maps usually show only part of a parish and though fairly reliable tend to be patchy in terms of detail and area covered. However, as most areas in the county had already been enclosed during the Middle Ages, Devon has fewer enclosure awards than many other counties.

Parliamentary Deposited Plans

From 1793, Parliament began ordering the production of large-scale plans by those planning improvement projects such as canals, turnpike roads, railways, new harbours, tunnels, bridges, drainage and the supply of water, gas and electricity. In 1795 the minimum scale for these plans was set at half an inch to a mile, though this was changed to 1 inch to a mile in 1813 for some classes. In practice, the scales for most of these maps can vary from 2 inch to 44 inch scale. Early versions tend to be in manuscript form; later versions are printed. Often the maps will be accompanied by books of reference giving details of owners and occupiers of any lands affected.

Parliamentary deposited plans may be located amongst the records of private businesses (railway companies etc.), land agents, solicitors, estate, local authorities, etc. (see the Record Office's 'List of Collections'). Most, however, are held at the Devon Record Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter  (01392) 384253 as part of the Devon Quarter Sessions records.

Maps For Transport and Communications

In 1675, John Ogilby's 'Britannia' traced a substantial network of roads across England along with the settlements they connected. His map is set out topographically, in the form of a series of scrolls, and a copy is held for most of Devon at the Local Studies Library.

The development of major roads, railways and canals can be traced from the late 18th century through parliamentary deposited plans (described above). These are not the only sources, however. From 1773, for instance, justices of the peace could require a map to be drawn of any highway diversion or closure, a copy of which was enrolled at the Local Quarter Sessions Court (see place name index for Barnstaple, Bideford, South Molton and Great Torrington under 'local government'; for Devon in general, the deposited plans will be held at the Devon Record Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter as part of the Devon Quarter Sessions Records). Engineers' plans for canals exist from the late 18th century (see subject index under COMMUNICATIONS) and small-scale maps can also be found in the Gentleman's Magazine, held by the North Devon Athenaeum. More recent information on waterways can be located in the records of the North Devon Water Board (Ref B234). The standard of all these maps can vary widely. However, from c.1890 Ordnance Survey maps offer a more accurate representation.

Maritime Charts

These date from the 16th century to the present (see subject index under MAPS) and are primarily concerned with safe navigation. They therefore concentrate on landmarks, anchorages, rocks, etc.. They will also show coastal stretches of river, though little detail inland. Between 1829 and 1855 detailed admiralty charts were drawn up and these have since been consistently revised. The Record Office holds two collections of maritime and admiralty charts (Refs. B73 and B128) including the north Devon coast, Lundy, the Bristol Channel and various foreign waters. More modern maritime charts are held by the Local Studies Library.

Maps For Local Authorities

Local authorities often require maps to accompany planning applications, disputes over rights of way, etc. (see the Record Office 'List of Collections'). These vary from sketch plans to copies of Ordnance Survey maps. The Record Office holds, for instance, a map showing proposed telephone poles in Abbotsham, 1898 (Ref. 2414add2/Z138), a car park in Appledore, 1972 (Ref. 3978add/9) and Ilfracombe Urban District Council wards, 1921 (Ref. 2458add/7).

Other Maps

The Local Studies Library holds a selection of Ordnance Survey specialist maps for Devon, including soil surveys and geological maps as well as street plans for various Devon towns.

The Record Office subject indexes (under MAPS and PLANS) are worth searching for miscellaneous maps. These include topographical surveys of Braunton Burrows, 1957-70 (Ref. B335), an undated pharmaceutical map of the world (Ref. 276add/16), and a map showing the geographical distribution of dialect names in Devon for the woodlouse, 1965 (Ref. B291/11). References to many of the maps held by the North Devon Record Office can be located through the Access to Archives website at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a.