As we move into August and thoughts turn to summer holidays, over the next few weeks the Special Collections will be featuring a series of blogs celebrating the theme of travel and voyages. And to help you on your way to your destination, we start with a look at the development of western traditions of maps and map-making from the sixteenth century onwards.The production of maps and of maritime charts often went hand in hand with exploration and trade. The full extent of the continent of Africa, for instance, was not known to Europeans until Bartholomew Diaz reached the southern cape in 1487. The first maps based on a knowledge of the African coastline only began to appear in the sixteenth century. Western maps of Asia, the earliest and best of which were produced in the Low Countries, drew on accounts of Portuguese traders as well as missionaries and Spanish and Dutch voyages of discovery.
Translated into English as The mariners mirror in 1588, Lucas Jansson Waghenaer’s Spieghel der Zeevaerdt (Leiden, 1584), a guide for navigators which contained a combination of earlier maritime ‘route books’ or rutters, and coastal charts, was to exert an enormous influence. John Sellar was to publish the first English pilots a century later. His Atlas maritimus (London, 1675) was a collection of maritime charts describing sea-coasts “in most of the known parts of the world collected from the latest and best discoveries that have been made by divers able and experienced navigators of our English nation”. Copies varied considerably in content and were probably made up to suit each purchaser. The volume at Southampton has 40 maps and one set of coloured plates.For travellers wishing to journey nearer to home, local topographical maps were not common until the sixteenth century. Prior to that most descriptions of the countryside were verbal rather than visual. The growth in the sixteenth century was linked to technological developments enabling means of surveying and producing accurate representations and also to a new curiosity for knowledge about the world.
The principal influences behind the creation of this new iconography were threefold. Firstly, practical: many of the earliest maps had a military purpose as well as being extensively used in legal disputes or for setting out boundaries. Secondly, visual: they were a potent form of display. From the sixteenth century, maps were hung on the walls of houses and palaces, showing ancestral estates, kingdoms or the strength of a regional identity. Thirdly, the development of printing, with the use of engraved copper plates, provided a ready way of making these images available.
The first widespread cartographic depictions of Europe date from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The work of Christopher Saxton, who surveyed the UK in the 1570s, was considered a high point in topographical description.Saxton maps were small-scale, in that they covered large areas with little detail. Maps of counties at a large scale, which covered small geographical areas in great detail, were the product of the eighteenth century, arising from Enlightenment interest in scientific representation. The Ordnance Survey of Britain was under way in the 1790s marking an approach to topography on a national basis. Although the Ordnance Survey was not finally undertaken in Ireland until 1824, work on mapping counties had begun, under the auspices of grand juries, in the 1770s. Neville Bath, for instance, had been engaged to produce maps for Counties Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Limerick which were bought up by the Irish government in 1808 during the time when the Duke of Wellington was Chief Secretary for Ireland.
So when you are next embarking on a journey instead of turning to your satnav why not try out using a map instead?