Part 7: The Map in Georgian Society – Maps as Cultural Artefacts


We are almost at the end of this life-story: the map has been surveyed, engraved, printed and published; we know something of how it was put into the market-place and at what price; and we have attempted to shed some light on the economics of the enterprise. The remaining questions concern the identity of those who purchased and used the map, what value they attached to it, and how it was enjoyed. Once again we are obliged to draw comparisons and rely on the few references in contemporary sources. But first we consider the evidence for the importance of maps, of all kinds, in Georgian society.

Maps in Georgian Society

It is not difficult to find evidence that maps were ubiquitous in the 18th century. The thriving map trade shows the extent to which maps were bought and sold, and we have already looked at the catalogues of some of the main map publishers. Maps were present in great variety in private collections, witness to the fact that ownership was widespread at least among the educated in society. Harley & Walters examine the contents of William Roy’s library auctioned in 1790 (1977) and survey the evidence of map collecting in Sotheby sale catalogues from the early 19th century (1978), and maps are present in original sale catalogues of 18th century library collections (Gale Digital 2013).

Atlases continued to be popular in the 18th century (Hodson 1997), and as we have already seen, towards the end of the century the new county maps assumed the status of authorities in the published atlases of Cary and others. A characteristic of 18th century society was ‘a broadening of participation in the national life’ (Reitan 1985 p.54) and journalism contributed to this development among a growing reading public. The popularity of maps is reflected in their use as illustrations in Edward Cave’s Gentlemen’s Magazine and its imitators, the London Magazine, the Universal Magazine and several others (Reitan 1985, Jolly 1990).

The Purchasers

If maps were prevalent in Georgian society what can we say about the purchasers of the large scale county surveys, and the Nottinghamshire map in particular. In the absence of a subscription list we cannot identify individuals, but by drawing parallels with other subscription lists we can imply something of their social and geographic distribution.

The subscribers for the Leicestershire map (Leicestershire Subscribers) were predominantly from within the county (88%). The adjacent counties accounted for most of the remainder, but there were a few from as far away as London, Bath and Durham. The largest social group were the Nobility and Gentry of the county (50%) and included the Duke of Portland in Nottinghamshire. The clergy accounted for another 23% and the remainder were private individuals including 7 military men, 6 women and 21 from the ‘professions’. An analysis of subscriptions for Chapman’s Essex map (Essex Subscribers) is less revealing because there is no information on the address or profession of the subscribers. The Nobility and Gentry accounted for 76% and included two members of Royalty. There were many more military men than in Leicestershire, far fewer clergy and no women.

Although we lack a subscription list for the Nottinghamshire map we have some contemporary evidence of purchasers even if we cannot know how or where they made their purchases. Chapman’s map was included in the library of William Roy auctioned by Christie’s in 1790 (Harley & Walters 1777). Roy was a military surveyor and his extensive collection of maps included virtually all the large scale county surveys.

The Nottinghamshire map also featured in the libraries of four map collectors auctioned by Sotheby between 1790 and 1840 (Harley & Walters 1778): Michael Lort, John Hey, Capt. Hurd RN, and an anonymous collector. With only one or two exceptions all the county maps appeared in these auctions. Maps were frequently bundled and not separately named in the catalogues, but where they were, the Nottinghamshire map was the fourth most frequently listed. The printed catalogue of another collector, Ralph Willett (1719-95) includes a good number of the county maps including the 1776 edition of the Nottinghamshire map.

Catalogue of Ralph Willett’s Library

The final piece of evidence for ownership of the Nottinghamshire map takes us to France. The map publisher William Faden, and his predecessor Thomas Jefferys bought and sold maps in Paris and possibly the other centres of the European market, Amsterdam and Nurnberg. Some correspondence from map publishers in Paris has survived in the archives (Pedley 2000) and in a small selection of letters from 1781 and 1783, orders for 8 county maps are discussed, one of which is Nottinghamshire. As we know, the map does not appear in Faden’s 1778 catalogue and he did not acquire the plates until December 1784, which perhaps explains why the correspondence concerns his failure to fulfil the order.

We can only speculate as to why a Parisian map seller wanted to purchase any of the large scale county maps and which customers they had in mind. We do know that virtually all the county maps appear in the archives of several European libraries, frequently, but not always, the revised editions published by Faden. The Nottinghamshire map only appears once, in the Bibliotheque National in Paris. Researching the provenance of this and other county maps, may shed some light on the continental map trade, but is well beyond the scope of this dissertation.

Extant copies of the Large-Scale County Maps in European Archives

What value the map?

We have now exhausted all the contemporary sources for the ownership of Chapman’s map and whilst the vast majority of those owners must remain unknown, we can nevertheless make some observation about what value they may have derived from their ownership of the map.

Although still administratively weak in the 18th century, the county or shire was a significant reality, regionally and politically. We can only speculate what value Chapman’s map had for the civic authorities in Nottingham, Mansfield, Newark and Retford. If nothing else it placed those centres and a multitude of villages and hamlets in proper geographic relation to each other, and regularised the boundaries of the county. According to Macnair(2010) the county maps were used for this purpose in the first national census in 1801. On a more mundane level, the accurate measurement of road distances and the positioning of mile posts facilitated calculation of postage rates. Were the county maps of value to the promoters of turnpike roads and enclosures during the later decades of the 18th century? Certainly there was a steady increase in the production of local and estate maps as the century progressed (Estate & Enclosure Maps), and Chapman’s map clearly identified the extent of common land in the county. By the end of the century Britain was at war with France and Macnair(2010) argues that maps of the counties along the south and east coasts were valuable to the military authorities. Certainly most of the county maps, including Nottinghamshire, are present in the War Office collection at the Public Record Office.

There is plenty of evidence that maps were in use and on display in the 18th century, at all levels in society. The Duke of Bedford’s library at Woburn Abbey had a map-reading room, the Cambridge Colleges bought maps for their parlours and by 1794 the possessions of an employee at a Cheshire cotton mill would include two maps (Bendall 1992). Much earlier in the century, maps were being advertised as ‘useful instructive and diverting Ornaments for Halls, Rooms, Passages etc.’. The county maps certainly had a decorative quality, although some more than others, and were a ‘source of visual pleasure’ (Skelton 1952), and a ‘commodious ornament for every man’s House’ (Macnair 2010). Maps were displayed, both for their decorative qualities and as representations of the status of individuals and families. Estate maps particularly, but also the county maps on which the names of the Gentry were carefully placed beside their houses and estates. We have already seen that some of the extant versions of Chapman’s map show evidence of having been framed and others are attached to rollers. Bendall(1992) gives an example of library furniture having been adapted to display a Cambridgeshire estate map and notes that a map of the county was similarly displayed. The same adaptation was used in the library at Caulk Abbey, Derbyshire.

Caulke Abbey library

For the educated in society, the new county maps would have been a source of intellectual pleasure, particularly for those who were purchasers of the various county histories that were being published (Macnair 2011). They would also have appealed to those with antiquarian interests. Burdett’s proposal for Derbyshire promised an account ‘of such Places as principally abound with natural or antique Curiosities’ (Harley 1975), and Isaac Taylor’s maps were noted for their antiquarian details. Chapman’s map includes some antiquarian details.


King John's Palace (Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)
King John’s Palace
(Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)


Roman Station (Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)
Roman Station
(Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)


Barrows and Encampments (Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)
Barrows and Encampments
(Image courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library)



Maps were ubiquitous in Georgian society and ownership extended across the social scale. The large-scale county surveys were intended for, and initially purchased by, an educated local elite, but ultimately found their way into a national and international market-place. These maps presented accurate and detailed information on the local topography which was valuable to local administrators, promoters of developments in transport and agriculture and, in the case of the coastal counties, the military authorities faced with a potential threat from France. They were purchased and displayed for their decorative value and for the prestige they conferred on those whose ownership of the land was clearly represented. They were purchased by an increasingly educated and enquiring public, interested in antiquities and natural history, and appreciative of the scientific foundations of these new and accurate representations of the local landscape.

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