#LoveMaps – Bob Silvester

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events - Posted 19-04-2018

Dr Bob Silvester, FSA, Visiting Professor, University of Chester takes part in our #LoveMaps campaign.

A professional archaeologist for all of his working life, first in Devon and Somerset and later in Norfolk, he moved to Wales in 1989 when appointed deputy director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. He retired from CPAT at the beginning of 2016, and for research purposes he is now affiliated to the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester. His interest in all types of historic maps, but especially estate mapping, emerged during his time in the Norfolk fenlands where maps were a vital adjunct to the fieldwork that was unravelling the development of the historic landscape. Over the last twenty-five years his interest in mapping has grown, and now with retirement, he is able to spend more time immured in local record offices and, of course, the National Library, examining maps of east Wales and the adjacent border counties in England.

William Williams’ Denbigh and Flint

As an archaeologist I have found little of interest in county maps. Almost invariably they were drawn at a scale too small to show details of the landscape changes that are significant for us in our studies. Over years of working in north-east Wales, however, I’d periodically come across references to William Williams’ New map of Denbigh and Flint, generally attributed to 1720 or 1721, in books and articles without encountering the map itself. What such references shared in common was the claimed connection with a handful of others from the early eighteenth century, together exemplifying a ‘new wave’ of county maps that succeeded those of Saxton, Norden and Speed from the end the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, with William Williams’ map the sole Welsh representative in a distinguished line-up .

William Williams himself had an interesting if relatively brief career, producing some elegant estate surveys in the mid-1730s for big landowners in north-east Wales and Cheshire, before succumbing to a ‘gout in his stomach’ in 1739. He is though better known outside Wales for his volume of architectural drawings entitled Oxonia Depicta published in 1732-33. It was inevitable that in studying his estate surveys, I’d look at Williams’ earlier cartographic work, and two perhaps not unrelated facts soon emerged. One was that little had been written about the surveyor, a recent writer on Oxford’s historic architecture terming him obscure, which is probably in the context of middle England a fair comment. And of his county map, the only comments of substance are in a paper compiled by the National Library’s Glyn Walters in 1968. More intriguingly, it was apparent in 1968 and even more so today that despite the fact that this purports to be a printed map, only one original copy is known – that housed in the National Library – which might go some way to explaining why so little has been written about it.

At first sight Williams’ map is rather different from its county predecessors. It is in modern parlance ‘very busy’. There is hardly a square inch of spare space because the compiler has packed in around the perimeter of the map a large number of armorial shields, each seemingly crossed referenced by number or letter to the houses of the aristocracy and gentry that are marked on the map itself. For the most prominent families – the Grosvenors, the Mostyns, the Wynns – the heraldry is accompanied by drawn elevations of their principal country residences. As if this were not enough blank areas around the mapped counties are filled in with prospects of Chester and Denbigh, two of the counties’ great churches – Wrexham and Gresford – though not we might note the cathedral at St Asaph, and the lead works or ‘workhouse’ at Gadlis near Flint. Yet evidence is accumulating, though it’s something I’m still working on, that Williams adopted elements of Saxton’s late sixteenth-century map or perhaps more likely one of its later derivatives for his own plan, rather than surveying the two counties anew. He then corrected or updated place-names, perhaps removed one or two buildings that had disappeared during the previous century and a half, but compensated by adding large numbers of mansions as well some major roads.

There aren’t as far as I have been able to establish many published maps which displayed the characteristic of a map encompassed by the arms of the region’s leading landowners, though perhaps a reader of this blog may be better informed than I am. One that has just been fully published by the Cambridgeshire Records Society is Jonas Moore’s Mapp of the Great Levell of the Fenns from 1658, another is John Senex’s A New General Atlas… published in London where the numerous subscribers to his world atlas are represented across numerous introductory pages by their coats-of-arms. The date of the General Atlas – 1721 – is significant in the context of William Williams’ work, not least because at the end of the title band on the county map is inscribed L Senex sculp.t

Digital version of this map

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