The History of Wales in 12 Maps

Collections / News and Events - Posted 24-05-2016

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this is never truer than when it comes to maps. Maps predate the written word and it has even been suggested that they may predate speech itself and form part of our evolutionary history as humans.

Every map tells a story about the place it shows, which goes well beyond the mere content and purpose of the map to reveal the very roots of the society in which it was made and maps of Wales are no exception

Daearlen “Excelsior” Bacon Cymru / golygydd Timothy Lewis (ca. 1913)

That a nation’s history is determined by its geography is never truer than when looking at Wales. The abundance of West-East trending valleys and the mountainous country dividing North from South have helped invaders from the East while at the same time hindering communication and cooperation within the country itself.

Ptolemaic map of the British Isles (2nd Century, printed in 1486)

The first people to bring Britain into the historical and cartographical record were the Greeks and Romans. This map produced from the work of 2nd Century Greco-Egyptian Geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus includes one of the earliest extant depictions of what we now know as Wales.


Cambriae Typus by Humphrey Llwyd (1573)

This is the first published map of Wales as a nation, but the Wales it depicts is a historical nation of independent principalities and not the country conquered and annexed by the English.


Wales by John Speed (1610)

This map shows the 13 counties into which Wales was divided under the Act of Union in 1536. It is also notable for the views of county towns which shows the development of urbanisation beginning in this period.

A plan of the Mannor of Perveth commonly called Cwmmwd y Perveth by Lewis Morris (1744)

For much of its history Wales has been exploited for its mineral wealth by outsiders, this map shows the mineral workings in the Crown Manor of Perfedd, claimed by the author to be one of the “most fruitful in mines in all his majesty’s dominions”

Inclosure of Cors Fochno – Manor of Generglyn Map B Roads and allotments (1847)

It was not only the mineral wealth of the country which was exploited, the land was also exploited. Common land was fenced in or enclosed and often the best lands were granted to the gentry while the ordinary people were given the less fertile plots.

Tithe map of Llangynfelyn by Richard Morgan of Talybont (1844)

Not only were the gentry enclosing the common land and thus denying access to the ordinary people, after the reformation they were often the main beneficiaries of the tithe payments.

Great Western Railway map of system / GWR (1925)

One of the greatest changes to the geography of Wales in the 19th century was the advent of the railways, now goods could be transported to the industrial heartlands of England much more quickly. This affected both the extractive industries and the agrarian economy as well as helping to fuel urbanisation across Britain.

Isovol map of the South Wales Coalfield / Dept. of Scientific & Industrial Research (1944)

The railways fuelled the demand for coal as their primary power source and also improved access to other markets such as industrial and domestic fuel. Towards the end of the 19th century and throughout the first 3 quarters of the 20th century South Wales and coal were inextricably linked.

Trawsfynydd artillery training / War Office (1915)

During the 20th Century many social changes were brought about as a result of war. The First World War caused the death of many thousands of Welsh people, including the poet Hedd Wyn whose house can be found on this map, within the sound of the practising artillery guns.

Stadtplan von Newport / German Army General Staff (1942)

During the Second World War Wales was in the front line as it had never been before, when German bombers devastated a number of Welsh cities. This map was prepared by the Germans to help with targeting for air raids and also in preparation for the invasion of Britain, which never happened.

Tryweryn flow-regulating scheme / Liverpool Corporation Water Works (1956)

After the two World Wars people were more willing to question and less willing to accept what they were told by those in power. When the village of Capel Celyn was flooded to provide water for Liverpool it caused great resentment in Wales and fuelled the growing sense of nationalism in the county.




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