Estate maps were maps commissioned by individual landowners or institutions showing their property, typically including fields and buildings. In England and Wales, they began to be produced in large numbers during the 16th century and continued in popularity until the middle of the 19th century, when large scale tithe and Ordnance Survey maps became available.
A few maps were drawn prior to the 16th century, but these were ad hoc, for a particular purpose. Before the emergence of the estate map, manors and other estates were usually managed using written documents listing the buildings, fields and tenants. These were known variously as surveys, rentals and extents. Despite the adoption of estate maps, the use of mapless surveys continued, although it gradually declined.
Estate maps were colourful and often intended for display as well as estate management. The choice of scale was down to the individual map maker. Buildings (and trees) were often shown as miniature pictures in early maps, although from the 18th century it became common to depict buildings in plan. “Few land surveyors even attempted to show relief; it was not essential to their purpose of recording boundaries and areas”. They often had elaborate cartouches giving the name of the estate owner. Typically, little or no detail is shown for land not owned by the person or organisation commissioning the map.
Large numbers of estate maps are found in County Record Offices having been deposited with the accumulated documents of a landed family. Where the estate owner was a corporate body - an Oxbridge college or a City Livery Company for example - their estate maps will be found in their own archives. Some estate maps will be found in the National Archives - for example where the estate was owned by the Crown or when it has been the subject of a court case.
Originally, estate maps served two purposes. They were a tool that enabled estate owners to manage and improve their property. In addition they were status symbols that enabled a landowner to display his authority over his property. Surveying texts became explicit about the need to decorate the maps in a way that emphasised the status of the owner - by the use of coats of arms or depiction of the manor house.
Today, estate maps can be used to investigate the history of field systems, land usage and changes in river channels. An estate map is often the earliest written evidence of the field system in use.
- PDA Harvey, Maps in Tudor England (The Public Record Office and The British Library, 1993)
- PDA Harvey, Manorial Records (British Record Association, 1984)
- A Sarah Bendall, Maps, Land and Society: A History, with a Carto-bibliography, of Cambridgeshire Estate Maps, 1600-1836 (Cambridge University Press, 1992)
- Stacey Gee, Estate Maps at Guildhall Library (http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/Estate.htm)