were maps commissioned by individual landowners
Landed gentry is a traditional British social class, consisting of land owners who could live entirely off rental income. Often they worked only in an administrative capacity looking after the management of their own lands....
or institutions showing their property, typically including fields and buildings.
In England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...
, estate maps began to be produced in large numbers during the 16th century. The availability of new estates as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...
gave increased impetus to their production. Estate maps continued in popularity until the middle of the 19th century, when large scale tithe
The term Tithe map is usually applied to a map of an English or Welsh parish or township, prepared following the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. This act allowed tithes to be paid in cash rather than goods. The map and its accompanying schedule gave the names of all owners and occupiers of land in the...
and Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey , an executive agency and non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom, is the national mapping agency for Great Britain, producing maps of Great Britain , and one of the world's largest producers of maps.The name reflects its creation together with...
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. The surveyor who measured the land for the map could typically survey 20 acres (8.1 ha) per day and was paid 6d per acre.
Estate maps were colourful and often intended for display as well as estate management. "They were drawn and decorated by country surveyors for the information and pleasure of country squires." The choice of scale was down to the individual map maker, but were usually large scale. 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. Estate maps were frequently accompanied by field books that that contained the key to symbols on the map and had information about tenants and crops. Where the field book has not survived, the usefulness of the map is greatly diminished.
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.