A False Start on Christopher Saxton's Wall-map of 1583?

The article below appeared in The Map Collector 8 (September 1979), pp. 27-29.

This is the amazing story of a discovery by Tony Campbell, a director of Robert Douwma Maps & Prints in London, and his hypotheses about the origins of his find - a very rare copper plate showing a section of Saxton's wall-map which until recently had been hidden under a seventeenth century painting

About twenty years ago two copper-plates came to light, each hearing a fragment of the earliest engraved plan of London. No impressions from any of the map's presumed twenty sheets had survived. History, with slight variations, has now repeated itself. Another early copper-plate has recently been discovered, again bearing a section of a wall-map. The brief note that follows interprets the evidence so far available about this new find and concludes from a study of the place-names that it is apparently an abandoned early form of part of Christopher Saxton's wall-map of England and Wales.

Once discarded, an engraved copper-plate would usually be melted down. Occasionally, it was painted over by an artist and thus preserved, as happened with this variant sheet for part of Saxton's wall-map of England and Wales.

Until recently the engraved surface of the plate was covered by an inferior, and damaged, seventeenth century Dutch school painting, which had helped to preserve it relatively undamaged. (By contrast the London plates were painted on the back.) The plate depicts northern England, with sections of the Isle of Man and North Wales, in a band between Carlisle and Newcastle on the one hand and Conway and Sheffield on the other. The visual similarities with the relevant sections of Saxton's wall-map of 1583, and their precise match of scale, pointed to the need for a thorough comparison of the two.


The immediate similarities between the modern impression taken off the copper-plate (above) and sheet VII of Saxton's wall-map of 1583 (below) are striking. Note, though, the use of English lettering on the copper-plate for the compass rose and county names. The copper-plate and the impression from it, by courtesy of Robert Douwma (Prints and Maps) Ltd. The map of 1583 - original in the Map Library, the British Library.


Saxton's wall-map, the first of its kind to be produced in England, is generally considered to be the work of the engraver Augustine Ryther, the man who had earlier put his name to five of the sheets in Saxton's atlas of 1579. As can be made out from the two surviving copies of the map in its original form (in the British Library and Birmingham Public Library respectively) the wall-map was composed of twenty sheets, arranged in five rows of four and each measuring 275 x 452mm. The Birmingham copy has in addition a separately printed heraldic border. The most noticeable difference between those sheets and the newly discovered copper-plate is the latter's much greater size, 398 x 527mm. This implies a map of twelve sheets, distributed in four rows of three, with the copper-plate representing the middle sheet of the second row. If it duplicated the overall dimensions of the surviving map the small space left above the copper-plate and the large area involved to its right might have been made up with half sheets and extra strips. The disparity in their sheet divisions has led to the copper-plate concerning itself with parts of no fewer than six of the 1583 sheets (no. 2, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 11).

Five years ago a facsimile was issued of the British Library's copy of Saxton's wall-map.[1] The text prepared by R.A. Skelton with A.D. Baxter and S.T.M. Newman dealt in detail with all the known documents relating to the map. None of these throws any light on the copper-plate, whose existence had not previously been suspected. The authors also discussed the only identified imitations of Saxton's map: one prepared by Wenzel Hollar for Thomas Jenner (the Quartermaster Map); the other published in Amsterdam by Cornelis Danckerts. Both were issued in 1644. Each is quite distinct from the copper-plate: the first map [has] names found equally on the plate and on the 1583 map; the second uses Thomas Durham's improved outline for the Isle of Man, which had been engraved for Speed in 1605. The copper-plate does not incorporate, either, any of the revisions (roads, for example) made to the map of l583, probably after 1678. So what is the copper-plate? Is it part of a contemporary imitation of the wall-map, a later copy, or an abortive first attempt? The best way we can test these various hypotheses is by taking a close look at the place-names.

The most startling characteristic of the copper-plate is its use of English rather than Latin for the cardinal points and the large county lettering - Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire. In this the plate differs both from the l583 map and its two derivatives. The city of Durham is also singled out in the form that Speed would use: Durham instead of the medieval spelling Duresme. Ignoring for the moment the absent headings for Durham and Yorkshire, the names missing along the outer edges, and the labelling of lesser rivers and lakes that seems to have been intentionally left off, the plate omits twenty-one of the names found on the l583 map. This is not in itself significant. It indicates careless copying, presumably, but does not pinpoint the particular model used. The thirty-nine clearly corrupt forms found on the plate, though, are a different matter. Where the map of 1583 and the relevant county sheets coincide in almost every case, the copper-plate's engraver commits several obvious errors. There is space to cite just a few.

 Copper-plate  Wall-map of 1583  Modern form
 Aalwaterterne  Malwaterterne  Malham Tarn
 Alher  Alker  Altcar
 Anlghton  Aughton  Aughton
 Beake  Peake  Peak
 Charleton  Carleton  Carleton
 Coron  Corno  Corney
 Eanley  Emley  Emley
 Edgermond  Egremond  Egremont
 Marrith  Marrik  Marrick
 Newell  BÄ“well  Benwell
 Penmauer  PÄ“mÄ“maure  Penmaenmaur
 Secham  Seham  Seaham

  • 8-9-1979

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