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Maps, manuscript and printed, are prime sources for local studies. They offer:


·      Snapshots in place and time

·      May include detailed local information on boundaries, settlement, roads, track and bridges, waterways and railways (actual, lost or only ever projected), land ownership and use, field lay outs, and past and present names of places, farms, buildings and individual features in town and landscapes….to name just some possible features.

·       Used together they reveal change over time, with the development or disappearance of features, or major re-modellings like the parliamentary enclosure of open fields. A tested technique is to employ  modern maps, accurate in their surveying and consistent in detail, as a base and work back through the sequence of maps available for the county and for many places individually, plotting earlier features on a base map.

·       Maps yield additional information when used with documents. For example, the ‘word maps’ provided by early documents like medieval or Anglo-Saxon charters may enable maps for those earlier periods to be built up by matching their descriptions of names and features with those on later maps.

·       Creating new maps is a major tool for analysing and presenting the findings of research locally or at county level, for everything from distributions of archaeological finds, use of building materials or techniques, to where Methodist chapels were established. See the historical atlases for Berkshire (1998) and Oxfordshire (2010).



The region is fortunate in having some exceptionally early maps. Gough’s fourteenth-century route map has already been described in the Framework section.  Bernwood, and specifically Boarstall just over the Buckinghamshire boundary, appears in a map of c.1444  which shows a still very recognisable gatehouse tower, the church, village houses subsequently lost when the village was destroyed by Royalists in the Civil War, ridge and furrow arable fields, hedged closes and surrounding woodland.


However, it was only from the late 16th century that local maps began to appear more generally. County maps, beginning for Oxfordshire in 1574, paralleled the growth of county histories (see  published histories section). They mirrored their readers’ interests, emphasising major houses and parks. The fine map accompanying Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire (1676) is bordered by 172 coats of arms of local gentry, University and towns. The genre was persistent. John Rocque’s 1763 map of Berkshire, and Richard Davis’s of Oxfordshire (1797) are outstanding examples. More locally estate maps also appear from the late 16th century, with variable coverage according to the circumstances of landowners. These maps may make a legal point about ownership, be tools of estate management, and celebrate status. Some only cover those bits of a parish in one particular ownership. Estate maps often need to be read in relation to associated keys or written terriers. In the 18th and 19th centuries award maps, produced as part of parliamentary enclosure or the implementation of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, mean new, large-scale, and carefully surveyed maps may be available for many parishes. The establishment of the Ordnance Survey in 1791 is a great watershed for map users. From the 1830s it meant a comprehensive, consistent and high-quality coverage of the area, first at 1” to the mile, and then 6” and 25”, with for some towns the superbly detailed 1:500 OS plans.

The 20th century sees a continuation of OS mapping, plus commercial, printed maps, and various official coverage (e.g. land and soil classification, planning, boundary and right of way maps). For further reading click here


The main places to look for local maps are the local studies library (mainly printed maps), county record office (mainly manuscript maps), the Bodleian Library, Oxford College Archives, and the National Archives and British Library.


More maps are becoming available online. The Bodleian Library has an outstanding collection of historic maps for Oxfordshire and beyond, whilst the Oxfordshire Records Office and Centre for Oxfordshire Studies library have important collections. Examples of Oxfordshire maps held at the Bodleian Library can be found online. A series of topographical, boundary and land use historical maps can be viewed online at the A Vision of Britain Through Time website created by the Great Britain Historical GIS Project at the University of Portsmouth. Berkshire Records Office have digitized all enclosure maps and awards including the Vale of the White Horse under the New Landscapes project.

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