THE wealth of modern maps and satellite imagery found online can be valuable tools, but handmade maps from yesteryear help us build a picture of that particular time.

An historical map can show features or activities such as a lost canal, school or railway – even where a particular business was located.

They can also help identify how an area or feature acquired its name. A time sequence of maps can also show how locations have changed and developed.

John Speed’s map of 1611 is a familiar and well referenced map of Southampton.

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Others, such as John Norden and Christopher Saxton had mapped the counties of England during the middle years of Elizabeth I’s reign, but their maps with limited information became rapidly out of date, while Speed’s maps provided far more detail such as boundaries and town plans with descriptive text.

Many editions of Speed’s atlas were produced and, following his success, other publishers produced similar atlases.

None equalled the beauty of Speed’s maps which are not only a source of geographical and historical information but are also enjoyed as works of art.

Cope’s map of 1771 and Milne’s 1791 map of Southampton illustrate just how rural our town was at that time with its many fields which later became the parks.

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Both are interesting in the old names they show for familiar streets. For example on both maps St Mary’s Street is shown as Bag Row and St Mary’s Road as Love Lane.

Locally maps will always be associated with the Ordnance Survey (OS) which was originally based at the Tower of London but moved to Southampton in 1841 following a fire.

It was housed in barracks at the top of London Road which had recently been a home for orphaned military children, and it was this use that led to the grassed area in the Lower Avenue being called Asylum Green.

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The work of the OS had started over 90 years previously with a survey of Scotland following the Jacobite uprising.

Up until 1870 the OS came under the War Office with Royal Engineers conducting the surveys and producing the maps.

By the end of the war with France in 1815 most of southern Britain had been surveyed and a one inch to the mile map of Hampshire including Southampton had been published in 1810.

One of the most interesting and highly detailed maps of Southampton was that surveyed by Sergeant W Campbell of the OS between 1845 and 1846 at a scale of 60 inches to one mile. A copy of this wonderful map can be seen in the City Archives where copies of sections can be bought for a few pounds.

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The encouragement for the OS to publish maps came from William Faden, the “Geographer to the King” who also published maps. OS maps provided the information for private publishers to prepare and publish maps and they were very successful.

During the 19th century, several maps of Southampton were published both locally and nationally.

Locally, Philip Brannon produced a large map of the city in the early 1840s for his book “Picture of Southampton”. Lt. R K Dawson of the Royal Engineers produced a map of the town for the Boundary Commission following the Reform Bill of 1831. T King, a local bookseller, published a map of the town in 1835 which was used by the Royal Mail to divide the town into postal districts.

George Doswell published a plan of Southampton in 1842 a rare copy of which can be seen in the University of Southampton library. In 1851 John Tallis published his atlas to commemorate the “Great Exhibition” and this included the last decorative map of Southampton.

Perhaps the town’s most informative map was produced by London based Charles E Goad Ltd in 1885 for insurance purposes.

Buildings, their use, the number of floors and height, construction materials and fire hazards were shown together with names of individual businesses, property lines, and addresses.

The Southampton map illustrates the commercial and urban landscape of the town at that moment in time.

By Godrey Collyer, tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.