“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

I have loved maps ever since I was a child. We are extremely fortunate in the UK to have access to some of the best maps in the world, those of the Ordnance Survey (O.S.). I recall learning the symbols used on the O.S. maps when I was a school – the deciduous and coniferous pictograms, the various dotted lines for different rights of way, those gothic script labels; ‘Tumulus’, ‘Stone Circle’ and the crossed swords of battle sites of old.


Through the years, many of these indicators have remained roughly similar, but the interpretation of some historical sites has changed as new information about them has come to light. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can compare some of the earliest maps from the O.S with today’s versions and see how those intrepretations have changed. One excellent resource for this is the National Library of Scotland (NLS) which, depending upon the region, allows full view of historical O.S. maps dating back in some cases to the early-mid 1800’s.

Indeed, preparing for my next Cornwall jaunt, and looking at an area in Cornwall that I’m familiar with on the OS 25 inch (1841-1852) map series, I was surprised to see up to seven stone circles referenced within a relatively small area of Truthwall Common in West Penwith on sheet ‘Cornwall LXVII.14‘ surveyed in 1875 and published in 1878.


The same were still marked as ‘stone circles’ on the 1906 6 inch series maps, sheet LXVII.SW. Even as late as the 1938 survey, the 6 inch series was still marking the same features as ‘stone circles’. On the One inch ‘New Popular Edition’ map of 1947, although the scale was much reduced, several stone circles were still marked in the area.

It is not until the One inch 7th Series map of 1961, which begin to look more like the LandRanger 1:50000 maps of today, that the ‘stone circles’ vanish at this scale – even the remaining Tregeseal Stone Circle is no longer shown.

However, moving in onto the 1:25000 scale map, published in 1959, the additional circles are still shown, but now suffixed ‘Site of‘, suggesting they are no longer extant. Interestingly, the second Tregeseal Circle is still shown at this date.


That takes us to the limits of availability on the NLS site, but moving onto the current map of the area, available via Bing Maps or the Ordnance Survey itself (paid subscription required), the 1:25000 scale map shows only the single Tregeseal circle remaining.

So what of those 6 other stone circles? We know from antiquarian reports that the remaining Tregeseal Circle was one of three originally, but what of the other 4 (or 5)?

Returning to the Cornwall Interactive Mapping Service, which we highlighted back in October, it’s possible to zoom in on the area to see what the Heritage Environment Record has to say about each site. And in this case we can see that the ‘stone circles’ of old have now been recorded as ‘hut circles’, enclosures, the kerb of a barrow, and remains of an Iron Age Round. So a real mixed bag, and not a stone circle to be seen!

It was an interesting exercise to compare the maps through the ages though, and is one I’ll have to repeat in other areas of the country to see if similar discrepancies occur. Why not take a look at your favourite area, and see what you can discover on the old maps?