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“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?

When trying to plan a trip to visit our ancient heritage sites, it helps to know where to go, and what you’re going to see when you get there. This article, one of an occasional series, explains briefly how to use one of the government mapping websites for England. We’ll cover Wales and Scotland in later articles.

MAGIC, or Multi-Agency Geographical Information for the Countryside is a web-based interactive map bringing together information on key environmental schemes and designations. It involves eight government organisations who have responsibilities for rural policy-making and management.

It is relatively easy to use and allows close zooming of OS standard maps, which can show a variety of datasets from the different goverment agencies, including among others English Heritage, Defra (who run the site) and Natural England. MAGIC makes use of standard GIS tools to allow people to view and query the available data. Users do not require specialist software and can access maps using a standard web browser. MAGIC also provides links to other sources in order to make best use of the wide range of information available on different websites and Internet portals.

The information available in MAGIC has expanded considerably since its launch in July 2002. Originally the interactive map was designed to show only datasets for England as this was the area common to all the partners. In 2005 MAGIC widened it’s geographic scope, including information for Scotland, Wales and marine areas as part of the Coastal and Marine Resource Atlas.

For our purposes, the Interactive Map link is the one we’re most interested in, although the Map Tutorial is worth visiting if you have not seen the site before. Having selected the Interactive Map, the first step is to decide what information is required to be displayed. There is a dropdown allowing selection of a series of pre-defined topics, or there is a ‘Design Your Own’ option. Selecting this option displays a list of more than 100 layers’ which can be included on the map. For our purposes, the most informative layers to display on the map from the more than 100 layers available are; ‘Scheduled Monuments (England)’, ‘World Heritage Sites (England)’, and possibly ‘Parishes (England)’.

Once the layers have been selected, save your selection and return to the Map screen. The next step is to identify the map area you wish to display. This can be done using several different criteria. After agreeing to the Terms and Conditions, click on Open map and a new window will open. This stage can take some time at busy periods, so be patient.

The initial scale at which the map opens can vary, dependent upon the criteria used, but the scale can be varied using the Scale textbox, or the zoom tools at the bottom of the map, and the map can also be scrolled using the hand tool. To see more information about a Scheduled Monument, select the ‘i’nformation icon at the top of the map,. Again a new window will open – select the layer you’re interested in from the dropdown, then click within the confines of a monument boundary as shown on the map. A grid will appear with basic identification information about the selected site. In many instances for Scheduled Monuments, clicking on the Legacy UID number will open a PDF file showing an extract from the English Heritage Register of Scheduled monuments, with a detailed description of the selected site. However, not all counties provide this information, which can be frustrating at times!

So all in all, a useful resource for finding Scheduled Monuments and a site that we can strongly recommend. The zoom facility on the maps, while not making it easy to see detail at the higher scales, allows for quite precise placement if you’re looking for e.g. a monument within a built up area. The lack of backing documents in some areas, even for some quite well known monuments, is quite disappointing, but updates are frequent and we can only hope that further information will be added as time goes on.

Heritage Action’s Jane Tomlinson describes her maps as love letters to the places shown. That’s certainly how her latest one strikes us. If you love Avebury you’re bound to find it absolutely brimming with interest.

You can read more about it on Jane’s website here.

Map by John Speed (1552–1629) historian and cartographer
We’ve come a long way since John Speed created the map of Wiltshire and Stonehenge above. English Heritage’s  Stonehenge WHS Interactive Map is well produced and user friendly. By clicking on any of the blue buttons on the map the reader is taken to photos and more information on the area being looked at. The website also includes a good panoramic view of Stonehenge, along with further information on The Cursus, Woodhenge etc.
Map by John Speed (1552–1629) historian and cartographer.
Click on the map and then on the + sign for close-up. 

 “John Speed (1552–1629) was born at Farndon, Cheshire, and went into his father’s tailoring business where he worked until he was about 50. While working in London, his knowledge of history led him into learned circles and he joined the Society of Antiquaries where his interests came to the attention of Sir Fulke Greville, who subsequently made Speed an allowance to enable him to devote his whole attention to research. As a reward for his earlier efforts, Queen Elizabeth granted him the use of a room in the Custom House. It was with the encouragement of William Camden that he began his Historie of Great Britaine, which was published in 1611. Although Speed probably had access to historical sources that are now lost to us he certainly used the work of Saxton and Norden, his work as a historian is considered mediocre and secondary in importance to his map-making, of which his most important contribution is probably his town plans, many of which provide the first visual record of the British towns they depict.” 



March 2023

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