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Christopher Saxton (c. 1540 – c. 1610) was an English cartographer who produced the first county maps of England and Wales.

Dubbed 'the father of English cartography', little is known about Saxton's personal life. Born in Yorkshire between 1542 and 1544, his yeoman family were probably clothiers and farmers. It is likely that Saxton was apprenticed in cartographic draughtsmanship and surveying to John Rudd, Vicar of Dewsbury (1554-1570) and Rector of Thornhill (1558-1570/78). Rudd had a passion for maps, and was engaged at some time in the 1550s in making a 'platt' of England; in 1561 he was granted leave from his duties to travel further to map the country. It is suggested that Saxton accompanied him on these travels, at which time he would have been about 17 years old. Saxton was definitely employed by Rudd by 1570. (Glasgow University Library, 2002)

Atlas of the Counties of England & Wales (1579)

Saxton's Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales was published in 1579 and is commonly held to be the first such work of comprehensive mapping. He began his survey of England in 1574 and of Wales in 1577. The first copper plates were engraved in 1574 and the atlas was completed in 1578. The atlas contains 35 hand coloured maps of the counties of England and Wales. The project was authorized by Queen Elizabeth I. Saxton’s chief financial backer was Thomas Seckford, master of the Queen’s requests.

Read more about the book at Leeds Central Library.

A digital representation of some of the maps is available at the Royal Collection Trust. We will be working from the full set of proofs sent by Saxton to Lord Burghley, now held in Lord Burghley's Atlas at the British Library (online here).

Draft Saxton project charter


  • Goals
  • Deliverables
  • Proposed project methodology
  • Proposed timeline
  • Required resources (people)
  • Required resources (technology)
  • Project risks

Project Aim & Approach

Our aim initially is to geotag all of the settlements recorded by Saxton, matching them against one of our reference gazetteers using Recogito. This will help to build up a picture of which settlements were considered significant in the 1570s, and which were not. This process will also record all of Saxton's placename spellings.[1]

We will also record all of the river crossings recorded by Saxton, cross-checking a prototype dataset georeferenced in 2020 by Stephen Gadd. These are important in the analysis of overland trade routes.

We aim to geotag deer parks too, indicated by Saxton as fenced enclosures, but this is dependent on first acquiring a suitable gazetteer, such as An Atlas and Gazetteer of Forests and Chases produced by Jack Langton and Graham Jones.

Finally, we will transcribe all of Lord Burghley's annotations, most of which are the names of significant landowners with local influence for or against the Crown's religious agenda.

All of the data collected in this project will be added to our own EMEW Gazetteer, making it freely accessible to everyone.

Editorial issues

QUESTION: Are there additional icons in Saxton's county maps not portrayed in our Symbology/Vocabulary section?

  • ANSWER (KATY): "There are smaller houses and I've seen a legend somewhere which suggests he was using fonts to differentiate too"
  • COMMENT (MICHAEL BENNETT): "A lot of these symbols remind me of those I see on maps in the Caribbean from c. 1650-1680. I bet they were using Saxton as a reference point for inspiration"

QUESTION (COLIN/KATY): Do the size and format of handwritten place names in Saxton's county maps contain semantic data? e.g. Saxton Essex county map: The place "MALDON" is written in capital letters

QUESTION (from Tamsin): I've been using linked boxes to tag places, so I'm essentially mapping the words to a location on the image as well as placing the dots. Is this an unnecessary level of detail? Note this may be answered in Recogito training, in which case I'll come back and edit this question.

Also is there any meaning in a picture of a church that is not red (e.g. Packlesham) and how do we want to deal with superscript-type positioning in writing which if transcribed exactly would be like Packleshma?


There is some stylistic variation between the county maps, but the symbology appears to be consistent.

Symbol Vocabulary Wikidata Interpretation
Saxton Symbol- Bridge.jpg
bridge "bridge" -- Q12280 Bridge
Saxton Symbol- Tower.png
tower, fortified house "fortified house" -- Q1408475 Tower, fortified house.
Saxton Symbol- Castle.png
castle "castle" -- Q23413 Castle
Saxton Symbol- Village.png
village "village" -- Q532 Village
Saxton Symbol- Spire.jpg
spire "town" -- Q3957 Small town, possibly with a parish church. Note that this symbol contains a single circle, while other settlements contain double circles
Saxton Symbol- Manor House.jpg
manor "manor house" -- Q879050 Manor house, mansion.
Saxton Symbol- City.jpg
city "city" -- Q515 City or borough
Saxton Symbol- Temple Sowerby.png
Temple Sowerby "Temple Sowerby" -- Q2135650 Temple Sowerby
Saxton Symbol- Cathedral.jpg
cathedral "cathedral" -- Q2977 Cathedral city
Saxton Symbol- Park.jpg
park "deer park" -- Q2662247 Deer park

Saxton mini-project team

Team Member: Michael Bennett

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @Hist_MichaelB

Team Member: Tamsin Braisher

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @KnitMeAThneed

Team Member: Kathryn Bullen

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @kfbullen

Team Member: David Cant

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @DavidJohnCant

Team Member: Pam Fisher

Member of the Saxton team.

Team Member: Michael Hall

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @humberlevels

Team Member: James Heald

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @heald_j

Team Member (and facilitator): Katy Thornton

Facilitator of the Saxton team.

Team Member: Kirsty Wright

Member of the Saxton team. Tweeting at @BeingKirst

Saxton individual team member pages

Saxton/Michael Bennett

Saxton/Katy Thornton

Saxton bibliography


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  1. English references will be made available to the English Place-Name Society for the augmentation of their database.