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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.

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). Saxton's Atlas as eventually published can be seen online courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Saxton project charter

Purpose We will illuminate the early modern transport network in England and Wales as part of the Viae Regiae project. We will also support cartographical research.

Deliverables Geotagged digital copies of Saxton’s county maps comprising:

  • Settlements and bridges linked to relevant gazetteers and tagged to show Saxton’s use of settlement symbols
  • Place-names transcribed and linked to relevant gazetteers where possible
  • Other mapped features (eg parks, woodland, hills) linked to gazetteers where possible and tagged with descriptors
  • Marginalia, decorative features and annotations tagged
  • All of the data collected in this project will be added to our own EMEW Gazetteer, making it freely accessible to everyone.

Proposed project methodology We will work on historical maps starting with Christopher Saxton’s Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales, 1579, which contains maps created between 1573 and 1579. We are using Lord Burghley’s proof copies from the British Library. We have drawn together a range of relevant gazetteers which we will use to tag map features. We have compiled details of the symbols used in the maps and we will determine if their use is consistent and adds meaning to the study of settlements. Our data will be available in our EMEW Gazetteer and compatible with Wikidata standards.

Proposed timeline We will work in 10-week cycles and we anticipate that our first cycle (starting 8 March 2021) will allow us to complete around half of the county maps in Saxton’s atlas. We will review project progress after the first cycle and modify our approach if necessary. Required resources (people) We have a team of 9 volunteers for the first cycle who have all committed to 2 hours per week. This team is slightly larger than originally planned because of the enthusiasm shown for this project strand.

Required resources (technology) We are using Recogito to compile our data

Project risks Our aim to include all features on the maps may be ambitious. We have therefore agreed to prioritise settlements, placenames and bridges. This will ensure that our primary project outcome, to illuminate the early modern transport network, will be fully met.

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. This tagging, and that of forests and chases, might later be enhanced by linkage to 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.

Saxton bibliography

University of Chicago Press - History of Cartography project

Catherine Delano-Smith (2007), Signs on Printed Topographical Maps, ca. 1470–ca. 1640
Peter Barber, Mapmaking in England, ca. 1470–1650

Other works

Alexandra Plane (2019), Christopher Saxton’s 1579 Atlas of England and Wales: An Unexpected Savilian Book Among New College Library’s Treasures New College Notes 12 (2019), no. 6

Key links

The vocabulary used for tagging the Saxton glyphs can be viewed here

Team members of the Saxton project

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