[Image: Fragment of the Gough Map]
[Image: Fragment of the Gough Map]

Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain

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Historiography and Prosopography

The ‘Gough Map of Great Britain’ – a brief historiography and prosopography

Keith Lilley and Nick Millea

The late Mr. Thomas Martin shewed to the same society (Soc. of Antiquaries) at the same time (1768) a map on vellum, which he supposed to be of the age of Edward III in which the names of London and York were distinguished by large gold letters.  This map I purchased at a sale of his MSS, 1774, and shall subjoin the following account of it, to illustrate the copy made by Mr. Basire, pl VI.  It is drawn on two skins of vellum, in a style superior to any of the maps already described... The roads are marked by lines, and even the miles in each stage.  But the greatest merit of this map is, that it may justly boast itself the first among us wherein the roads and distances are laid down.[1]

So begins Richard Gough’s description of the map of Great Britain that came to bear his name, “The Gough Map”. The brief passage from Gough’s British Topography (1780) offers some insight into the circumstances of his acquisition of the map through purchasing Thomas Martin’s manuscript collections in 1774. Gough’s possession of the map also accounts for its current ownership, for after his death, at Gough’s bequest, his collections were acquired by the Bodleian Library, in 1809.[2] Otherwise, precious little is known of the map’s descent, making it all the more enigmatic. There are, however, some clues that scholars have used to try to trace the map’s medieval and post-medieval circulation. These clues derive from using other similar maps of Britain which show some influence from the Gough Map, as well as by exploring the ways English antiquarians of the eighteenth century acquired their manuscript collections, which included the Gough Map.

The map’s acquisition by Richard Gough clearly originates, by his own admission, from the collection of the Norfolk antiquarian and manuscript collector, Thomas Martin (1697-1771), but from where had Martin obtained it? The suggestion made by one of the map’s later historians – Edward (Ted) Parsons, former curator of the Bodleian Library’s map collections – was that Martin had gained it from the collections of Peter Le Neve, since Martin was his executor and had bought ‘a great many papers and manuscripts’ in March 1731 when Le Neve’s library was put up for sale, subsequently also marrying Le Neve’s widow.[3] Over the decades this view has become endorsed by the map’s more recent scholars, too.[4] Certainly Le Neve had the sort of credentials that would make him a likely candidate as a former owner of the map, as Parsons makes clear, pointing out his interest in early maps, as well as William Camden’s Britannia, while Le Neve’s former capacity as ‘one of the deputy chamberlains of the exchequer’ (before 1705-6) could conceivably also account for how the map entered his possession, especially if the Gough Map is accepted as having an English royal context and governmental purpose.[5] In fact, the map’s potential association with Le Neve requires some reconsideration, for it is actually under Thomas Martin’s possession that the trail first goes cold on the map’s earlier history and provenance.

It was Thomas Martin who had initially brought the map to public attention in 1768, when he showed it to the Society of Antiquaries in London – as Gough recalls. We can be sure that the map shown to the Society of Antiquaries is the same map as the one now known as the Gough Map, as the Society’s minute book describes how the names of London and York ‘are distinguish’d with Letters of Gold’.[6] Martin became a fellow of the Society in 1719 on the recommendation of Le Neve.[7] This rather begs the question, if Le Neve previously had the map why did he not bring it to the Society’s attention? If not, why then did Martin – who had Le Neve’s collection in his hands in 1731 – seemingly wait 37 years to present the map in London? On this basis it would seem plausible to suggest that rather than having acquired it from Le Neve’s collection, Martin had gained the map much later on, closer to when it was displayed in 1768. As David Stoker has shown, Thomas Martin forged relationships with other antiquarians of Norfolk, including Francis Blomefield whom Martin had helped in compiling his History of Norfolk, using materials from the collections of Le Neve.[8] Stoker also notes that ‘after Blomefield's death in 1752, Martin purchased many of the author's manuscripts, including the priceless Paston letters’, which he then had to sort out.[9]

Could it be, then, that rather than belonging to Le Neve the map had actually been derived by Martin from the collections of Blomefield? This is made plausible by the date that Martin was sifting through Blomefield’s collections, closer to the time the map was shown at the Society of Antiquaries – representing a recent discovery of Martin’s perhaps? Of course, since Blomefield was making use of Le Neve’s collections this does not necessarily rule out the idea that the map previously had been in Le Neve’s possession. But it does open up the possibility that instead it derived through Blomefield who had been working on the collections of the earls of Yarmouth, the Paston family, whose ‘letters’ of the fifteenth century have long been celebrated by medievalists.[10] Like Le Neve, the Pastons are likely candidates as sometime holders of the Gough Map for they too had connections to royal repositories of manuscripts through their official positions, such as William Paston’s appointment in 1687 by James II as Treasurer of the Household, and likewise they shared similar antiquarian interests to Le Neve, being ‘avid collectors of books, paintings, jewellery and curios’.[11] This position of Treasurer of the Household originated as the Keeper of the Wardrobe of the Household, which is just the sort of royal administrative context we might expect for the Gough Map during the Middle Ages, at the time of its earliest provenance.

Whether it was through Le Neve or Blomefield, the evidence, then, such that it is, points to Thomas Martin’s acquaintances with these Norfolk antiquarians as a somewhat critical stage in the map’s transition from a document in a royal collection to one in private ownership. Tracing the map’s historiography further back in time is more difficult, especially as, to date, no reference to it has been found in medieval sources. Instead, what has been recognised by modern scholars is the resemblance of the Gough Map to others of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, such as the map of Britain by George Lily of 1546.[12] Often it is the way the coastline of Britain is represented on these later maps, as well as the style of certain features such as rivers and places, and the choice of those shown, that hints at the later and continuing cartographic influence of the extant Gough Map, or at least the influence of a lost ‘relation’ of the present map. This is a view put forward by Peter Barber, for example, in his analysis of the map of Britain of 1534-46 known as the Angliae Figura (BL Cotton MS Augustus I i 9).[13] There are other similar Gough Map ‘derivatives’, or close parallels, too, such as a map of c.1400 that appears in an historical account of Britain (‘Totius Britanniae Tabula Chorographica’, BL Harley MS 1808, fol. 9v); a ‘mape off Ynglonnd’ dating to 1547-1554 that belonged to a Thomas Butler, an Essex-based merchant, that appears in his book alongside other geographical information such as ‘The ways from town to town on to London and the destawnce’ (Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS. 558, 47r and 47v-48r); and a now lost ‘wall map’ of England that was by the 1470s in the possession of Merton College Oxford, studied by John Leland in the 1530s, that appears to have been ‘very similar to, but not identical with, the Gough Map’.[14]

All these maps hint at the presence of a map that if not the Gough Map was somehow connected with it through the work of various cartographers in later medieval England, some private individuals such as Butler, some within educational institutions such as Merton College, and others belonging to the English royal court and its administration, as in the case of the Angliae Figura. Despite the apparent stylistic similarities between the Gough Map and these later maps, however, it is worth being somewhat cautious over whether this represents evidence that the cartographic source being used is the map that is now in the Bodleian Library’s hands. Other versions or permutations of the Gough Map had perhaps once existed, so it may well be that the map created by George Lily, for example, was not derived from the Gough Map itself but some other similar map. Recognizing such influences is also often only based upon a rather superficial assessment of the more obvious, visible resemblances between these maps, rather than a details and systematic analysis of their cartographic content and features.[15] Through using the digital version of the Gough Map it is now possible to instead explore how similar or different certain maps or groups of maps are by quantifying the degree to which later maps borrowed from the Gough Map.[16] This might then suggest that the apparent Gough Map derivatives have more complex relationships between each other and with the assumed ‘prototype’. Further study of the historiography and prosopography of the Gough Map will help here, particularly its likely transferral from royal into private hands, and looking at what occurred when other royal maps – such as the Angliae Figura – followed similar trajectories might be as worthy an exercise as comparing the cartographic contents of these ostensibly similar products of early English map-making.


[1] Richard Gough, British Topography. Or, an Historical Account of What has been Done for Illustrating the Topographical Antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1780), p.**.

[2] MS. Gough Gen. Top. 16, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

[3] E.J.S. Parsons, The Map of Great Britain circa AD 1360 known as The Gough Map (Oxford, 1958), p.1.

[4] N. Millea, The Gough Map. The Earliest Road Map of Great Britain? (Oxford, 2007), p.25; P. Barber, King Henry’s Map of the British Isles. BL Cotton MS Augustus I i 9 (London, 2009), pp.22-24.

[5] E.J.S. Parsons, The Map of Great Britain circa AD 1360 known as The Gough Map (Oxford, 1958), p.2.

[6] Cited by E.J.S. Parsons, The Map of Great Britain circa AD 1360 known as The Gough Map (Oxford, 1958), p.1.

[7] D. Stoker, ‘Martin, Thomas (1697–1771)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18212, accessed 13 June 2011].

[8] D. Stoker, ‘Blomefield, Francis (1705–1752)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2663, accessed 13 June 2011].

[9] D. Stoker, ‘Blomefield, Francis (1705–1752)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2663, accessed 13 June 2011].

[10] N. Davis (ed.), Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1971-1977), vol. I, p.xxvi.

[11] J. Miller, ‘Paston, Robert, first earl of Yarmouth (1631–1683)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/101021517/William-Paston, accessed 13 June 2011].

[12] E. Lynam, ‘English maps and map-makers of the sixteenth century’, The Geographical Journal 116 (1950), pp.7-25; N. Millea, The Gough Map. The Earliest Road Map of Great Britain? (Oxford, 2007), pp.51-56.

[13] P. Barber, King Henry’s Map of the British Isles. BL Cotton MS Augustus I i 9 (London, 2009), pp.30-34, 54-55.

[14] T. Smallwood, ‘The date of the Gough Map’, Imago Mundi 62 (2010), pp.23-24; D. Birkholz, ‘The Gough Map revisited: Thomas Butler's The Mape off Ynglonnd, c.1547-1554’, Imago Mundi 58 (2006), pp.23-47; P. Barber, King Henry’s Map of the British Isles. BL Cotton MS Augustus I i 9 (London, 2009), p.32, citing R. Thomson, ‘Medieval maps at Merton College, Oxford’, Imago Mundi 61 (2009), pp.84-90.

[15] Eg. R.A. Pelham, ‘The Gough Map’, The Geographical Journal 81 (1933), pp.34-39; E. Lynam, ‘English maps and map-makers of the sixteenth century’, The Geographical Journal 116 (1950), pp.7-25.

[16] K.D. Lilley and C. Lloyd, ‘Mapping the realm: a new look at the Gough Map of Great Britain (c.1360)’, Imago Mundi 61 (2009), pp.1-28.