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

Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain

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The Scribes of the Gough Map

The text on the Gough map is the work of at least two scribes: the original 14th-century scribe and a 15th-century reviser. The text written by the original scribe is best preserved in Scotland and the area north of Hadrian's Wall, whereas the text written by the reviser is found in south-eastern and central England. Much of Wales and parts of the Midlands and Cornwall are badly faded and damaged, and it is often impossible to be certain which scribe is responsible for the text.

The place-names in Scotland and north of Hadrian's Wall are in pale brown ink, and the coastlines and icons of towns have outlines in the same ink. The outlines of the rivers close to the coasts are also in pale brown ink, whereas their sources, represented by green circles, and most of their courses inland have no visible outlines. The rivers and coastlines south of Hadrian's Wall have been almost all traced in a much darker ink with a thicker pen. The icons of settlements have also been traced and more decorative detail added. The buildings in Scotland do not have windows and doors, whereas in the revised part of the map, essentially everywhere south of Hadrian's Wall, most buildings have both windows and doors. The red wash used by the map’s original artist for the roofs of the buildings sits on top of the drawing in light brown ink used for their outlines. The dark ink of the reviser, on the contrary, sits on top of the red wash and was added last. This tracing of the pictorial features was a very extensive job, executed comprehensively and with care. The evidence for its date comes from the place-names south of Hadrian's Wall, many of which (though not all) have been also overwritten in dark ink, similar to the one used for the tracing of pictorial features, and presumably at the same time. The text in red has not been overwritten and is in the original hand throughout.

It seems that the reviser worked partly by tracing or ‘freshening up’ the original text, and partly by erasing it first and entering the new text later and largely independently. Some of the original text may have been simply ignored, presumably because of its fading, or erased without being replaced by the new text. Sometimes it is possible to see the traces of an earlier text in pale brown ink underneath the place-names in the reviser’s hand. One such example is Fosdyke in Lincolnshire. In the town-names lewes (Lewes) and cheryng (Charing), however, the new text was written by the reviser in a different place and independently of the original text, which is still partially visible.

The revised part of the map has patches of dark discolouration which often coincide with the area occupied by the place-names, whereas the parchment occupied by the icons is frequently whiter and has a more even surface. This is very common and can be found almost anywhere south of Hadrian’s Wall. This difference in the colour and quality of parchment suggests that the original place-names were erased before the new text was written, whereas the icons were only traced in darker ink.

The revision of the text on the Gough map was much less complete, than the tracing of the pictorial features, though in highly damaged areas of the map it is often difficult to be certain which scribe is responsible for the text, and whether the place-names are obliterated through erasures or fading and wear. Whereas the pictorial features were traced everywhere south of Hadrian's Wall, the place-names were overwritten selectively, primarily in south-eastern and central England. The counties where all or almost all place-names were overwritten are Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Norfolk, Middlesex, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex and probably the Isle of Wight. The counties that were considerably, but not fully overwritten, are Berkshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, most of Hampshire (excluding the nova foresta area), Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. The tracing of the pictorial features may have been the first stage of the revision, followed by the rewriting of the text. This, the most difficult part of the reviser’s work, requiring the greatest competence and knowledge, may have never been finished.

The overwriting on the Gough map is mentioned by E. J. S. Parsons, but he either did not realise how extensive it was or did not make this clear in his book.1 He gives only nine examples of overwritten place-names and discusses them briefly in his gazetteer (heth, cheryng, Rumy, appeldre, yawhour (Kent); malsted, lewes (Sussex); chedyngfold (Surrey); tetsworth (Oxfordshire)).

T. M. Smallwood noticed that the scribe of the map uses Secretary letter forms and made this part of his argument for a new, later date of the map.2 The Secretary forms, however, occur only in the revised part of the map, and not in the text in the original hand. They do not appear in place-names in Scotland or in the text in red ink.3

The dating of the two hands, particularly that of the reviser, presents considerable difficulties. The number of clearly visible words written by each scribe is limited, and does not allow extensive comparison. The difficulty is amplified by the fact that the text on the map is not continuous, and does not have the ruling, traditional layout, punctuation and other features which tend to be taken into account (consciously or not) in paleographical dating. In addition the scribes must have worked in an unusual, awkward way because of the size of the manuscript, and because they had to avoid smudging or damaging pictorial features with their hands while writing. Finally, as mentioned already, the reviser was probably influenced by the original text, particularly when he was overwriting or tracing, rather than writing independently. I would suggest, however, that the date of the original hand, and therefore of the making of the Gough map, is probably the 1370s, whereas the reviser probably worked in the first quarter or the first 30 years of the fifteenth century. The absence of Secretary letter forms in the original text suggests a date earlier than the end of the fourteenth century, whereas a complete absence of Secretary ‘g’, and the frequent use of Anglicana letter forms in the reviser’s hand suggests an earlier, rather than later date in the fifteenth century.

Parsons believed that the text on the map was overwritten by Thomas Martin of Palgrave, its owner before Gough.4 However, the style of writing, the use of Middle English abbreviations and spelling conventions (including the lack of capitalisation), all support a medieval date of the revision. A consistent use of medieval writing conventions on a large scale, in a text which does not always trace an earlier text, make it very unlikely to be the work of an 18th-century scholar.


  1. [1] ‘Many names have been overwritten in a later hand: in some cases this has made them difficult to read, in others both forms are clearly visible. The symbols also have been inked over in a number of cases. This can be seen in the spires of Lewes, Shoreham, Leicester, Winchester, Dartford, and Chelmsford’ (Parsons, E. J. S., Many names have been overwritten in a later hand: in some cases this has made them difficult to read, in others both forms are clearly visible. The symbols also have been inked over in a number of cases. This can be seen in the spires of Lewes, Shoreham, Leicester, Winchester, Dartford, and Chelmsford’ (Parsons, E. J. S., Map of Great Britain circa A.D. 1360, known as the Gough map: an introduction to the facsimile (Oxford: Printed for the Bodleian Library and the Royal Geographical Society by the University Press, 1958), p. 3).
  2. [2]‘in, or close to, the reign of Henry V (1399-1413)’, Smallwood, T. M., ‘The Date of the Gough Map’, Imago Mundi 62 (2010), pp. 3-29, at p. 23.
  3. [3]The fact that Secretary letter forms do not occur in the text in red ink was pointed out by Smallwood (2010), p. 13.
  4. [4]‘It is almost impossible to say when this overwriting was done, but in view of the skill Thomas Martin had with his pen, there is the possibility that it was his work’ (1958), p. 3.