Mapping the hundreds of Cornwall

Mapping the hundreds of Cornwall
Norden, Saxton and Speed with an Australian surprise
20 January 2017

Although the maps of today are a testament to highly accurate satellite imaging, the beautiful maps from earlier times have an artistry and flair that gives them a special charm, as well as providing insights into the historical, political and administrative context of the time. While the originals are rare and fragile, there are many fine reproductions that make these maps accessible to a wider audience. The Library holds a number of these, and one that captured my attention for several reasons is a lovely facsimile edition of a series of maps produced in 1610 John Norden’s manuscript maps of the Cornwall nine hundreds.

John Norden (c.1547–1625) was an English cartographer and surveyor. Among his most famous works are a series of county maps and accompanying county histories of England, the Speculum Britanniae. His maps of the Cornwall nine hundreds form part of this series. The first instalment of the Speculum Britanniae was published in 1593, covering Middlesex. In 1598 the only other part of the project to reach print in his lifetime, the Description of Hartfordshire was published. He also completed accounts of five other counties in manuscript. Several were printed many years after his death, including Cornwall, completed in 1610, but published in 1728. 

Norden's maps of Cornwall

John Norden's map of Cornwall

Like many cartographers, Norden’s work was based upon those who came before him, just as those who followed made similar use of Norden’s work. In the case of Norden’s county maps of England, there has been some debate about the extent to which his work built upon that of Christopher Saxton, who published the Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales in 1579, the first atlas of any country. 

Saxton's map

Christopher Saxton's map of Cornwall

For Cornwall, in addition to a general map of the county, Norden decided to provide nine separate more detailed maps based on the administrative division called the “hundred”. These divisions formed the layer between the county and parish levels and were used in England and Wales from Anglo-Saxon times to the 19th century. In Norden’s time there were nine of these in Cornwall: Penwith, Kerrier, Pydarshire, Powdershire, Triggshire, Lesnewth, Stratton, East Wivelshire, and West Wivelshire (with several variant spellings for each). 

While there are certainly many similarities, Norden’s maps were not mere copies of Saxton’s, but rather they refined and enhanced the earlier maps with greater detail, accuracy and their own aesthetic flair. In his individual maps of the Cornwall nine hundreds this is particularly noticeable in the depiction of coastlines and placement of rivers.

Kirrier hundred

Norden's map of the Kirrier hundred

Norden also for the first time introduced the method of using grid lines as a map reference system into English cartography. The scale of each of the Cornwall hundreds maps varies, and this seems to be largely due to the constraints of paper size for his atlas. The larger hundreds had to be drawn to a smaller scale to fit onto the standard paper sheet size used for the atlas. 

Scale detail Powder hundred

Detail of grid reference and scale from Norden's map of the Powder hundred

As William Ravenhill notes in his introduction to the Norden facsimile edition, it is almost certain that Norden used a method of triangulation to produce the maps - something that had only recently been introduced to England from Europe. Earlier methods based on traversing, a direct measurement using compass, measuring ropes, poles, or chains, would have been impossible to complete in the time taken. Further support for the triangulation method can be seen in the features that were given prominence – high points with good distance outlooks such as church towers and hills. 

It is interesting to compare both of these maps to the later map produced by John Speed in 1611/12 in his atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. Speed definitely relied on the work of Saxton and Norden, but also made innovations of his own - introducing town plans on many of the maps, including county boundaries on almost all maps and also the coats of arms of local Earls and Dukes as well the Royal arms. 

Speed map of Cornwall

John Speed's map of Cornwall

In addition to his surveying and cartography, Norden was also a prolific writer of devotional works, used as a steadier source of income as he frequently experienced difficulty in finding patronage for his cartographical work. He published twenty-four volumes between 1582 and his death. A Pensive Mans Practise, first published in 1584, reached more than forty editions in his lifetime. At the beginning of the book there is a section on how to determine the correct date and some important events that occurred on particular days. Some things never change, and I was amused to see that Norden included the same familiar rhyme my parents taught me for remembering the number of days in each month "Thirty days hath November....".

Days of the month rhyme

Days of the month rhyme from A pensive man's

However, even the apparently safe option of publishing these devotional/moral works was not without some risk. Norden became embroiled in controversy due to his dedication of some of the volumes he published in the 1590s to the Earl of Essex, which placed him in political difficulties with Sir Robert Cecil.

Essex dedication

Dedication to the Earl of Essex from Norden's A mirror of

At the time, Cecil and the Earl of Essex were engaged in a power struggle vying for the favour of Queen Elizabeth I. Fortunately, Norden was gradually able to regain Cecil’s favour and patronage. Dedicating various later works to Cecil as well as Norden’s expertise as a surveyor probably helped with this reconciliation. Life could certainly be very tricky for an author at that time! 

Coincidences seem to abound when I start delving into material in the Library’s overseas collections. I must be drawn to them! It is one of the delightful aspects of my job and sends me down unexpected pathways. Who would have thought there would be Australian connections in a map of Cornwall from the early 1600s? I was immediately struck by the inclusion of an inset of Launceston in the Cornwall map published by John Speed.

Launceston inset

Inset of Launceston from Speed's map

While our Tasmanian town was originally called Patersonia; the name was soon changed to Launceston in honour of the New South Wales Governor Captain Philip Gidley King, who was born in Launceston, Cornwall. I also discovered to my surprise that the administrative divisions of hundreds were used in Tasmania in the early days of the colony, and are still used today in both South Australia and the Northern Territory.

On 15 January 1836 George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of the Island of Van Diemen's Land proclaimed, via The Hobart Town Courier, the first counties, hundreds and parishes to be surveyed in the colony. Included in the proclamation information was “Within the COUNTY OF CORNWALL.—First, the hundred of Launceston comprising therein the parishes of Launceston, Braedalbane, Perth and Evandale”.

In South Australia, the hundreds are located in the south-eastern part of the state and do not cover the whole state. A total of 540 hundreds have been proclaimed, although five of these were annulled in 1870. The use of the hundred was first suggested by Commissioner of Crown Lands Charles Bonney in 1845. By 1846 it was widely accepted that hundreds had to be proclaimed before land could be surveyed and sold. Each hundred was approximately 100 square miles, and became a means of regulating both the pace and the direction of settlement. The Northern Territory also used hundreds as a legacy of its earlier inclusion as part of South Australia.

The facsimile edition of John Norden's manuscript maps of Cornwall and its nine hundreds is on display during January 2017 in the Library’s Special Collections Reading Room

The combination of interesting information such as the fact that is believed Norden used a form of triangulation to produce his wonderful maps along with insights into the man's life (his difficulties with Sir Robert Cecil and his prolific production of a wider variety of works) made for an engrossing article. I want to know more about John Norden, his life, his maps and the impression he left on England.