England Town Plans, Maps of London, Street Maps (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Town Plans[edit | edit source]

The earliest town plan is of Bristol done by Ricard about 1479, but few others exist before 1612 when Elizabethan surveyors had developed the necessary skills. 16th century town maps may have been included at the side of a county map, or as an estate plan if a single landowner held a town. Early ones were really pictorial views which tended to exaggerate the larger buildings at the expense of the dwellings of the poor:

  • Perspective views, as if looking from a hill or tower.
  • Bird’s eye views from a higher angle (30º to 60º), see example in the map below. Since balloons were not invented until 1783 the spatial relationship skills of early cartographers were impressive

The researcher will also find prospects which are really views from a low level not plans.

Later maps are true (ichonographical) plans showing only walls or outlines of buildings, and these are rather more accurate as to the relative sizes of buildings and other. However it is wise to note that many town maps were drawn up showing buildings, railways, canals etc. which were planned but never built. John West (Town Records, 1983) has a good list of town maps and plans produced from 1600-1900, but there are few outside London before 1800. Rapid growth of cities and towns and the arrival of the railways in the 19th century created a demand for frequent new maps. The Ordnance Survey commenced publication of large scale town plans in the 1840s, taking over from the private cartographers.

Plans or views of the principal towns can be found as insets on county maps, as single sheets, in book form, or as illustrations in books; some tithe maps also included urban areas. Paul Hindle’s Maps for Historians and John Brian Harley’s Maps for the Local Historian have excellent discussions on town plans and maps. Gibson and Brinkworth (Banbury Corporation Records: Tudor and Stuart, calendared, abstracted and edited, 1977) have published a comprehensive edition of the town records, including a street-indexed map, pedigrees of leading burgesses and much local history for the borough of Banbury. Town plans made for specific purposes (Hindle) include:

  • Parish and ward maps 16th-19th centuries.
  • Land ownership maps 17th-19th century, often the urban equivalent of the rural estate plan.
  • Insurance plans 18th – 20th centuries.
  • Improvement and planning maps 1790s onwards.
  • Urban railway plans from 1830s.
  • Medical and social maps from 1830s cholera maps to Charles Booth’s 1890s social maps.
  • The Drink Map of Southampton, an 1878 pamphlet published by St. Mary’s Church of England Temperance Society, shows 522 licensed premises! (see Hampshire Family Historian Volume 31 #1, page 9).

Original large scale town plans at 5 feet, and 10 feet to the mile are listed by Hindle, and Godfrey has reprinted many 15" and some 5' maps which are of great use for 19th-20th century research.

Map: A Bird’s-Eye View Town Map
(Norden 1595 Chichester, Sussex)

Town Map Norden, Chichester, Sussex.jpg

Map: Town Plan (William Gardner 1769 Chichester, Sussex)

Town Plan map of Chichester, Sussex.jpg

London[edit | edit source]

Greater London comprises roughly 900 square miles and basic maps of London jurisdictions pre-1974 and post 1974 are given in Charts 14-15. The growth of London from 1822–1903 can be followed in the detailed 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition Ordnance Survey maps in The Village London Atlas by Alderman Press. Greenwood’s 1827 map of London can be accessed. John Snow’s 1859 London map. A circa 1908 atlas for London and 25 miles around has been put on CD by J. and A. Catlyn.

Cliff Webb’s series of Research Aids booklets available from the West Surrey FHS are of utmost use to the researcher in Greater London and include:

  • #2 (1996). Suburban London—A Map Showing Parish Boundaries Pre-1837.
  • #6 (1998). Guide To Genealogical Research In Victorian London which details all Anglican parishes outside the City created before 1870, with a map showing their boundaries.
  • #8 (1982). A Genealogical Gazetteer of Mid-Victorian London—a street index keyed to #6.
  • #15 (1999). Genealogical Research in Edwardian London—to be used in conjunction with #6 but for the parishes established up to 1903.
  • #30 (1991). Streets, Parishes and Wards of the City of London.

George C. Dickinson, also of the West Surrey, THS, has produced indexes and a key to the Godfrey edition of the O.S. maps of London which include every item on the maps.

Map: London Pre-1974

Pre-1974 Map.jpg

Map: London Post-1974


Street Maps[edit | edit source]

Most cities and larger urban areas have modern indexed street maps, often called A to Z Maps, available from several publishers for example Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London, Estate Publications Red Books, Geographers’ A-Z Map Company, Geographia A1 Atlas, Nicholson London Street Finder. They are typically 3 to 4½" to the mile and may be books or folded maps; older editions dating back to at least WWII can be found in secondhand bookshops. It should be appreciated that slum clearance projects, motorway construction and the attentions of Adolf have vastly changed the roadway configurations in most cities since the 19th century. Part of a 15 " O.S. map is shown in below.

Take note of the local roads, rivers, canals, railways and docks, when they were constructed and where they lead to. This can provide an important clue as to where migrants came from; poor migrants often settled right where they got off the boat, train or carrier’s wagon. Note that some parish boundaries, especially in urban areas, go right down the middle of a street. Street numbering in a logical sequence, (odd numbers on one side, even on the other), is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is quite common to have two or three houses of the same number in one street in the 19th century! Renaming of roads also causes much confusion, but the local archives should have a listing of roads renamed or renumbered.

Map: O.S. 15" Bermondsey, London 1914

Map of Bermondsey, London 1914.jpg

The Village Atlas series mentioned for London above, also has volumes (referenced under Alderman Press) covering:

  • Birmingham and West Midlands 1831-1907
  • Manchester, Lancashire and North Cheshire 1840-1912
  • Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire 1834-1904
  • Leeds, Sheffield and York 1840-1910

They can be found through online used booksellers.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.