Research tips: maps
In this post we’ll introduced some maps that can help in local and house history research. You might be surprised to learn that many are online, so there is plenty to look at while the Archives remains closed.
With maps, it is always best to begin with the most recent maps and work backwards so that you can build up a picture of how the area changed and use key landmarks to get your bearings.
ArcGIS interactive mapping service
Shropshire Council’s mapping system allows you to access a range of cartographical information relating to Shropshire with data on population, green spaces, flooding etc.
Ordnance survey maps
Dates: For Shropshire, 1814-current
The brilliant Ordnance Survey (OS) maps have their roots in military strategy of the 1740s. Initially mapping covered Scotland (following the Highlands rebellion) and the south coat (due to fears about the spread of the French revolution). By the 1790s a national survey of the whole of Britain was envisaged. You can read more about the background on the Ordnance Survey website
The National Library of Scotland is a great place to start finding and viewing a range of OS maps from 1841-1961 for the whole of the UK. The 25″ to the mile scale maps are particularly useful.
The very first OS mapping for Shropshire, undertaken between 1814 and 1817, can be viewed on the British Library website within the Maps and Views section of the Online Gallery. Although this is a much smaller scale (mostly 2″ to the mile) they do contain field boundaries and features.
Tithe and field name maps
Date: c 1840
A tithe map may be the earliest detailed map for a specific place. Traditionally payments to the church were made in kind but the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 allowed this to be changed to a monetary payment. To calculate the new payments, tithe commissioners aimed to produce a general survey and register of real property for the whole country, rather like the Domesday Book. The maps turned out to be rather a mixed lot: some were original surveys, but many were copies of slightly earlier maps. They are still key maps and the survey covered 93.4% of the county.
Three copies of each map were made, for the parish, the diocese and the tithe commissioners. The maps are accompanied by ‘apportionments’ which list owners and occupiers as well as land type, extent and value.
The tithe commissioners copies have been digitised and you can search and view these on the Genealogist website (for a fee).
Shropshire is lucky (and perhaps unique) in having a set of field name maps based on the tithe maps. Using tithe awards of c 1840, estate surveys and OS maps, the field names have been written on maps showing each individual field’s shape and location. They are at a 6″ to the mile scale so easy to use alongside the OS maps.
We’ve digitised all the field name maps and you can download them via our website. For more information about how to do this, visit our field name maps page.
Shropshire Archives holds many more maps, from town plans to estate surveys, from deposited plans of railways and canals to enclosures of common land. Most of these can only be viewed onsite when we re-open. However, our Shropshire Maps website gives plenty of background and examples. It explains the different types of maps, how to find them and their uses.
You can also search our online catalogue for maps. Simply search our website for a place, then narrow by format to ‘maps’. Several maps have already been digitised in response to queries and projects. To find these, narrow your search to show results with ‘images only’.