Creating a GIS of the Transport Infrastructure of England and Wales 1379-1729
Text, GIS and mapping by Max Satchell
This project is part of a larger project looking at the changing occupational structure of England and Wales 1379 to 1729. The terminal dates derive from the key source material on occupations for the larger project. One of the key issues we hope to investigate is the relationship between changes in the transport infrastructure and the changing occupational and population geography. To do this we need to create a detailed transport GIS (Geographical Information System) to investigate the parish level occupational and demographic data. No-one has attempted to map the principal elements of the transport infrastructure of England and Wales 1379-1729 in GIS. Yet ample materials for such an exercise exist in a variety of cartographic and non-cartographic sources.
The primary GIS outputs in terms of road transport will be a digitisation of the routes indicated by the strip maps of John Ogilby (Ogilby, 1970) and the turnpikes created up till 1729. In terms of cartography the pre-turnpike road network is not depicted with any degree of accuracy until John Ogilby, royal cosmographer, published his atlas of "principal roads" in England and Wales in 1675. This consisted of strip maps at 1:63360 scale of 85 routes on 100 copper plates which plotted over 7500 miles of road.
The status of the Ogilby roads is not entirely straightforward. Ogilby claimed to have surveyed some 26700 miles of roads and that those in his atlas represented only 'the most considerable of them'. Many but not all of the roads depicted by Ogilby were designated post roads. This does not mean he did not delineate most of the important roads of England and Wales.It is hard to sustain the alternative argument that in 1675 the post roads were not the routes of choice for the carriage of people and goods in many places. In this period mail was carried by post-boys on horse-back so it is possible that in some regions wagons used alternate routes which were more circuitous but less steep. In lowland Britain at least the general relationship between the post roads depicted by Ogilby and main roads is borne out through trial mapping of Ogilby roads in Suffolk. This showed that 86% of some 190 miles of road was subsequently turnpiked, a sure indicator of the enduring economic importance of the roads (see Fig.1).
Not only does Ogilby have value as a guide to major elements of the road network in the late seventeenth century, but also potentially for the medieval period. The longstanding regional significance of these roads is suggested by comparison of Ogilby with the routes of the Gough map c.1360. This shows that in for England approximately 60% of the fourteenth century network follows the same sequence of places delineated in 1675 (Roberts, 2002).
Regional studies which place the Ogilby data onto a modern map base remain rare and are of questionable cartographic accuracy, with the exception of the unpublished work of Jones on Yorkshire (Day, 1975-6, Jones, 1981, Frearson, 1995, White, 2005). Dickinson (2003) has shown that while many of the Ogilby maps suffer serious distortions in shape, they are far more accurate in terms of distance and that this characteristic used in conjunction with retrogressive analysis of later cartographic sources makes it possible to reconstruct their routes.
The only national attempt to place the roads shown on Ogilby's maps onto a modern projection is A Map of XVII Century England (Ordnance Survey, Southampton, 1930). Its worth has been largely overlooked. The map was produced by the formidably able cartographer and field archaeologist, O.G.S. Crawford. As the first Archaeological Officer appointed by the Ordnance Survey (1920-1946) Crawford had pioneered a combination of archival work, aerial photography and field survey as he travelled the length and breadth of the country. It is this coincidence of talent, skills and opportunity that would have enabled Crawford to overcome many of the difficulties of identifying on the ground the roads shown on Ogilby's strip maps and placing them onto a modern projection.
Some 80 turnpike acts had been passed by 1729 (Albert, 1972). Generating the attribute data for a dynamic, detailed, chronologically-ordered GIS of the geography of early turnpikes is more straightforward than for later turnpikes. Compared with the later acts, the early acts are modest in number and they do not suffer from the added complexity of having numerous changes in the extent of roads covered by each trust being detailed in subsequent renewal acts. In the future it is hoped to take on the major task of extending the detailed dynamic road GIS from 1729 to all turnpikes and their successors to 1911.
The first phase of work entailed the creation of a GIS of the roads mapped by Ogilby digitised from geo-rectified scans of A Map of XVII Century England. This phase is now complete (see Fig 2.). This GIS enables the approximate course of the Ogilby roads to be identified. This GIS also enables the extent to which the pre-1730 turnpikes and the Ogilby roads overlap to be investigated. Last but not least the new GIS enables initial assessment of some datasets not used by the Occupations project before. One of the most important of these is the War Office survey of stabling and beds in inns and alehouses of 1686. Mapping the numbers of beds in inns and alehouses in Berkshire illustrates the value of this resource. Mapping those places with above average numbers of beds (21 beds or more) shows the strong correlation between accomodation and towns on the roads mapped by Ogilby (see Fig. 3) especially the routes from London to Bristol via Reading and Newbury and London to Gloucester via Maidenhead and Abingdon. A very similar pattern occurs if the above average number of stable places (48 places or more) are mapped (see Fig. 4).
Harrison's research on bridges c.400-1800 has provided a solid understanding of the number and nature of bridges and their presence or absence where major roads cross significant watercourses (1992, 2000). Mapping the changing geography of bridges is a major undertaking beyond the remit of this project. However, we will investigate the feasibility of mapping two classes of data. First, the presence or absence of bridges at four points in time c.1379, c.1542, 1675 and c.1729 at the crossing points of Ogilby routes for some 20 major rivers. The number of locations to be assessed are in the order of 150 to 200. The principal documentary and cartographic sources are listed by Harrison. Second, changes in the lowest bridged point of all major rivers 1379-1729 because of the importance of such locations as a focus for economic development. In the future it is hoped to extend these datasets forward in time to 1911.
Navigable rivers c.1600-1729
In this period navigable rivers were economically far more important than roads in terms of the movement of low-value heavy goods, such as grain and coal. The GIS dataset of the navigable rivers of England and Wales c.1820-1881 is in the process of being re-edited to produce a new dataset of showing as far as practicable the changing limits of navigable rivers c.1600-1729. In part this is a bibliographical exercise to systematically update the data concerning the progressive extension of river navigation in Willan's River navigation in England, 1600-1750 (1936). Once the data editing is finished it will be tabulated and joined to the existing GIS of navigable rivers. Due to difficulties in identifying minor changes in the course of rivers in the earlier period, redigitisation will only be done where the course of a navigable river has changed so dramatically that it shifts wholly from one township to another. For an example of possible output see Figure 5.
- Albert, W., The turnpike road system in England 1663-1840 (CUP, 1972).
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- Day, W., 'The Shropshire portion of the Chester-Cardiff road in 1675', Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, 60 (1975-6), 113-121.
- Delano-Smith, C., 'Milieus of mobility. Itineraries, route maps and roads maps' in J. Akerman, (ed.) Cartographies of travel and navigation, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), 16-68
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- Dickinson (2003), G.C., 'Britain's first road maps: The strip-maps of John Ogilby's Britannia, 1675', Landscapes, 1 (2003), 79-98.
- Frearson, M. 'The mobility and descent of dissenters in the Chiltern Hundreds : Communications and the continuity of dissent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries'. in M. Spufford (ed.), The world of rural dissenters, 1520-1725 (CUP, 1995), 273-87.
- Gerhold, D., Carriers and Coachmasters. Trade and travel before the turnpikes (Phillimore: Chichester, 2005).
- Harrison, M., 'Bridges and economic development', Economic History Review, 45 (1992), 240-61.
- The bridges of medieval England. Transport and society 400-1800 (OUP, 2004).
- Hodson, D, The Early Printed Road Books of England and Wales, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Exeter, 2000
- Jones, 'The maps of Yorkshire printed in the period 1577-1857 as sources of topographical information', unpublished Ph.D, University of Leeds, 1981
- Ogilby, J., Britannia / [by] J. Ogilby. London, 1675. With an introduction by J. B. Harley (Amsterdam : Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1970).
- Roberts, B. K., 'Woods, fens and roads: Where are the fens?' in Through Wet and Dry: Essays in Honour of David Hall, ed. T. Lane and J. Coles, Sleaford and Exeter: Lincolnshire Archaeology and Heritage Report Series No 5 and WARP Occasional Paper 17 (2002), 78-86.
- Stenton, F.M., ''The road system of medieval England', Economic History Review, 7 (1936), 1-20
- Ward, R. C., 'River systems and river regimes' in British Rivers (London et al: Allen and Unwin, 1981), 1-34.
- White, P., The South-West highway atlas of 1675 (Launceston: Tamar Books, 2005).
- Willan, T. S., River navigation in England, 1600-1750 (OUP, 1936).
 Stenton was sceptical about this coincidence because some medieval towns had more than one route between them and that some sections of the routes fell out of use between 1400 and 1675.
 'Abstract of a Particular Account of all the Inns Alehouses in England With Their Stable-Room and Bedding In the Year 1686': TNA, WO 30/48
 Hydrologists rank rivers in terms of length, catchment area and mean annual discharge (Ward, 1981). Our classification will focus more on characteristics of rivers which make them a greater or lesser obstacles to road transport.