John Norden’s Maps of Cornwall

We have recently digitised Speculum Brittaniae (O.4.19) and in so doing were reminded of a piece of historical detective work undertaken in the 1970s.

In the late 16th century, the cartographer John Norden (c. 1547-1625) began a project to produce a survey of every county in England as a series called Speculum Britanniae. The project was never fully completed. Norden presented the manuscript copy of his Cornish survey containing maps and descriptions to King James I. This manuscript (now catalogued as Ms Harl 6252 in the British Museum) has long proved an enigma: bound within it is a series of engraved, printed maps. These maps were a later replacement for the original manuscripts maps, but the whereabouts of the original manuscript maps was unknown. In the 1970s this puzzle was solved by William Ravenhill of the University of Exeter.

At some point after 1642 – probably during the Civil War – the manuscript presented to the King was removed from the Royal Library and the maps were separated from the text. The antiquarian, Roger Gale (1672-1744) later purchased these maps and kept them together with another early manuscript copy of Norden’s survey that he acquired around 1696.

In 1728 William Pearson, working for the bookseller Christopher Bateman, produced a printed edition of Norden’s survey of Cornwall. He used as his basis the royal manuscript (Ms Harl 6252), but because the maps had been removed and were by that time in the possession of Roger Gale, he borrowed them from Gale in order to copy them and produce a series of engraved maps for the printed edition. A contemporary, Thomas Hearne (1678-1725), of the Bodleian Library, wrote:

The mapps in Norden’s Cornwall, lately printed, Mr Bateman borrowed of Roger Gale, Esq. They were returned to Mr Gale again … These Mapps without doubt belonged originally to the MS. That Mr Bateman hath and printed from …

Four copies of the printed edition were made on vellum, as well as 200 other copies on paper. Trinity College Library possesses one of the vellum copies (X.15.51 [1]) as well as two copies of the edition printed on paper (X.16.47 and Grylls 5.108).

Bateman then had a set of the engraved maps coloured and bound with the original manuscript (Ms Harl 6252). As part of a large bequest in 1738, Gale presented his composite copy to Trinity College. It was this manuscript that William Ravenhill, following various leads over 200 years later, realised contained Norden’s original manuscript maps.

Hundred of Penwith

Further Reading:

William Ravenhill, ‘The Missing Maps from John Norden’s Survey of Cornwall’, Exeter Essays in Geography (1971)