The National Library of Wales has a large and important collection of manuscript estate maps relating to Wales; ranging in date from the 16th century to the 20th century.
The term estate map is used for a whole range of plans from a map showing a single property to one depicting the entire lands of a large estate. These maps were usually commissioned by landowners and were created for their private use by commercial surveyors.
Many of the estate maps are at large scales and are very detailed, some even showing individual trees. Often the drawing is of a very high standard and some of these maps are works of art. In other cases the maps consist of rough sketches in pencil or ink, which were used for everyday work. Many of the maps have accompanying schedules or ‘terriers’ detailing acreages, land use, field names, tenants etc.
However, most of the maps are estate surveys showing lands belonging to a particular estate. These maps are a valuable source not only for study of the estates themselves; but also for landscape history, boundary studies, and family and building history. The Library’s main interest now lies in obtaining material prior to the tithe surveys (1836) as later work was mostly based on these, or on OS mapping.
Many of these maps are held under the names of the great estates and landowners of Wales, e.g. Tredegar. Much of this material came to the Library as part of larger collections of estate papers from the estates. The maps were removed from the archival collections for reasons of storage and preservation. Some of these items are still listed in the archival schedules; often the numbering sequences have been kept.
The named collections of estate maps occasionally contain copies of tithe surveys, some architectural drawings and plans relating to railways, mines etc., which the landowner may have been associated with or which involved their property. There are also some printed maps in the collection (mainly Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping), usually with manuscript additions.
As well as single maps or sets of maps covering estates there are over 140 bound volumes of maps. The maps in these volumes have been catalogued individually.
All acquisitions since 1992 have been added to the online catalogue. Most material from the named collections received prior to this date has been added to the online catalogue, and work progresses to complete this task. The old card catalogue which used to be in the South Reading Room is no longer available.
In addition to this, some named collections of maps have printed schedules, these are also available in the South Reading Room, as are the archival schedules.
Estate maps are part of a wider picture of the rural landscape of Wales and its history. Early estate maps show the beginning of a process of change in post-medieval, post-reformation Wales, as land ownership began to be concentrated in the hands of large secular landowners. The tithe surveys show this process at its height and the Library’s large collection of sale catalogues show the end of the big estates as they were broken up and sold off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Many local record offices also have collections of estate maps relating to their area.