John Wood’s Welsh town plans

John Wood, 1780-85-1847, was a land surveyor from Edinburgh, Scotland. This collection includes plans of the seven Welsh towns of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Brecon, Cardigan, Newport, Caernarfon and Pwllheli, together with the nearby English borderland towns of Chester and Oswestry.

John Wood, 1780-85-1847, was a land surveyor from Edinburgh, Scotland and was elected Permanent Director of the Land Surveyors’ Society around 1833. He is best remembered for his exceptionally accomplished ‘Town Atlas of Scotland’ of 1828 containing forty eight town plans.

The publication of this atlas, following ten years of toil, was a conspicuous milestone in the history of urban cartography for it contained the first systematic delineations of many Scottish towns. Plans were accompanied by descriptive and historical accounts of their towns. Curiously however the atlas omitted some towns which Wood had already surveyed and for which he had published individual plans. Also, not all the delineations are from Wood's own surveys. Individual plans could be purchased in local towns and from the Edinburgh bookseller Thomas Brown.

Wood also prepared plans of towns in Wales and in the South West and North of England. Again, he normally undertook his own new and accurate surveys, but whenever possible derived his plans from existing reliable surveys.

The Welsh plans contain detailed mapping plus textual and statistical information for urban areas and their environs from the 1830s-1840s. These large scale plans predate examples from the Ordnance Survey at comparable scale. Displayed are outline or block plans of contemporary buildings, together with streets, bridges, tram roads, canals, wharfs, docks, waterways, rivers, agricultural land and a multitude of other features. Landowners, particularly important ones, are named and the boundaries of boroughs, wards and parishes may also be shown.

Some buildings, typically public and commercial premises, are numbered to reference lists on the peripheries of each plan. The distances to nearby towns, dates of fairs and population statistics are routinely given and arbitrary hachuring defines some topography.

Houses and commercial premises are accurately mapped, but are predominantly anonymous, whilst buildings and features identified by name typically include town halls, county halls, churches, chapels, meeting houses, schools, infirmaries, hotels, taverns, banks, Post Offices, works offices, warehouses, market places, slaughter houses or “Shambles”, custom houses, alms houses, bath houses, poor houses, theatres, jails, foundries, gas works, mills, timber yards, lime kilns, turnpikes, weighing stations, wells and burial grounds. Allotments, parks and farm land are also shown and sometimes proposed developments, such as new roads, appear in minimal outline.

The Library’s collection includes plans of the seven Welsh towns of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Brecon, Cardigan, Newport, Caernarfon and Pwllheli, together with the nearby English border towns of Chester and Oswestry which have been included because of their proximity and their strong Welsh associations.

Most of the plans are orientated with North at the top and have scales of 2 chains (1:1,584), 3 chains (1:2,376) and 6 chains : 1 inch (1:4,752).Often, inset maps of the borough are included at smaller scales.

The Library’s plans were mainly printed by the three Edinburgh firms of J. & W. Smith, Leith & Smith and Forrester & Nichol. Map colouration, where it exists, is generally faded, but can be especially useful in identifying the boundaries of administrative areas.