Medieval land surveys were written documents prepared from observation, writings or oral descriptions. Only during the late sixteenth century did accurate estate maps start to supplement the written surveys. The maps, essentially private records of ownership or occupation also aided estate management and served as legal evidence in disputes and probate. Agrarian changes encouraged a constant demand for estate maps.
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. Only a few large Welsh estates were surveyed before 1760, the majority of surveys being undertaken between 1760 and 1800. The term “Estate maps” is used for a wide range of plans i.e. from a map showing an individual property to large volumes depicting the entire lands of a large estate. They also vary from being intricate, highly detailed and beautifully coloured examples to crude working drawings. These maps were intended as functional documents showing only the owner’s properties to the exclusion of unnecessary detail. These maps were usually commissioned by landowners and were created for their private use by commercial surveyors.
The earliest example is the survey of the manors of Crickhowel and Tretower (1587). From about the mid nineteenth century, maps became simpler and were increasingly based on readily available large-scale mapping in the form of tithe maps and Ordnance Survey maps, thus eliminating the need for costly private surveys. Estate maps were often once part of larger bodies of documents, many of which are held by the Library.
Estate maps often provide topographical information on features which were overlooked or simply not included by the compilers of later maps. They may be accompanied by a book of reference, or more usually a summary terrier on the map itself, detailing acreages and land use and naming tenants and fields.
Here we have a selection of digitised estate maps of Wales:
Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell and Tretower, 1587, an early survey of a whole estate
An insight into the development and eventual decay of a landed estate in North Ceredigion
12 maps showing lands of the Crosswood Estate