County maps (those that represent the county as a whole rather than focussing on specific areas) present an overview of the wider context in which local settlements and communities developed. Although lacking the detail of more localized plans, county maps date back much further and show the development of transport communications, the approximate locations of great parks and aristocratic seats, as well as recording the evolution of local place names.
Before the advent of Ordnance Survey maps in the 19th century, the country was mapped through a series of county maps privately produced by individuals or small groups of surveyors with wealthy patrons. In some cases, these would be bound into volumes of County Atlases. The earliest map of Staffordshire dates from 1577, and is the work of Christopher Saxton. It is surprisingly accurate and detailed for its time, showing settlements and geographical features. In common with other early county maps, however, it shows no roads. Other early maps of the county include Smith’s map of 1599 and Kip’s map of 1607.
John Speed mapped the county in 1610, again including main features but omitting the roads. However, he included two inset town plans of Lichfield and Stafford, both of which are accurate and detailed, including key buildings and street names. These early maps were reproduced at a small scale for inclusion in ‘pocket atlases’, and John Bill’s miniature version of 1626 was the first to show degrees of latitude and longitude. Robert Plot’s map of 1682 was the first large and highly detailed map of the county, and marked something of a milestone.
18th century maps of the county improved in accuracy, with the addition of roads and ways of differentiating between main routes and minor lanes. William Yates undertook a scientific survey to produce the first large-scale map of the county in 1775, creating a second smaller edition in 1798. The first half of the 19th century saw further refinements to county mapping, and in 1820, Christopher Greenwood produced a large one-inch scale map as a result of an entire county survey. By this time, however, the Ordnance Survey had begun their work on mapping the country and the age of privately surveyed county maps was drawing to a close.
Ordnance Survey maps do not show the county as an individual entity, but as part of a continuous stretch of country, with the county boundary marked as a dashed line. Later small scale Ordnance Survey maps and others of a similar nature (for example motoring maps) depict the county in this way. Outline county maps and those showing the layout of parishes were drawn up for various administrative purposes, but these were based on generally based on existing maps.
Cockin’s Biographical County Map of 2006, based on Ordnance Survey 1st edition County Series maps, harkens back to the maps of the early 19th century and includes biographical articles on various local personalities.
The majority of original printed county maps are held at the William Salt Library, whilst Staffordshire Record Office holds copies of Greenwood’s map of 1820, reprints of earlier county maps and various printed and administrative county maps dating from the 20th century. A copy of Cockin’s 2006 map is displayed on the Reading Room wall at Staffordshire Record Office.