Maps showing urban areas at a larger scale or in greater detail can help to trace the layout and development of towns in the past. In some cases, maps were drawn up that pre-date the Ordnance Survey and these can be especially useful for showing particular urban areas in the mid-19th century or even earlier.
Towns that formed the centre of an ancient borough – such as Stafford and Tamworth – would typically have a number of freeholders occupying the land around the town centre and usually had a variety of public buildings that would serve the town and surrounding area. There would be a market, tradesmen running shops and businesses, and often more than one church. This meant that in a number of cases, maps were drawn up to show the layout of the town, its streets and buildings, for administrative and practical purposes.
Amongst the earliest town plans for Staffordshire are those drawn by John Speed as part of his county map, in 1610. They show Stafford (the county town) and Lichfield (the Cathedral city), with street plan and buildings. A series of numbers identifies streets, churches and other notable buildings in an adjacent key. Other features, such as pools, rivers and bridges are also included.
Local town plans were drawn up in the later 18th and early 19th centuries for various administrative purposes, and can show a considerable amount of information. The Burton town plan of 1760 (Staffordshire Record Office) is highly detailed, showing street names and layout, buildings, out-houses, boundaries and plots of land, state of cultivation in gardens and yards, as well as listing the freeholders of the borough and showing what land they owned in the town. John Snape’s 1781 map of Lichfield (Lichfield Record Office) is similarly detailed, and provides a list of the local wards, with the number of houses and inhabitants in each. A number of early 19th century town plans are held at Staffordshire Record Office, including detailed plans of Tamworth (1845) Leek (1838 and 1857) and Wolverhampton (1871) and Borough Plans of Stafford (1838), Tamworth (1840), Wolverhampton (1836) and Walsall (1836).
Urban areas with a population of over 4000 were surveyed at the large scale of 1:500 (126 inches to the mile) for the Ordnance Survey County Series of 1881. These maps record in great detail the layout of streets, buildings (including glasshouses) and even gardens, where trees and flowerbeds are plotted exactly. Local buildings of note (including public houses) are identified by name. These maps provide a valuable ‘snapshot’ of Staffordshire towns in the later Victorian period. Staffordshire Record Office holds 1:500 maps for the following urban areas, although not complete coverage:
The Ordnance Survey Town plans of the National Grid system, surveyed at 1:1250 scale, again show urban areas in greater detail, including identification of public buildings and house numbers. The majority of these maps were drawn up within the last 30 years or so and can be especially useful for tracing changes which have taken place very recently. Staffordshire Record Office holds all of the sheets in this series for Staffordshire towns with the exception of those that now fall under the West Midlands administrative areas.