The comparison

The comparison is based on 452 settlements, identified by icons, that are located in England on the Gough Map. The key source for the settlements is Parsons’ The Map of Great Britain circa A.D. 1360 known as The Gough Map.

Parsons' Gough Map settlement data More

The Early Modern maps show a high degree of correspondence in their portrayal of the road network. However, some maps contain roads that the others have omitted, and for the purposes of analysis, the roads on all the maps have been combined to form a single, aggregated map.

Table 8. The results of the comparison.
Gough Map settlements on a road on ANY of the 3 maps
Number of settlements
Number of settlements
on an Early Modern road
% of settlements
on a road

The figure of seventy-nine percent for the aggregated map reveals the extent to which the road network formed an integral part of the Gough Map. And it is not just the percentage that matters. The settlements are not randomly dotted around the road network, as if by chance. It is the evenness of their distribution along the roads that is so telling, with the distances reflecting a day or half day's travel, depending on the mode of transport (Figure 11).

Case study - settlement distribution in Surrey More

Settlement data and Early Modern roads plotted on Google maps (pdf) More


The comparison findings support the suggestion that the majority of Gough Map settlements reflected the principal lines of medieval English travel. Besides the percentage of matches and the even staging of settlements along those highways, there is another factor that confirms their importance. Many of the lines of low status settlements (the single building icons) reveal a geographically direct route between two or more high status settlements, which coincides with Harrison’s observation that the national highways were generally straight.

Not all the settlements were on Early Modern major roads. Some inland settlements, such as Northleach and Burford, lay on roads that had been significant in the Middle Ages, and research into other non-matching settlements might discover similar circumstances. But there were also coastal settlements, such as Bamburgh, Warkworth, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Cockersand, Blakeney, Broomholm, Dunwich, St Osyth, Exmouth and Pevensey, which were outside the main road network. Overall, the emphasis on the map is for well-distributed settlements that cover all areas of England with, inevitably, some of these falling in areas of lower population and, therefore, less travelled roads.

So what role did highways play in the map? Were they an integral part of the map’s purpose, or just a useful tool for illustrating the scope and range of Britain's settlements? The example of Surrey suggests a purposefulness in indicating the principal highways, but until we understand why it was created, the Gough Map will remain an enigma.

Comparison results to the north and west of London

Gough Map settlements plotted on Early Modern road maps on a Google map showing an area of England to the north and west of London
Figure 11. Map data ©2019 Google.
Key to the image showing Gough Map settlements on Early Modern roads on a Google map
Figure 12. Key to Figure 11.