Early Modern roads

The network of principal roads, already in place by the end of the thirteenth century, remained largely unchanged until the second half of the eighteenth century.15Harrison, The Bridges of Medieval England, p. 3.

Evidence for the stability of the road network c. 1300 to c. 1750 More

Harrison proposed that the persistence of the road network could be perceived in the red lines on the Gough Map, and possibly in other lines of settlements. Is there a way of testing whether all the settlements are on major roads? With the continuity of the road network across the medieval and Early Modern timeline, any road maps before c. 1750 should reveal the same prominent lines of travel as medieval times.

The focus of this comparison is maps of England produced by two Early Modern mapmakers – John Ogilby and Herman Moll. In 1675, Ogilby published Britannia. Volume the First, which recorded the most significant roads in a strip map format. He was the first mapmaker to attempt an accurate description of the road network. Moll produced a sheet map of England in 1710, followed by individual county maps in 1724. He re-used Ogilby's data, but also added roads that Ogilby had omitted.

The maps of John Ogilby and Herman Moll More

Neither Britannia nor Moll’s maps of England and the English counties are perfect representations of roads. Ogilby’s are remarkably accurate, but incomplete. Moll, working at a much smaller scale, does not reproduce the roads with the same cartographical precision as Ogilby. But, for the purposes of a comparison with the Gough Map, that matters less as the points of comparison lie in the settlements through which the roads passed.

The importance of settlements as indicators of lines of travel

In addition to the red lines on the Gough Map that show distances, and may indicate routes or roads, there are lines of settlements that appear to indicate the same. For example, the map shows the settlements on the well-trodden road from London to Canterbury - Dartford, Rochester, Sittingbourne and Faversham. There is no red line to suggest a route, but contemporary familiarity with the road probably meant that there was no need to mark the distances.

As well as major settlements such as London and Canterbury (illustrated on the Gough Map with church spires, castles, walls or multiple buildings), numerous minor settlements (identified as a single building) appear between the cities and towns. The only factor that seems to link them is that they lie on roads connecting the higher-status settlements.

Case study - the minor settlement of Cobham in Surrey More

Comparing Gough Map settlements with Early Modern road maps

The comparison between the Gough Map and the Early Modern maps lies in identifying how many of the Gough Map's settlements appear on Early Modern roads. A complete match-up is unlikely as there is evidence that over time some roads became economically less important while others increased in significance due to the rise in importance of particular towns. In addition, locations of medieval religious significance on the Gough Map, such as Mayfield in Sussex or Cockersand in Lancashire, carried less import in the Early Modern era, particularly after the destruction of many abbeys during the Reformation. But a high number of matches could corroborate Harrison's view that the Gough Map does show the principal lines of travel.