Case study - the minor settlement of Cobham in Surrey

There is a sense in which all the settlements on the map are accessible and, therefore, on some kind of road network, whether that involves a highway, a byway, a track, or a lightly trodden path. It is also a truism that the most important settlements – major cities like Canterbury or York, or large towns with high populations such as Bristol - would have been on roads deemed to be important. It is, therefore, obvious that there would have been a well-travelled road between, say, Bristol and Gloucester, or York and Lincoln. If the Gough Map had simply shown the higher status places in late fourteenth-century England, such as cities, towns and ports, that would have been enough for route planning. Such a map would have shown that to get from London to York, you would have taken a road via Huntingdon and Doncaster. The actual road taken on all the various stages of the journey could have been done in consultation with previous travellers, looking at an itinerary or asking a local for guidance.43Catherine Delano-Smith, 'Milieus of Mobility: Itineraries, Route Maps, and Road Maps', in Cartographies of Travel and Navigation, ed. by James R. Akerman (London: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 16-68 (pp. 34-35).

A section of Plate 30 of Britannia showing Cobham, Surrey
Figure 8. A section of Plate 30 of John Ogilby's Britannia showing Cobham in Surrey.

But it is clear that the Gough Map offers much more information, and that this information is purposeful. The outstanding feature, compared to any previous or contemporary maps, is that many locations of little apparent inherent status are included between the known higher value settlements. A good example is Cobham in Surrey which lies between the towns of Kingston upon Thames and Guildford. The meagreness of Cobham’s history is instructive.44'Parishes: Cobham', British History Online <> [accessed 28 May 2019].  It is now a village with a single street of shops, and an old watermill. It has a hinterland of suburban housing built around the forty-minute train journey to London Waterloo from nearby Cobham and Stoke D’Abernon train station. There is nothing to suggest that in medieval times it had been larger, or enjoyed any more significance, than a small village. It has never had a market, been a borough or returned an MP to Parliament.

But its importance for medieval travellers came from the wooden bridge over the River Mole and, possibly, because it had a smithy for the shoeing of horses.45David C. Taylor, The book of Cobham (Buckingham: Barracuda Books Limited, 1982), p. 21. Taylor reports that, in 1345, John le Smyth had a smithy by Cobham bridge to shoe the horses of travellers, but he does not cite a source.  Was the bridge the key reason it was marked on the Gough map? Probably not. Four miles north west of Cobham is the small village of Weybridge, which as the name suggests, also had a bridge over the River Wey, a tributary of the Thames. Later, Henry VIII would build Oatlands Palace there, partly because it was navigable from London by river.46'Oatlands Palace History', Weybridge Society website <> [accessed 28 May 2019]. If ease of travel using both rivers and roads had been a priority, Weybridge would seem a likely candidate for the map. The most plausible reason for Cobham’s presence over any other nearby settlement was that it lay on the principal road that ran from London to Portsmouth. Now labelled the A307, this road is still referred to by Cobham residents as ‘the Portsmouth Road’, despite the presence of its modern three-lane replacement – the A3 – which runs just to the north west.

Another feature of Cobham is its equidistance between Kingston and Guildford, suggesting that it was a well-established stage on the Portsmouth road. Three miles up the road from Cobham, and approximately four miles from Kingston, is the equally small village of Esher. Esher appears in the historical record, partly because William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester, had a house there, and it is possible to track some of the journeys of his servants between their employer’s two homes.47'William of Wykeham's Household Account Roll, 1393', Winchester College website <> [accessed 28 May 2019].  Esher would probably equally well have had a hostelry, so the choice of Cobham suggests that the mapmakers were interested in providing guidance on road journeys that would be done in daily or half-daily stages, depending on the distances and the mode of transport.

Cobham is one of 261 settlements marked in England on the Gough Map as a single building – the seemingly lowest status settlement-type depicted. This represents fifty-eight percent of all the settlements marked in England and they are, therefore, a highly significant aspect of the map. The example of Cobham begs the question of how far all settlements marked on the map are stages or destinations on principal highways.

Cobham - on the Gough Map

Section of the Gough Map showing Kingston, Cobham and Guildford in Surrey.
Figure 9. East is at the top.

Cobham - on Moll's map of Surrey

Section of Moll's 1724 map of Surrey showing Kingston, Cobham and Guildford in Surrey
Figure 10. North is at the top.