There is a wealth of information in old maps. New maps are fine for finding your way around, although satnav has made the use of them less important even for that. Without all the work that has gone into OS mapping over the years however there would be no satnav, because it is the detailed mapping which makes it possible. But it is old maps that reveal so much about our past.
For instance they show the coast line changing as cliffs fall remorselessly, BUT equally how sand spits build up. Towns grow, new roads appear and railways first grow and then shrink. The Battle Area swallows up whole villages, and the open heaths of Breckland are replaced by huge tracts of Thetford Forest.
There are not only the changes which reveal our past however; old maps also show what has remained. In the map reproduced here the river Wensum still flows very much in the course that it has for thousands of years. The turnpike to Fakenham, now called the A 1067, is wider now and a few kinks have been taken out, but the road still is very much as it was in Roman times. Maps do not go back as far as that but they go back much further than the Ordnance Survey. One of the oldest is Christopher Saxton’s map of Norfolk published in 1574. This was the first map of an English county, and was later published in an atlas of the country. One of the most interesting things about this map is to compare the spellings of places with their modern equivalents. Poringland for example is spelt Porland, which tells us that it has gone back to an older version of the name. Costessey has also returned to an older spelling, but in this case it has retained the shorter pronunciation Cossey. From a later period than Saxton’s is William Faden’s map of 1797 which has even more detail. Such old maps are well-regarded, but the 30 or 40-year-old OS maps that you can pick up in junk shops or car boot sales for about 25p contain much that is worthy of attention.
I have a map, a reprint with minor variations published in 1960, which must be one of the last 1” to the mile editions. I also have one of the First Series 1:50,000 that replaced them; both are for East Norfolk. Although the M&GN had been closed since February 1959, it still appears on the first map. The second map is of 1967 with minor changes to 1972. In this map the M&GN is intermittently marked as Cse of old rly (Course of old railway). However this has the then new Themelthorpr Loop, which joined the M&GN (to city station) with the old Great Eastern line through Reepham.
There are other interesting developments. In the earlier map the main A11 London main road still snakes through Cringleford across the river Yare by the narrow bridge. The site of the UEA is still marked as a golf course (it was Earlham Golf Course). The later map has Cringleford by-passed and the University is marked, although the University Broad has yet to be dug. These are all changes that I can remember happening, although I might otherwise have forgotten when.
So the maps do not have to be ancient to be full of information. In many ways it is most recently out of date which are the most interesting, because they remind you of things which you can remember, but otherwise might have passed you by. Whether they are really old like Saxton’s, or only a few years out of date, old maps are full of information and interest.