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Old Maps for Local History Research

Extract from the Greenwood old map of Lancashire, 1818

Although the Ordnance Survey maps chart the most significant changed in Liverpool’s history, older maps often are unique. They show details or aspects which no other map does, and can often show what was important to the map-maker. You can’t beat old maps for laying bare the great changes of a city like Liverpool.

Modern maps are often much more ‘objective’ in comparison. But old maps are still of use to the local historian, at the same time as being beautiful objects.

If you know of any others I’ve missed out, or other places where these maps are available, let us know in the comments!

Early Liverpool Maps

Liverpool developed from seven streets, laid out at its founding in 1215. Soon there was a castle, a chapel and the Tower, a fortified house built by the Stanley family in 1404. Maps of this period (1205-1700) do exist, most of them drawn later. Here are a few of the easiest plans of Liverpool to get hold of.

One of Ashton's two old maps of Liverpool - a sketch of Liverpool from 1920

Liverpool from the River in 1650, by William Ashton

William Ashton included a simple sketch of 17th century Liverpool in his book ‘Evolution of a Coastline’ in 1920 (above).

Ashton also drew a top-down plan of Liverpool:

Another of Ashton's old maps - a sketch map of Liverpool as it was in 1572

Liverpool (‘Lerpoole’) in 1572

The book itself has recently been reprinted, so if you want a higher resolution copy you can pick up ‘Evolution of a Coastline‘ at Amazon.

Genmaps

Genmaps is a map site hosted by Rootsweb (part of Ancestry.com), and has a page on Lancashire maps. There’s a huge range, so I’ve collected the Liverpool entries in the following table. If you’re reading this in the dim and distant future, I recommend going to the original page, hitting Ctrl+F on your keyboard and searching for ‘liverpool’ to catch newer uploads.

 

Name Date Map-maker and Notes
Liverpool Early 18th century Map maker not known
Swire’s plan of Liverpool 1720 (1824) William Wales – Wales & Co. Castle Street Liverpool

19th Century

Liverpool, street plan ca.1801 George Cole. engr.J.Roper  in The British Atlas
Lancashire 1809 John Cary
Liverpool, Warrington, Leigh area 1809 John Cary (detail of map above)
Liverpool 1832 Lt. Robert Dawson in Plans of the Cities and Boroughs of England and Wales: shewing their boundaries as established by the Boundaries’ Act, passed 11th July 1832
Liverpool, street plan ca.1833 (includes plan of  Liverpool in 1729) Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge
Plan of the Liverpool Docks 1846 Jesse Hartley (Dock Surveyor) engr. C.B. Graham, Washington, D.C.
Environs of Liverpool 1850 Thomas Cowperthwait (inset detail from England)
Liverpool Docks ca.1860 J.Bartholomew for R. Fullarton.
Liverpool 1863 John Dower, published in The Weekly Dispatch
South West Liverpool 1863 B.R.Davies (detail from Liverpool map  in The Weekly Dispatch Atlas)
Liverpool-Birkenhead area ca.1870 A.Fullarton (detail from The Environs of Liverpool and the Estuaries of the Mersey & Dee)
The Town and Borough of Liverpool 1880 J. Bartholomew. (detail)
Plan of Liverpool 1881 Charles Letts
Liverpool.-sewers,contourlines and municipal boundaries 1882 Map maker not known
Liverpool – city plan 1883 George W. Bacon in The New Ordnance Atlas of the British Isles
Liverpool (Eastern Section) 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales. There’s a link through to a higher resolution version.
Liverpool (Western Section) 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales.
Liverpool 1897 Century Atlas Company. (detail from map of England and Wales) Quite a tiny map!
Liverpool 1898 Meyer in German lexikon Brockhaus. Published by Leipzig Bibliographisches Institut.

20th Century

Liverpool: town-plan (and detail) 1900 K.Baedeker
Environs of Liverpool & the estuaries of the Mersey and Dee ca.1910 J.Bartholomew
Liverpool Docks 1920 George Phillip (detail from The New Mercantile Marine Atlas)
Liverpool 1922 G.Bartholomew (detail from The Towns of England in The Times Atlas)

Some of them are high resolution, and some not. Others have links to higher resolution versions of extracts below them.

Lancashire County Council

Lancashire County Council has the best collection of old maps for any student of Liverpool history. It runs from a reproduction of Gough’s 1320 map, through all the major map makers: Speed, Yates, Greenwood, Hennet.

Greenwood’s map of Lancashire from 1818, is undoubtedly the best! Click on the exact point you’re interested in, as this map has been cut up into sections when added to the site.

Old Maps of Liverpool

It will take a fuller article to go into all details hidden in maps like these. For us today they provide an immediate visual visit on the past, easy to interpret. For this reason one of my favourites has to be this 1833 Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge map (if only for the name!). It shows quite a lot of detail, including Bootle Castle at the end of Regent Street, an unfamiliarly station-free Lime Street, and is detailed right out to Kensington (the edge of the city back then). Click on the map to zoom in.

Oldest of the old maps

Finally, I want to mention a map I only saw for the first time recently. It is included in the modern edition of The Calderstones by Ron Cowell. The map was made in 1568 to help solve a boundary dispute between Allerton and Wavertree. Not only does it show the Calderstones, but it also shows the mysterious Rodgerstone and the Pikeloo Hill. The Rodgerstone might have been a single standing stone, while the Pikeloo Hill could be a burial mound. The Pikeloo Hill could even have been as large as Silbury Hill, a prehistoric mound in Wiltshire.

Not only does this seem to be the oldest map of the Liverpool area. It’s also a tantalising glimpse of a prehistoric complex now long lost. The map isn’t online, so if anyone has a high resolution scan, do get in touch.

Well, that rounds off this brief excursion into Liverpool maps. There are certainly some I’ve missed, so please share your own sources in the comments!

Image: Extract from the Greenwood map of Lancashire, 1818, available in full on the Lancashire County Council Old Maps of Lancashire website.

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Mapping the History of Liverpool

Interactive maps of Liverpool's suburbs, old maps of Merseyside, and details of our protected, listed heritage.

Cover of the book 'Liverpool: a landscape history'

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