The Lanhydrock Atlas – a window into seventeenth century Cornwall

Lanhydrock AtlasI don’t expect lots of people are as enthused with this book as I am, but for anyone with an interest in Cornwall, landscape history, history and archaeology generally, and maps (old maps especially) (me, for instance), this book is a wonderful thing.

Lanhydrock is not far south of Bodmin in Cornwall (I was there earlier this autumn); the current house is late Victorian as there was a disastrous fire which destroyed much of the house. The building today stands in formal gardens, with the parish church and more informal gardens adjacent, all set in parkland and woodlands which lead down to the River Fowey; there are marvellous walks through the various landscapes.

There is a holy well in the garden, and it is quite possible that this had the original dedication to St Hydrock, providing the estate’s name – the ‘lan’ part is Cornish, cognate with ‘llan’ in Welsh, so Lanhydrock (Lannhydrek in Cornish) means ‘church site of St Hydrock’.

LanhydrockThe Robartes family held the estate from 1620 (it had, until the Dissolution in the 1530s, belonged to the former Augustinian priory of St Petroc’s in Bodmin), and during the 1690s Joel Gascoyne (it is thought) was commissioned to map the estate. He produced the Map of the County of Cornwall at an unprecedented scale for 1699 of just underCornwall map surveyors one inch to one mile, and probably used his travels for this to do the surveying required for the estate maps. The picture on the right is from the Cornwall map – I like to think it shows Gascoyne with assistant.

The Lanhydrock Atlas consists of 258 watercolour maps on vellum, which were subsequently bound into four volumes. Somehow they have survived the vicissitudes of many centuries; as they were not listed in inventories, were presumable not held in the house, which would explain their survival of the 1881 fire. And now they have been reproduced in a volume from Cornwall Editions which was published in March.

The original maps have obviously been used as working documents, and some of the maps (the ones I’ve noticed being mainly of the estate nearer to the house) have pencil notes added; one, for example, has the route of a mining tramway marked in pencil as ‘route of railroad’.

Lanhydrock Atlas map detailThe estate stretched from the Devon border in the east to the coast at St Just in Penwith in the west, and each holding, down to individual fields, are mapped. Land use is shown using standardised symbols, which are actually similar in many cases to modern convention, with field crops shown as arable, pasture, furze, orchards, etc; buildings, woodland, hedges, roads, lanes, and mining are shown, with an occasional larger settlement, for example Penryn.

Drawn to (large) scale, and showing as much detail as they do, the maps are a rich fund of information about Cornwall in the late C17, and one of the introductory chapters is The Cornish Landscape in the Lanhydrock Atlas by Peter Herring, presently working as a Characterisation Inspector for English Heritage, but who spent most of his working life with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, now the Historic Environment Service. Commentaries on the maps are by Oliver Padel (President of the English Place-name Society, and author of Cornish Place-name Elements), who also provided locations for most of the maps with OS grid references. Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager at Lanhydrock, has provided a history of the Robartes family’s connection with the estate.

Lanhydrock Atlas cartoucheThese maps are beautiful works of art – on occasion the cartouches show miners, a milkmaid with her cow, or a goddess or god with a horn of plenty or a sheath of corn – so as well as comparing the maps with the current Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets I find myself just sitting and admiring them.

Some of the faded and rather small script on certain of the maps require a good, preferably natural, light and a magnifying glass, and I would have preferred the cover to have been a nice burgundy cloth or similar, rather than glossy, laminated boards matching the dustwrapper, but the paper is high quality matt art paper, with a heavy-duty sewn binding, so it should last well.

I don’t know how many people will be tempted to part with the asking price for this book, but it is a thing of beauty (and a joy forever, although I don’t think its loveliness will increase) and you should put it on your Christmas list immediately.

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One Response to The Lanhydrock Atlas – a window into seventeenth century Cornwall

  1. Pingback: Carnivalesque 68 | Mercurius Politicus

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