A Map of the Isle of Sheppey
Cartographer: Lythe, Robert
Medium: Pen and ink on paper
This map of the Isle of Sheppey dates from 1574 and is thought to be the work of the cartographer Robert Lythe. Lythe was a cartographer of note as he created the first accurate map of Ireland while under the employ of the Crown and is therefore comparable to Christopher Saxton in his importance in the context of the history of cartography.
This map was created for the purposes of defence and also to solve the problem of drainage in the area. The emphasis on streams and waterways suggests a link with the repeated attempts to avoid the silting up of Sandwich Haven by increasing the amount of water it could hold. The works were to be financed by a local levy, hence perhaps the prominence of names which may be a guide to apportionment.
Anglo-Spanish relations had been in steady decline since the accession of the protestant Elizabeth I in 1558. In 1574 there was a fear that the Spanish would launch an attack from the Netherlands on ships at Chatham. In the idea of transferring the main fleet to Queenborough was suggested as a precaution. Under the command of Sir William Winter, Surveyor of the Navy and Sir William Pelham, Lieutenant General of Ordnance, and Lythe a survey of Sheppey was carried out. Sheerness and the Isle of Grain were rejected in favour of a new port at Swaleness opposite Queenbrough which would prevent a raid from the rear by way of the Swale. Swaleness was a marsh and in order to build fortifications drainage and embanking or the area was necessary. This was authorised by the Privy Council in September 1574. Earthworks were created but the fortifications were not built and in the event the Spanish did not invade until 1588.