Cartographer: Saxton, Christopher
This map of Somerset is from the 1583 edition of the Saxton atlas of England and Wales. This atlas was first published as a whole in 1579. It consists of 35 coloured maps depicting the counties of England and Wales. The atlas is of great significance to British cartography as it set a standard of cartographic representation in Britain and the maps remained the basis for English county mapping, with few exceptions, until after 1750.
During the reign of Elizabeth I map use became more common, with many government matters referring to increasingly accurate maps with consistent scales and symbols, made possible by advances in surveying techniques. Illustrating the increasing used of maps in government matters, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, who had been determined to have England and Wales mapped in detail from the 1550s, selected the cartographer Christopher Saxton to produce a detailed and consistent survey of the country. The financier of the project was Thomas Seckford Master of Requests at the Court of Elizabeth I, whose arms appear, along with the royal crest, on each map. The decorative scale bar houses Saxton’s name and the name of the engraver Leonardus Terwoort, one of seven English and Flemish engravers employed to produced the copper plates for the atlas. Relief, in the form of uniform rounded representations of hills, is the main topographical feature presented in the maps. Rather than provide a scientific representation of relative relief these give a general impression of the lie of the land. Settlements and notable buildings are also recorded pictorially; a small building with a spire represents a village, while more important towns are indicated by groups of building. The county border are differentiated by different coloured shading. In neighbouring Wiltshire Longleat estate is marked. At the time this map was first engraved Longleat was still being built by Sir John Thynn and was not finished until 1580, the year after the maps publication. This perhaps is reflected in the somewhat modest appearance of the house and gardens?