Click here to skip to content

Cartographic Sources for Dating Houses in England and Wales

As maps and plans are only updated from time to time, it is rarely possible to determine from maps exactly when a house was built. For most modern houses, however, there exist title deeds which should include a brief history of the house. If the age of a house cannot be ascertained by other methods, the notes below may prove useful. However, cartographic evidence should be used with caution, for example, a building shown on a particular site is not necessarily the same one that exists today.

1. Houses built 1875 to present.2. Houses built c.1800 to c.18753. Houses built c.1700 to c.18004. Houses built c.1550 to c.1700
1.1 Ordnance Survey2.1 Ordnance Survey3.1. Larger scale county maps4.1. County maps
1.2 Printed estate maps2.2 Tithe and enclosure maps3.2 Ordnance Surveyor's Drawings4.2 Estate maps
1.3 Aerial photography2.2 (i) References to tithe and enclosure maps3.3 Estate maps5. Town plans
  3.4 Enclosure mapsReading list


1.1.Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey County Series, Ordnance Survey town plans (OSTs) and National Grid large-scale plans are usually the most detailed maps available, showing outlines of houses and surrounding grounds. Editions List of the 1:2500 (c. 25" to 1 mile) County Series. Individual County Index maps are stored in the grey drawers to the left of the catalogue area. On the first editions of the 25" County Series and OSTs (1:500, 1:528 and 1:1056, c. 10' and 5' to 1 mile) brick or stone buildings are coloured red and iron or wood are black. Dates of the first editions should be checked as some other scales (e.g. Lancashire and Yorkshire 6" and some OSTs) are earlier than the 25". Also 6" sheets were sometimes published when there was no 25" and vice versa, especially in the revised editions.

Note that the Land Valuation 1:1250 series (c. 50" to 1 mile) (1912-26) constitute intermediate revisions for some sheets (mainly urban areas). There is a list of the Land Valuation revision dates held behind the Reference Enquiry Desk. Smaller scales (e.g. 2½", 1:50,000 and 1") can be used with caution as they were sometimes revised at different dates from the larger scales. Lists of editions are in the blue Public Service Guide binders under OS 1".

1.2.Printed estate maps

The Map Library has a collection of sales catalogues (c. 1860-1960) for larger properties, which contain printed estate maps. These also show other properties on the estate and give the names of land and property owners. There is a full listing of the volumes in the Public Service Guide and a card index for Maps 135 in the Reading Room. See also BL Map Library Guide ‘How to find estate maps in the British Library’ (No. 11 in Reading List).

1.3.Aerial photography

The Map Library holds an incomplete set of 1:10,560 Air Photo Mosaics 1947-53 published by the OS. There is also 1:1250 coverage for some cities and large towns. For coverage see marked up indexes in grey drawers to the left of the catalogue area in the Maps Reading Room. For other information, see blue Public Service Guide binders under OS Mosaics. For other sources of aerial photography refer to the OS Advisory Service on Aerial Photography (for details see red Public Service Guide binders under Aerial Photography).

2.HOUSES BUILT C. 1800-C. 1875

2.1.Ordnance Survey

For Yorkshire and Lancashire the OS 6" to 1 mile County Series was published c. 1840-50. For other areas use Old Series 1" to 1 mile or the earlier Ordnance Surveyors' Drawings (OSDs) at 2" to 1 mile (from c.1790). Some OSDs, mainly for some southern coastal areas are at 3" or 6" to 1 mile scales. There are also later 2" to 1 mile drawings for some areas. For further details see the blue Public Service Guide binders under ‘OS 1"’, ‘Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings’ and ‘Hill sketches and outline drawings’, and No. 7 in Reading List. Although smaller scale, these maps do show buildings as small solid black rectangles, coloured red on the original OSD. On the early 3" and 6" OSDs stone and brick (red) and timber (black, brown or sepia) are differentiated.

2.2.Tithe and enclosure maps

If a larger scale plan than the Ordnance Survey is required, for England and Wales manuscript tithe maps (mostly c. 1836) and enclosure plans (mostly c. 1750-1850) are held in the Public Record Office (complete set of tithe maps) or local record office. There are very few tithe and enclosure maps in the BL. The subject sequence (Vol. 3, p. 994) of No. 10 in the Reading List at the back of this leaflet gives a chronological listing of enclosure and tithe plans held in the BL.

Tithe maps are variable in quality and scale but all show dwellings and give details of property owners. Enclosure maps are also very variable and usually show the landscape as reorganised by the Enclosure Commissioners, but some also show former landscape. Tithe maps do not cover all of England and Wales and the distribution of enclosure maps is even more scattered. A listing, which includes catalogues of holdings of tithe and enclosure maps in record offices, can be found at Maps Ref. G.3. (see No. 8 in the Reading List). See also PRO leaflets ‘Tithe records in the Public Record Office’ and ‘Enclosure awards’ in Public Service Guide and Reading List Nos. 5 and 6. Areas covered by extant tithe maps and enclosure maps can be found in the following reference works:

Tithe maps

i)Kain, Roger, J.P. and Oliver, Richard, R. The tithe maps of England and Wales (1995). Maps Ref. G.2a.Eng/Wales (14.)

Lists of all tithe maps.

ii)List and Index Society Tithe maps and apportionments (1972). Part I, Bedfordshire to Northumberland, Part II, Nottingham to Yorkshire, Wales. Part I, Maps Ref.(Desk) Part II, Maps Ref. C.7.(7.)

Lists of tithe districts.

Enclosure maps

i)W.E. Tate The Domesday of English enclosure acts and awards (1978). Maps Ref. C.7.(8.)

Awards with maps marked with an asterisk.

3. HOUSES BUILT C. 1700-C. 1800

3.1.Larger scale county maps

The only maps which cover large parts of England and Wales for this period are county maps, the largest scale ones being at 1" or 2" to 1 mile. As with the 1" to 1 mile OS, buildings are shown as small solid rectangles, but before 1800 the maps are generally less accurate than the OS 1" and not all houses are shown. For a listing of larger scale county maps with shelfmarks see E.M. Rodger, The large-scale county maps of the British Isles 1596-1850, second edition (1972). Maps Ref. (Desk).

3.2.Ordnance Surveyors' Drawings

For some southern and coastal districts, OSDs at 3" and 6" to 1 mile were produced from c. 1790. For these, see the index at Maps Ref. Z5a.(4).

3.3.Estate maps

The best sources for depiction of individual houses are estate maps, which were mainly produced from c. 1550 onwards (to scale from c. 1575), but the distribution tends to be very scattered. They are usually large-scale manuscript plans showing dwellings and details of property owners. There are some estate maps in the Map Library and still more in the Department of Manuscripts. For details see BL Map Library Guide No. 1 ‘How to find estate maps in the British Library’ (No. 11 in Reading List). The most convenient index to these is by Tony Campbell (see No. 8 in Reading List). If there is nothing suitable in the BL, reference should be made to relevant record offices. There are some catalogues for record offices on Maps Ref. G.3. (for a listing see No. 8 in Reading List) and a listing of record repositories with addresses and telephone numbers at Maps Ref. A.2.(14.).

3.4.Enclosure maps

These mostly cover the period c. 1750-1850 but, like estate maps, the distribution is very scattered. There are very few enclosure maps held in the BL. In most cases, readers should refer to the PRO or local record office. For further details see 2.2.

4. HOUSES BUILT C. 1550-C. 1700

4.1.County maps

County maps for this period tend to be mostly much smaller scale and therefore do not show individual houses apart from country seats, manor houses etc. For any exceptions to this see Rodger (1972) (No. 3 on Reading List).

4.2.Estate maps

The best sources for this period are estate maps, which were mainly produced from c. 1550 onwards and are much larger scale than county maps. However, the distribution is very scattered. For further details see 3.3.


Lists of printed town plans (including OSTs to c. 1850) dating back to the 16th century can be found in the Map Catalogue under the name of the town. Large-scale plans of towns often date back much earlier than rural areas, especially for cities. For large-scale London plans there are scale order and date order checklists in the Public Service Guide. Local maps of areas within London, e.g. ward maps, can be found in the Catalogue of printed maps under the appropriate heading and in the Catalogue of the Crace Collection (Maps Ref. Z.1 (5)). Apart from the principal buildings, however, the depiction of houses tends to be schematic and cannot be relied on as to appearance and, often, even existence. The still more detailed atlases of landholdings

commissioned by corporate bodies from about 1580 (e.g. the livery companies of London, Oxbridge colleges, schools etc.) do contain accurate, large-scale groundplans of blocks of buildings. See No. 4 in Reading List. For cartobibliographies of town plans see No. 9 on Reading List.

Reading List

1)David Iredale and John Barrett, Discovering your old house (1991). Maps Ref. (Desk)

2)John H. Harvey, Sources for the history of houses. British Records Association (1974). Maps Ref. G.1.(22.) Particularly useful for map holdings of record offices etc.

3)E.M. Rodger, The large-scale county maps of the British Isles 1596-1850, second edition, 1972. Maps Ref. (Desk)

4)(Specific but with a wider application), John Schofield (ed.) The London Surveys of Ralph Treswel (London: London Topographical Society, 1987). Maps Ref. G.4. (Lond.)

5)Peter Barber and Deborah Hall ‘How to find manuscript map in the British Library’ (revised 1998). Map Library leaflet on leaflet holder and in Public Service Guide. Further information on finding manuscript maps.

6)Yolande Hodson, Ordnance Surveyors' Drawings 1789-c. 1840 (1989). Maps Ref.Z.5 (8.)

7)Geoff Armitage, ‘County Cartobibliographies of England and Wales: a select list’. The Map Collector 52 (1990). Maps Ref. G.3. (All Counties)

8)Geoff Armitage, ‘Cartobibliographies of city and town plans of England and Wales’. Typescript. Maps Ref. G.3. (All Counties)

9)Tony Campbell, ‘Indexes to material of cartographic interest in the Department of Manuscripts and to manuscript cartographic items elsewhere in the British Library (1992). Geographical index to all manuscript material. Maps Ref. Z.2.(1.)

10)Geoff Armitage, ‘How to find estate maps in the British Library’ British Library Map Library Guide No. 1 (1993). On leaflet holder and in Public Service Guide.