Chester, by William Smith 1585


Both this bird’s eye view and aerial plan of Chester date from 1585 and are the work of William Smith (c.1550 – 1618). Smith, not to be confused with the 18th century William Smith “Father of English Geology”, was an antiquarian and Rouge Dragon at the College of Heralds/College of Arms. This was an institution that specialised in genealogical work, increasingly more so during the Elizabethan age as the minor gentry rose in importance. The Rouge Dragon is the name of one of the Pursuivants, an heraldic officer attendant on the heralds, often attached to a particular nobleman, named so because of their badges. The prominent coat of arms on both the view and plan reveals Smith’s heraldic interests. 

In 1588 Smith completed ‘The Particuler Description of England. With the portratures of certaine of the cheiffest citties & townes’ (Sloane MS 2596). This work consisted of drawings of English cities and towns in a traditional bird's eye view style, and combination drawings amalgamating the bird's eye view and plan. Both the  view and plan of Chester, dating from 1585, are possibly preparatory drawings for this work. They show Chester as a walled city, fortified by towers. The prominent coat of arms that feature on both drawings reveal Smith's heraldic interests.

In the year 1602–03 William Smith anonymously published maps of Chester, Essex, Hertfordshire Lancashire, Leicester, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcester. These were probably engraved in Amsterdam and were intended to form sheets of a new atlas. After the publication of Christopher Saxton’s (1542x4–1610/11) county maps in the 1570s, cartographers attempted to improve on Saxton’s atlas and replicate its success. Unfortunately for Smith, another cartographer, John Speed (1551/2–1629), was also preparing county maps at that time and competition proved too great, Speed being the victor.

Full title:
Manuscript / Drawing
William Smith
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Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Harley MS 1046 f. 172, f. 173

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