Plan of Cambridge


William Smith produced his Particuler Description of England in 1588. Smith’s text is accompanied by maps and topographical views of many English towns and cities, often using a bird’s-eye perspective, as well as heraldic arms. Smith held a long-standing interest in heraldry – the system of coats of arms and armorial bearings – although it wasn’t until 1597 that he was appointed as a junior officer of the College of Arms with the title of Rouge Dragon pursuivant. The heralds played an important role in the early development of topography by travelling around the country and recording features of antiquarian interest.

This plan of Cambridge held in the Sloane Manuscripts collection includes the arms of the university and the town. The university’s colleges are annotated with letters that correspond to a key. Prominent in the centre of the town is the chapel of King’s College (1446-1515). The no longer extant ‘King’s Dyke’ was an early, possibly pre-Norman, defence or customs barrier, and later an open sewer.

Full title:
Cambridge, from Description of England, with arms of the nobility
Bodycolour / Map
William Smith
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Sloane MS 2596

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Prints and drawings at the British Museum and British Library

Article by:
Felicity Myrone
Antiquarianism, Transforming topography

Felicity Myrone explores how prints and drawings are generally encountered in museum and library collections, and how this affects their meaning and status.

Early topographical drawings

Article by:
Ann Payne
Antiquarianism, Transforming topography

When does topography begin? Ann Payne, former Curator of Manuscripts at the British Library, describes early examples of topographical views from the British Library’s collections.

Related collection items