Gough Map

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The Gough Map. North lies to the left of the map.

The Gough Map or Bodleian Map[1] is a map of the island of Great Britain, dating between 1355 and 1366, and is the oldest surviving route map of Great Britain.[2] Its precise date of production and authorship are unknown. It is named after Richard Gough, who donated the map to the Bodleian Library in 1809. He is believed to have acquired the map from the collection of the late antiquarian "Honest Tom" Martin in 1774.[2] Numerous copies of it have been made, with an interactive online version created at Queen's University, Belfast.[3] It measures 115 x 56 cm.[4]


Dating of the map has been undertaken based on historical changes of place names and sizes.[1] Gough believed the map to date from the reign of Edward III, but 19th-century scholarship suggested that it dated from c. 1300, during the reign of Edward I.[5] The map is now generally believed to have been made within an eleven-year window, due to the ability to date some of its features. The earliest given date is deduced by the depiction of a city wall around Coventry, which was first constructed in 1355.[5] The latter date is usually given as 1366, the year in which the town marked on the map as Sheppey was renamed Queenborough.[1] Lexicographic evidence also suggests that it dates from the latter half of the 14th century.[1] It is, however, believed that the map is based on an earlier version, made around 1280.[2]


The map's authorship is also unknown. It is thought that much of the information about the map was gained from either one or more men who travelled around Great Britain as part of Edward I's military expeditions into Wales and Scotland. The areas of the map's fringe with the most accurate detail often correspond with those areas in which Edward's troops were present.[5] The accuracy of the map in the South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire areas suggest that the author could be from this region.[6] However, it is also possible that the map was constructed based upon the collation of various people's local knowledge. For example, the cartographic accuracy in Oxfordshire could be explained by the fact that William Rede, Fellow of Merton College, had successfully calculated the geographic coordinates for Oxford in 1340.[2]

Topography, road network and accuracy[edit]

The Gough Map is important due to its break with previous theologically-based mapping.[6] It was the first to show the road network of England, though there are some notable and confusing omissions,[2] such as large sections of Watling Street.[5] The use of numerals to indicate road distances in leagues is unique in comparison to all other pre-17th century maps of Britain. It was also the first map to depict a recognisably accurate picture of Britain's coast, although the accuracy is much greater in England than in Scotland, at the time part of another kingdom.[2] Towns are shown in some detail, with London and York written in gold lettering and other principal settlements illustrated in detail.[1] Despite its accuracy, the map does contain a number of other errors. Notably, islands and lakes such as Anglesey and Windermere are oversized, whilst the strategic importance of rivers is shown by their emphasis. Well known but geographically small features such as the Peninsula in Durham are also overly-prominent.[2] The map contains numerous references to mythology as if they were geographical fact, as illustrated by comments about Brutus' mythical landings in Devon.[2] Nevertheless, it remains the most accurate map of Britain prior to the 16th century.[5]

The Gough Map in culture[edit]

A BBC television series In Search of Medieval Britain (2008) showed Alixe Bovey retracing a series of journeys through Britain in the Middle Ages using the Gough Map.[7][8]

In May 2011, the Gough Map was inscribed in UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register.[9][10][11]

Online digitization[edit]

From April 2010 - July 2011 a research project funded by the UK AHRC Research Council's Beyond Text programme digitised and created a new online edition of the Gough Map. The edition was a collaboration between Keith Lilley at Queen's University Belfast, Nick Millea at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library Map Room, and Paul Vetch at the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London.


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Gough Map". Bodleian Library. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Britain's first road map". Oxford Today. 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  3. ^ "Mapping the Realm". Queen's University, Belfast. 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  4. ^ Gough Map - About
  5. ^ a b c d e Pelham, R.A. (January 1933). "The Gough Map". The Geographical Journal 81 (1): 34–39. doi:10.2307/1783891. JSTOR 1783891. 
  6. ^ a b Tom Phillips (2008). "Earliest British map is cock of the north". Metro.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  7. ^ BBC In Search of Medieval Britain Retrieved 2010-10-06
  8. ^ Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Gough Map plays its part in search for Medieval Britain Retrieved 2010-10-06
  9. ^ "2011 UK Memory of the World Register", United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Gough Map added to UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register", Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain, 23 May 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.
  11. ^ "Bodleian items added to UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register", Bodleian Libraries, 23 May 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.


  • Millea, Nick. The Gough Map: The Earliest Road Map of Great Britain? Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2007. ISBN 9781851240227

External links[edit]