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[Atlas of the counties of England and Wales. . Sponsored by T. Seckford.].

Christopher Saxton (c.1540-c.1610)

Category

Books

Date

1574 - 1579

Materials

Place of origin

England

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Collection

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, East of England, National Trust

NT 3070746

Caption

This volume is a landmark in British cartography and printing. It contains 35 coloured maps, each bearing the arms of Elizabeth I and Thomas Seckford, Master of the Queen's Requests. Saxton's atlaps maps the counties of England and Wales in previously unsurpasssed detail, setting a standard for cartographic representation in Britain. This atlas formed the basis for all succeeding county maps until about 1778, almost two hundred years after its original publication.

Summary

Full description

Saxton’s ‘Atlas’ was the first complete county atlas of England and Wales, and the first national survey of its kind to be published in any European country. Obviously inspired by ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum’ (Antwerp, 1570), the first modern atlas, compiled by the Flemish geographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-98), Saxton’s great work was an official project, sponsored and supported by the government of Queen Elizabeth I. It seems to have been carried forward under the personal protection of her Lord Treasurer, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-98), who was well aware of the political and military uses of accurate maps. In March 1576 – when the cartographer was somewhere between 32 and 34 years old – the Privy Council had issued a warning that: ‘Saxton servant to Mr. Sackeford M[aste]r. of the Requests to be assisted in all plac[e]s where he shall come for the view of mete plac[e]s to describe certen counties in carts [maps] thereunto appointed by her Mai[es]t[ie]s bill under her signet.’ By then Saxton had already been at work for two years, though the whole project was only completed in 1579. The finished atlas, which included a preliminary map of England and Wales and a frontispiece showing Queen Elizabeth enthroned, was issued in that year, though plates were subsequently reissued on three separate occasions in the years that followed. The arms and motto of the lawyer Thomas Seckford (1515-88), Master of the Court of Requests and a friend and associate of Burghley, appear on each of the county maps. The scale varies from county to county, so that each map fits the double page allocated to it. All but one map was printed from a single copper plate, the work of Flemish engravers working in London. The exception was Yorkshire, perhaps because it was Saxton’s native country, or perhaps simply because it was the biggest. The Fairhaven copy is particularly splendid, and still in its original gold-tooled centrepiece binding, re-backed in the twentieth century. It was purchased in 1947, having been in the library of Chichester Cathedral for at least the previous 200 years, the victim of one of a series of post-war sales from the cathedral library which stirred up a hornets’ nest of clerical infighting, worthy of Barchester. When the news first broke in November 1947, the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, who thought the sales ‘really scandalous’, left his dinner unfinished at his club, the Athenaeum, and rushed back to Chichester to confront the Dean, Arthur Duncan-Jones. By then, this copy of the Saxton ‘Atlas’, together with a ‘Hortus Sanitatis’ printed in Mainz in 1491, had already been sold on the orders of Canon Basil Lowther Clarke, who was, as Bell rather grimly noted, simultaneously the cathedral’s Librarian (responsible for its books) and its Communar (responsible for the Chapter’s finances). Although Clarke was apparently pleased that the two books had made £260, the Archdeacon of Chichester, who had not been consulted, wrote to a friend in Canterbury that ‘nothing on earth would induce me to give consent to the sale of these books’, while Bell’s suffrage, the Bishop of Horsham, thought the whole affair ‘a little sordid.’ Meanwhile the ecclesiastical historian G.R. Owst had already written to ‘The Times’ from Cambridge to express his ‘dismay’, not just at the sales but at the poor manners of the Dean and Chapter of Chichester, who, he said, had never expressed a word of thanks to his college, Emmanuel, for storing the cathedral’s books during the war. Lord Fairhaven was evidently monitoring the affair, as it was presumably he who pasted a clipping of Professor Owst’s letter into the front of the Saxton when he bought it. Having failed to stop the sales, Bell insisted that some of the finest books be bought in by the cathedral, reducing the notional value of the sales from an impressive £1,516 5s 0d, to a rather paltry £419 1s 5d. He then undertook a formal Visitation of the cathedral, in which he rebuked the Chapter in person and in print for selling ‘over 100’ books which had been ‘a glory to the cathedral’, and instituted a series of administrative reforms to prevent further books being sold without widespread consultation. In a final twist, it is said that when the Bishop and Mrs Bell sallied forth to the Deanery to proffer a seasonal olive branch to Dean and Mrs Duncan-Jones at Christmas 1948, the door was slammed in their faces. Text adapted from ‘Treasures from Lord Fairhaven’s Library at Anglesey Abbey’, National Trust, 2013.

Bibliographic description

[2]p.,[37] plates . col. maps,port.. . fol.. State with undated, italic first column of index, and Queen Elizabeth’s dress in folds between her knees. Plates hand-coloured. Paper repairs to some plates, and to engraved title. Yorkshire plate detached and loosely inserted. Provenance: The Chichester Cathedral copy, with its nineteenth-century book label annotated with shelfmark: No. 1450, Case R. Nineteenth-century bookplate of Dean of Chichester. Affixed to final pastedown: two newspaper clippings concerning the sale of this copy from Chichester Cathedral. Affixed to front pastedown: slip of ms. notes on Saxton, quoted from ‘Notes and queries’, Oct. 1895. Twentieth-century armorial bookplate: Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton [Urban Huttleston Rogers Broughton, 1st Baron Fairhaven (1896-1966), of Anglesey Abbey. Binding: Sixteenth-century full black morocco over boards; gilt fillets and cornerpieces to form a border and central panel; gilt centrepiece; rebacked in black morocco. Boxed in half blue morocco, cloth sides.

Makers and roles

Christopher Saxton (c.1540-c.1610)

References

Mark Purcell, William Hale and David Person, Treasures from Lord Fairhaven’s Library at Anglesey Abbey, Swindon: National Trust; London: Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, 2013., pp. 44-5

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