Estate maps

The oldest known surviving map of Surrey land shows property of Chertsey Abbey and was compiled in about 1432. It is held at the National Archives. The map indicates the extent and importance of the Abbey’s property, using pictorial symbols. The Abbey is represented, not drawn to scale, but to show its importance, as it is placed in the foreground for emphasis and not on the island where it stood. Early maps, when they exist, are generally distorted because of the lack of accurate measurement but also because important features were often deliberately exaggerated not to mislead but to emphasise importance. The map shows the tithe barn, two mills, a bridge and meadows. In the background are the River Thames and the town of Laleham.

Medieval land-surveying was a common practice generally used to establish manorial boundaries and to settle disputes over land ownership. An example is the survey of the manor of Dorking of 1649. Surveys were generally recorded in written documents of various types but before the 16th century few surveys were accompanied by a map. Surveys were made from oral and written testimony and the land-surveyor used a measuring line or rod but had no instruments for measuring angles.

The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s and 1540s was the catalyst for much economic change, particularly with the re-allocation of lands and estates into the hands of individuals, both nobles and merchants. The building of three new palaces in Surrey (Nonsuch, Oatlands and Richmond) attracted more court officials who competed to purchase estates and with them came merchants and professional men anxious to display their new-found wealth. There was a great increase in private estates and the boundaries of these needed to be established for legal purposes and maps were increasingly used as evidence in lawsuits and manorial surveys. Initially the duty of measuring and recording was often the responsibility of the steward of the manor and was necessarily crude, but by the end of the 16th century the land-surveyor was using geometrical methods using scientific instruments.

After the Restoration in 1660 the country became fashionable to visit and access improved with the slow development of roads and more comfortable means of transport. The growth of London had considerable impact on Surrey which became even more linked to that city in terms of trade and the provision of goods. The status of the country as a prosperous trading nation and the economic boom of the 17th century fuelled the growth of the county. By the time of the Restoration the land-surveyors tasks had increased in terms of technical sophistication and knowledge, with the need for land surveys for developments in communications, both road, river and canals, and local industries and agriculture. The more specialised nature of the surveying meant that fewer local men were used and better-known men from London were used in the 17th century, many of whom had their apprenticeship with the re-building of London after the Great Fire.

The English landscape was transformed in the 18th century by great changes in land use and tenure. Country houses were built and their grounds landscaped, parks and gardens were laid out, manorial lands and open fields enclosed and new methods transformed agriculture. These developments all increased the numbers of land-surveyors and their profits, and some began to act as independent agents with their own practices as well as working for individual landowners. With the expansion of the profession there were again more local men employed rather than brought from London. Surrey men prospered and by 1800 many local family firms were established in towns throughout the county, including Crawter at Cobham, Clutton at Reigate, Smallpeice at Guildford, and Driver in Southwark. By the 19th century many were also involved in enclosure and tithe apportionment.

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