A Layman's Guide to Maps of Kent

This brief article will deal with some of the features found on maps of old Kent.

The county was, in ancient times, divided into various administrative areas that have long since fallen out of use and have been replaced by modern boroughs and councils.  Parishes stay very much as the were and their boundaries do not seem to change.

The divisions shown on old maps of Kent cover two types of administrative zones.
The largest is the Lathe and is best illustrated on the two maps below.

The 5 Lathes are coloured on the map above

The 5 Lathes are named on this map

The smaller administrative area is the Hundred and is illustrated in the map below.


Hundreds do not overlap Lathes, they can be imagined as sub-divisions of Lathes.
Parishes are further sub-divisions of Hundreds.

Some maps may show a small portion of Kent residing on the northern shores of the Thames in Essex.  This dates back to ancient times when 400 acres of Essex were granted to Kent for the benefit of running a ferry at Woolwich.  Click for examples.

Colour printing did not get going until the mid to late 1800s, so all earlier maps were hand coloured. Some were coloured at the time of publication, some later. Variations in colouring styles will make the same basic map look completely different. The newcomer studying antique maps is sometimes confused when comparing similar maps with changing decorative colour styles.
Follow this link for an example of map colouring.

For the novice contemplating old maps one of the first tasks is to track down one's own hometown or family settlement. These maps do not show all centres of civilisation. If a village is not shown on a map it is not an indication that it did not exist at that time, it only indicates that it does not appear on that map.  Many of Kent's towns and villages date back to Saxon times and earlier.  Some, like Tudeley are probably no larger now than they were 1000 years ago.  Some like Pembury increased in size with the expansion of coach traffic in the mid 1700s.  Some expanded with the coming of the railways and some, like Paddock Wood, sprang out of nowhere with the coming of the railways. A few towns, like Pembury moved their centre of gravity to suit changes in life style. In this case the village businesses developed on the main Hastings road, a mile from the old church community to take advantage of the increased road traffic and mail transportation. To the untrained eye it would appear that on old maps Pembury is located a mile east of its true position. In truth the older maps indicate the original heart of the village and the later maps indicate the migrated settlement that later became the centre of the village.
Click for full demonstration of village migration.
To fully appreciate old maps it is necessary to investigate the history of an area.

Names on old maps will carry wild variations in spelling. These variations settled to their current state in the 19th century, not by a formal standardisation, but by an evolution that gradually ironed out the differences. Local historians have noted something like 11 variations of 'Pembury' over the centuries. These are largely due to a lack of importance for a standard spelling - there were no correct versions and no references. Originally, names were passed verbally and it was the writer's interpretation of how he heard the name that was transcribed to the document. Different writers - different spellings. In later years publishers simply copied what others had previously printed.

While on the subject of copying it is worthwhile mentioning that cartographic piracy was rife in olden times. Many claimed '... from new and accurate surveys', but frequently 'new' maps were cobbled together from previously published data. The inclusion of turnpikes, halfway houses, milestones and other features sometimes give an insight into fresh surveys when comparing a range of similar maps. The coming of the railways, mail coaches and the penny post drove a demand for up to date maps from recent surveys.

There are several interesting aspects of antique maps as well as the county maps shown above.  There are local, regional maps, road maps, maps of the Hundreds, and folding maps for travelers.  Maps of all vintages were produced for specific purposes. Some for indicating roads, railways, market towns, geology, battles, land ownership, land usage, political divisions and many more.  Features of little interest to the mapmaker were not included. If some other features are included it is for reference purposes only.  A map indicating roads is of no use unless it makes a reference to towns and villages, but it need not indicate land ownership or parish boundaries. It may not refer to railways unless the mapmaker considered rail interfaces with roads worthy of mention. Very few railway maps indicate roads or agricultural land divisions. Old maps are not like modern Ordnance Survey maps - they do not show everything.

Antique printed maps are not museum pieces. They are readily available on the open market and there are many collectors and dealers of these fascinating items.

Web site designed by Tony Nicholls     www.pastpages.co.uk

Printed Maps of Kent Tony Burgess 2009