The Gough Map

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The Daily Mail reports the oldest existing map of Britain, the Gough Map. Dating from around 1360, it is believed to be a copy of an older map which has not survived. It was bought by the cartographer it is named for in 1774 for half a crown. It is amazingly accurate.

There are the Severn, Thames and Humber, the loop of the Wear in Durham and the Thames estuary, all easily recognisable.

As are the more than 600 cities, towns and villages, almost 200 rivers, and a rudimentary road network marked with thin red lines and extending to some 3,000 miles.

Along with countless hills, mountains, lakes, forests – New Forest and Sherwood – and even Hadrian's Wall, labelled with its popular name, murus pictorum, the Picts' Wall.

The significance is enormous, as a new book reveals.

"It is the first modern map of Britain and the oldest surviving map which shows the coastline in recognisable form," says author Nick Millea, map librarian at Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

"All previous maps gave a theological interpretation, showing how Britain fitted into the Christian world.

"The Hereford Mappa Mundi from approximately the same time has Jerusalem as the centre of the world.

"Geography just wasn't important."

Named after topographer Richard Gough – who bought it in 1774 for half-a-crown (121/2p) and bequeathed it to the Bodleian Library – the map is drawn in pen, ink and coloured washes on two skins of vellum and measures almost 4ft long by 2ft wide.

Almost as surprising as the detail and the accuracy (if you discount misshapen Scotland) is the startling orientation – the original map was drafted to face east towards Jerusalem, rather than the north, because its topographers had not entirely abandoned their theological way of thinking.

Here's another image of the map with quite a lot more on it from the Bodleian Library Map Room. The Map Room itself has images of a lot of old maps and they have a link to the Oxford Digital Library maps on the web. Regulars around the Crabitat know that I love this kind of stuff. So, take a journey into the past and go look at some old maps.

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