High Weald

Article Index

Estate maps and records

Records drawn up to show land boundaries, buildings, issues of ownership and land use in connection with sale, lease, rental or transfer within estates are a major source of information for the post-medieval period. They include correspondence, accounts, surveys and maps. Estates often covered large swathes of the countryside and generated many and detailed records offering the potential opportunity to study subjects such as the development of agriculture and forestry. However, many such records have been lost or may still be in private hands and not available for public viewing. Given this, it may be difficult to study modern land holdings through their estate precursors, but if records do exist and are available they may provide valuable information for the researcher of historic landscapes.

Each record was drawn up for a specific purpose and so will show only that information relating directly to that purpose. For example, if a map was drawn up in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling within an estate, the areas surrounding that dwelling and not connected with the sale or rental may only be recorded minimally. However, farms on the estate will usually have had a map drawn up showing the boundary, land use of individual fields and wooded areas within the holding.

Some limitations of the use of estate maps should be noted:

a) access may be limited due to age and condition of the document; this will also have a bearing on the ability to photocopy, scan or photograph documents for research;

b) it may be difficult to transcribe the historic data onto a modern map base, particularly if there have been major changes in the landscape such as road and rail networks and housing developments;

c) a common problem is in the correlation of the modern land holding with the historic estate holding. With the fragmentation of estates over time, it is quite likely that the modern land holding falls within a number of estates making it difficult to obtain consistent and contemporaneous information across the modern holding.

A number of Record Officers have researched their estate record archives to compile terriers - guides which show the outlines of estate map coverage on a modern map base. These are extremely useful tools to assist the researcher in finding map coverage for the area of interest.