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Seeing every county


A map of England created in the 1570s by Christopher Saxton, which is about to be auctioned for an unknown and enormous sum.

This should have been David’s post, but he is out and about. He immediately saw the point of the map, created in the 1570s by Christopher Saxton, and probably you do, too.

When he was a boy, Christopher Saxton, was apprenticed to the vicar of Dewsbury, John Rudd, to learn how to make maps. The vicar taught him how to survey land and to use trigonometry to work out distances. (The Ingenious Timeline contains a surprising number of vicars interested in science.)

The first English map of Britain, by Matthew Paris, had appeared about 1250, but the principles of mapping were not fully understood. Italians, Dutch and Flemish all made contributions, and in 1564, Gerardus Mercator, the Flemish cartographer, who would create the great mercator map projection of the world, published a detailed map of the British Isles on eight sheets.

This, however, was not what Elizabeth I wanted. In 1573, Thomas Seckford, Master of the Queen's Requests, looked for a man who could map her kingdom. He hired Christoper Saxton.

In just a few years, carrying his surveying equipment with him, and helped by locals, Saxton had covered the whole of England, creating and publishing more than 30 maps that describe the whole country and each county with its streams and rivers, parks and forests, settlements and notable buildings.

This is what David saw. Saxton created maps of the ancient counties of England, which for a thousand years have been the basis of local government – with sheriffs and justices, and coroners, militias, and later, beginning in the 19th century, police who worked according to the common law and were answerable to local people. Sanitation and roads and lighting were handled locally, schools were locally (and privately organised) and since everything happened locally and was handled by local people, it was easy to see where and why things went wrong, and correct them. Sports clubs, businesses, societies, regiments, and farmers' unions were all based on the historic 39 counties of Great Britain. They were and are part of the nation’s cultural inheritance.

No surprise, then, that the government has tried to destroy them, and take decision-making out of local hands and into its own centralizing grip.

Local government according to the principles of a just common law creates efficiency, democracy, and freedom. That is why we support the mission of the traditional counties and their human scale. For more, see ABC, the Association of British Counties.

The atlas that is to be auctioned includes charts chronicling Sir Francis Drake's 1585 voyage to America and the first printed map of a place in America - St Augustine, Florida. Details in the Daily Mail here.

You can find the armchair adventurer who had mercator maps corrected and who inspired the first English settlements in America here.