Saturday, 14 April 2012

Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk

"Joseph Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk, published in 1783, was one of a large series of English County maps produced in the second half of the 18th century by entrepreneurial surveyors, engravers and cartographic publishers.

Printed usually at a scale of one inch to the mile, these maps were often the first serious attempt to record English topographical detail, using improved surveying techniques and instruments. Many of the maps are historically important in that they were surveyed just before Parliamentary Enclosure irrevocably changed the rural landscape. Hodskinson’s Suffolk map is particularly unusual in that it was awarded a coveted gold medal by what came to be known as the Royal Society of Arts."

In 2010 Andrew Macnair produced a digitally enhanced version of the original map:

Macnair version of Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk: extract centred on Felsham
I have used part of this digitally enhanced map, which covers Felsham and environs, on the cover of my booklet:

Farm labourers and their families in a Suffolk village
 ~ FELSHAM 1830-50 ~

I chose this 1793 map for the booklet cover because it highlights features that would have been very familiar to the farm labourers living in Felsham in the first half of the 19th century. The three farm labourers who get most mention in the booklet - William Osborn, Robert Kidby and Batley Seaman - would have been growing up during the 20s and 30s, and the road patterns, woodland, place names and commons and greens would have been very familiar to them. In many ways the map provides an impression of Felsham and the adjoining villages that was largely medieval in origin. During the life time of these three farm labourers this traditional pattern would have changed radically as the nineteenth century progressed with greater industrialization, accelerated population growth, and improved communications represented in particular by the arrival of the railway in Suffolk in 1846.

However, this is not to say that the map is a perfect representation of the landscape at the end of the 18th century. Although the Hodskinson map was a considerable improvement on previous maps it contains many anomalies and obvious misrepresentations. The reader familiar with Felsham will be struck by the blob of woodland shown on the map just south of the village centre. This is completely inaccurate. In fact, Hodskinson's biggest failure is his inability to show woodland shape very effectively and his seemingly rather casual attitude to positioning woodland is a serious fault in his approach.

The rather indistinct blob that perhaps is meant to represent Felsham wood on the southern boundary of the parish should, in fact be connected to Thorpe Wood, and should be positioned much further south. The First Edition of the OS Map (surveyed between 1820 and 1860) for the area is far more accurate in this respect:

David Dymond has provided an excellent introduction and overview of Hodskinson's map of Suffolk [See] where he discusses the value of the map to the historian. He points out that one of the strengths of the map is the way it shows the "tight, intricate road-pattern of Suffolk" that is typical of the county. He also points out that "many hedged lanes on the map have now entirely disappeared, or simply survive as rights of way across featureless ploughland." An example in Felsham is the road that begins at Oxes Green on the boundary with Brettenham and heads off towards Hightown Green in Rattlesden. The early OS Map shows an even more complex structure of lanes and paths in this area. The place name "Oxes Green" is something that appears to have disappeared completely from local usage. This emphasizes another important feature of the map: its value as a record of place names many of which have changed or become extinct.

David Dymond explains that the county was surveyed using a triangulation framework. Felsham lies within a triangle where the nodes are the church towers of Elmswell, Brettenham and Bradfield St George. Presumably, all these churches were visible from each other. Dymond points out that:
"In a comparatively gentle landscape like Suffolk's, and given clear atmospheric conditions, it is astonishing how far one can often see from towers 50 to 100 feet high."
The broken line that runs across the Felsham extract of the map, shown above, is Hodskinson's unsuccessful attempt to show the hundred boundary between Stow and Cosford and therefore between Felsham and Cockfield/Brettenham. Dymond decisively rejects the reliability of these boundary lines.
The greens, that are a feature of Felsham village centre, and the general pattern of settlement, including the houses at Mudlin End, are shown quite well on the map. Similarly, the main houses, such as the Rectory, Mausoleum House, and Felsham Hall are represented fairly accurately but there are obvious discrepancies. Where are Brook Hall and Maiden Hall, settlements that go back to medieval times? The Brook Hall omission could be explained by Dymond's comment: "Bearing in mind how eighteenth century surveyors relied on road-traverses, it is perhaps not surprising that a high number of isolated farms have been omitted."  There are other serious omissions, including Moore's farm and Poplar farm, as these farmsteads are called today.

The Rattlesden River and it contributing streams are fairly accurately represented. Relief is delineated on the original Hodskinson map as delicate shading and is particularly relevant to the way they emphasize valleys.

Dymond comments: "The darker end of the shading represents the higher end of the slope, as if the sun were falling on the uplands and casting deep shadows on the slopes."

Perhaps, the most striking feature of this 1793 map is how little common land there was in Felsham at this time. Apart from the small twin triangular greens at the village centre, there is a complete absence of the extensive greens to be found in villages like Drinkstone and Hessett.

Dymond comments:
"This map is the best record the economic historian has of the distribution of ancient common land in the county. Although much arable and meadow, particularly in High Suffolk, had been enclosed centuries before, and although local people had been converting bits of common land into private property since at least the thirteenth century, there was still a substantial acreage of greens, commons and heaths for Hodskinson to record in 1783."

The extensive common land at Drinkstone Green was eventually enclosed in the 1840s. The boundary of the old Green can still be traced by following the line of the older houses that surrounded the green. Many of the greens appear to stretch quite long distances along the edges of the highways. The map hints that the Great Green (or Broad Green) at Cockfield extended tentacle-like right up to the area occupied today by Capel Farm and Stone Farm at the western end of the parish of Felsham.

The farm labourers portrayed in my booklet would almost certainly have been aware of the sentiments of the working man towards the enclosure of land, even if, by the mid-nineteenth century it was beginning to fade into folk-lore. Perhaps the most famous out-pouring of feeling on this subject is represented by the Suffolk poet - Nathaniel Bloomfield - who wrote the "Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green". I print two verses from this elegy below:

Those fenc'd ways that so even are made,

The pedestrian traveller bemoans;

He no more the green carpet may tread,

But plod on, 'midst the gravel and stones:

And if he would rest with his load,

No green hillock presents him a seat,

But long, hard, tiresome sameness of road

Fatigues both the eye and the feet.

Sighs speak the poor Labourers' pain,

While the new mounds and fences they rear,

Intersecting their dear native plain,

To divide to each rich Man his share;

It cannot but grieve them to see,

Where so freely they rambled before,

What a bare narrow track is left free

To the foot of the unportion'd Poor.

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