Fascinating Tudor map shows changing face of Sussex

A beautifully illustrated map of Sussex during the Tudor era is among a collection of 400-year-old drawings published this month. The maps were created by cartographer and antiquarian John Speed (1552'“1629), and have been published by Batsford in a book called Britain's Tudor Maps.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 5:08 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:20 am
Extracted from Britains Tudor Maps by John Speed, published by Batsford. SUS-161020-101827001
Extracted from Britains Tudor Maps by John Speed, published by Batsford. SUS-161020-101827001

The illustration of Sussex makes for fascinating viewing. For example, rather than being divided into east and west, the county was made up of six areas of land called ‘rapes’.

The origins of the term is lost in the mists of English history but is believed to date back as far as the Roman occupation. Each ‘rape’ contained a river, forest and castle and was, in turn, split into administrative divisions called ‘hundreds’.

Comparing the Worthing area to modern maps shows how much has changed in 400 years. For a start, Speed labelled the town as ‘Woortinge’ while, further along the coast to the west, Littlehampton is nowhere to be seen, though ‘Hampton’ is.


To the east, Shoreham-by-Sea was ‘New Shoram’ and its neighbour ‘Old Shoram’, while Southwick is not on the map at all.

It was a similar tale elsewhere in the county. Take Haywards Heath, for example. Today it is one of the most bustling, popular towns in Mid Sussex – but it is not even noted on Speed’s map. Cuckfeild is there, as is neighbouring Lynfeld – note the unusual spelling of both – while to the east there is Horsted Cayns and Pyppenford.

To the north of the county, the then tiny village of Crawley was marked as were two names which many think only came into existence when that village became a new town in 1947. Tilgate, then spelled ‘Tylgate’ and Bewbush, then ‘Beawbush’ are both there, as of course is the ancient parish of Worth.

Apart from the lack of some no doubt tiny hamlets which expanded hugely over the centuries, and the inclusion of some which disappeared all together, it’s the spelling of some of the place names on the map that is particularly intriguing.

Brighton was Brighthem, Arundel was Arondell and Winchelsea was Winchelsey. While it’s easy to see how the names evolved over time, you have to wonder who decided to change the easy-to-recognise Stening to Steyning.

Everyone else was replacing their ‘y’s with ‘i’s but the good people of Steyning bucked that trend!

Another surprise was the fact the English Channel was called The British Sea and, according to Speed’s illustration, was occupied by strange porpoise-like creatures.

While looking at the map, cast your eye to the east and the town of Rye. As far as the coastline goes, this area appears to have changed the most as the harbour was developed.

Speed began illustrating his individual maps as early as 1603 and published the collection The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine in 1611–1612.

Britain’s Tudor Maps carries an introduction by former MP and publisher Nigel Nicholson and commentary on each county by Alasdair Hawkyard, who is an authority on the art, architecture and social history of the late medieval and early modern periods.

Mr Hawkyard said Sussex of the early 17th century was a “curiously isolated and somewhat introverted county” due to the absence of good roads going northwards into Surrey or Kent.

Describing a problem that could have come from any of today’s newspapers, he added: “Speed commented on the inadequacy of Sussex roads, simply saying that they were ‘ill in winter’. Problems stemming from poor roads and involving administration, defence and trade resulted in the county’s somewhat unusually having two shire towns – Chichester in the west and Lewes in the east.”

There really is nothing new about potholes!

As well as providing a wealth of knowledge about the towns and villages of Sussex in Tudor times, the map includes other details - including information about one of the most important dates in British history.

Beneath a drawing of a battle ship in full sail is the following: “William the Bastard Duke of Normandy, making his clayme to the crowne of England, by affinitye, adoption and promise, arrived at a port in Sussex called Pensey, with 896 shipps furnished for warr, the 28 of September ye yere of Christs incarnation 1066.

“And the 14 of October following, beyng Satterdaye, nere Hastings in ye same Coutie battayll with Harold King of England, whoe in ye feilde valliantly fighting was there slaine by the shott of an arrow into his braynes: and with him dyed Gerth and Leoswine, his brethren, and 67974 men besydes.

“The place where they fought, ever since doth in memory thereof beare the name of Battayll, where the heptarchie of the Saxons was brought to ye last period. Having all their laws altered, their Nobles displaced, and all men disherited: all seased into the Normands hande, whoe made him selfe Lorde of all, and on ye daye of Christe, his nativitye in ye same year was crowned at Westminster King of Englande, which he governed the space of 20 yeres, 8 mounthes and 16 dayes.”

We’ve all been taught about 1066 and all that, but who knew the battle was held on a Saturday?

Elsewhere on the map was something akin to a sales permit.

It stated that the map had been “described” by John Noreen and “augmented” by John Speed and could be sold in Popes Head Alley by IS and George Humble.

The alley was in Chancery Lane, London, and ran alongside the Popes Head Tavern.

The alley was mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diary entry for March 7 1660. He met a man called Adam Chard there and bought a “catcall” for two groats.

On March 22, he dined at the tavern with friends named Wotton, Brigden, Gilb, Holland and Shelston.

They drank “a great deal of wine” and Pepys paid for none of it!

Tudor Sussex. Extracted from ‘Britain’s Tudor Maps’, by John Speed. Published by Batsford, October 13. ISBN 9781849943840. RRP £30

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