The Southampton Town Map (or Royal Engineers Map) of 1845-46 was the most elaborate plan completed by the Ordnance Survey at that time. It paved the way for a generation of large-scale town maps which helped to transform the sanitary condition of the country.

The major impetus for the accurate mapping of the town was the worsening sanitary conditions, and in particular the requirement to construct an efficient sewerage system.

Prior to the construction of a sewerage system it was necessary to determine the relative levels of the town by contour levelling. The establishment of accurate levels, ensuring that drains and sewers had the correct inclines, was a fundamental requirement of good drainage. It would also prevent the absurdity, not unknown under the unreformed system, of drains being constructed lower than the adjoining sewers. Relocation of the Ordnance Survey to Southampton in December 1841 ensured that there was a body of men close at hand who were ideally suited to the job. The Board of Improvement duly commissioned the Ordnance Survey to carry out the work in late 1844.

Initially the engineer in charge of the work, Captain William Yolland, believed that the map recently (1843) published by John Theophilus Lewis would be a sufficient basis for the work, but he soon became convinced that a new map was necessary. The new map, on a scale of 60 inches to a mile, was commissioned on 9 April 1845 and took 21 months to complete. It comprised 33 sheets bound together in an embossed leather presentation case.

The finished map was not only a record of the existing state of Southampton, it also recorded building works then in progress: a plan (including internal staircases) of the new Customs House, of which the foundations were hardly then laid, a plan of the railroad then under construction round the graving dock and the Riding School on Bedford Place, not opened for instruction until 16 August 1847. It fulfilled its original intent as a utilities map, showing contour levels, altitudes above the datum plane, fire plugs [water hydrants], sewer grates, the lids of water and gas pipes and lamp posts. The internal arrangements of places of worship were shown (image 1): a revealing complement to the 1851 religious census. Contemporaries were in awe at what was regarded as the cartographic wonder of the age. It is now housed in Southampton Archives Department.

1. Town Map

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All Saints Church with pew layout.

2. Town Map

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Section of the Town Map showing East Street and Bernard Street.


Further reading:
‘'The great map of Southampton': Plan of the Borough of Southampton surveyed in 1845-6 by Sergeant W Campbell and a detachment of Royal Sappers and Miners under the command of Capt W E Yolland, RE’, by Richard Preston, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal, No. 20, Autumn 2012, p3-12. (HS/h)


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