Picture Gallery: Unique collection of historic maps donated to Norfolk Record Office

Maps of Norfolk, created between 1574 and 1840, are donated to the Norfolk Record Office by Raymond Frostick. PHOTO BY...

Maps of Norfolk, created between 1574 and 1840, are donated to the Norfolk Record Office by Raymond Frostick. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A collection of more than 150 rare and historic maps showing how Norfolk's geography changed through the ages have been donated to the Norfolk Record Office.

When Britain's finest cartographers surveyed Norfolk in the 16th century, the landscape they mapped was very different to the one we see today.

But thanks to the passion and generosity of one avid collector, the public can now see how the county's geography unfolded during the following 300 years.

More than 150 old maps have been donated to the Norfolk Record Office at County Hall by former Lord Mayor of Norwich, Raymond Frostick.

Dating between 1574 and 1840, the unique collection gives a fascinating insight into Norfolk's history, and the advances in mapping techniques during that period – including extremely rare prints and unusual formats.

The earliest maps show surprisingly accurate locations of towns and villages, pinpointed by their respective church towers, although the shifting coastline was not as well recorded by the rudimentary survey techniques.

Mr Frostick, a Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1976-7 and chairman of Norfolk County Council in 1983-4, is an expert on historical maps and has published several books on the subject.

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The 81-year-old described map collecting as a 'lifelong hobby' which began on his travels around the country during his national service with the RAF.

'I collected the first one or two way back when you could pick them up for a sixpence or a shilling and there was no great collecting going on,' he said.

'When you have got a collection which is quite unique, it is difficult to know what to do with it. I think I am getting to the age now where I need to pass them on to someone. The family likes to look at them from time to time, but are not really in a position to look after them.

'I have been involved with the Record Office for many years, and the facilities here are quite superb, so they will be available for people to inspect them and work on them.'

The earliest map in the collection was produced by Christopher Saxton in 1574, believed to be the first map of any English county. It shows settlements, churches and rivers – but roads were not added until later copies reproduced from the same engraved copper plate in the 17th century.

The area to the west of King's Lynn is described simply as 'Mershe Lande', showing several unfamiliar rivers which have long since been diverted as a result of the later drainage of the Fens.

'In some ways, it is remarkably accurate when you think about the process of drawing these maps,' said Mr Frostick. 'It was someone riding around on horse-back or walking around from village to village, and they would have been able to take measurements from church towers.

'Norfolk was quite prosperous at the time, and the population was quite high in relation to some other parts of the country. They used the church towers as points to measure from.'

Although many place names are familiar, the various spellings of King's Lynn include Linn, Lyn and Lin, while the confusing pronunciation for many visitors to Wymondham might have been resolved if the town had kept its 1614 spelling of 'Windhm'.

On many of the maps, the North Sea is described as the 'German Ocean', a title that was in frequent use until World War One.

Maps by Dutch and Flemish cartographers are also included in the archive, demonstrating the significance of the trading relationship between Norfolk and the Low Countries.

County archivist Dr John Alban said: 'We are very touched and delighted by Raymond's generosity in donating this outstanding collection of maps of Norfolk. They represent one of the premier personal collections of maps in the UK and by placing them here in the Norfolk Record Office, Raymond is ensuring they will be preserved for posterity and the public will also have access to them in the future.

'There is a whole range of things we can learn. Because there are so many, we can compare the surveying and mapping techniques, which we can see developing as the centuries progress.

'Even where they are not completely accurate they are a great primary record of both the landscape, and the urban history of Norfolk. They can give us some idea of the lie of the land, of coastal change and how the suburbs of Norwich have grown.'

The Raymond Frostick collection contains some extremely rare maps, including some unusual examples in the form of playing cards.

These maps often contain information about the county depicted. For example, William Redmayne's six of spades card of 1676 describes Norfolk like this:

'NORTHFOLK- Is bounded with Suffolk, on the East & on the North with the Germaine Ocean, and on the West with the River Ouse. Its Rich of Sheep, especially Cunnies [rabbits], Store of Wood, its Soyle is various, fat and Rich, Clayey and Chalkey. Norwich Citty is famous, almost Intrencht with Water, on the West ther's a draw-bridg, on the other side the Ocean. It hath 27 Market Towns, 525 Villages and 660 Parish Churches. Its greatest Gaynes are by Herrings'.