The first printed map of Dorset

By SAXTON, Christopher, 1579 

[Dorset] Dorcestriae Comitatus Vicinarumque Regionum nova veraq. Descriptio Ann Dni 1575

British Isles English Counties
  • Author: SAXTON, Christopher
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Christopher Saxton
  • Publication date: 1579.
  • Physical description: Double-page engraved map, fine original full-wash colour, contemporary annotation on verso in brown ink, sides margins trimmed to neatline.
  • Dimensions: 420 by 550mm. (16.5 by 21.75 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 15362


This map was created by Christopher Saxton in 1575, soon after he received the royal commission from the Queen’s Privy Council to survey and map the counties of England and Wales. His findings were eventually to be compiled into the first national atlas, his seminal Atlas of England and Wales’. This map is the first county map of Dorset ever to be produced, expressing its landscape and settlements as illustrations representing the hills, woodlands, rivers, towns and cities found across the county. Estates and land owned by the crown stand out more prominently, such as Sherborne Castle, which Queen Elizabeth I was later to grant to Sir Walter Raleigh. The key purpose of Saxton’s maps was to supply information about the counties for administrative and military planning, and so coastal regions generally receive more attention, being vulnerable to naval attacks. For this reason, the Dorset coast is expressed with a particular focus on its fortifications, for example, Portland Castle, an important fortress. The personal proof copy used by the Secretary of State, Lord Burghley, was annotated with defensive notes, such as, dangerous places for landing of men in the county”. The grand galleons and intricate design of the map, however, also attests to its decorative purpose.

An elaborate, bold red cartouche dominates the upper left corner of the map, containing the Latin county name and surmounted by the royal coat-of-arms, flanked by the English lion and Welsh dragon. Below this on the lower border the scale of the map is accompanied by a banner identifying Saxton as the cartographer. To the right of the scale, the Seckford family crest is featured along with its early Latin motto. The crest is found on all 35 of the maps in Saxton’s Atlas of England and Wales’, in honour of Thomas Seckford, an official at Elizabeth I’s court who chose the cartographer to carry out the national survey. Additionally, like all the maps in the atlas, this map bears Saxton’s watermark, a bunch of grapes, to identify the work as original.