Oldest known map of historic Essex town discovered in outbuilding

A map of Saffron Walden dating to 1757 has turned up in an outbuilding on a farm. The map was discovered at Bruncketts, Wendens Ambo, which would previously have served Mutlow Hall. The map has now been transferred to the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford on permanent loan.

The map being examined at the Saffron Walden Archive Access Point. From left to right: Tony King, Conservator, Clare Mulley, Zofia Everett, Archive Assistant, Allyson Lewis, Archivist, Geoffrey Ball and Lizzie Sanders. Photo by Gordon Ridgewell

The map predates the previously earliest known map, made in 1758, by one year. It shows the town of Saffron Walden, and despite its extremely poor condition the ink outlines of streets and buildings are still sharp and clear.

The outlines of the roads and buildings of the historic town are still sharp and clear, and easily recognisable today

The map has had a hard life up until now. It is drawn onto two pieces of parchment, which at some point had been mounted onto canvas and varnished. After being stored for years rolled up in damp conditions, the map has split down the middle, has numerous small tears in it, several different phases of mould growth, and a sizeable chunk of one corner has been eaten by rodents.

The two pieces of parchment used to make the map have come away from one another

 

The map is peppered with small tears

  

Mould that has grown on the split between the two pieces of parchment

 

A large chunk of the map has been nibbled away by rodents

The map was made by Edward John Eyre, whose later, larger 1758 map of the town and surrounding area may well already be familiar to Saffron Walden residents. It is likely that both maps were commissioned by Elizabeth Countess of Portsmouth or her nephew, Sir John Griffin Griffin, who inherited part of the nearby estate of Audley End. 

Expert conservators at the Essex Record Office will now work to stabilise the map to prevent any further damage, and make any repairs possible.

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