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|"The area would probably have also looked similar to this in 1605 or even 1405" - Patrick Denney, historian|
What a difference 200 years has made...
Colchester's landscape is currently going through major change. The Hythe, the garrison, north Colchester and St Botolph’s are seeing development on a mammoth scale which will make those areas almost unrecognisable in a decade. But Colchester’s biggest transformation took place after the Napoleonic Wars, as a new historical map shows. Vicky Passingham reports.
The Colchester area shown on the map is a very different place to the one we know today.
The road network is familiar, so are the names of the villages, but there the similarity ends.
There is no railway, certainly no busy A12 dual carriageway cutting across the countryside north of the town and a distinct lack of urbanisation.
Welcome to the borough of Colchester in 1805. As part of the Old Series of Ordnance Survey inch-to-the-mile maps, it provided a vivid snapshot of life in early 19th century north Essex.
But far from looking back to the past, this map is part of a new series aiming to help make the past more accessible in the present.
The key feature of this Timeline Historical map is that it exactly matches the scale and coverage of the same modern-day Ordnance Survey Landranger map of Colchester.
Used together, the maps offer a unique way of comparing past and present life.
Spurred on by the threat of a French invasion, which Nelson’s victory in 1805 helped prevent, the government’s original plan was to prepare detailed maps of the vulnerable southern coastal regions.
Before long, this had changed into a massive national project on a scale not attempted since the Domesday Book.
The full survey of England and Wales was not to be completed until 1874.
Colchester historian Patrick Denney says the map offers an insight into Colchester life long before 1805.
"The area would probably have also looked similar to this in 1605 or even 1405,"he said.
As for Colchester, times were good in 1805 with it full of soldiers who were stationed in the barracks and traders were doing good business.
Lexden, Mile End, Greenstead and Stanway were villages in their own right, but they relied heavily on Colchester for the market. With a population of about 10,000, Colchester had its highest number of residents since Roman times.
For Mr Denney, though, there is a very important historical feature to the map aside from it showing Colchester before urbanisation encroached into the surrounding villages.
It is the abundance of heathland. Boxted Heath, Bergholt Heath, Mile End Heath and Lexden Heath were important areas of open land to which many villagers in 1805 had common grazing rights.
All that ended after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 which brought an end to the Napoleonic War.
The war years sent grain prices sky high and the government accelerated its Parliamentary Enclosure policy to turn common heath land into agricultural use.
It was to change the face of rural Britain forever and most of the hawthorn hedgerows which today divide the fields were planted during that time.
It also meant farewell to the many heaths around Colchester as they were ploughed over for crops. The Colchester landscape, hardly changed since medieval times, was to be lost forever.
Then houses came - and the rest is history.
For more information on Timeline maps, visit the Cassini Maps website at: timelinemaps.co.uk
This feature first appeared in the Evening Gazette on 03/07/06
© Cassini Publishing Ltd 2006
|Now and then - the Timeline map of Colchester, above, has been designed to exactly match the scale and coverage of the same modern-day Ordnance Survey Landranger map of Colchester.|
Ordnance Survey Mapping © Crown Copyright Media AM21/06