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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Gibbs

Maps, the first landscapes

Updated: May 28, 2018

Tretower Court 1587 Robert Johnson NLW

In 1587 the Earl of Worcester commissioned a young surveyor,Robert Johnson, to create maps of his holdings in Wales. Not only are these wonderfully accurate, as Johnson used the new method of triangulation to measure the land, but they are the first artistic images of the landscape and buildings of the Usk Valley.

Detail of Tretower Court and Castle Andrew Jonson 1587 NLW

These maps are not only beautiful but they are accurate and were entirely practical. The Earl desperately needed money and these maps were used to set new rents.

Llangattock Park Robert Johnson

The Maps also contain detailed information on the ownership of the land which was colour coded y tenant and indicated the crops grown in each field.

Panteg Farm and Aberyail Farm alongside the Usk in Llangynidr

The River Usk flows from bottom right to top left with the farm buildings shown not as a birds eye view but in three dimensions.

To the top left is the Mill ,now only a ruin beside Cyffredin Lane, and in the centre Aberyail Farm. Johnson' mapping exercise revealed that the area of land held by the tenants of the Duke far exceeded previous records. In the Parish of Llangynidr it has been calculated that the area went up by over 40%.

Also in Llangynidr there are farms up in the Crawnon Valley.

Robert Johnson 1587 Map for The Duke of Beaufort

This detail shows how the map maker has represented Llangynidr mountain and gives a feeling of how steep these hill farms were, and still are. The sun is setting (or rising ) in the south!

Deatail opfCrickhowell Castle Andrew Johnson 1587 NLW

The Survey also provides evidence of what Crickhowell Castle looked like in the 16th century, an image later copied in Jones' History of Brecknockshire

and recorded the bridge over the Usk at Crickhowell showing the wooden structure before the stone bridge was created.

Robert Johnson went on to have a very successful career.He was employed by the powerful Sir Robert Cecil, became MP or Monmouthshire and saw his method of surveying established throughout the country.

In 2016 Robert Johnson's Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell and Tretower held at the National Library of Wales was added by UNESCO to their Memory of the World Register.

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