Printed Maps of North-East England and Cumbria

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Early (pre-1860) printed maps are often to be found in their original context as an integral part of books, or in atlases. For County Durham there is a comprehensive website, Pictures in Print, which includes most of the collections held in the region and some items from the British Library, with digital images. There are bibliographical reference works on early maps and atlases at Palace Green Library which can help with locating material for other areas.

The most comprehensive holdings of modern maps are of large-scale (6 or 25 inch to the mile - 1:10560 or 1:2500) editions printed in the late 19th and first half of 20th century. Many of them come from estate archives and are marked up with property information - notably the Durham Bishopric Halmote Court (property across County Durham) and the Howard (Gilsland, Cumberland) and Grey (Howick, North Northumberland) family estates - and are stored with these collections. Others have come from solicitors, university and college departments and miscellaneous donations or purchases. These tend to be stored in the Search Room Map sequence.

The older Ordnance Survey maps (known as the old county series) were produced for County Durham between 1855 and 1950. The Durham maps were organised as follows, and the same principles follow for other counties. County Durham was divided into a grid of 60 rectangles (1-58, 30A, 45A), each of which was covered by one 6 inch to the mile (1:10560) sheet and 16 25 inch to the mile (1:2500) sheets. This grid provides the visual key to finding the map for a particular place (copies are available in the Search Room, and for Durham online). Thus Durham Sheet 27 is the 6 inch map covering from Durham City across to Shadforth, Durham Sheet 27.1 a 25 inch map covering the top-left sixteenth of that map (Durham City itself). The sheet name is printed top right (only the first edition is called Co. Durham, after that it is Durham), and the date of printing etc. at the bottom centre. The 1st (1856-60) editions were produced in two versions, either as complete sheets or a set of sheets for each parish leaving blank any area of the sheet not in the parish. A set of field books were printed to accompany this edition. These provide a key to the numbers printed in each field or area, although the information given is very brief and seldom adds to the information on the map itself.

At the same time as it was producing the 1st edition 6 and 25 inch maps, the Ordnance Survey printed very large scale maps (1:500) of many towns and cities (for a full list see Ordnance survey maps ...). Special Collections holds full or part sets of many of these maps for the region, for example Durham City (1856), Bishop Auckland (1855), Morpeth (1866).

Administrative / Biographical History

Special Collections does not hold a unified collection of maps, so this description covers parts of several other collections, and a group known as Search Room Maps. Our holdings of modern (roughly post 1860, the date when the Ordnance Survey produced the first comprehensive mapping of the region) British maps are almost entirely for the region covered by our local collecting policy - the pre-1974 counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire, with some overlapping into adjacent areas such as Lancashire and the Scottish Borders.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation. Most maps are large, and space in the Search Room is limited so we suggest that booking a visit in advance is a good idea if you expect to be consulting several maps. Most maps are too large to be photocopied, and where copyright permits, it may be possible to take digital photographs (this is an exception from our normal rule which states that digital photography by readers is not permitted).

Other Finding Aids

For early maps of County Durham, and topographical prints, see Pictures in Print .

Ordnance Survey maps have often been catalogued with the archive that they form part of, which makes a search for maps in general quite difficult. Printed maps have been added to the Library catalogue for the last few years, so this is gradually becoming a means of finding them. For County Durham a visual key is available at This can be clicked on to search the Library catalogue for 6 and 25 inch Ordnance Survey maps. Old county series maps are catalogued as county name followed by sheet number, so a title search will find them, for example for Northumberland.

The simplest search for town or village maps on the Library catalogue is a subject search for placename and maps, bearing in mind that placenames are usually qualified with the country and sometimes county - so search for (England) maps.

There are two old card indexes in the Search Room that are no longer continued that may be helpful, Ordnance Survey maps by sheet and maps by place (this is mainly of manuscript maps and only covers some collections).

Separated Material

Members of institutions subscribing to EDINA (such as Durham University) can register with EDINA and download digital copies of many OS maps (historic and current) -

Durham County Council have scanned and made available online copies of a wide range of OS maps covering the modern area of the county, available at

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Related Material

Durham Bishopric Halmote Court

Durham Cathedral Archives

Howard of Naworth Papers

Earl Grey Papers: Estate Records.


Oliver, Richard, Ordnance survey maps: a concise guide for historians (London, 2005).

Corporate Names