Essex history: Edward John Eyre

PUBLISHED: 13:24 03 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:24 03 March 2015



Essex Record Office

Land surveyor, Edward John Eyre, captured the changing scenes of our county through a variety of elaborate maps of Essex towns and estates. Here

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares more of his story

Edward John Eyre was a land surveyor who made several fine maps of Essex estates in the mid-18th century. Eyre remains a somewhat mysterious figure and, apart from his surviving maps, there is very little to tell us about his life.

Eyre was based in London, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and travelled around the country to make his maps.

The idea of producing a map and written survey of an estate that worked together began during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1601). Before then, descriptions of land had largely been written, with no accompanying map. By the 18th century, when Eyre was working, surveying estates was normal practice among a prosperous gentry class who were keen to employ modern methods to manage their estates. This included having detailed and up-to-date maps and survey books to inform decisions and collect rent from tenants. These estate surveys and maps were working documents, but they could also be highly decorative.

Eyre undertook several commissions in Essex, including a 1751 survey of the whole parish of Epping for John Conyers of Copped Hall, a survey of the Earl of Rochford’s park and gardens in St Osyth in 1762, and maps for New College Oxford of Takeley, Widdington, Dunmow, Bradwell and Writtle.

He must have spent a considerable amount of time in and around Saffron Walden in 1757-58, as he made several maps for the Countess of Portsmouth and Sir John Griffin Griffin of their landholdings in the area.

Several of Eyre’s maps are kept at the Essex Record Office and are in good condition, with one notable exception. In spring 2012 a dirty, tattered piece of parchment was found in a farm outbuilding in Wendons Ambo, near Saffron Walden, which turned out to be a map of the town by Eyre dating to 1757 — the earliest known surviving map of the historic market town. The map is now kept in controlled conditions at ERO to prevent further deterioration and spent several weeks in conservation. It looks very dark as a result of a layer of varnish applied in the past which has now discoloured, but despite the degree of damage it has suffered, the hand-drawn streets and buildings are still remarkably clear.

Essex Record Office Events in March

Thursday, March 12

2.30pm to 4.30pm

Discover: Parish Registers (1538-present)

Parish registers contain information of great value to the family historian, but they may seem daunting if you have not used them before. This session will explain what you might expect to discover in parish registers and how to get the best from them.

Tickets: £10. Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Saturday, March 14

11am to 12.30pm

Essex Book Festival: Chelmsford in the Great War

Local historian Jonathan Swan will be talking about life in Chelmsford during World War I. From the outbreak of war and the enthusiastic response from the people of the town, to the darker days of air raid warnings, conscription and rationing, this is the story of the lives of those who stayed at home and the many ways in which they contributed to the war effort.

Tickets: £6. Please book in advance on 033301 32500

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