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Roads in the 1600's: The Maps of Timothy Pont

TIMOTHY PONT - Outline of Life and Work



Timothy Pont was born about 1565, the son of a prominent churchman. He attended St Andrews University, graduating in 1583, and may have learnt cartography from one of the professors there. After graduation his father gave him a small annual sum which ensured his financial independence and enabled him to start on his project to map the country. There is some uncertainty as to why he did this rather than pursue a church career: one suggestion is that it was at the instigation of James VI, another is that the church authorities wanted a survey of their jurisdictions.


Whatever the reason he started his project, probably soon after graduation. It involved travelling  to all parts of the country where he faithfully recorded towns, villages and fermtouns with their names, noting  their relation in the landscape to each other and in  relation to the rivers and hills. He was often the object  of suspicion and was frequently robbed, sometimes  even losing the results of a survey. Nevertheless he persevered and the result was a large  number of manuscript maps which gave a highly detailed  picture of the geography of Scotland.


It is not certain when he completed the survey but it is likely to have been in the late 1590ís. He seems for a while to have attempted to publish the maps but as Robert Gordon says, "he was defeated by the avarice of printers and booksellers, and could not bring it to a conclusion." There may have been limited success however as a map of Lothian and Linlithgow appeared in the Mercator-Hondius Atlas of 1630 and may have been engraved between 1603 and 1612 by Jocodus Hondius the Elder.


Pont, by now Minister of Dunnet in Caithness, died in 1613 or 1614, leaving his papers to his heirs. They seem to have neglected them but they were bought by Sir James Balfour of Denmilne, an antiquarian and historian. Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit heard about the maps and knowing that Joan Blaeu of Amsterdam was looking for maps of Scotland for his planned Atlas, informed him of the Pont manuscripts. As a result the maps were sent to Blaeu who engraved some of them but returned others with a request for more detailed information. These were worked on by Robert Gordon of Straloch who sent revised drafts back that incorporated some of his own work. The Blaeu Atlas was published in 1654, immediately making Scotland one of the best mapped countries in the world. As 35 of the regional maps are credited to Pont we can assume they depicted the country at the time he surveyed it, i.e. pre-1600 rather than when the Atlas was published. This means that the river crossings and placenames must date from this time. The roads shown on several of the sheets probably date from the mid-1600ís and were probably gathered in preparing for the atlas as were some of the lists of distances. However, some of these are ascribed to Pont so that it is likely that the implied routes existed in his day. When all these sources of evidence are taken together they give us a surprisingly good picture of the network of routes existing at that time.


Full details of Timothy Pont and the maps can be found at the National Library of Scotland. See also Jeffrey Stoneís Illustrated Maps of Scotland from Blaeuís Atlas Novus of the 17th Century, Studio Editions, London, 1991 as well as the edition of the Atlas published by Birlinn.


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