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A window to the past

John Blagrave's map of Harpsden (1586)

The above map from 1586 is of the Harpsden valley to the south-west of Henley. It was made by mathematician John Blagrave in 1586 for the owner of Harpsden Manor, Humphrey Forster. The map was made at a time when huge advances were being made in terms of land survey and representation. It is beautifully coloured, according to how the parcels of land were used by the owner.

Each hedge and tree is included and you can see how the landscape of fields and woods is enclosed by hedges. This ancient, enclosed landscape is characteristic of the Chiltern Hills and is in sharp contrast to the landscape seen in the Vales e.g. round Lewknor where, historically, agriculture was practiced under an open-field system.

This tree may be one of the original trees

The area is mostly unchanged today and the remains of the farmhouses can be found in the current buildings: e.g. at the back of Hunt Farm part of the roof is supported by timbers that predate 1586.

The current landowner is in the process of further restoring the area to its appearance in 1586 by replanting hedges, widening hedges which had been reduced to a single line and planting trees.

More information about the history of the Chilterns and a copy of the map can be found in Hepple and Doggett's book The Chilterns published by Phillimore Press.

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