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More on the background of the Tapestry Maps

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In or around 1588 Ralph Sheldon, son of William, commissioned four large tapestry maps to decorate the new house he was building at Weston, in the parish of Long Compton, Warwickshire. They focussed on four counties - Oxfordshire which included London, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire - in all of which the Sheldon family held land, owned houses and had friends and relatives. ................... More on Ralph Sheldon (pdf file)

Each tapestry measured approximately 13 high and 16-20 feet wide. Only one is now complete, displayed at the Warwick Museum, though its original border has been replaced by one in a later style.
Click here for Warwick Museum (tapestry map of Warwickshire)


.©V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London courtesy of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

When the four tapestries hung together they presented a panorama across England from London to the Bristol Channel. In each tapestry, the centrally placed county was woven with a light-coloured background, drawing the eye inwards from the darker shades of the surrounding counties, included to form the tapestry's rectilinear shape. Each tapestry would have shown Weston house and the point at which the four counties depicted met at the Four Shire Stone, close to Morton Henmarsh (now Moreton in Marsh), now rebuilt.


The modern Four-Shire Stone
©Hilary L. Turner

Hills, the right-hand edges emphasized in green, were sometimes rounded, sometimes steep-sided, to indicate changes in terrain. Trees in open country were short and squat, but in forests were often taller than the church towers or spires, not always accurately indicated, which dominated the houses of the named villages. Bridges, differentiated between those built in stone or of wood, crossed rivers, some of them named in red letters. Palings marked the parkland surrounding the houses of gentlemen. Any house shown in detail, including Sheldon's own at Weston, nearly always belonged to one of Sheldon's friends or family.

There was at least an attempt at accuracy, as there was also for the towns; the larger ones were often shown in the conventional bird's eye view from the south. However, the tapestry designer improved on his model; he included roads which, in yellow, wander uncertainly across a landscape dotted with windmills, usually Sheldon's property, the occasional fire beacon or special landmark such as the Rollright Stones south of Long Compton.  

The settlements were placed by using the first survey ever made of England and Wales, mapped by Christopher Saxton between 1574 and 1579, published as an Atlas. But the tapestry designer had much more space to fill and could show hills, forests and rivers in far greater detail. His depiction of Gloucestershire can be viewed at

In the corners of each tapestry were the royal arms, a scale and dividers, the Sheldon family arms and a description of the county based on an early travelogue and current best seller, William Camden's Britannia, first published in 1586.

Rollright Stones..........©Hilary L. Turner

Each tapestry was surrounded by broad borders filled with allegorical figures, architectural elements and floral arrangements, all of them borrowed from printed sources. The points of the compass were named, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latin, and doggerel verses described the adjacent areas. Globes adorned the upper borders.

Tradition alone says that the Maps were woven at Barcheston. Scholarly opinion does not concur and the possibility that they were woven in London has long been considered......................................

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