Lavaux Map

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This plan was surveyed and drawn by Alexander de Lavaux, engineer and surveyor. As well as naming the owners of many houses, the plan includes informative details such as the "North Gate May Pole" and the "Water Engine", which was mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s diary record of his second visit to the city:

Detail from the Lavaux Map of Chester showing the area around Northgate before the Canal. Lavaux does not show any gaols on his map, but he may have personal reasons for that.
  • "When I was formerly at this city, about the year 1690, they had no water to supply their ordinary occasions, but what was carried from the River Dee upon horses, in great leather vessels, like a pair of bakers panyers... But at my coming there this time, I found a very good water-house in the river, and the city plentifully supply'd by pipes, just as London is from the Thames; tho' some parts of Chester stands very high from the river".

Still much open space was left within the City Walls in 1745, although this map only shows the major buildings.

Some further points to note are:

  • Chester is shown before the construction of the Chester Canal in 1779;
  • To the left of the map the River Dee takes an apparent unnatural course which is entirely man-made. During the eighteenth century Chester’s trade had diminished considerably thanks to the gradual decrease in the navigability of the river. Using engineers from the Netherlands an artificial channel was excavated 1732-36. It was paid for by local merchants and the Chester Corporation. By the time of this map, the Watertower and the Watergate are now far from the River Dee except during exceptional tides.
  • Each individual field is laid out according to its usage.

A high resolution scan of this map can be purchased from the Chester Records Office (on CD). A Hi-res version of the map is also available on-line.


This is a rare, important plan of Chester and one of the earliest large scale plans of the city. It is one of many published in the middle of the eighteenth century which importantly record cities before rapid industrialisation. The copper-engraved plan is by the surveyor Alexander De Lavaux and one auction site states of him "about who little is known other than his self styled description as an Engineer". The engraving is attributed to Richard Parr (fl.1723-51) who worked especially closely with John Rocque the great publisher of many large scale maps. The detail is remarkable with, as was the fashion at the time, notable town resident’s buildings being identified as are all of the roads including even the Maypole on Northgate Street. Many of the houses marked on the map still exist and research has revealed much of the story of their occupants. For example, the house of Robert Foulques at what is now 25 Castle Street (in 2019 the office of the local MP) has an interesting history.

Detail from Lavaux map showing the dedication.

Lavaux's past before Chester was not without incident. Alexander De Lavaux was born in Berlin and had at his entrance into Prussian service had the rank of lieutenant and engineer. In 1729, at the age of 25 he was employed by the Dutch "Society of Suriname". With an appointment as cartographer in Suriname he was given the rank of ensign. He made ​​several campaigns against the "Maroons", and produced a first map of the Suriname River. In 1731 the Directors of the Society of Suriname discovered that the existing maps were not of sufficient quality to indicate the condition of the land and the location of the plantations. By May 1734 Lavaux had been working for over two years on a new and accurate map of Suriname. In 1725 he visited Amsterdam, was promoted to captain and went back to Suriname. He did not get on with the new Governor (Gerrit van de Schepper?) and in 1741 deserted without warning on an English ship to St. Eustatius and then to the British colony of Saint Christopher (now St. Kitts). At the end of 1741 he was extradited by and put in prison at Fort Zeelandia. It took until June 1743 for the court-martial verdict (which demanded a death penalty). Lavaux meanwhile was diagnosed as insane (presumably due to prison conditions). The sentence was commuted in 1744 to expulsion from the military service and banishment from Suriname.

Within two years Lavaux must have traveled to Chester and begun work on his map. Lavaux's reasons for coming to Chester remain unknown, but the map is dedicated to George Cholmondeley, who was Vice Admiral of Cheshire at the time, and appears to have Dutch ancestry through his mother.

Fort Zeelandia has now become a museum. Notably, the Lavaux map of Chester omits the City Gaol.


Sources and Links

  • Lavaux on Dutch Wikipedia;
  • Hi-res version of the map;
  • Bijlsma, R. (1921) "Alexander de Lavaux en zijne Generale kaart van Suriname 1737", De West-Indische Gids, jrg 2, nr. 2, pp. 397-40.
  • "Van de kaart vegen; Alexander de Laveaux, kaartenmaker", Museumstof 55, website Surinaams Museum;
  • More on him in "Cloggie";