William Bligh's survey of the Humber Navigation Charts 1791

Navigation Charts


Prior to navigation charts, early seamen relied on the proximity of the coast and the position of celestial bodies to determine their position. By the end of the 13th century the first navigational charts were being produced. These charts provided most of the information used by seamen, including longitude and latitude, topographical features, and landmarks such as lighthouses and churches, together with indications of reefs and banks. This allowed sailors to plot their course and check their progress while sailing.

Navigation charts were important. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Hull mariners and explorers, such as Luke Fox and James Hall, used and produced charts. They were attempting to seek out the North-West Passage for trade with the Far East, and navigate Arctic waters.

During the 18th century, explorers such as Captain James Cook charted routes to lands unexplored by western Europeans. Cook circumnavigated the globe in the 1770s.

Navigation charts were also important in aiding navigation around the coast and major rivers and estuaries of the United Kingdom.

Navigation charts are a snapshot into the past when the world was beginning to open up, in which goods, people and information would flow.

Hull History Centre holdings

The Local Studies Library has upwards of 60 navigation charts from the mid-17th century to the end of the 20th century.

The majority of the collection relates to the River Humber, one of the most difficult waterways in the world, and date from the mid-17th century onwards.

There are a small number which cover Aberdeen to Immingham along the East Coast, and are 20th century.

A selection of our holdings is listed below:

  • Map of the River Humber (c.1650) Ref: L MAPS/3/1
  • Description of a River called Hull (1668) Ref: L MAPS/3/2
  • Chart of the Humber from a copy of a ‘Plan of Kingston upon Hull’ in the Royal Library at the British Museum (1725) Ref: L MAPS/3/4
  • A survey of the Humber from Spurn to the West-end of Sunk Island by Captain William Bligh (1797) Ref: L MAPS/3/7
  • Chart of the East Coast of England and Scotland from the Humber to Aberdeen (1798) Ref: L MAPS/3/8
  • Entrance to the River Humber (1870) Ref: L MAPS/3/18
  • Map of the River Humber from Stallingborough Haven to Barton Haven (1952) Ref: L MAPS/3/38
  • Map of England’s East Coast from Flamborough to Withernsea (1995) Ref: L MAPS/3/55

Related material

There are 158 navigation charts held within the City Archives collections at C DBHB/17.


Although some maps may be copied in their entirety, please contact us for advice in the first instance.