Old Hampshire Mapped

Compass Roses


The orientation of a map is often shown by a compass rose; this might be decorative or might be plain. It might show just the north point, or might show many points of the compass.

cardinal points
The four main directions are the Cardinal points of the compass; north, east, south, west.

These 4 directions are at right angles, 90 degrees to each other, a 1/4 of the circle.
The cardinal points are also called 'principal points'.

north For many of us 'north' is the primary point of the compass and 'up is north' on the map page; this is not true for every situation or culture. Not all maps are printed north upwards.

The point might be labelled N or North, or perhaps in Latin, Septentriones, referring to the seven stars that make up the constellation of The Bear, or Plough, that is a pointer for the Pole Star in the North. The Latin term might be abbreviated, eg Sept.
British maps traditionally mark the north point with a fleur de lys.
east The east point might be labelled E or East or perhaps in Latin, Oriens, from the verb orior, to rise, reminding us where the sun rises. The Latin term might be abbreviated, eg Ori.

The point might be marked with a sort of cross potent or cross patee.
south The south point might be labelled S or South or perhaps in Latin, Meridiens, referring to where the sun is in the middle of the day [in the northern hemisphere north of the tropics]. The Latin term might be abbreviated, eg Meri.

The point might be marked with a crescent.
west The west point might be labelled W or West or perhaps in Latin, Occidens, from the Latin occido, to fall or set, reminding us where the sun sets. The Latin term might be abbreviated, eg Occi.

The point might be marked with a cross crosslet, usually with a circle at the centre.

half cardinal
Between the cardinal points are the half cardinal points of the compass; NE, SE, SW, NW.

These 4 points are at 45 degrees to the four cardinal directions, an 1/8th of the circle.
The half cardinal points are also called 'quadrantal points'.

false points The directions dividing the cardinal and half cardinal points are called false points; NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE, SSW, WSW, WNW, NNW.

These 8 points are at 22.5 degrees to the others, an 1/16th of the circle.
The false points are also called 'intermediate points' or 'three letter points'.
by points Directions are further divided into the by points, eg NbyE, SWbyS. (The rules for expressing these are best seen from the diagram at the head of this page. You always go from the nearest half cardinal or cardinal point 'by' ie towards a cardinal point.)

The 16 by points are at 11.25 degrees to the others, a 1/32nd of the circle. It would be unusual to find by points marked on the compass rose of a land map; they are less unusual on sea charts.
quarter points The quarter points take the division two steps further, eg Nby1/4E, SWby1/2S, Wby3/4N. (The half values are called quarter points or half points.)

The quarter points are at 2.8125 degrees to the others, a 1/128th of the circle. It would be very unusual to find quarter points marked on the compass rose of a map.

boxing the
Reciting the 32 points of the compass in order is known as 'boxing the compass'.

Instead of having a compass rose the map might have its borders labelled:- North, East, South, and West, or perhaps the Latin equivalents:- Septentriones, Oriens, Meridiones, Occidens, which are explained above.

OR; the the map might have latitude and longitude scales along its borders, and perhaps a latitude/longitude grid overall, and not need a compass rose at all. As this grid may not be rectangular a compass rose could confuse matters!

The majority of the Hampshire maps studied are drawn 'N is up' ie have 'north' at the top of the page. Compass north varies with time; if this is used to orientate the map on paper, the orientation will vary. At a later period the orientation of the map on the printed paper may be arranged to suit a formal projection rather than have compass north 'up'.

Matching the positions of a group of towns on an old map to today's national grid positions shows that each map page needs to be rotated to bring it 'into line'. The rotation needed to transform page-north into a standard north on the ngr projection, is listed below:-

     Saxton 1575    7.1 degrees E
     Norden 1595    8.2 degrees E
     Norden 1607    8.2 degrees E
     Speed 1611     7.4 degrees E
     Blaeu 1645     7.8 degrees E
     Jansson 1646   7.8 degrees E
     Blome 1673     8.5 degrees E
     Morden 1695    8.6 degrees E
     Kitchin 1751   3.5 degrees W
     Harrison 1788  3.4 degrees W
(The rotation may not be quite as exact as implied above.)

Keith gives a series of values for the magnetic variation over the period 1550-1850:-

These values are for London, the variation in Hampshire is not greatly different. John Norden declares he uses compass north; the 8 degree rotation needed to bring his map to today's standard is explained by the magnetic variation of his time. Some later map makers may have copied an outofdate compass north from an earlier map.

wind roses
These notes are mostly Lloyd Brown's ideas about wind roses.

Even though ancient astronomers developed the mathematical expression of directions, early chart makers gave directions on their charts by a more homely wind rose.

Heracleitus divided the heavens into four:-
N  c;The Bear
E Morning
S The region opposite the Bear
W Evening
The directions are general, not precisely N, E, S, W.

Poseidonius and Polybius, recounted by Strabo used four more directions:-
N  c;The darkness
NE Summer sunrise
E Equinoctial Sunrise
SE Winter sunrise
S The light
SW Winter sunset
W Equinoctial sunset
NW Summer sunset
The direction of the equinoctial rising and setting vary with your position on Earth, which Strabo pointed out.

Homer wrote of four winds, names:-
N  c;Boreas
E Eurus
S Notus
W Zephyrus
But the wind names were used in various ways. Strabo observed that some writers refer to two principle winds, Boreas and Notus, and others differing only slightly from these:-
N  c;Boreas
NE Eurus
SE Apeliotes
S Notus
SW Argestes
NW Zephyrus
And beside these confusions there were local names for winds from particular places, Levante from the Levant, Greco from Greece, ...

The Tower of Winds in Athens, built about 100BC, had eight sides adorned with emblems, labelled:-
N  c;Boreas
NE Kaikias
E Apeliotes
SE Eurus
S Notos
SW Lips
W Zephuros
NW Skiron
Pliny, in his Natural History, reported two systems, four winds and twelve winds, and that modern sailors have simplified these into eight. He gave current and earlier Greek terms (order not certain):-
  c;modern greek
N SeptentrioAparctias
NE AquiloBoreas
E SubsolanusApeliotes
SE VulturnusEurus
S AusterNotus
SW AfricusLibs
W FavoniusZephyrus
NW CorusArgestes
The wind rose of twelve winds is found in writers down to the 11th century, appearing again in the 14th century when a sixteen wind system was also in use.

A system with intermediate winds named by compounds of the four cardinal names was probably used by Flemish sailors, from Bruges and elsewhere, from the time of Charlemagne.

In 1581, Michel Coignet gave a list of 8 winds, in Italian and French:-
N  TramontanaNort
NE GriegoNortest
E LevanteEst
SE SyrrochoSudest
S MezzodiSud
SW GarbinoSudoest
W PonenteOest
NW MaistroNortoest
contrasting the traditional style of names with the compounding style.

A 17th century source gave an Accurate Table of Winds, Ventorum Accurata Tabula, as a composite wind rose of 4, 8, 12, 24 and 32 directions; some of these points are:-
N  BoreasAparctiasNORDTramontan
NNENord Nord estTramontana Graeco
NE BoreasNORD ESTGraeco
ENEest Nord estLevante Graeco
E EurusApeliotesESTLevante
ESEest Sud estLevante Siroco
SE EurosSUD ESTSiroco
SSESud Sud estOstro Siroco
S NotusNotosSUDOstro OR Mezogiorno
SSWSud Sud ouestOstro Garbino
SW LipsSUD OUESTGarbino OR Libegio
WSWOuest au SudouestGarbino ponante
W ZephyrusZephyrosOUESTPonante
WNWOest Nord OuestMaestro Ponante
NW ArgeotesNORD OUESTMaestro
NNWNord Nord OuestMaestro Tramontana
The quarter points were fairly clear in the compounding style. eg 'Nord Quart au Nord est'. In the traditional style the equivalent point is 'Quarta di Tramontana verso Graeco' which is less immediately comprehensible.

Some of the 12 and 24 system directions in this compound diagram are:-
N SeptentrioSepentrio
E SubsolanusSolanus
S AusterAuster
W FavoniusFavonius
(The greek is transliterated as well as I can; and I suspect the author and engraver were each having trouble with their sources too.)

The compounding style of direction names was adopted by portuguese mariners before the 16th century. In the Arte de Navegar by Pedro de Medina, 1545, the flemish names are given in wind roses of four, eight, twelve (?16?) and thirty-two points. The wind rose had evolved into the compass rose that we know today.

This all makes me glad that we have the understandable compounding system we have today; and inclined to understand why mariners mostly, now, use headings in degrees although steer SW is more immediate than steer 225 degrees until you get used to it. The direction names tabulated above demonstrate how dangerous is translation from old terms into modern directions. But the tables may help you read terms off an old map decorated with winds puffing airs from the borders of a map, where you already have their positions.

Brown, Lloyd A: 1979 (reprint); 1949 (original): Story of Maps, The: Dover Publications (New York, New York, United States):: ISBN 0 486 23873 3

Keith, Thomas: 1842: On the Use of the Globes: Teg, Thomas (London)

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Old Hampshire Mapped