BEAUTIFUL maps of the county dating back to 1585 will be released by Dorset Archives after a painstaking process to access them.

The process was far from straightforward, conservators say, due to pages in the ancient survey being stuck together

Treswell's Survey contains the first pictorial description of Corfe Castle, alongside a series of maps of Dorset, but their full charm could not be accessed due to the volume in which they were bound.

The Treswell survey, 'Maps of Dorsetshire', is a collection of intricate drawings dating to 1585, some of the earliest of their kind. In 1572 Corfe Castle was bought by Sir Christopher Hatton from Queen Elizabeth I. He engaged Ralph Treswell to prepare a survey of his Purbeck estates and Treswell went on to draw 16 plans, including the first surviving graphic of Corfe Castle.

The survey was originally bound in the 16th century, not long after the maps were produced. Conservators say they can tell this from the gold tooling on the leather; the centrepiece and corner fleurons [floral decoration] were principally used between 1580 and 1620.

The volume has undergone at least two restoration events since then. The survey has been rebacked, which means the text-block has been re-sewn and new leather has been adhered to the spine, and further additional leather repairs were made to the corners and edges of the binding at a later date.

When books are sewn together, the thread passes through the central fold of the paper. However, when this volume was re-sewn the bookbinder sewed through the folded pages, which meant the pages could not open fully. Consequently it was impossible to see the central portion of the maps.

As part of the Unlocking the Bankes Archive project, the National Trust gave permission for the Treswell volume to be disbound so that the maps could be accessed. The binding was detached from the textblock, and a poultice [gel] was used to soften the animal glue on the spine so that the lining material could be removed. The sewing was released and the pages separated.

The concealed sections of the maps are now fully visible, revealing hidden village names, churches and giant rabbits! The maps are being digitised by the Bankes Project Technician, and will be available to access digitally. The survey is stored safely in environmentally controlled repositories, preserved for generations to come.

Other maps from the Bankes collection are already available to view online via the Unlocking the Bankes Archive project website.