LONDON – The trouble with today’s road maps is that they are out of date almost as soon as they’re printed, such is the speed with which new roads are built, as we discovered last weekend on a safari down South to see the older of the two young apprentices. The sat-nav was no help either; according to it, we were in the middle of a field.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about either of the apprentices because each flew the nest long ago, although she and her brother still seem to cost us money. Ironically, she wants to buy her significant other an antique map for his birthday. A tour around half a dozen shops selling “antique” prints only added to the problem of finding the right one. Apart from the countless reproductions, we saw maps priced anywhere from £30 to £3,850. But there’s certainly plenty of choice.
The father of English cartography was Yorkshire-born Christopher Saxton (c.1542-1610), the first man to survey and map the counties of England and Wales. Saxton probably learned surveying at Cambridge University. His talent was spotted by the wealthy Sir Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, who was the grandly titled Master of the Queen’s Request and Surveyor of the Court of Wards and Liveries.
With Seckford’s financial backing, the support of Queen Elizabeth, which allowed him to summon assistance and go wherever he needed to go; and a patent from the Privy Council, Saxton began the survey in 1572. He completed it just seven years later.
Saxton drew all the maps himself, traveling around the countryside on foot and on horseback and measuring distances by pacing or with chains. Oddly, though, he missed out all roads, while hills and rivers were often strangely out of proportion.
The complete atlas of 34 county maps and a map of Anglia with its frontispiece depicting Queen Elizabeth I was printed by the best English and Flemish engravers and published in 1579. The importance of Saxton’s maps should not be underestimated. They formed the basis of all county maps for the next 100 years.
At 15 shillings (75 pence) apiece, Saxton’s atlas was for only the very richest of travellers. However, it remained popular until the appearance of John Speed’s “Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine,” first publishd in 1611.
John Speed (1552-1629) who was born in Farndon, near Chester, was a London tailor with a penchant for cartography and matters antiquarian. Despite the fact that he fathered 12 sons and six daughters, he still found time to present “divers maps” to the Queen and the Merchant Taylors’ Company between 1598 and 1600 before publishing his Theatre, a tour de force that combined both a national history and atlas.
The history part of the work made little impact, but this first atlas of the British Isles containing 54 maps, although relying heavily on Saxton’s earlier maps and those of others, brought Speed lasting fame. It proved so popular it was reprinted in a second edition in 1614, and again in 1616, 1623, 1627, 1650/51, 1662, 1676 and others up to 1770.
Speed maps have seen considerable price rises in recent years, possibly because they are among the most decorative. They often display large coats of arms and are embellished with sea monsters and galleons. However, they are not uncommon and can be found in the saleroom for under £1,000 depending on the area shown and the date of the edition. Their appeal both then and now are their superb quality engravings made in the workshops of Joducus Hondius in Amsterdam, the plates being returned to London for printing.
Speed’s maps were in use during the Civil Wars and when Samuel Pepys was Lord of the Admiralty, he noted in his diary that he referred to his Speed atlas to find oak for shipbuilding. (He found it in the Forest of Dean).
But back to the road maps. In the 16th century, the problem was the exact reverse to that of today: a lack of roads, other than major trade routes, and a dearth of any reliable printed information on how to get from A to B. The solution was “invented” by John Ogilby (1600-1676), who in 1675, published the Britannia Atlas, containing 100 maps of the country’s 40,000 miles of main coaching roads.
Ogilby was one of the more colorful figures associated with cartography. He started life as a dancing master but finished as the King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer. In the course of an eventful life he built a theatre in Dublin; became Ireland’s Deputy Master of Revels (an official responsible for paying for court entertainment); translated Virgil and Homer and built up a flourishing book publishing business.
Twice he lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the Civil War and again in the Great Fire of London in 1666, although the latter turned to his advantage. He was appointed to the official Commission of Survey for the burnt-out area, probably to assist in settling disputes over ownership of land (including his own printing works which was lost in the conflagration).
He subsequently returned to printing and in a few short years had organized and published a survey of all the main post roads in the country. The first practical road atlas, it was to have far reaching effects on future map making.
The maps, engraved in strip form, give details of the roads themselves and descriptive notes of the country on either side. Each map measures about 17 by 14 inches, on which is printed a charming ribbon scroll about 2¼ inches wide.
Reading from bottom left to top right, the serpent-like map snakes its way from A to B, giving details of the roads themselves, descriptive notes of the country on either side and a list of the towns, villages and points of interest on the way.
Each strip contains a compass rose so that whichever way the road twists, the strips can still be shown in parallel. Interestingly, Ogilby’s atlas was the first to use the nowadays standard one inch to one mile scale.
Popular though the Britannia Atlas was, travellers needed a more easily portable road atlas. “A Pocket Guide to the English Traveller” was produced in 1719 by Thomas Gardener containing 100 strip maps each measuring 10 by 6 inches. A single plate can be had in the saleroom for around £30, compared to £80-£120 for rarer Ogilby plates.
# # #
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE