Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Backward turnings to be avoided: England's first road atlas

For some years the spine label for this work actually discouraged its curator from examining the volume which it was meant to advertise.  It was not the quaint crudeness of the label which was off-putting, but with no volume 2 next to it on the shelf, Britannia
appeared to the careless viewer to be incomplete, like so many other orphaned volumes that are all too common in most special collections.

                                                                                                                                                             Only after some ten year's nodding acquaintance with the book was it taken off the shelf and examined. Yes it was on the wrong shelf, but it was not incomplete, simply an example of the "ALL PUBLISHED" designation which would have been applied to its description by any competent user of Carter's ABC for Book Collectors.

 As the title page of this 1675 road atlas attests, the publisher, John Ogilby (1600-1676),  probably expected to issue subsequent volumes, this first volume covering the roads of England and Wales.  His death in 1676 ended these plans and the varied career of a man who had been at one time or another, a dancing master, translator, printer, theater owner, and royal cosmographer. In this latter capacity he produced this work, which covered some 2519 miles in 100 "whole-sheet copper sculps" or double-page strip maps.                                             

Below is a typical engraved strip map, the continuation of the route from London to Aberystwyth (Wales). Somewhat confusing to a viewer expecting a modern map projection, the perspective is that of the traveler. Note that the compass rose shows North at various angles, depending upon the traveler's direction of movement relative to the Pole. On the westward journey from London to Wales, North is off the traveler's right. 

The map is notable for the inclusion of geographical features such as mountains and brooks, as well as man-made landmarks such as bridges, orchards, churches etc.

In the CUA Rare Books copy of this work the maps were tipped at their center folds to guards, a method that might have allowed a 17th-century owner to remove the maps for actual service as an aid to travel.  Such use would seem to be suggested by the frontispiece detail on the right which shows a strip of map held in the rider's hand.  We are indebted to Dr. Bruce White for noticing that these maps functioned in precisely the same way as the American Automobile Association's old spiral-bound paper Trip-Tiks, now replaced by an online route planner.

The frontispiece, engraved by Wencelaus
Hollar after Francis Barlow, also depicts technical details of the making of the maps, including the measuring of the roads by means of a surveyor's wheel, or "waywiser," an ancestor of the tool used by modern road engineers.

Ogilby's measurements compensated for hilly terrain in order to accurately render three dimensions on a two-dimensional map. His work helped to standardize the British mile and he devised the now familiar map scale of one mile to the inch.

Ogilby's contribution to cartography endured for centuries, as subsequent maps were based on his work which was republished many times. For students of English history, the work is invaluable and it is cited by such authorities as Fredson Bowers in his edition of Tom Jones, a Foundling. No doubt a patient reader of Fielding's novel (with good eyesight) might follow Jones' travels though Ogilby's maps, as the hero traverses southern England in search of his fair Sophia, eventually finding her in London. That capital city is shown (somewhat enlarged) on the right, as it appears in Ogilby's detailed engraving on the first map of the volume.

In 2008 a real Jones used Ogilby's maps in a BBC documentary, Terry Jones' Great Map Mystery, which purported to prove that Ogilby's atlas was designed to support a Catholic takeover of Protestant England. Ogilby was a royalist, and supporter of Charles II, to whom many of his books were dedicated, but Charles did not become a Catholic until shortly before his death in 1685, a decade after Britannia was published. If, as theorized, the maps were designed for French troops landing in Wales, one might wonder if maps in French might not have been more useful.

Several pages of text precede each map. These pages contain helpful warnings to the unwary traveler.

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