In the Steps of John Ogilby – 1675

John Ogilby was a most resourceful character – and he undertook a mapping tour of England, creating an atlas called ‘Britannia’ which brought the word ‘road’ into common usage, replacing ‘Highway’. [Although we still use that term for our road construction and maintenance people, who repair ‘carriageways’]

Ogilby’s maps are most attractive and informative :

The first volume entailed, Ogilby claimed, surveying over 23,000 miles of highway, of which only a proportion of which were included in “Britannia”. Perhaps he can be seen on the title-page (by Barlow) on horseback supervising the two surveyors with their Perambulator, exiting stage right.



The format he chooses for his Atlas is highly original, a system of scrolled parchment taking the reader from one destination, often London’s outskirts, to a designated town looking only straight ahead. Only once does a scroll (or at least the illusion of its unfurling,) received a variation – when the traveller to Aberystwyth takes a bifurcation to Oxford. The rules of reading are made very clear and sensible in the preamble. Each strip has an accompanying compass rose to register changes of orientation. The peripheral information is eccentric and often perverse – but always fascinating. The format was popular long after Ogilby, see the Great Western Booklet, Through the Window (Paddington to Penzance) 1924

The designer has supplemented the sheer sensibleness of the scheme with engaging little vignettes on each map, some abstracted cartouches, some scenes of mythological fun and games. On the road to Maidstone are Neptune and the Birth of Venus. Many of the more naturalistic vignettes show pictures of  rural husbandry and the hunting scenes announced on the title-page. Another graphic game that varies the monotony is the treatment of the scrolls, the neat terminations, or some chaotic rumplings. The illusionistic shading means that several worthy hamlets are condemned to a permanent state of the Penumbrum.

Can we create something as interesting and informative about the route from Manchester to Oxford and thence to Southampton?? Contributions from anyone greatly welcomed ! Let’s be worthy successors to John Ogilby – we have modern technology at our disposal, too…

432px-OgilbyPortrait2 Ogilby map Bucks




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