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Strange Maps

405 – Scroll Britannia: the UK’s First Road Map


This extraordinary map, dating from 1675, details The Road From LONDON to the LANDS END Comencing at the Standard in Cornhill and Extending to Senan in Cornwall. It was made by IOHN OGILBY Esq[ui]r[e] his Ma[jes]ties Cosmographer and covers 308 miles and 3 furlongs (almost 500 km).

The life of John Ogilby (1600-1676) can be qualified without exaggeration as rather eventful. He freed his father from debtors’ prison by buying a winning lottery ticket, founded a dance school in London and later Dublin’s Theatre Royal, got shipwrecked on his return from Ireland, produced a very successful English verse transaltion of Virgil, lost all his property in the Great Fire of London (1666), and towards the end of his life managed to produce the Britannia Atlas (1675), considered to be the first road atlas of Britain.

The atlas set the standard for using 1760 yards for the mile, and a scale of one inch to the mile. It contained a large number of strip road maps like these, which proved popular in planning journeys throughout the United Kingdom.

The first strip on the left-hand side from this map takes in much of contemporary London, showing (bottom to top, i.e. east to west) part of the City of London (containing Cornhill), Southwark, Westminster, Hide Park, Kensington, Hamersmith, Turnham Green and Smallheere Green. The next strips are labelled A through E (at the bottom) and B through F (at the top), showing the orientation and order in which they should be viewed.

The strips take in places such as Hounslow, Stanes, Egham, Windsor Park, Bagshot Park, Basingstoke, Wotton, Whitchurch and Andover. The rivers and hills encountered are noted, as are the forks in the road, and the directions in which these lead. Andover, the last town on this map, is in Hampshire, and is still a long way away from Land’s End, the end point of this road map; indicating that this page is still a few scrolls short of being a complete map.

Some of the notes on the map are remarkable for their spelling of place-names; 17th-century English insisted on spelling bridg without the final -e; and Paddington was known as Pudington, for example.

Many thanks to Paul Kerrigan for sending in this link to Priddy’s Hard, a website about the eponymous area near Gosport in Hampshire. The link shows a number of maps, including this one.


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