Hampshire Cultural Trust

John Ogilby (1600-76) and his strip maps

  • Ogilby, one of the more colourful figures associated with cartography, started life as a dancing master and finished as the King's Cosmographer and Geographic Printer.

    In the course of an eventful life Ogilby built a theatre in Dublin, became the Deputy Master of Revels in Ireland, translated various Greek and Latin works and built up a book publishing business.  In the process he twice lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the Civil Wars and then in the Great Fire. Even this disaster he turned to advantage by being appointed to the Commission of Survey following the fire.

    Finally he turned to printing again and in a few short years organized a survey of all the main post roads in the country and published the first practical road Atlas, the Britannia, which 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 strip having a compass rose to indicate changes in direction.  This was the first time that maps had been designed specifically as an aid to travel, and in fact inspired the 20th century route maps produced by British motoring organisations as well as the SatNav of today..

    The Britannia was to have been part of a much larger project in 5 or 6 volumes, covering maps of all the counties, a survey of London and various town plans as well as maps of other parts of the world, but this proved too great a task. However, Ogilby has another claim to fame in that at a time when measurements were far from standard he was the first to use the standard, now known as the statute, mile of 1,760 yards.

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