Saturday, 10 March 2012

Owen & Bowen, depicting Britain

If you needed to make a long journey in eighteenth-century Britain, you might find yourself very grateful to John Owen and Emmanuel Bowen. From 1720, their strip-maps of journeys were published and provided masses of information to the traveller. 

The work was not altogether original; indeed, this atlas was subtitled 'Ogilby Improv'd'. John Ogilby has published his maps in 1675. Originally a dancing teacher, his varied career had seen him appointed as one of the 'Sworn Viewers' who surveyed London after the great fire of 1666. Perhaps it was this experience which pushed him towards producing Britannia.

So how was this later version 'improv'd'? Importantly, the Owen and Bowen version was smaller and thus much more portable, as well as more detailed. Emmanuel Bowen, a talented engraver and mapseller who worked for both George II and Louis XV of France, added town descriptions and coats of arms to each page of maps. 

Dots marked mileage; the names of towns you passed through were all listed; and the limitations of the strip format were overcome by labelling of side-roads with their destinations. The margins were filled with further information about significant towns. Hills were drawn in, giving a sense of the terrain. Perhaps most charming to modern viewers are the tiny images which enliven the maps as well as helping to guide the traveller. 

1 comment:

HughB said...

Maps are fascinating to look at, especially early hand-drawn ones like these. The best of all, of course, are Pirate Treasure maps!