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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Ogilby’s Britannia: Bringing English Cartography into the Scientific Age

John Ogilby, was born in Scotland in 1600, and held many different careers in his life; a dancing-master, theater owner, poet, translator, publisher and cartographer. He is most remembered for bringing English cartography into the scientific age with his 1675 road atlas of England and Wales titled, Britannia. To create the wonderfully detailed strip maps that displayed the topographical features and distances of the roads, Ogilby’s team of surveyors worked with the precise and easy-to-use perambulator or measuring wheel to record the distance of the roads in miles; implementing the standardized measurement of 1,760 yards per mile as defined by a 1592 Act of Parliament. They also used the surveyor’s compass or theodolite to better record the changes in the directions of the roads. Besides the use of scientific instruments, Britannia was also the first published work to use the scale of one inch equaling one mile, which became the prevailing scale for cartography. Through the use of detailed illustrations and precise technology, Ogilby’s Britannia became the first comprehensive and accurate road atlas for England and Wales, making it the prototype for almost all English road books published in the following century. Our Special Collections house several editions and iterations of Britannia and its surveys, including the first edition from 1675.

Title Page for John Ogilby's Britannia (1675).
The title page for the first edition of Ogilby’s Britannia, 1675.
Special Collections, Spencer Research Library. Call Number: H1. Click image to enlarge.

Strip map from Britannia of “The Road From LONDON to ABERSWITH…”.
Strip map of “The Road From LONDON to ABERSWITH…” Note the illustration around the title,
the perambulator/measuring wheel is being used by the man on foot and
the surveyor’s compass/theodolite is being used by the man on horseback.
Special Collections, Spencer Research Library. Call Number: H1. Click image to enlarge.

After Ogilby’s death in 1676, his step-grandson, William Morgan, continued his work. Morgan utilized many of the original maps and descriptions created by Ogilby and his team of surveyors, since Britannia provided such exact and thorough accounts of the British roads. Many travelers and merchants desired to take these accounts with them, so the maps, surveys and descriptions used in Britannia were often scaled down and published in more portable works.

Ogilby editions size comparison
Comparing the size of the works from left to right: Britannia followed by The traveller’s guide or,
a most exact description of the roads of England. Being Mr. Ogilby’s actual survey,
and lastly The traveller’s pocket-book: or, Ogilby and Morgan’s book of the roads improved and amended.
Special Collections, Spencer Research Library. Call Numbers: H1, Bond C69, A297. Click image to enlarge.

Unfolding map for The traveller’s pocket-book: or, Ogilby and Morgan’s book of the roads improved and amended.

Open map for The traveller’s pocket-book: or, Ogilby and Morgan’s book of the roads improved and amended.
The traveller’s pocket-book: or, Ogilby and Morgan’s book of the roads improved and amended

with attached map of England and Wales, 1765. Special Collections, Spencer Research Library.
Call Number: A297. Click images to enlarge.

To learn more about John Ogilby and Britannia, come by Spencer Research Library and take a look at these sources:

  • Hyde, Ralph. “John Ogilby’s Eleventh Hour.” Map Collector No11 (1980): 2-8. Print. Call Number: E1814.
  • Ogilby, John. Britannia: London 1675 with an introduction by Dr. J.B. Harley. Amserdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1970. Print. Call Number: G730
  • Worms, Laurence and Baynton-Williams, Ashley. “Ogilby, John (1600-1676)—London.” British Map Engravers: a Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850. London: Rare Book Society, 2011. 498-500. Print. Call Number: GA793 .W67 2011.

Mindy Babarskis
Library Assistant
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