John Rocque: A Revolutionary Map-maker

by Rodney Walshaw, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 13 (2004)

This article is based on research done for an exhibition, in 2002, on Chiswick at the time of William Hogarth, and on a talk presented, in March 2003, at the West London Local History Conference. My part in both endeavours was instigated by Val Bott (of the B&CLHS) to whom I owe considerable gratitude. Without Val’s infectious enthusiasm and guidance, John Rocque and his work would have remained unknown to me.

In 1746 a series of detailed maps of London and the surrounding areas was published heralding a new era in English map-making. Superior in clarity to anything that had gone before, the maps presented in fine detail the features of the metropolis and the rural landscape around it, by means of standardised cartographic symbols and patterns. The maps were the work of John Rocque, an enlightened surveyor and cartographer whose pioneering methods had a lasting influence on map-makers.

John Rocque was probably of French Huguenot stock from Monosque in Provence; his family fled from France to Switzerland in the years after 1685, but it is not known where he was born. His first published work appeared in 1734 and, on the evidence of standard apprentice and journeyman service times, it has been postulated that Rocque would then have been around 30, placing his birth at the beginning of the century, around 1704/5. In 1751, the Parish registers of St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, show that Rocque married Ann Bew who survived him, was the executrix of his will and carried on his business after his death in 1762.

London businesses
Rocque’s business of surveying and map publishing occupied various premises in London. At first he was at ‘The Canister and Sugar Loaf in Great Windmill Street, Soho, an area popular with French emigrants. He later moved to ‘Hyde Park Road’, a section of Piccadilly, then a centre for dealers in garden statuary, fountains and so on. He described himself as living next door to the ‘Duke of Grafton’s Head’, the statuary yard occupied by John Cheere.

In 1750, he took larger and more central premises, first in Whitehall and then in The Strand. The Whitehall shop was next to The Rummer, a tavern depicted in Hogarth’s engraving Night. This was a private house rather than a shop, conveniently placed so that noblemen, passing from St James’s or Pall Mall to the Strand, would pass by his door. Sadly, on 7 November, the house with his complete stock burned to the ground. Undaunted, Rocque went to Paris to buy new stock, set up business in The Strand and entered into a veritable orgy of publishing.

Publications
Between 1734 and 1762 Rocque published more than a hundred maps, plans, road books and indexes. On his first publication (a map of Richmond Palace and gardens) Rocque described himself as a “Dessinateur de jardins” and he originally worked in close collaboration with his brother Bartholomew, a celebrated gardener. They sold each other’s publications at their respective addresses and probably promoted each other’s services to land-owning clients.

Rocque’s publications fall into three broad groups:
• independent maps and plans surveyed by Rocque and engraved by him or his associates,
• reproductions using plates which came into Rocque’s possession, sometimes revised, and
• maps obtained from agents and sold by Rocque; these were sometimes copied without revision and reproduced by Rocque’s staff.

At first he was exclusively occupied with maps of country estates following the new-found interest among the nobility and gentry in the design and landscaping of their gardens. Although skilled in surveying and map-making, he was not a very good artist. He had difficulty with perspective and the drawing of people in marginal sketches, so he employed more skilled artists like Vivares to do these for him.

After 14 years of estate work his interest turned to large scale town and county maps. In 1737 he started the preliminary survey for his most famous map – London and its environs – in which he calls himself ‘Land Surveyor’. By this time he was devoting more time to the publishing side of his business. As his reputation and business grew he came to call himself ‘Chorographer’ or ‘Topographer’ and by 1753 was styling himself ‘Cartographer to the Prince of Wales’. By 1751 he was employing ten ‘foreigners’ as draughtsmen and engravers – no doubt fellow refugees.

Like Hogarth, he adopted the then-common practice of financing projects by subscription and tried to boost sales by appealing, in his advertisements, to all kinds of potential users of his maps. Aided and abetted by his brother Bartholomew, he would have established business connections with many influential people mostly in England but also on the Continent.

The London maps
Since Ogilby and Morgan had published their London map in 1676, London had grown unchecked, particularly to the west, and by the 1730s a new one was needed. Although Rocque is always given credit as the surveyor of the resultant maps, there were others involved and there are indications that the business relations between them were not always smooth. The idea came originally from the engraver Vertue but he and Rocque could not come to an agreement. Rocque then entered into an agreement with another engraver, John Pine, to survey the area of London and Westminster. For this, Rocque was not in charge but was employed by Pine as his surveyor. The London and Westminster map, engraved by Pine, was published in 1746 by John Tinney in 24 sheets. Strictly speaking, this is Pine and Tinney’s map as they held the publishing rights. While this project was in progress, Rocque decided to include the country around London to a distance of ten miles. The London and environs map however, while published in the same year, 1746, was engraved by Richard Parr with Rocque himself the publisher and taking the full profits for himself. What lies behind this change is not known but it is possible that there was a falling-out between Rocque and Tinney/Pine; perhaps Rocque was dissatisfied with his deal with Pine.

The four 1746 Chiswick sheets digitally merged by the author

The Chiswick area straddles four sheets of Rocque’s 16-sheet map series of London and surrounding area of 1746. This compilation was made by the author using digitised versions of the original maps from the Guildhall Library, London.

The London maps
Since Ogilby and Morgan had published their London map in 1676, London had grown unchecked, particularly to the west, and by the 1730s a new one was needed. Although Rocque is always given credit as the surveyor of the resultant maps, there were others involved and there are indications that the business relations between them were not always smooth. The idea came originally from the engraver Vertue but he and Rocque could not come to an agreement. Rocque then entered into an agreement with another engraver, John Pine, to survey the area of London and Westminster. For this, Rocque was not in charge but was employed by Pine as his surveyor. The London and Westminster map, engraved by Pine, was published in 1746 by John Tinney in 24 sheets. Strictly speaking, this is Pine and Tinney’s map as they held the publishing rights. While this project was in progress, Rocque decided to include the country around London to a distance of ten miles. The London and environs map however, while published in the same year, 1746, was engraved by Richard Parr with Rocque himself the publisher and taking the full profits for himself. What lies behind this change is not known but it is possible that there was a falling-out between Rocque and Tinney/Pine; perhaps Rocque was dissatisfied with his deal with Pine.

The London and environs map
The map was published in 16 sheets covering an area from Hampton Court in the west to Woolwich in the east, and from Harrow-on-the-Hill in the north to beyond Bromley in the south – 247 square miles in all. After the survey was completed and the 16 sheets drafted, Rocque issued a prospectus inviting “…Persons who have a mind to incourage the work…” to subscribe the costs of engraving and printing. No money was required in advance, merely an expression of interest. How the survey, the draughting and engraving were paid for, is not clear.

The first printed sheet was promised in February 1743 with the complete set delivered within eighteen months or sooner. This was later than planned judging from a published statement in July 1742, by Martin Folkes and Peter Davall, President and Secretary respectively of the Royal Society, who explained that the delays in the project were due to the extreme care taken coupled with the need for some re-checking. They were full of praise for Rocque and Pine and gave the work their personal recommendation.

The subscription list, containing 365 names, was also published and is an interesting document. Some very prominent people promised to buy the map, many up to five sets, and Rocque was quick to use the implicit endorsement of his work by people of high standing. Topping the list were the Prince of Wales and ‘The Duke’ (this was the notorious Duke of Cumberland). They were accompanied by the Attorney General, The Lord High Chancellor, The Lord Mayor of London, The Master of the Rolls, 15 dukes, an assortment of other nobles, two ambassadors, Fellows of the Royal Society, sundry clergymen, army officers lawyers, architects, surveyors, and engineers. Most others were recorded as ‘Esquire’ or plain ‘Mister’ and in one or two cases ‘Gentleman’. The Worshipful Company of Skinners wanted a copy as did the London Assurance Fire Office and the Royal Society. Many occupations are represented among the subscribers who ranged from book and print sellers to instrument makers, seedsmen and gardeners, carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers, coachmakers, masons, drapers, wine makers, and timber merchants. The list is a solid testament to the very wide appeal of Rocque’s map. His other associates Richard Parr (engraver) and John Tinney (printseller) also subscribed but there is no Mr Pine (engraver of the ‘central’ London map) on the list.

The 16 sheets were framed in an elaborate border into the bottom part of which was inset a large cartouche carrying a dedication to the Earl of Burlington of Chiswick House.

Every square inch of the map carries a symbol of some sort to portray the features of the landscape; a solution that is commonplace now but revolutionary in the 18th century. The most striking feature is the mosaic of orchards, woods, gardens, parks, ploughed lands, pasture and grass which are clearly distinguished and provide a useful picture of land use. Individual houses and churches are marked, also roads, lanes and footpaths, hedges fences and walls. Rocque was ahead of his time in the way that he gave so much information on his maps, which are like Hogarth prints; the more one looks, the more one discovers. Subscribers must have been pleased with their investment.

Rocque cartouche

The elaborate dedication cartouche to the Earl of Burlington, engraved by Richard Parr. The supporter on the right holds a drawing of Chiswick House.

In the Chiswick area the four villages of Chiswick, Strand-on-the-Green, Little Sutton and Turnham Green are separated by orchards, market gardens common land and pasture while the first signs of ribbon development are clear along what is now Chiswick High Road and King Street. The landscaped gardens around Chiswick House, Grove House and Sutton Court are shown in some detail. Mileposts mark the distance from Hyde Park Corner, five miles at Turnham Green.

How accurate was he?
At first sight, many of the features of Rocque’s map, in particular the line of the river and road and settlement pattern are in their correct relative positions. The line of the river is the most obvious starting point for checking his accuracy, since it is most unlikely that the river has changed course significantly since his day. The bends are broadly correct but there are clear differences in the overall shape of the river.

It is the features that do not survive, especially the field boundaries, that have generated most controversy over the accuracy of Rocque’s map. Doubts have also been voiced about the reliability of the land-use information. Many argue that in the time taken for the survey it would have been quite impossible for all fields to be accurately surveyed. The consensus is that while the field boundaries were certainly not individually surveyed, they are not entirely fictitious and were probably sketched in from vantage points along the surveyed roads. In the same way, the specific details of the land-use information may not be entirely accurate. Some laxity, at the drafting stage, is also evident in the way that adjacent sheets do not quite match – a feature well known to those who have tried to join photocopies.

In spite of its shortcomings, when measured against modern cartographic standards, for the time and the methods used, there can be no doubt that Rocque’s accomplishment was outstanding and he set a high standard of reliability. His maps stand with some of the best cartographic achievements of the 18th century and he has left an incomparable record of 18th-century London and of the rural landscape around it.

Sources

Delano-Smith, C and RJP Kain, 1999, English Maps: a History, The British Library
Laxton, P, 1993, John Rocque in CS Nicholls (ed) The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons. Oxford University Press, pp563-4
Phillips, H, 1952, John Rocque’s career, London Topographical Record, v20, p20
Varley, J, 1948, John Rocque, engraver, surveyor, cartographer and map-seller, Imago Mundi, v5, pp 83-91

Rodney Walshaw is a retired geologist who now lives in Chiswick, after working overseas for many years.