These pages are an exploration of a few of the maps from John Owen and Emanuel Bowen's Britannia Depicta. This work, published by Thomas Bowles in a series of editions between 1720 and 1764, is a collection of roadmaps covering parts of Britain.
Each of the maps describes a route which starts in the lower left corner and goes up the page in a series of columns ending at the top right of the page. Progress along the route is indicated by mileage markers which are little dots roughly equally spaced along the center of the major road. Cities, towns and villages are named along the way and side-roads are marked with their destinations. Useful landmarks are depicted including hills, bridges, rivers and streams, windmills, churches, water wells and even a gallows. Click here for a look at some of these landmarks.
The maps are packed with information which would be useful to an 18th century traveller. For example, the orientation of the hills provides important topographical information. If the hills are drawn upright (i.e. the top of the hills are towards the top of the page) then this means that someone travelling along the road from the bottom to the top of the map will experience an increase in elevation whereas someone travelling along the road from the top to the bottom of the map will experience a drop in elevation. Conversely, if the hills are drawn upside-down then someone travelling along the road from the bottom to the top of the map will be travelling downhill at the point where the hills are drawn. This clipping from the Devonshire map illustrates what I mean:
These hills depict a valley with a stream running through it. Travellers arriving at this point from the top of the map will go down into the valley, across the stream and then immediately up the other side (through the town of Rockbere).
I recently made a business trip to London and was able to learn more about Owen and Bowen' maps. Here are the major points (I'll try to elaborate later):
For what it is worth, my maps are framed using museum quality techniques and materials. The maps are deliberately hung in a location in my basement where they aren't likely to be bumped and which receives no direct sunlight and very little indirect sunlight. The maps experience only indirect light when the artificial lights in the area are turned on.
- The maps, as originally published by Thomas Bowles, are printed in black ink on white paper (i.e. they were not coloured). Any Owen and Bowen maps which are coloured (i.e. like mine are) were coloured by someone else possibly well after the original publication of the maps. In fact, it is quite possible that my maps were coloured within the past few decades.
- The paper that the maps were originally published on is white. My maps' paper ranges from a sort-of dark cream to an almost yellow colour. This is almost certainly an indication that my maps aren't particularily good examples of the Owen and Bowen maps because they have yellowed considerably with age. I saw a fair number (a few dozen) individual Owen and Bowen map pages and a copy of the complete Britannia Depicta in bound form. In all cases, the paper was white and none of the maps had been coloured (i.e. painted). The individual map sheets cost about 15 UK pounds and the complete bound copy of Britannia Depicta was priced at 980 UK pounds.
- According to an antique dealer who I met in London, it is not unusual for someone to purchase an uncoloured map or other antique print and ask that it be coloured. Frankly, this bothers me quite a bit. We should be striving to preserve these antiques in as nearly original condition as possible for the enlightenment and enjoyment of future generations. Arranging to have a 200 year old map or print coloured so that it will look better when hanging on your wall is simply wrong.
I consider the fact that mine have been coloured to be quite unfortunate. I supposed that I can take some comfort in not having played a role in having them coloured but that doesn't mean that I have to approve of the fact that they were coloured.
This section displays all of the maps that I own (three double-sided sheets). Click on the page numbers to get a somewhat higher resolution view of each map (roughly 150dpi). Although quite readable, these higher resolution images are still only about 1/4 the resolution of my original scans (i.e. they have 1/16th of the number of pixels as my original 600dpi scans). Most of the hyperlinks on this page point at pages containing clippings from the full 600dpi resolution scans.
Here are pages 64 and 63 (they appear in this order so that the spine-edges of the images meet in the middle of the page if your browser window is wide enough). Click here for a look at Crookhorn from the Plymouth map (check out the spectacular engraving of the hills around Crookhorn).
Here are pages 136 and 135. Click here for a look at Weymouth taken from page 136.
Here are pages 156 and 155. Click here for a look at the Deanery of Bristol's Shield. Click here for a look at Weymouth and here for a look at Glastonbury taken from page 156.
In modern terms, page 156 describes the following route:Starting at the lower left of the map in Martock, roughly follow A356 south to what is today called Crewkerne but was called Crookhorn in the early 18th century. From Crewkerne, continue roughly down A356 through South Parret, Maiden Newton, Frampton and then on to Dorchester. Switch to A354 and roughly follow it south to Weymouth.Further, I believe that the 3 Sisters Park shown near the center of page 156 must have been very close to Kingcombe Cross Roads.
Click here for a look at all of the coats of arms which appear on these maps.
Click here for a 1600x1200 clipping from the Plymouth map which is suitable for use as a background for your windowing system. Click here for more desktop background images from these maps and other sources. Please let me know if you think that other parts of the above maps would make good desktop background images.
All image manipulation (strictly limited to clipping and scaling operations) was performed using the GIMP running under LinuxPPC on an Apple Powerbook G3 Series.