Owen & Bowen's Britannia Depicta (1720 - 1764)


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).

A Reality Check

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

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).

devonshire.jpg plymouth.jpg

Here are pages 136 and 135. Click here for a look at Weymouth taken from page 136.

weymouth.jpg stockbridge.jpg

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.

somerton.jpg bristol.jpg

Coats of Arms

Click here for a look at all of the coats of arms which appear on these maps.

Desktop Backgrounds

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.

Tool Credits

All image manipulation (strictly limited to clipping and scaling operations) was performed using the GIMP running under LinuxPPC on an Apple Powerbook G3 Series.

Another Britannia Depicta map

Britannia Depicta