John Ogilby was a 17th Century printer, translator and cartographer who, like most 17th Century characters, seemed to have fingers in many pies. He published Wenceslas Hollar (whose pictures of Greenwich Palace are pretty much all we have to go on these days) but his translations were less enjoyed by some – he suffered the indignity of being lampooned by John Dryden and Alexander Pope – though it’s worth pointing out that both poets were also translators of the same classical writers themselves, so it’s possible they were just bashing the competition.
What Ogilby’s most famous for, though, is his 1675 map – the first British Road Atlas. It’s a charming series of line drawings (though a bit difficult to follow now as it used both standard and ‘local’ miles), many of which are by Hollar. And of course, the old Watling Street, the London to Dover Road, is one of the routes published.
Okay, so I was in Quinto’s basement (one of the Charing Cross bookshops) yesterday and I discovered a 1939 repro of the maps at a price I could do. Brilliant, I thought, flicking immediately to Plate 18.
It was only when I got home and read the little bookplate at the beginning, that I realised that this had more of a Greenwich connection than I first thought.
Ah, that’s lovely. But hang on. That signature. It looks like…blimey – yes it is. The fortieth anniversary this antique-book lover is referring to is that of Duckham’s oil and the signature is of Alexander Duckham, founder of the company in 1899.
And where did Alexander Duckham live? Vanbrugh Castle, of course – it still boasts a little sign of his tenure on the roof – the castle’s weather vane is in the shape of a duck.
It’s hardly surprising that a road enthusiast and early flying fanatic would be fascinated by the country’s first road atlas but I’m particularly delighted that, in the middle of the Phoney War, he thought to republish his favourite maps for the enjoyment of others.
So here, in the same spirit, I give you the London – Dover plate…
…and the bit that we’re most interested in.