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John Speed

From Academic Kids

John Speed (1542-1629) was a historian, now best remembered as the cartographer whose maps of English counties are often found framed in homes throughout the UK.

He was born at Farndon in Cheshire, and went into his father's tailoring business where he worked until he was about 50! While working in London, his knowledge of history led him into learned circles and he joined the Society of Antiquaries where his interests came to the attention of Sir Fulke Greville, who subsequently made Speed an allowance to enable him to devote his whole attention to research. As a reward for his earlier efforts, Queen Elizabeth granted him the use of a room in the Custom House. It was with the encouragement of William Camden that he began his Historie of Great Britaine, which was published in 1611. Although Speed probably had access to historical sources that are now lost to us he certainly used the work of Saxton and Norden, his work as a historian is considered mediocre and secondary in importance to his map-making, of which his most important contribution is probably his town plans, many of which provide the first visual record of the British towns they depict.

His atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was published in 1610/11 and contained the first set of individual county maps of England and Wales besides maps of Ireland [5 in all] and a general maps of Scotland. Most [but not all] of the county maps have town plans on them; those showing a Scale of Passes being the places he had mapped himself. Just before his death in 1627 Speed published A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World which was the first world atlas produced by an Englishman. There is a facinating text describing the areas shown on the back of the maps in English although a rare edition of 1616 of the British maps has a Latin text - this is believed to have been produced for the Continental maket.

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