Rocque and his Large Scale Map of London

Above: Rocque’s Large Scale Map of London (Click image to enlarge to 1710×900).

John Rocque (c1709–62), surveyor, cartographer, engraver and map-seller. He was born no later than 1709 because in that year he came to England with his parents who were French Huguenot émigrés. He became a godfather in 1728, which suggests he was at least twenty-one years old by that time. He would have been born with the name Jean Rocque and probably changed his first name when he came to England. He became a prolific cartographer but is today best known for his masterful maps of London.

One of the two maps – now usually referred to as ‘Rocque’s Large Scale Map of London’ – shows most of what has become Central London. Published in 1746, the map is on 24 large sheets of paper, each sheet measuring 27 inches (686 mm) horizontally by 19 inches (483 mm). They are large sheets. The whole map shows London in great detail – extending from Knightsbridge and part of Hyde Park in the west to Rotherhithe and the Howland Great Wet Dock (later to become the Greenland Dock) in the east. Most of Stepney is shown on the north of the Thames. All of the City of London is shown, along with Holborn, the Strand and the built-up parts of Westminster at the time of the map which by then extended as far north as Oxford Street. To the south is shown the village of Lambeth, the Borough High Street, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe with much of the land still in use as farms.

Several earlier maps had covered roughly the same area and it was, therefore, a common theme to produce a map of nearly the same area. As London continued to expand, later maps showed a larger piece of land so as to include the whole of the expanding built-up area. Rocque’s ‘Large Scale’ map was not the first to show London in this way but it gives great insight into mid-18th century London.

With today’s technology – like aerial photography and satellite imagery – we expect maps to be accurate. It must be remembered that there were very few maps of London when John Rocque’s team set out to survey the roads, rivers and hills in the 18th century. If you needed to know the length and shape of a street, it was necessary to measure its length and walk along it to determine its shape. It was a huge task. All the information had to be drawn onto large metal plates before printing could take place. The process of engraving was drawing a map ‘in reverse’ which only added to the difficulty of completing the task.

There is no intention to reproduce the map in any detail here. There are several Websites which show the map in varying degrees of detail – some quite good and others notably poor. Of course, there is no substitute for obtaining a facsimile paper copy of the map where its true splendour can be seen. The object here is to bring the map to the attention of the reader because, for Central London, it is one of the most important maps of London in the 18th century.


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1 Response to Rocque and his Large Scale Map of London

  1. One of the things I do from time to time is study a very large resolution version of this incredible map. I like exploring the streets and comparing them with today. It’s useful to see how some parts of more modern London developed in the west and north and to see which bits remain the same or indeed were destroyed in The Blitz or Victorian clearances. Or how long gone physical or geographical features are remembered on similarly named street names. It’s pretty incredible you can use this map to successfully navigate most of London within 2 or 3 miles of St Pauls.


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