John Speed

John Speed was born in Cheshire, England, in 1552.

He was apprenticed as a tailor under his father, and moved to London in his late teens, to earn a living there. When in London, he began to mix in the academic society of the City and it was then that he began to pursue his interest in History and Cartography.

Following the publication of his first map, of Canaan, in 1595, John Speed joined the College of Antiquaries (now the Society of Antiquaries), and gained the patronage of Sir Fulke Greville, which allowed him to cease the manual labour of tailoring, and concentrate his time on cartography.

John Speed then set about creating a comprehensive atlas of the British Isles, to be titled 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', and the first county map produced was that of his native Cheshire, in 1604. The atlas was finally completed and published in 1612. The town plans contained in the atlas provide the some of the earliest visual accounts of many British towns.

His subsequent work, a twenty-two map world atlas entitled 'A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World' was published shortly prior to his death in 1627. In 1676, both atlases were revised and republished; 'Theatre' was updated to include new coats of arms and some placenames were altered, and charts of America were included in 'Prospect'. It is hand coloured reproductions of these maps that we are proud to offer for sale on this website.

Speed was a prolific map-maker as well as a father during his long career, and he often 'borrowed' ideas from other cartographers. He did, however, acknowledge his debt to them, by stating that he had 'put his sickle into other men's corn'. Through faithfully reproducing his maps now, we are doing very much the same!

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