Time Travel Explorer Blog

Men Behind the Maps: John Rocque

by Matt Brown 12. November 2010 17:23

The earliest map on Time Travel Explorer London is also one of the most famous in the capital’s history. The John Rocque map of 1747 was far and away the most detailed up to that time, surpassing many of those that followed. Unlike earlier maps, the Rocque charts show the innumerable alleys and courts as well as the main thoroughfares. It stands as one of our greatest sources on the early Georgian city.

But who was John Rocque? His early years are a little shady. We know he was born no later than 1709, when he moved to London from France with his parents and three siblings - a family of Huguenots fleeing religious persecution on the continent. ‘Jean’, as he was originally known, seems to have taken to horticulture as a young man, and produced plans and diagrams of several notable gardens in the south-east in his 20s and 30s while living with his brother Bartholomew, himself a landscape gardener. He built up a solid reputation as a cartographer and engraving, working from premises in Great Windmill Street, Soho.

His masterpiece came in 1737. The map of London took ten years to produce, and was carried on 24 separate sheets. It is a work of both beauty and clarity, as can be readily seen in Time Travel Explorer. As well as recording the centre of London in great detail, it also stretches out to regions of farmland and hamlets that we now think of as relatively central parts of London. To the North, much of Bloomsbury and Kings Cross are little more than fields, with the River Fleet still flowing openly down from Hampstead. West, and Knightsbridge is shown as ‘the Five Fields’. South of the river, villages such as Newington and Walworth are surrounded by open country. While to the East, development is limited mostly to the ancient tracks of Old Kent Road and Mile End Road.

The map’s success led to Rocque’s appointment as cartographer to the Prince of Wales in 1751. He went on to construct maps of other cities, counties and the whole country. He married twice, first to a lady known as Marthe, and later to a Mary-Ann Bew. The latter carried on the family business after Rocque’s death in January 1762.

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