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John Speed
St Giles, Cripplegate, London EC2 - Wall monument - - 1209154 (cropped).jpg
Memorial to John Speed, St Giles-without-Cripplegate
Born 1552
Farndon, Cheshire
Died 1629 (aged 76–77)
St Giles-without-Cripplegate, Cripplegate, London
Nationality English
Fields Cartography, history

John Speed (1552 – 28 July 1629)[1] was an English cartographer and historian. He is known as England's most famous Stuart period mapmaker.[2][n 1]


Speed was born at Farndon, Cheshire, and went into his father's tailoring business.[4] While working in London, his knowledge of history led him into learned circles and he came to the attention of Sir Fulke Greville, who subsequently made him an allowance to enable him to devote his whole attention to research. As a reward for his earlier efforts, Queen Elizabeth granted Speed the use of a room in the Custom House.

He is buried with his wife in St Giles-without-Cripplegate church, Fore Street within the Barbican Estate in the City of London.[5][6] A memorial to John Speed was also erected behind the altar of the church. According to the church's website, "[His was] one of the few memorials [in the church] that survived the bombing" of London during The Blitz of 1940–1941 ... The website also notes that "[t]he cast for the niche in which the bust is placed was provided by the Merchant Taylors' Company, of which John Speed was a member." His memorial brass has ended up on display in the Burrell Collection near Glasgow.


It was with the encouragement of William Camden that Speed began his Historie of Great Britaine, which was published in 1611.[7] Although he 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 now considered 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.

In 1627 George Humble published the Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World, printed by John Dawson. This is the world map from this atlas with John Speed's name in the title, but not attributed to Speed's authorship.[8]

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 [five in all] and a general map 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. In 1627, two years before his death, Speed published Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World which was the first world atlas produced by an Englishman. There is a fascinating 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 market. Much of the engraving was done in Amsterdam at the workshop of Jodocus Hondius. His maps of English and Welsh counties are often found framed in homes throughout the United Kingdom.

In 1611, he also published The genealogies recorded in the Sacred Scriptures according to euery family and tribe with the line of Our Sauior Jesus Christ obserued from Adam to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a biblical genealogy, reprinted several times during the 17th century.


Town inserts


  1. ^ Major-General William Roy, co-founder of the Ordnance Survey and earlier Christopher Saxton also contend for the most famous status. The word cartography refers to the 'drawing of the charts of maps' and derives from the French carte, card or chart, and Greek graphia, writing. Although it is a useful term ... it is important to note that the word was only coined around 1859 and therefore was not used by the Ordnance Survey's earliest writers and readers.[3]
  1. ^ Baynton-Williams, Ashley. "John Speed". MapForum.Com. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  2. ^ "Maps by John Speed". Jonathan Potter Limited. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Hewitt, Rachel (2010). Map of a Nation. London: Granta Publications. pp. xxvi. ISBN 978-1-84708-254-1. 
  4. ^ "The Life of John Speed". Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "Heritage". St Giles' without Cripplegate. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Hibbert, Christopher; Ben Weinreb; John Keay; Julia Keay. (2010). The London Encyclopaedia. London: Pan Macmillan. p. 762. ISBN 978-0-230-73878-2.  CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^  "Speed, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  8. ^ "Biography John Speed II". 3. 2006. 

Further reading

External links

3 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

SPEED, JOHN, an English historical writer of the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., was born at Farrington in Cheshire, in 1552, but came early in life to London, where the rest of his days were spent. He was brought up to the business of a tailor, and seems to have supported himself by it during the greater part of his life, for he does not appear as an author before the year 1603, when he was in the fifty-sixth year of his age. He was however, during that time, amassing treasures of curious historical knowledge, the possession of which brought him into the acquaintance of Sir Fulk Grevile, who drew him forth from his obscurity, and, it is supposed, afforded him the means of publishing the large works of which he is the author or editor. The first of these is a collection of maps of the English and Welsh counties, with plans of cities, and engravings of various antiquities, said to have been first published in 1608; but when formed into the work entitled 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, printing an exact geography of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the isles adjoining. With the shires, hundreds, cities, and shire-towns, within the Kingdom of England, divided and described by John Speed,' folio, bearing the date of 1611. In this work he owed much to the labours of Camden, Christopher Saxton, and John Norden. There have been several editions of it. The other work of Speed's is a history or chronicle of England, entitled, 'The History of Great Britain under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans,' originally published in 1611. In this work are engravings of coins, and also of the great seals of England, then for the first time published; but on the whole it is a compilation of no great merit. He was also the compiler of a set of Tables of Scripture Genealogy, comprising much of the genealogical information contained in the sacred books, exhibited in the form of pedigrees; and several theological works, as ' The Cloud of Witnesses,' &c, of small value are ascribed to him. He died July 28,1629, and was buried in the church of St. Giles's, Cripplegate, where a monument was raised to his memory. By his wife Susannah, to whom he was married for fifty-seven years, he had twelve sons and six daughters.
---Biography. C. Knight, 1867.

Bill  •  Link

SPEED, JOHN (1552?-1629), historian and cartographer; brought up as a tailor by his father; settled in Moorfields, London, and obtained a post in custom-house, 1598; made various maps of English counties, and was encouraged by Camden, Cotton, and others, whose 'Society of Antiquaries' he joined, to write his carefully digested 'History of Great Britaine,' 1611; wrote also 'A Cloude of Witnesses' confirming 'God's Holie Word,' 1616.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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