John Ogilby

Portrait of John Ogilby from a 1660 edition of Homer's Iliad

John Ogilby (also Ogelby, Oglivie; November 1600 4 September 1676) was a Scottish translator, impresario and cartographer. Best known for publishing the first British road atlas, he was also a successful translator, noted for publishing his work in handsome illustrated editions.


Ogilby was born in or near Killemeare (Kirriemuir), Scotland in November 1600. When his father was made a prisoner within the jurisdiction of the King's Bench, presumably for bankruptcy or debt, young John supported the family and used some of the money he earned to buy two lottery tickets, which won him a minor prize. This he used to apprentice himself to a dancing master and to obtain his father's release. By further good management of his finances, he was able to buy himself an early completion of his apprenticeship and set up a dancing school of his own. However, a fall while dancing in a masque lamed him for life and ended this career.

Using contacts made among his high-born clients, Ogilby was eventually taken to Ireland by Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, on his appointment as lord deputy there, and became tutor to his children. Ogilby then went on to establish Ireland's first theatre, the Werburgh Street Theatre, as a consequence of which he was made deputy-Master of the Revels in 1637. For the four years that the theatre was open it was a great success but it had to be closed as a result of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

Having narrowly missed being blown up in the castle he was defending, and after being shipwrecked on his homeward journey, Ogilby arrived back in England penniless and without a patron during the closing years of the Civil War. Finding his way on foot to Cambridge, he learned Latin from kindly scholars who had been impressed by his industry. He then ventured to translate Virgil into English verse (1649–1650), which brought him a considerable sum of money. The success of this attempt encouraged Ogilby to learn Greek from David Whitford, who was usher in the school kept by James Shirley the dramatist.

After his return to London in 1650, he married the widow Christina Hunsdon, who had three children by her earlier marriage. In the following year he published the first edition of his politicised The fables of Aesop paraphras'd in verse, and adorn'd with sculpture and illustrated with annotations, illustrated by Francis Cleyn. The next few years were spent in translating and the opening of a publishing business in London. The Restoration of Charles II brought favour back to Ogilby with a commission to help in the arrangements for the coronation in 1660 with the composing of speeches and songs. In that year too he brought out his translation of Homer's Iliad, dedicated to his royal patron. A year later he was again made Master of the Revels in Ireland and he set about the building of a new theatre in Smock Alley, Dublin. The libretto of the musical play Pompey by Katherine Philips, performed at Smock Alley in 1663, credits him as the composer of the tunes.[1]

By 1665 Ogilby had returned to London and published a second, revised edition of The Fables of Aesop, this time illustrated by Wenceslaus Hollar's renowned prints. He had to republish the book in 1668[2] since his property was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilding in Whitefriars, he set up a printing press there from which he issued many magnificent books, the most important of which were a series of atlases, with engravings and maps by Hollar and others.

In 1674 Ogilby had been appointed "His Majesty's Cosmographer and Geographic Printer". The Britannia atlas of 1675 set the standard for the road maps that followed. At that period some of the minor roads used the local mile rather than the standard mile of 1760 standard yards which Ogilby adopted in his atlas. One hundred strip road maps are shown, accompanied by a double-sided page of text giving additional advice for the map's use. Another innovation was Ogilby's scale of one inch to the mile (1/63360). These are marked and numbered on each map, the miles further being divided into furlongs. In his 2008 television series Terry Jones claimed that one of the map's purposes was to facilitate a Catholic takeover of the kingdom, an interpretation that one historian agreed was 'significant and highly plausible'.[3]

After the map's publication, Ogilby died in 1676 and was buried at St. Brides, one of Sir Christopher Wren's new London churches.

Literary reputation

In the years that followed, Ogilby's reputation as a translator was to suffer from the attacks made on him by John Dryden in his satirical MacFlecknoe, and by Alexander Pope in The Dunciad. Whatever the justice of these, it should be borne in mind that Dryden had himself translated the work of Virgil, as Pope had of Homer, so it was in their interest to encourage a preference for their own products. Following their lead, the Scottish philosopher David Hume used Ogilby's work to illustrate the idea that common sense frequently appeals to a "standard of taste" in aesthetic matters: 'Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between Ogilby and Milton, or Bunyan and Addison, would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained a mole-hill to be as high as Teneriffe, or a pond as extensive as the ocean.' (Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste", originally published in his Four Dissertations (1757).)

Such judgments stuck and it is only recently that Ogilby's work has again been given scholarly attention, particularly his versions of Aesop's Fables.[4] These, according to the short life of him published by Theophilus Cibber,[5] were 'generally confessed to have exceeded whatever hath been done before in that kind'. They renewed interest in the fable as a literary medium and led the way in suggesting their adaptation to the troubled politics of the time. Both Dryden and Pope were as indebted to him in this as Dryden was for certain lines in his own translation of the Aeneid.[6]

List of 100 plates in Ogilby's 1675 Britannia Atlas

Image from John Ogilby's 1675 "Britannia" atlas, showing the route from Newmarket, Suffolk to Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
  1. London, Acton, Uxbridge, Beaconsfield, High Wycombe, Tetsworth, Oxford, Islip
  2. Islip, Moreton-in-Marsh, Broadway, Pershore, Bromyard, Worcester
  3. Bromyard, Leominster, Presteign, Aberystwyth
  4. London, Ewell, Dorking, Billingshurst, Amberley, Arundel, Chichester
  5. London, Waltham, Hoddesdon, Ware, Royston, Huntingdon, Stilton
  6. Stilton, Stamford, Grantham, Newark, Tuxford
  7. Tuxford, Doncaster, Wentbridge, Tadcaster, York
  8. York, Boroughbridge, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Chester-le-Street
  9. Chester-le-Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, Morpeth, Alnwick, Belford, Berwick
  10. London, Hounslow, Maidenhead, Reading, Newbury, Hungerford, Marlborough
  11. Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, Bristol, Axbridge, Huntspill
  12. London, Acton, Uxbridge, Amersham, Aylesbury, Buckingham, Banbury
  13. Banbury, Stratford, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Bridgnorth, Banbury, Camden
  14. London, Brentford, Hounslow, Colnbrook, Slough, Maidenhead, Abingdon
  15. Abingdon, Faringdon, Fairford, Barnsley, Gloucester, Monmouth
  16. Monmouth, Newport, Cardiff, Cowbridge, Aberavon, Burton
  17. Burton, Kidwelly, Haverfordwest, St Davids
  18. London, Southwark, Rochester, Canterbury, Dover
  19. London, Romford, Brentford, Chelmsford, Colchester, Harwich
  20. London, Farningham, Maidstone, Ashford, Hythe
  21. London, High Barnet, St Albans, Dunstable, Stony Stratford, Towcester
  22. Towcester, Daventry, Coventry, Lichfield
  23. Lichfield, Rugeley, Stone, Stableford, Nantwich, Tarporley, Chester
  24. Chester, Denbigh, Conway, Beaumaris, Holyhead
  25. London, Hounslow, Staines, Basingstoke, Andover
  26. Andover, Salisbury, Shaftsbury, Sherborne, Crewkerne
  27. Crewkerne, Honiton, Exeter, Ashburton, Plymouth
  28. Plymouth, Fowey, Tregony, Penzance, Land's End
  29. London, Croydon, East Grinstead, Lewes, Newhaven, Brighton, Shoreham
  30. London, Wandsworth, Cobham, Godalming, Petersfield, Portsmouth
  31. London, Bromley, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Rye
  32. Andover, Warminster, Bruton, Bridgwater
  33. Bridgwater, Dulverton, Barnstaple, Torrington, Hatherleigh
  34. Hatherleigh, Camelford, Padstow, St Columb, Truro
  35. Chippenham, Bath, Wells, Marlborough, Devizes, Trowbridge, Wells
  36. Stilton, Peterborough, Spalding, Boston, Sleaford, Lincoln
  37. Darleston, Brewerton, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Garstang
  38. Garstang, Lancaster, Bolton, Kendal, Penrith, Carlisle
  39. Guildford, Midhurst, Chichester, Midhurst, Petersfield, Winchester
  40. Stony Stratford, Northampton, Market Harborough, Leicester, Loughborough, Derby
  41. Temsford, Stilton, Peterborough, Market Deeping, Sleaford, Lincoln
  42. Lincoln, Barton, Hull, Beverley, Flamborough
  43. Puckeridge, Cambridge, Ely, Downham, King's Lynn
  44. Four shire stone, Chipping Campden, Worcester, Ludlow, Montgomery
  45. High Barnet, Hatfield, Baldock, Biggleswade, St Neots, Oakham
  46. Puckeridge, Newmarket, Thetford, Attleborough, Windham, Norwich
  47. St Albans, Luton, Bedford, Wellingborough, Kettering, Oakham
  48. Oakham, Melton Mowbray, Nottingham, Mansfield, Rotherham, Barnsley
  49. Barnsley, Halifax, Skipton, Middleham, Richmond
  50. Meriden, Birmingham, Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Welshpool
  51. Bagshot, Farnham, Alton, Alresford, Southampton, Romsey, Salisbury
  52. Newmarket, Swaffham, Wells, Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds
  53. Basingstoke, Stockbridge, Cranborne, Blandford, Dorchester, Weymouth
  54. Colchester, Ipswich, Saxmundham, Beccles, Yarmouth
  55. Bristol, Chipping Sodbury, Tetbury, Cirencester, Burford, Banbury
  56. Bristol, Chepstow, Monmouth, Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow
  57. Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Whitchurch, Chester
  58. Bristol, Wells, Glastonbury, Taunton, Exeter
  59. Bristol, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Worcester
  60. Bristol, Wells, Crewkerne, Frampton, Weymouth
  61. Cambridge, St Neots, Northampton, Rugby, Coventry
  62. Carlisle, Jedburgh, Kelso, Berwick
  63. Chester, Wrexham, Newtown, Llanbader
  64. Llanbadardfynydd, Brecon, Cardiff
  65. Dartmouth, Exeter, Tiverton, Minehead
  66. St Davids, Fishguard, Cardigan, Talybont
  67. Talybont, Bala, Ruthin, Holywell
  68. Exeter, Chumleigh, Ilfracombe, Bideford, Torrington
  69. Exeter, Tavistock, Liskeard, Truro
  70. Gloucester, Cheltenham, Chipping Campden, Warwick, Coventry
  71. Gloucester, Ross-on-Wye, Hereford, Knighton, Montgomery
  72. Hereford, Worcester, Droitwich, Bromsgrove, Coventry, Leicester
  73. Huntingdon, Ely, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich
  74. Ipswich, Thwaite, Norwich, Cromer
  75. King's Lynn, Thetford, Stowmarket, Harwich
  76. King's Lynn, Gayton, Billingford, Norwich, Yarmouth
  77. Monmouth, Abergavenny, Brecon, Llanbadarnfynydd
  78. Nottingham, Lincoln, Market Rasen, Grimsby
  79. Oxford, Faringdon, Malmesbury, Bristol
  80. Oxford, Buckingham, Bedford, Cambridge
  81. Oxford, Newbury, Basingstoke, Petersfield, Chichester
  82. Oxford, Banbury, Coventry, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Derby
  83. Oxford, Hungerford, Salisbury, Cranborne, Poole
  84. Presteign, Builth Wells, Llandovery, Carmarthen
  85. Salisbury, Marlborough, Lechlade, Chipping Campden
  86. Tynemouth, Newcastle, Hexham, Haltwhistle, Carlisle
  87. Welshpool, Dolgellau, Caernarvon
  88. York, Ripley, Skipton, Settle, Lancaster
  89. York, Leeds, Rochdale, Manchester, Warrington
  90. Warrington, Chester, Manchester, Stockport, Derby
  91. Carmarthen, Cardigan, Llanbadardfynydd, Aberystwyth
  92. Chelmsford, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds
  93. Chelmsford, Maldon, Rayleigh, Ingatestone, Billericay, Gravesend, Dover
  94. Exeter, Colyford, Lyme Regis, Bridport, Dorchester, Plymouth, Dartmouth
  95. Ferrybridge, Boroughbridge, Ripon, Barnard Castle, Ferrybridge, Wakefield
  96. Kendal, Ambleside, Cockermouth, Egremont, Cockermouth, Carlisle
  97. Alresford, Winchester, Poole, Christchurch, Southampton, Winchester
  98. Shrewsbury, Wrexham, Holywell, Chester, Flint, Holywell
  99. Whitby, Guisborough, Stockton, Durham, Sunderland, Tynemouth
  100. York, Pickering, Whitby, New Malton, Sherburn, Scarborough

Facsimile editions of Britannia


  1. Brian Boydell. "John Ogilby". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  2. A facsimile edition was published in 1965 by the Augustan Reprint Society, Los Angeles, CA
  3. Mike Parker, Map Addict: A Tale of Obsession, Fudge & the Ordnance Survey, London UK 2010, pp.214-16
  4. Marion Eames, John Ogilby and his Aesop, Bulletin of the New York Public Library 65 (1961), pp 73-88
    • Annabel M. Patterson: Fables of Power: Aesopian Writing and Political History, Duke University Press, Durham NC, 1991
    • Katherine Acheson: The Picture of Nature: Seventeenth-Century English Aesop's Fables, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies (IX.2, Fall/Winter 2009), pp. 25-50
  5. The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 2, London 1753, pp265-8; an online version is at Google Books
  6. L.Proudfoot: Dryden's Aeneid and its Seventeenth Century Predecessors, University of Manchester, 1960; there is a partial preview on Google Books
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