FIRST EDITION. John Cary (1755-1835) and descendants were possibly the most prolific publishers of cartography around the turn of the nineteenth century. Cary is noted for the clarity of detail in his maps and was the first to use the Greenwich meridian. Cary was born in Warminster in 1755 to a prominent family. At fifteen he was apprenticed to the engraver William Palmer and made free in 1778. His very earliest works were engravings for or publications in partnership with others. Many of these suffered bankruptcy or other ill fortune. Undeterred he opened his own premises at 188 Strand taking over from the bookseller Samuel Hooper. His first sole publication was a very rare road book displaying the route from London to Falmouth published in 1784.
At this point in time no fresh county atlases had been issued since the ‘Large English Atlas’ of the 1750s. Since then, between Robert Sayer and the Bowles family, now in the hands of Carington Bowles, the market had to make do with reissues or derivatives of earlier works. However, during much of this period many counties had undergone fresh large scale survey’s, most of which had been published. Both individuals were as Hodson stated ‘now in their 60s, were wealthy, and furthermore quite uninterested in undertaking the compilation of a new English county atlas’. Having worked already on books to do with roads and canals Cary could see the rapidly transforming landscape and its use by the public. The huge increase in the number of Turnpikes towards the end of the eighteenth century helped to ensure comfortable and relatively safe travel across country.
This is the first of three significant English County productions by Cary drawing on new material. The ‘New and Correct English Atlas’ would incorporate all these new surveys and include all the modern improvements of transport. The atlas was issued in twelve parts, the first being issued in September 1787, and the last in early 1789. It was then offered as a complete atlas at the competitive price of £1 11s 6d. coloured. It was received very well. The ‘English Review’ in December 1789 noting ‘the purchaser of Cary’s Atlas will find that the work itself contains much more useful matter than is announced in the title-page’.
The work was consistently updated, even whilst in production of the parts issue. This has inevitably led to instability of content between examples. Cary’s attention to the road network is seen in the additions at the edge of the county roads of, for instance, ‘to Cambridge’ or ‘from Oxford’. Distances are also recorded. However, he also provided at the end of the atlas six pages describing 52 roads, each listing the major towns passed through and the county maps on which it may be found. This, therefore, for the first time combined a county atlas with an itinerary. It is reminiscent of the Thomas Bowles and Emanuel Bowen ‘Britannia Depicta’ of 1720 in which road strips dominated the work but were extra illustrated with otherwise small county maps.
A further new feature was the seven page ‘List of the Principal Post and Sub-Post Towns, with their Receiving Houses’. Mail had until now been sent by individual rider moving between ‘posts’ where the postmaster would remove local mail and pass the remainder and further mail onto the next rider. The system was inefficient and constantly subjected to robbery. On 2 August 1784, the first mail coach ran from Bristol to London arriving in just 16 hours, 22 hours quicker than the previous service. It grew rapidly, originally using contractors. They also charged to take passengers. The attraction for them was that it was faster than a stagecoach as it made less stops but was generally not as comfortable. Cary’s list provides the time of day the mail arrived at each postal town, the time of its departure and the cost. It is easy to see why the atlas proved so popular. Cary acknowledges the direct help of the Post Office in the Advertisement ‘the proprietor is indebted to the liberal permission he was honoured with by the Comptroller General of the Post Office, to resort to such official documents as enables him to vouch for the correctness and accuracy of these important articles’. Provenance: private English collection. This atlas conforms to Hodson’s atlas 19 which is the first in which the list of subscribers is omitted. Burden, E. (1991); Chubb (1927) 260; Fordham (1925a) p. 23; Hodson (1984-97) 285; Shirley (2004) T.Cary 2a; Smith (1988); Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).