A REMARKABLY FRESH EXAMPLE of one of the most desirable maps in Christopher Saxton’s atlas. This map of Yorkshire is one of the five originally signed by Augustine Ryther as engraver and was surveyed during 1577. Christopher Saxton had just received his licence which encouraged him to produce 12 maps in this year, his busiest. Speculation surrounds the origins of Ryther. Ralph Thoresby stated in 1715 that he was ‘probably of Leeds’ and may well indeed be related to the ennobled family of that name from Yorkshire. He was one of the earliest English born copper plate engravers and signed five of Saxton’s maps. It is quite likely he was the author of others. He went on to collaborate on the sale of the Saxton’s atlas. Certainly, there is evidence to show that he continued to sell it after the Saxton’s ten-year privilege expired. His finest works are the plates for Robert Adams depicting the Spanish Armada published in 1590. Ryther was however in debtor’s prison for the winter of 1594-95 and thereafter there is no record.
Christopher Saxton produced one of the earliest national surveys of any kind and the first uniformly conceived cartographic survey of England and Wales. It was begun in about 1574 and completed by 1579: “in the long list of British atlases the first name is also the greatest, the name of Christopher Saxton” (Chubb). Saxton (c.1542–c.1610) was born at Dunningley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. While the details of his early life are sketchy, it is known that he attended Cambridge University, and in 1570 he was apprenticed as a map maker to John Rudd, vicar of Dewsbury. Saxton began work on his county maps in about 1574. In 1577 he received letters patent from Elizabeth I protecting his maps against plagiarism for the next ten years. As well as the Queen’s protection, Saxton also enjoyed the patronage of Thomas Seckford, Master of the Queen’s Requests, whose mottoes are found on the maps.
Evans and Lawrence wrote that he “left a legacy of maps of the counties of England and Wales from which succeeding generations of map-makers drew extensively … amazingly accurate in detail, [the atlas] survives as testimony to his expertise when surveying techniques and comprehension of the mathematical sciences were still limited.” They are arguably the most highly prized by collectors of county maps. The map is the only folding map in the atlas and is nearly always damaged as a consequence, this example is as near to perfect as could be expected.
Following the death of Philip Lea 25 February 1700 his widow Anne continued the business. Although it is recorded that she sold some copper plates to George Willdey shortly after 1715 those belonging to the Saxton atlas were not amongst them. The date of her death is unknown but on 5 August 1730 the ‘Daily Journal’ carried an advertisement announcing the sale by auction of ‘all the Copper Plates belonging to the Estate of Mrs. Anne Lea, deceased … with all the County Maps of Great Britain and Ireland’. From 1709 early in his career Willdey was advertising maps for sale. Willdey’s first advertisement announcing the county plates was placed in the ‘Daily Post’ for 3 February 1732 (illustrated in Hodson I p. 142). They were sold individually for 4d. each. In none of his adverts up to his death in November 1737 does he mention the county maps be bound as an atlas with a title page. However, in 1721 when advertising his series of two sheet maps, he stated that ‘This Set of Maps may be fitted up several ways and sizes, or bound in a Book, or sold single, to fit Gentlemen’s Conveniency …’ It can be assumed that he would be just as accommodating with the single sheet county maps and that therefore a c.1732 date is reasonable for the atlas.
Willdey was not able to secure all the Lea plates despite securing those by Saxton. Some of the maps in the Saxton-Lea atlas were replacements by other cartographers and those of John Seller went to Thomas and John Bowles. Willdey did manage to acquire the John Ogilby map of Middlesex. However, of a full complement of county maps Willdey did not have ones for Cambridgeshire or Hertfordshire. Willdey was compelled to have new maps of these counties engraved which might explain the delay between acquisition in August 1730 and the first advert in February 1732.
Willdey’s last advert was placed in the ‘Daily Post’, 12 November 1737, which carried in its news columns the announcement that ‘Yesterday Morning died of an Apopletick Fit, Mr. Willdey, who kept the noted great Toyshop at the Corner of Ludgate-street by St. Paul’s; said to have died very rich.’ Curiously although all the newspapers agreed he died on 11 November his will is signed 12 November. The business was continued by Thomas Willdey although it is not clear whether this is his brother, or son. Thomas died in 1748 and the business was closed as there were many creditors. This is a very rare atlas surviving in only five known examples. Provenance: private English collection. Barber (2007) pp. 1623-31; Chubb (1927) I; Evans & Lawrence (1979) pp. 9–43, 53-8 & 163; Harley, Brian ‘The Map Collector’ no. 8 pp. 2-11; Hind (1952-55) vol. 1 p. 73; Hodson (1984-97) no. 183; Lawrence, Heather ‘Christopher Saxton’ in ‘The Map Collector’ 27 pp. 16-18; Rawnsley no. 1; Shirley (2004) T.Sax 1j; Skelton (1970) 1; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).