John Cary- Historical Notes


John Cary was born in 1754 and died in 1835 . He was an English cartographer based on London in the reigns of George III, the Regency, George IV, and William III.

If the names “Cary and Cary” are seen, the map is probably by the sons of John Cary, who continued the print shop after their father’s death in 1835. They eventually sold his plates not all to Cruchley- some to Tallis and some to Rapkin- but it seems that those cartographers, and particularly Cruchley, adapted his work rather than just printed from the old plates.

Cary had started out as an apprentice engraver in London, and later, in 1783, set up his own printing shop in The Strand. “ The Corner of Arundel Street”, was his usual engraved address. He made maps, globes, and printed atlases. His New and Correct English Atlas was first published in 1787 and soon becoming a standard reference work.

His production career is said to have spanned barely 35 years, thus he must have been about 44 before becoming an established map maker in his own right.

John Cary had been an Ordnance Survey Cartographer himself until circa 1808. Later he reduced and modified Ordnance plates for his own publications. Cruchley, the first railway map maker, bought out many of John Cary’s plates after 1835 but Cruchley never produced maps of anything like the standard of Cary’s, who engraved some of the finest early 19th and late 18th century map, with extraordinary detail preserved even in reduction. Cruchleys maps were bought by Gall and Inglis in 1877 and so there is a continuum from the Georgian OS plates in the late 18th century, through Cary, Cruchley, and Gall and Inglis taking this line of “Generic Ordnance Mapping” into the 20th century.  It might be said that G.F. Cruchley started the tradition of inexpensive travellers’ maps which was particularly exemplified in the later 19th century by Bacon, Gall and Inglis and W. H. Smith working with John Bartholomew. Cruchley used by lines such as “half the size, half the price” exemplifying that he generally sold on price rather than quality. Cary was never a populist, and never would have shared Cruchley’s zeal to bring inexpensive maps to the masses.

John Cary was born in 1754 and died in 1835. He was an English cartographer based in London in the reigns of George III, The Regency, George IV, and William III.

Address seen include: “ John Cary at 188 The Strand”; “London, published July 1st 1812 by J. Cary Map Seller, No 181 Strand.” Earlier he engraved “At the Corner of Arundel Street, Strand”.

In 1794, Cary was commissioned by the Postmaster General to survey England’s roads. This resulted in his publication “Cary’s New Itinerary” of 1798, a mapping of all the major roads in England and Wales He also produced maps for the Ordnance Survey prior to 1805- and generic maps from them after that date.

Later, he collaborated on geological maps with William Smith, a geologist.

Most of the Cary maps still seen come from his folio atlases.

Among his more important works are:

New Elementary Atlas, John Cary 1813.

New and Correct English Atlas of 1787)

Traveller’s Companion of 1790.

New Itinerary- re printed with corrections 1812.

New Itinerary of 1798

An English Atlas of 1809

Inland Navigation; or Select Plans of the Several Navigable Canals throughout Britain of 1795. This series of maps was recently studied and discussed in a BBC documentary hosted by Nicholas Crane. Crane explored the Black Country canals as mapped by Cary- many of which had since been abandoned, in-filled, or used as track-beds for railways

Survey of the High Roads from London of 1790. This is the work inspired by the Postmaster General’s Commission.

New Universal Atlas of 1808

New Maps of England and Wales with part of Scotland, of 1794

Map of Scotland England and Wales of 1808

New British Atlas of 1805, Cary and Stockdale.

Camden’s Britannia 1789 to 1806 – maps for 1789 and 1806 editions (though the original was a far older publication).

An Actual Survey of the country fifteen miles around London of 1786 (an idea taken up by Bacon at a later date.

A New Map of Scotland of 1801 ( interesting for the new military roads.)

The characteristic of a John Cary map is that it cuts out the decorative flourishes of 18th century and earlier cartography and replaces it with a more factual and detailed document of record. In this he might be said to have set the style for 19th century academic cartography in England and, as many of these more objective qualities can be found on German maps of the period, it is probably that they had been his model, in manner if not in materials, for German cartographers, unlike Cary, were quick to embrace steel plates. His direct predecessor and greatest English influence must have been Robert Morden- whose County Maps might be considered transitional between the old “Period manner” and that of the ubiquitous Victorian Steel Plate map. Morden had died in 1703 a few years after Cary became an independent and established cartographer. Yet Morden was only 4 years older; showing both that Morden’s career was not only brief, but also much more quickly established than that of his protégé. It is said that Cary’s plates were always copper, although steel plate work was known. Copper must have reduced potential print runs due to its more rapid tendency to wear, but also helped aesthetically by preventing that slightly impersonal and mechanical feel of the steel plate. The copper plate always gives a warmer pull. Colour on a Cary map was, I believe, always hand washed; he did not embrace lithography.