George W. Bacon


George Washington Bacon was a map-maker and seller. His company was based in London in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He specialised in rail and road maps, for cyclists at first, and later for early motorists too: He used old Ordnance Plates either directly or via Weller’s steel plates, which he reduced to 1/2” to the mile or smaller and added his own graphic for the railways.

George Washington Bacon was born in 1830 in Lockport, New York in the United States of America. He died as late as 1922, having lived to the age of 92. He based his printing and cartographic business in London and, on his maps one finds two addresses:

Bacon operated as G.W. Bacon & Co. of 127 in the Strand, London, from 1870 onwards (as an independent cartographer) but later maps carry the address: Norwich Street, Fetter Lane, London (when owned by the parent company Johnston of Edinburgh). Some sources state that he moved to England in 1860 or 1861.

To begin with he concentrated on maps of the capital and his business grew naturally as an extension of travellers’ needs to and from London. Another of his early enterprises was the production of maps and battle plans for those interested in the course of the American Civil War.

His many early enterprises gain him no great success and in 1867 he was bankrupt. Following that he concentrated on map making.

He also produced atlases and the base maps for these came from Edward Weller’s Weekly Dispatch Atlas. Of course Weller was not a surveyor- and the ultimate base maps were early Ordnance 1 inch plates. He was not pirating Weller’s plates but had managed to purchase them- they were steel- the medium of choice for mass publication of intaglio- where as other engravers of Weller’s time, such as Walker, had been faithful to copper.

Bacon’s chef d’oeuvre was “The New Ordnance Atlas of the British Isles” published from 1868 to 1911. The reason it ended in 1911 was that, in that year, the Ordnance Survey tightened up considerably on copyright and licenced use of its maps under stricter conditions, notably: that the scale be changed: that their sanction be stated on the map sheet, and: that the words “Ordnance” or “Ordnance Survey” were not used in the title or on the cover. It was in 1911 that Batholomew also had to retitle his maps as “New Reduced Surveys” to comply with the new rules and did so with considerable bad grace because he and others considered the Ordnance Survey to be a publicly funded body which should not enforce copyright. By this 1911 date Bacon maps were owned by Johnston’s of Edinburgh and had been since the turn of the century.

In 1893 George W Bacon purchased the cartographical business of J. Wyld, through whom he obtained a library of map plates of London.

In 1900, the Bacon Company was purchased itself by another Edinburgh cartographer: W. & A.K. Johnston, who continued to print the maps as G. W. Bacon. Johnston were the first company to concentrate primarily on the motor map and they used “G. W. Bacon” as a house marque as late as 1956.

G.W. Bacon’s links with Scottish cartographers was strong and later maps, produced when under the control of Johnston of Edinburgh, can bear the copyright of John Bartholomew, so it is evident that there was much exchange of material and co production amongst the cartographers of that city- notably Bartholomew, Gall and Inglis and Johnston.

Generally, Bacon might be seen in the same light at Gall and Inglis, and Cruchley: printers who noticed that the Ordnance map was expensive and conservative and that, in the late 19th century, there was a growing body of travellers and adventurers who which to purchase a guide map without paying OS prices. They also needed a map which was of a format compatible with cycling or train travel.

Ordnance maps were, in the 19th century, directed by senior officers of the Royal Engineers-usually Lieutenant-Colonels- and engraved and printed first at the Tower of London and then at Southampton. Though fine as cartography- their raison d’etre was military and those sold to the general public were usually ordered, bespoke from firms such as Smith, Praed & Sifton and Edward Stanford, who would dissect, mount on best linen, and board in marbled boxed covers. This was not a railway book-shop trade and thus the commercial vacuum created was filled by Cruchley first and Bacon later.

Bacon maps were either paper or linen backed. I have not seen them dissected and mounted. There is an ambiguity about his cycle maps because the base survey is often 70 years earlier than the suggested roads and one is looking at a triple layered print. Late Georgian perhaps for the base map, 1870s for Bacon’s railways and nearer 1900 for the suggested cycle roads. Obviously those suggested routes do not always fit the roads of the base map and this mismatch provides a deal of accidental data about how transport changed through the 19th century.

The railways are usually marked with a ladder like Graphic. The stations are generally added as a black dot and named in Bacon’s bold black script; this is different to the script of the base map. In some cases the Ordnance place names are underlined if they coincide with a station: but the interest here is how seldom that occurred- and one notices, through Bacon’s publications, how the 19th century railways ill served towns and villages, and how urban growth migrated to the railways rather than railways serving the towns. The OS added railways when their plates were electrotyped. This began in 1852 but the more general date one sees for an OS electrotype of the 1 inch series is 1870-1878. Thus, it may be seen that George Bacon must have been using base plates prior to this period.

On the later maps, when Johnston owned the company- Bacon maps experiment with MOT road numbers- usually they are used without a letter prefix (A, B, T). The MOT experimented with road numbering in 1913- abandoned the project, and then re-instigated it after the Great War, in 1919.

There is an interesting link between George W Bacon and the Temperance Movement. Cycling must have been seen as one of the tools though which the working people of the great industrial towns could be tempted away from a culture of drinking. Bacon Maps often had advertising by Fry’s (Cocoa), and hoteliers such as Tranter’s (Temperance Hotels). In the Cyclists’ Touring Club guides about 50% of the recommended hotels and guest houses were “temperance” institutions. Fry’s and the other great confectionery families were Quaker and strong backers of the movement.

Early Bacon Cycle map covers show Victorian cyclists and a motto and verso advertisement links that image with the Imperial Rover Cycle. Later Cycle maps often show a generic image of a distant town with smoking chimneys, a lady studying her map by her bicycle and, in the middle ground, a sports cyclist. A milepost announces “4 miles”. The image demonstrates the market: industrial working people, escaping their urban homes to explore the countryside. Later, on these maps and on later 1920s ones, a motor car is added to the background. Cartographers are aware of impending change; but the maps within the covers call themselves “Cycling Surveys” still, and none of their features seem particularly relevant to the early motorist.

Another standard advertisement seen in Bacon maps is that for Cross Channel traffic via Newhaven by “Brighton and French State Railways”: a photograph shows a car being winched aboard a ferry at Newhaven. Presumably “the Brighton Railway” means the L.B.S.C.R.

Later still, road maps are for “Motoring and Cycling” and the scale reduced to ¼ inch to the mile. On these maps, which are from the period when Johnston owned the firm, the copyright at bottom right cites John Bartholomew and Son, Edinburgh: so presumably Johnston and Bartholomew were working together and perhaps conspiring to circumvent the 1911 Ordnance copyright restrictions.

Bacon Maps were often bespoke produced for a local retailer- usually a bookseller or stationer in a rural town, who had his town central to the map and concentric 1 or 2 mile rings drawn from it to aid the tourer or cyclist. Gall and Inglis also used this device. On these maps, railways were always prominent. The implication is that the cyclist arrived by train and perhaps used the train to take his/her machine to the start point of the cycle tour. It is interesting that the “chosen roads” do not generally run to the coastal resorts- sometimes these are avoided; the implication is that the cycle tourer was of a different stratum of society to the resort holiday-maker and interested in different things: old churches, castles, historic towns, ancient sites and picturesque villages. Perhaps the “Temperance” bias of Bacon and his advertisers saw the seaside resort as a inadvisable temptation rather than a boon.