Robert Morden


Robert Morden



Robert Morden was born circa 1650 and died in 1703. So his birth was in the period of the English Revolution and Commonwealth of England, and his death was at the end of the revived Stewart era- Queen Anne being the last of the Stewart monarchs. Culturally, therefore, he was Pre Hanovarian and his Britain was that well before the “45” Jacobite Rebellion” and was published up to the era of Marlborough. Morden was an English bookseller, publisher, and maker of maps and globes. He was perhaps the first successful commercial map makers. He lies, aesthetically and historically, between the cartography of Speed and Saxon, and that of Cary, Archer or the Walker Brothers. He is a copper plate map-maker- using neither woodblock nor steel plate- and is much to early for lithography. His place and date of birth are not known, but some think he came from the North of England, perhaps the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was said to have been apprenticed to Joseph Moxon of Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the Honourable Company of Weavers’, and was freed from Indenture in about 1666. Moxon had been an engraver, mapmaker, globe-maker and instrument-maker, and Morden learnt these skills, but there is no evidence of him as an engraver either indentured or on his own map plates. As Morden worked in London it might be worth noting that “Morden”, the place, is in North Surrey, and his family may have come from there; he may have travelled north for his apprenticship under Moxon.

Morden worked with William Berry, also a former Moxon apprentice, from circa 1675. In 1677 Morden and Berry petitioned the Attorney General for “a licence to do all General and Particular maps of the several parts of the World according to an alphabetical manner and method first projected by them against any other undertakers”. There are free printed maps and globes prepared by Morden and Berry but most of their work was not completed.

Between about 1673 and 1703, he worked “Under the Sign of the Atlas” in Cornhill and New Cheapside. This is in the artisan district of the City of London. His cartographical output was large and varied. His best-known maps are those of South and North Wales, and the English Counties: published in that seminal work “ Camden‘s “Britannia” , which first appeared (with his maps) in 1695, and subsequently reissued, with some revision in 1722, 1753 and 1772 (those being after his death). These maps were based on old information from Speed and Saxton and much new detail gathered from clergy, ther aristocracy and landed gentlemen of each county, They were newly engraved on copper plates. They are intaglio maps cut certainly with a burin but probably etched too in places (such as the hill graphic). Tidal reaches tend to be stippled. Each had a decorated cartouche, and showed place names. A particular interest is in the topographical names: which hills were named, which lakes and how were they styled? (see general description below)

Just prior to his death, Morden produced in 1701 a series of small county maps often known as “The Miniature Mordens.”

In 1695, he published a map of Scotland. It is in several parts – such as “Skye and the Western Isles”. Again there is evidence of reference to older cartographers. Whose work is “improved”: in this case the 1654 map of Robert Gordon from Straloch, published by Joan Blaeu. He adds details solicited from travellers and land owners to this base survey. He no doubt referred to Admiralty Charts to correct shoirelines and estuaries.

He produced maps of the naiscent Empire such as his new Survey of the Tamil homeland, being the north of the island of Ceylon: “Coylot Wanees Country”. Here he must have worked with officers of the East India Company.


Camden’s Britannia” was published under the auspices of William Camden. According to some sources it had been issued prior to Morden with different cartography.

Morden’s new larger set of maps were finally published in Gibson’s editions published in 1695, then, after Morden’s death in 1722, 1731, 1754 and 1772. The maps, as stated, contained new information added to the surveys of Saxton and Speed. Morden seems not to have been principally and engraver: Sutton Nicholls and John Sturt were amongst those employed on the plates.


His map of Virginia appeared in 1676. and that worked on with R. Daniel: ‘A Map of The English Empire in The Continent of America’ appeared in 1679.

There was a similar work produced with John Thornton and Philip Lea, called ‘A New Map of the English Empire, in the Continent of America’ in 1685, more local and composed around their maps of New England and the Carolinas. Then ‘A New Map of the Chief Rivers, Bayes, Creeks, Harbours, and Settlements, in South Carolina’ appeared in 1695 in collaboration with Thornton and ‘This New Map of Virginia, Maryland, Pensilvania, New Jersey, Part of New York and Carolina’ was publised in 1698.

He also produced, with Berry in 1676, two world maps: one was ‘This Map of the World Drawn according to Mercators Projection’ and the second was ‘This New Map of The Earth and Water according to Wrights alias Mercator’s Projection’ of 1699. It was produced on twelve sheets. The habit of using “This” in a title is a frequent peculiarity of Robert Morden.

He produced maps of the British Isles, England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland and also plans of London. Other maps of foreign places included maps of battlefields and theatres of war .

Looking at a general example of a Morden map, one might make the following observations:

The sellers are often named : commonly seen names include: Abel Swale, John Churchill and A Washam.

He write “I” for “J” as a capital and Ye for “The”, but those should be transcribed as “John” or “The”: the later is a late form of the letter “thorn” not a “Y”.

The borders are marked off in degrees and minutes of a degree west or east of Greenwich . The minutes north are often not accompanied by the degrees north of the equator, unless a whole degree is marked: this is not a problem with the scale of longitude. Counties round about his subject are named “Part of”. He writes in English- not Latin unlike Saxton or Speed. His printing ink tends to be black not sepia. The plate markes are close to the printed edge of the map. Medial “s” letters use the form “f” Latin is retained on rivers such as “Hunna Flu”: this may be copied directly for Saxon or Speed. Halls, Parks and estates of Gentlemen are described with a fences circle. There is no great attempt to survey the shape of the estate. Hills are drawn and generally shaded to the east or right: they are a graphic: a generic hill with no attempt at size differentiation or shape: very few are named: “Helvillin Hill” is an example of an exception

A standard plate size might be 16 inches by 15 inches. Versi are plain and most from Camden’s are folded vertically in the centre. Paper tends to be fine and usually double tram-lined but that, of course, is dependent upon the age of the edition. Foxing is rare: this period’s paper seems to be better acid balanced than Victorian paper and there is usually none of that brittle cracking and burnt foxing of a Moule map or other steel plate map from thew 1840’s-50’s. Towns are shown with a graphic not a shaped survey and villages with a small circle. Woodland saare shown with images of trees and “forrests” are commonly marked and named.

His common styling is “by Robt. Morden: the engravers are very often not cited. Borders are a dotted line and roads are a double line.

Scales vary: often there are three which he calls a “Great, Middle and Small Miles”. 3 1/4 inches are generally 8 great miles. 2 7/8 inches are often 8 Middle Miles and 2 5/8 inches are 8 Small Miles- (an example only- these vary with the county being described).

It would be interesting to know where the degrees of longitude and latitude come from: they are probably interpolated from Admiralty data.

His principal importance lies in two fields: seeking out new topographical information from land owners, and translating or transcribing cartography from Latin into English. This is “described cartography” rather than “surveyed cartography”. Rivers are possible, hydrographically; here is less guess work, but still a great difference may be observed from any section of coast: accurately surveyed by the Admiralty and any region inland and unobservable from the sea. One might say that English land cartography evolved “in land” from the coast as “inland interpolation”, prior to the first triangularized surveys by Captain Roy and the Ordnance Survey, 130 years later.