Great Cartographers. First in an occasional series: JOHN SPEED.

Posted by on May 8, 2013

John Speed is England’s most famous cartographer. Born in Cheshire in 1552, Speed started his working life as a tailor, however his interest in history and association with the Society of Antiquities led him to cartography after Sir Fulk Grevil secured him an allowance to focus on his research.

In 1612 Speed published a Comprehensive atlas of the British Isles: ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’. The atlas is perhaps best known for the town plans that provide some of the oldest detailed cartography of several British settlements. He later became the first Englishman to produce a world atlas when he published ‘A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World’.

Speed’s maps were engraved in Amsterdam by one of the most respected engravers of the time – Joducus Hondius best known for republishing Gerard Mercator’s ‘Atlas’ in 1604.


Speed readily admitted to ‘borrowing’ from other cartographers or as he reputedly said ‘put his sickle into other men’s corn’.


He died in 1629 and is buried at St Giles-without-Cripplegate church in London, one of the few medieval churches left in the City.