A biography of English cartographer John Cary (1754-1835), maker of county & highway/road maps of Great Britain

John Cary the elder (c. 1754 – 1835) was an English cartographer, engraver, globe maker & publisher. His distinctive map-making style is instantly recognisable. His output included English County maps, sectional maps of England and Wales, the area around London, canal, highway & celestial maps. In the late 18th century, the English road network was becoming ever busier, and Cary’s output fulfilled a growing need for accurate road maps. Although less decorative than some earlier maps, his skills in engraving and craftsmanship produced maps of a high standard, that were also clear and easy for the user to interpret.

He became an apprentice to William Palmer in 1770 as an engraver in London, before setting up his own business at 188 Strand in 1783. His business moved to New Norfolk Street, 181 Strand around 1791, and subsequently with his son George to 86 St James’s Street. He soon gained a reputation for his maps and globes, and his New and Correct English Atlaspublished in 1787, became a standard reference work in England.

He was commissioned by the Postmaster General to produce accurate maps of English highways, and his “Traveller’s Companion” – which contained the so-called Cary miniature county maps – was based on the resulting brand new survey of the English and Welsh turnpike roads, an endeavour in which he was assisted by Aaron Arrowsmith from 1780. The work was extremely popular and was a primary influence in the preliminary work of the Ordinance Survey office, (est. 1791). This particular work was first published in 1790 and continued until 1828. Distances were measured using a four foot wheel connected to a counter, which kept a tally of the number of rotations. This measuring device had to be pushed by hand along all the roads surveyed. It later resulted in Cary’s New Itinerary (1798), a map of all the major roads in England and Wales. He also made Ordnance Survey maps prior to 1805.

In his later life he collaborated on geological maps with the geologist William Smith. His business passed to his sons George Cary and John Cary the younger. It was later taken over by G. F. Cruchley (1822–1875) in 1844, and subsequently by Gall & Inglis. Cary’s plates were used by other publishers well into the 19th century and it is thought that some continued to be used into the 20th century.

Click here for our full current catalogue of Cary’s maps

His major works are listed below (with links to current stock):