John Rocque

John Rocque (properly Jean) was a French Huguenot émigré, one of four children (including three brothers), who seems to have settled in London by about 1709, presumably brought there by his parents.  There is little record of his early life.  Varley notes an entry on the Oath Roll Naturalisations in 1709 for one 'John Rocque (Rocques)', but it is more plausible that it could be John's father, as Varley suggests John was only about five at this time (1).

In 1728, 'Jean Rocque' was godfather to Jean, son of François Vivares, a French engraver, also settled in England.  As Vivares was subsequently employed to engrave views for John Rocque, this identification seems more certain.  At the time John was married to Marthe   Subsequently, in 1751, he married Ann (Mary-Ann) Bew, who continued the business after his death.

John worked as a surveyor, engraver, mapmaker, map-seller and publisher, first from 'The Canister and Sugar Loaf', in Great Windmill Street, Soho, an area popular with French emigrants.  He later moved to 'Hyde Park Road', a section of Piccadilly, in  those days on the outskirts of London, before moving, in 1750, to larger and more central premises, first in Whitehall, and then in the Strand.  A list of addresses from which he and his widow operated is given in Appendix I.

In the early stage of his career, John worked in conjunction with his brother Bartholomew (I), a landscape gardener, although the brothers maintained separate business premises.  At the time there was considerable interest among the monarchy and aristocracy in elaborate formal gardens, and it is to be presumed that Bartholomew was employed, in some fashion, in this field.  In his earliest plans, John described himself as a 'dessinateur des jardins', possibly working with the landscape gardener to sketch out proposed designs to be submitted to the employer, and then preparing a plan of the finished work.

It is interesting that the area of 'Hyde Park Road' that he lived in was noted as a centre for dealers in garden statuary, fountains and so on - and this shows further evidence of Rocque's connection with allied professions.  Rocque described himself as living next door to the 'Duke of Grafton's Head', the statuary yard occupied by John Cheere.

Their nephew, Bartholomew (II) (b.1720) was an engraver, who spent much of his life in Germany, working in Mannheim.  Two early maps published by John Rocque are signed B. Rocque, one as surveyor and publisher, the other as engraver, the first presumably the work of Bartholomew (I), the second possibly of Bartholomew (II)?


As has been said, Rocque's earliest published maps were plans of gardens or estates, including properties owned by the crown and some of the leading nobles in Britain.  His first, published by John Bowles in 1734, was of Richmond Gardens, now the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.  Subsequently, he produced fine plans of Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Kew Gardens, Sion House, Chiswick House, and so on, issued under his own imprint.  These plans give a clear indication of his working methods.  Each is dedicated to an influential or wealthy figure, and the implication is that each figure "honoured" in this way would reward Rocque financially not only for the work itself, but also for the prestige it brought.

One explanation for his approach was that map publishing in England at this period was a very problematic business.  Too often, mapmakers found that the costs of  original survey work could not be recouped by sales of the published piece.  The Crown and aristocracy, however, were often willing to underwrite the expense of such surveys.

It was thus that Rocque principally occupied himself between 1734 and 1743.  While these plans are eloquent testimony to his abilities as a mapmaker and engraver, as a corpus they would have secured him only a minor position in the history of the map-trade in England.  However, as his career progressed, and his connections expanded, Rocque branched out into a new field - the surveying of English towns.  It was readily apparent that the individual towns of England were poorly mapped, not least London itself.  Seizing the opportunity, Rocque commenced preparation of a series of large-scale plans of cities of England and Ireland.  In the same way that he capitalised on individual pride for his estate plans, he was able to call on burgeoning civic and local pride for assistance and support in preparing these large-scale plans. Such help was often rewarded in the dedication to the map or in lists of subscribers issued with the plan as can be seen in the dedication to his plan of Bristol, for example, with the accompanying arms of he merchant companies of the city.

In 1737, Rocque embarked upon a survey of London, in conjunction with John Pine, although the scale of the project meant that the survey work was not completed until 1744.  In the interval, he published a four-sheet plan of Bath (1743), in association with a local bookseller Benjamin Hickey, who may have commissioned the survey, an elaborate two-sheet plan of Exeter, 1744, and in 1746 a plan of Shrewsbury.

However, Rocque's previous work could hardly have been sufficient preparation for surveying London.  The evident difficulties he had in the survey work, and attendant delays, coupled with his ambitious survey programme of other towns seems to over-extended his limited financial resources.  When the map was finally published in October 1746, on 24 sheets, it was issued under the joint imprint of John Pine and the bookseller and publisher, John Tinney, the implication being that Rocque's share-holding in the plan had passed to Tinney.  Rocque's role was presumably reduced to completing the survey work and revising the plates ready for press, as an employee of the publishers.

However, Rocque's financial problems, if that should be the case, seem to have short-lived as he published a 16-sheet map of the environs of London in 1746, from survey work done between 1741 and 1745.

These two survey works seem to have given a considerable boost to Rocque's fortunes. In 1751 he was appointed Chorographer to the Prince of Wales, while in 1750 he moved to more central, and larger premises, in Whitehall, next to a tavern, called 'The Rummer.'  The tavern is depicted in William Hogarth's engraving 'Night', from his set of four 'Times Of The Day'.  However, Hogarth has used artistic licence, transposing left and right, and making Whitehall considerably narrower.


However, on the night of November 7th 1750, disaster struck, as the General Advertiser records:

"On Wednesday night between 11 and 12 o'clock, a fire broke out in the house of Mr. Rocque, a draughtsman and printseller, next door to the Rummer tavern Charing Cross, which burn't with great violence, and, in a short time, entirely consumed that house, together with the Rummer, a silversmith's shop, a haberdasher's, and a linen drapers, and did considerable damage to others adjoyning ..."

Rocque was undaunted, as an announcement in the London Daily Advertiser, for June 18th 1751 shows:

"John Rocque, Chorographer and topographer to their Royal Highnesses the late and present Prince of Wales, being returned from Paris where he had lately been obliged to renew his stock consumed in the Fire at Charing Cross, begs leave to acquaint his subscribers to the County of Salop, that the plates of that Survey are again in hand, and in good forwardness, and likewise his subscribers to the Counties of Berks, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, that the actual survey of them is carrying on with all possible care and with such expedition that he hopes by the ensuing winter to produce something for the general satisfaction, both of the said subscribers, and others who may be disposed to favour him in like manner.

N.B. He lives at the corner of Buckingham St. in the Strand, and, as usual, undertakes the land-surveying and planning of gentleman's estates. He has a great choice of foreign maps, plans, battles, sieges, &c. newly imported, likewise plans of Nimes and Montpelier."

In a letter of 1753 to his nephew, Bartholomew (II)), who was in Mannheim, John Rocque noted that he employed ten foreigners, "as many draughtsman as engravers", in his workshop, although he bemoaned the fact that "I have been and am still unfortunate in the foreigners whom I employ" (2).  The names of some of these engravers can be seen on Rocque's maps and views, including Moreau, Aveline, L'Empereur, Chatelain, Deharme, le Parmentier, and J.J Perret.

Two other engravers associated with Rocque are Robert Benning and Peter Andrews.  Varley suggests that Benning was a foreigner, and it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that 'Andrews' was one and the same as Pierre (Peter) André.  Andrews worked for Mary Ann Rocque, engraving some of the maps in the  'Plans And Forts In America, issued in 1763.  When Mary Ann Rocque left business, apparently in 1770, Andrews seems to disappear, while the surveyor, Peter André emerges.  As Rocque's will was witnessed by André, the coincidence seems too great.  A further associate of the family was Andrew Dury, also apparently of French Huguenot extraction.  Dury seems to have played an important role in assisting Mary Ann Rocque continue her husband's business, as well as publishing Rocque's 'Set Of Plans And Harbours ...'

Rocque also employed, or worked with, a number of English engravers, including John Pine, Richard Parr, Isaac Basire (I), Richard William Seale and R. White.

The third phase of Rocque's career was the publication of a small number of large scale maps of the English counties, including Shropshire, Berkshire, Middlesex and Surrey, the latter published posthumously.


While clearly a man of only relatively modest means, as shown by his will for example, his business must have been very successful.  Rocque was one of the only English mapmakers financing original survey work on this scale to escape bankruptcy - an all too common feature of the English map-trade.  Thomas Jefferys Sr. who picked up Rocque's mantle, went bankrupt once, and struggled for much of the latter part of his career.  It would seem that the diversity of his output, coupled with him selling up-to-date maps produced by continental and English counterparts, such as Edward Oakley, may have given him an edge over established firms of print and map-sellers, who relied heavily on re-publishing out-dated materials.

It is hard to understate Rocque's importance.  While other mapmakers had issued such large-scale maps before, no individual had attempted such a broad range.  Perhaps more importantly, Rocque began work at a time when English mapmaking was at a low ebb, with much of the material being published being long out of date.  His work made an enormous contribution to the impetus for what has been termed the "Remapping of England".

Noteworthy features of his maps are the much improved, and broadened range of conventional signs that he employed within the maps.

The modern audience is fortunate that Rocque worked at the time that he did.  While surveying techniques were becoming more modern, public taste of the period insisted on the inclusion of depictions of the principal buildings.  This combination of cartographic and pictorial elements led to the creation of some of the finest plans of English towns ever published.


(1) John Varley, 'John Rocque. Engraver, Surveyor, Cartographer and Map-seller', IM V  (Reprint edition, Amsterdam: Nico Israel, 1965), p.84.

(2) Do., p.85 & p. 86, n.(15).

Appendix: Rocque's addresses

1736-1743 At Ye Green Canister And Sugar Loaf In Great Windmill, S.t James

1743-1749 Next Y.e Duke Of Grafton's Head, Hide Park Corner / In Hide Park Road / Hyde Park Row

1749-1750 Next The Rummer, Charing Cross (the building was destroyed by fire)

1750-1751 At The Corner Of Buckingham Street In The Strand  (a temporary address)

1751-1753 Next The Barr, In Southampton-Street, Covent Garden

1753-1762 Near Old Round Court In The Strand (this address was taken over by his widow)

1754-1754 At His Lodgings At The Golden Heart Opposite Grace Lane, Dame Street, Dublin (a temporary address, while Rocque was working in Ireland).