II. Plymouth


The first guide book to any of the Three Towns is generally regarded as being The Picture of Plymouth; the text of this guide is credited to Henry Woollcombe (1778-1847), a local Plymouth resident and Attorney at Law of Frankfort Street, who founded the Plymouth Athenaeum and became Mayor of Plymouth (1813).[1] This guide was first issued by Rees and Curtis and contained one small map, The Town of Plymouth Dock 1811 (20) signed by John Cooke as engraver. There was no immediate reason to think John Cooke was local as the book was also sold by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, a well-known London group of publishers and booksellers. With much expanded and revised text this was reissued as the Tourist's Companion (published by Granville & Son of Plymouth-Dock) with Cooke’s map and a second map in 1823 and 1828 (20). Significantly, for the second issue the date (1811) was deleted but New Road Stonehouse Plymo was added to Cooke’s signature. This now linked Cooke with Plymouth and New Road and identified the engraver of the 1811 map with Plymouth.

Over the next five years we have an absence of any signed work of Cooke but, as stated earlier, there is some evidence that John Cooke married Elizabeth Beecham in 1809. From 1813 we find a married couple of this name in Stonehouse, Plymouth. The couple do not seem to have been regular church goers as the baptisms of their children often took place years after birth. The registers of baptisms record that James Cooke was baptised in September 1813 (recorded in St Andrew, Plymouth) to John and Elizabeth Cooke with a note “said to be born December 25th 1812” and Edward Cooke was “said to be born in 1814” (recorded in St Andrew, Plymouth in February 1816). The parents´ address is simply recorded as Stonehouse.[2] According to The Plymouth, Plymouth Dock and Stonehouse General Directory of 1814 Cooke, J, Engraver and Copperplate Printer was resident in Fore Street, opposite the Royal Navy Hospital. Further children of John and Elizabeth were baptised together in April 1827; John Cooke (born 1821), Henry (1823) and William (1825). A further son, Charles, was born 23rd March 1830 but not baptised until 24th September of the same year.

Edward became a midshipman in the Royal Navy and married Charlotte Valentine in Stepney, Middlesex in November 1838. In the 1841 census he was resident at St Vincent Street in Stepney with his wife and daughter (Charlotte age 1) and William, aged 15. Although his age is given as 25 (he would be 27) William at 15 could be his brother. In the 1861 census Edward is listed as “Born Plymouth, Devon”.

The next two works signed by John Cooke clearly link him with Devon: … this view of Falmouth Harbour ... in C S Gilbert´s Survey of the County of Cornwall published at [Plymouth] Dock by J Congdon in 1817 (23); and a plan in Substance of a Statement ... concerning ... a Rail Road from the Forest of Dartmoor to the Plymouth Lime-Quarries of 1819 (24) and presented by Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt who was instrumental in the construction of the prisoner-of-war camp, popularly known as Dartmoor Prison. Both maps are signed by John Cooke with address Stonehouse, Plymo. In addition, three plates in the former work are signed by Cooke in Stonehouse.

Thomas Tyrwhitt was a colourful figure. He was born in Essex, went to Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford but had a long relationship with Dartmoor. He became private secretary to the Prince of Wales where he probably came into contact with Dartmoor as part of the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall. He became MP for Okehampton in 1796 (until 1802) and bought a farm, which he named Tor Royal, and grew high quality flax. He had several roads built across Dartmoor at this time as well as the hamlet of Prince´s Town, named in honour of his previous employer. He laid the foundation stone of the prisoner-of-war prison buildings on March 20th 1806 and first French and later, American, prisoners-of-war were housed there. That year he became MP for Plymouth. Knighted in 1812 he was forced to amend his plans when the prison emptied. In order to encourage the continued use of the buildings as well as provide better connections to his personal village he invested much energy in proposing the construction of a railway from Plymouth to Princetown[3]. The plan drawn for the proposals showed the Line of intended rail road as laid from prison of war to Plymouth Harbour and lime rocks at Catwater

This connection with Dartmoor is interesting at another level: We seem to have a lack of work over a five year period. Assuming the first map mentioned above was, in fact, copy-work, then the only plan executed during this period was the two-sheet railway plan. The railway as designed consisted of an inclined plane, nine feet broad, bounded throughout its whole length, on each side, by grooved slips of iron, which are fitted to receive the car or wagon passing over them. Tyrwhitt´s report is in fact an advertisement for parliamentary permission and summarises all the advantages such a rail road could bring to the area. One passage refers specifically to the plan: The accompanying plan of the line of road is by one of the gentlemen employed on that magnificent work, the Plymouth Breakwater, who has taken the levels with all possible accuracy, and, on the execution of the measure, will be permitted to dedicate his leisure hours to the superintendence of the undertaking (p.27). Reference is made to the plan again under the heading Benefits: The plan, annexed to this pamphlet, is founded on actual surveys, taken by a gentleman, whose skill has been manifested in various important works, and whose capability of performing whatever he undertakes is guaranteed by his long experience. These two comments are probably not about John Cooke, but possibly refer to Mr William Stuart[4] who was superintendent of the Plymouth breakwater project at that time. But it does provide a tantalising link to the breakwater.

A detailed map of the Borough of Plymouth was issued in 1820 (25). The engraver’s signature is that of John Cooke and the imprint is: Pubd April 15. 1820. by Mrs E Nile, No. 48 Union St, Stonehouse. There is a dedication on a tablet in a vignette to the Mayor, commonalty and inhabitants from John Cooke. Whether John Cooke received permission to do this, or whether it was a means to attract official consent, is not known but this is not the only map to have, or to seek, public support. In the same year the first edition of Cooke´s Plan of the Towns and Harbour of Plymouth, Stonehouse, Dock also appeared (26).

These last two maps indicate that Cooke may have been active for Mrs Nile up to three years earlier. The Borough plan has a line below the imprint: Engraving & Copper-Plate Printing Office and the premises are marked with an asterisk on Union Street (the map has even been extended into the border to include it). The Plan has a comprehensive key and the Copper Plate Print. Off. is shown in Stonehouse as reference h, again in Union Street. A further chart is known (22), Chart of the Harbour of Plymouth - Taken 1817; although not signed it does have the imprint of The Copper Plate Engraving and Printing Office. Although a better executed plan of the Sound it does resemble the map of the area included with the Interesting Particulars in 1821. This chart has been ascribed to Cooke in the listing. It may well have been by another hand and could have been copied from another chart: significant features are the aids to sailors such as sight lines and notable points such as Tor House, situated on a slight rise and visible from out to sea.

Shortly after, Cooke´s first plan of the Plymouth Breakwater appeared. This engineering project attracted a lot of attention around this time and many works relating to it were published. The Interesting Particulars, relative to that Great National Undertaking, the Breakwater was printed for, and sold by J Johns at Plymouth Dock and John Cooke of Union Street, Stonehouse in 1821. This booklet contains two cartographic works: Cooke’s Guide to Plymouth Sound and Breakwater (27), a small map covering the area from Ram Head and Mew Stone and the course of the river as far as Tor Point with an extra plan below the bottom border - Transverse section of the Breakwater. The imprint is that of Mrs E Nile, again at the address of 48, Union Street. The second work is another fairly detailed engraving of two plans of the proposed breakwater at Plymouth (28). The upper plan: PLYMOUTH BREAKWATER. When finished has John’s signature. The lower plan: Transverse section of the Breakwater as finish' has Mrs Nile’s imprint.

In 1815 there had been a tentative link between Mrs Nile and John Cooke with the announcement of a new edition of the Synopsis. In 1820 we have three maps with the imprint of Mrs Nile, and all of them associated with John Cooke, and we have a chart of 1817 produced by the Copper Plate Engraving and Printing Office at 48 Union Street which she seems to have owned and which bears the hallmarks of a Cooke plan. In 1823 another plan of the breakwater was published (30), Cookes Plymouth Breakwater showing view from above and transverse. This plan has Cooke´s address as 48 Union Street for the first time.


Fig. 8. Print of the Royal Hotel and Plymouth Theatre

Apart from his maps and charts, not many other engraved works by Cooke have been discovered after his move to Plymouth. A dedicatory coat of arms and two (of 25) pages of arms are signed by Cooke in Gilbert´s Cornish history (23). Somers Cocks[5] lists a J Cooke only for a print of the Royal Hotel and Plymouth Theatre designed by John Foulston (1772-1841) and completed 1818. This was published and sold separately, has Cooke´s address as 48 Union Street (Mrs Nile’s address!) and is tentatively dated to 1820 (Fig.8.). In 1810 Foulston won a competition to design the buildings. He moved to Plymouth and went on to design and construct many important buildings. The Royal Hotel and Theatre building, and also the neighbouring Athenaeum, were completed circa 1818.

In 1819 and 1821 Cooke completed two orders for a local printer and publisher, William Byers. The first was a plan of Mount Edgcumbe Park (24A) and grounds to be included in a new edition (7th) of the guidebook of the gardens, A Walk Round Mount Edgcumbe. The park was a popular sightseeing spot for well-to-do visitors to the area. The second illustration is the only example of an aquatint executed by Cooke. William Welch of Stonehouse, possibly the Fire Insurance Agent living in Durnford Street (Pigot 1822-23), wrote Religiosa Philosophia which was printed by the author by Byers and sold by a number of agents in 1821. This included a frontispiece with a textfrom Genisis 1st Chap ver. 7th [sic]: And God made the Firmament, and divided the waters / which were under the Firmament, from the waters  / which were above the Firmament : and it was so. The 4to image shows the Firmament surrounding the world as a set of clouds. This is signed: Aqua Tint by John Cooke Stonehouse.

The only entry identifying Cooke as a lithographer - Cooke, - (lith) - is found in one small illustration in Sanford’s editions of The Tourist’s Companion already mentioned. This particular edition appeared in 1828 and 1830[6] and included a small engraving of Stoke Church, Devonport. The signatures are A. Rae delt and Cooke Stonehouse (Fig.9.). Stoke Church is often given special inclusion in Cooke´s plans and is actually drawn in, as opposed to being named.



Fig. 9. Stoke Church:

from Plan of 1820 (left); and from editions of The Stranger’s Guide (right).

 In 1825 a curious broadside was published. The single page broadsheet (Fig.9.) was published by John Cooke again from 48 Union Street, in December 1825. This was a page of text, illustrated with an engraving showing a balloon landing in the sea between Stokehead and Yealm Point, near Plymouth, Devon. George and Margaret Graham were already well-known and accomplished balloonists when they made a tour of the westcountry in 1824. An advertising announcement in The Alfred of August 31st apologises for failed ascents by Mr Graham in Exeter the previous Tuesday and also in Taunton shortly before and promising to fly his balloon in Exeter on 7th September of that year. Generously one third of receipts were to go to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. (Fig.10.)

Fig. 10. The Alfred August 31st 1824. Note the balloon announcement[7].

 Possibly on another westcountry tour they stopped in Plymouth where they attempted a balloon ascent from Stonehouse market in Plymouth on Monday 14th November 1825. However, a series of pilot balloons released prior to the ascent were all carried out to sea by a strong southerly wind, but despite the risks, the couple set off at 3pm in front of a crowd of 50,000. Sure enough, the balloon was dragged seaward by the wind and came down in the sea only 14 minutes later. After 25 minutes the couple were rescued by a Royal Marine boat and returned to shore, but the balloon was lost, last seen rising from the waters and sailing out to France never to be seen again.

Although no more engravings are extant, a number of other maps are known. The Panorama of Plymouth written by Samuel Rowe contained a Map Of The Country Twelve Miles Round Plymouth (29). It is a fairly simple sketch map of the surrounding area.

In October 1824 Cooke’s Chart of Plymouth Sound, and General Guide to Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse appeared (31) and Cooke is once again late engraver to the Admiralty. This map bears a dedication: Under the Patronage of the Chamber of Commerce, Plymouth. When one compares this to the Chart ... Taken 1817 one is again struck by the similarities. There are numerous aids to mariners such as copious soundings in every navigable channel, sight lines to aid vessels on their way in, all buoys are clearly marked, and Tor House is not only shown but also has its own vignette. This building would have been clearly visible out to sea and would assist a Captain in his or her[8] approach.


Fig. 11. George and Margaret Graham´s balloon landing in the sea between Stokehead and Yealm Point, near Plymouth, Devon on Monday 14th November 1825[9].

Perhaps John Cooke’s most republished map was The Environs Of Plymouth Devonport And Stone House (33). The map was completed on 4 plates but could be (and later was) assembled to form one map and this was first published in Stonehouse by John Cooke circa 1828, it was reissued several times by William Wood of Devonport from circa 1850 in various publications includinga guide book, Rambles About Plymouth, as a folding map in covers (various titles) and in issues of the Three Towns Almanack.

Apparently Cooke attempted to receive patronage for this map in the same way he had obtained it in 1824. A letter from Cooke to the Mayor of Plymouth, September 1828 has been preserved and in it Cooke appeals for support: To the Chief Magistrate I take the liberty to send you one of my Proposals, at the same time beg to ask the favor of your name, and patronage of the commonalty to be printed on the upper part of it being the wish of several gentlemen of the corporation, in consequence of which I have drawn up the enclosed proposal for your inspection and will be happy of the Honor of your acquesience (sic) to the same, as the price of my subscription must be considered moderate, depending on the greater number to pay the expence, will be happy of the Name of any Gentlemen who may honor me in addition to those highly respected Gentlemen who have placed their names on my list. Signed by Cooke, it accompanied a sheet of proposals for a map that will be engraved on four Plates, to adjoin each other, either to be fitted up as one, or formed into pages for the Pocket or otherwise. It is not clear whether Cooke received the desired effect; the only copy known in four sheets has no dedication but the proposals are Under the Patronage of the Mayor and Commonalty.[10] The Lord Mayor would have been Capt. R Pridham who was mayor 1827-28. According to the Naval Biographical Dictionary he was a prisoner of war in France for ten years and then on 23 Sept. 1829, in a severe gale off the Cape of Good Hope, his left arm was broken and his wrist dislocated by a fall on the deck at midnight; and he also experienced severe injury in the head.[11] 

Cooke's Stranger's Guide and Pocket Plan of the Three Towns of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse (32) was published in The Traveller’s Directory, and Stranger's Guide to the Three Towns. The map is embellished with coats of arms of the towns and is dated 1827. This work also includes an updated version of the breakwater plan, Cookes Plymouth Breakwater (Cooke´s address amended to 82, Union Street). Both maps are priced individually, so were presumably on sale as single sheets but the title page of the Directory, however, specifically states that two engravings are included.

The timing of this edition was not arbitrary. We know there was a royal visit to Plymouth and the breakwater: there is a commemorative stone on the breakwater to Prince Wm. Henry, Duke of Clarence, Duchess of Clarence, July 17th 1827. The Traveller’s Directory was published in 1828 and is important for one more reason: on the title page John Cooke is given as Map & Chart Engraver, and Geographer Extraordinary to H.R.H. The Duke of Clarence, Lord High Admiral.


Subsequent to 1827 only three more works are known: Cooke's New Plan Of The Three Towns ..(34).; a map of Dartmoor (35); and another breakwater plan in 1843 (36). While the New Plan, an up-to-date map of the city, is dated 1834, the second map although very detailed is undated: A Map Of The Whole Of The Dartmoor Forest Devon. The engraver´s signature is extremely pertinent: By John Cooke, Engraver and Geographer Extraordinary to his late Majesty in the 75th year of Age. This both testifies to John Cooke´s longevity and reveals that he was still capable of engraving. If born 1765 he would have produced this map in 1840.

So far we have no evidence that his wife worked and certainly none which would reveal her as an engraver. What we have are two documents which point to John marrying again. and two causing us some doubt! On the one hand, there is a marriage entry for 4th March 1834 between John Cooke, listed both as sojouner and as widower, and Elizabeth Nile, sojourner of this parish – St Budeaux. The marriage was witnessed by Richard Nile and Ann Williams. The term sojourner is believed to mean they were not local. From the entry in the 1841 census report we know that John Cooke was resident in Union Lane (sic), East Stonehouse and still registered as engraver in that year. His age is given as 70 (but rounding up and down for census reports is known) and his family comprised Eliza Cooke, 50, also an engraver and John (20) and Charles Cooke (12), both chair-makers. The records show that while John junior and Charles were born in Devon, Eliza and John were not. It is tantalizing to think that if Eliza was also entered as an engraver, could this be the previous Mrs Nile?

On the other hand, John Cooke died on the 11th March, 1845. But John’s death was witnessed by a neighbour, Anne Beer, and not by a wife. In the 1851 census Elizabeth Nile is registered as a widow (born in Devon), age 85, resident in Knackers Knowle in Egg Buckland. A few miles apart St Budeaux and Egg Buckland are not in Stonehouse but they form something of a triangle with sides approximately 5 miles long.

Cooke’s last work, the late plan of the breakwater (36) is the most detailed of Cooke’s plans and is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly it is larger than any other plan and, as before, the engraving is again two plans of the proposed breakwater at Plymouth. The upper plan has title Cooke’s Plymouth Breakwater, and his signature. The lower plan is titled Transverse Section Of The Breakwater. However, it is the bye-line below Cooke’s signature and address that is remarkable - Map & Chart Engraver and Geographer Extraordinary to His late Majesty William IVth – in his 80th year of age.

Why there was a need for a new map of the breakwater in 1843 is uncertain. It might have something to do with the new lighthouse. This was being built and would, in fact, be officially opened on 1st May, 1844 (it is clearly shown in the plan). To celebrate this memorable event a postal coach would be shipped out and spend the afternoon of July 23rd transporting passengers up and down the breakwater.


[1] The Three Towns were Plymouth, Devonport (previously known as Plymouth-Dock) and Stonehouse.

[2] I am grateful to Dr Shirley Atkinson who made copies of all birth registrations and baptisms available. She is a direct descendent of Edward the second son..

[3] Cooke´s Guide to Plymouth Sound and Breakwater (27) has a transverse section plan which also notes that: the first rail was laid to the Plymouth & Dartmoor Rail Road by Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, August 12th, 1819.

[4] Note too, that Stuart´s name crops up on Cooke´s final breakwater plan.

[5] Somers Cocks: Devon Topographical Prints, 1660-1870; Devon Library Services; 1977. See entries 1912, 2157, and SC. 108. There might have been an earlier engraving however. In a letter to Notes & Queries which appeared in the Fourth Series - Volume Sixth of the second half of 1870, Alfred John Dunkin of Belgravia, London claims that he had seen a portrait and signature of Napoleon drawn by Col. Planat a naval officer (on board the Bellerophon) but engraved by John Cooke. Below it was signed Published by T Cooke, Union Street, Stonehouse, Devon, Aug. 15, 1815. It might have appeared in a publication, Moonshine, published by Mrs Potts. If we assume the T should be a J, the signature is still unusual: Cooke never wrote Devon and this is the earliest use of Union Street in his address. Two such portraits have been seen, but neither have this signature.

[6] Somers Cocks lists the 1830 edition published by Colman; however it was also published in 1828 by J Johns in Devonport and Baldwin & Cradock in London.

[7] Kindly provided by Patrick Pollak Rare Books, Brent, Devon, all rights reserved.

[8] See, for example, R. Laurel Seaborn; SEAFARING WOMEN: An Investigation of Material Culture for Potential Archaeological Diagnostics of Women on Nineteenth-Century Sailing Ships; April, 2014; for University of Carolina.

[9] Illustration courtesy of Cabinet UK Ltd, official retailers of images in the British Science Museum collection.

[10] My thanks to the West Devon Record Office for making the letter and proposal available – see entry33.

[11] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Naval_Biographical_Dictionary/Pridham,_Richard.


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