Towards the end of the 18th century and the dawn of the 19th there were literally thousands engaged in the printing and allied trades in London. Many printers were also publishers, many engravers worked for multiple employers and the book printing, binding and retail trades were rapidly expanding. The area between Holborn in the north and the Strand in the south was littered with businesses engaged in publishing in one form or another. It is not surprising then that many people shared the same family name, but the number of Cookes, and specifically J Cook(e) made it difficult to identify a single person. The BBTI[1] has almost 65 entries for Cook or Cooke, with 9 entries for J (or I) Cook/e in London and one each in Plymouth and Exeter for this period. These included printers, booksellers, publishers, compositors, bookbinders, engraver/etcher, even paper-hanger and rag merchant. Ian Maxted[2], well-known and respected for his work on the printing trades in both London and the west country had 24 Cookes including 5 with the name John Cook/e. Consequently, for a long time, John Cooke (1765-1845) was overlooked or thought to have only produced a handful of cartographic works[3].

Cooke was known to have engraved maps, and although one could whittle the numbers down by concentrating on a possible engraver who executed maps, the search was still not straight forward. One of the most influential works on the mapmaking trade in the 1990s was Ronald Vere Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers[4] and he had almost 20 entries for Cooke, and many of them active in the 1800s.

Mapmaking and the publishing of geographic works was a thriving trade, with London at its centre, and there happened to be a father and son partnership, John and Charles Cooke, printing and publishing works, including cartographic, which were very popular in their time. 

Fig. 1. The Practice of Ropemaking from The Elements And Practice Of Rigging And Seamanship. One of John Cooke´s plates for David Steel (1796).

Tooley’s very first entry listed the father John (1731-1810) and his son and successor Charles Cooke (1750-1816). The elder Cooke was listed as Engraver, draughtsman, and publisher of London and this was followed by four London addresses and a list of five entries signifying works he had been engaged on, including the Universal Atlas. Charles was listed as Publisher of No.17 Paternoster Row and two of the popular works he was involved in. Published works (of a cartographic nature) attributed to Charles included George Alexander Cooke’s (but not, in fact, related) The Modern British Traveller (1802-1810) and the Topography of Great Britain.

Immensely popular, G A Cooke´s work was published in 47 parts and appeared in 25 volumes, mostly as counties with title Topography of [county], and these were often bound together to suit customer´s requirements; the set forming The Modern British Traveller otherwise known as the British Traveller´s Directory. It was Charles Cooke who published the first issues, but later editions appeared to 1824 under other publishers. G A Cooke´s entry also included his Universal Geography of 1802. All of these works were very successful and possibly contributed to the confusion. John Cooke, the father, was credited with the Universal Atlas (1802 and 1804) by Thomas Smith; and George Alexander with the Universal System of Geography, two works with very similar titles.

To be fair, R V Tooley actually had a total of three John Cookes: the father of Charles noted above[5]; another John Cooke as Engraver in Hendon, London (but a note to compare with father and son) mentioned for one map of Hispaniola of 1796; and a further John as Engraver and geographer in Plymouth with five works listed including four maps/charts of Plymouth and a plan of Plymouth Breakwater between 1820 and 1834. Today we can ascribe all four of the addresses listed as well as the works noted for John (father) to John Cooke of Hendon and Plymouth, i.e. the John Cooke responsible for the Hispaniola map of 1796 was also responsible for the maps and charts produced in Plymouth from 1820. Furthermore, John Cooke was responsible for all the maps included in the Universal Atlas of 1802-04 with text written by Thomas Smith. Since identifying the real John Cooke, many more of his works have come to light, including much material which is not of a cartographic nature. This short work is dedicated to John Cooke and his work, in the hope his cartographic output can be better appreciated.


Fig. 2. The Practice of Sail making from The Elements And Practice Of Rigging And Seamanship. One of John Cooke´s plates for David Steel (1796).

NOTES to Confusion

[1] The British Book Trade Index is a collection of references covering all persons in the book trade. It is available on-line via the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

[2] See Ian Maxted´s excellent work on the book trade. Three lists are amalgamated into the BBTI. Maxted, Ian, The London Book Trades, 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members (Folkestone, 1977); Maxted, Ian, The London Book Trades, 1735-1775: a checklist of members in trade directories and in Musgrave's 'Obituary' (Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History No.3, 1984); and Maxted, Ian, The Devon Book Trades: a biographical dictionary (Exeter Working Paper No. 7).

[3] Even in December 2023, the National Maritime Museum attributed two maps to John William Cooke.

[4] Tooley´s Dictionary of Mapmakers Vol. I; Map Collector Publications;1979; p.295.

[5] John Cooke published Nathaniel Spencer´s The Complete British Traveller in 1771 with An Accurate Map of Great Britain, from his premises at Shakespear´s Head in Pater-Noster-Row. See, for example, Bennett, Francis; The Road-Books … of Great Britain; Short Run Press Ltd; Exeter; 2007.

Links to further sections of I - London

Links to section II - Plymouth. 

Stonehouse (1813-1845) 

Napoleon and Cooke´s first Plymouth engravings 

The Copper-Plate Engraving, and Printing Office (1815-21)

John Cooke of Union Street, Stonehouse (1823-1845)


Return to Introduction

Link to IV: Short List of John Cooke's works.


Popular posts from this blog