Not a great deal is known about Richard Horwood’s life – even his year of birth is not entirely clear, although he is recorded as having been baptized at the church of St Mary in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, on the 26th of March 1758.1 The first surviving evidence of his surveying is a series of plans of Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, a project he conducted for his older brother, Thomas, who was agent to the Hall’s owner, the marquess of Stafford. After this brief appearance, Horwood vanishes from sight for a number of years. Scholars have speculated that he may have worked for the Phoenix Fire Office in London, an institution which later provided him with a loan to support his mapping work, but there is no firm evidence for this. However, it is possible that he is the same Richard Horwood who operated as a dealer in ‘CHINA, Glass, Enamelled, Blue-edged and Queen’s Ware’ from 431 Strand in the 1780s.
A notice of an auction of his stock in The World of the 26th of November 1790 describes this Richard Horwood as a ‘Wholesale and Retail Dealer’; it also states that he is ‘Quitting that Trade, having engaged in a work of great public utility, under the patronage of persons of the first rank and consequence’.2 This date lines up very neatly with the first records of Horwood’s seeking subscribers for his Plan, which might well be the ‘work of great public utility’ the notice describes. Surviving newspaper reports detail the dissolution in the late 1780s of the partnerships in which the china dealer Richard Horwood was involved and a series of bankruptcy proceedings against him in the years immediately after the auction. If the surveyor and the merchant are the same man, this bankruptcy would provide an explanation congruent with other sources which indicate that Horwood’s circumstances while he was making the Plan were often straightened.
The evidence about Horwood’s life while he was creating of the Plan is extremely sketchy, coming mainly from the prospectuses and circulars which he produced to promote it (I discuss some of these on the Horwood’s Plan page). However, the Plan itself contains some interesting records of the frustrations its creator faced. For example, the interior of the Tower of London is not shown; Horwood provides an explanatory note stating that ‘The Internal Parts not distinguished being refused permission to take the Survey’. He also includes an ‘EXPLANATION’ in some convenient fields in the southeast of the Plan which reveals that he was unable to carry out his survey to the standards he had originally hoped. ‘The Public’, he writes, ‘ will observe that there are many Streets &c where the Numbers are omitted, such are either without Numbers, or are so very irregular and frequently changed that they could not with propriety be inserted.’ The realities, complexities and disorders of London thus defeated some of the more grandiose intentions of their cartographer.
However, while Horwood was not able to gather every detail which he had sought to include, the Plan as it stands is a testament to his success at accruing information and at finding ingenious ways of accommodating it. He records that he was successful in negotiating the complicated numberings of ‘the Strand, Fleet Street, Holborn &c’ (a claim which contemporary sources support) and that he was able to solve the problem of buildings which were ‘too small to admit two figures’ by only providing the second number on every tenth house. In many ways, the Plan itself is the principal record of what Horwood’s life was like during the 1790s, evidencing his walking London’s many streets, taking careful notes and surveys; his consulting people of all ranks and stations and gathering written sources in order to confirm names and numbers; his negotiations with printers, engravers and subscribers; and his working painstakingly by sun and candlelight with pencil, compasses and rule in hand to recreate the metropolis in miniature.
The monies Horwood was raising from his considerable body of subscribers were evidently not wholly adequate to pay for the costs which mapping entailed and to cover his own needs, as his January 1798 loan from the Phoenix Fire Office in Lombard Street indicates.3 While he might have hoped that the map would make his fortune, in practice it seems that its production was a continuing struggle. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Horwood had to scale back his ambitions for collecting street numbers; while the resulting Plan is by no means flawless, the fact that it was completed to such a high standard is an astonishing achievement.
One of the few surviving insights into Horwood’s working methods is a letter he wrote in 1800 to the Secretary of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (now most commonly known as the Royal Society of Arts, or RSA):
SOON after the publication of the first part of my Plan of London, a few sheets of it were, by a friend, introduced to the Society from the Encouragement of Arts, &c. and I received a letter from Mr. More, the late Secretary, requiring my attendance at the Society; when I was informed that the Committee had attended to the undertaking in which I was embarked, and were of opinion that it was an arduous one, and highly entitled to the approbation of the Society; but that it was contrary to the rules and establisment [sic] of the Society, to bestow any reward or notice, in any way, on an unfinished production; and that when I had completed it, I was to apply again. In obedience to this direction, I waited on Mr. More a short time before his death, who very politely congratulated me on the occasion, and said he should be happy to bring the subject forward as soon as the Society met. The Work being now finished, I take the liberty of laying it before the Society, and hope that the undertaking will entitle me to a bounty from them and their protection. The execution of it has cost me nine years severe labour and indefatigable perseverance; and these years formed the most valuable part of my life. I took every angle; measured almost every line; and after that, plotted and compared the whole work. The engraving, considering the immense mass of work, is, I flatter myself, well done.
I am, SIR,
Your most obedient Servant,
May 20, 1800.
[To] CHARLES TAYLOR, Esq.4
Since the Society had turned down Horwood’s earlier approaches due to his plan being incomplete, he was keen to assert the scale of his achievement; considering the astonishing detail of the finished plan, his claims to indefatigably seem pretty reasonable, particularly since his account indicates that he had relatively little help from other surveyors. That the ‘immense mass’ of the Plan is principally the work of a single man is one of its many impressive attributes.
After numerous cavils and deliberations, the Society of Arts eventually awarded Horwood a grant of fifty guineas on the 30th of April 1803 in recognition of his map’s ‘very extensive scale’ . By this time, Horwood was living in Liverpool, where he completed a six-sheet plan of the city on a similar model to his London plan in July 1803. The Liverpool plan had 760 subscribers, quite a high number proportionally, considering that the London plan only had just under nine hundred in 1795.5 However, his plan of Liverpool was Horwood’s last major cartographic feat; he died on the 3rd of October 1803 and was buried in the graveyard of Toxteth Chapel.
- Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Horwood, Richard (1757/8–1803)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/52774>.
- ‘Sales by Auction’, The World, 26 November 1790, 4.
- Paul Laxton, ‘Introduction’ to The A-Z of Regency London (London: London Topographical Society, 1985), pp. v-xiv (p. vi).
- Transactions of the Society Instituted at London for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Vol. 21 (London: C. Spilsbury for the Society, 1803), pp. 311-13.
- Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Richard Horwood’s Map of London: 18th century cartography and the Society of Arts’, RSA Journal, Vol. 142 No. 5455 (December 1994), 49-51 (p. 50).