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William Andrewes Bryant
(1799–1878)

William Andrewes Bryant

Andrew Bryant, as he preferred to call himself, was one of the last land surveyors in private practice to endeavour to publish a series of large-scale maps of the English counties, in the face of increasing competition from the Ordnance Survey, the official mapping agency of the British government. It can be no surprise that Bryant failed in his grand scheme; as with many before him, and as with his rivals the Greenwoods, he simply did not have the resources, or the necessary income from his work, to continue the project to completion. That said, he managed to publish 13 maps in the series.

Unfortunately, we know nothing of his early training; his father was a minor landowner who had employed surveyors to map his property, but perhaps he was apprenticed to a land surveyor. However he was taught, he was a remarkable talent. He emerges with a proposal for a large-scale map of Hertfordshire, to be sold by subscription, which includes a lengthy list of patrons already signed up. The map of Hertfordshire duly appeared in 1822. Encouraged by this, he issued proposals to produce an “atlas” of large-scale surveys – ‘The British Atlas, or a Series of Maps of the Counties of England and Wales, made from new surveys’ – listing 44 maps, and quickly set about the task. Surrey was published in 1823, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire in 1824, Buckinghamshire in 1825, Suffolk, Norfolk and Bedfordshire in 1826, but thereafter the pace slacked, with Northamptonshire issued in 1827, Lincolnshire in 1828, the East Riding in 1829, Cheshire in 1831, and then a four year interval until Herefordshire appeared in 1835.

This delay can certainly be attributed to his increasing financial troubles; an action for fraud, in relation to unpaid bills, is mentioned in The Times in 1834; once the county plan of Herefordshire was printed, Bryant ended his interest in mapping and turned to more lucrative pursuits.

Nonetheless, his cartographic legacy is impressive. The engraving, printing, paper and colouring of the 13 large scale county plans are all of high quality, and yet they are appreciably scarcer than the Greenwood maps to which, where comparison is possible, they appear superior in detail and overall accuracy.