John Rocque is one of the most important figures in the renaissance of English cartography in the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century. The leading mapmakers active in the first quarter had passed away and their plates passed to publishers content to simply recycle existing materials. This is all the more ironic as Rocque was of French origin, a Huguenot exile, who probably came to London from Geneva in about 1728.
Rocque’s first publications were elaborate plans of the parks and estates of the monarchy and gentry; these were vanity publications, which survive in small numbers, but they served as a important introduction to wealthy patrons. He followed this with a series of important plans of English cities and towns. As with the estate plans, he was benefitting from the growing wealth in England after the War of the Spanish Succession.
The most important of his town plans are his pair of London, the first ‘An Exact Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, with the Country near Ten Miles Round’, published on twenty-four sheets in 1746, and ‘Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark’, on 16 sheets, published by John Pine and John Tinney in 1746. The expense of the two surveys had proved beyond Rocque’s means and he lost control of the plates for the plan of London.
These were the first great delineations of London in eighteenth century and remained unsurpassed until the appearance of the Horwood survey in 1799. Using the survey work, Rocque also produced reduced versions for sale to those unable to afford the wall map versions. Proud of his adopted home, Rocque also published several plans of Paris and others of Berlin and Rome, to show the relative extent of London, the largest city in Europe.
Having completed the London surveys, he turned to large-scale county surveys, which nearly proved his undoing; he published a four-sheet map of Shropshire in 1752, and four sheet map of Middlesex in 1754, but his survey of Berkshire, commenced in 1752 appeared only in 1761. It seems likely that financial troubles forced him to accept a commission from the Earl of Kildare to do some survey work in Ireland, out of which arose several manuscript survey books, and printed plans of Dublin and its environs at various different sizes, as well as other town plans and county maps.
On his return from Dublin, the Seven Years’ War was in full swing and Rocque published a number of important maps and plans to illustrate the theatres of war, battle-plans, town plans and the like to inform the British public.
Shortly before his death he published a catalogue of his extensive stock, with several items not known; he was succeeded by his wife, Mary-Anne, who continued to publish his materials, including ‘A Set of Plans and Forts in America. Reduced from Actual Surveys’ (1763), ‘A General Map Of North America’ (1764) and the large-scale map of Surrey in 1768.