button to main menu  The Society of Arts Premiums for County Maps

Reward for Accurate Surveys

22 March 1754 a group of noblemen, clergy, gentlemen and merchants met at Rathwell's coffee house, 25 Henrietta Street, London, to form:-
The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
which has been known since 1847 as the:-
Royal Society of Arts
In September 1755 one of the society's founder members, Henry Baker, had a letter from his friend the Rev William Borlase, who was rector of Ludgvan and vicar of St Just, Cornwall:-
I would submit to you as a Friend whether the State of British Geography be not very low, and at present wholly destitute of any public encouragement. Our maps of England and its counties are extremely defective ... if among your premiums for Drawings some reward were offered for the best Plan, Measurement and Actual Survey of City or District, it might move the Attention of the Public towards Geography, and in time, perhaps, incline the Administration to take this matter into their Hands (as I am informed it does in some foreign Countries) and employ proper Persons every year, from actual Surveys, to make accurate Maps of Districts, till the whole island is regularly surveyed.
The society agreed this would be a good thing, but delayed to see if the government would cooperate, or at least pay attention to the matter. This didn't happen, and in 1759 the society itself resolved:-
a Premium be given for an actual survey of a county or counties
Their advertisement, later, stipulated that:-
if any Person or Persons do propose to make such a Survey they are desired to signify their particular intentions on or before ye 2nd Wednesday in November next
Several proposals were received and judged not good enough. It seems clear that the society was not yet sure exactly what it wanted, it was being very careful, wanting to ensure truly useful results. In due course they provided more exact information of their requirements; the work should be:-
an accurate trigonometrical survey ... the horizontal distances of all places in the map to be taken with the theodolite or plain table and the roads to be measured witha Perambulator and noted won in figures; the courses and bearings of all the principal rivers to be correctly taken ... the sea coasts of all the maritime counties accurately laid down together with their latitudes and longitudes ...
They later added that the rule to use:-
Theodolite or Plain Table ... was to guard against taking the angles by the circumferentor or such uncertain instruments, ...
The first successful candidate for the premium, which was a prize of L100, was Benjamin Donn, Barnstaple, for his one inch map of Devon, published 1765. While the prize was only a small proportion of the costs of the survey, his being accepted as a candidate by the society would have made it much easier to get subscribers to his project.


Ravenhill, W L D: 1965: Benjamin Donn, a Map of the County of Devon (introduction): Devon and Cornwall Record Society & University of Exeter

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