PLAN of the CITY of NEW YORK, in North America : Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767 / B. Ratzer, Lieut.t in His Majestys 60th or Royal American Reg.t. Bernard Ratzer, cartographer., London : Publish'd according to Act of Parliament, Jan.y 12. 1776 by Jefferys & Faden, Corner of St. Martins Lane, Charing Cross, Jan.y 12. 1776., Maps 1.Tab.44.

The baroque city: town plans of the 18th century

James Elliot explores 18th-century plans of European and English cities to reveal how urban cartography and urban design developed over the century.

The town plans of the 18th century reveal developments in urban cartography and reflect the new urban forms that were emerging. In Europe, increasingly powerful and centralised governments had the resources necessary to impress themselves physically on the design of the city. Berlin, for example, had been a major European capital since 1709, when the new suburbs of Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt were joined up with the historic core of Berlin-Kölln. King Frederick William I of Prussia (1713–40) enlarged the army and made the city a major garrison, its great new squares and avenues serving as urban parade-grounds for a military establishment which by 1740 comprised almost one quarter of the 90,000 inhabitants. One map of the city was delineated by Matthäus Seutter in about 1720, a date suggested by the presence on the map of the newly built Quarre Market and Rondel Market. Seutter, pupil of Homann and geographer to the Holy Roman Emperor, produced numerous atlases, maps, globes as well as plans of over 90 towns and cities in northern and central Europe. All of them incorporated a prospect and an elaborate cartouche, which in the case of Berlin carried a portrait of Frederick William.

A plan of Berlin

Matthäus Seutter, Berlin (Augsburg: M. Seutter, c. 1720). Maps 29720.(2).

Matthäus Seutter's colour-coded map and prospect emphasises the military aspect of the new city of Berlin

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

Smaller in scale, but even more dramatic in concept, was the city of Karlsruhe, founded in 1715 by the Margrave Karl Wilhelm of Baden Durlach. Although Karlsruhe was originally intended only as a palace in the Harzwald, the Margrave’s ideal for a new Residenzstadt (capital) resulted in a perfect specimen of the formal and geometric town planning of the age. Blending contemporary principles of landscape gardening with the ideas of the Italian military engineers demonstrated by Braun & Hogenberg’s map-view of Palmanova, the palace acted as a focus for 32 radiating streets within a concentric boulevard. Nine of the streets, to the south of the palace, made up the area of the new town, with the major commercial artery, the Langestrasse, formed by another street tangential to the circle. The plan of 1737 was drawn by a military surveyor, Johann Jacob Baumeister, and published in Nuremberg by Homann’s Heirs, the printing firm that had after 1730 taken over the map and atlas business founded by Johann Baptist Homann in 1702.

A plan of Karlsruhe

Johann Jacob Baumeister, Nouveau plan du Carolsruhe (Nuremberg: Homann’s Heirs, 1737). Maps 30430.(2).

Baumeister's plan of Karlsruhe in Baden-Württemberg shows the impressive radial design of the margravial palace gardens

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

St Petersburg was another new city of the Baroque era, owing its creation to the grandiose vision and relentless energy of Tsar Peter the Great. In establishing a major fortress and naval base on the Baltic as a defence against Sweden, Peter’s ambitions were partly military. However, the formidable building project which began in 1703 on a group of marshy islands in the Neva River had a much wider political objective. This was no less than the creation of a new capital city which would act as a ‘window onto Europe’. From here, Peter hoped to turn the Russian empire away from its roots in the east towards the culturally and economically more sophisticated climate of Western Europe to which the Baltic gave access. The ‘Plan de la ville de St Petersbourg’ was commissioned in 1753 by the Geography Department of the Imperial Academy of Sciences to celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary. The Academy was also one of Peter’s creations, and his policy was reflected in the selection of the French geographer and astronomer Joseph Nicolas Deisle to fill the first chair of the Department of Geography. He held this post until 1747, and the continuing French influence is apparent in the title of the plan. The cartographer, Johann Treskot (John, son of Thomas Truscott), was evidently of British descent. Copies of the plan were distributed to the major European capitals to inform a wider audience of the new city’s splendours.

Plan de la ville de St Petersburg

Johan Treskot, Plan stolichnago goroda Sankt Peterburga... = Plan de la Ville de St. Pétersburg, en neuf feuilles; avec dix-sept vues; dessinées et gravées sous la direction de l'Académie des Sciences à St. Pétersbourg. Maps K.Top.112.76.5 TAB.END.

This plan of St Petersburg by Treskot features a statue of Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, surrounded by allegorical figures of the arts

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

In Asia and America, new urban forms, transplanted from Europe, determined the shape of the cities of the colonial empires. In the ‘View of the town of Savannah as it stood the 29th of March 1734’, the gridiron, or rectilinear street plan, can be clearly seen. This egalitarian and cost-effective style of urban planning, originating in the new squares of London and Berlin, was to become characteristic of the cities of North America. The view was executed by Peter Gordon, the first bailiff of the city, Conservator of the Peace, and one of the 120 colonists who had set sail from Deptford in October 1732. The majority of the colonists were convicts, personally selected and supervised by James Edward Oglethorpe (1696–1785), penal reformer and philanthropist and a leading figure of the Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America. The view, designed to show the progress made in a remarkable experiment in social engineering, was, appropriately, dedicated to the trustees.

A view of the town of Savannah as it stood the 29th of March 1734

A View of Savanah as it stood the 29th of March 1734 = VÜE de Savanah dans la Georgie : To the Hon.ble the Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America This View of the Town of Savanah is humbly dedicated by their Honours Obliged and most Obedient Servant Peter Gordon. / P. Gordon Inv. ; P. Fourdrinier Sculp

Savannah, pictured in this view after Peter Gordon, was the capital of the colony of Georgia in British America

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

The older colonial foundations were by this time emerging as considerable cities in their own right, as demonstrated by the map-view of Manila, prepared for Philip V of Spain by the governor of the Philippines, Don Fernando Valdez Tamon. In 1739 he was appointed Marscal de Campo (Field Marshal) and recalled to Spain, the map forming part of his final report. He intended to present a copy to his king in person, but died en route to his native country. The map revealed a city typical of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English overseas empires at any time from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. The Spanish citadel, established in 1571, formed the administrative, commercial and military core, around which were clustered the native Filipino settlements, each with their own churches and market-places.

Contemporary with the view of Savannah and the map-view of Manila is a bird’s-eye view of a much older city, also prepared as part of an official survey. The plan of Paris, drawn and surveyed in 1739 by Louis Bretez, demonstrated the importance to a surveyor of a wealthy and influential patron. His work was commissioned by Michel-Étienne Turgot, Prévôt de Marchands of Paris and effectively the city’s chief administrator, who hired Bretez in preference to L’Abbé de la Grive, the official city surveyor. Ordered to complete the task in two years, Bretez was paid the relatively large sum of 10,000 livres, receiving 200 livres a month and the balance when the project was finished. A permit issued by Turgot entitled Bretez to enter every building in the city for the purpose of producing the numerous individual sketches from which the plan was composed.

Plan de Paris. Commencé l'année 1734

Plan de Paris. Commencé l'année 1734. Dessiné et gravé sous les ordres de Messire Michel Étienne Turgot, Marquis de Sousmons ... Henry Millon, &c. Achevé de graver en 1739 ... Levé et dessiné par Louis Bretez. Gravé par Claude Lucas, et écrit par Aubin., Paris, 1739. Maps C.11.d.10.

This is a sheet from the Turgot map of Paris, a highly detailed bird's-eye plan commissioned in 1734 by the city's mayor, Michel-Étienne Turgot

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

When published in 1739, the ‘Plan de Turgot’, as it came to be known, aroused little comment in the Parisian press, despite the copies that were sent free to the leading figures of the court and to every French ambassador. It is possible that Bretez’s finished work, a bird’s-eye view on 20 sheets, no longer matched the standards of accuracy by then expected of urban surveyors, who by the 1730s were commonly depicting towns by means of the less decorative but more precise plan.

Propaganda of a more overtly political nature was also present in a bronze medal made in Rome in 1721 by Otto Hamerani entitled ‘Appeal against the House of Hanover’. Depictions of towns – usually derived from printed views – on coins and medals were common between 1650 and 1750, particularly in Germany and Italy. The medal formed part of an attempt to link George I and his dynasty with the political and financial chaos that followed the collapse of the English South Sea Company in the autumn of 1720.

In Britain, as in Europe generally, the 18th century witnessed a great improvement in surveying methods, and town plans were correspondingly expected to be produced to a higher standard of accuracy. As the historian William Maitland complained in his preface to his Survey of London of 1739:

I once intended to annex a modern Plan of London to this Work; but as the Plans, from which I must have taken the same, are all very defective, and perhaps the worst of the Kind extant, the best of them would rather be a Disgrace than an Embellishment of the Work: I therefore thought fit to omit it, as it could be but of little Use to the Reader.

Stimulated by the public demand, urban cartographers produced works which became progressively more accurate and more functional, and by mid-century the decorative bird’s-eye view and map-view forms had largely been abandoned except for the older and more picturesque towns. Typical of the high standards of the large-scale plans of its day was Thomas Hanson’s Birmingham (1778), the third complete survey to be carried out in the city in 50 years. When compared with the plans by Westrey (1731) and Bradford (1756), Hanson’s survey shows the dramatic growth of the city in this period, from a market town of 15,000 inhabitants in 1731 to a major industrial centre of 42,000 by 1778.

In London, general topographical mapping was supplemented by maps of wards, the administrative units into which the City had been divided since Norman times. There were eventually 26 wards, each electing an alderman (normally for life) and common councilmen, who were responsible for street cleaning, policing, lighting and other local government duties. The ward also served as a convenient unit of survey. John Strype’s Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720), comprising a revised edition of Stow’s survey of 1598, was the first to contain a series of such maps and they continued to be published, either individually or, more commonly, in series, until the 1840s.

A plan of the ward of Aldersgate

Richard William Seale after Jacob Ilive , A plan of the ward of Aldersgate (London: Jacob Ilive, 1739).Maps Crace Port. 8.2

This plan after Jacob Ilive shows the ward of Aldersgate in the City of London which is now partly occupied by the Barbican Estate

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

While the plan depicted the horizontal dimensions, the prospect, or view, provided a vertical complement. The most successful and prolific publishers of prospects in the first half of the 18th century were Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, who depicted 76 different towns and dockyards in the years 1721 to 1753. They also published a county-by-county survey of the nation’s antiquities.

The South East and North West prospects of Bristol

The South East Prospect of the City of Bristol

Bristol, by the early 18th century, had established itself as the most important trading city in England, after London

View images from this item  (2)

Usage terms Public Domain

The most famous urban cartographer of the century was John Rocque, a Frenchman who settled in England and who published over 100 maps, plans and road books between 1734 and his death in 1762. His town plans were surveyed by trigonometrical observations from towers and other tall buildings and by checking the results with instrumental measurements of angles and distances taken on the ground. In the plan of Exeter of 1744 his portrayal of the surrounding market gardens, orchards and pasture betrays his earlier career as an estate surveyor and ‘dessinateur de jardins’. His prolific output provided the basis for a number of works published after his death. His brother-in-law, Andrew Dury, had already published maps in co-operation with Rocque’s widow, Mary Anne, by the time he issued A Collection of Plans of the principal Cities of Great Britain and Ireland in 1766. This pocket atlas included maps of the coats of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as miniature plans of Exeter, Bristol, Shrewsbury, Bath, York, and Aberdeen, among others. Most of these were copied from Rocque either as reductions of his large-scale plans or from insets on his county maps. The publisher, land surveyor and geographer John Andrews also derived a number of his maps from Rocque’s work when he compiled A Collection of Plans of the Capital Cities of Europe (1771). This contained 42 plans of capital cities from all over the world, all copied from a variety of British and French sources.

Plan of Exeter

Plan de la ville et faubourgs D'EXETER, / tres Exactement Levè & deffeinnè par Roque., John Rocque, -1762, surveyor., [London] : [John Roque], Published according to Act of Parliament 1744, [1744.], Maps K.Top.11.68.2 TAB.

In his plan of Exeter of 1744, John Rocque shows land-use in the rural areas surrounding the city

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

The establishment by the Board of Ordnance of the trigonometrical survey was to have profound significance for the urban mapping of the British Isles in the next century. Two early recruits were Thomas Yeakell and William Gardner, both of whom worked as salaried surveyors for Charles Lennox, third Duke of Richmond, who was expanding and developing his large estates around Goodwood, Sussex. The maps produced as a result of their activities included estate plans, town plans and the 2 inch to 1 mile ‘Great Survey’ of Sussex. When their employer was appointed Master-General of the Board of Ordnance in 1782, he secured the appointment of Yeakell and Gardner to undertake the land survey that he was establishing on a national basis. Their plan of Brighthelmstone (Brighton) of 1779 depicts a small fishing village then on the point of becoming a fashionable seaside resort. It can be compared with Benjamin Donne’s ‘A new and correct plan of the City of Bath’ of 1810, by then England’s premier ‘spa’ and already renowned for its Georgian townscape formed by the extensions of Gay Street, The Circus, Royal Crescent and Lansdown Crescent.

A new and correct plan of the city of Bath

A NEW AND CORRECT PLAN of the CITY OF BATH / from a recent Survey. by B. DONNE., Benjamin Donne, 1729-1798, surveyor., [Bath] : Published by and for H. Godwin, Bookseller. Upper Corner of Milsom Street, Bath. Published as the Act directs August 1.st 1810. : Sold by the Principal Map and Book-Sellers, in Bath, Bristol and London., [1810.], Maps K.Top.37.23.

Bath, England’s premier 18th-century resort town and spa, is shown in this plan by Benjamin Donne

View images from this item  (1)

Usage terms Public Domain

The new responsibility of the Board of Ordnance underlined the close links between cartography and warfare. The years leading up to the American War of Independence witnessed much activity by the surveyors of the British Army. One of these, Lieutenant Bernard Ratzer of the Royal American Regiment of Foot, surveyed the city of New York and its environs in 1766 and 1767, issuing a plan and view of the city three years later. In 1776, the ‘Ratzer’ plan was reissued in response to the growing interest in the political events then taking place in the American colonies.

Plan of the city of New York

PLAN of the CITY of NEW YORK, in North America : Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767 / B. Ratzer, Lieut.t in His Majestys 60th or Royal American Reg.t. Bernard Ratzer, cartographer., London : Publish'd according to Act of Parliament, Jan.y 12. 1776 by Jefferys & Faden, Corner of St. Martins Lane, Charing Cross, Jan.y 12. 1776., Maps 1.Tab.44.

Published in 1776, the year America gained independence, this plan of New York was part of Faber & Jeffrys North American Atlas

View images from this item  (2)

Usage terms Public Domain

This is an edited version of a text first published in James Elliot, The City in Maps (British Library, 1987).

  • James Elliot
  • Former maps curator, British Library