John Rocque’s famed map of Dublin (detail above) is a genuine work of genius, and one of the best maps made of any city in 18th century Europe. Today it forms a superb and indispensable resource for anyone interested in Dublin, its streets, buildings its religious, cultural, social or political history.
Just one example of its use, (from many thousands) is how it reveals the changing streetscape, or the locations of dozens of long-vanished, sometimes near-forgotten churches, of multiple denominations, from Catholics and Anglicans to Dutch and French Churches (French always means Huguenot in this 18th century Dublin context) to Presbyterian and Quaker meeting halls across the city. But the map can be used in an infinity of ways…
It was first published 1756, later revised and republished several times.
For his original, highly through survey, Rocque, a London based Huguenot, devised a new, combined system of “chain” measurement, combined with triangulation, (with triangulation and viewing points often taken up on the city’s many church spires). But he was also incredibly painstaking with drawing and detail, all rendered very accurately and indeed very beautifully. Just look at this tiny section, expanded here, showing the tiny ships and even what appear to be individual lengths of timber, lying in a lumber yard!
Look here at this section, expanded further, and the ships, lying at anchor in the river.
Or here, below, an section north of the ships buildings, expanded even further. Look how the level of detail holds up. Then bear in mind, this same map stretches west out to Dolphins Barn, south along the coast right out to Ringsend and north to Clontarf! And then think, how everything is rendered at this same level of detail.
Below, another detail expanded, of ships upriver at Dublin’s former Custom’s House, where import was once levied prior to the building of James Gandon’s later 18th century new Custom’s House, that masterpiece further downriver.
Not just detail, but cartographic accuracy is also part of the miracle. Experts tell me that even in this age of satellite imaging; Google-Earth, number-crunching super computers and advanced mathematics, Rocque’s survey measurements stand up remarkably well. But even with his new techniques and approaches aside, I still can never quite fathom just how he managed to do it to even measure, note down and record, let alone draw, and engrave such vast amounts of information. Bearing in mind the wide area covered, the level of detail seems almost magical to me, his achievement astonishing.
Either way, the final result is remarkable. Rocque’s opus is, for example, an incredible leap forward from say, John Speed’s 1610 map a hundred and forty years earlier, (Speed also is also a vital historical record and resource).
Essentially then, Rocque was something of a genius, and his map is one of the best you’ll ever see.
In common with many other historians, amateur and professionals alike, I often use it to understand and illustrate various development in Dublin’s history. Current posts available which make use of the map, and/or the later updates by Bernard Scale, (itself based on Rocque’s earlier work) will be found in a quick list below, which I’ll start on next week. As new posts are added I’ll do my best to amend this list and keep it up to date. Many such posts posts zero in on a particular small section of his map, a tiny area, like a watch-house say, or small chapel on a single street corner, to focus attention on one specific aspect of Dublin’s 18th century history. Either way, I hope you find them useful or enjoyable.
List of posts where Rocque’s map used as reference and illumination. (constantly being updated, please bear with us while we install the links and add more, or visit us again).
1- On Pitt St/Balfe St, and courtesan Peg Woffington, see here.
2- On Bartholemew Mosses Rotunda Lying In Hospital, see here.
3- On Cavandish Row, and Rutland Square (today Parnell Sq) see here.
4- For a piece on John Speed’s 1610 map, and some tips on interpreting that, see here.
5- To see a piece about a wonderful map made by Edwardian scholar Leonard Strangeways, showing the route of Dublin’s medieval walls and many of the old city’s ecclesiastical and public buildings (and to understand how some key institutions like the Four Courts and old Customs House frequently moved location) -see here.
6- to subscribe to the free monthly newsletter, which notifies you when our sociable Dublin Decoded historical and architectural walks of Dublin take place each month, (walks run about 2-3 times p/month, March to November each year) please see here.
7- To go direct to the Bibliotheque National digitized version of John Rocque’s map of Dublin, go here.
NB: all these links are instructed to open in a new window, so you won’t loose your place on this article and index.
We’ll improve the list up above, and further cross-referenced with new resources, links and articles, as we go along. cI hope the insights we can gain from this legendary map give you some interest and pleasure over the winter months. Do come in and visit us again to see what’s new each few weeks.
Until then, thank you for reading.