Copper engraving with hand colouring (not modern). Overall size : 50.3cms x 38.8cms. Image size : 510mm x 385mm.Printed by John Legatt. Inset plan of Chester and Armes of the Earles of Chester since the Normans Conquest. Four decorative cartouches. Speed has used William Smith's revisions of Saxton and the Braun & Hogenberg plan of Chester. Angels and globes in bottom right and left corners. Scale of distance at bottom right. English text on verso discussing the history, geography and characteristics of the county. Speed considered Cheshire,’wholesome for life’, its inhabitants ‘generally’ attaining to many years.
Centre fold as published; possibly a slight repair to bottom of the centrefold but so discrete it is hard to tell. If held up to the light, two tiny pinpricks are visible otherwise a good early impression in very good condition. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the county was still heavily wooded, and the forests at Delamere and Macclesfield were in royal ownership. The county was not wholly dependent upon farming: at Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich, there were brine springs producing salt; the county’s salt came second in quality and quantity only to that from Droitwich in Worcestershire. Chester remained the main port and commercial centre in the north-west until long after the publication of this map and its relative prosperity was envied by strangers who also remarked on the ‘rows’ or galleried streets with shops and merchants’ houses situated over cellars or warehouses. Not merely a port and county town, Chester was also the administrative headquarters of the County Palatine and the Earldom of Chester, a feudal honour held by the heir-apparent and in 1612 enjoyed by Prince Henry. (Nicholson/Hawkyard: The Counties of Britain . A Tudor Atlas by John Speed pub British Library/Pavilion)
Until his late thirties, John Speed was a tailor by trade but his passion for history and map-making led him to gain a patron in Sir Fulke Greville, the poet and statesman, who found him a post in the customs and helped subsidize his map-making, giving him “full liberty to express the inclination of my mind”. He became aquainted with the publisher William Camden, whose descriptive text was used by Speed for most of the maps in his atlas “The Theatre of Empire of Great Britain” published most probably in 1612 although it bears the date 1611 on the main title page. The maps were engraved in Amsterdam by Jodocus Hondius, one of the foremost engravers of his time. Speed’s maps are unique historical documents of their time and the town plans featured on the maps are in most cases the first information we have of their early apppearance. Their artistry has guaranteed the collectability of these maps in the centuries that have followed.`