A layman defends John Rocque

Vol. 6 No. 2 - 1991

A layman defends John Rocque

by Jack Redmond

Since I am an amateur this essay should not be regarded as a scholarly composition of the type usual in "Review", nor as a masterly discourse in the manner of Professor J H Andrews, whose "Irish Maps" of 1978 and "Plantation Acres" of 1985, and other works are the final authority on Irish maps. Rather this is an informal fireside survey of a most interesting, informative and charming map of County Armagh in 4 sheets of 2' x 1'6" [approx. 600mm x 450mm] each, published by John Rocque in 1760.

Roque's map was brought to my notice by the late Mr T G F Paterson when I was trying to locate two ancestral homes of my family in this area. Having traced them to my satisfaction, the matter might have ended there, but it did not, for the map grew on me and became the subject of spare time scrutiny, almost becoming an obsession. It is full of interest and surprises. It may be seen in copy form in the Armagh County Museum on the Mall in our City, or in the Local History/Irish Reference Dept of the Southern Education and Library Board on the Market- hill road out of Armagh. (Henceforward for convenience "Library H.Q."). An original is in the National Library in Dublin, and there is a copy in the Public Record Office in Belfast. (P.R.O. hereafter).

Reasonably you will ask who was this John Rocque, and why he needs defended? He was born about 1705 of Anglo-French Huguenot descent, and in England he became "by appointment" to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales in the matter of large park maps. As we would say, he was no slouch in his profession, unlike many others in that time. He surfaced in Dublin in 1754 involved in a race with local cartographer Kendrick to produce a map of that city. John Rocque won easily, and his map survived the test of time, while Kendrick's was forgotten. He was now on the map, as it were, and went on to produce a series of outstanding works covering towns, estates and even harbours. Professor Andrews relates that he left Ireland in 1760 after producing his Armagh map, and died in England 2 years later. It seems he had displayed greater mastery of mapping than of money matters.

Within 20 years his County Armagh work came under fire, and again he was belaboured in 40 years time. Both the critics were important people and published surveys of the county or the whole country, so their criticisms seem to have been accepted without question ever since. Before Professor Andrews' works appeared it was often said that the Armagh map was inaccurate and unreliable. The Professor also expressed some milder reservations about J.R's. work, but he did praise very generously his other outputs, and those of J.R's. disciple Scale.

To be fair to Rocque it is necessary to look at the scene onto which he burst. The nature of the old Gaelic Irish society was such that maps of private estates were uncalled for. Boundaries of tribal lands were walked, marked by natural features, and memorised.

From Elizabethan times, if not from her father's time, Tudor Law (and order) was imposed on Ireland as a whole, along with the feudal system. Those who did not conform lost their land to settlers who were going to rent their lands to tenants. The Crown was the grantor. All three needed maps in this unknown uncharted territory; the landlord, to assess the amount of rent, and to state and defend his border from others; the tenant to try to reduce his rent, or avoid its raising; the Crown to keep track of who had got what and where, and whether the grantee had erected a castle or other defence and stocked the land with reliable defenders, and to be able as time went on to visit and check progress. Map-making now began on a large scale; in Ireland a novelty.

During the 17th century the mapping was done by military or government surveyors, such as Sir William Petty, Phillips, Barthelet, and so on. Many of their works survive, and excellent copies, some in colour, can be seen in the County Museum in Armagh, or in the library referred to above; also in the P.R.O. in Belfast. The demand for maps of the new estates grew to the extent that surveyors must have been in short supply, and it is likely that the staff used and trained by the State surveyors set up on their own. The business was sufficient to justify one Dublin publisher producing a book on surveying techniques as early as 1654. By the late 18th century there were dozens of self-claimed "surveyors", not necessarily properly qualified, in our own county.

The P.R.O. in Belfast has a list of maps for this county, and the names are usually given in the list. Of course only some maps survived to go on the list. Most of their works were based on townlands, showing acreage of each tenant. Some were of estates as a whole, a few of individual farms. The techniques for evaluating area were not necessarily the best for accurate outlines, let alone road marking. A square, a rectangle and a parallelogram are all totally different in outline and peripheral length, but all give the same area as long as you have the same answer for "the base length multiplied by the height". Or, if you prefer it, as long as you use the same base and same height at right angles to the base.

Some very odd attempts at mapping gave quite acceptable if not dead accurate acreages. Some seem to have been made by careful estimate of field areas, which were then roughly put together in relative positions only to show where they lay on the ground (e.g. Kelly's map of the Hoope demesne, 5 miles West of Portadown, 1781). Large scale accurate definition of line was not of primary importance. Area definitely was, when rent was in dispute. The techniques of surveying, the problems of aerial-view representation of sloping ground, and squaring up the apparent aerial view dimension and its estimated area with the true length-and- breadth-on-the-ground-based area are dealth with very fully in "Plantation Acres", a study outside the scope of this essay.

This then, was the scene onto which John Rocque burst so dramatically. The crude early semi-perspective pictorial and sometimes coloured illustrations had improved a lot, and were more accurate, but Rocque brought something new. Apart from realistically colouring the field on his attractive and precise estate maps to show plough, grazing, bog, plantations and so on, he represented houses and hills planimetrically, as rectangles and radiating lines from blank "circles" respectively, abandoning the old idea of low perspective drawings.

He paid great attention to detail. The roadside hedges of the Armagh map clearly show hedges and trees, banks (tiny chevrons) and sheughs (thin parallel lines). Windmills are neatly portrayed, and the Armagh city one has visible slats on its sails, even though it is only 1/8th of an inch high on the original engraving! Bridges have walls or no walls, and near Drumintee in South Armagh are two examples of them which occupy only a narrow centre strip of the road, with the streams intruding over the road edges as far as the little bridge edges. Perhaps these are pack horse bridges. In some cases the stream crosses and obliterates the road, being a ford. One of these is shown where the way into the Library H.Q. leaves the main road, and the modern 0.S. maps print the name "Woodford" nearby.

If you get out of your car beside the opening into the library where it touches the main road, you will see the stream crossing and re-crossing under the road as outlined by Rocque There was a turnpike there, and a milestone, at least in 1760. I have not found any of J.R's. fords surviving into the 1832/5 0.S., though Mr Paterson has noted the number of fords shown on it in his notes in the County Museum. Rocque shows lead mines, smelting mills, animal pounds, military barracks, and so on, churches, meeting houses, Sunday wells and ships! He shows everything a traveller might use to find his way, perhaps to locate his position if lost, including many townland names, but not all. In the Montiaghs area it is easy to pick out the roads whose maintenance around that time is discussed in Dr McCorry's article in "Review" of 1978, and there see all three road edging symbols.

It will be obvious that I have concentrated on my own locality; because I know it, have a few old estate maps for it, and can easily identify and walk or drive the 1760 routes. - Some have gone, some used to be known as "horse pads" not roads as we know them, even if in 1760 they were shown as roads. It will be obvious that I have concentrated on my own locality; because I know it, have a few old estate maps for it, and can easily identify and walk or drive the 1760 routes. Some have gone, some used to be known as "horse pads" not roads as we know them, even if in 1760 they were shown as roads by Rocque

Nevertheless it is reasonable to expect that, despite the assumed use of several local surveyors in preparing local map sections, before their subsequent integration into a county map back in J.R's. Dublin H.Q., (no doubt this is the cause of several small "problems" to be found in the map), ... that the conclusions for this area should be repeated all over the county Figs 3 and 4 have been reduced to fit this page size, and are at about 0.56 modern miles to the inch. J.R's. map roads were inked in heavily and then photographed and reduced. A reasonably modern 1" 0.S. map was then examined, and roads seeming to correspond with (not necessarily follow exactly) J.R's. roads were also inked in before this too was photo- graphed on the same scale as the other. It is at once clear that today's "vein" roads, though not the "arteries", are much as they were 230 years ago. And that Rocque has to be taken seriously. With care one can also locate and date to before that time several houses: In our area, for instance, Ardress, Tallbridge, Mr Hoope's house on Cockhill and his windmill (our Society lately visited these), whose early dates were estimated from Hoope records held by Canon Fleming. They seem to have been there in 1723 if not before. Nearby on the way to Portadown from there is the well preserved house of Mr Kenneth Redmond (Barn Hill) showing house and barn laid out exactly as Rocque shows, and with 2¼", 2½" and a few 2¾" bricks in the arch over the barn door to prove the point ... early 18th century sizes.

I have no doubt that his little black rectangles represent real buildings, not just an illustrative row to indicate habitation of an area. If you are a pedant or a carto-fundamentalist, you will discover that J.R's. houses are typically 73 yards long, and his roads 73 yards wide. But how else could he illustrate them? Look at them on a modern 6" to the mile 0.S. map, and see how tiny they are on it; then remember that Rocque was working at 1½" to the mile. Perhaps it is necessary to fore- stall critics of my conclusions by proclaiming that to some extent Rocque is illustrative or descriptive rather than definitive. But he tells the traveller of his day truthfully what he will find and how to get there. If he is, in terms of geometric or geographic precision, 200 or 300 yards out, it hardly matters when the traveller gets to the right place first time and on time. He is not going to believe he is not in the right place!

Loughgall Overlays
Loughgall Overlays

The overlay diagram of the Loughgall area shows not only the worst of J.R's. "error" between Loughgall courthouse and the famous Diamond, scene of the 1795 battle, but shows how easy it is to say Rocque got the road lines all wrong, whereas in fact they were right, though not always well proportioned or angled. Additions and subtractions of roads within as little as 20 years, or up to 70 years, or if looking at a modern map, 200 years, can make J.R's. well portrayed roads very hard to identify.

The starting point chosen is identifiable now as then, at the Loughgall courthouse. The tracings of the John Rocque's map, the 1835 6" 0.S. and today's map have been accurately doubled or halved to the same scale, and they run from the courthouse to point 'A' exactly matched. After that the errors develop as they choose. No attempt was made to average out and favourably present any deviations. It was a straight line and should have been a good base line. The present route from the Red Lion corner to the court- house is to 'D', where the 1835 map's road is left off, and the present road of 1860 0.S. takes over, and runs to point 'F', and to 'G', where one bears right to join the 1835 line, and possible cross the old Rocque line. The "Old Road" sign takes one over the hill via Orchard Park, while the present main road goes round the back of the hill, just crosses the Old Road going down into the village, curving out across the older route to skirt the "cliff" beyond the wall, and so into the village just above the courthouse.

'D' to 'C' has vanished, 'C' to 'B' survives, as does 'B' to 'E', but 'B' to 'A' and on to 'H' has gone. 'E' marks the junction of the Kilmacanty Road and the Ballyhagan Road, just as always. 'C' is beside the old school; 'B' beside "The Grouse"; a muddy lane leads off there. 'A' can be shown to be at the fairly new GAA pitch. The present estate wall runs via the gate lodge, point 'H' and up to 'G', where lies the triangular bay of the road junction and tight bend of the present main rood, with the wall continuing a while alongside it.

If you remove the redundant sections described here, and then try to square J.R's. map with any modern one, you may at first have some difficulty! 'H' to the courthouse has long lain behind a more modern wall, the present one, and is unknown to most people. The wall put an end to it. (literally). The 1835 road West from Red Lion must have run almost through what is now the yard of Annaghugh House, This is Mr Hewitt's beautifully maintained vernacular farm house, probably evolved over several generations of owners, lying behind a screen of trees on your left about a mile after the Red Lion cross roads. So it is only after careful examination of all old maps after Rocque that one should say "John Rocque is wrong". But beside my area, Dressagah townland and name is out of place and Drumannon is not mentioned, nor Megarity.

Ship H
Ship H
Ship J
Ship J

H is the ship in full sail before the wind while 'J' shows the same wind (see pennant) but the ship is going about between tacks with flapping sails and slack sheets, a remarkable piece of detail observation by the artist.

The 1779 Quaker map in the late Mr Chapman's book on the Richhill and Ballyhagan meetings confirms the presence of the older meeting between 'B' and 'E', but shows some lines which I suggest were only paths across fields not in J.R's. nor in the 1835 survey map, (though one anticipates a road of the 1862 survey) yet legitimate as a way of getting from one Friend's house to another. In this context it should be noted that a "road" on our map of 1760 was not metalled by definition, but might be what a neighbour with historical interest refers to as "a horse pad", an old local term; yet in another townland map of 1780 J.R's. "road" is not thought worthy on inclusion as such although it is in use today. Some, via bogs, would not have been passable in winter. Bearing in mind the instruments available in 1760 and the conditions in the countryside being surveyed, scrub jungle, bog, hostile local residents and so on according to the area, great credit is due to all concerned in producing this map. Fig 6 shows a theodolite as drawn in the cartouche by J.R. It has a vertical "quadrant" with a telescope swinging over its upper semi- circular edge, all of which rotated on a flat horizontal disc, probably of brass. The disc would have been calibrated in degrees. This could measure vertical angles from a "station" (a suitable survey point) as well as horizontal angles to other stations. Visibility set the maximum distance. The tripod ensured a steady easy reading, and a vernier scale gave quite decent accuracy. A wobbly compass needle, taking bearings between a distant station and North, was much more difficult to handle accurately.

Using a measured base line from one station to another, and taking the angles from each station to a distant object relative to the base line gave a simple and accurate triangulation from which to construct a map.

That would be all very well for clear open country, but surveying a track through scrub, trees, bogs and crowded little hills would have been a very different business. Then the only answer would have been the compass and navigation methods, perhaps taking 6 or 7 bearings round a long blind curve. Here, I think, we could have expected a bit of hopeful fudging, since the job would have been terribly slow. If the track was not inhabited, being a turbary road, or a connecting link across country between proper roads, it would matter not at all if inaccurate as long as the ends were correctly located.

Chains were used all the time in farm and estate surveying, being some 13 or 14 yards long. Long road distances would have been slow and tiresome to cover this way, and the wheel would have been far better. A wheel with spokes, but no rim, and the axle being long extended and threaded with a nut running on the threads as a revolution counting measure, was in fact invented by "The Ingenious Mr Edgworth", son- in-law of the Dr Beaufort whom we shall presently meet, in the year 1767. I believe that J.R's. men probably used 'the wheel with some sort of 'counter attached.

The question must now be asked "Why did J.R. make a road and house map of the county complete with all these details and symbols?" He wa a businessman as well as an artist. Professor Andrews relates that unlike other surveyors of the time he ran al aspects of mapping from survey to sale, including engraving and printing even had special paper imported in larger than normal sizes for his productions. So it can be safely assumed he had don( his market research. I feel sure that government office and officials were targeted hearth-tax gatherers, window tax collectors and others. The later brick tax collectors would have found the map handy. New buildings could be added in by the user, and perhaps given numbers, kept in a separate index for reference. Bridges and roads maintenance would now be easy to point at and discuss in Grand Jury meetings (nowadays county councils). Residents in the county could now show each other where their respective homes or mills were, and how to get there. The military, the Law and the clergy together with professional carriers of goods would have found it invaluable.

There was nothing like it then, nor for 70 years on, with the possible exception of the McCrae map which hung beside J.R's. in the Grand Jury room, but which was not copied and has not survived.

The county was the most heavily populated in Ireland, which is probably why he surveyed this county after Dublin county, these being the only county ones he did. Sales ought to have been good. So what did the critics have to say about our hero? Title: "Memoir of a map of Ireland" of 1792 by Dr DA Beaufort of Anglo - Huguenot descent and rector of Navan, County Meath, where we were a couple of years ago on our Society outing. His map was drawn to show counties and dioceses. He made it up from the best of the smaller area maps avail- able, so it was not an original survey by him. He pompously declares "I set about my work as if no general map of Ireland had been extant ... without paying the smallest attention to Moll, Jeffrey, Kilchin, Rocque, Bowles etc ..." (J.R. had made a small scale Ireland) ... "I have constructed a new one upon two sheets scale 6 miles to an inch from the best authorities and most authentic information. A perfectly correct map cannot be expected till every county has been accurately surveyed". Well, well! He mentions "the new map of Armagh in Armagh Court House for the use of the gentle- men of the county" (which must be the long lost McCrae one). Having chucked cold water on all the notable Surveyors of the day, he does actually admit "Rocque's map of Dublin had afforded much information ... [his] map of Armagh in 1760 ... [a] very inferior performance".

Inferior to Beaufort's? Beaufort's picture of Ireland is at one sixth of an inch to the mile, as he says himself. No houses nor landmarks. Counties and dioceses, yes. A few thin lines show a few through roads in each county. It is similar to the map of Ireland you saw in the school Atlas as far as detail goes. His Lough Erne is pathetic, though his Lough Neagh is better (thanks to Mr Lendrick, perhaps, as we shall see). His work is not comparable to J.R's. as it is not a county map.

In his text he notes "the country is full employed with rising wages, increasing prosperity, abundant fuel and cheap food". The rapid population explosion of then and later gave rise to rapidly expanding commerce, farming, linen manufacture and building. All this demanded more and better roads and improvements to old ones, with many new houses, mills, churches and so on. Thus J.R's. map would have needed updating every 10 or 20 years, just like our modern Ordnance Survey ones do. Exactly the same would have applied to Dr Beaufort's work and all others however good when made. His map may be dull, but his written survey is worthwhile. The kindest thing one can say of his reverence's map is that it was designed to accompany his book, not to compete with J.R's. county work. It is mostly a crib of other men's work. It certainly gives him no right to pontificate about anything J.R. produced.

As we go to our next critic we should remember that to Irish cartographers J.R. was a foreign upstart; if not English he was worse, French; but at least as a Protestant he was acceptable to the establishment of the day. In 1804 Sir Charles Coote published his "Statistical Survey of the county of Armagh", an interesting book accompanied by two maps. On page 204 "A partial survey of Armagh is shown in the Down Survey (17th Century, and not relevant here) and has been found accurate and well laid down ... a map of this county was published by J Rocque in 1760 which was not considered correct" (he does not say by whom) ... "in this map are plans of Armagh City and the town of Newry".

Having dismissed J.R. he goes on "another map of the county, from actual survey, was presented to the Grand Jury in the year 1778, by William and Conyngham McCrae, which was the labour of years. This map and also John Rocque's hang in the Grand Jury room" ... You will note J.R. was not taken down ... "It was made by the joint subscription of the gentlemen of the county whose names and the respective sums contributed are mentioned in the map". He continues by saying that the map, one single sheet hanging there, was such a fragile monument both to its merit and the large sums put up by the various gentlemen that they should get it engraved". But there's more ... Sir Charles, speaking 26 years after this paragon of maps was hung, comments "the new roads since the survey was taken should first be laid down, and other improvements made". That is to say it was out of date due to continuing new road building or alterations in old ones. Which is precisely why J.R's. map needed updating or "correcting" when the McCraes touted round the county with an offer of "names in lights" on a new map if the gentry put up enough money to make it worth their while to print it. In short, sell first, and then produce. Surely a winning formula! Yet the wonder-map has vanished without trace. There seems to be no further reference to it.

In contrast to this fate, our hero's topographical survey (as he entitles it) of the county seems to have run to a second edition, since I have seen two cards of his in which Clantilew House gardens appear in one but not in the other. The house was then.on the Portadown side of the road, not the side where the new house now stands. Clantilew is close to Tartaraghan. (Shortly after submitting this text to the Editor, I found that the Lisburn museum's catalogue "Huguenots and Ulster 1685-1985" described its exhibit 59 as part of "the second edition" of Rocque's work).

Back now to Sir Charles Coote. The first map in his "Statistical Survey of the County of Armagh" is described as "reduced and corrected from Rocque's survey map". Its scale is some ½" to the mile. (English). Like Professor Andrews I notice he did not use the McCrae super-map. This "corrected" job is a shrunken, bare, erroneous and emasculated version of J.R's. fine work, and some of the errors are grotesque.

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part article by Jack Redmond. Part 2 will be published in the next issue of Review and will deal with Rocque's critics and the answer to them, with an accuracy test of the North Armagh section. [At the author's request Part 2 was not published in the next issue of Review but it is available on this website].

Click here to see Part 2