Richard Horwood

(c1758 - 1803)

Richard Horwood is a little-known but highly important English surveyor. He emerges in about 1790, in the employment of the Phoenix Assurance Company, when he published proposals for a plan of London:

“Richard Horwood, land-surveyor, respectfully informs the gentlemen of the vestry of the parish of [left blank, to be filled in manuscript] that he proposes to publish a map of the cities of London, Westminster, and their suburbs, … Those vestries who give him encouragement, will have a compleat and exact delineation, which he pledges himself to deliver in the year 1792. The inclosed is a sketch of the design”.

Attached was A small sketch as a specimen of a plan of London, an engraved plan of Leicester Square, dated 1790.

Initially the survey seems to have proceeded well. The first sheet was issued dated 22nd June 1792, and the second 25th October 1793. However, by 1794 he was struggling to finance the project. There was a sudden spurt with four sheets issued in early 1794, but the cover letter sent out with the sheets alluded to Horwood’s problems,

“I fully expected to have been able to present to you a more considerable part before this time, but that not being in my power I think it is my duty to apologize to you for the delay which various circumstances have rendered unavoidable. I most earnestly entreat you will pardon it, and be assured that every endeavour will be exerted on my part to compleat the undertaking with as much expedition as a work so expensive and laborious will admit; and although it is not possible to execute the whole so soon as I supposed, a great part will be finished by the end of the summer”.

This proved not to be the case; two sheets appeared dated 2nd January 1795, and there the printing stalled. He issued a prospectus in 1795 to try to revitalise the project, noting that the map was prepared at “a Scale so extensive and accurate as to establish, not only every Street, Square, Court, Alley, and passage therein, but also each individual House, the Number by which it is distinguished, the Names of all the public Buildings, and other Remarks, so as to render it the most perfect Plan of the Metropolis, and the best Directory, ever published”.

This appeal seems to have been in vain, and only a loan of £500 from the Phoenix Assurance Company enabled him to complete the project in 1799, with the majority of the sheets “Published as the Act Directs by R. Horwood May 24 1799”.

The finished plan was entitled Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster the Borough of Southwark, and Parts adjoining shewing every house. By R. Horwood, with the tribute, “To the Trustees and Directors of the Phoenix Fire-Office this Work is most respectfully dedicated by their Much Obliged Obedient Humble Servant R: Horwood”. It was engraved on thirty-two sheets, arranged in eight columns, covering the built up area of London as it then was: from Islington to Kensington, and from Brompton Oratory to Limehouse; within that area every house and separate building was delineated.

The map was (and is) a remarkable achievement; no other commercial publisher before or since, created such a detailed plan of the full extent of London from their own original survey work at such a scale. In truth, such a survey was beyond the pocket of any publisher without state funding. Appearing as it did at the close of the century, it is the definitive eighteenth century plan of London. The nineteenth century was a time of dramatic change for London: its boundaries and population expanded beyond recognition, the railways arrived, but the great wealth of the Victorian era also saw dramatic rebuilding work within London and Horwood’s is the survey against which these changes can be compared and measured.

Horwood seemed to have been buoyed by the completion of the land plan, and almost immediately undertook a similar survey of Liverpool, at the time on its way to being the second port of England. He completed his six-sheet survey, Plan of the Town and Township of Liverpool, which appeared on 1st July 1803.

Unfortunately, he died in October, three months later, exhausted and impoverished by his tribulations, at the young age of forty-five. There were no later printings of the Liverpool plan, but the plates for the London were acquired by William Faden, who issued later printings from 1807 onwards, adding eight sheets to expand the map eastwards to include the new East India and West India Docks. Faden also produced a large single-sheet index map, which was sold separately in its own right.