AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MAP PIRACY
By David Stoker
Thomas Chubb, when writing an account of James Corbridge's map of Norfolk and Suffolk, noted that there appeared to have been a grievance between this surveyor and the bookseller William Chase in 1735.1 The reasons for this grievance are apparent from an exchange of open letters in the Norwich press which was not noted by Chubb and which provides interesting information relating to map publishing in the eighteenth century.
James Corbridge, who originated in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and worked subsequently in Devon, appears to have begun his career as a land surveyor and map publisher in Norfolk with the publication of a prospect of Great Yarmouth in 1726 and a particularly fine plan of Norwich in 1727 which included engravings of all churches and other important buildings in the City.2 These ventures were obviously a financial success and so the following year Corbridge began to advertise for subscriptions for a full-scale survey and publication of a map of the county.3 Hitherto, attempts at mapping Norfolk had been inaccurate and mostly derived one from another. Corbridge however, started completely afresh and, together with a team of helpers, he set about a scientific survey. The result was a really splendid map, published in the autumn of 1730, and which for the first time included the villages of Yelverton and Stoke Holy Cross in their correct positions.4
Two Norwich booksellers, William Chase and Thomas Goddard, watched Corbridge's enterprise with interest.' Both men were always looking for opportunities to make money, and neither of them was troubled with many scruples, and so they resolved to publish a pirated edition of Corbridge's map. A cheaper, new and accurate map of the county of Norfolk', was therefore advertised in October 1730 as 'now engraving and will speedily be published'.5 However, it must have soon become apparent to the booksellers that whereas the work necessary to produce their map was only a fraction of that undertaken by Corbridge, there would nevertheless be a delay of several months before their rival version was ready for sale. In the meantime the original publication was enjoying fairly good sales.
Chase and Goddard therefore attempted to slow down the sales of Corbridge's map while waiting for their own cheaper version to become available. They did this by accusing Corbridge of the same faults in his map, which had existed in earlier maps of Norfolk. They attempted to cast doubts among the literate population of Norwich by persuading one of Corbridge's assistants to write to Chase's newspaper, the Norwich Mercury, claiming that the map was both inaccurate and really only a derivation of earlier surveys.6 The assistant in question was a man with the unlikely name or soubriquet of Thermometer Elinett, who had apparently developed a grudge against his former employer and so was in a good position to make accusations. When Elinett's letter appeared in the Norwich Mercury, Corbridge's case was immediately taken up by the rival newspaper proprietor Henry Crossgrove, who allowed the surveyor to give his own reply in a very long piece published in the anonymous letter from another of Corbridge's assistants, is of considerable interest.7
Looking over Chase's Paper of last Week, 1 observed a Letter (as he calls it) signed T.E. the Authors of which (by some false & scandalous Discourses of late) seemt to me to be Thermometer E-t, Chase and Goddard; who with a deal of Malice and design against Mr. Corbridge, tell us the late ACTUAL SURVEY seems to them to be only a Copy: Which 1 can prove to be False, having been with Mr. Corbridge many Hundred Miles and on many Church-Steeples especially one remarkable, where it seemed difficult for him to get out on the Leads or Tower, for which Reason he ordered a Fellow (which 1 understood had sometimes carried one End of his Chain for Want of a Better) to take the Instrument up, and take the Bearings to all the Churches; but to the great surprize of Mr. Corbridge, he found T.E. did not understand the Use of the Instrument, for he had taken the South End of the Needle for the North; therefore found the said T.E. not capable of being instructed in that Affair. The next Day he was ordered to measure the Distance between Hingham & Norwich, from which when lie came Home, he could not give an Account having lost his Way, (as he said) and measured by Melton Church; therefore he thought him not a proper Person to measure without a Guide. As to Mr. CORBRIDGE's imploring him in the ACTUAL SURVEY of the County, 1 am well assured was no other than to measure small Distances with the Wheel; where he was obliged to follow him, (altho' he had directing Objects) to keep him on the Line; all which Errors appear to render him unworthy of being named amongst the True and Practical Surveyors. 1 should not have taken on me this Trouble, had it not been for many false and groundless Aspersions thrown on Mr. CORBRIDGE in many Companies by such unworthy PRETENDERS; and doubt not they will be so esteemed by all Impartial Men, by their indeavouring to undermine and take away the Property of another Man so bare-faced, that sure they must blush when they read their own Proposals, in which they tell us a true and accurate Map is ingraving; and being conscious of their own Inabilities, desire the Assistance of all Gentlemen. It is plain they have little Skill in Geography or Navigation, only in the Part which tends to PIRACY; otherwise they would find Mr. CORBRIDGE's MAP was not taken from any former Map. 1 shall conclude with assuring the Publick, that Mr. CORBRIDGE's MAP is a TRUE and ACTUAL SURVEY, and deserves the Applause of all Wellwishers to Art and Industry; and believe the Price the Justices were pleased to set to the Subscribers, too little to defray the Expense of so Great an Undertaking: And as it has been always my Rule to incourage Arts, so 1 recommend and prefer Mr. CORBRIDGE's MAP to any that may be copied by any Petty Stationer whatever; and that all Men may be of my Opinion, are the wishes of, Sir, Your Servant,
Despite the piracy, Corbridge's map enjoyed success equal to his plan of Norwich. Chase and Goddard's copy was in fact further delayed and did not finally appear until July 1731 by which time it was too late materially to affect the sales of the original.8
Corbridge went on to publish an equally impressive survey of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1735. The surveyor could not resist the opportunity for attempting to get his revenge for past injuries. He therefore included on his map a note;
'To Mr. Chase & his Map (if they doubt my Scale of Miles which contain 1760 Yards) for if 1 mistake not he has given three Scales to his Map which he calls great Middle & Small, things Uncommon in Surveys of Countys and as useless as the 3 heads Imploy'd in Copying My late Map of Norfolk.’9
1. Thomas Chubb, A descriptive list of the printed maps of Norfolk 1574-1916 (1928) 59.
2. Peter Eden, 'Land surveyors in Norfolk 1550-1850', Norfolk Archaeology, 35, 480-1.
3. Norwich Mercury 3.2.1727/8.
4. The MS draft of this map is in the Norfolk Record Office.
5. Chubb. 59. For an account of the careers of Chase and Goddard see David Stoker, A history of the Norwicb book trades 1560-1760, Library Association thesis 1975.
6. Norwich Mercury 17.10.1730.
7. Norwich Gazette 14.11.1730.
8. Norwich Mercury 24.7.1731.