John Senex (1678-1740): Bookseller, Mapmaker & Globemaker

A lecture given at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, 25th September 2019.

John Senex has long been reasonably well known as a mapmaker, but it was only really with the appearance twenty years ago of this inventory or census of surviving British globes, that we began fully to appreciate his commanding stature as a globemaker.  He was a man for whom we were then missing some of the basic biography.  When and where was he born?  Who taught him?  When and where did he marry?  After his death in 1740, his widow continued the business for a number of years – and all we really knew about her, was that her name was Mary. 

In seeking the answer to these questions, I came across another side of John Senex – one we had wholly forgotten – John Senex, the bookseller and publisher – and, as it turned out, one of the mostimportant publishers in our history: his books at least as important as his maps and globes.  Putting it all together, someone who made a remarkable contribution to the life of his time. 

By “his time”, I mean the period of his active career, from 1702 until his death in 1740.  It was, of course, the founding era of modern science – the Age of Reason – the Age of Enlightenment.  Above all, the age of our most celebrated scientist,Sir Isaac Newton.  The poet Alexander Pope captured the moment:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, “Let Newton be” – and all was light.

It was not in truth quite that sudden or dramatic.  It was only towards the end of Newton’s long life, the period of his presidency of the Royal Society – from 1703 to his death in 1727 – that the message began to get through.  The message, of course, was that he had uncovered the fundamental laws of physics: the basic equations which underpin all modern progress.

The South West Prospect of Ludlow Town & Castle.  London: Joseph Smith, 1719.

Senex had a significant part to play in this, but before looking at the various strands of his career, let me just block in that early biography.  He was born in the lovely old town of Ludlow in Shropshire.  Here it is as it stood in his lifetime.  This is not a Senex publication: it was engraved and published in 1719 by his neighbour and colleague, Joseph Smith of the Strand.  You will notice the coats of arms along the foot – Smith defraying the expense of publication by gathering in advance subscriptions and – for a fee – honouring the subscribers on the image.  It was a method that Senex himself also attempted: we shall come to that.

Senex was baptised on 24th November 1678 at the grand parish church of St. Laurence, high on the hill – the Cathedral of the Marches – recorded as the son of John Senex, Gentleman, and his wife Marie.  This still leaves a mystery, because I can find no other Senexes in the area, either before or since.  An extremely uncommon name.  The Latin for “old man”, of course – senior rather than senescent – although I have a feeling it may originally have been a rendering of a Welsh name.  I am unable to prove that, but whatever their background, the Senexes were well integrated into the life of the town: his father served as churchwarden here at St.  Laurence – and was buried there in 1701. 

Born in Ludlow in 1678.  Almost certainly educated at Ludlow Grammar School, founded in the reign of King John and already nearly 500 years old – with the traditional syllabus of a little Latin and less Greek.  Then, in the summer of 1695, at the age of sixteen, Senex was apprenticed to the London bookseller, Robert Clavell, at the sign of the Peacock in St. Paul’s Churchyard.  We do not know what fee was paid to Clavell, but it would have been at the top end of the range – Clavell was a man literally at the head of his profession.  He was elected for successive terms as Master of the Stationers’ Company during the years of Senex’s apprenticeship.  He is remembered as the editor and publisher of the “Term Catalogues”, the quarterly listings of the latest books for sale – with occasional consolidated editions like this one.  A man of wide connection, a key figure in the world of books, and a major supplier of books to schools across the country.

Johannes Kip, The South Prospect of the Church of St. Clements Danes – London.  London: Joseph Smith, 1714.  © Royal Collection Trust.

Senex finished his seven-year apprenticeship in August 1702 and immediately opened his own shop: his father had died the previous year – there was probably an inheritance.  It was “opposite to the South Portico of St. Clement’s Church in the Strand” – this would have been more or less the view from his window.  His earliest publications were modest enough, standard fare for the period, but one of these early books, seemingly his first solo publication, was a fresh edition of Caradoc’s “History of Wales”, published in 1702.  Clavell had brought out an edition a few years earlier, but the difference was that Senex now included a little map. 

Here it is – not one of his own maps at this stage, but printed from a plate made some years earlier by the well-known map and instrument-maker John Seller.  Seller had died five years earlier and Senex must have acquired the maps from his successors – his son, Jeremiah Seller, and Seller’s former apprentice, a young man called Charles Price.  They worked from Seller’s old premises on the Thames at Wapping and had inherited his title of Hydrographer to the Crown, as well as his contract to supply the Royal Navy with compasses. 

© British Library Board.

Here is their trade-card, offering globes, books and charts, as well as instruments.  And what we see from here is, I think, a meeting of minds.  A meeting of minds in particular with Price, born near Carmarthen and apprenticed to Seller in 1694 – he and Senex were exactly of an age.  By 1705, when Senex moved to new premises “next door to the Fleece Tavern in Cornhill”, he was sharing in most of Seller and Price’s activities.  You can see his Cornhill address added in at the foot of their card.  The thinking, incidentally, in this choice of location was almost certainly influenced by the death of the well-known Cornhill mapmaker Robert Morden in 1703.  This was a major area for the map trade – there was a vacuum to be filled. 

© British Library Board.

Here is a list of stock being co-published by the young men, including some major maritime atlases and a pair of twelve-inch globes.  This was the period which was to define Senex’s later career, but it was on his own account that in 1705 he published his first major title.  A book by the famous astronomer Edmond Halley – the comet man. 

Halley’s Comet, March 1986. © Shutterstock.

Some of you are probably old enough to remember his comet gracing our skies in 1986: for those who are not, it is due again in 2061. 

© Royal Astronomical Society / Science Photo Library.

The book that Senex published, at the age of twenty-six, was the “Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets”, first published in Latin a few months earlier – the work in which Halley made his famous prediction: “Hence I dare venture to foretell … it will return again in the year 1758.  And, if it should then return, we should have no reason to doubt but the rest must return too”.  Halley in the act of establishing the periodicity of comets – and Senex his publisher. 

Edmond Halley (1656-1742). Attributed to Isaac Whood. Oil on canvas, circa 1715.  © National Portrait Gallery.

The introduction to Halley must have come through Seller and Price – John Seller had published some of Halley’s earlier celestial charts.  It was a connection that endured throughout Senex’s career – a connection made visual in this portrait of Halley in the National Portrait Gallery.  That is a Senex map on the table – I shall show you shortly.  The book, by the way, is a copy of Isaac Newton’s “Principia” – still only available in Latin at this point. 

In that same year of 1705, Seller and Price lost the Navy contract for compasses.  The impact was immediate.  Jeremiah Seller disappears – and Price joined Senex in Cornhill.  Much of the old Seller stock and copyrights was dispersed, but Price retained the rights in some of the smaller works and globes. 

Here is an old John Seller pocket atlas that he and Senex revamped and republished.  The original to the left, the Senex and Price revision to the right.  They remained in Cornhill for a year or two before embarking on what, in the context of the time, was a very single-minded undertaking.  In 1707, they gave up the retail shop completely and moved to private premises.  They had decided to take their map-making to a new level. 

Their predecessor in Cornhill, Robert Morden, provides a clue.  He prefaced one of his works with an apology: his work had been hampered by the “frequent avocations and disturbances that attend a publick shop and trade”.  He envied those “whose quiet doors, and unmolested hours afford no such distractions”.  Senex and Price needed those “quiet doors”. 

They issued proposals: “we design to publish a new sett of maps, which shall, in correctness, and all other particulars, far exceed any yet done”.  Twenty maps, each on two sheets of imperial paper, to be delivered to subscribers within a year.  This was unrealistic, but they kept up a reasonable pace.  We can track their progress through contemporary advertisements.  The map of Spain was ready in September 1707, the British Isles in March 1708, and so on until, with a map of South America and a map of the world – now available as both a mug and a tote-bag – the series was eventually completed in 1711. 

Even before the series was complete, there was a falling out.  I imagine over money – it usually is.  It seems clear from the local rate-books that it was Senex who was paying the rent.  He and a new partner, John Maxwell, returned to retail premises at the Sign of the Globe, “going into Salisbury Court”, off Fleet Street.  I take this to be the Maxwell who later translated Isaac Newton’s “General Scholium”, published by Senex in 1715.

South America Corrected from the Observations Communicated to the Royal Society’s of London & Paris.  London: John Senex & John Maxwell, 1711.  © Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.

The South America map, dedicated to Halley, “corrected from his own discoveries, in grateful acknowledgement of his ready assistance”, was published by Senex and Maxwell from the new address.  It is worth noting that Senex had by now, presumably under Price’s tuition, become an accomplished engraver, something that would not have formed any part of his training under Clavell.  And I thought you might like his little penguin – half fish, half fowl. 

With the move to Fleet Street, Senex ran into trouble with a much longer established mapmaker – Herman Moll, who had just moved to premises in the Strand, only about 300 yards away.  Moll was working on a rival series of maps – in exactly the same in size and style.  He did not hold back.  On one map, he added an “advertisement” in the corner: “Among all the cheats that the world are daily abused with, none have lately been more scandalous than that of maps … put out by ignorant pretenders … they basely impose on the public with pompous titles, and pretend they are … assisted by those who either never saw, or despise their wretched performances”. 

This was brutal – and there is no doubt at all that it was aimed at Senex.  But Moll, for all his many talents, was utterly wrong.  He was a brilliant self-publicist – to the extent that many academics still believe he was the only serious London mapmaker of the period.  He most certainly was not – and Senex was already moving on to higher things. 

This was published by Senex in 1713 – a wall-chart of the solar system – based on the work of Newton and Halley, and compiled by William Whiston, Newton’s successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.  Whiston was among the few at that date fully to grasp the implications of the theory of universal gravitation.  The chart remained in print throughout the century and became a key icon of the period, imbued with a sense of wonder at the vastness of the unknown, and yet with a belief that we were poised on the threshold of understanding.  The roundels of text are musings from Newton himself: “What is in those coelestial spaces void of matter?  … How comes it that nature acts nothing in vain?  And whence proceeds the admirable beauty of the universe”?

Here is another Senex publication from 1715 – this time from Halley.  The map on the table, which we saw earlier.  A map predicting the forthcoming eclipse: the first ever attempt at this type of map, showing the path of totality and the predicted timings.  Remarkably accurate, but it was not just science: this was also an exercise in preventing possible panic – “so that the sudden darkness … may give no surprise to people, who would, if unadvertised, be apt to look upon it as ominous”.

Whiston and Senex were also alive to the commercial possibilities.  They produced another chart, showing the conjunction of orbits, and Whiston sold tickets to observe the eclipse under his personal direction.  The same advertisement announced protective eye-wear: “Mr.  Senex’s smoak’d glasses, price 6d. are very proper to be had by such as would with any care observe the same”. 

Zodiacus Stellatus Fixas Omnes … Or, An Exact Description of all the Fix’d Stars, to which the Moon or Planets can at any Time Apply.  © Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.

Senex went on to publish at least a dozen similar maps, of increasing sophistication, over the years – and there was also this, the “Zodiacus Stellatus”.  This is a later impression, dating from about 1770, but it was first published in 1718.  It is again by Halley, although his name is conspicuously absent.  There was a reason: Halley had taken the raw data without permission from the observations of his great rival, his predecessor as Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed – Halley taking the view that Flamsteed was a public servant and that the information was not his to withhold.  Flamsteed was furious. 

After his death in 1719, his assistant Joseph Crosthwaite was looking for someone to engrave Flamsteed’s long-promised celestial atlas – it eventually appeared in 1729 – but bridled at the suggestion that Senex might be the man for the job. 

“Senex is so much a tool of Dr. Halley’s, and affronted Mr. Flamsteed so much in his lifetime by engraving the Zodiacus Stellatus, and putting his own name to it, in order to screen Dr. Halley from the law, that I am afraid he is not to be trusted.  Besides, he is reputed the very worst engraver in London”.  This was simply anger talking: Senex was a perfectly competent engraver, although he had had no formal training and knew his limitations.  He routinely sub-contracted out all the more elaborate work to engravers he advertised as “the ablest hands in England” – and indeed they were.

[Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Suprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner …  London: William Taylor, 1719.  © British Library Board.

With the return to a retail shop, Senex also returned to bookselling.  From 1714 onwards, he often published in partnership with William Taylor of the Ship in Paternoster Row.  Taylor is mainly remembered for two things.  One: he was the original publisher of “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719 and became a wealthy man.  Two: that his business passed to Thomas Longman – and it survives to the present day – still using his sign of the Ship as its logo.

Most of the books he and Senex published together were primarily Senex publications, with Senex’s name first on the imprint, but we sense Taylor’s solid financial support in the background.  It enabled Senex to embark on an ambitious programme.  A second factor was that in 1714 Senex took on a remarkable apprentice – the young Ephraim Chambers – our first encyclopaedist – Chambers’ “Cyclopædia” was first published in 1728 – and Senex was prominent among the booksellers involved in publishing it. 

A further factor was that in 1715 Senex made another major connection in the scientific community.  It was in that year that he co-published (not with Taylor, but with Edmund Curll – Pope’s “shameless Curll”) a book by John Theophilus Desaguliers.  It was ostensibly a translation, but one much augmented by the translator.  The book was not in itself of major consequence, although no doubt welcome enough: “Fires Improv’d: Being a New Method of Building Chimneys so as to Prevent their Smoaking”.  Desaguliers knew what he was talking about: he later designed a ventilation system for the House of Commons (presumably to dispel the hot air). 

But he was much more important than that.  At Oxford, he had succeeded to the lectureship of John Keill, the man who introduced Newtonian physics to the other university.  On moving to London, Desaguliers became, in effect, curator of experiments to the Royal Society, working under Newton himself.  His public lectures brought him fame – popular entertainments in which he proved scientific propositions with eye-catching experiments performed by his assistants. 

He lectured here in Bath, incidentally, in 1724 – the first public lecture on science to be given here.  His topic was the eclipse of May 1724 – and there were of course Senex maps – one from Whiston, one from Halley. It was Desaguliers, more than anyone, who put the new science across to the wider public.  And Senex was his publisher.

Desaguliers had a wider impact still.  He was also – and this takes us in a completely fresh direction – a freemason.  In fact, the man who began modern freemasonry, devised its rules and structure, and founded the Grand Lodge in 1717.  He made it the hugely fashionable cult it became at the time.  He drew in the royal family and the aristocracy.  The Fellows of the Royal Society, from Newton down, became masons almost to a man – as did the leading architects, painters and engravers. Here are the “Constitutions of the Free-Masons”, the first ever tabulation, commissioned by Desaguliers and published by Senex and his neighbour John Hooke in 1723.  Senex not only published it, but was soon to become Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge – under Desagulier’s Deputy Grand Master.  Whatever freemasonry later became, at the outset it was a potent idea: an arena for debate, free of both religion and politics, for all those concerned in Enlightenment beliefs.  Literally “masons” in their concern to build a new world based on reason and the new science.  It led to what the art historian Richard Woodfield has called the “Masonic Moment” in British culture – a genuine fusion of art and science – Senex at the heart of it and providing the key texts. 

Let me give a sampling: there were a clutch of Whiston’s works of course.  The “Astronomical Lectures” 1715.  The following year his “Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematick Philosophy” and a pamphlet on meteors.  By 1718, he had at least ten of Whiston’s other works in print.  There were books by Desaguliers – Edmé Mariotte’s “The Motion of Water”, a treatise on hydrostatics, translated by Desaguliers in 1718.  The copy shown here, incidentally, bears the ownership inscription of Henry Beighton – the surveyor and mining engineer – builder of a steam-engine long before James Watt.  Senex later worked with him on his fine map of Warwickshire published in 1728. 

There was Francis Hauksbee’s “Physico-Mechanical Experiments … Containing an Account of Several Surprizing Phæonomena Touching Light and Electricity” in 1719 – this the elder Hauksbee, a protégé of Newton, the first to carry out sustained experiment on electricity, and inventor of the first electrical machine.  In 1720, Newton’s own “Universal Arithmetic”.  There was Willem van s’Gravesande’s “Mathematical Elements” in 1720, dedicated to Newton.  Gravesande was professor of mathematics at Leiden and the man who took the new science to continental Europe.  Senex later published both his “Essay on Perspective” and “Elements of Universal Mathematics”.

There were the works of the Scottish mathematician Edmund Stone, including the “New Mathematical Dictionary”.  This is his translation of Nicolas Bion, “The Construction and Principal Uses of Mathematical Instruments”, with Stone adding much fresh material on instruments “invented or improved by the English”.  All the plates engraved by Senex.

I could continue at length, but you have the flavour.  And there were similar books in other fields – important works on medicine, anatomy, and so forth.  Fuelled perhaps by the profits of “Robinson Crusoe”, Senex and Taylor were also producing finely illustrated works on art and architecture. 

© Bernard Becker Medical Library.

In 1721, they published “A Treatise of Painting by Leonardo da Vinci” – the first of any of Leonardo’s works to appear in an English translation.  As the preface makes clear, what appealed to Senex was the fusion of art and science – “A man so happy in his genius … so accomplished in the arts, so knowing in the sciences”. 

The pace perhaps slackened after Taylor’s death in 1724, but also, as we shall see, Senex was breaking off in a new direction.  Nonetheless, he continued to publish this kind of material and if I may jump ahead a little, we can perhaps see the culmination of this in the publication of Desagulier’s own major work, “A Course of Experimental Philosophy”.  The first volume was published in 1734, with Senex heading the booksellers concerned.  I lay stress on “experimental” because it was a word that had a particular resonance at that time.  We nowadays use it to mean something not fully worked out, but to Desaguliers and Senex and their circle, the meaning was rather different.  To them, it meant something rooted in practical observation and not in hypothesis or theory; something proved by practical experiment and not by speculation: something in essence very fully worked out.  It was a word that was a call-to-arms to the Newtonians. 

Desaguliers is specific: he praises Newton for his ascendancy over the speculative school – “the routing”, as he calls it, “of this army of Goths and Vandals in the philosophical world”.  This is the book in which the word “conductor” – in the electrical sense of conducting a current – was used for the very first time – and I think this is how Senex saw himself – as a conductor of ideas.  He was by now publishing all the key figures – he had become the publishing champion of the whole of the new science.  It’s rather difficult to exaggerate the importance of that: these were the books that ushered in the modern world.

An Actual Survey of All the Principal Roads of England and Wales …  London: John Senex, 1719.

In the course of all this, he had not been neglecting his maps.  In 1714 he published an augmented version of the original series of two-sheet maps in atlas form: “The English Atlas”.  His largest map, a wall-map of the British Isles in nine sheets, was also published at about this time – advertised as “seven foot long and five foot deep”.  The survival rates of these giant wall-maps are extremely low – this was thought to be a lost map until a copy turned up in Chicago in the 1990s.  His road-book, “An Actual Survey of all the Principal Roads” came out in 1719, advertised as “a handsome pocket volume” – and indeed it was.  Not a new idea, but reinvented in a portable format.  Only a dozen or so of the hundred maps are signed by Senex himself, but those that do naturally include the road to his native Ludlow, shown here at the foot of the sixth column. 

The “New General Atlas” appeared in 1721 – published by a whole conger of booksellers, but the maps “all engraven or revised by Mr. Senex” – the best English atlas of the period.  And in the same year, Senex moved to new and more prominent premises on Fleet Street itself, at the Globe, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church.  It would have been one of the buildings in the shadowed area to the left of the image below.  At the new premises he engraved and published Richard Budgen’s map of Sussex, one of the very earliest large-scale county maps.  He was involved in several of these – and he had already at this point engraved an even earlier one – William Williams’ wall-map of Denbighshire and Flintshire.  Again – a unique surviving copy. 

John Maurer, A Perspective View of Temple Barr and St. Dunstans Church.  London: 1753.  © The Trustees of the British Museum.
William Williams, A New Map of the Counties of Denbigh & Flint.  ca.1720.  © National Library of Wales.

At just about this point, Senex once again attempted to move his map-making up a level.  The first intimation came in 1719, with the announcement that “a compleat sett of sea-charts” was in preparation on what was called a “new invented globular projection”.  A projection intended to demonstrate “true navigation according to the globe”.  Devised by John Harris, the instrument-maker; Henry Wilson, whose “Trigonometry Improv’d” Senex published in 1720, and by Senex himself.  A patent was obtained in 1721.  Complications followed – not least an entertaining pamphlet battle over the merits of the idea – but eventually, in 1728, fifty-two “globular” charts were published as the “Atlas Maritimus”.  The general text – or at least parts of it – was written by Daniel Defoe – there were sailing directions, and specialised material by Halley.  It had a great deal going for it, but it never caught on.  Brilliant in theory, but just a little too complex in practice.

Atlas Maritimus & Commercialis, or, A General View of the World, so Far as Relates to Trade and Navigation …  London: 1728.  © Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.

Another venture was rather more closely related to the new science, with its emphasis on observation and experiment.  His earlier maps, however carefully compiled, were just that – “compilations” from earlier sources.  The skill of the mapmaker lay in evaluating, selecting and combining those sources.  But in 1721 Senex issued proposals for a full-scale field survey.  The county of Surrey was to be surveyed “as a specimen for the rest of the counties of England, to be performed after a new method”.  Operations began in August.  The method was indeed novel – and experimental – “A ball of fire will be thrown up from the top of Box-Hill at half an hour past eight every evening for a fortnight; and rockets will be let off from proper eminences near Godalming, Chertsey, and Westram; the first half a quarter of an hour after the ball, and the rest at a like interval … whence such gentleman as are furnish’d with proper instruments, will have an opportunity of determining their own bearings”.  I cannot vouch for the accuracy, but it sounds like fun.  I have an image of bewigged and bemused gentlemen emerging on to the terrace after a heavy eighteenth-century supper to get their bearings.  Senex never moved on to the other counties, but he did turn to surveying.  In 1724, together with Charles Price’s apprentice Richard Cushee, he was advertising an estate-mapping service.  In 1726 they were working on a map of London: although announced at that point as being “in great forwardness”, it is not a map that ever appeared.  There was of course a difficulty in this sort of work.  It was time-consuming, expensive – and the market for this type of product was as yet very small.

John Senex, A New Map of the County of Surrey : Laid Down from an Actual Survey.  London: John Senex; Thomas Bowles, and Elizabeth Cushee, 1729 [but ca. 1733].  © British Library Board.

We can see this in the finished map of Surrey – engraved on four sheets at one inch to the mile.  It eventually appeared, dated 1729 although published a little later.  Publication was delayed, according to the “Daily Journal” – “in expectation of gentlemen sending in their arms”, the coats of arms that form the border.  Now, Senex had been advertising for subscribers for at least eight years – and Surrey was a prosperous country – and yet, of the 156 shields, only perhaps a quarter are filled in.  The gentlemen did not send in their arms. 

Sussex House, Hammersmith Mall.  © Derek Harper.

The pace of new productions slowed noticeably after 1730.  Senex was probably concentrating on globemaking, but it could have been just a matter of advancing years, or that he was now a family man.  He had married Mary Wilcox at Westminster in 1723 – possibly the Mary Wilcox born there in 1704 – the daughter of Thomas and Mary Wilcox, but that is uncertain.  I assume he was the John Senex who took a lease on this newly-built house near the river at Hammersmith in 1726 – still standing and now known as Sussex House.  It later became the first home of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, which is a pleasing coincidence.  There was a son, John, born in August 1727 – he must have died in infancy – and a daughter, Elizabeth Maria, born in 1730. 

Senex was by now a man of some mark.  His services to science had been recognised in 1728 when he was himself elected a Fellow of the Royal Society – an unusual honour for a tradesman and one of which he was immensely proud.  He had been elected on the personal recommendation of Sir Hans Sloane, and of course Halley and Desaguliers. 

© British Library Board.

After his death in 1740, his widow Mary Senex continued in Fleet Street for a further fifteen years.  Here is one of her catalogues – for the most part simply her husband’s accumulated stock, but there were fresh things too: she added an apparently new dimension to the business by importing wall-maps and atlases from the continent.  She published a two-sheet map of a wide swathe of southern England based on his unpublished material, as well as impressive maps of the Caspian and the Gulf of Finland.  She also published James Ferguson’s chart of the lunar orbit in 1745 and Thomas Wright’s pamphlet on a forthcoming eclipse in 1747. 

A letter she wrote to Martin Folkes, President of the Royal Society, in 1749, concerning the merits and demerits of English and foreign globes, demonstrates considerable mastery of the technical detail.  Whatever her origins, she was now a mistress of her trade – and the leading globemaker in London in her own right.  On the strength of her letter to Folkes, which was published in the “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society”, Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States (and a man of science himself), wrote from Philadelphia to the printer William Strahan in London, to ask that he obtain for him “a Pair of Mrs. Senex’s improv’d Globes … the best and largest that may be had for (not exceeding) Eight Guineas”.  

Mary Senex retired at the end of 1755 – the stock, plates, and copyrights dispersed – and later went to live with her daughter in Dorset.  The daughter, Elizabeth Maria, had married the barrister Fitz Foy in 1752 – here is the house known as Castle Hill, or Duntish Court, built for the couple in 1764. 

Mary Senex died in December 1767 and was buried in Dorset.  She owned an estate at Islington in North London, let out for sixty guineas a year.  She left this to her daughter – specifically for her own “separate use, and for her husband never to intermeddle” with.  And if her daughter were ever to remarry, to preclude any later intermeddling by men, the estate would pass directly to the two grand-daughters.  Clearly a woman who knew her own mind. 

Terrestrial globe gores by Vincenzo Coronelli, 1688. © State Library of New South Wales.

I am unable to finish without some final consideration of the globes.  It is an area that overarches all the other Senex activities and, in a way, pulls them all together.  It is the point at which the highest skills of engraving are brought into play.  For those who might be wondering how a sphere can be engraved on a flat surface, here is how it was done – a slightly earlier Italian example –paper gores cut out and wrapped around a sphere, generally made of papier-mâché coated with plaster, with circular caps for each pole to cover the most obvious of the joins. 

© Christie’s

Senex’s involvement with globes dated from the early days with Charles Price.  In 1706 they announced a pair of twelve-inch globes, the celestial one based on Halley’s observations and showing nineteen new constellations “never before printed”.  In 1713, he announced he was working on a pair of large twenty-eight-inch globes – to add to his existing stock in smaller sizes.  Throughout his later career he could provide a complete range, from little pocket-globes like this, the celestial sphere lining the shagreen case, to the largest globes then made in London, the twenty-eight inch, at prices from ten shillings to twenty-five guineas.  He used the shop-sign of The Globe for the last thirty years of his life.  The single paper he read to the Royal Society, in 1738, was on the making of celestial globes.

Twenty-Eight-Inch Terrestrial Globe by John Senex, ca.1730.  © National Maritime Museum.

To judge from the inventory of surviving British globes, with which we began – in terms of survival rates and geographical spread – Senex was quite simply the greatest English globe-maker of his day.  The inventory lists some seventy different surviving British globes from the period.  Over a third are by Senex: twenty-three his own and four from the partnership with Price.  To those we can add another dozen bearing the names of either James Ferguson, who acquired the Senex globe-plates from Mary Senex, or of Desagulier’s former assistant, Benjamin Martin, who acquired the plates from Ferguson soon after.  These are essentially still Senex globes – from his plates.  The only other substantial groups are six by Price, who worked with Senex; eight by the Cushee family – Richard Cushee and his widow Elizabeth – both of whom worked with Senex – and nine by Nathaniel Hill, who was apprenticed to Cushee in 1730 and must also have worked with Senex.  In terms of geographical spread, there are surviving Senex globes in collections as far afield as Bologna, Lisbon, Paris, Hillerod in Sweden, Utrecht, Warsaw and Vienna.  His reputation was international.

© Sotheby’s.

Here is a pair of his sixteen-inch globes – dated 1740 – but the Chippendale mahogany stands look at little later, so probably a pair sold by Mary Senex.  Listed at £6 in her catalogues.  These two, titled in Latin for the international market, were sold at Sotheby’s last year for over £50,000. 

Samuel Parker, A Plan of the City’s of London, Westminster and Borough of Southwark; with the New Additional Buildings: Anno 1720.  London: John Senex, 1720.  © Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.

The story does not end with Mary Senex’s retirement in 1755.  Back in 1710, Senex had taken on an apprentice called Samuel Parker – a specialist map-engraver known for a wide variety of work.  Here is a map of London he produced for Senex in 1720.  Parker had an apprentice of his own, Richard William Seale – another well-known name, and Seale had his own apprentices in turn.  Through a direct line of master-apprentice descent – from Senex, to Parker, to Seale, and beyond, we can trace a host of further famous names down the years: it is a family tree which includes the superb engraver William Palmer.  It includes John Cary, the foremost British mapmaker of the early nineteenth century and a celebrated globemaker too; it includes Benjamin Baker of Islington, who became chief engraver to the Ordnance Survey in its early years, overseeing all the engraving and printing.  It includes the celebrated chart engraver, Alexander Findlay, and his son Alexander George Findlay, lynch-pin of the Royal Geographical Society.  Even the great poet William Blake, originally trained as an engraver, finds a place in this direct line of descent from Senex – and this is not to mention dozens of lesser-known names.  It was an extraordinary legacy.

© The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is a family-tree which also includes the Newtons – who made your own celestial globe here in Bath, recently restored.  The Newtons were a globe-making dynasty founded by John Newton, born in 1759 – he worked on into his eighties and died in 1844.  He was a partner of William Palmer, whom I have just mentioned – here is their trade-card – and his own master-apprentice line takes us directly back to Senex’s colleagues Charles Price and Richard Cushee.

Let me leave you with this – a brief contemporary obituary – “Tuesday about noon died at his house in Fleet-street, Mr. John Senex, F.R.S., a bookseller and globe-maker, a very ingenious man in his profession, whose globes and maps were in great esteem; he was a sincere, worthy, honest man, and greatly valued by men of learning”. 

Richard Wilson, Francis Ayscough with the Prince of Wales (later King George III) and Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany.  Oil on canvas, ca. 1750.  A Senex globe in the foreground.  © Yale Center for British Art.

One thought on “John Senex (1678-1740): Bookseller, Mapmaker & Globemaker

  1. Pingback: Our first bibliophilic virtual walking tour! – UoL Society of Bibliophiles

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