John Ogilby (1600-1676) was an amazing polymath, who had successive careers as a dancing master, courtier, theatre owner, poet, translator and compiler of geographical works and atlases.
In 1675 he produced Britannia, which was essentially a road atlas in the form of strip maps guiding the traveller from A to B, not unlike today’s satellite navigation devices.
The maps were based on on-the-ground research facilitated by a wheeled contraption to measure distances. Britannia represented the first major advance in cartography since Tudor times and helped to standardize the mile at 1760 yards.
The book collections at Belton House are among the finest in any National Trust house, showing the reading and book collecting habits of one family over a period of more than 350 years.
The copy of Britannia was owned by one of the most bookish members of the family, Sir John Brownlow, fifth Baronet and Viscount Tyrconnel (1690-1754).
Tyrconnel was keen on politics, but in spite of his support for the Walpole government (which earned him his Viscountcy) his contempories were not much impressed by his political skills. However, he was praised for his ‘nice taste and well-chosen knowledge’ of the arts.
Tyrconnel assembled a collection of old master paintings, but he also patronised the artists of the day. The charming Belton Conversation Piece by Philippe Mercier was one of the first ‘conversation pieces’ to be painted in England.
Tyrconnel aslo supported the poets Alexander Pope and Richard Savage. The latter was even offered shelter in Tyrconnel’s London house, but he was eventually thrown out again because of his habitual insolence and drunkenness and because he had pawned some of Tyrconnel’s books.
Tyrconnel collected books on science, history, travel, theology, literature and the classics. The books at Belton have just been fully catalogued and can be searched through the Copac database.