8. John Bill 1626


John Bill (fl.1591-1630), son of Walter Bill a husbandman of Wenlock in Shropshire, was a publisher and bookseller who worked in London from around 1590 until his death in 1630. He was apprenticed to John Norton (25th July 1592), three times Master of the Stationers Company, and admitted Freeman into the same company in 1601. Bill was a successful businessman and Latin scholar and was an acknowledged authority on stationery. He was commissioned by Sir Thomas Bodley to travel abroad and purchase books and he became a frequent visitor to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, came from Devon. He was born in Exeter in 1544 and married Sarah Ball of Totnes on 19th July 1586.

Sometime before 1618 Robert Baker, the King’s printer, sold his moiety of the business to Braham North and John Bill and this arrangement was confirmed by Royal Charter in 1627. Bill was succeeded by his son, also John Bill, when he died on 5th May 1630.

The only two publications with which he seems to have been associated, after establishing himself as a publisher in 1604, were the English text version of the Ortelius Atlas in 1606 (with John Norton) and The Abridgement of Camden’s Britania in 1626. The county maps based indirectly on the surveys of Christopher Saxton, were the first English and Welsh county maps to show longitude based on Mercator’s prime meridian (through the island of St. Michael’s in the Azores). The map of Devon is clearly based on van den Keere’s 1605 map (4); it is similar in size and simpler although a surprising number of places are named. Part of Cornwall and Part of Somersetshire are also named but no seas, which are the last to be drawn in the Flemish shotsilk technique. The northern coast is cut off near Ilfracombe where the map has been tilted to achieve north at the top. The engraver is not known.

On the reverse of each map is a description adapted from Camden of the county following, ie each map faced its description, thus Devon has a text on Dorset on the reverse. Some pages of the book were printed more than once as there are typographic differences in copies in a private collection to the text of other counties. In the copy held by the British Library Devon was printed upside-down.


Size 88 x 115 mm. A Scale of Miles (10 = 17 mm).

DEVON SHIRE. Latitude, longitude and compass directions just outside border.

1. 1626 The abridgement of Camden’s Britania With the Maps of the severall Shires of England and Wales   
  London. Iohn Bill. 1626.      XLI, S15, BL, (DevA).