Paterson’s Roads: An 18th Century Fodor’s guide to England.
by Mary Ann Trail



Many English men and women of the 18th and 19th centuries were far from the stay-at-homes we picture them. They traveled to London for the social life, their sons traveled often on the European continent for education and many traveled for just the same reasons people travel today, to see the sights! Even the middle class characters in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, take off for a visit to the Lake District.


But how did they know what road to take? How did they plan their stops, decide which inns to frequent, and places to change their horses? What resources did these English travelers have available to them to help them find their way? And how can the historical novelist today utilize these sources to lend accuracy and authenticity to their work?


In my own research, I was stumped, when faced with practical questions of travel during the 18th century, until a history professor introduced me to resources today we might call guide books. Other terms used include itineraries, road books, and almanacs.


Through an antique book dealer I was able to purchase a copy of Paterson’s Roads, 1808 edition although today some editions are available digitally at university libraries. But even after owning this book for a number of years, I am still amazed at the detail and information it provides. With this volume, the early 19th century traveler was able to plot a trip, get information about major sites to visit, coaching inns -even market days. The work became a series that was republished with updates annually until the 1820’s when another company took it over. Amazingly, in some of the rural areas of England, Paterson’s Roads can still be used with a modern map.


The following should give an idea of how Paterson’s Roads would have been used in 1808. Consult the accompanying images. If travelers are in the town of Cirencester and need to get to Gloucester, Paterson’s made the planning easy.


Using the index, they note the page giving directions to Gloucester from Cirencester. Cirencester is mentioned several different times in Paterson’s, depending on the direction the traveler is going. Even the index helps. It lists the market days, inns where post horses may be rented and whether it is a county seat. See the attached image of index page 14.


They then turn to page 102. . This covers the road to Gloucester from London by way of Cirencester although the first 49 ½ miles are actually on page 94. The travelers only need the shorter section on page 103 that starts the traveler in Cirencester and walks them the 16 miles or so to Gloucester. This is the brilliance of Paterson’s Roads. England is divided into shorter trips but they can be combined to show the route of much longer travels.


There are other appendices giving information about heights of various hills and mountains, a list of counties with population, a list of post towns and cost of a single letter to each, as well as the arrival time and departure of the Mail Coach. Planning a trip to Ireland? Paterson’s will provide you with a list of Post Office packet boats and their ports.


As delightful as Paterson’s Roads is, this little volume is not an original work. There are older maps and works that it seems to be based on. The main work is John Ogilby's 1675 Britannia, an atlas of road strip maps. Ogilby evidently had a small army who went about England pushing odometers and compiling much of the mileage data Paterson evidently used freely almost 100 years later. No copyright issues there!


The first edition of 150 pages was published in 1771 and continued in circulation with numerous updates for another 50 years. Paterson’s connection seems to have been severed in the later 1790’s. Earlier editions are very extensive mileage charts between the towns of England but by 1803 Paterson’s had grown to over 900 pages with the more detailed format described above.


The connection between the military and the production of road-books can be baffling to the modern reader. However, the British military has a history of producing maps for military operations in the many and varied places dominated by the British. The Ordinance survey maps originated with the Jacobean uprising in Scotland in the 1740’s and the need of the army to maneuver effectively. In the mid 1760 the army served as backup to local magistrates faced with a series of riots. I surmise that many of the later ‘itineraries’ and guidebooks arose from the need of the military to find its way quickly to the scene of the latest riot.


It is also difficult today to understand how information, gathered by and seemingly for military use, could be sold publicly for profit. Daniel Paterson’s military career seems to have been focused on the cartography of England proper, but he also sold the information for profit. The answer seems to lay with the lack of professionalism of the army at that time. “There was no formal educational requirements to trouble the head of the aspiring officer, a deficiency which some observers thought made a bad contrast with the growing professionalism of the navy.” (Guy 89) A standing army was seen as a constitutional threat and the resulting poor pay led to all kinds of abuses that were not really addressed until well into the Victorian age.


Little is known about Daniel Paterson, the man. Outside of his military career, which lasted from 1765 when he enlisted as an ensign until he retired in 1812 as Assistant Quartermaster General, Paterson seems to have lived a very retiring life. There is no record he ever left England although he was awarded the title of Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, which he kept until his death in 1825.


But the popularity of Paterson’s Roads extended well into the 19th century. There are numerous references to it in popular literature and it is used with no explanation as the reader was expected to already have knowledge of it. For example:

“Not one of whose works I ever found half so useful as the Tables of Interest, Patterson’s Roads (sic) or the London Directory” from Clarke, Three Courses and a Desert, 1850.


I regularly take Paterson’s with me when I visit England. It still fascinates me how much you can find that existed when the original odometer pushers made their way around the country. I have stood in the church in Cirencester and admired the windows. I have also driven down Birdlip hill and admired the grand view over Gloucester. Birdlip hill is still steep. One can only marvel how horse and carriages got down it safely.


Obviously there are many changes to the landscape and many places where the book doesn’t coincide with current geography. At least, in the smaller villages and byways, it is stunning to an American how many places you can still find using a guidebook over 200 years old.



This article was first published in 2008 in Solander  (Spring 2008)  a journal of the National Historical Novelists Society