John Speed (1552-1629) was born in Cheshire and is famous for publishing a series of maps of England and Wales in 1612 entitled The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. The town plans contained within the atlas provide some of the earliest visual accounts of British towns, including Southampton (image below).

John Speed (1628-1711) came to live at Grove Palace, Nursling in 1648 after being forced to leave Oxford University because of his royalist sympathies. After the restoration of the monarchy he returned to Oxford to complete his degree in medicine. In 1667 he came to live and work in Southampton, becoming a leading figure in the town’s affairs. He was mayor in 1681 and 1694. He was buried in the chancel at Holy Rood Church.

John Speed (1671-1741) followed in his father’s footsteps and gained a degree in medicine at Oxford University. He married Anne Crosse at Peartree Church in 1702. He died aged 77 and is also buried in Holy Rood Church.

John Speed (1703-1781) also studied medicine at Oxford and became a doctor in Southampton. He married Anna Maria Crosse in 1741 and lived for many years at Holy Rood House next to the church. Later he lived at 1 High Street and then at his own house in St Lawrence’s parish, where he died in 1781. His practice was very busy, but he found time to write many books, including satirical pieces on the local government of Southampton. He was the author of the first comprehensive history of Southampton, written in c.1770 and entitled The History and Antiquity of Southampton. The work is an expansion of his earlier The Charter of the Town of Southampton presented to the corporation in 1759. After his death his history of the town passed into the keeping of the corporation and in 1880s the Rev. J. Silvester Davies used it as the basis for his A History of Southampton. Speed’s work was published by the Southampton Record Society in 1909. Like his forebears, he too was buried in Holy Rood Church.

Plan of Southampton, 1611

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From The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine

Further reading:
Familiar and Forgotten, by Southampton Art Gallery. (HS/t)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 51. (for John Speed 1703-1781)


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