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Pratts High Test Plan of the Bath Road

  • Author: TAYLOR, Alfred Edward (artist)
  • Publisher: Anglo-American Oil Company Ltd, London (publishers)
  • Date: 1930
  • Dimensions: sheet: 74 x 49.5 cms / map: 66 x 38 cms


Pratts High Test Plan of the Bath Road [1930]: Decorative pictorial road map designed by artist Alfred E Taylor [1887-1959]

About this piece:

Pratts High Test Plan of the Bath Road

Original colour printed map. Single sheet, unfolded. Extra wide margins. Paper slightly yellow in tone, as issued. Slight marginal dusting & soiling but overall a very well-preserved example.

Alfred E Taylor’s fine 1930 pictorial map of the Bath Road, the former coaching route to the West of England from London. It is a route still closely followed by the present-day A4 and one whose rich & colourful past Taylor vividly captures in this engaging & decorative map.

The map extends westwards and south westwards from London as far as Cheltenham & Gloucester, Bath & Bristol and Salisbury in the South. The main Bath Road traces a route westward from London via Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Newbury, Hungerford, Marlborough, Calne & Chippenham and thence to Bath & Bristol. A system of turnpike roads had evolved along the route in the 17th and 18th Centuries, especially given the rising popularity of Bath as a spa town where wealthy & aristocratic socialites and well-to-do visitors would frequently gather & take the waters. Amongst them was Charles Dickens’ Mr Pickwick, whom Taylor quotes here.

During the early 19th Century, the London to Bath route was serviced by upwards of 10 stagecoaches daily, the journey taking around 12 or 13 hours. The principal staging post on the route was Hungerford, located at almost the midway point between London & Bristol. The service would rapidly decline with the advent of the Great Western Railway in the 1840s.

In the Depression-hit summer of 1932 Anglo-American Oil, the owners of the Pratts High Test Oil brand, initiated an advertising campaign to promote both the Pratts High Test brand and the idea of a patriotic British “staycation”. The campaign was backed by a series of charming pictorial road maps, including this one, which Anglo-American had recently commissioned from the well-known British cartographer and illustrator, Alfred E Taylor [1887-1959]. The maps were published in a variety of formats and proved immensely popular both with the British motorist and the wider general public. With the advent of the new Esso branding of their product range in 1936, Anglo-American published an illustrated gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland which incorporated several of these maps on a reduced size & scale.

Taylor’s map of the Bath Road is filled with numerous decorative vignettes & coats of arms, short historical facts, amusing local anecdotes and pertinent literary quotations. A decorative title cartouche surrounded by coaching scenes & 18th Century highwaymen appears lower right, whilst an inset upper right shows alternative routes out of central London. An amusing verse below the title extols the accelerating qualities of Pratts High Test Petrol (in allowing the modern motorist to easily outrun any ghostly highwaymen who may still frequent this route!). Immediately below is Taylor’s signature and the design’s original date of completion (’30).

For a detailed study of Taylor’s life and work as a pictorial cartographer see our accompanying Blog post

Refs: David Rumsey Collection