SDUK is short for Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. The idea for the Society was conceived by Henry Brougham the son of Henry and Eleanor Brougham, landowners in Westmorland. He was born in Edinburgh in 1778 and became a student at Edinburgh University at the age of 14. He worked as a lawyer in Edinburgh and later went into politics becoming a member of the House of Commons in 1810. In the 1820’s he was actively involved in educational reform and hence the SDUK with the object of publishing information for people belonging to the working class and middle classes who were unable to get formal education or preferred the idea of self education. One of their most widely read publications was the Penny Magazine. Maps were just another part of their publishing. The map committee was founded in 1828 with the first two maps published in 1829 under the title A Series of Maps, Modern and Ancient. The aim of the Society was to reach as many people as possible. This meant keeping cost of production down with the idea of a low selling price. You would not guess this today as each of their maps is a handsome work of art. Accurate in their detail, finely engraved and printed on a good quality paper. Over a period of 14 years the series expanded to 209 plates with over 3 millions maps being sold. Up until 1842 the design and engraving was under the direct control of the SDUK using the publishers Balwin and Craddock until their insolvency. From 1842 to 1844 the maps were published by Chapman and Hall, Charles Knight from 1844 to the completion of the series in 1846. Knight continued the publishing until 1852 when the plates were sold to George Cox and then Edward Stanford in 1856. The plates were later acquired by Thomas Letts in 1877 and then finally by Mason & Payne in 1885.
Henry Brougham went on to have an interesting but not lifelong career in politics. He was raised to the peerage in 1830 as Baron Brougham of Brougham in the County of Westmorland. He was Lord Chancellor for four years and was responsible for the passings of the Reform Act of 1832 and Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 but after this he never held office again although he continued to contribute to the debates in the House of Lords. He died in 1868