Although we’ve spent the last 170 years based in Southampton, Ordnance Survey’s early days were actually at the Tower of London. This early period of our history is being celebrated with the new Power House exhibition in the Tower.
The exhibition gives visitors the chance to discover the stories and personalities behind the major organisations of state, who took care of Royal business behind the mighty Tower walls, from 1100 to the present day.
It showcases the roles of the major organisations that provided the bedrock of England’s power throughout the centuries – including the Ordnance Office, Ordnance Survey, the Royal Mint, Record Office, the Jewel House, Menagerie and Royal Observatory. Power House also puts the spotlight on other Tower of London functions, ranging from royal residence to state prison.
An amazing three metre high ‘bejewelled’ dragon greets visitors to the exhibition in the White Tower. The dragon is made up from parts representing the organisations in the exhibitions – our mapping forms part of the wings.
The Ordnance Survey section of Power House gives our early history. The Board of Ordnance became residents of the Tower in 1716 when a Drawing Room in the White Tower was fitted out to allow for mapping to be drawn. In 1791 Ordnance Survey became a distinct branch of the Board of Ordnance and began to map England and Wales. We remained resident at the Tower until a fire in 1841. We then became a government department in our own right and moved to Southampton, where we remain today.
Also on display is a copy of the first map produced by us. The map of Kent was completed in 1801 at the Tower of London Drawing Room. Produced at the one inch to one mile scale, it was printed by William Faden of Charing Cross, a leading cartographer and map publisher at the time.
There are some fascinating stories to be told by the other residents of the Tower too. Including the tale of William Foxley, potmaker for the Royal Mint, who fell asleep for 14 days and 15 nights. The poor soul was viewed as a curiosity and was prodded, poked and even burned in an effort to rouse him. Even King Henry VIII visited the Tower, to witness the ‘spectacle’ for himself.
If you’d like to find out more or visit the exhibition yourself, visit the Royal Armouries wesbite.