At 224 years young, it’s safe to say that we’ve been mapping Britain for quite some time. Tomorrow night, you can find out more about the origins of OS in the 18th century and what we’re focusing on in the 21st century by watching BBC4. From 9 pm, Timeshift will be looking at ‘A Very British Map: The Ordnance Survey Story.’
Coast’s Nicholas Crane describes our maps as “everything that’s best about being British”, and you’ll hear from other map fans along the way as the programme charts our shift to the digital age. There have been some great reviews in the papers over the weekend with The Times marking it as one of the highlights of the week’s TV and the i put it in the top 10 too. The Daily Mail said that “there’s something magical about the detail and scope of Ordnance Survey maps, as this romantic new Timeshift neatly conveys”.
We’re looking forward to tuning in tomorrow night too. In the meantime, a bit of background for you. While we may be best known for our paper maps, guiding people along as they explore Britain, that now accounts for just 5% of our business. Our location data has woven itself into the fabric of our everyday lives across Great Britain. We produce digital map data, online route planning and sharing services and mobile apps, plus many other location-based products so you know exactly where you are.
We’ve come a long way since 21 June 1791, when OS was born. Our arrival was marked by the payment of the princely sum £373.14s to Jesse Ramsden for a three-foot theodolite. That purchase was made at the request of the Master General, the 3rd Duke of Richmond, and is now generally accepted as the founding action of the Ordnance Survey.
That theodolite, and others like it, were used to map the south east coast of Britain for fear of invasion by the French, and ever since then, all the way through to the modern digital age, we’ve played a constant role charting the changing face of the nation.
The presence of the Royal Engineers harks back to our military origins, where that fear of invasion promoted the Board of Ordnance, the Ministry of Defence of the day, to order a survey of the south east – hence our rather unusual name.
Watch the programme on Wednesday 9 September from 9 pm on BBC4. If you can’t wait, there are some clips available on the BBC’s pages now… and you can find out more about our history and what we do now on our website.