Map return scheme proves a booming success

Since announcing the map return scheme a couple of weeks ago, we’ve had an overwhelming 9,000 maps returned (we only received 10,000 in total last time). They range from the pristine to the distinctly well-loved and used, and from only a couple of years old to as far back as the early 1900s.


Some of the older maps are beautiful to look at, both the cover designs and the interiors, with their different shading and information.


Stretched end to end, the maps would cover over a mile, so you can imagine just how much the boxes of maps are piling up in our head office. The team are busy sending out the Map Shop vouchers in return for the maps received, but they’re also working to reuse the returned maps as much as possible.

Reusing the maps

We can’t endorse the maps being used for navigating around Britain, as we always recommend using the latest maps to be safe in the outdoors. But – we can recommend using the maps to teach map reading and navigations skills and to use for practice. With this in mind, we’ve already send boxes out to some Scout groups and navigation classes for use in teaching.

If your Scout group or navigation class would like a box of maps, contact us. The boxes will contain a random selection of relatively recent and useable maps for teaching navigation skills. We can’t guarantee any particular areas will be included in the boxes.

We’ve also heard from people who like to use maps for art projects and other purposes. We’re more than happy to support this and see the maps being reused. If you would like a box of older maps to use in this way, contact us. As before, we can’t guarantee any particular areas, it will be a random selection of maps.

In both cases, maps boxes will be sent out on a first come, first serve basis.

Using your vouchers in the Map Shop

Don’t forget that if you’re buying new maps with your voucher, the OS Explorer range now comes with a mobile download included. The OS Landranger maps will be following suit later this month.

If you do have maps that you would like to return to us in exchange for a voucher to use in our Map Shop, there’s still plenty of time to get involved. The scheme is open until 20 March.

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30 Responses

  1. ok I am curious. Is there a point to taking the maps back just to give them away? I thought maybe they were like library books, where the library has an amnesty from fines if you return overdue books so they have them in their library again.
    Maybe I am missing the point here

    1. Hi Elaine

      It’s to encourage people to have the most up to date maps to use when they’re exploring Britain. When people return their old maps, they receive a voucher with money off in the OS Map Shop. We don’t use the scheme as a means of replenishing stock at head office – we simply wouldn’t have room to keep an archive of all of our previous published maps. We also don’t like to see maps being thrown away though, so that’s why we’re trying to reuse as many as possible by offering them to any groups who teach navigation or to artists who use them for their work.

      Thanks, Gemma

  2. Becca

    Im worried that this will lead to the destruction and loss of old and beautiful maps (even those 10 years out of date or younger are still worth keeping). Especially if they are being used in ‘art projects’ where the maps may be damaged or destroyed. These maps should be donated to libraries and universities or made available to collectors and those who appreciate the beauty of maps.
    Please do not allow these fantastic objects to be destroyed or damaged.

    1. Hi Becca

      Our whole historic maps collection was dispersed amongst The National Archives and deposit libraries across the country some years ago. These are maps that people would otherwise be throwing out or recycling as they are heavily used, often damaged, and no longer wanted. We’re really happy to see them being reused for teaching navigation or being used in art projects where they can be appreciated in a new form for more years to come.

      Many thanks

    2. Simon Jermy

      Libraries don’t keep hold of old maps forever either. My local one got rid of their entire stock. Some of them had been last checked out in the late 1990s! They sold them for 10p each and now I’m just looking for creative things to use them for.

      So this looks like a great scheme by OS.

  3. Hi Gemma

    Have just emailed customer services as I would love to use the old maps at a Children’s festival in Shrewsbury in April. I am hoping to be able to show how you can reuse paper to make a handy reusable bag and pass on the message that Upcycling is good.

    Hope I can get some maps.

    Regards Clare Unwin

  4. Leanne

    This is brilliant! Thank you so much for donating the to groups. We are trying to teach our guides map reading skills as it’s a life skill. Hope we manage to secure some…

  5. I think these maps would be HUGELY useful to local historical societies, reference libraries, and museums. Then, perhaps, to schools for tuition and library purposes, and finally to historians, novelists, and the like. Not to mention set-dressing for TV and films.

    You should, of course, offer them to the national collections at the British Library, the Science Museum, The National Museum of Scotland, Amgueddfa Cymru, Ulster Museum, Shetland Museum & Archives etc.

    Then there are university libraries like http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/collections/library/prints-collection-guide/ephemera/ and http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk and http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery.

    But there are also ephemera collections and specialists. If they can’t be donated for the public good, then they could be sold to suitable deallers and the money used to e.g. sponser some map-based charity (I can think of one!)

    1. Hi Bob

      All of our official and original archives of maps was dispersed to The National Archives, deposit libraries and local libraries around the country ahead of our move to Explorer House in 2010. Most of the maps we are having returned have been far too well-used and loved and are also the mass-produced and widely available maps from fairly recent times. Any that look unusual or particularly old, we’ll put aside, but everything else is being donated for reuse. We’re really pleased to be able to help out various groups who will be able to put the maps to good use and extend their life span further.

      Thanks, Gemma

  6. Fran McHENRY

    sorry i cant make the contact us link work.
    i would if possible like some maps for my beaver colony and also for an art project. many thanks

    1. Hi Fran

      Sorry to hear that. The link should open an email window for you, but if you’re having problems, you can just email customerservices@os.uk direct with your request. All requests are going to the team and they’re dealing with them on a first come, first serve basis.

      Thanks, Gemma

  7. Louise

    I collect old OS maps of the Peak District so if you’ve had any from that area returned I’d be interested! I have current ones for use in walking, but I like to compare the land and such and find the old maps really interesting!

    1. Hi Louise

      I’m afraid we aren’t sorting the maps by area as it would involve too much resource and temporary storage space too. If you would like to apply for a box, it will just be a random selection of maps. The address to apply is customerservices@os.uk

      Thanks, Gemma

  8. Wow – the older maps would be invaluable to anyone researching their public rights of way before the Government’s 2026 deadline. Any footpaths or bridleways that existed before 1949 and are not put onto ‘the definitive map’ by 2026 (or at least having an application made for them) are automatically exitinguished on 1 January 2026. Many of us are working to collect the evidence to show what rights exist in law but are missing form the official map. Despite the ‘disclaimer’ on OS maps, they are in fact very useful to show physical existance, opionion of the use of a route, and also they were often the only things to guide new people to an area so would have been used to navigate on foot or horseback regardless of the disclaimer. Further, the first ediiton had useful area books that gave land use descriptions. How do we apply for a box of maps? The national user group bodies (Ramblers, British Horse Society, Open Spaces Society for example) could send them to their researchers in the appropriate area.
    Kind regards, Phil Wadey #rowrtr

    1. Adam

      Hi Phil,
      I found your book very useful. I suspect that the OS are getting back relatively few pre-1949 maps, but as these are now out of copyright (50 years), many are viewable online and allow non-commercial reproduction. The National Library of Scotland ( http://maps.nls.uk/series/index.html ) has:
      Revised New Series (1890s), New Popular (1940s), and Seventh Series (1950s & 60s) 1 inch maps;
      1:25000 First Series maps (1930s-1960s);
      1:10,560 (six inch) County Series (1840s-1940s)
      Bartholomew’s Half inch maps (1900s-1920s) based on OS, but were sold to and roads classified with the help of cyclists, so provide good evidence of reputation.

      This site has a limited selection of 1920s/30s Popular Series 1-inch maps: http://www.ponies.me.uk/maps/osmap.html

      This site has copies of the earliest OS 1-inch maps (Early-mid 19th Century): http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/maps/
      The British Library has the original surveyor’s drawings for most of these very early 1-inch maps, often these are at a larger scale and show detail which didn’t make the finished map: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/ordsurvdraw/

      Hope that helps!

  9. Kevin

    I’d love to use some of these in my salvaged and re-purposed timber furniture projects, they add such a great sense of history to things that are often made from a mixture of very old and quite new.
    I’ve sent in a request so fingers crossed.

  10. Rebecca Wilkinson

    I’m interested in receiving a box of maps for my Guiding groups. I’ve tried your ‘contact us’ link, but all I get is a blank page. Could you please help?

  11. Bevely watt

    Hello .
    I’m a scout leader and these maps would be great for us to teach the scouts map reading it would be wounderful if we could have some maps .thanks Bev watt .

  12. Tom


    Your article ‘Everything you need to know about Rights of Way’ does not confirm wether you can cycle down a recreational route – is this the case please?

  13. Thank you so much Ordnance Survey – I arrived home today to find two boxes of maps waiting for me, a fantastic surprise, I never expected to receive so many. They will be happy in their new home and re-worked into artwork!

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