Celebrating 225 years with new (old) maps!

Did you know we’re 225 years old today? On 21 June 1791, the Board of Ordnance purchased a Ramsden theodolite, now seen as the foundation of OS, to survey Britain and protect from a French invasion. Ten years later we published the first OS map of Kent and have continued to map the country and provide data for Great Britain (and beyond – did you see the Mars map?) ever since. What better way to celebrate than with two new maps, created in a historic style?

1800s Kent

1800s Kent by William Mudge

225 years on and our location data is woven into the fabric of everyday life, right across Great Britain.  Our database holds the most detailed and accurate view of Great Britain’s landscape – from roads to fields, to buildings and trees, fences, paths and more. In a business context, it gives our customers the confidence to make location-based decisions about assets, services, environmental risks, customers and operations.

This is lightyears away from the data displayed in the first published OS map, showing Kent in 1801. The techniques and technologies involved in map creation have changed dramatically over time, and we thought it would be an interesting challenge for our cartographers to create a map showing modern features, in a historic style.

Chris Wesson and Charley Glynn in our Cartographic Design team grasped the challenge with both hands. Chris was inspired by the early 19th century OS maps and decided to recreate the urban environment of London. Charley found an interesting map from the 1960s in the huge number of maps sent to us for the map return scheme earlier in the year. The bold colours and rural landscape of the Western Highlands grabbed his imagination. The two set to work to use modern data to create a similar look and feel, using the latest technology. Take a look at the results below.

Chris used current OS data to recreate a 19th century style map

Chris used current OS data to recreate a 19th century style map

Chris’ primary challenge lay in the fact that many of the features needing to be added on his London map, such as railway lines, did not exist in 1801 when OS made its original map of Kent. So Chris took the earliest OS cartographic representations for each feature not represented in OS’ original map. His final product is a hybrid of maps from our beginnings, as opposed to a direct copy of the 1801 map.


Only the main roads deviate from the grey and black colour scheme in the 19th century map style Chris recreated

Charley Glynn's modern take on a 1960s quarter-inch map

Charley Glynn’s modern take on a 1960s quarter-inch map

For Charley, working on the West Highlands, very little had changed. One major difference between the original map and the modern version is the number of trig pillars. The map Charley was recreating with modern data was printed in 1967, but the data had been captured as early as 1956, and the majority of trig pillars in the area were built in the 1960s. There are at least 10 times more in the modern data – we haven’t counted them all yet!

Charley's map

Charley’s map – not a great deal had changed since from the original map, but there are more roads and ferry routes in 2016

We’ll be bringing you blogs from Chris and Charley over the next week or so to explain how they went about their map challenge, the highs and lows and lots more extracts from the maps. Watch this space.

Buy Charley and Chris’ maps in our Map Shop – just £12.99 each.

Find out more about OS’ history.

15 Responses

  1. Happy birthday to our colleagues in Ordnance Survey! It was a pleasure for us in communcation section in the Norwegian Mapping Authority to visit you in Southampton in April:-).

  2. Adam Piggott

    Many belated birthday returns! Even after 225 years I still missed your birthday; I’ll be on time one day.

    OS maps in digital and paper form continue to allow me to deftly get lost in home and away territories and it’s always nice to snuggle up with one, at the end of a bike ride, and figure out just where I got lost today.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Jenni

      If you’d like to buy Chris’ map, we’re planning to add it to our Map Shop soon. You can register for an alert at os.uk/225map

      Thanks, Gemma

  3. Although the Mull map extract is very good looking, it would have been interesting to see an area with more changes – perhaps somewhere like Milton Keynes or the Olympic Park in East London to be able to compare it with the 1960s rendering. (OK, I’m biased as I come from Milton Keynes and have a small number of actual maps showing the development of the area.)

    1. Hi Ian

      Thanks for the comment. We deliberately chose a more rural area for the 1960s map as it was a contrast to the urban area (London) covered for the 1800s map we also worked on for the 225th anniversary. You can actually see the Olympic Park area in the 1800s style London map, it’s available on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osmapping/

      Thanks, Gemma

  4. Bill Saunders

    Things have certainly moved on since I joined the OS as an Apprentice Tradesman in 1943, stationed at Barton on Sea! There we were trained in the use of a Gunter Chain of 100 links and an Offset staff!

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