Recreating historic maps: interview with Charley Glynn

We recently celebrated our 225th anniversary and shared with you two new maps created by our Cartographic Design team. Chris and Charley took inspiration from map styles in our history and used current OS data to recreate the look and feel. Charley chose a 1960s map of the Western Highlands of Scotland. We catch up with him to find out how he went about the challenge.

Charley's map

Charley’s map

Tell us about the map era that you chose

I chose it due to the stark difference to the current leisure maps such as OS Explorer. I’d been looking through some of the old maps that had been sent to head office for the map return scheme earlier in the year and one caught my eye. It’s a 1967 Quarter Inch map from the Fifth Series, the cover has a cool retro look to it and I like the marginalia. The boldness of colours and the mountainous terrain appealed from the Western Highlands area, it’s an interesting geography. I thought it would be a challenge to recreate current data in this style, plus there was the chance to learn some new techniques.

How did you create the map?

Although the map title was a quarter inch map, it was actually one of the first OS maps to be in a metric scale. This made it easy to decide which current data to use as it was using OSGB (national grid) and I could use our 1:250,000 scale database. Rather conveniently the contours and colour bands are still maintained in feet too which made it simple to transfer across. I added in hill shading from our small scale products and also needed the trig pillar database – so data acquisition was relatively straightforward.

I used QGIS to pull all of the data together layer by layer. I created a rough style, and ensured road widths and widths of lines were correct through a process of trial and error. I was creating on screen, printing, comparing with the original and then going back to the screen to adjust.

I decided to only show the symbols and information contained within the original map, so it doesn’t contain any of the tourist symbols and information that you are used to seeing on OS maps. I scanned the legend in and traced the symbols to ensure it looked authentic. This part was good fun and I especially like the old lighthouse symbol.

Charley added a subtle paper texture and fold lines to give the images a more authentic feel. He even placed the fold lines in their actual location!

Charley added a subtle paper texture and fold lines to give the images a more authentic feel. He even placed the fold lines in their actual location!

I was particularly keen to echo the beautiful placement of the text in the original map, so was pleased to find that the names have been well placed. The data is attributed with categories, sizes and angles and it matched the original map pretty well, so I was able to manage 95% of this through automation by making good use of data-defined labelling.

Next I exported each layer from QGIS as PDFs – I ended up with 38 layers. I then moved it into Adobe Illustrator in layer order, to give myself more control to handle and style each layer separately. I had to manually tweak to ensure any text and symbols didn’t clash, and spent a large chunk of time cleaning this up. It gave me an appreciation for the amount of time that would have been taken to hand place each item originally by cartographers in the 1960s.

There was no real science behind recreating the colours – it was very much trial and error. I had to factor in the age of the original and the fact that the paper has yellowed and colours faded, so needed to compensate for that.

The Western Highlands isn’t a heavily inhabited area, had much changed since 1967?

The fact the map was published in 1967 and yet the data was last updated in 1956, shows how much OS has changed today with our data refresh rates. In terms of the data itself, not a great deal had changed since then.

An example of the ferry lines

An example of the ferry lines

One major difference in the original map and the modern version is the number of trig pillars. The majority of trig pillars in the area were built in the 1960s, so there are 10-20 times more in the modern data. There are more roads and ferry routes in the modern data, although the railways have largely stayed the same.

Could you navigate with this new map?

This scale of map could be used for planning a trip as it gives a good overview of a fairly large area. It represents the general lie of the land and the transport network really well – road, rail and ferry routes. However, the scale is too small to be used for walking and it doesn’t show footpaths or tourist information for attractions or even public toilets!

What was your favourite part to work on?

I really enjoyed taking the time to do manual placement of names and symbols as it’s something I rarely do and felt like a return to the cartographic production process of yesteryear. I think I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for the craftsmanship that has carried through the centuries at OS. It’s a really important part of our heritage and the lessons learned continue to feed into our future.


My least favourite part was trying to match up the colours. It was quite a mission but admittedly rewarding once I had finished and could compare it to the original.

Did you learn anything from the experience?

I had a strong sense of wanting to get it right. I worked on the new OS Maps basemap which covered the whole of GB and displays at multiple zoom layers, but that was a case of setting automated rules. This was a very different type of work in concentrating on each tiny element and needing so much manual refinement. It’s also inspired me to go for a bolder colour palette in maps in the future – I love the retro aesthetic!

Charley's map

Charley’s map

What was the most challenging part of the map to work on?

One challenge was with the bathymetric contours shown on the map. This isn’t historic OS data, it’s from a third party, and it isn’t displayed on our current maps (although you will still see it on OS Landranger Maps.) I couldn’t find an open data source that covered the whole area consistently and had to leave it off in the end. If anyone else knows a good source – please let us know.

Lastly, tell us an interesting fact about the map…

There are some quirks in the naming conventions on the historic content – it was before the dual naming and Gaelic names policy and some of the Gaelic names you see on the 1967 map have clearly been spelt phonetically and don’t reflect the current status.

Oh, and there were three types of telephone box – PO, AA or RAC!

Buy Charley’s map in our Map Shop – just £12.99

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