Mapping our London roots

We’re heading to London on Friday to take part in a celebration of all things map, geo and cartographic at the British Library’s evening bash. But did you know that London used to be home to Ordnance Survey? Although we’ve spent the last 176 years with our head office based in Southampton, our early days were actually at the Tower of London.

The Tower of London in 2012

The Tower of London in 2012

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.

The first Ordnance Survey map, showing 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. The public could buy OS maps either from our office in the Tower of London, or from William Faden’s shop.

The 1801 map of Kent, a copy is on display at our head office

The 1801 map of Kent, a copy is on display at our head office

We remained resident at the Tower until a fire in 1841. Fire swept through the Grand Storehouse, threatening to engulf the Crown Jewels in the Martin Tower. Miraculously, they were saved, and most of our records and instruments were also carried to safety. But the fire highlighted OS’ desperate need for more office space, and prompted a move to a new Southampton headquarters in a former barrack building.

After being bombed in the Southampton Blitz of 1940, a fire destroyed much of our head office once more. Our second Southampton head office opened at Romsey Road in the 1960s, and we moved to our third home, Explorer House, on the outskirts of the city in 2010.

We’re proud of our roots at the Tower of London which were celebrated in the Power House exhibition in the Tower back in 2011. The exhibition showcased the roles of the major organisations that provided the bedrock of England’s power throughout the centuries – including OS, the Royal Mint, and more. Power House also put the spotlight on other Tower of London functions, ranging from royal residence to state prison.

We also retain many more links with London, with our Geovation Hub office in Clerkenwell and our surveying team being kept busy mapping the capital’s changes. We’ll be blogging about those thousands of London changes later this week, so watch this space.

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