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.
This year marks the 225th anniversary of OS, giving us a map-making history to be proud of. Over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of artifacts, many of which are dotted around our Southampton head office – including a Ramsden theodolite in our CEO’s office and a copy of the 1801 map of Kent in our Business Centre. Watching the current ITV adaptation of Victoria, we were reminded of another stunning historic item, the Jubilee Book.
Compiled in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the book showcased the changes and innovations that had taken place at OS during the Queen’s reign. Director General Sir Charles Wilson presented the original volume to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1887. Two further copies were made, one retained with OS in Southampton and the other going to Ordnance Survey Ireland. When our head office was attacked in the Southampton Blitz, our copy was sadly destroyed. However, to mark the opening of our (then) new head office at Maybush, Ordnance Survey Ireland gifted us their copy, which we keep safe to this day.
Did you watch the great Timeshift on BBC4 last night about OS? A Very British Map: The Ordnance Survey Story told the tale of how we’ve mapped every square mile of Britain for the last 224 years. It covered our military origins through to how our leisure maps have helped people discover and explore the countryside and beyond.
As mentioned towards the end of the programme, while we may be best known for our paper maps, they now account 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.
Over 570 million years, the land that we live on and the water that surrounds us has been home to an inconceivable amount of creatures. The majority are sadly extinct – although use of the word ‘sadly’ will depend on how passionate you are about humans being the dominant species on the planet – but their legacy lives on through the fossils we are still uncovering millions of years later, not to mention the evolution of all living species today.
Whether you want to look back in time and discover the fossilised remains of those that came before us, or admire the beauty of today’s wildlife in its natural environment, there are many fantastic locations in the UK for you to set off to. Here are a few of our favourites.
You could say that we’re a nation obsessed with our history. Turn on the television and what do you see? Celebrities on historical quests to trace their family roots, historical documentaries about individuals or battles, and period dramas set in and around some of Britain’s famous historical landmarks.
We admire them when they’re on the box, but how often do we actually get out there and see the amazing historical landmarks that are right on our doorstop? Here’s a rundown of some of our favourites.
When writing about historical landmarks in the UK, it would seem almost churlish to start anywhere but Stonehenge. Regardless of how you know of it – be it The Beatles performing in ‘Help!‘ with a clearly visible Stonehenge in the background, the infamous rock classic “Stonehenge” in mockumentary ‘This is Spinal Tap’, or more recently several episodes of ‘Doctor Who’, the point is we all know of it.
Did you spot the feature about Ordnance Survey in Tuesday’s episode of Coast on BBC2? The new series kicked off with a focus on The Channel, and presenter Mark Horton revealed how some two centuries ago, French mapmakers unwittingly gave birth to us at Ordnance Survey.
If you watch the programme, you’ll see how did an Anglo-French project, undertaken in the 18th century to measure the exact distance across the Channel, resulted in the accurate maps of Britain that many people rely on today.
Today marks the anniversary of the death of Major General William Roy, a man of enormous importance in the history of Ordnance Survey. He is honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former home in Argyll Street, Soho. The building is now home to a branch of French Connection, something which raised a little smile for us as there is a French connection with William Roy.
Born in 1726, the hugely far-sighted Scottish military engineer and surveyor understood the strategic importance of maps very early on and when King George II commissioned a military survey of the Scottish highlands in 1746, in response to the Jacobite uprising a year before, Roy became involved. William Roy worked without a military commission until 1755, but was then promoted steadily in recognition of his talents. His technical drawings showing the phases of a battle were adopted as the standard across the military and saw him promoted to a Captain in the Corps of Highlanders. He later advanced to Engineer-Director of military surveys in Great Britain and eventually the Director of Royal Engineers in 1783, after achieving the rank of Major-General in 1781.
Tomorrow will mark 223 years since Ordnance Survey was founded. In the late 1700s the government ordered its defence ministry – the Board of Ordnance – to begin a survey of England’s vulnerable southern coasts, worried that the French Revolution might sweep across the English Channel. In June 1791, the Board purchased a huge new Ramsden theodolite, and this is seen as the foundation of our organisation.
We’re marking the occasion by telling you some of our favourite facts and figures about Ordnance Survey. You can find out more about our history on our website too.
As some of you may know, far from our traditional image as the publisher of leisure maps for ramblers and cyclists exploring idyllic countryside, where the only disturbance is the rustle of a cagoule or the whir of a freewheel, Ordnance Survey’s origins are associated with preparation for war and we played a major role in the mapping of the First World War battlefields.
We blogged on the topic back in February and have also written about our efforts in both World Wars in the past. After our February article The National Archives got in touch and asked if we’d write a guest blog for them. Of course, we were more than happy to and the post was published this week. Read it on the history of government blog here.