Our role in World War One

Our press team have been working with the BBC to put together a short film and radio broadcast about the role which Ordnance Survey carried out during World War 1. It’s supporting some activity, launched this week, on the BBC website and in quite a few of their programmes. We are also expecting the film to be featured on BBC South tomorrow evening as part of a series of features about the impact of the war on local people.

Ordnance Survey was formed in 1791; set up initially to map the south coast of Kent, when the British government was worried about a French invasion. However, in 1914, Ordnance Survey helped with the war effort, mapping the battlefields of France and printing some 33 million maps for use in the trenches in the four years of war. Read More


Did your relatives work for Ordnance Survey during World War One?

WWI -image3Being a fan of mapping often runs in the family and there are a few people who work for us at Ordnance Survey who have relatives who also worked for us in the past. We are trying to pull out some stories about what it was like to work for Ordnance Survey during World War One (WW1) and would be really interested to hear from anyone who has heard stories from relatives or friends about working either here in Southampton, or on the battlefield mapping the trenches. Read More


Try our Roman Britain map quiz

For us, December is the last month of the year, but for the Romans, the year ran from March to February, making December the tenth month. Roman Britain was a province of the Roman Empire, with the province extending as far north as the Antonine Wall (along the Forth-Clyde line and north of Hadrian’s Wall which many think of as the extent of Roman Britain).

Unsurprisingly, after such a prolonged period of Roman rule, there are Roman influences still visible in Great Britain today.  The Romans founded many towns and cities still in existence today as well as building an extensive road and sewer network.

As Roman Britain still forms a part of the national curriculum and there is such a huge interest in Roman sites and artefacts, we even produce an Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain, showing key Roman sites overlain on modern road information.

To test your knowledge of Roman Britain, we’ve put eight Roman sites on the map. Let us know your answers on the blog.   Read More


Using OS OpenData with AditNow

It’s always great to hear how our OS OpenData is being used by people. In today’s guest post, AditNow tell us about their mining history/mine exploration hobby website which uses OS OpenData.

AditNow is a website for people with an interest in mining history and mine exploration. The site is perhaps best summed up as:

AditNow is an information sharing resource and discussion forum for the mine exploration community as well as industrial archaeologists, researchers, historians and anybody with an interest in mine exploration or mining history.

The website was started in late 2005 by two people with an interest in mining history and industrial archaeology as an online collection of photographs of the underground exploration of the abandoned and accessible slate mines of North Wales.

Map search tool showing all slate mines and quarries in N Wales

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Drawing the Battle Valleys with OS OpenData

Since it’s launch in 2010, OS OpenData has proved popular to order and download, but finding user cases for OS OpenData can be tricky. The nature of the data means that it can be freely used in any application, so we’re always looking for great examples to share and encourage more people to try it out.

We are very fortunate to have a community who are prepared to share their success stories with us on their use of OS OpenData. One of these uses is by Ronald Turnbull, who used our MiniScale product to create a customised map for his book, entitled Battle Valleys, published by Frances Lincoln.

Ronald needed to create a detailed relief map of the England/Scotland border area, showing modern roads and historic battlefields, for a book endpaper. His challenge was to create attractive, detailed mapping with hill shading, using fonts and colours in keeping with the book.

Ronald Turnbull created this map using OS OpenData

Ronald used the vector version of MiniScale to be able to adapt the map to suit his needs. He turned off certain features, re-coloured relief heights and added other information such as villages and custom made symbols for battlefields and castles. Ronald was also able to change the fonts to one more suited to the context and finally added the names of the six border marches.

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Medical cartography exhibition opens

In 1854 a severe outbreak of cholera swept through the Soho district of London, resulting in the death of hundreds of people. Many believed the cause of deaths were linked to ‘bad air’, however a physician named John Snow was determined to get to the bottom of the devastating outbreak.

John Snow strongly believed that the deaths were linked to the local areas water supply and began to mark the locations of each death as a dot on a map centred on Bond Street (now Broadwick Street). The map highlighted large clusters of fatalities in the vicinity of the Bond Street pump, from where residents used to get their water from. Snow suspected that this water pump was the source of the outbreak.

In order to add more proof to his theory Snow added a further line to his map – an irregular shaped loop that marked the boundary between the Broad Street pump and other water pumps in the area. The new boundary line showed the residents and workers who could access the Broad Street pump the quickest.

The map now clearly displayed that the majority of deaths had occurred within the drawn boundary, reinforcing the fact that the Broad Street pump was the source. This map became the central piece of evidence that convinced the authorities of cholera’s waterborne transmission and of their need to improve the sewer system.

Image from Wikipedia

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Celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

This year sees us celebrating the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, arguably Austen’s most famous novel. The Royal Mail will be marking the occasion with a six-stamp set (released 21 February) featuring scene’s from her works – but there are a number of ways you can mark the occasion by getting outside and exploring Great Britain! We’ve picked our top five:

1. Jane Austen lived and stayed in a wide variety of places across the country during her lifetime. Jane was born in Hampshire and spent eight years of her life living in Chawton, Hampshire and her 17th century former home is now known as Jane Austen’s House. Whilst living there Jane wrote and revised her six great novels. You can now visit the house and they have a number of events planned this year, including a Pride and Prejudice exhibition running until May. It’s a beautiful spot to visit and we’ll be featuring a four and a half mile circular walk of the area on Wednesday’s blog.

2. Jane’s father’s family had many links to Kent, and particularly Tonbridge. Kent County Council have a lovely circular walk around Tonbridge which is around two and a half miles. You can download the route and an audio version from www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/libraries. The walk takes you to many places associated with the Austen family and has great facts to keep you entertained during the stroll.

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Using maps to interpret archaeology and heritage

Guest blog by Lisa Keys at Minerva Heritage

Archaeology and heritage professionals use maps in all sorts of ways. We might plot surveys, excavation sites and finds to build up a picture of the past, or we might examine old maps to research sites and buildings as part of the planning application process.

At Minerva Heritage Ltd, one of our specialities is the interpretation of archaeology and heritage for the public. Recently, we have been using OS getamap to help us plan routes for heritage trails. First we undertake research to see what archaeology and heritage sites we have to work with in a particular area. Using OS getamap we are now able to accurately plot our known sites, and then we can identify roads, tracks and footpaths to help us identify and assess possible routes for the heritage trails. Once we have done the preliminary plotting, then we are able to go out to the area to test out our trail route.

What makes OS getamap really great is that it provides a simple facility for us to see the gradient of the route, the suggested length of time it would take to walk the route, and it provides the level of detail we need to investigate all rights of way. While there is no substitute for getting out and seeing the route for ourselves, OS getamap gives us an idea of what we are letting ourselves in for!




A cartographic family tree

We’ve posted on the blog before about how much cartography changed between the 1960s and now, but a colleague recently realised how little things had changed between the 1870s and 1970s. Rob Gower recently retired from Ordnance Survey, having started his career with us as a cartographer in 1970, and found out how deep the cartographic gene had run in his family.

Could a love of cartography be in the blood? Could there even be a ‘maps gene’ buried in the human genome somewhere? It’s unlikely, but you never know. From a very early age I knew I always wanted to work with maps and was lucky to be offered a post as a trainee cartographic draughtsman at Ordnance Survey in 1970. I knew my great-grandfather was had been an engraver at Ordnance Survey around 1870; he was my mother’s grandfather – William McLeod.

William McLeod (1843-1923), (image produced courtesy of Rob Gower)

The family story was that he’d given up his job after he damaged his back lifting the heavy copper plates and became Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Croydon where the family settled and I grew up. Engravers were freelance in those days and were contracted plate by plate, working as civilians in a military organisation. He was a lettering engraver (working all in reverse and with no easy way of correcting mistakes), and had the most wonderful ‘copperplate’ handwriting. I’d always assumed he worked at the main offices, then based in London Road, Southampton but didn’t know precisely when he worked there or where he lived.

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