A history of paper maps
Our most iconic maps, the pink OS Landrangers and the orange OS Explorers, have been used by walkers, cyclists, climbers and many more for decades – but maybe not for as long as you would think...
While OS was founded back in 1791 and we published our first map in 1801, maps for the general public didn’t seriously take off until after the First World War. Although interestingly, some of our best-remembered map covers predate this period, with their beautifully illustrated covers by Ellis Martin. After the war experimental maps at the familiar OS Explorer Map 1:25 000 scale (2½ inches on the map being equivalent to 1 mile on the ground or 4 cm to 1 km) were produced with the idea that students could use them to learn about geography and that if this was popular, it could be extended and made more widely available for outdoor enthusiasts too.
The origins of the OS Landranger series go back to 1801 and the map of Kent which was produced at one-inch scale, with the whole of Britain being completed by 1887. These were followed by a number of series with different formats and specifications until 1945 when the New Popular Sixth Series was started, each sheet covering an area of 40 x 45 km and incorporating the National Grid. The need to conform with the government’s metrication programme in the 1960s saw the birth of the 1:50,000 scale map, with the First Series of 204 sheets published in two blocks, in 1974 and 1976.
By the 1970s, with the interest in outdoor pursuits and spending time having grown over time, it was the right time to push the interest in 1:25 000 scale mapping and in 1972 the first Outdoor Leisure map was published of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District. OL1 was followed by other OL maps on the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The success of these maps lead to the development of the Pathfinders series, with those covering England and Wales showing all public rights of way. It was now possible to plan walking routes without trespassing.
By 2003, every Pathfinder and Outdoor Leisure Map had been converted into 403 OS Explorer Maps and in 2004, areas of open access were shown on OS Explorer Maps.