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The beginning of our paper maps

6 Nov 2018
Ordnance Survey
Behind the scenesCartographyLeisure
historypaper map

Have you ever wondered how long ago we made our first map or why we are called Ordnance Survey? There is a link, so keep reading to find out…

While 2018 marks 227 years since Ordnance Survey was founded on 21 June 1791, our first map was produced ten years later in 1801.

Following a rebellion in 1745 in the Scottish Highlands, our origins were established in military strategy. These roots developed over time and, as the French Revolution was causing increased fear for the government, its defence ministry was ordered to begin a survey of England’s most exposed southern coasts to protect the nation. The name of this ministry was, yes you guessed it, the Board of Ordnance!

Kent-1801-map
Kent 1801 map.

At the time Kent, England’s most south-easterly county, was identified to have had the most vulnerability in its coast line and therefore the highest susceptibility to the French invasion. As a result, the first map we ever made was of Kent in 1801. It focused on communication routes and included hill shading to ensure men at arms could interpret the landscape with precision. Over time, this map design became less focused on these elements and was developed to appeal to a much wider audience.

Produced to a scale of one inch to one mile, the map took three years to complete and was finished in the drawing room at our original offices, the Tower of London. It was printed by William Faden of Charing Cross, a then leading cartographer and map publisher.

At this time, maps were engraved back to front on copper plates and separate legends were created for the symbols as the maps were big enough without them. The first maps were sold at three guineas (£3 3s) per county survey, which was between one and three weeks’ wages for the average person. We went on to print 33,000,000 maps during World War I and an astonishing 342,000,000 for World War II.

Did you know…?

It was thought that 50 years would be long enough to map the country, but the entire first series of maps wasn’t published until 1870!

Find out more about the history of our paper maps.

Ordnance Survey
By Ordnance Survey
Press Office

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