Ordnance Survey

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The main building of the Ordnance Survey in Maybush , Southampton

The Ordnance Survey is an executive agency of the UK Government . He is responsible for the national survey of Great Britain and is one of the world's largest map manufacturers.

The name reflects the organization's original military purpose, which was designed to survey Great Britain under the threat of a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars . Your logo contains the heraldic broad arrow of the then War Ministry.


Detail of the first inch-to-the-mile map from 1801

The Ordnance Survey's roots go back to 1747 when Lieutenant Colonel David Watson, an officer in the Corps of Royal Engineers , suggested that a map of the Scottish Highlands be compiled in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 in order to put down the rebellion for good to facilitate. King George II responded by commissioning a military reconnaissance and placing Watson in charge of the operation under the command of the Duke of Cumberland . Watson's assistants included William Roy , Paul Sandby, and John Manson . The survey was made on a scale of one inch by 1000 yards ( scale 1: 36,000). The work of Watson and Roy in particular ultimately resulted in a map, The Duke of Cumberland's Map , which is now in the British Museum .

Roy later with the Royal Engineers was one of the chiefs responsible for the British part in determining the relative positions of the British and French Royal Observatories . This work was the starting point for the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain , the basic measurement of Great Britain that took place between 1783 and 1853 , and also led to the establishment of the Ordnance Survey. Under Roy's direction, the survey began in 1790 with a survey of the south coast of England carried out on behalf of the Board of Ordnance , a predecessor of what is now the Ministry of Defense . With his technical ability and his own leadership skills, Roy set the high standard for which the Ordnance Survey became known.

1791, the Directorate received the new Ramsden - theodolite , an improved successor to the devices previously used, and the mapping of southern England was tackled. This operation used a baseline that Roy himself recorded and that runs through what is now Heathrow Airport . To mark the bicentennial of the beginning of the survey, a set of postage stamps was issued showing maps of the hamlet of Hamstreet in Kent .

In 1801 the first one- inch -to-the- mile map (scale 1: 63,360) was published. The Survey of Kent showed the county of Kent; it was followed a short time later by a map of the county of Essex . The Kent map was privately published and stops at the county boundaries while the Essex map was published by the Ordnance Survey and ignores the county's boundaries. This procedure was retained for all later maps of the Ordnance Survey.

Over the next 20 years, roughly a third of England and Wales were mapped on a one-inch-to-the-mile scale. It was a grueling job: Major Thomas Colby , later the longest-serving general director of the Ordnance Survey, walked almost 950 km in 22 days on an exploration tour in 1819. Colby and his co-workers went to Ireland in 1824 to take up a six-inch-to-the-mile (1: 10,560) map series . The capture of Ireland was completed in 1846.

Colby was not only involved in the development of special measuring instruments. He implemented the systematic collection of site names ( toponyms ) and redesigned the map production process so that clear and precise maps were created. He was an advocate of the principle that the Ordnance Survey director should set an example first, traveled with his staff, helped set up the base camps, and organized parties with enormous plump puddings on mountaintops when each campaign was nearing completion .

Remnants of the old Ordnance Survey office in London Road, Southampton : now part of the court complex

After the first maps of Ireland appeared in the mid-1830s, the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 led to the requirement for more accurate maps of the Six-Inches-to-the-Mile scale also for England and Wales . The government sought excuses for its salvation, but the development of the railroad increased the pressure. In 1841 the Ordnance Survey Act was finally passed, which guaranteed entry to all properties, including private ones, for the purpose of land surveying, and a Six-Inch to the Mile Survey in England and Wales was planned.

The land registry initially had to struggle with difficulties. First of all, the fire in the Grand Storehouse in 1841 threatened the Ordnance Survey headquarters in the Tower of London . After that, a dispute over several years about which yardstick should be used broke out. At the time, Major-General Sir Henry James was the Survey’s general manager. He realized that photographic techniques made it easy and cheap to produce maps of various scales, and he developed zincography . In addition to card production, he also used the process for nationally important books. A facsimile of the Domesday Book was published, county by county, between 1861 and 1864 . For the land survey in England and Wales, different standards were finally decided: Six inches to the Mile (1: 10,560) for unusable areas such as mountains and marshland, Twenty-Five Inches to the Mile (scale about 1: 2534) for rural areas and even larger scales up to Ten Feet to the Mile (scale 1: 528) for densely populated areas and cities.

After the fire, the Ordnance Survey moved to Southampton , and in 1895 the Twenty-Five Inch to the Mile Survey was completed. At this point in time, a little less than 400 cities, each with more than 4,000 inhabitants, had been recorded on a large scale and the results were published.

The 20th and 21st centuries

Front cover of the New Popular Edition (scale 1 Inch to the Mile , 1: 63.360), 1945
Section of a map from the Ordnance Survey. New Popular Edition ( 1 inch to the mile scale , 1: 63,360), 1946
Map of Penistone from the 7th edition, 1954

During the First World War , the Ordnance Survey was involved in the creation of maps of France and Belgium for internal use. After the war, then General Manager Colonel Charles Close developed a new marketing strategy using envelope designs Ellis Martin had created to increase sales in the leisure card sector. In 1920, O. G. S. Crawford was hired as chief archaeologist who played a significant role in the use of aerial photography in archeology .

In 1935 the re- triangulation of Great Britain began under the general manager Major-General Malcolm MacLeod . This immense task included the erection of triangulation columns on often inaccessible hilltops or mountain peaks throughout Great Britain. The pillars were three feet high, usually rectangular, stone masonry or concrete pillars. They served as fixed points ( trigonometric points ) that were not very susceptible to interference for the angle measurements carried out with theodolites , each of which was carried out no less than 32 times.

In the same year, the Davidson Committee , named after Chairman Viscount J. C. C. Davidson , was set up to discuss the future of the Ordnance Survey. The final report of the committee was published in 1938. The British national grid reference system , tailored to the UK coordinate system has been set, with the meter as a unit, and a map scale of 1: 25,000 introduced tentatively. The one-inch maps were still used for another 40 years before they were replaced by maps on a scale of 1: 50,000 - as William Roy had suggested more than two centuries earlier.

In World War II, many more cards were made, including:

  • Antwerp , Belgium, on a scale of 1: 40,000
  • Brussels , Belgium, on a scale of 1: 10.0000
  • South Africa , on a scale of 1: 5,000,000
  • Italy , 1: 250000
  • Northeast France, 1: 50000
  • Netherlands , 1: 30,000, with hand-drawn outline of the districts used by the German occupation army.

The Ordnance Survey had outgrown its buildings in central Southampton. The November 1940 bombing during the Blitz in World War II had destroyed most of the Ordnance Survey office buildings, so some of the staff had to be redistributed to other buildings in Southampton, or to temporary quarters in Chessington and Esher . There, in preparation for the invasion , they produced not only the smaller-scale maps mentioned above, but above all maps on a scale of 1: 25,000 of France, Italy, Germany and most of the other European countries. After the war, the Ordnance Survey stayed mostly in Chessington until 1969 when a newly built headquarters was opened on Romsey Road in Maybush, a suburb of Southampton . Some of the existing buildings in the facility in the center of Southampton are now part of the court complex there.

In 1995 the Ordnance Survey completed the digitization of a total of 230,000 cards. 1999 Survey was in a Trading Fund (translated as trading funds ) converted, he that today no longer financially from the Ministry of Finance (Her / His Majesties Treasury) is managed, but can even charge his earnings to his expenses, and a portion of the profit to the government. Officially, the Ordnance Survey is no longer an agency under direct government control, but a civil organization of the government (Executive Agency) .

In April 2009, construction began on a new headquarters at Adanac Park on the outskirts of Southampton.


The cartography of the first survey was created with the help of triangulation. This method was also used in the second survey from 1934 onwards, using the triangulation columns as a fixed point and adding less precise methods to the details in the spaces between them. Today, most of the pillars are no longer in use, as the modern Ordnance Survey maps are based on aerial photographs. Some fixed points are now used as geodetic reference points for connecting the available data to modern measuring systems that use GPS , among other things .

The system of coordinates and grid squares used on the maps of the Ordnance Survey is known as the National Grid .

Scientific geographic research

For several decades, the Ordnance Survey has had a research department that works in the field of geographic information science, among other things

The Ordnance Survey has a department that is responsible for dialogue with research institutions and universities, the Research and University Liaison Team . This supports students and doctoral candidates and carries out joint research work. Universities have the option of participating in the so-called Digimap program, which enables students and university members to access the data from the Ordnance Survey.


The Ordnance Survey produces a large number of printed and digital map products.

Leisure cards

The leisure cards are issued in different scales:

  • Route (scale 1: 625,000) is intended for long journeys and consists of a double-sided map with a dark blue cover sheet that covers the whole of Great Britain. Production of this series was discontinued at the end of 2009.
  • Road (scale 1: 250,000) is a road map with a green cover sheet, eight sheets cover the whole of Great Britain. The printing of this series was stopped at the beginning of 2010, the maps are only available in antiquarian versions (last revision of all maps 2009)
  • Tour (scale approx. 1: 100,000, except Scotland) covers about the area of ​​one county. The maps are usually made from enlargements of the maps at a scale of 1: 250,000. They show the larger and most of the smaller roads and contain tourist information and selected hiking trails. The cover sheet is sky blue and the row consists of 23 sheets.
  • OS Landranger map (scale 1: 50,000) is the "all-purpose map ". It shows all hiking trails and has a pink cover sheet. 204 sheets cover the whole of Great Britain and the Isle of Man. Selected sheets are laminated and waterproof and are sold under the name OS Landranger Active map .
  • OS Explorer map (scale 1: 25,000) is specially designed for cyclists and hikers and shows all paths and most of the details of the landscape. The series has an orange cover sheet and consists of 403 sheets. Laminated maps of this type of map are called OS Explorer - Active Map . Certain areas of special interest, such as the Lake District or Black Mountains , encompass a larger area and are called Outdoor Leisure .

Special, derivative and licensed products

The Ordnance Survey offers a print-on-demand service under the name OS Select . The requested map sections are generated from digital raster data so that the customer can precisely specify the section to be printed. The printout is available either in a scale of 1: 50,000 (map section 40 × 40 km) or 1: 25,000 (20 × 20 km). Other scales are also available on demand at some sales outlets , for example 1: 10,000 (land plan) and 1: 1,250 or 1: 500 (site plan) . Maps can be created in any scale by enlarging or reducing them.

Reproductions of older maps (1970 to around 1990) are available for training and school purposes. These cards are widely available and are offered as a single product or in a bundle with school books. Further reproductions of old maps from the survey are licensed by Cassini Publishing Ltd. offered. These date from the middle of the 19th century and are scaled to 1: 50,000, re-projected onto the map projection of the OS Landranger series and provided with a coordinate grid at a distance of one kilometer. Other companies offer licensed products on CD or DVD or for downloading from the Internet. The accompanying software is GPS-compatible and enables maps or map sections to be transferred to mobile devices .

The digital OS MasterMap

In 2001, Ordnance Survey published the digital OS MasterMap as the successor to the OS Landline software, which is no longer supported . It is a database application , used in conjunction with a GIS or CAD application, that displays all the mapped topographical features of Great Britain. Each of the features has a so-called TOID (TOpographical IDentifier), a unique database name ( primary key ). The OS MasterMap is offered with different topic layers , for example a street layer or a building layer, each of which contains all elements belonging to this topic including their TOIDs . The pricing depends on the size of the map section, the number of layers and TOIDs as well as the duration of use. The maps can be printed out with an accuracy that corresponds to a scale of up to 1: 1250 for a normal map.

The Ordnance Survey states that the data of the currently available version of the software is never more than six months out of date. At the end of 2009, more than 450 million TOIDs had been issued.

The switch to digital products has led to a noticeable increase in sales for the Ordnance Survey. In 2004 he achieved only 18% of his sales with traditional print products, the other 82% came from digital products.

Data access and criticism

Most of the public criticism of the Ordnance Survey has centered on the fact that it has a de facto monopoly on geographic data in the UK, despite acting like a trading company as a trading fund. This means that on the one hand it has to finance itself through the sale of its data and the products derived from it, while on the other hand it should ensure that the public is supplied with geographic data.

In 1985, a Committee of Inquiry into the Handling of Geographic Information was set up , which advised the Secretary of State for the Environment on the future handling of geographical information in the United Kingdom within two years, taking into account market needs and modern developments in information technology should. The final report was published in 1987. The report highlighted the importance of widely accessible geographic information and recommended easing government policy on information distribution and cost recovery.

In March 2006 the technology department of the newspaper The Guardian started a campaign for free access to the data (Free Our Data) , which, following the example of the USA , demanded free availability of raw data and publicly funded data collections for private and commercial purposes . The Ordnance Survey responded to this campaign with the argument, among other things, that the quality of freely available map material in the USA is not particularly high due to a lack of funding, and that the former public funding hardly affects the current material.

On April 7, 2006, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) responsible for the management of Her Majesty's Stationery Office received a complaint from the data management company Intelligent Addressing , which is registered in England and Wales Part picked up. One point of criticism was that the Ordnance Survey operates a licensing policy that unnecessarily restricts competition. Although negotiations between the parties involved continued, there was no obligation for the survey to follow the recommendations of the OPSI.

In August 2007, the Ordnance Survey hired the political lobby firm Mandate Communications to help defend against the free data campaign and to research which politicians and advisers supported its point of view.

In November 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Ordnance Survey data "medium resolution" would be made available for free use also for commercial use from April 2010. On December 23, 2009, a consultation began at the Department of Communities and Local Government .

Access to historical maps

Ordnance Survey historical products are generally available as the Society is copyrighted by Crown : Works over 50 years old, including historical recordings of Great Britain and Ireland, and much of the New Popular Edition are in the public domain. Nevertheless, the difficulty lies in finding appropriate historical templates, since the Ordnance Survey does not offer any of these maps on a freely usable basis, but rather sells digitally processed products in cooperation with the Landmark company. This is in contrast to the current practice of the Republic of Ireland , whose Ordnance Survey Ireland applies not only regular copyright to their printed maps, but also to the digital reproduction of historical maps.


Web links

Commons : Old Ordnance Survey map images  - collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

Preliminary remark: Some of the individual references in the history section were added afterwards. Most of the information listed here can be found in the History section on the history of the survey on its official homepage .

  1. The Ordnance Survey is only responsible for Great Britain and to a certain extent for the Isle of Man . Northern Ireland , although part of the United Kingdom, is mapped by its own government agency, the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland
  2. Ordnance means artillery and survey not only measurement , but also military reconnaissance
  3. ^ SC Fenwick: Corps History - Part 3: The Corps of Engineers (1716-1832). Ordnance Survey - 1747. Archived from the original on February 20, 2010 ; Retrieved January 9, 2010 .
  4. ^ Paul Hindle: Maps for Historians . Phillimore & Co, 1998, ISBN 0-85033-934-0 , pp. 114-115.
  5. Hamstreet, Kent: Smugglers, stamps and the Saxon Shore. Archived from the original on January 8, 2010 ; Retrieved January 8, 2010 .
  6. ^ British Isles Maps and Views. Retrieved January 9, 2010, Map And Plan Collection Online (MAPCO).
  7. ^ Paul Hindle: Maps for Historians . Phillimore & Co, 1998, ISBN 0-85033-934-0 , pp. 117 .
  8. ^ Ordnance Survey. In: The Oxford Companion to Irish History. Oxford University Press , 2007, archived from the original on April 30, 2010 ; Retrieved January 9, 2010 .
  9. ^ A brief history of Ordnance Survey . Retrieved January 9, 2010.
  10. The law dealt with the conversion of the previously customary tithe in the form of natural goods into a tithe paid in money. For this purpose, the respective possessions of the titans had to be recorded, in particular the forest and agricultural goods. This was done on the basis of maps on which these were recorded.
  11. a b Ordnance Survey. Everything2, accessed January 9, 2010 .
  12. ^ Paul Hindle: Maps for Historians . Phillimore & Co, 1998, ISBN 0-85033-934-0 , pp. 131-132 .
  13. ^ Final report of the departmental committee on the ordnance survey. Retrieved January 9, 2010 from the National Library of Australia collection catalog.
  14. ^ Liddell Hart Center for Military Archives. Retrieved January 9, 2010 .
  15. ^ Ordnance Survey breaks ground at Adanac Park. Ordnance Survey, April 3, 2009, archived from the original on October 5, 2009 ; Retrieved January 8, 2010 .
  16. ^ Paper Maps: Ordnance Survey Great Britain. Retrieved January 10, 2010 .
  17. Ed Fielden: Illustrated Guide to Ordnance Survey Maps: 1: 625,000 'Travel Map - Route' Series (2002-2008). Retrieved January 10, 2010 .
  18. supplements Cyklos edge leaders England. Retrieved March 25, 2013 .
  19. ^ What is OS MasterMap. Archived from the original on October 5, 2009 ; Retrieved January 10, 2010 .
  20. ^ Paul Brown: Devil is in the detail as OS maps out the future. The Guardian , March 8, 2004, accessed January 10, 2010 .
  21. ^ Charles Arthur and Michael Cross: Give us back our crown jewels. The Guardian , March 9, 2006, accessed January 10, 2010 .
  22. ^ RRE Chorley: Handling Geographic Information. Report of the Committee of Inquiry chaired by Lord Chorley . Her Majesty's Stationery Office , London 1987.
  23. Free Our Data: Articles: the Ordnance Survey official response. The Guardian , accessed January 8, 2010 (quote: There is no such thing as free data , a reference to There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch ).
  24. ^ OPSI: Office of Public Sector Information: Report on its investigation of a complaint (SO 42/8/4): Intelligent Addressing and Ordnance Survey. (PDF; 115 kB) Retrieved January 8, 2010 .
  25. Mandate Communications. Retrieved January 8, 2010 .
  26. ^ Greg Clark: Ordnance Survey: Mandate Communications. Retrieved January 8, 2010 .
  27. ^ Michael Cross: Ordnance Survey hires PR company to lobby politicians. The Guardian , August 21, 2008, accessed January 8, 2010 .
  28. Ordnance Survey to open up data - PM. November 17, 2009, archived from the original on January 22, 2010 ; Retrieved January 8, 2010 .

Coordinates: 50 ° 55 '53.8 "  N , 1 ° 27' 3.6"  W.