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Ordnance Survey: small scale maps

The Ordnance Survey (OS) is generally accepted as having been established in 1791. Prior to this, William Roy, regarded as the founder of OS, had coordinated the Military Survey of Scotland (1747-55) at a scale of about 2 inches to one mile. The ensuing survey of England and Wales at about the same scale constituted the foundation of the first national topographical map series of the British Isles at a scale of one inch to one mile, culminating in today’s 1:50,000 Landranger series. 

1.Series/edition nomenclature

That the Fifth Edition is actually the eighth series shows the confusion in the OS one-inch series/edition nomenclature, the origins of which are unclear. This guide uses the latest accepted practice but some differences may be found in the labelling of records. Two major differences to be found in some publications are the Old Series being called the First Edition, and the Popular Edition being mistakenly referred to as the Fourth Edition, due to the early demise of the true Fourth Edition.

2.Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings (OSDs) (1789-c.1840)

These are the fair copies of the original surveyor’s field drawings, which were donated by the Ordnance Survey to the British Museum Map Room in 1956. They were created between 1789 and c.1840 mostly at a scale of 2 inches to one mile, but also at the larger scales of 3 and 6 inches to one mile in coastal areas of military significance such as the Kent coast, Isle of Wight and the south Devon coast. They are the surveys from which the published 1 inch to 1 mile Old Series was produced and cover the whole of England and Wales as far north as a line from Preston to Hull.

Apart from being unique historical documents, the OSDs are important in that they contain information not included in the later 1 inch to 1 mile series. This includes field boundaries (diagrammatic), land use data and place names. All the sheets are coloured according to military mapping techniques and can indicate dwellings, water courses and land use and relief.

Because of the long time lapse between survey and publication, revision sheets were produced to update the first survey in parts of the Midlands, Wales and northern England. They take the form of hill sketches and outline drawings (however, there is no outline edition of the published Old Series sheets). For some northern areas these are the only manuscript drawings to survive. The 1 inch to 1 mile sheet areas covered are given under Ordering below.

Access and OrderingOSDs: All but a very few of the OSDs owned by the British Library have been digitally scanned and may be viewed by the public within the “Maps and Views” section of the Online Gallery.
Readers may visit the Maps Reading Room to view higher-resolution digital images or microfiche.
The originals may only be inspected with the Supervisor’s permission, by completing a paper application ticket. The shelfmark is ‘Maps OSD’ then the number (for which see under Sheet indexes below).
Bromide copies are also available - useful for copies if the microfiche is poor quality. Use the shelfmark ‘OSD Bromide’ then the number. For the London Area there are colour facsimilies (see below).

Hill sketches
: shelfmark Maps 176.o. plus Old Series 1 inch sheet number from index in Maps Ref. Z.5a.(5.) or (7.). Maps cover sheets 7,13,19,25,29-31,34-37,40-84,86-90 only.

Outline drawings
: shelfmark Maps 176. n. plus Old Series 1 inch sheet number from index in Maps Ref. Z.5a.(5.) or (7.). Maps cover sheets 48-50,66,67,71,79-82,87-90 only. There are microfilm aperture cards for some of the these. Please see a member of staff
FacsimilesFacsimile of the Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings of the London area 1799 to 1808. London Topographical Society Publication No.144. 1991. Maps Ref. Top shelf of first section of index drawers on right as you enter the Catalogue and Index area. Colour photography can be supplied of some of the original drawings. Please see a member of staff.
CopyingOSDs: Colour, A4 printouts can be supplied from the digital scans at £ 2.67 each in the Maps Reading Room. Black-and-white A4-sized prints can be taken from the microfiche at a cost of £1.06 each. Copying accounts for the reader-printer machines can be set up using your reader number and Explore the British Library password. Please ask at the Enquiry Desk for details.
Sheet IndexesOSDs: An index to the OSDs is available online, as well as in the Maps Reading Room, either on paper (Ref. Index and Catalogue area: large maroon folding map index), or the standalone computer.

Hill sketches and outline drawings:
Maps Ref: Z.5a.(5.) or (7.).
CataloguesCatalogue of 2", 3" & 6" Original Drawings and Hill Sketches of the First Survey of England and Wales [1784-1841]. Copy of original. Maps Ref. Z.5a.(5.).

Outline drawings for parts of North England, the Midlands and East Anglia. 1968 accession’. Copy of original. Includes sheet index. Maps Ref. Z.5a.(7.).

Summary listing of Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings with sizes. Maps Ref. ( Desk).

Hodson, Yolande, Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings 1789-c.1840: the original manuscript maps of the first Ordnance Survey of England and Wales from the British Library Map Library. Reading: Research Publications, 1989. Maps Ref. Z.5a.(8.) Detailed catalogue and excellent notes. Does not include revision sheets.
Further ReadingPublic Service Guide. Ordnance Survey section (blue binders). ‘Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings’, ‘Hill sketches and outline drawings’, ‘Nominal index to three collections.’

Skelton R A, ‘The Ordnance Survey 1791-1825’, British Museum Quarterly XX1 3(1958) 59-61.Maps Ref. D.2.(34.).

3.Old Series. 1 inch to 1 mile (Published 1805-1874)

This is the first published edition of the 1 inch to 1 mile map series. The first sheet, the so-called Mudge map of Kent, after the then Director General, was privately published in 1801. The first numbered sheets of the official series appeared in 1805. Sheets 1-90 as far north as a line from Preston to Hull, were mainly surveyed at 2 inches to one mile, whereas sheets 91-110, north of this line, were surveyed from 1840 at larger scales and are considered to be more accurate. Parish boundaries were also introduced for the first time on these latter sheets.They were included in all subsequent editions except the Popular.

The many printings of this series are extremely complex, aggravated by the fact that the engraved date was often not changed. However, the series has been roughly divided into early, middle and late printings. This division is reflected in the arrangement of the series on the reference shelves.

There is a further printing of sheets 1-88 known as the Index to the Tithe Survey on which the names and boundaries of those parishes for which tithe maps were prepared were shown.

Because of the complexity of the Old Series the examples on the reference shelves are not necessarily the earliest state. For lists of alternative sets and earlier states (sheets 1-30 only) please consult the Public Service Guide.

OrderingSets of all four printings are on Maps Ref.in red boxes on the top shelf beyond the Issue Desk. However, there are many other sets of the 1 inch which need to be ordered by the ABRS. For a list of these see the Public Service Guide. In addition, some of the sheets in the early printing boxes (1804-44) are not the earliest state. For a list of the states in these boxes up to sheet 30 see the Public Service Guide.
CopyingNo restrictions apart from a few items designated as Case (Special Area) material.
Sheet IndexesSee Public Service Guide. For a larger scale index for southern Britain see maroon folding index in Catalogue and Index area.
Further ReadingHarley, J B and Phillips, C W, The historian’s guide to Ordnance Survey maps. London: National Council of Social Service, 1964. (Hereafter Harley 1964). Maps Ref. G.2b(8)

Messenger, Guy, The sheet histories of the Ordnance Survey One-Inch Old Series maps of Devon and Cornwall: a cartobibliographical account. London: Charles Close Society, 1991. Maps Ref. G.2b.(37.). Supplement to cartobibliography in Harry Margary facsimile below.

Messenger, Guy, The sheet histories of the Ordnance Survey One-Inch Old Series maps of Essex and Kent: a cartobibliographic account. London:Charles Close Society, 1991. Maps Ref. G.2b.(38.).Supplement to cartobibliography in Harry Margary facsimile below.
Characteristics (ie. symbols, signs, keys and legends)Hodson 1999 p. 233 (1840s). (For full details of this publication see under Popular Edition: Further reading).

Harley and O’Donoghue (eds.) facsimile (see below). Reconstructed from the maps. Use with caution.
FacsimilesHarley, J B (ed.), [Reprint of the First edition of the One-inch Ordnance Survey of England and Wales]. Newton Abbott: David and Charles 1969-71. Maps 1175. (227.). This series features very thorough notes by the late distinguished map historian J B Harley. The two main disadvantages are that the later electrotype printings were used (c.1860) and the sheet numbering is different from the originals.

Harley J B and O’Donoghue (eds.), The Old Series Ordnance Survey maps of England and Wales. London: Harry Margary, 1975-87. 8 vols. Excellent reproductions of earliest printing. Thorough introductions and cartobibliographies of Old Series. Maps Ref.G.2b.(15.).

Photocopies of Maps 182.d.1. (bound set of OS 1 inch sheets) in portfolios. Early printings. Maps Ref. C.7.

4.New Series (Published 1872-97)

The quarter sheets 91 to 110 of the Old Series retained the large sheet numbering. They were subsequently reissued as sheets 1-73 of the New Series. This explains why the first box on the reference shelves starts at sheet 74. In contrast to the Old Series accurate dates of survey and publication were printed on the sheets. The maps were based on the 6 inch to 1 mile survey (with appropriate revisions). It took 20 compared to 45 years for the Old Series to complete the survey. In addition the sheets were published in ‘hill’ and ‘outline’ forms, which in simple terms means with and without hill shading. The outline was the first OS edition to use contours. There was also a hills edition shaded brown.

OrderingSets of New Series hills and outlines are on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for other sets which must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions
Sheet IndexesPublic service guide
SamplesOwen, Tim and Pilbeam, Elaine, Ordnance Survey: map makers to Britain since 1791. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1992 (hereafter Owen and Pilbeam). Maps Ref. G.2b. (28). p. 80 (brown hill-shading: Third Edition revision).
Further ReadingHarley 1964
CharacteristicsHodson 1999 p.235

5.Revised New Series (Published 1895-1904)

This series was a national revision of the New Series between 1893 and 1898. The survey was independent of the revision of the larger scales as were later series, so that it would be less out of date at publication. There was also a much improved road classification system. Like the ‘unrevised’ New Series described above, the sheets were published in hills shaded black, outline and hills shaded brown form, but in addition there was a colour printing with contours. The hills and outline editions are on the reference shelves but the others must be ordered on Explore the British Library. For the relevant shelfmarks see the Public Service Guide.

OrderingSets of Revised New Series, hills and outlines, are on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for other sets which must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions.
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide
SamplesOwen & Pilbeam p. 81 (colour: Third Edition revision).
Further ReadingHarley, 1964.
CharacteristicsHodson 1999 p.236.

Maps Ref. C.7a.1.(1897). Stored in drawer in Index and Catalogue area.

6.Third Edition (Published 1903-19)

The survey for the Third Edition was carried out between 1901 and 1912. This was the second revision of the New Series. It is on the same sheetlines as the New Series and was also published in a coloured version with contours as well as a hills, outlines and a hills shaded brown edition. Subsequent to the publication of the following Large Sheet Series, it was known as the Small Sheet Series. The former was recast on larger size sheets totalling 152 and published 1906-13 in colour, with an outline version. This large format anticipated the large sheets of the Popular Edition.

OrderingSets of the small sheet series, hills and outlines are on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of other small sheet series sets and large sheet series sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions.
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide
SamplesOwen & Pilbeam pp. 80 (brown hill-shading) and 81 (colour). Small sheet series.

Hodson 1999 plates 8a and 11a. Large sheet series (colour).
Further ReadingMessenger, Guy, The Ordnance Survey One-Inch map of England and Wales: Third Edition (Large Sheet Series). Charles Close Society, 1988. Maps Ref. G.2b.(39.). Cartobibliography with introduction.
CharacteristicsHodson 1999 p. 238.

7.Fourth Edition (Published 1911-12)

The true Fourth Edition was a small sheet series but, after the publication of a few sheets, was passed over in favour of the Popular Edition. There was an outline version with contours and hills versions in black or brown.

8.Popular Edition (Published 1919-26)

The survey for this series lasted from 1912 to 1923. It was the third national revision of the New Series and consisted of 146 large format sheets. They were published in seven colours with contours and a superior method of road classification was introduced in order to appeal to a wider range of users such as motorists cyclists and tourists. It was thus officially designated the ‘Popular Edition’. It was often mistakenly referred to as the Fourth Edition due to the early demise of the latter.

OrderingNo sets of these are on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions.
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide
SamplesHodson 1999 plates 1-11c.

Owen and Pilbeam p 96.
Further ReadingHodson. Yolande, Popular maps: the Ordnance Survey Popular Edition one-inch map of England and Wales 1919-1926. London: Charles Close Society. 1999. Maps Ref. G.2b. (43.). Full account and cartobibliography. Published PhD thesis.
CharacteristicsHodson 1999 plate 12.

9.Fifth Edition (Published 1931-39)

The survey work for this fourth national revision was carried out between 1928 and 1936. Publication started in 1931 on modified Popular Edition sheetlines but was disrupted because of World War 2 ,and only those sheets as far north as a line through Oxford excluding Kent and Sussex. were published. In order to continue the appeal to a wider public the sheets were available in several styles: outline, colour with contours only and a ‘Relief edition’ (which was published first) combining contours, hachures, hillshading and layering, with a new style of lettering that was also used in the ordinary coloured version.

OrderingNo sets of these are on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions.
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide
SamplesOwen and Pilbeam p. 145 (Relief edition).
Further ReadingOliver, Richard, A guide to the Ordnance Survey One-Inch Fifth Edition. Charles Close Society, 2000. Maps Ref. G.2b.(22.). Cartobibliography with introduction.

10.War Revisions. (Issued for official use 1940. Published 1943-45)

Because of changes recommended by the Davidson Committee, the Fifth Edition was abandoned, and the New Popular (Sixth) Edition, begun in 1939. This in turn was interrupted by World War 2 giving rise to two War Revisions. They were prepared initially for military purposes but a decision was made to sell them to the general public in 1942. The majority were based on Popular Edition sheetlines although a few were based on the Fifth. Any available revision material was used and the maps usually incorporated a military grid.

OrderingThere are no sets of this series on the reference shelves. See the Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide.

11.New Popular (Sixth) Edition (Published 1945-47)

A rapid publication programme was reactivated for this first post-war series.It was based on the Popular Edition sheets for Northern England and Wales and on the completed part of the Fifth Edition for southern England. The series was recast on National Grid lines and new sheetlines. The whole of Britain was to be covered in a single series of 190 sheets but the sheets for Scotland were never published.

OrderingThere are no sets of this series on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions before 50 years from present.
Sheet IndexesPublic Service Guide
SamplesOS small scale maps. Plate 3 (Colour), Plate 2 (Outline).
Further ReadingOliver, Richard, A guide to the Ordnance Survey One-Inch New Popular Edition. Charles Close Society, 2000. Maps Ref. G.2b.(21.). Cartobibliography with introduction.
CharacteristicsA description of Ordnance Survey Small Scale maps (hereafter OS small scale maps). Chessington: Ordnance Survey, 1957. Plate 1. Maps Ref. Z.5a. (25.)

12.Seventh Series. (Published 1952-62)

The revision for this series took place 1945-58. Unlike previous series, a system of revision according to the likely amount of change in the landscape was initiated thus achieving a more up-to-date record of topographical change.

This was a completely new series. It was reduced from the first series of the 1:25,000 which was based on 1:10,560 revisions and was the first uniform series covering the whole of Great Britain since the Popular edition. It was also the first to cover Great Britain in a single series of sheets. It was intended to enhance the appeal by using ten colours (reduced to six in 1961), different lettering and more up to date road classification.

A very important innovation on this series was the indication of Public Rights of Way, which first appeared in 1960 and are still shown on the 1:50,000 sheets. By 1972 all published sheets incorporated them. The information was derived from the definitive rights of way maps prepared by the local authorities, although the quality and quantity is very variable.

OrderingThere are no sets of this series on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks of sets. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingOne A4 section per sheet, for sheets less than 50 years old.
Sheet IndexesCatalogue and Index area. In perspex compartment far left.
SamplesOwen & Pilbeam p. 145. OS Small scale maps. Plate 5 (Colour), Plate 4 (Outline).
Further ReadingOliver, Richard with the assistance of Messenger, Guy, The Ordnance Survey One-Inch Seventh Series: a list of editions and sub-states. Charles Close Society, 1986. Maps Ref.G.2b.(20.). List of editions with introduction.

Oliver, Richard, An introduction to the Ordnance Survey One-Inch Seventh Series map with a list of edition numbers. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1991. Maps Ref. G.2b.(25.). Detailed account with list of editions.
CharacteristicsOS small scale maps plate1.

Public Service guide

13.1:50,000/Landranger Series (Published 1974-)

The decision by the OS to change to a metric system was made in 1964. The 1:10,560 (six-inch) was converted to 1:10,000 and the 1:63,360 (one-inch) converted to 1:50,000. The first series (1974-) of the 1:50,000 was based on an enlargement of the 1:63360 on new sheetlines, but the Second series (1974-) was completely redesigned and redrawn Typefaces and symbols of the 1:50,000 were updated and designed to cater for outdoor and leisure activities. The series was designed to adapt to changing needs.

The cyclical system of revision depending on the amount of likely change was retained, but based on 1:25,000 rather than 1:10,560 as before. There were other types of revision introduced depending on specific changes, which could be used within a year of the publication of the First Edition and which could take into account changes to motorways and trunk roads. Another type of revision updated the areas concerned just before reprint.

In 1979 the 1:50,000 was named ‘Landranger’ and was completed in 1987. Revisions are made at the 1:25,000 scale and updated by aerial photography and intelligence from other scales.

OrderingThere are no sets of this series on the reference shelves. See Public Service Guide for shelfmarks. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingOne A4 section per sheet only.
Sheet IndexesCatalogue and Index area. In perspex compartment far left.
SamplesOwen & Pilbeam p.149 (First and Second Series.)
Further ReadingHarley, J B, Ordnance Survey maps: a descriptive manual. Southampton: Ordnance Survey 1975. (hereafter Harley 1975).

14.District and Tourist maps (Published 1857-1987)

These are portions of two or more sheets of the one-inch used to print special sheets covering areas of interest such as towns and environs and tourist areas. The first such publication was the 1857 ‘London and its environs’ but the word district did not appear in the titles until after 1900. The term ‘tourist’ was introduced by 1921. After this the term ‘district’ gave way to ‘tourist’ and both made their last appearance in 1987, to be replaced by ‘Outdoor leisure’ which had started in 1972 on the more suitable 1:25,000 scale.

OrderingThere are no sets of this series on the reference shelves. See Cook and McIntosh (under Further reading) for shelfmarks. These must be ordered on Explore the British Library.
CopyingNo restrictions before 50 years from present. One A4 section per sheet only after 50 years from present.
SamplesOne Inch Tourist: OS Small scale maps, Plate 9. Harley 1975. Plates 27 and 28.
Further ReadingCook, Karen and McIntosh, Robert, A preliminary list of Ordnance Survey ‘One-Inch’ District and Tourist maps and selected precursors in the British Library. Charles Close Society, 1991. Maps Ref. G.2b. (31.). Detailed catalogue with introduction.

15.Outline editions

Since the New Series in the 19th century an outline edition has been produced alongside the hill-shaded or coloured sheets to cater for specialist users requiring a base for overdrawing. They usually showed all the areas printed black on the coloured sheets thus omitting contours road fillings, woods and public rights of way.

16.General literature

Browne, John Paddy, Map Cover Art: a pictorial history of Ordnance Survey cover illustrations. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1990. Maps Ref.G2b (36)

Harley, J Brian , Ordnance Survey Maps, a descriptive manual Southampton : Ordnance Survey, 1975 Maps Ref. G.2b(13). Essential reading; very thorough. Samples of many series.

Harley, J.B and Phillips, CW, The Historians’ Guide to Ordnance Survey Maps, London: National Council for Social Service, 1964. Maps Ref. G.2b(8). Essential reading.

Hellyer, Roger, Ordnance Survey small-scale maps. Indexes 1810-1998. With a foreword by Brian Adams who also oversaw all the technical data. Kerry: David Archer, 1999. Maps G.2.b.(41.). All editions of maps and variants are listed.

Hellyer, Roger and Oliver, Richard, Military Maps, the one inch  series of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Charles Close Society, 2004 Maps Ref. G. 2b.(7)

Hellyer Roger and Oliver, richard, A Guide to the Ordnance Survey one inch third edition maps, in colour. London: The Charles Close Society, 2004 maps Ref. G.2b(2).

Hodson, Yoland, Popular maps: the Ordnance Survey Popular Edition One-Inch map of England and Wales 1919-1926. London: Charles Close Society, 1999. Maps Ref G.2b.(43.). Includes resumé of earlier editions.

O’Donoghue, Yolande, William Roy 1726-1790: pioneer of the Ordnance Survey. London British Museum Publications, 1977. Maps Ref. A6.a(27). British Library exhibition catalogue.

Oliver, Richard, Ordnance Survey maps: a concise guide for historians. London: Charles Close Society, 1993. Maps Ref G.2b.(34.). Probably the best guide there is.

Owen, Tim and Pilbeam Elaine, Ordnance Survey: map-makers to Britain since 1791. Southampton: Ordnance Survey; London: H.M.S.O., 1992. Maps Ref. G.2b.(28.). Popular account. Well illustrated.

Browne, John Paddy, Map cover art: a pictorial history of Ordnance Survey cover illustrations. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1990. Maps Ref.G.2b.(36.)

Seymour, W A (ed.) A history of the Ordnance Survey. Folkestone: Dawson, 1980. Maps Ref. G.2b.(16.). Very detailed.

A description of Ordnance Survey small scale maps, Chessington: Ordnance Survey, 1957. Maps Ref. Z.5a. (25).

Charles Close Society for the study of Ordnance Survey maps, Sheetlines. Journal published three times a year (with index). Maps 167.f.2 (latest issue on periodical carousel).

Large Scale Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain

Large Scale Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain in the Map Library

Map Scales

Map Scales