Paper Maps

37000 Old OS Maps


The National Library of Scotland (NLS) yesterday unveiled a HUGE collection of maps that they have digitised and placed online. The maps, covering England and Wales, are historic Ordnance Survey maps that are between 60 and 170 years old and are at a high resolution. The scale is 6-inch-to-the-mile and covers the whole country. At the moment each map can be viewed by clicking on the appropriate box on an online map, they plan to undertake further work to join many of the maps together to create a single scrollable historic map of the whole country this summer.

The extract above, of the Kew Bridge area in 1899, is from this map (I’ve shifted the white balance.) Some of the maps have some rather nice colouring for water – with the blue colour being augmented by some subtle shading on the riverbanks. The same effect is see in a Snowdon map (extract below), from 1889.

I featured an earlier release of Victorian 60-inch-to-the-mile maps, for London, on Mapping London. The number of retweets and Facebook likes for this posting was unprecedented for the blog, suggesting a huge interest in high quality scans of historic maps.

Here’s their press release, includes the reason why the NLS is including maps from outside Scotland!

New map resource – OS six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952

We are very pleased to announce the availability of a new website resource – zoomable colour images of the Ordnance Survey’s six-inch to the mile (1:10,560) mapping of England and Wales. All our map digitisation work in recent years has been externally funded, hence the recent expansion of our map images beyond Scotland.

This is the most detailed OS topographic mapping covering all of England and Wales from the 1840s to the 1950s. It was revised for the whole country twice between 1842-1893 and between 1891-1914, and then updated regularly for urban or rapidly changing areas from 1914 to the 1940s. Our holdings are made up of 37,390 sheets, including 35,124 quarter sheets, and 2,237 full sheets.

The maps are immensely valuable for local and family history, allowing most features in the landscape to be shown. The more detailed 25 inch to the mile (or 1:2,500) maps allow specific features to be seen more clearly in urban areas, as well as greater detail for buildings and railways. However, most topographic features on the 25 inch to the mile maps are in fact also shown on the six-inch to the mile maps.

The easiest way of finding sheets is through a clickable graphic index using our ‘Find by Place’ viewer:

This allows searching through a gazetteer of placenames, street names, postcodes and Grid References, as well as by zooming in on an area of interest with smaller-scale locational mapping as a backdrop.

The sheets are also available via county lists:

We plan to also make georeferenced mosaics available of the series by the late summer.

OS six-inch England and Wales home page:

Further information:


Data Graphics London Paper Maps

London North/South

[Buy this print!]

London North/South shows every building block in central and inner city London, coloured blue if it’s north of the River Thames and red if it’s south. And that’s all. No other features are shown, and yet, from this simple premise, a map of the city appears. Almost every street is visible, as a linear white line. Longer lines, with gentler curves, particularly in south London, are often the railways. Stadia are noticeable for generally having a football-field-sized hole surrounded by an often oval block of colour. St Paul’s Cathedral is surprisingly small, but obvious if you know where to look. Big holes in the map are London’s grand parks – Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens being perhaps the most distinctive, as they are surrounded on all sides by densely packed building blocks. A flash of blue appears in the bottom left corner of the map – a mistake? No, the Thames wiggles so much in west London, that this area (Hampton Wick), on the far south of the map, is in fact on the river’s north bank.

The map has 48912 shapes on it – 28200 in blue and 20712 in red. It covers, I think, more than half of London’s eight million plus population, suggesting an average of around 100 people live in each housing block. It does include industrial and commercial buildings, but it’s a fair assumption I think to say that the great majority of buildings in London are residential ones.

The map is centred on a spot just south of Waterloo Railway Station, which is the geographical centroid of Greater London – despite this being south of the river, while the major institutions of the capital – and most of Zone 1 of the tube network – are on the north.

One feature which is on almost all London maps is the River Thames. Famously, when it was removed from the official tube map a few years ago, there was a big outcry and it was hastily restored. This map doesn’t have the Thames on it – but the space through where it runs is obvious. Think of it as being there after all – but coloured white.

I’ve had the graphic professionally litho-printed and it is currently available as a limited edition A2 edge-to-edge print which you can buy from my new online shop, as one of two designs available at the shop’s launch. So far, it’s comfortably outselling the other print which is an update of my Electric Tube design. I think a lot of people like the idea of owning something which has their house on it!

The data comes is Ordnance Survey’s Vector Map District, released under the Open Government Licence. The data is therefore Crown copyright and database right Ordnance Survey 2014. It was prepared in QGIS 2.0, with finishing touches and colouring carried out in Illustrator.

Data Graphics Geodemographics London Paper Maps

Data Windows


This is a data visualisation artwork created by Dr Cheshire (@spatialanalysis) and myself. We were invited to submit an entry to 10X10 Drawing the City London, run by the building design charity Article 25. The submissions, including various from “real” artists and architects, will then be auctioned in November to raise funds for the charity’s projects.

Our technological, cartographical and geographical skills are almost certainly better than our artistic ability, so we decided to let technology create our artwork. We took the 2011 census data for the target area (Shoreditch) and combined it with building data from Ordnance Survey Vector Map District, creating a 3×3 panel. Colorbrewer colour ramps, supplied in QGIS 2.0, were used, to colour each panel differently.

The resulting artwork is completely based on open data, licensed under the Open Government Licence.

A single physical copy was printed directly onto white canvas, using specialised equipment operated by Miles Irving at the Drawing Office in UCL Geography. He mounted it onto a wooden frame. The resulting artwork can be seen above and has now been passed to Article 25 for their exhibition and auction next month.

Conferences London Paper Maps

Magical Maps: An Evening at the Art of Mapping Exhibition

I was at a talk last night organised by the Londonist – Magical Maps. It took place in the TAG Fine Arts‘ Air Gallery in Mayfair. TAG Fine Arts currently have an exhibition there – The Art of Mapping, and the audience was surrounded by the various artworks – some made from maps, some as interpretations of maps and some simply with a geographical theme.

The speakers were Stephen Walter, an artist who drew the “Island” London map that was a hit at the British Library’s recent Magnificent Maps exhibition; John Kennedy, a London cabbie, blogger and chronologer of bollards and other London objects; and UCL CASA’s very own James Cheshire, recent PhD, now lecturer.

James was up first and showed some of the recent visualisation work by CASA. You can see most of what he showed in an article here.

Then John explained The Knowledge, taking the audience on a verbal taxi journey, from the gallery to the Elephant and Castle – “the true centre of London” – and back, taking into account various banned turns and other taxi restrictions! His journey was peppered with anecdotes of the various places encountered.

Finally, Stephen outlined his artistic career, showing how he switched from traditional photography and painting, to producing the monochromatic repeated symbols on landscapes, that envolved into maps and finally his famous Island map. He also showed some works in progress, such as a map of London’s underground structures (tube lines, water pipes, the Mail Rail etc).

Matt from the Londonist then chaired a Q&A session with the panel, and finally there was another chance to look around and think about the artworks on the walls. I was most intrigued by the below image, which lists and shows all the bridges across the Thames in London, the top line being Teddington Lock and the bottom being the Thames Barrier – but I don’t know why the lines cross over and wiggle. Perhaps it is just purely artistic, but the data visualiser in me hopes there is a deeper meaning and an embedded infographic…

An excellent evening with three very different but equally engaging speakers and some very interesting things to look at.

The exhibition is open for another week, it’s quite small and free, and there is a complementary exhibition book, so take a visit to Mayfair and have a look! There is a talk tomorrow by some of the artists.

Paper Maps

Review: Map of a Nation – A Biography of the Ordnance Survey

Map of a Nation, by Rachel Hewitt, comes in a large, chunky hard-back volume with a beautiful, gold-laced front depicting one of the Ordnance Survey’s earliest First Series maps, dated 1810. The book documents, in often immense detail, the early history of the Ordnance Survey – from the activities leading up to its creation in the early 18th century, to the publication of its final First Series map in 1870.

Rather than being a general history of the OS, the book focuses on the lives of its first director generals, Mudge and Colby, and Roy, whose work led to the creation of the organisation. It details particularly the trigonometric survey, under which an accurate triangular network of known points was gradually built up, and the creation, alongside, of large and small scale maps.

The book is therefore somewhat misnamed – it’s really “Ordnance Survey: Its Birth and The Early Years”. I was disappointed that there is little discussion of the OS’s history after 1870, apart from in a brief Epilogue. The organisation’s more modern history was what indeed I had been most looking forward to. The cover notes mention a Ph.D thesis written by the same author a couple of years before the book’s publication, and I wonder if the book is largely based on the thesis. The language in some parts of the book is also quite formal, with the prose being sometimes on a level consummate with a professional thesis but a little above what would normally expected for a popular book. (A very flowery way of saying I didn’t understand every word in the book!)

The pacing of the book is generally quite good, it is on a near chronological basis, although does tend to jump back in time briefly for short sections. Perhaps too much time is spent on the pre-OS period, important though it is – the detailed biographical sections of the principal people involved, prior to the organisation’s foundation, weighed the narrative down a bit. Later on, the book’s pace picks up. The latter half of the book details the slow progress towards completion of the First Series, with various delays caused by creation of the Irish Survey and expeditions to Sinai and so on.

The book includes a short plate section with colour extracts of various paintings and maps. It is a pity though that it has no photographs of, for example, the monuments showing the endpoints of the original baseline across Hounslow Heath. (See these pictures by Diamond Geezer.)

A note for those that measure their progress through a book by the position of their bookmark – the narrative ends quite abruptly 114 pages before the end, with the rest taken up by the extremely comprehensive citation marks, citation references and index. Again, very worthy for a thesis – the content has been researched extremely thoroughly – but slightly overwhelming for a book like this.

In all, a rigid, well written and authoritative discussion of the first part of the Ordnance Survey’s history, but I was left wanting for more. This is not the OS’s complete biography!

You can see the book on Amazon. A paper-back edition is coming out in July.

London 2012 Paper Maps

Everyone’s Putting London 2012 on the Map

The Geographers’ AZ Map Company, makers of those iconic London atlases, got quite a bit of publicity earlier this week for putting out an extract of their latest map, showing the complete Olympic venues and Olympic Park layout, despite the event still being eighteen months away. Indeed the map will only be accurate during summer 2012 itself, as most of the venues will then be dismantled, and the park re-landscaped, after the six weeks of Olympic and Paralympic events.

They weren’t the first in getting their public map up-to-date though – I added in simplified shapes of the key arenas in the Olympic Park to OpenStreetMap, based on first hand observation from the park perimeter fence and the bus tours, several months ago. The Olympic Stadium is very roughly drawn, in particular. However, the Bing Maps announcement, also this week, of donations of its aerial imagery to OpenStreetMap, may mean I can update the shape to match the “bowl” that is visible in the circa 2008 photography available of the park.

The Ordnance Survey also has updated its Landranger map – the new version with the venues appearing on the OS’s own Getamap online survey, but not on the scans used by Bing maps.

Also, the OS has today made available a PDF of a special map – Engineering the Olympic Park – made for the Institute of Civil Engineers (more details). It’s a shame I only heard about this now, as a paper copy would have been a (map-)collector’s item, and they were handing them out at the View Tube which is close by where I live. Oh well.

The OS map’s photo of “Before 2005” is slightly cheeky, implying the entire site was full of rubbish bins, pylons and abandoned caravans. Certainly parts of the site were derelict, but other parts were quite pleasant. As a more thorough representation, Diamond Geezer did a careful survey of the whole area before the fences went up in 2007/8. Actually, having looking at the photos there again now, the dereliction probably did outweigh the beauty.

(As an aside, some of the other details on the A-Z extract are questionable, even without considering representation of buildings that don’t yet exist and might not end up entirely like their planned form. There appears to be a giant “playground” in Victoria Park, in the left-most part of the extract, which is just another part of the park’s grassland area in real life. They’ve also got the old Hackney Marshes sports pavilion, shown as “Pav” on the top-left of the extract, even though this was demolished last year and replaced by a new, larger building, further to the west, which opened last weekend. It seems that in their (quite understandable) rush to capitalise on the Olympic buzz, they’ve forgotten about the local community changes surrounding the park. Hmm, now where have I heard of that before?)