Ordnance Survey New Popular Edition

Surveyed 1914-1948, published 1945-1948
(available from http://www.cassinimaps.co.uk/shop/printedOS.asp)

The mid 1940s was a period of intense regeneration and renewal in Britain. The Second World War had been won, but at a vast financial and human cost. The physical damage and disruption, though less severe than in many other countries, was considerable; more insidious were the conflict’s legacies of social and geopolitical changes. Atlee’s postwar government promised a new society forged from the wreckage of the old, although the immediate reality was one of bomb sites, creaking infrastructure and continued food rationing. The country’s post-imperial decline was already a fact in 1945, even though this would not become clear to all until the Suez Crisis a decade later.


The conflict also had an impact on the Ordnance Survey. As in 1914, its original military role was reawakened with thousands of staff detailed to create accurate maps of Britain and Europe. Over 120 million sheets were printed for the D-Day landings alone, despite the fact that the Ordnance Survey’s Southampton headquarters had been largely destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940 and production had been forced to move to temporary quarters in Chessington.

The war had proved the importance of the railways in moving vast numbers of troops and evacuees, but it was to be their last great contribution to the nation’s transport needs. The network had survived the conflict without significant damage, but this proved to be a mixed blessing, for investment – badly needed after years of neglect – was thus not seen as a priority. One major change was the nationalisation of the ‘big four’ railway companies in 1947. A brief period of recovery followed, but from the early 1950s passenger numbers started a decline that was not reversed until the late 1970s. The car had taken over as the transport method of choice. Over 2.4 million vehicles were registered in Britain by the end of the 1940s as opposed to about a quarter of a million in 1921. Car travel increased social as well as personal mobility and also led to an
increasing demand for appropriate mapping.

The problem of surveying and recording Britain’s ever-changing landscape – one inhabited by over 50 million people by 1951 – had been exercising the minds of the government, the military and the Ordnance Survey ever since the completion of the Popular Edition in the late 1920s, although the cartographic ambitions of these parties did not always coincide. The Fifth Edition of the 1930s was the result of various experiments of projection, sheet lines and styling which ultimately proved unsuccessful and the project was abandoned in 1939 with only a small number of sheets having been produced.

Its replacement, devised in 1938, but delayed by the war, was the New Popular Edition, which first went on sale in 1945. Initial publication was completed in 1947, but sheets covering south-east England, including London, were republished with road and other revisions (including bomb damage in the capital) between 1947 and 1950. The New Popular Edition was a mixture of Fifth Edition-style material in southern England and ‘old’ Popular Edition material elsewhere, with subsequent revision. It was eventually superseded by the Seventh Series between 1952 and 1961.

The New Popular Edition was in many ways a departure from previous Ordnance Survey series. Although still produced at the one-inch scale, it included (as recommended by the Davidson Committee in 1938) a metric National Grid. It was also the first series to incorporate Scotland as well as England and Wales using a consistent numbering system (although the Scottish sheets were not published), and was the first to be produced in portrait rather than squared or landscape format, with sheets of 45km x 40km. It also used the Transverse Mercator projection, rather than the Cassini which had been used by the Ordnance Survey since the inception of the one-inch nearly 150 years before.

The New Popular Edition was not produced from any one revision designed for the creation of the series and so is something of a hybrid: cartographically a stepping stone between the iconic Popular Edition of the 1920s, and the Seventh Series of the 1950s and the metric-scale 1:50,000 maps that followed from it. They provide a record of the country in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and on the threshold of great social, economic and environmental change. Many rural areas were almost unchanged compared to how they appeared a century or more before, while many urban centres were industrialised, overcrowded
and heavily bomb-damaged. Open countryside was still commonplace across the country as a whole, but was fast being eaten into by the suburban sprawl of large cities. The railway network remained intact, but Dr Beeching’s axe was only a decade or so away, as was the opening of Britain’s first motorway, the M1. The New Popular Edition captures all this ‘raw material’ which planners and developers in subsequent decades were to use, for better or for worse, to create the Britain that we know today.

The New Popular Edition captures the ever-changing landscape of Britain at a crucial time in its history. The inter-war years arguably saw the emergence of ‘modern’ Britain. The patterns of development and transport links these maps reveal are in many cases familiar to the contemporary eye. Much, however, was about to change, in particular the suburban encroachment into the countryside and the further expansion of the road network. The Popular Edition is a potent record of the Britain that was about to be traded for the motor car. By an irony, it also provided the British with their first motoring maps.

Ordnance Survey Popular Edition

Surveyed 1912-1923, first published 1919-1926
(available from http://www.cassinimaps.co.uk/shop/printed.asp)

The original impetus behind the creation of the Ordnance Survey and the original Old Series maps had been one of military necessity. Although the maps had soon assumed a more civilian aspect and market, the Ordnance Survey continued to fulfil an important wartime role. During the First World War its normal activities were suspended and over 5,000 people were engaged on military work, producing more than 32 million maps for the war effort.


The end of the conflict co-incided with another revolution, as dramatic as that which had swept the country three generations earlier with the advent of the railways – the increased use of the motor car. By the 1920s, this new and independent means of transport had helped create an entirely new market for maps. In 1909, 53,000 cars were registered in the UK: twenty years later there were over a million. Many who could not afford (or did not dare) to use a car cycled instead. Britain already had over 280,000 miles of roads on the eve of the First World War and although these were not of a consistent quality, they were fast being improved. For the first time, the train companies were faced with a real competitor. The post-war years also saw increased social mobility, prosperity and leisure time which helped to encourage Britain’s fledgling tourism industry. Many of the posters and publicity material produced at this time by resorts and transport bodies to attract these travellers rank amongst the finest achievements of British graphic art. More people were travelling than ever before – and all of them, particularly the motorists, needed maps.

Responding to this, the Ordnance Survey, under the Director-Generalship of Colonel Charles Close, began re-surveying the country in 1912 with a view to producing maps that were both accurate and eye-catchingly designed. After the war, and guided by the results of public consultation, the one-inch Popular Edition was launched, with its iconic cover of a cyclist sitting on a hillside studying a map; a separate 92-sheet Popular Edition series was created for Scotland and published between 1924 and 1932. Some one-inch district or tourist maps focussing on specific towns or attractions were produced from the early
1920s with eye-catching pictorial covers in an attempt to find a wider market.

After having produced a half-inch (1:126,720) scale series – with a red and green classified road numbering system overprinted on black outline base-map – for government administration purposes in the 1920s, the Survey added the road numbers to their other main map series including the Popular Edition. As with the Revised New Series these retained the Cassini projection on the origin of Delamere, although this was the last series to do so before the switch to the Transverse Mercator. The maps were based on the third national revision (published in the first decade of the century) but with an altered colour scheme using seven
plates. Roads, for instance, were now coloured according to their suitability or otherwise for motor traffic.

After several individual sheet revisions, an aborted Fifth Series, a start on the New Popular (Sixth) Edition (now including Scotland) and a major interruption during the Second World War (during which several War Office reprints, based chiefly on the Popular Edition and the Fifth Series sheets, were issued), the Popular Edition was eventually superseded between 1952 and 1961 by the Seventh Series. This comprised 190 sheets and for the first time provided coverage of the whole of Great Britain as one unit.

The Popular Edition captures the ever-changing landscape of Britain at a crucial time in its history. The inter-war years arguably saw the emergence of ‘modern’ Britain. The patterns of development and transport links these maps reveal are in many cases familiar to the contemporary eye. Much, however, was about to change, in particular the suburban encroachment into the countryside and the further expansion of the road network. The Popular Edition is a potent record of the Britain that was about to be traded for the motor car. By an irony, it also provided the British with their first motoring maps.

Ordnance Survey Revised New Series (Colour)

Surveyed 1842-1893 (New Series); revised 1893-1898 (Revised New Series)
Coloured Edition published 1897-1904
(available from http://www.cassinimaps.co.uk/shop/printed.asp)

In February 1804, some ten months before the publication of the first Old Series sheet, the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, in order to win a bet, built and successfully operated the first steam locomotive to run on rails. He was unable to capitalise on this achievement and it was left to others, notably George Stephenson, to refine and develop this new technology over the next 20 years. The result was a railway-building boom that was to transform the country.


Less than 100 miles of track existed in 1830; this had grown to 1,500 miles by 1840, and to 10,400 miles by 1860. The effect on the areas through which the railways passed was often dramatic, particularly around large junctions and termini: an estimated 4,000 houses, for example, were demolished during the building of St Pancras station in London. This revolution helped drive Britain’s increasing prosperity and industrialisation during the rest of the century, and contributed to numerous social changes including the growth of trade unionism, the advent of tourism and the standardisation of national time.

The railways also enabled goods and people to be quickly transported to and from large towns and cities, so hastening the existing trend towards urbanisation. In 1800, around 75% of the population had lived in the countryside and the rest in the towns; by 1880, these proportions had been reversed. As a result, many long-familiar aspects of the landscape were changing for good – and changing far more quickly than they could be mapped. Within a few decades of the first appearance of the one-inch Old Series, it had become clear that the process of surveying, revising and re-publishing maps of Britain was to be a never-ending task, the more so as the maps were increasingly being put to a wide range of civilian, as well as military, uses.

The government and the Ordnance Survey took several measures to address this issue. From the 1840s surveys were carried out at increasingly detailed scales and were used for many purposes including railway construction, geological survey and sanitary reform. In order to ensure complete and accurate coverage, the 1841 Survey Act had already given surveyors the right to ‘enter into and upon any land’ in the course of their duties. Having moved into new premises in Southampton after a fire in 1841 had destroyed their overcrowded Tower of London headquarters, the Ordnance Survey, armed with its new powers and instructions, began work on re-surveying the country. The results, published at the one-inch scale between 1876 and 1896, were later to be known as the New Series. These used the same Cassini projection and origin of Delamere as the earlier Old Series maps. Indeed, the first New Series sheets were little more than reprints of the northernmost Old Series sheets but with a new numbering system.

In 1893 a more thorough revision was undertaken which resulted in the publication of 346 sheets, between 1895 and 1899, of what became known as the Revised New Series (later sheets were merely the same with hachured hills added). Improvements in reproduction and printing techniques helped these to be even clearer and more accurate than their predecessors. By this time, however, another change was being demanded; for from the early 1890s, the military was pressing for a one-inch map in colour. Financial, technical, aesthetic and political considerations as to how this could best be accomplished were hotly debated between the numerous interested parties. In late 1896, the Ordnance Survey concluded that sales of the new maps to civilians would help subsidise the costs, a consideration which helped drive forward production of the first colour one-inch map the following year. Even then, the debate continued, and some features, such as the use of green for woodland (which only appeared on sheets 1 to 73, north of the Preston to Hull line), were amended as the series progressed. Although the final results were something of a compromise between the often incompatible aims of the military, the Treasury and the Ordnance Survey, the Revised New Series in colour stands as an elegant portrait of late-Victorian Britain. As the first coloured one-inch map series, it was also the precursor of Ordnance Survey’s 20th-century mapping which, from the Popular Edition onwards, would be increasingly determined by the demands not of the military but rather of the civilian market. The Revised New Series captures Britain at the height of its imperial prosperity. All but the very largest cities still had clearly defined boundaries, but with little of the urban sprawl that has since overtaken so much of the landscape. The construction of over 16,000 miles of railway track (of which about half survives today) had made its mark on the physical landscape, both by its very presence and through  the social mobility that it helped encourage. Alongside and, increasingly, beneath these new developments, the maps still clearly show many of Britain’s more ancient features and settlements: but these are now dominated by the new Victorian urban society which in many ways forms the basis of our own.

Ordnance Survey Old Series Maps

Surveyed 1791-1874, published 1805-1874
(available from http://www.cassinimaps.co.uk/shop/printed.asp)

The Cassini Old Series provides a fascinating snapshot of the human geography of Britain in the mid-19th century. These maps are taken from the Ordnance Survey One-Inch ‘Old Series’ sheets, surveyed between 1791 and 1874 and published – with many revisions and new editions – between 1805 and 1874. The Ordnance Survey’s 19th-century cartographers managed to create, without most of the technology that today’s map-makers take for granted, a stunningly elegant and accurate survey of Britain at this crucial time in its history.


The history of the Ordnance Survey’s mapping begins in 1791 when the government, fearful of the threat of an invasion by French revolutionary forces, instructed the then Board of Ordnance to make a detailed survey of the vulnerable southern regions of England. The upheavals in France and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars passed without an invasion, but the work of the Ordnance Survey continued and soon turned into a major national project. The driving force behind this was the indefatigable Thomas Colby, who later became Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey in 1820. Colby designed many of the instruments used in the surveys and did much to standardise the processes of collecting the data and creating the final maps.

He involved himself in all aspects of the work and personally covered countless miles with his teams of surveyors. The task was enormous and quite unlike anything attempted before; perhaps only the equally remarkable achievement of the Domesday Book over 700 years earlier comes close to the scale and scope of this enterprise, which was to take the best part of 100 years to complete.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century some maps at the one-inch (1:63,360) scale based on Board of Ordnance surveys were already available to the public, including Jersey (1787), Sussex (1795) and Kent (1801 – the ‘Mudge map’). William Faden, Geographer to the King, published the Sussex and Kent maps: the first published by the Ordnance Survey was the map of Essex in four sheets which appeared in 1805. This was the start of a nationally (England & Wales) numbered 110-sheet map series (with many being originally published as quarter-sheets), which later became known as the ‘Old Series’. The next maps to be produced, in 1809, covered Devon and parts of Cornwall and Somerset. These are sheets 20 to 27, although this numbering system was only adopted later and so the numbers do not reflect the order of publication. The Ordnance Survey’s maps were regarded as being so vital to national security that during the Napoleonic Wars an embargo was placed on their sale to the public.
OSEFacsThe mapping used the Cassini projection, which was to be the projection most commonly employed by the Ordnance Survey until the 1940s. It soon became clear that the policy of using a meridian of 3ºW for the western maps and Greenwich’s 0º for the eastern ones would lead to a convergence between the western and eastern sheets which became more pronounced as the maps progressed north. It was eventually decided to use a single new meridian with its origin in Delamere Forest, Cheshire. The convergence, and the new base line (the Preston to Hull line) of the sheets from 91 to 94 northwards, which was perpendicular to the meridian through Delamere.

With very few exceptions (the Isle of Wight and the area around the Preston to Hull line) the Old Series maps were produced without any overlaps. This posed various challenges in the creation of these Cassini Historical Maps, as it was necessary to find originals with four perfect edges in order to create a neat join. Where this was not possible, several copies of the same map had to be sourced and a digital composite created. The use of quarter-sheets, which became increasingly used as the One-Inch project progressed, compounded this problem, as did the fact that many major cities were split across more than one map.

The period these maps cover was one of enormous change. The demographic shifts caused by increased wealth and the industrial revolution had already made existing maps largely useless, but much of the underlying fabric of the past was still intact. The population of Great Britain in 1850 was three times greater than it had been in 1700, but only a third of what it is now. An increasing number of people were living in the cities; around 1850, for the only time in British history, the rural and urban populations were equal. The major conurbations of today were already well established but were still separated by open countryside and numerous villages and hamlets, many of which have long been lost under roads and houses and whose names, where they survive at all, are now only dimly remembered. Ancient roads were being augmented by the recent revolutions of the canals and railways, and these advances in transport and communication did much to encourage both the demand for the maps and the ability to create them. The Old Series maps are thus a record of England and Wales on the eve of a momentous transition from its centuries-old agrarian past towards its dramatic 20th century urbanisation.