P. Collier

University of Portsmouth, UK


This paper will discuss how a map designed to meet a military requirement was to have a lasting impact on the design of the topographic mapping of the Ordnance Survey.


For most of the 19th century the British Army used standard Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain. These maps were broadly similar to the General Staff maps used by other European armies. They were printed in black and used hachures for relief depiction. The only small difference was that they were at a larger scale (1:63,360) than the 1:75,000 sheets of Austria, the 1:80,000 sheets of France, or the 1:100,000 sheets of Germany. It was, however felt that the Army needed a new kind of map, better suited to it own requirements. To arrive at a design for the new map, it was decided to establish a committee, which reported in 1892 on a military map of Great Britain.


The committee was made up of senior officers who had experience in both intelligence and mapping, and took evidence from the leading experts on military mapping. The committees report set out the basic criteria for the design of the map, including the features to be included and the kinds of symbols to be used.


Wilson, the Director General of the Ordnance Survey, was one of the committee members, and was the least inclined to support a radical new design for the new map. He was known to favour a black and white map, with hachures for relief depiction, arguing that the British Army should retain the kind of map in general use in Europe. However, Wilson was over-ruled, and the committee decided in favour of a coloured map with relief being shown by contours and spot heights.


The new military map was in production for the Army when, in 1897, the Treasury sanctioned the experimental production of a colour edition of the Ordnance Surveys 1 inch (1:63,360) map. This first coloured edition became the so-called Third Series and was, in most essentials, the map design recommended by the committee in 1892.


Through the 20th century, the Third Series evolved with few major changes into the Second Series 1:50,000 mapping of today. Thus it was that a committee established to design a better military map, ended up defining the look of Ordnance Survey maps for more than a century.