The Ordnance Survey is a well-known British institution providing comprehensive geographical data for a multitude of purposes. Utilised during Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and a vital organ of the National Curriculum, Ordnance Survey maps will be familiar to most students through the education system. Weekend exploration in the Lake District, Peak District and other areas of attraction is greatly improved by the crystal clear and detailed landscape mapping provided by OS survey maps. The history of the Ordnance Survey finds its routes, as many things do, in the Jacobite Rebellion. The Jacobites rebelled in the 17th and 18th centuries hoping to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne. Many Scottish people joined the Jacobite cause because of King James’ over throwers, Mary and William of Orange. The pair had been persecuting Catholics in Scotland and it was in the face of Scottish turbulence that Lieutenant Colonel Watson thought to create a detailed map of Scotland for military purposes.
The word ‘ordnance’ itself refers to military equipment, particularly ammunition and guns, and so it was the Board of Ordnance back in 1745 that were first allocated the task of mapping the Scottish landscape. French political turbulence and the presence of Napoleon during the early 19th century provided the encouragement needed for the Ordnance Survey to continue mapping Britain, this time focusing on the south coast of England. 1801 saw the mapping scale change to 1inch: 1mile and during the next 20 years around a third of England and Wales were mapped to this scale. 1841 saw the Ordnance Survey Act which granted the right to enter property for the purposes of Ordnance surveying. By 1846 a county by county survey of Ireland was finished, but the suspicions aroused amongst rural Ireland were considerable. Brian Friel’s play Translations is actually based on the reactions of Irish to their land being mapped.
It was the forward-thinking Major General Sir Henry James (the then Director General) which brought Ordnance mapping the practicalities of landscape photography. Using photography, maps were created far more efficiently and altering scales became cheaper and easier. The needs of war meant that from between the late 1800s until the end of World War II, a series of restricted maps were created for the War Office, mapping the locations of places with military significance, i.e. military camps, dockyards and naval installations. It was also through war that the Ordnance Survey began mapping foreign lands, such as South Africa, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Belgium. Information provided by the Ordnance Survey provided critical intelligence in the war effort and today Ordnance Survey provides data which can be utilised for a multitude of purposes. In 1995, 230,000 maps were digitised, and today these digital maps are used to provide businesses with highly valuable geographical data, as well as enabling the spring rambler to adventure into the unknown.