Happy Birthday, Ordnance Survey!

Happy 220th Anniversary to Ordnance Survey today, we’d be lost without you! Jokes aside, the history behind the Ordnance Survey (OS) is very interesting. Providing maps throughout both World Wars, to creating digital maps for our current GPS systems, the OS have seen maps across the ages. Today marks the anniversary of the OS, a time to remember the  people who died whilst striving to create a good visual picture of the country to protect our safety in the war.

Vanessa Lawrence CB, Director General and Chief Executive, comments: “We are immensely proud of our heritage, and today is a day to remember our past as well as to look to our future. Today as we remember those former colleagues who gave their lives to protect this country, we stand in the grounds of our brand new head office, having invested in the future so that we can continue to map Great Britain for many more years.” To celebrate the bravery and great work the OS does, I wanted to post some facts about them.

  • The OS started in 1791, when the government needed the Board of Ordnance, (the time’s equivalent of the Ministry of Defence) to map the South Coast of England to aid their defence against invasion from Napoleon. The mapping helped provide a victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
  • Sadly, 123 Ordnance Survey staff gave their lives during the two World Wars whilst mapping trenches.  There is a memorial for them in the iconic shape of an Ordnance Survey trig pillar. During World War II, 342 million maps were printed for use by the Allied forces. By 1944 maps were off the presses and in the hands of men at the front within 24 hours.
  • That historic decision led to the paper mapping of the whole country in detail, and is also the source of the intriguing name ‘Ordnance Survey’. The OS maps are all kept on a MasterMap database at Southampton head office, which is the largest database of its kind anywhere in the world.

The OS headquarters

  • They are a £120-million-a-year civilian organisation.
  • They employ over 1,200 and used 300 surveyors to make the maps,using technology rather than concrete ‘trig pillars’ of the past.
  • Maps are made with satellite technology and with around 100 GPS transmitting stations which use lasers to measure distances and obstacles like buildings. They send information to a hub, which calculates the landscape.
  • OS also use aerial photography for 3D maps, which can be applied to check on landscape changes, great  if your favourite ‘quiet place’ is now a bustling Starbucks.
  • These layers of maps are great fore new GPS advancedments,. The detaile view of an OS map can make GPS signals much more accurate.
  • OS maps allow free embedding of some maps on webpages, and free downloads, all part of a scheme to encourage  innovation. Called ‘GeoVation’, The Ordnance Survey hold showcases to secure investments from the IS to develiop new sustainable business ventures based on geography to aid new developments in maps!

Happy birthday Ordnance Survey!