The Open Road Awaits...

on Tuesday, 05 April 2016. Posted in Archives

I don’t know if any of you saw the wonderful BBC TV programme back in September last year called ‘A Very British Map: The OS Story’. It fascinated me as I enjoy a walk in the countryside and my husband just loves maps, having quite a collection of his own. Friends and relatives always know that if in doubt, a 1:25,000 inch Explorer is a sure fire hit as a gift!

To get back on track (pardon the pun!), it was the turnaround in use of Ordnance Survey maps from military aids to the traveller’s companion which interested me most, especially as here at the History Centre we hold a large collection of OS maps which include copies of Ordnance Surveyor’s drawings of 1789 on microfiche to maps of the modern day, charting this development.

The OS was initially pipped to the post when utilising their maps for commercial purposes, with John Bartholomew & Son Ltd. beginning to sell travellers maps based on the one inch OS series in the early 20th century, calling them ‘reduced Ordnance Survey’ maps. The time was right and they were phenomenally popular due to the rise in car ownership. The War Office had, by 1901, been purchasing Bartholomew’s half inch maps due to their improved layered colouring methods for relief and roads but in 1902 the Treasury allowed OS to publish its own half inch scale maps and withdrew orders from Bartholomew’s, although at first the OS version was inferior. The 1911 Copyright Act changed the field; the OS could thereafter control the use of their maps and the term ‘Crown Copyright Reserved’ can be seen appearing on their maps at this time. Bartholomew’s was not happy, canvassing the views of other commercial publishers, lobbying against the new rules and battling with OS. It was to no avail; they were forced to change the name of their maps to ‘Reduced’.

Bartholomew’s New Reduced Survey, Berks & Wilts (c. 1911-1920)

This edition gives a distinction between first class and secondary roads for the first time. Between c. 1911 and 1928 an arrangement existed between Bartholomew and the Cyclists’ Touring Club for their members to send in any revisions they found to the maps. This was acknowledged by their logo appearing in the lower border of each map.


Bartholomew’s Revised “Half-Inch” Contoured Maps, 1946

The OS had by now realised they were missing out on a big opportunity and employed the professional artist Ellis Martin in 1919 to produce some wonderful artistic covers, such as the one inch map of a cyclist on a hillside in 1919, which proved very popular at a time when an increased amount of leisure time and an interest in walking for pleasure also occurred during the 1920s -30s. OS realised that they would have to act like a commercial company in order to do well, and employed two ‘map travellers’ whose job it was to ensure that retailers were fully stocked. Advertisements were also created. The first Tourist Map published by the OS was in 1920, for Snowdon. The OS’ ‘Popular Edition’ of 1919-1926 has a charm and beauty that still rings true today and these maps are highly collectable items.   

OS Contoured Road Map of Swindon to Cirencester, 1919

The Local Studies OS map collection is not only useful as a tool for discovering more about the places that matter to you. They can also be a way of looking at how society has changed, giving us a glimpse of “the Open Road”, of an era long gone, but perhaps also an emotion re-discovered when viewing the physical beauty and craftsmanship of these items today.

Julie Davis

Community History Advisor

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.


Accredited Archive Service