Ordnance Survey Celebrates 220 Years of Mapping the Nation

Tuesday 21 June marks 220 years since the establishment of Ordnance Survey, Britain’s national mapping agency.

From military beginnings, mapping the south east coast of Britain for fear of invasion by Napoleon, through to the modern digital age, Ordnance Survey has played a constant and vital role for charting the changing face of the nation for over two centuries.

On Tuesday, to mark the anniversary, dignitaries and senior military officials from the Royal Engineers, will gather to dedicate the organisation’s new War Memorial which remembers the sacrifice of the 123 Ordnance Survey staff who gave their lives during the two World Wars. The design of the memorial echoes the iconic shape of an Ordnance Survey trig pillar.

The surviving five Ordnance Survey Directors General will then be invited to plant a commemorative tree.

The presence of the Royal Engineers harks back to Ordnance Survey’s military origins, where fear of a French invasion promoted the Board of Ordnance, the Ministry of Defence of the day, to carry out a survey of the south east – hence Ordnance Survey’s rather unusual name. That work was vital in preparing the country against a possible invasion and ultimately contributed to the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The art of map making subsequently played a major role in both World Wars, with Ordnance Survey staff being dispatched to map the trenches throughout The Great War, whilst during World War II some 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.

Today Ordnance Survey is a £130 million-a-year government owned business, making use of state-of-the-art technology to produce mapping products and geographic data that are the best in the world. From the paper maps beloved by walkers and ramblers to the digital mapping that underpins in-car sat navs, the emergency services and national security, Ordnance Survey plays a role in everyone’s daily lives.

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.”

Among the dignitaries attending are Brigadier Iain James, OBE ADC, Engineer-in-Chief of the Army, the Mayors of Southampton and Test Valley, and serving members of the Royal Engineers, many of whom have recently returned from active service in Afghanistan.