Ordnance Survey maps London, 1801-style

To celebrate its 225th anniversary, the UK’s mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, has produced a contemporary map of London in its original cartographic style from 1801

Drawn up by cartographer Chris Wesson, the map follows the type, phrasing, titling and scale bar of the 1801 original as closely as possible. Produced at the size of an OS Custom Made map, the design centres on the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament).

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The new map of London, showing Richmond Park, produced using cartography stylings of 1801
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The new map of London, showing the Isle of Dogs, produced using cartography stylings of 1801

“The challenge was to create a mid-scale map, but the level of detail makes it more similar to a local level map,” Wesson explains. “Essentially, the original 1801 map was a one inch to one mile or 1:63,360 map with a 1:10,000 data detail, as there were far less features and less urban sprawl at that time, so the product spec could at that time show more – such as field boundaries and all of the churches. We now have so many more features per unit area – which is why it’s shown at two inches to the mile and not one inch to the mile.”

Wesson says that the majority of his time making the map was spent on translating the sheer amount of detailed data available today into the look of a handmade printed map.

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Detail from the 1801 OS map of London and Essex
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Detail from the 1801 OS map of London and Essex

“Buildings alone were at least a 16-step process,” he adds. “Around 80% of my time has been spent preparing data and only 20% on cartographic styling, but when compared to the cartographers of the past their efforts would have been similarly weighted with a large emphasis on hand-drawing, especially once a common style had been agreed.”

As an additional part of the project, a map of the West Highlands of Scotland has also been drawn up in a similar way by cartographer Charley Glynn. The designer of Ordnance Survey’s recent OS Maps app, Glynn has evoked the stylings of a 1967 map – which used data originally collected in 1956 – in his modern recreation.

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Detail from the OS map of the West Highlands, drawn up in the style of a 1967 edition
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Detail from the OS map of the West Highlands, drawn up in the style of a 1967 edition

“One major difference in the original map and the modern version is the number of trig pillars,” say OS. “Although the map is dated and printed 1967, it was made using data captured in 1956 and the majority of trig pillars in the area were not built till the 1960s. There are 10-20 times more in the modern data. There are also many more roads and ferry routes in the modern data, although railways have stayed largely the same.”

The London map will soon be available to buy from Ordnance Survey – see ordnancesurvey.co.uk to register your interest.

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The complete London map

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