Ordnance Survey [1969-2011]

  • This page: Introduction to OSGB & four decades of change.
  • Status: Completed
  • First Published: 06 January 2019

image missing

1969 OS logo and house colour


This section is a [personal] record the activities that go into making maps and life in a national mapping agency. So many people joining OS have been astonished by the unique set of issues that were not apparent from the outside - and I can include at least one Director General in that list. Hopefully some elements of social history will be found in the pages.

I have not tried to write a "complete history of OS" during this period - that would be impossible. The pages are written around a timeline bio covering the four+ decades I worked at OS. 1969 was probably a good time to have joined. It was possible to move through the organisation and develop new skills in a way that would be impossible today.

The pages are a personal reflection and inevitably they may reflect my views at times, it is a personal take and they do not necessarily represent those of Ordnance Survey

As important - this timeline Bio also enables me to acknowledge support from people I have met and worked with along the way and to return my thanks to them.

The four decades - the only constant was change

Ordnance Survey is Britain's National Mapping Agency and it is a well known name.

In 1969, when I joined as a trainee surveyor, the organisation had just taken possession of a new head quarters building in Maybush, Southampton.

This replaced many scattered offices in places such as Southampton and Chessington. The new Maybush office was a purpose built collections of offices and industrial units. This included: a print floor, photographic studios, a bank of glass offices to let the light through in the drawing offices and a floating floor to isolate vibrations to protect the photogrammetric equipment in the admin building. There was even a new ICL mainframe computer high up in West Block - with a window where staff could observe the marvelous device.

Even so, at the start of 1970 little did the creators of this extensive new headquarters with 5,000 staff know how much things were about to change.

When I left in 2011 OS with ~1,000 staff, had just moved to a new site at Adanac Park, Test Valley [near Southampton] - a smaller suite of general purpose offices and no industrial space.

Yes very much had changed in the years between and the organisation had made progressive steps in each of the decades I was there. Most of the changes reflected positive progress, but as with any form of change - compromise is also necessary. The net result was a completely different type of organisation and set of 'products' and working practices.

The timeline of events is arranged by decade below and for each decade there are sub pages based on various posts and roles undertaken.

Timeline 1969 - 2011

The sections below follow the progress of the four decades from the perspective of the field office, aerial survey sections, research, IT and corporate office. Each decade includes examples of the work, the issues and progress we made.


The 1970's: Surveying

Working as an OS surveyor in the 1970's had to be one of the best jobs going if you liked working outside. It enjoyed a level of freedom, exploration and best of all - making maps. The nature of the work also required mobility, at that time field survey offices opened and closed frequently as the work progressed to get all maps on the the national grid by 1980.

Surveying & making maps - show me a better job!....


The 1980's: Photogrammetry

For someone interested in photography, remote sensing as well as making maps - photogrammetry appeared to be a next logical step. Based in Southampton the work also connected to other parts of the organistion as well as some futher education.

Surveying from aerial photography & space imagery....


The 1990's: Digital Data

The commitment to digital data was to make this a very challenging but rewarding decade. The final decade of the millennium ended on a high with a commitment to a new vision for Ordnance Survey. Photogrammetry had involved lots of new technology as well as software development - paving the way for work in R&D and IT. A new geospatial data programme was established to take forward the new geospatial data strategy, finally we then recast the role for Ordnance Survey for the new millenium.

Better data management as geo data comes of age


The 2000's: Data Sharing

Geodata was booming with sat-navs, mapping websites and greater adoption take up of geographic data in public and private sectors. Issues around joining datasets from different organisations emerged as a major cost issue. While the new millennium opened well for Ordnance Survey with the launch of OS MasterMap and the associated layers.

At the same time the European Union embarked on an infrastructure [INSPIRE Directive] to better support geo data integration and the Cabinet Office signed off the new UK Location Strategy and UK Location Programme. One of the unsolved issues around the role of the Ordnance Survey was it's dominant commercial position in a growing market and this resurfaced as the focus for customer dissonance - as well as a driver of change. The Government's Open Data Policy and OpenStreetMap initiative both influenced by and emerging as a consequence.

Applications need Joined Up Geography.


Last Updated: 09 Apr 2019
KJM v2.6

Search all content

Site Version


10 May 2019