1980's: Map Making & Imagery

  • This page:A summary of the 1980's decade working in OS - with supporting material from an aerial survey perspective
  • Status : Completed [sub pages to be added in a future release.]
  • First published: 12 March 2019

message missing

OS aerial survey aircraft, Blackpool Oct 1989

Photo credit: KM

map missing

This article covers the period from 1980 to 1989

OS completed the 1980 programme and the military officers left. The Directorate of Overseas Surveys was disbanded and a number of their staff moved to OS with a residual but dying remit to map overseas territories. The Serpell Review made an attempt to define the next steps for OS but had little impact. Digital data came of age and remote sensing satellites were making significant improvements in resolution. The first computer network was installed in headquarters in 1986.

Overview of this decade:

State of play:

OS was often good at managing changes of Government, partly because it was a small department and it did not too much attract political attention. It also tended to anticipate trends - though this was easier because life was a lot slower than today. However the privatisation of the utilities had significant ramifications for OS. The utilities now demanded large scale digital maps to record their assets and connections. OS was not responding but eventually acquiesced, bowing to pressure from the utilities who threatened to do it themselves.

OS in stats:

A brief profile of Ordnance Survey during this decade:

Staff Numbers

Year Survey staff Carto staff Computer Svces Sales & Mktg Other Total staff
1979-80[1] 1,216 1,063 -- -- 1,196 3,475
1983-84[2] 1,019 774 89 -- 932 2,814
1988-89[3] 975 905 99 126 543 2,648

[[1] Other includes 446 Admin & Mgmnt staff , [2] Other includes 353 Admin & Mgmnt [3]Other includes 29 in R&D and 405 Admin staff



Outoings vs Income

Year Turnover Income
1979-80 £28.4M £14.6M
1983-84 £43.6M £21.8M
1988-89 £64.9M £38.2M

The shortfall in income would have been supported by the Parliamentary Vote

Products ~ Income

There were three primary income streams in 1983-84:

Source Value
Large & mid scales [hardcopy & dig] £3.6
Small scales [hardcopy & dig] £4.6M
Repayment Services £6.5M
Copyright Fees £7.0M

Source: OS Annual Reports for years 1979-80, 1983-84 & 1988-89

Review of the decade OSGB:

Summary: Another decade of change, much more energy in the conversion to digital data (forced by the utilities) - it was the decade when the foundations of digital mapping were finally established. Having said that we still had a lot to learn in this new game - a lot more.

Personal profile for 1980's:

The move to Air Survey was a choice and an opportunity to learn something new. It also combined photography with mapping so it looked interesting. I did not expect it to lead to an MSc in Photogrammetry from University College London 1986 - but it did. This opened up a new world again in terms of systems development. Somewhere in the middle of this I spent three years in the Glasgow field office and field survey work.

Summary: this was an exciting time in photogrammetry with new equipment and digital data being captured directly and then fed to the surveyors and digital publication.

Related material:

The articles below offer additional material related to this decade:



  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1979-80 | Published: 1980
  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1983-84 | Published: 1984
  • Ordnance Survey Annual report 1988-89 | Published: 1989

Last Updated: 14 April 2019
KJM v2.00