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An Outline History of
British Maps
Date
Development
1000 BCThe Bedolina map carved on rocks in the Eastern Alps of Northern Italy is one of the oldest representations of territory in the world. It dates from either the Bronze or Early Iron Age and wasn’t used to direct from A to B but to seek reassurance from the gods during the unsettling transition between food supplies being hunted and gathered and the development of crop planting.
600 BCAn instrument known as an astrolabe was in use for determining latitude, surveying and triangulation.
AD 125Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) the Greek scientist and mathematician who lived in Alexandria wrote his "Geographia" guide to the world based upon surveys done by Marinus of Tyre and reports from travellers.
200The Antonine Itinerary listed main roads in the Roman Empire.
300The Tabula Peutingeriana was a linear diagrammatic map of main roads in the Roman Empire. A parchment scroll copy made by a monk in Colmar in the thirteenth century, (0.34 m high and 6.75 m long) is the only known surviving Roman map.
1136 The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone is located in the Stele Forest of Xian. This 3 ft squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid showing China's coastline and river systems.
1154The Tabula Rogeriana (The Book of Roger in Latin), is a description of the world and world map created by the Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, in 1154. Al-Idrisi worked on the commentaries and illustrations of the map for fifteen years at the court of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily, who commissioned the work around 1138. The book, written in Arabic, is divided into seven climate zones (in keeping with the established Ptolemaic system), each of which is sub-divided into ten sections, and contains maps showing the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only the northern part of the African continent. The map is oriented with the North at the bottom. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries. To produce the work al-Idrisi interviewed experienced travellers individually and in groups on their knowledge of the world and compiled "only that part... on which there was complete agreement and seemed credible, excluding what was contradictory."
1200Deforestation of Lancashire began when King John sold rights to freemen permitting them to clear assarts for arable use.
1300Medieval (T in O) maps were largely schematic and based on religious mystical conceptions that the earth was the centre of a universe divided into four elements - fire, water, air and earth. The Hereford Map is the largest surviving example of a T in O map.
1300Portolan sea charts made in Spain and Italy were reasonably good maps of the Mediterranean coasts and harbours but they depicted Britain very poorly.
1360The first relatively accurate portrayal of Britain in map form was by an anonymous mapmaker on two joined skins of vellum. It was called the Bodleian or Gough Map because it passed from the antiquary and topographer Richard Gough to the Bodleian Library in 1799.
1533The Dutch cartographer Gemma Frisius proposed using triangulation to accurately position far-away places for map-making in his pamphlet Libellus de Locorum describendorum ratione (Booklet concerning a way of describing places). This became very influential, and the technique spread across Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
1539 King Henry VIII commissioned maps of the entire English coastline for defensive purposes.
1540Sebastian Munster published a revised edition of Ptolemy's Geographia.
1546First copper-engraved map published by George Lily, artistic but not accurate.
1564Gerard Mercator's larger scale effort was little better.
1570First "Atlas" published by Abraham Ortelius incorporated Mercator's map of Britain.
1573Ortelius published a supplement to his atlas including a better map of England and Wales drawn by Humphrey Lhuyd.
1574Christopher Saxton was commissioned by Thomas Seckford to survey and map England and Wales. Around this time Leonard and Thomas Digges devised the theodolyte.
1576Laurence Nowell, a son or nephew of John Nowell of Read Hall died leaving unpublished a series of new and more accurate maps.
1577Christopher Saxton's map of Lancashire included Huncot, Altham, Martholme, Ryshton, Church, Akrington and Dunkenhalghe. Bridges over rivers were depicted but no roads and there was little indication that he applied triangulation.
1579The astronomer Tycho Brahe applied triangulation in Scandinavia, completing a detailed triangulation of the island of Hven, where his observatory was based.
1579Saxton's Atlas of England and Wales published. For nearly two centuries afterwards this remained the definite basis for all new British atlases and maps.
1603William Smith was producing maps at this time but his work was not recognised until 40 years after his death.
1607William Camden used smaller scale versions of Saxton's maps in his Britannia Atlas.
1610John Speed published his atlas "The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain". The maps were largely based upon Saxton's but with enhancements like, extra place names and boundaries of the hundreds or wapentakes shown.
1615The modern systematic use of triangulation networks stems from the work of the Dutch mathematician Willebrord Snell, who surveyed the distance from Alkmaar to Bergen op Zoom, approximately 70 miles.
1663Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered a means to determine longitude on land.
1669Snell's methods were taken up by Jean Picard who in 1669–70 surveyed one degree of latitude along the Paris Meridian using a chain of thirteen triangles stretching north from Paris to the clocktower of Sourdon, near Amiens. Thanks to improvements in instruments and accuracy, Picard's is rated as the first reasonably accurate measurement of the radius of the earth.
1675John Ogilby produced a series of highly accurate and detailed strip road maps of Britain.
1682Giovanni Domenico Cassini completed an accurate triangulated map of the area of France but the King was dismayed that is was 20% smaller than previously thought.
1695Robert Morden produced new maps for Edmund Gibson's English translation of Camden's Britannia but they were based on revisions of Saxton, Speed and Ogilby.
1700Advances were made in surveying techniques and instruments like a plane table but new mapping work seems to have been focused on estate ownership and extent.
1701Contour lines would seem to have been invented around this time but did not find general adoption in mapping for another 100 years.
1720Emanuel Bowen, John Owen and Thomas Bowles cooperated to produce the "Britannia Depicta" or "Ogilby Improved".
1724Herman Moll published his "New Description of England and Wales". It was yet another revision of Saxton, Speed and Ogilby with a few refinements.
1733Jacques Cassini and his son César undertook the first triangulation of the whole of France, including a re-surveying of the meridian arc, leading to the publication in 1745 of the first map of France constructed on rigorous principles.
1746King George II commissioned a military survey of the Scottish Highlands by the engineer William Roy.
1749English country map making was dominated in the mid 18th Century by Thomas Kitchin and Emanuel Bowen who cooperated to produce the Large English Atlas in 1760. The scale was much larger than had been produced before but was cartographically made little progress.
1759Because industry was quickly changing the topography of the country better maps were needed. The Society of Arts, prompted by one of their Fellows William Borlase offered a prize of £100 for "an accurate Actual Survey on the scale of one inch to a mile. The next 100 years proved a golden age for surveyors. Their skills were in great demand nearly everywhere to build turnpikes, canals, railways, streets, bridges and enable parliamentary boundary reform and land enclosures.
1767Benjamin Donn won the first Society of Arts prize for his map of Devon.
1768Captain James Cook started charting the world’s oceans.
1769Peter Burdett won the second Society of Arts award for a map of Derbyshire.
1771Daniel Paterson a former assistant to the Quartermaster General of His Majesty's Forces published "A New and Accurate Description of All the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain in strip map form.
1774The mountain Schiehallion in Scotland was the first ground to be fully mapped with contour lines as an experiment.
1782Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, was appointed Master General of the Board of Ordnance.
1784Accurate trigonometrical survey begins in Britain with William Roy’s measurement of Hounslow Heath.
1786William Yates won the award for the first "triangulation" map of Lancashire.
1787John Cary produced the "New and Correct English Atlas".
1788Relative positions of the Greenwich and Paris Observatories fixed scientifically by triangulation.
1791The Board of Ordnance Survey was founded, initially named Trigonometrical Survey. It was conceived by William Roy a Scottish surveyor and the Duke of Richmond, Master General of His Majesty's Ordnance. There was an urgent need for good maps for military purposes and the defence of the Realm against Napoleon. Surveying at one inch to the mile started in the south-east and took 70 years to complete!
1794The Postmaster General commissioned John Cary to survey and map the 9000 miles of main roads of Great Britain.
1801First Ordnance Survey map is published, the One Inch to One Mile Map of Kent.
1804Charles Smith published his "New English Atlas".
1805First Ordnance Survey map published of Essex, (One Inch to One Mile; Old Series).
1806John Carey produced a fine map of Lancashire showing the new canals.
1810First recorded use of the term Ordnance Survey on a map (One Inch; Sheet 10).
1818Christopher Greenwood started preparing maps based upon Ordnance Survey data.
1819A third of England and Wales had been mapped at the One Inch scale.
1830George Hennet published maps of even better detail.
1841Ordnance Survey Act passed giving surveyors legal right to enter any land. Headquarters of O.S. established in Southampton following a fire in the Tower of London.
1844O.S. started mapping at 6 inches to one mile and introduced contours.
1856O.S adopted 25 inches to one mile survey standard with many towns on an even larger scale.
1893Comprehensive revision of the one inch survey commenced (Second Series).
1901Another comprehensive revision of the one inch survey commenced (Third Series).
1920First Tourist Map published by O.S. (Snowdon).
1922Activities of Ordnance Survey curtailed by Government economies after the First World War.
1928First motorist's maps published.
1935A Departmental Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Sir J.C. Davidson to consider how to restore the Board's effectiveness. Re-triangulation of Britain began including the building of concrete trig columns.
1938The Committee's report was published but could not be implemented because of the outbreak of World War Two. Davidson recommended the introduction of a standard metric National Grid system and a single projection to cover the whole country.
1962Retriangulation and revision of geodetic levelling were completed.
1972 Publication of the first Outdoor Leisure Map – The Dark Peak.
1990 O.S. became an Executive Agency. Work commenced on the National Global Positioning System Network, replacing the triangulation network.
1993 Launch of Explorer series maps.
2002 Outdoor Leisure maps merged into O.S. Explorer series.
2004 O.S. begins showing areas of access land on Explorer Maps.

Glossary
Plane Tablea horizontal board for sighting and plotting bearings
Theodolitea sighting instrument for measuring horizontal and vertical angles
Clinometeran instrument for measuring angles of inclination
Cartographymap making
Topographydetailed description of a place or tract of land
Hundreda political division of territory comprising of a hundred households
Tithinga political division of territory comprising of ten households
Palatinea county possessing royal privileges

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