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Ordnance Survey Maps

The formal establishment of the Ordnance Survey is generally given as 1791 although its derivative military associations go back to the mid 18th century (see The Early Years of the Ordnance Survey , Sir Charles Close (1969 reprint)). The Archives Service holds copies of all the key series of printed Ordnance Survey maps for Bedfordshire beginning with copies of the early 19th century 2" to the mile maps on which the famous 1" to the mile maps (dating from 1834) were based. From these small scale roots, larger scale and more sophisticated mapping was developed from the mid 19th century encouraged by continuing industrial development and expansion of towns and communications.

The list below covers, in ascending scale (i.e. starting from the smallest scale maps, those with least detail), the regular published series which we hold. A specialist finding aid exists to help searchers identify the references for individual scaled maps for particular parts of the county - the Map Catalogue: Ordnance Survey . This has the mnemonic M and is located in a green springback binder in the searchroom.

Scale to one mile: 1 inch (1: 63360)
Dates of maps: 1834-1972
Notes on series, editions etc: Several series - 'Old' (1834-1900), 'New' (1874-1920s), 'Popular' and 'Coloured' (1920s-1945) and 'New' (1945-1972) – some with several editions and revisions on different grids and in different formats!
Scale to one mile: 2 inches (1: 31680)
Dates of maps: 1804-1815
Notes on series, editions etc: The first edition 1" maps were prepared from these drawings
Scale to one mile: 2½ inches (1: 25000)
Dates of maps: From 1946
Notes on series, editions etc: Editions of 1946-1955, 1948-1961 available
Scale to one mile: 6 inches (1:10560)
Dates of maps: 1878-1960
Notes on series, editions etc: Main editions of 1878-1892, 1901-1903, and 1958-1960 but some intermediate selective revised issues
Scale to one mile: 25 inches (1: 2500)
Dates of maps: 1879-1970s
Notes on series, editions etc: Editions of 1879-1884, 1900-1904, 1923-1926, 1937-1939 (revision) and 1970s
Scale to one mile: 50 inches (1: 1250)
Dates of maps: 1961-1980
Notes on series, editions etc: Towns only – Bedford/Kempston, Dunstable, Leighton-Linslade, and Luton
Scale to one mile: 127 inches (1: 500)
Dates of maps: 1878-1884
Notes on series, editions etc: Towns only – Bedford, Biggleswade, Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard, and Luton

At a smaller scale base copies of maps were used for printed and coloured geological/soil maps (1") and 'Land Utilisation' (i.e. Land use) maps of the county, the latter in 1931 (6") and 1962-1966 (2½") in particular. Throughout our collections, there are numerous types of 'reworked' versions of Ordnance Survey maps. Examples include plans accompanying title deeds, printed auction sale particulars, and planning, highways and transportation maps.

Ordnance Survey maps represent the basic source for the study of the development of the British landscape over the last two centuries, but effectively in detail, for this county, the last 120 years. The varied content of the maps is thoroughly explained in the book Ordnance Survey maps: a concise guide for historians by Richard Oliver (1993). This includes chapters on symbols and abbreviations (Ch.7) (for which we also hold contemporary Ordnance Survey guides incidentally), and (Ch.3) depiction of detail (e.g. recording of antiquities, boundaries, buildings, fields, rights of way, trees, water and woodland). It also gives good advice on the difficult issue of dating of maps given the complex pattern of revisions and republications at each scale.

Searchers often use Ordnance Survey maps to research rights of way. In general the maps record evidence of what physically existed on the ground and do not, by themselves, provide legal evidence of the existence or otherwise of public rights of way.

The maps include very little field name evidence although we do hold 'worked' maps which have been annotated with field and topographical evidence either for estate/land or, sometimes, for historical research purposes. Moreover, inclusion, on large scale maps, of unique 'parcel' numbers for each bounded unit of land - with acreages - from the late 19th century helps identify references to fields and other units of land in estate documents.

Copyright in Ordnance Survey maps belongs to the Crown and under current legislation runs for 50 years from the end of the year in which a map was published. Most maps here are out of copyright and can be freely copied subject to conservation considerations. Copying of those which are in copyright is restricted generally to extracts at approximately A4 size for purposes of private study and research or for judicial proceedings. Copying for other purposes – e.g. professional or business use - has to be undertaken by permission with the Ordnance Survey or through one of its designated agents. Staff will give specific advice on particular requests such as copying for educational use.

Ordnance Survey mapping now uses on-line networked digital mapping technology. Large scale paper editions of maps at set dates are no longer produced but with constant updating and revision, customised 'Superplan' maps (launched in 1995) can always be produced on a site-centred basis at any size and scale required through the Survey's local Agents.

Map Collection