Out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps to be made available online

There are many people who wish to access maps of British locations from the 19th century onwards. This could be for many reasons - modelling the growth of towns & cities or national networks such as roads and rail; genealogical pursuits; or researching land records or historical buildings, for instance.

Presently, old OS maps are available at http://www.old-maps.co.uk/, but the site is poorly designed and the maps cost a lot of money, despite the originals being out of Crown Copyright. The only other ways to get hold of this data are to purchase originals on sites such as eBay, to buy them in old bookshops, or to visit local libraries and make photocopies of the maps they hold in their collections. All of these avenues require expense for maps which have no copyright attached any more.

I feel that making this data available online for free would allow a great deal of innovation and research to take place into Britain's past much more easily.

Submitter name: 
Sam Chew


An excellent idea that many

An excellent idea that many people have been crying out for. Presumably the cost would be low: but someone would have to bear the burden of digitising?

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It would cost money but

It would cost money but Google has been doing this for years.

Just give them access and permission...

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Free Access to Older OS Maps

OS Maps were created, on behalf of the public (i.e. by the English government), for the ultimate benefit of the public.

YES they should be free for non-commercial purposes.

The problem delegating it to Google and similar others is one day Google will start charging money for access. Then the public will be held to ransom.  Far better to promote free access from the beginning of all initiatives.


User of free Linux on servers, desktops, laptops and notebooks (Centos 5 and 6).

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British Government

Agree, but that would be the British Government. There is no English Government (although there is a Scottish one). :-)

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It would be great if those maps where service personnel have served could also be made available.

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Yes please!

I strongly support this suggestion. The old-maps website is actually significantly worse than it used to be, but its existence shows that the data is already available in digital format.

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Online access to out of date OS maps

I agree that this would be an excellent idea, but surely full digitisation would be extremely costly to undertake for all the coverages involved. Is it not the proposal just to produce patched photographic images of the maps rather than something that can be manipulated by a GIS system?

Will this also extend to areas formerly covered by the Ordnance Survey in the 19th Century i.e. the counties of the Republic of Ireland?

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A few people have been doing

A few people have been doing this unofficially:



If the official agencies helped, it could be finished in no time.


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Don't forget the excellent

Don't forget the excellent http://www.npemap.org.uk/.

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Could the data be requested under the freedom of information

The old map data is information held by a public body. Has anyone tried to request it under the freedom of information act. I can't think of a reason they could give not to release it.

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Isn't this already available to universities?

When I had access to my university's online library resources, I had unlimted access to digitised old maps. It was like Google Maps but you could go back in history, with many different historical maps available.

I had access as part of the Athens system, but I checked with the library and I'm not allowed access now that I'm no longer a student.

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Old-Maps WAS excellent, many moons ago...

The old-maps.co.uk website ORIGINALLY posted each & every large-scale 1st edition 6-inch OS-map of the entire UK, totally free, on the Net. We copied all the original Yorkshire OS-maps when the website was designed that way - and I'm so glad we did!  Now it's a lot worse and of little use for quick easy access & research. it was such a pity when it changed & turned into what it's become.  Each page just linked to the next, with the simple click of an arrow, taking you to exactly where you wanted to go, with full-screen usage. It had the index aswell. ...Oh that it will return that way, one day... Tis a dream that I have....

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Disposal of Collection

I worked at the OS planning the move to the new headquarters. It was the HMA - Historical Map Archive - that held all the paper maps and plans. They employed about ten staff and they provided full size paper copies via various agents. The decision was taken not to take the HMA to the new site. I understand that the National Archives in Kew were offered the collection but declined.

Because of my interest in OS plans I have undertaken an occassional search to discover what happened to the HMA. This link tells how the collection was split up - http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/support/knowledgebase/historical-map-archive-dispersal.html

I assume the OS have retained copyright

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Out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps

I have been looking into this for some time. The National Library of Scotland have made available a large amount of digital maps for Scotland via their website. It's fantastic and an excellent resource. There are some maps available for the whole of the UK not just Scotland but as you would expect it is generally Scotland.

It is a shame the English/British equivelant doesn't provide the same service.

I recently bought some old maps from Durham County Records office they charged me £10 per sheet for digital files. I then started to think why are they charging me, I live in the County and pay taxes which funds the records office. The maps were already scanned, their website reads as if you are paying for them to scan them but the process is complete.

There was also a notice on the DVD that they were copyright Durham County Records Office. Surely the copyright was owned by the Crown and that has expired, how can the Records office then claim copyright over them.

I have emailed the Records office for further explanation, I then may place a freedom of information request for the data. 

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Out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps

The response I received back from the Durham County Records Office was:

The copyright on the pre-war Ordnance Survey maps has expired.  However, copyright comes back into force on the digital images that we have created, hence our statement.

My understanding was thay you could only claim copyright if you had substantially changed the original work where you could claim it was a new original work. For instance if you created a some art based on a map but changed it heavily. In the case of the maps I bought they were exact copies of the paper ones I viewed.

There was some mention of colorizing but the maps I received were black and white. 

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Out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps

I came across this dialogue in passing and just wanted to let anyone reading know that high-resolution colour images of all the Ordnance Survey six-inch to the mile maps of England and Wales (1842-1952) are now freely available on the National Library of Scotland website:


It is possible to easily find maps by zooming in on a map of the United Kingdom, using a modern Gazetteer of place names and street names, as well as by searching using Grid Refence and postcode: http://maps.nls.uk/openlayers.cfm?id=39&zoom=6&lat=53.39954&lon=-3.0305

This is in addition to the complete OS County Series six-inch and 25 inch maps of Scotland (1840s-1960s) that are already online:


This is an ongoing project, and we hope to georeference more maps and make more detailed OS maps of England and Wales available in the future, but have limited resources. All our current work is externally funded. However, we now have over 70,000 OS maps online, so it hopefully has some value now as a resource.

With regards,

Chris Fleet
Senior Map Curator
National Library of Scotland
159 Causewayside
United Kingdom.

Tel. 0131 623 3973
Fax. 0131 623 3971
E-mail: c.fleet@nls.uk
Map Images website: http://maps.nls.uk 

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Out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps


I decided to register after reading this thread. It's about time out of copyright OS maps were made available, yet I see from the NLS site that they can not be downloaded.

It's taken myself and few of my colleagues years to sourse our digital maps and we have as many, if not more than the NLS, including Fire Insurance maps and Bedfordshire Valuation maps which are used for various research projects. They are currently tiff files which are huge in size as most of the maps are around 5000 pixels wide. If they ever went online or be made available, should they be converted to .png files?


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National Library of Scotland

This site is excellent and I hope that the service is extended to the whole of the UK for Town Maps at 1/500 scale and also for 1/2500 maps.  I agree that out of copyright maps should now be freely available. They are a valuable reserch tool.

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old-maps.co.uk tighten the screw

People may have noticed that a couple of weeks ago, 'old-maps.co.uk' changed it's access so that it is now almost impossible to see any detail without paying the extremely high subscription of a tenner a month. Unfortunately this is what seems to happen when publicly owned material is given away to a commercial enterprise. It starts of well, but ends up as a pure profit making exercise.

I do find the Scotland OS maps useful, but the detailed England OS maps, particularly the 1891 series, were invaluable for identifying individual buildings and features. That is now lost.

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Old Maps

Brilliant resource, National Library of Scotland... I have always used old-maps in the past for my research, but with them now charging a tenner a month it is now a resource I cannot afford so was chuffed to bits to be advised of the NLS's resource!  Just one small comment, all the maps are labelled by sheet number which makes it quite difficult to find the relevant one!  Is there any way in which the maps could have a title, I notice when you actually go into each map the title says (including...[place name]); that would save a lot of searching? 

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