Ordnance Survey, Ten-mile to the Inch Planning Maps of Great Britain, 1940s-1970s



The Ordnance Survey Planning Maps series was initiated during the 1940s, aiming to form a survey of national life and resources, particularly to support the war effort and post-War reconstruction. The main work was directed through the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (as it became from 1943), but it was also furthered by the British Association for the Advancement of Science and their promotion of a National Survey and National Atlas.

Numerous official bodies assisted with providing thematic information, including the Boundary Commissions, the Geological Survey, the Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain, the Meteorological Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Ministry for War Transport, and the Department of Health for Scotland.

Sheet lines and scale

The ten-mile to an inch scale (1:633,600) had been used by Ordnance Survey from 1817, especially for index maps to larger scale map series. Notably, the scale was also used for official planning purposes, the OS "Period" maps (eg. Roman Britain, Monastic Britain, etc.), and their early road maps.

For the Planning Maps series, the ten-mile maps were metricated to 1:625,000, and grid lines of new National Grid projection were added. These base maps by Ordnance Survey were revised during the 1940s and 1950s, and were used to display a coloured overprint of thematic information.

The 1:625,000 scale has continued to be popular, and the Routeplanner series maps are today at this scale.

Thematic content

The main themes shown on the maps illustrate a broad range of natural and man-made subjects. They were intended to illustrate the spatial distributions of selected phenomena, and to promote better planning through a fuller understanding of national and regional geography. The subjects illustrated include Administrative Areas, Coal and Iron, Farming, Geology, Land Classification and Land Utilisation, Limestone, Local Accessibility, Population Density and Population Change, Railways, Rainfall, and Roads. The original plans for the series included over 40 titles, but not all of these were published. In addition, the NLS holdings are incomplete, and some maps were not published until the 1970s, so are therefore still in copyright.

Accompanying Explanatory Texts

Written Explanatory Texts were also published to assist with the interpretation of the series. They explain the compilation of the maps, often with further details of how the thematic content was obtained and aggregated, and sometimes with additional statistical information. We have made available PDF copies of these booklets that were published that are out-of-copyright:

Further reading

The following work provides an excellent comprehensive discussion about the OS ten mile maps, including the Planning Map series, and a cartobibliography of sheets:

View the Planning Maps series