NLS Historic Maps Subscription API
Detailed historical Maps of Great Britain for use in mashups

These seamless historic map layers can be:

These layers complement our original NLS Historic Maps API.

From March 2022, these layers have all moved to the MapTiler Cloud API. There is no longer a fixed annual subscription fee, but different plans for different types of usage and quantity. There is a new 'free' tier for all non-commercial subscribers using 100,000 tile requests per month or less.

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Available map layers

The following five layers are available:

1. Subscription API - Great Britain, Ordnance Survey (1:1 million-1:10,560), 1900s

A set of five different scales of seamless Ordnance Survey map layers from around 1900, which display the different scales at different zoom levels:

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2. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey six-inch to the mile (1:10,560), 1888-1913

This is our most detailed seamless layer covering all of Great Britain, and which also appears as the largest-scale layer in the 1. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey 1900s layer above. The layer is made up of the OS County Series mapping at Six-Inch to the mile / 1:10,560 for the 2nd edition, dating between 1888-1913. This series is the most detailed topographic mapping that covers all of Great Britain. (The more detailed OS 25 inch to the mile (or 1:2,500) maps and OS town plans were not published for all areas). The six-inch maps are immensely valuable for local and family history, allowing most features in the landscape to be shown.

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3. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey, One-Inch to the mile (1:63,360), 'Hills' edition, 1885-1903

This is a layer at one-inch to the mile, covering all of Great Britain, and which also appears as the third layer (out of four) in the 1. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey 1900s layer above. The layer is made up of Ordnance Survey One-Inch to the Mile England and Wales (Revised New Series) and One-Inch Scotland 2nd edition (Hills), 1:63,360, 1885-1903. The one-inch to the mile scale allows a good general overview of the landscape, showing settlement patterns, roads, railways, parkland and woodland, and the general lie of the land. The 'Hills' edition maps were printed with a second copper plate of brown or black hachures to depict relief, rather than the conventional contour lines of the 'Outline' edition.

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4. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey 'Provisional' edition (1:25,000), 1937-1961

The 1:25,000 'Provisional edition' was Ordnance Survey's first civilian map series at this medium scale, and the forerunner of the modern Explorer and Outdoor Leisure maps. By 1956 it covered 80% of Great Britain, everywhere apart from the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The series is useful for showing rural and urban areas in much greater detail than the standard OS one-inch to the mile (1:63,360) maps. Within settlements, the general character of buildings - whether terraces, semi-detached, or large detached houses, etc. - is shown, and public buildings are distinguished by their darker shading. Within rural areas, the series is the smallest scale at which field boundaries are shown, and consequently footpaths, tracks and bridleways can be easily followed. Different types of woodland (coniferous, deciduous, or mixed woodland) are indicated, and features of archaeological interest, including cairns, earthworks, historic routeways, and standing stones are shown. Roads and railways are depicted with less generalisation than at smaller scales, and contour lines of equal height are shown at close intervals of every 25 feet. The series also shows British National Grid kilometre squares, as well as county and parish boundaries.

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5. Great Britain, Ordnance Survey One-Inch Seventh Series (1:63,360), 1955-1961

The Ordnance Survey Seventh Series was the first OS one-inch to the mile (1:63,360) series to cover the whole of Great Britain as a standard set of maps, and the forerunner of the modern Landranger series. It is also the most recent OS series at medium scales (1:63,360/1:50,000) that is out-of-copyright. The OS one-inch scale was intended as 'touring, cycling and small-scale manoeuvre map', and in the 20th century was used particularly for a wide-range of outdoor and recreational purposes. Printing in six to ten colours allows clear differentiation and display of topographic features: different classes of roads, railways, water, woodland, urban areas, land use, footpaths, and contours at 50 foot intervals. The maps were based on larger-scale surveys and a revision for major (selected) change during 1944-1948. It also shows British National Grid kilometre squares, as well as county and parish boundaries.

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6. London, Ordnance Survey Five-foot to the mile (1:1,056), 1893-1896

The most detailed mapping of London by Ordnance Survey, from just over a century ago, covering London in 729 sheets, based on a revision and survey of 1891-5. Due to the importance of the maps for improving urban sanitation, many features relating to water supply, sewerage, drainage and gas supply are shown, including fire plugs, hydrants, water taps, manholes, stop-cocks, spot-heights and benchmarks. The maps show the divisions between all buildings, including terraced houses, with glass roofed buildings depicted with cross-hatching. Many industrial and manufacturing premises with details of their type of industry are clearly depicted, along with wharfs, docks, market places, canals, railways and tramways. The maps also show the ground floor layout of public buildings, including cathedrals, churches, and railway stations. The maps are also an excellent record of urban public boundaries, showing the broader County and Municipal Borough boundaries, as well as the more detailed Municipal Ward and Local Board District boundaries.

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7. Ireland, Bartholomew, Quarter-inch to the mile (1:253,440), 1940

This layer provides a colourful and attractive overview of Ireland at the beginning of the Second World War, based on maps published in 1940. Bartholomew's maps were well-known for employing layer-colouring to show relief, using a spectrum of colour from green close to sea level, through to beiges and browns at higher altitudes. Bartholomew based their map content on more detailed Ordnance Survey mapping at the one-inch to the mile (1:63,360) scale, but they deliberately selected only certain details from the Ordnance Survey maps, and also added their own. They added categories of roads, including drove roads, steamer routes, and rights of way that were not shown on Ordnance Survey maps. These Bartholomew maps also show county and country boundaries prominently in red.

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How to use the historic layers on your website or desktop

The layers can be quickly set up and used in any web browser through a customizable MapTiler Cloud API. By default, subscribers will be given a URL to a viewer page with links to view the layer, source code, and API in various standard web-mapping applications. There are also links with help on how to use the layer inside the ArcGIS, QGIS, and uDig desktop GIS programs. Using these programs, the Subscription API map layers can be easily used as a background map for your own data. You can place markers on top of them, integrate gazetteers or other layers with them, or implement any other functions as necessary.

Please email geo@nls.uk for further assistance, or to discuss your requirements in more detail.

How the seamless map layers were prepared

We have scanned our holdings of paper map sheets for these out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey series. The maps were scanned at 400 dpi in full-colour using a sheet-feed scanner, and therefore they can be viewed in excellent detail as a flat image. After scanning, all the individual map sheets were cropped to remove their margins and then georeferenced in the British National Grid coordinate system ( EPSG:27700 ). They were then combined together to create one zoomable seamless layer. and prepared for online delivery as a tileset, using the MapTiler Desktop application.

Whilst we have made every effort to georeference the maps accurately using the known boundaries of Ordnance Survey historical maps (obtained with thanks from Ed Fielden's Coordinate Converter and the Charles Close Society), we make no guarantees to the absolute geodetic accuracy of the results. This is partly because maps from a century ago were not surveyed nor intended to be used with the greater accuracy of present-day technologies, but also potentially due to the warping of paper map sheets over time, and to the rapid, semi-automatic nature of our georeferencing processes. Specific features on the georeferenced map layers will not always align exactly with their real-world location. Our aim has been align each layer as a set of sheets correctly with the real world at an overall global level, recognising that individual features may move in and out of their absolute true location at the detailed level. You are encouraged to view the layers in advance through the links by each layer listed above, and in our Explore Georeferenced Maps viewer.

Licence and terms of use

The National Library of Scotland owns Intellectual Property Rights in these map layer APIs and licenses them for use on third party websites, or for other business and internal use, only. You can embed the layers on your own website, display your own markers or mapping data on top of them, use them for research purposes, or create derivative works from them.

Wherever you display, embed, or use the map layers you must display an attribution to the National Library of Scotland, together with a link to our website. If you create derivative works, the documentation of your work must also contain an attribution to the Library.

View MapTiler Cloud Terms and Conditions.

Commercial re-use restrictions

Some of the maps in these series have been digitised for the Library by a third party. This specifically relates to the following API layers and map series:

Use of the maps in these layers for commercial purposes is currently restricted by contract. These restrictions cover the re-use of copies and extracts, as well as commercial use directly through the API (Further information).


Please email geo@nls.uk for further assistance, or to provide general comments / feedback.