Historical Maps

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Topographic map series

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    Boundary map series

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      Land Use map series

        This "historical maps" page lets you search and view our large collection of historical maps. The viewer you can see lets you explore our seamless maps — scroll down to access individual map sheets.

        What is in our collection

        We hold three types of map, which you choose between by selecting one of the thematic tabs:

        • Topographic maps: These are general purpose maps showing the physical landscape: hills and valleys, rivers and coast, plus man-made features like settlements, roads and railways. We hold these maps for different periods and at different scales.

        • Boundary maps: These usually include some landscape features, so you can see where you are looking at, but their main concern is showing administrative boundaries, for counties, districts, parishes and so on. We aim to provide a comprehensive collection of boundary maps published by the British government, but cannot include maps published within the last fifty years for copyright reasons.

        • Land Use maps: Our collection includes a complete set of the one mile to the inch and ten miles to the inch maps published by the Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain. They record what each plot of land was being used for on the day it was surveyed, in the 1930s.

        How we store our map collection

        We hold maps in two quite different forms, each with its own viewer:

        • As individual SHEETS: All the maps in our collection are held as digital images of the complete sheet, including all the information around the edges.

        • As a SEAMLESS view: Selected map series are also held as a seamless, continuous view, which is the final product of much further work: first we removed the margins of each individual map sheet; then we re-projected the map to a standard coordinate system (ETRS-89); and finally we digitally assembled the separate sheets into a single coverage. The end result is a single electronic map covering the whole of Britain, or even Europe.

        Finding and viewing seamless maps

        Most of our seamless maps are grouped into one of three layers, each one including coverages at two or three different scales. Our seamless map viewer gives you direct access to these layers, and you begin by seeing the least detailed series in the layer. As you zoom in, by using the slider or by double-clicking on the map, the viewer automatically switches to a more detailed map. The viewer begins by showing you the twentieth century topographic map layer, but use the drop-down menu above the map to switch to nineteenth century maps, or to land use maps. Three tips:

        • For more about a place, click on the information button below the zoom slider, then click on the place. This takes you to a location page, with links to information about nearby places and about the historical administrative areas that covered that point.

        • Click on "Bigger Map" to see more map.

        • Pan right to see Europe. Although the initial view of the twentieth century maps is centered on Britain, their top two layers cover the whole of Europe so there is plenty more to see.

        The maps the viewer shows are not changed by the tabs. That is because the seamless map viewer is also how you search for individual map sheets, especially the boundary maps for which we have no seamless views.

        To the left of the viewer — when not using the "Bigger Map" option — we list the available map series for the current theme. If you select one of these and we have a seamless view, we take you straight to it. If we do not have a seamless view, the viewer just shows you a modern map which you can use to find relevant map sheets, as explained below.

        Finding and viewing map sheets

        We do store the usual library catalogue information about individual sheets: publisher, series, title, date of publication, and scale. However, we provide a much simpler way of searching for the sheet you need. This takes advantage of an unusual feature of our collection: every individual sheet is geo-referenced, so the system knows what part of the world the sheet covers.

        Relevant individual map sheets are listed below the seamless map viewer, so scroll down to see this information. We list the most relevant map sheets for the current theme. We define "relevance" based on what you can currently see in the seamless map viewer: the system finds the sheets whose coverage is most similar, and automatically updates the list as you zoom in or out, or pan sideways.

        The listing includes thumbnail images of the maps. Click on an image and a different viewer for map sheets opens, in its own browser window or tab to give you an uncluttered view. Use the controls or double-click to zoom in. To move around, hold down your mouse button and drag on the map, or drag on the rectangle in the thumbnail view. For fuller instructions on using the sheet viewer, move the cursor to hover over the "IIP" button at top left.

        Our seamless map viewer uses the OpenLayers toolkit (http://www.openlayers.org). Our sheet viewer is IIPImage with IIPMooViewer (http://iipimage.sourceforge.net). Both should work with any javascript enabled web browser, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.