Early Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland 1840s-1940s

Ordnance Survey (OS) maps are the most important source of detailed map information for the UK from the 19th century to the present day. Although the Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791, in the early years it concentrated on mapping England and Ireland, and the first OS maps of Scotland were not published until 1847.

 Scales and dates

For Scotland, the earliest OS maps produced were at the following scales:
1:63360 (1 inch to 1 mile) 1856 -
1:10560 (6 inches to 1 mile) 1847 -
1:2500 (25 inches to 1 mile) 1853 -

Large scale town plans were published in 1840s-1860s and/or 1890s:
1:1056 (5 feet to 1 mile)
1:500 (10 feet to 1 mile)

Smaller scales were also introduced at various times, for example:
1:126,720 (½-inch to 1 mile)
1:253,440 (¼-inch to 1 mile)
1: 633,600 (1-inch to 10 miles)

When the National Grid system was introduced in the mid-1940s, the sheet numbers for large scale maps changed to link with the Grid Reference. At the same time, other scales were introduced:

1:1250 (50 inches to 1 mile) for urban areas
1:25000 (2½ inches to 1 mile) Pathfinder series

View zoomable graphic indexes showing records for large-scale Ordnance Survey mapping of Scotland (1944-1991).

In the 1970s some series were metricised, with 1:63360 becoming 1:50000 (Landranger series) and 1:10560 becoming 1:10000. Survey Information on Microfilm (SIM) and SuperPlan were introduced and digitisation begun. OS stopped producing SIM in 1999.

At the end of 1992, 1:1250 and 1:2500 maps on chart paper ceased production. These scales are now available from Ordnance Survey agents as computer printouts or as digital data. The Map Library has large-scale OS digital mapping available for consultation, although the printouts which may be supplied are limited.

 County Series maps (6-inch & 25-inch)

From the 1840s to the 1940s, each county was surveyed and numbered separately (the County Series). At county boundaries, several sheets from different counties may be required to make up one map sheet number.

Late 1840s-1880s

1st survey: online is a selection of 31 county series maps of Scottish towns

1890s-1900s

2nd survey

1910s-1930s

Later surveys were made when there were enough changes to justify revision. As a result some rural areas have no new surveys from about 1910 to 1950s-1970s, while some towns may have surveys in each decade.

Mid-1940s

The County Series was phased out with a change to the National Grid sheetline and numbering system.

1:10560 (6 inches to 1 mile)

These are the most detailed maps available which cover the whole of Scotland, and the largest scale which shows contours. However, early OS maps generally do not have contours for most parts of the Highlands and Islands. This scale is very useful for all types of research, but especially place-name research.

6-inch maps were issued in two sizes

1st survey maps are 'full' sheets (approx. 1000mm x 700mm) and require AO photocopies. For the 2nd and later surveys, many maps, especially in south and central Scotland, were issued as 'quarter' sheets (approx. 530mm x 420mm) and require A2 photocopies. Quarter sheets are shown in the Map Library indexes by the letters NW, NE, SW, SE. If there are no letters, maps are full sheet size.

1:2500 (25 inches to 1 mile)

This scale covers only populated and cultivated areas, not mountains and moorland. It shows spot heights, but not contours. Plots ('parcels') of land are numbered individually, with acreages, but although these may be quoted in legal documents such as title deeds, ownership boundaries are not indicated on OS maps. Place name information is similar to 6-inch maps, but this scale gives more detail of individual buildings and is better for towns.

25-inch sheets (approx. 1000mm x 700mm) require AO photocopies.

Maps from the 1st survey are sometimes called the 'Parish edition', as each parish was issued separately. At parish boundaries several sheets may be required from different parishes. Many parishes have an accompanying Book of Reference which lists place names and gives land use for individual land parcels.

The following areas were not mapped initially at 1:2500 scale, only at 1:10560: Wigtownshire, Kircudbrightshire, Fife, Lewis, Mid and East Lothian (Edinburghshire, Haddingtonshire). They are covered at 1:2500 (developed areas only) from the 1890s.

Map Collections staff can supply photocopies of indexes, but if you need indexes of several counties, a reprint of the original 1907 edition of OS 6-inch and 25-inch indexes of Scotland (with a brief history, additional indexes and a key to symbols) is available from David Archer Maps.

 Large scale town plans

OS large scale town plans at 1:500 (10 feet to 1 mile) and/or 1:1056 (5 feet to 1 mile) were produced in the 1840s-60s and the 1890s (a few towns are available at both dates and scales). These were introduced as a public health measure following cholera and typhoid scares. All towns over 4000 in population were mapped in great detail to show water supplies and drainage.

Although the maps are very detailed, including interior plans of some significant buildings, and even the position of sundials in gardens, street numbers were not included until the 1:1250 scale was introduced in the late 1940s.

These sheets require AO photocopies or printouts from digital images.

 Small scale maps 1:63360 (1-inch to 1 mile)

Fewer place names are shown than on the 1:10560 maps, but these maps are useful if a wide area needs to be covered - for example, if you do not know the parish or county. Heights may be shown by contours, hill shading or hachures, depending on the edition of the map. These sheets usually require A1 photocopies, but later editions may need AO photocopies. Online you can view an edition of these maps with coloured parishes in the 1890s and the 'Popular' edition of the 1920s.

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