200 years of Ordnance Survey

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The year 1991 was that in which Ordnance Survey, in our opinion the best map maker in the world, celebrated its bicentenary. In recognition of the fact that the sport of rallying is a high-consumption user of its products, Ordnance Survey put up for the 1991 Lombard RAC Rally what it called the Bicentenary Award for the Co-Driver of the Winning Car, won in November by Juha Piironen of Finland.

Since we can remember, Ordnance Survey maps have been essential tools of the rally navigator’s trade. In the days of the inch-to-the-mile maps with the red covers, navigators would guard their copies very jealously indeed, adding lots of additional information such as goers and non-goers, rough patches, severity of corners and so on. Indeed, when a map became so tattered that it could no longer be used, or was superseded by an updated version, its additional marks were painstakingly transferred to a new copy.

There was an expression called NAM, usually applied to a junction, which meant ‘Not As Map’. This was not to suggest that the map was wrong. In some cases NAM junctions were due to changes in road layout, and in others because, usually due to the necessary thickness of the road line width on the map, insufficient detail was provided to satisfy the perfectionist navigator anxious to provide his driver with every possible scrap of information.

It was in road events that the use of OS maps was primarily important. Practice was not allowed and routes were usually not issued until one hour before start times, so that frantic plotting of six figure grid references, marking mandatory approach and departure directions, and both choosing and marking the shortest route between them kept navigators hard at work during that hour. Knowing which ‘white roads’ were usable and which were not was part of the experienced navigator’s stock-in-trade, and the marks on his map helped him considerably to decide which route to take between plotted references.

No navigator would be generous enough to provide others with details of his or her marks. They were the result of years of rallying and driving around checking maps with the roads they depicted, and no one would part with them for anything. However, small sideline businesses were set up to provide such information, the best known probably being the Marked Maps service provided by Stuart Gray, a skilled and experienced navigator of the time.

One-inch maps have long been replaced by the 1:50,000 Landranger series, with their familiar mauve covers. The scale is rather better than that of their predecessors, and junctions can be depicted more accurately. Whether they are still marked nowadays depends on whether the regulations of the rally concerned permit the use of marked maps. In any case, marked or not, they still provide navigators with the best possible means of reading the road ahead.

For road travel, we have always used Ordnance Survey’s Motoring Atlas of Great Britain, the 1992 edition of which became available just before November’s Lombard RAC Rally and was on display at the OS desk in rally headquarters. Mapping information for this atlas was obtained from the OS 1:250.000 Digital Map Database, but the scale of the atlas itself is one-inch-to three miles, except for a few sections which are at one-inch-to-five-miles. The atlas is spiral-bound, costs £8.99 and is available at most good bookshops.

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