OS 1970's: The "1980 Programme"

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The 1970's

In retrospect the '70's decade was an aftershock of the '60's postwar earthquake - touching across all sections of society. The '70's are remembered for big hair and gaudy clothes and industrial strife. UK still had industries that made big things: cars, ships and aircraft - but these industries were already faltering. At the same time a new age was opening up as post-war children were starting their careers. It was a mixed decade for UK and things would get worse before they got better.

For Ordnance Survey the "1980 Programme" was the primary goal and can be summarised as: to complete the update and republication of all detailed plans of Gt Britain and publish them on the National Grid. To meet this target hundreds more surveyors and drawing staff were required. After the office, for me, working on this programme, it was literally a breath of fresh air!.

"I realised ... that the job was unlikely ever to get any better than this."

1970's Timeline

We lived through the oil crisis, the three day week, double figure inflation, the Winter of Discontent, several changes of Government and the the emergence of modern terrorism [Munich Olympics]. While the US were fighting in Vietnam and landing more men on the Moon - Gt Britain introduced a fleet of new trains: the InterCity HST125 (and they are still with us); more people were traveling abroad for their holidays as air travel and package holidays became more affordable- and Ziggy Stardust arrived.

UK & the world

  • 1970: Ted Heath becomes UK Prime Minister
  • 1972: Bloody Sundat, Northern Ireland
  • 1973: UK joins the European Economic Community
  • 1973: OPEC & the oil crisis
  • 1973: Fuel rationing coupons issued
  • 1974: Three day week
  • 1974: Harold Wilson becomes UK Prime Minister
  • 1974: Local Government reorganisation UK
  • 1976: James Callaghan becomes UK Prime Minister
  • 1976: HST125 trains rolled out on East Coast main line
  • 1978-9: Winter of Discontent
  • 1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes UK Prime Minister

Ordnance Survey

  • 1968: OS returns to a single base in Southampton after two decades
  • 1969: May 1st: HM Queen opens new HQ in Maybush
  • 1970: Brig. St John Irwin becomes OS Director General
  • 1972-3: Digital map piloting begns
  • 1972: Outdoor leisure Series introduced [The Dark Peak]
  • 1973: One-Inch map series replaced by 1:50,000 series

A surveyor's contribution

  • 1969 Joined Ordnance Survey
  • 1969: Surveyor training in Southampton
  • 1970: Urban & periurban resurvey
  • 1970: Urban revsion in Manchester for the Census
  • 1970-75: Rural update and Mountain & moorland resurvey in North Wales
  • 1975-76: Mountain & moorland resurveyand Rural update in the Lake District
  • 1976-79: Map update in Calderdale, W Yorkshire
  • 1979: Photogrammetry Training at School of Military Survey [Newbury]

Ordnance Survey in the 1970s

The primary goals of Ordnance Survey in the 1970's can be summarised as:"

  1. remap Gt Britain on the National Grid at three basic scales: 1:1250 (resurvey cities & major towns), 1:2500 (revise rural areas and small towns) & 1:10560 (resurvey mountain & moorland areas)
  2. once the National sheets had been published - keep them up to date via a process of "Continuous Revision"
  3. publish leisure and tourist products (paper maps and books)

A new Director General was appointed, Brig. St G. Irwin and his impact remains with us today: digital mapping, 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Maps, 1:50,000 series maps.

A surveyor's perspective at Ordnance Survey in the 1970’s

The first decade of my time with OS was primarily in the field working as a surveyor. I'll not forget the first day in the real mountains of Snowdonia when I realised I was getting paid for doing something amazing and that the job was unlikely ever to get any better than this

For those interested, the links below will take you to a short summary describing the activites, people and events that made up a survey office. The pages include photographs and maps associated with the work.

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1969: Surveyor Training, Southampton

Survey Course No. 166

Read more about the 9 monthsurvey training course and related events here.

Includes additional pages.

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1969-70: Stockport Field Survey Office

1:1250 resurvey, 1:2500 remapping

There is more about the Stockport office and the work in Cheshire & Derbyshire

This page is incomplete

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1970: Manchester Continuous Revision Office

Urban update to support the 1971 Census.

More about the Manchester office and surveying the infamous Hulme crescents here

This page is incomplete

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1970-73: Llangefni Field Survey Office Office

Updating 1:2500 plans of Anglesey for the first time in 70-80 years.

Idyllic surveying on Anglesey and the mainland

This page is incomplete

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1973 & 1974-75: Llanrwst Field Survey Office

Upating 1:2500 plans of the Conwy Valley & 1:10,000 resurveying Snowdonia [Carneddau & Tryfan]

The ultimate survey job: Snowdonia mountains and villages.

Includes additional pages.

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1973-74: Bala Field Survey Office

Upating 1:2500 plans of the Tannat Valley - the hard way.

A short-term transfer to Bala during the 3 day week

This page is incomplete

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1975-76: Penrith Field Survey Office

1:1250 resurvey of Kendal, 1:2500 update of the eastern Lakes & 1:10,000 resurvey - by helicopter.

Amove to the Lake Distrct including helicopter assisted mountain resurvey

Includes additional pages & photo galleries

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1976-79: Halifax Continuous Revision Office

Maintainiing the detailed maps of Calderdale & wider area

Work of the Halifax Revision Section

This page is incomplete

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1979-82: Air Survey, Southampton

Office work! training & survey from photography.

Training to map from aerial images and a move to Southampton.

This page is incomplete


England & Wales


Start: March 1969
End: December 1979


Date Reference
20170820 Ordnance Survey web pages: Official home page
20170820 Ordnance Survey Wikipedia
1975 "Ordnance Survey: a descriptive manual". 168 pages + Appendices. J.B Harley


KJM 20 Aug 2017