Survey Training

Leaving home

A few days after passing my driving test I left home in early March 1969. Leaving Manchester Piccadilly, changing at Birmingham New Street (it was new then and just as inhuman) and then heading south I was slightly apprehensive. I was a home-bird - what had I done? After noticing that the landscape had changed dramatically eg the chalk cutting at Winchester station, the train soon arrived in Southampton. Following the instructions I took a bus to Bitterne Park and digs at 20 Whitworth Road.

%20 WR%

20 Whitworth Road in January 2012 - three of us (including Graeham Johnson who was also starting on the same surveying course) occupied the upstairs front bedroom. Colin Melrose (surveyor) would stay here while on a course and later Pete Cory (draughtsman) became the third member. Two others (including Keith Hale (a draughtsman) had rooms at the back. Later in the year Paul Tatham would join us in one of these rooms. The house is a lot smarter today than it was in the late '60's when there was also a mature tree in the front garden.

Surveyor Course 166

The nine-month training course opened the following morning at Ordnance Survey Maybush - which still resembled a building site. At that time there was a new surveyor and draughtsman course starting at 4-5 weekly intervals. The organisation had about 4,000 staff at that time and would peak at around 5,000 in the 1970's. Each course usually had 16 students but it was not unusual to finish with just 50-75% of that number - sometimes less. Our surveyor course was only the second to start in the new Maybush office.

Course members I can recall: Ron Burton, Nick Coutts, Tony Garrett (Bristol version), Martin Gibbons, Graeham Johnson, Keith Murray, Dave Scott, Ray Turner and George Winfield (an older surveyor who was retraining after a period engaged on "trig & levelling" work) and six others (I cannot recall their names - can anyone help?). The four instructors were Ivan lllett, "Ozzie" Cook, Andrew Mawdsley and Jack Kemble.

New surroundings

Southampton was new to all of us and I guess everyone was away from home for the first time. Our accommodation at £5 a week, took a large part of our pay - so there was little left to get around too far.

%ss united states% %QEII% %itchen hovercraft%

An early trip to the docks on Sunday 20 April 1969 captured these images: SS United States leaving Southampton for the last time (taken from Mayflower Park); our first glimpse of the QEII (you can just see the bridge and the funnel!) from the Royal Pier and finally the Cowes Seaspeed hovercraft service located on the west bank of the River Itchen near to the Itchen Bridge today.

Training for field surveying

The aim of the course was to develop the skills to create or maintain large scale maps. The map scales being a lot more detailed than the paper maps that people are used to seeing ie 1:1,250, 1:2,500 and 1:10,000. We called them "plans" at that time..

At that time two types of field office existed and surveyors could be posted to either:

  1. Field Survey Sections: creating the first National Grid large scale maps. for 1,1250 and 10,000 scale maps completely new surveys were undertaken whereas the 2,500 mapping was "adapted" from the old County Series projection and updated (known as "Overhaul". In most cases the maps had not been touched since the 1890-1910 period. The aim was to survey the whole of Gt Britain on the National Grid by 1980, the so-called "1980 programme". All the updated maps were professionally redrawn in Southampton and then printed - a process that took 18-24 months
  2. Continuous Revision Sections: keeping the published maps up to date.

Survey Training

We were introduced to ink drawing, chain survey, graphic survey, instrumental survey and "air ground". Enlargements of rectified aerial photographs had recently been adopted to speed up the revision process where changes were surveyed from the photograph and then checked on the ground and all other actions taken to enable the maps to be published. This included entering all distinctive names in an "Object Name Book" eg place names, road names, farm names etc, checking any survey control such as bench marks. It was discovered some years later that the drawing ink, with which we used rags to obtain a flow, or our fingers, contained aniline dye - a pretty lethal substance.

The first couple of months of the course was preparation, basic skill development and background training. Much of the summer period was devoted to "Air Ground" (1:2,500 "overhaul" this was the primary task in hand at the time to meet the "1980 programme" of revising and recasting all rural areas on the National Grid). The final part of the course was dictated by the type of work you might expect depending on the posting which was assigned six weeks from the end. (providing successful passage through all aspects of the course)

Course activities

We were offered a day doing "Diagnostic Maths" on Wednesdays at the Technical College. I really didn't like the sound of that. My primary goal was to get through the course and saw this as a distraction.I later encountered some complex maths in the above courses.

Our surveying knowledge and skills gradually grew as we encountered new techniques :

  • Chain survey - at Bassett
  • Instrumental traversing - at a new housing estate Woodley in Romsey
  • Air Ground 1:2,500 scale revision - over a large area based on Broughton, Winterslow and The Common on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border (all regular cycling areas today!). The Grey Hound in Broughton and the Nelsons Arms in Middle Winterslow both became regular lunchtime venues - both had table football machines where some lively games were played.


Two major OS events occurred during the life of the course:

Having seen the official opening of the Maybush building a few weeks after joining OS there was some neat symmetry when I left OS a few months after we vacated the Maybush site.

Social Life

With little spare cash there was not a lot left for a social life. Taunton cider was the cheapest drink at the Bitterne Arms at 1/6d a pint [7.5p at today's prices]. Occasionally the cinema in Southampton. A hitch-hiking trip to Dorset failed miserably one summer Saturday with a colleague (Keith Hale) from the digs, we got two lifts of around 2-3 miles each in the New Forest. We had only reached Ringwood by early evening were we changed plans walked on to Christchurch listening to Thunderclap Newman where we slept on benches (agonising) and caught the first bus back to Southampton.

It was a good summer which included man landing on the moon for the first time. Anything was possible now and Graeham Johnson and myself spent it dreaming about buying a Mini Moke each which we figured would fit perfectly with the job and warm summer days. In the event we didn't have enough money but Graeham did buy a red second hand Mini later in the year.

Shortly after Paul Tatham arrived in the digs to start his surveyor training, three of us had to leave Whitworth Road under a cloud, it was not the best place and we should have moved sooner - but boredom led to mischief. We spent the last six weeks in "Pop's Palace" 46 Cobden Avenue where six of us were laid out in beds in a ground floor room (this house has since been demolished).

The weekend we changed over Graeham (who was a Derby County supporter) and myself went to the County Ground in Derby in his mini to see Man City beat Derby 1-0 with a Francis Lee goal [18 October 1969]. We stayed at my parents in Manchester on the Friday night and his parents at Cumberworth. Lincolnshire on the Saturday night. They lived in a old country house with pheasants hanging in the kitchen outhouse.

The highlight of the summer was the Isle of Wight Pop Festival that Pete Cory and myself went to from 29-31 August 1969 at Wootton Bridge. It was a stunning line up culminating in sessions by The Band and Bob Dylan. It was his first return to major public performances after his accident.


Ordnance Survey Headquarters, Romsey Road, Maybush, Southampton, S09 4DH


Start: 11 March 1969
End: 12 December 1969

KJM 20 Aug 2017