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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Ordnance Survey’

On the map, again

Back to an Ordnance Survey anomaly

Back in 2020, I briefly mentioned a map anomaly that I was going to blog about at some point, but was going to wait until I’d done a bit more research on it. Some of that research I did do, but I still haven’t made it as far as the National Archives, which the OS themselves had pointed me towards. Nevertheless, recently some more useful information on it has been released online, so I thought it might be time to come back to it. The map in question is this one, of New Waltham in North East Lincolnshire, which when this map was published in 1947 didn’t even merit its own name on the map.

New Waltham, 1947

Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland, as were the extracts below.

What is the anomaly? It’s at the railway station. There’s a little curving siding shown, branching off from the Down side of the line (where the station goods yard was) into a field, with a few buildings either side of it. What’s so curious about this? Well, it doesn’t appear on any other maps. At all. Including maps done shortly before or shortly afterwards. So my question was: was it something real on the ground, or was it just a copyright trap?

There were a couple of potential suggestions of an explanation. One—which I think was originally sent in by one of my old Geography teachers—was that it was a temporary siding connected with RAF Waltham (or RAF Grimsby), a nearby Bomber Command base which, interestingly, also isn’t shown on the 1947 map—it should be just on the bottom edge of that map extract, between Waltham and Holton le Clay. RAF Waltham had opened as a civilian airfield with grass strips in 1933, was briefly called Grimsby Airport at one point, and was requisitioned and given concrete runways in 1940. It closed operationally in 1945 as the hurriedly-installed concrete runways weren’t really up to long-term use, although they’re still very visible on the ground today. So was a railway siding briefly put in to help deliver materials or fuel? Well, maybe, but it’s quite a long way between the railway station and the RAF station, and there’s nothing about it in the one book I’ve seen on the history of the RAF station.

The other suggestion was that it was some sort of agricultural railway, of which there were a lot in Lincolnshire. However, there were a couple of issues with this theory. First, it’s not listed in the standard work on the subject, Lincolnshire Potato Railways by Squires. Squires’ book might not be fully comprehensive, because many Lincolnshire agricultural railways were ephemeral, short-lived things that left little trace on the ground, but it is reasonably thorough. Secondly, on the map, it just doesn’t look like an agricultural railway. This is one, a couple of miles away between Humberston and Tetney Lock.

A Lincolnshire agricultural railway

Note the differences. It’s much longer than the tiny siding at Waltham, and it doesn’t follow nice, smooth curves either. It’s laid out for a horse to pull a small wagon or two, so it’s a series of straight lines and sharp bends, likely following field boundaries.

That was the point I got to back in 2020. However, as I said at the top, something new has come up: Historic England have put their Aerial Photo Explorer online. Its collections include a cartographic-quality aerial survey of England made by the RAF in 1955; and that includes this shot of New Waltham.

On this photo, South-West is at the top, with the railway station on the right-hand side midway up the picture. If I rotate the OS map to roughly match the photo’s orientation, it might be easier to line up.

Rotated map of New Waltham

That map covers a slightly wider area than the photo, but you get the idea. The station goods yard stands out very clearly on the photo with a bright white ground surface. It the siding had existed, it would curved through the goods yard and upwards, roughly following the line you can see between two different types of vegetation. Now, although this photo is from about ten years after the siding would have existed, you can see there’s absolutely no evidence of there having been anything following the line of the railway siding on the map. Nothing at all, really, that matches up with what the map says.

So, well, there you go. Without going to look at the detailed survey records in the National Archives, I have to say I’m pretty much convinced: this railway siding was never really there. It was only ever there as a copyright trap, for the Ordnance Survey to spot as a red flag if they saw it appearing on any other maps of the area, and has likely sat there on the map almost completely unnoticed for seventy years. If any evidence comes in that it was a real feature on the ground, I’ll be very very surprised.

On the map

Or, a curious Ordnance Survey oddity

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the other day I posted an intriguing extract from an Ordnance Survey map I’d never noticed before: a railway station that has a long, peculiar siding shown on a particular revision of the One Inch map, that isn’t shown on other revisions of the same map; that isn’t shown on other contemporary Ordnance Survey maps of different scales, and that isn’t mentioned in any books I’ve seen that cover the railway line in question. Now, this isn’t a post about that particular map, and part of the reason is that the OS spotted my tweet, and suggested I investigate the OS-related holdings in the National Archives, as they may contain notes that answer the question. There’s also another lead I want to chase up, which might contain more information, and I didn’t really want to write half a post.

However, it did remind me of another smaller Ordnance Survey curiosity that has intrigued me for years, even though it’s not that much of a mystery. Back in the 1970s, my dad wanted to walk the length of the Pennine Way; and as part of his planning, he bought a number of guidebooks and a copy of every Landranger sheet that covered the route. It’s quite a stack of maps to take along with you, even at Landranger scale, so I’m not sure how easily he would have packed them all; however, as he never did the walk, he never faced that particular challenge. The walk—if you do it in the usual direction from Derbyshire to Scotland—starts here, on Sheet 110.

A small extract of Sheet 110

There’s Edale and there’s the start of the Pennine Way; its original route up onto Kinder Scout, not the current one. There’s Mam Tor, before the road across its flanks was permanently closed, and the railway line past Hope and Earles Sidings. Look what’s odd, though. The typefaces roughly North of Edale and roughly South of Edale are different. The north (and most of this sheet, and every other sheet of this vintage) uses a set of sans typefaces; the south uses a serif typeface.

I remember poring over all of my dad’s Pennine Way maps as a kid, and being intrigued by the sudden switch in font, which applies to a strip of land all across the bottom of this map. To be honest, though, it’s fairly easy to explain. I said earlier that this is a Landranger map; but when it was published, that name hadn’t been invented. At the time these were the “1:50,000 First Series” maps, published and prepared in double-quick time in the first half of the 1970s to keep pace with the project (never quite completed) to switch the UK over to metric measurements. The First Series were produced by taking the previous generation of One Inch maps and photographically enlarging them, to expand them from 1:63,360 scale to 1:50,000. They then had changes applied to bring major features, motorways and such, up to date. As they were published in 1974, all the county boundaries were replaced with the newly tidied up and rationalised ones. Presumably sheets covering South-East Wales had the national boundary moved from Cardiff to Chepstow, and the note about the disputed status of Monmouthshire removed from the key.

All the First Series map covers included a paragraph of information about the process, and a little diagram in the key explaining how old the maps used to make each sheet were. Here’s the diagram for Sheet 110; the wonkiness is from me holding it up to the camera badly.

The source maps

That strip along the bottom, revised 1960? That’s the part of the map that uses different fonts to the rest. Intriguingly, though, the major part of the map is from an older revision, albeit only a couple of years older. I wonder why this particular One Inch sheet with the older set of typefaces crept through to the First Series of metric maps, and why it wasn’t made consistent with the rest.

Incidentally, it’s only the First Series that were produced by enlarging the One Inch maps. The 1:50,000 Second Series were drawn from scratch, with their own new typeface, and with new, metric contours at 10m intervals. The First Series still had the 50ft contours of the One Inch maps, but relabelled to the nearest metre, giving you odd contour line measurements such as 76m and 427m.

Maybe one day I will solve the other map puzzle, search through the records at Kew, find out the answer to my railway siding puzzle and post the answer to that here too. We live in hope. As, indeed, do the people in the bottom-right corner of that map extract.