Two revolutions link the history of Ordnance Survey. The first engulfed France during the late eighteenth century – with Britain fearing invasion as a result. The second sees us at the heart of the ongoing digital revolution, with web mapping services and geographic information transforming business and public services.
It was back in 1791, whilst planning defences to repel any invasion, that the Government realised the South Coast of England needed to be comprehensively and accurately mapped. So it instructed its Board of Ordnance – the defence ministry of the day – to carry out the necessary survey work.
That historic decision led to the mapping of the whole country in detail, and is also the source of the intriguing name 'Ordnance Survey'.
Today Ordnance Survey is a dynamic, self-financing £120-million-a-year civilian organisation. We’re at the forefront of the digital economy, producing digital mapping products and paper maps for business, leisure, administrative and educational use. We are still part of the UK Government, but we cover our costs by selling our products and licensing others to use our data.
Since 1999 we have had government 'Trading Fund' status, giving us more responsibility for our own finances and planning and more freedom to develop new initiatives.