Ordnance Survey International

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Ordnance Survey International
Directorate of Colonial Surveys
Directorate of Overseas Surveys
Ordnance Survey (Overseas Surveys Directorate)
Formation 1946
Extinction 2001 (55 years)
Type GO
Purpose Provided a central survey and mapping organisation for British colonies and protectorates
Headquarters Southampton
Parent organization
Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey International and its predecessors built an archive of air photography, map and survey records for the United Kingdom from 1946 to 1999. The Ordnance Survey International Collection (formerly the Ordnance Survey International Library) held mapping records that were acquired outside the UK.[1]

The agency was closed in 2001.[2] Responsibility for its archive passed to The National Archives c2003; it was dispersed shortly thereafter.[1]


The agency[edit]

In 1946 the Directorate of Colonial Surveys (DCS) was established by the Colonial Office to provide a central survey and mapping organisation for British colonies and protectorates.[2] In 1957, with the imminent decolonisation of many British territories, it was renamed the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS).[2] Government reviews during the 1970s led to it being merging into the Ordnance Survey (OS) in 1984 whence it was known as the Overseas Surveys Directorate (OSD).[2]

In 1991, following completion of the last significant aid-funded mapping projects, its name was changed one final time to Ordnance Survey International and its main activity became consultancy, primarily in Eastern Europe.[2] It was closed in 2001.[2]

The archive[edit]

The aerial photographs, maps and survey data were originally kept in separate libraries but were amalgamated in 1984 into a single collection called Technical Information and Support Services.[2] In 1991 this was renamed the Ordnance Survey International Library.[2] In 2002 it was decided that it was no longer needed and responsibility for its disposal was passed to The National Archives.[2] During 2003 and 2004 The National Archives, the Ordnance Survey and advisers from specialist bodies jointly appraised the collection to determine which records should be kept and by which custodians.[2] The collection was dispersed during 2004.[2][3]

The content and locations of the archive are comprehensively described at The Ordnance Survey International Collection


During its lifetime the agency provided mapping to almost all the British colonies and protectorates.[2] In addition, some non-Commonwealth countries were mapped between 1975 and 1991 including Ethiopia, Liberia, Sudan and Yemen.[2]

Aerial photography and photogrammetry were used with photography missions being flown primarily by United Kingdom air survey companies.[4] Agency surveyors were sent abroad to establish horizontal and vertical ground control for the photography; this was permanently marked and co-ordinated so that the surveys could be the basis for future work.[4]

After a map was compiled from the photography, a plot (draft) was made for checking and annotation by the local survey department of the country concerned.[4] The final map was drawn at agency headquarters and printed by the Ordnance Survey.[4]

Other roles[edit]

In addition to its primary map making role the agency was responsible for:

  • Provision of advice to the Overseas Development Agency and foreign governments and organisations on technical matters concerning all aspects of surveying and mapping.[4]
  • Dissemination of information about new techniques related to surveying, photogrammetry, and cartography.[4]

Directors General[edit]

Director From
Martin Hotine 1946-03-11
G J Humphries 1963-10-10
W D C Wiggins 1965-10-01
D E Warren 1968-05-31
B E Furmston 1979-06


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Ordnance Survey International Collection". Southampton: Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "History of the International Collection". Southampton: Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  3. ^ "Content dispersal". Southampton: Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Directorate of Overseas Surveys". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  5. ^ Macdonald, Alastair (1996). Mapping The World (1st ed.). Norwich, England: HMSO. pp. ii. ISBN 0-11-701590-3. 

External links[edit]