Map Research Services

As part of landscape research, frequent calls are made on Map Research skills. It can be quite remarkable how much information can be gained from looking in detail at published or unpublished maps, even for sites that appear to have had a simple history. Field boundaries can remain buried in the patterns of housing layouts. Feature ponds can turn out to have originated as animal watering holes. Analysis of these and myriad other features can assist greatly in understanding the dynamics of a site and can influence design and management decisions regarding its future

Project examples

Old common land turned into hospital grounds

There is a general presumption that in areas where the land has been common and later enclosed, that the fields would have been ploughed for arable or improved pasture use. Map evidence for this particular site showed the date for enclosure and that subsequent land use was pasture. Tracing the development of the modern hospital layout showed how patches of the old grassland were retained with their distinctive flora which was not found elsewhere on the site.

Land near Tunbridge Wells

The area around Tunbridge Wells was traditionally heathy common until the discovery of the chalybeate springs led to an exponential growth of the Town. The site for this project had some woodland with an interesting flora and the map study was intended to prove continuity of tree cover following enclosure. In fact the map evidence showed that the area had already been enclosed by the early eighteenth century and that the fields had been in arable use since then. What they also showed, however, was the line of an old path that had been in regular use for many years, presumably as access to areas of remaining common. This path had a wood-based name, and later maps that showed it depicted a band of woodland rather than a wood-lined path. By the twentieth century, there was adjoining woodland but the path appears to have become disused. The habitat continuity had been explained but in an unexpected manner.

Maps and plans can be many and varied. While some old maps are the result of the individual whimsy of landownership, or of surveys done for land sale reasons, other mapping has been done on a national level and can be of considerable value even in the absence of site specific documents. Frequently they have something to relate that will illuminate or surprise.


One key aspect of a modern mapping project is the need to understand how grid references work to be able to make point or line data sit in the correct place on a plan. It comes as a huge surprise that not all geography teachers can understand grid references, and this does contribute largely to the continuing confusion. The Ordnance Survey have an explanatory page here, but the mnemonic that seems the most helpful is:

Along the corridor and up the stairs

Read the number for the lines that change on a horizontal movement (Easting) starting from the left (along the corridor), and then the numbers that change on a vertical movement (Northing) working upwards (up the stairs)

For GIS the extra element is that the Ordnance Survey’s alphanumeric TQ5264 (designed to help the numerically challenged) doesn't work and computers need numbers. TQ actually means square 51 and all the zeros are dropped to describe a square. In fact TQ5264 as a point GIS is Easting 552000, Northing 164000....


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