History of Ordnance Survey Maps of Margate

Anthony Lee

Ordnance Survey Maps of Margate

Napoleon, at the end of the eighteenth century, was busy planning the military campaigns designed to make him master of Europe. The imminent threat of invasion forced the British Government to start planning for the defence of the vulnerable south coast of England, their first thought being the need for a proper survey of the area. This task was given to the Board of Ordnance, from which the Ordnance Survey takes its name; the board, based in the Tower of London, had responsibility for managing the supply of stores and armaments for the army and for maintaining national defences. The first map produced by the Board of Ordnance was of the County of Kent, at a scale of 1 inch to the mile; it was published in 1801.1 It was, however, quickly realized that the scale of the map was too small for most purposes, especially for maps of built-up areas. A variety of larger scales were proposed, the Treasury finally instructing the Ordnance in 1854 to survey in the future at a scale of 1:2500, equivalent to 25.344 inches to the mile, by then an international standard. Although surveying at such a large scale was expensive, it was justified on the grounds that it would provide all the information needed to produce maps at a variety of smaller scales and would prove cheaper in the long run.       

The set of ‘First Edition’ maps of Kent at the 1:2500 scale was complete by 1873. A First Revision, or Second Edition, of the Kent maps was published between 1893 and 1897, with a Second Revision between 1905 and 1910, and a Third Revision between 1929 and 1936.1  After the war, a policy of continuous revision was adopted. Ordnance Survey mapping of Margate however did not fall into this general pattern. Margate was one of twenty nine towns surveyed before 1854, at a scale of 1:528, corresponding to 10 feet to the mile. These very large scale maps were produced following the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848, for the purpose of sanitary planning. The map was published in 1852, as twelve sheets, each 36 inches by 24 inches. The large scale of the map allowed the inclusion of details of buildings and gardens, arched passages leading into courts (often slums), the location of lamp posts, privies, dung heaps, pig sties and slaughter houses, wash houses, stables and coach houses, and much more, giving a very full picture of Margate at the time. 

            The ‘First Edition’ map of Margate, published in 1873, was also at the scale of 10 feet to the mile. However, First, Second and Third revisions of the Margate maps published in 1896, 1921 and 1936 respectively, were at the usual scale of 1:2500. The first post-war map of Margate was published in 1954, at scales of 1:2500 and 1:1250 (50.688 inches to the mile).

Printing the maps

The small scale 1801 map of Kent was engraved onto copper plates for printing.1 Engraving would, however, have proved too costly for a large scale map produced in relatively small numbers and it was therefore decided to print the large scale maps by lithography. The process of lithography relies on the fact that oil (or grease) and water do not mix. If you were to draw a simple shape such as a cross with a wax crayon onto a slab of porous material such as a stone, the drawing would stick to the surface of the stone and be partially adsorbed. If you then moistened the surface with water, the water would be attracted by the stone but repelled by the greasy cross. Now if you applied a greasy printing ink, the ink would be repelled by the wet surface of the stone but attracted to the greasy cross, so that the cross would be the only part of the surface with ink on it. Finally, if you laid a piece of paper on the surface of the stone and applied pressure, you would obtain a print of the cross on the piece if paper, the print being called a lithograph.

           The stones used in the lithographic process were soft limestone blocks that had the required property of adsorbing both oil and water.2,3 In conventional lithography a design was drawn in wax or some other oily substance onto the polished surface of a block of limestone either using a greasy crayon (confusingly called a chalk) or using a greasy ink applied with a pen or a brush. Weak nitric acid mixed with gum Arabic was then rolled over the surface, fixing the design by filling up the pores of the stone and stopping the areas of grease from spreading. The surface was then wiped with a wet sponge so that the parts of the stone not under the drawn design would adsorb water. An oily ink was then applied with a roller and was adsorbed only by the greasy areas; pressing against a sheet of paper then transferred the ink to the paper.

           Several methods were used to draw a map onto the surface of the stone.4,5 The map could be drawn directly onto the surface using lithographic crayons or steel pens with lithographic ink, probably copied from a paper original created by the cartographer. This task required considerable skill, not least because the image drawn on the stone surface would need to be a mirror-image so that the final map printed from the stone would be the right-way round. An alternative was to draw the map with lithographic ink on specially prepared paper, from which it could be transferred directly onto the stone surface. Maps were also produced by a method more akin to engraving on copper, referred to as the engraved style of lithography.2 This started by covering a stone with a layer of gum Arabic coloured with lampblack or red chalk so that the engraver could see his design. The map was either drawn directly onto the stone or traced onto it. The map was then engraved onto the stone using a burin, a sharp steel cutting tool hard enough to cut glass, with a handle shaped like a mushroom that fitted snugly into the engraver’s palm, allowing the engraver to keep the tool steady. When the engraving was complete, a mixture of thin varnish, tallow and lampblack was rubbed into all the engraved lines. The plate was than wiped with a woollen rag to remove the original black or red coating, leaving the surface of the stone white except for the engraved design which was now black. To print the map, the stone was wetted with a cotton rag and then ink was applied and rubbed into the lines either using a rag or a roller. Any ink that had adsorbed onto the surface of the stone was wiped away with another wet cloth and the image was printed onto a sheet of paper. It is not known which of these techniques was used to produce the twelve sheets of the 1852 map of Margate.

Although the Ordnance Survey did much lithographic printing of their own, the Margate 1852 map was printed by Day and Son, Lithographers to the Queen. An account of Day and Son’s works in Great Queen Street was published by Augustus Sala in Household Words in 1852:6

 Up a court, shady and secluded ... is the door leading to the workrooms of the establishment we want. Staggering before us in the sunshine, is an individual of Herculean build, bearing on his back a ponderous stone, the weight of which is sufficient to crush three ordinary men, but which only makes him bend and sway a little as he turns the corners.  A swing-door admits us into a large vestibule, cumbered throughout with stones of all sorts and sizes. These are the raw material for stone pictures, just arrived from the banks of the Danube, from Turkey, and from India, where, in the Deccan, lithographic stones are plentiful. The Atlas, bearing the big stone on his back, brings us to the grinding room. Here, over large troughs of water, the stones are ground, grained, and polished for the different styles of lithography in which the drawings they are to bear on their surface are to be executed. They have been sawn to a proper size and thickness abroad, and are now tested with a straight-edge, to secure their being unerringly level. For graining and polishing, two stones are placed face to face, and water, mixed with silver-sand, being sprinkled between them, are rubbed together — the upper stone being moved in a circular direction — till a proper grain is given . . . we ascend, through room after room, where busy presses are at work. We are struck by the prodigious number of stones, not only being printed from, but which are piled in every corner, and ranged on shelves and in racks from floor up to ceiling . . . The studio is a large lofty room, with plenty of windows; for you want no concentrated rays of light here, as is required for painting pictures, but plenty of light everywhere. All round the walls are ranged stout wooden tables on which, generally supported in slanting positions, are the stones. Here are a score of artists occupied in the production of almost every variety of stone picture. The beautiful studies, heads and figures . . .gorgeously  tinted landscapes . . . caricatures, political and social; plans and sections of bridges and machinery; charts of railways; maps of towns and countries; anatomical plates; bill heads, address cards . . . county bank notes . . .  When the . . . drawing is quite finished, the stone is placed in the cradle of a "lift", and sent down stairs to a room on the level with the grinding and graining department to be etched. It is laid in an oblong trough; and nitric acid, very much diluted, is poured over it. The drawing is then carefully washed with rain-water, and is now ready for "gumming in" and "rolling up"; and is, for that purpose, carried to the press-room. Three stories of the establishment I have endeavoured to describe are devoted to presswork, and may hold, perhaps, twenty presses each. . .

Colonel Henry James, the Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey, described in a report to Parliament in 1857 the problems created by ‘the great size and weight of the stones, and their expense, with their liability to breaking under the press.’7 As a consequence, the First Edition Ordnance Survey maps, including the 1873 map of Margate, were printed by the Ordnance Survey themselves, using the process called zincography, a process in which a tracing of the map was transferred onto a zinc plate which was then etched with a mixture of nutgalls (nut-like swellings on oak trees caused by parasitic wasps and a source of tannic acid in ink manufacture) and phosphoric acid and printed with lithographic printing ink.

            The 1852 map of Margate was coloured and the First Edition maps were sold both coloured and uncoloured. Colouring was done by boys, aged between 13 and 14 and Colonel James proudly explained to Parliament how the boys were paid between 6d and 1s a day, resulting in an average cost for colouring a sheet of 1¼ d, but ‘we charge 6d extra to the public for the coloured impressions.’7   


  1. Richard Oliver, Ordnance Survey Maps. A Concise Guide for Historians, The Charles Close Society, 2005.
  2. Alois Senefelder, The invention of Lithography, English Ed., Fuchs and Lang, New York, 1911.
  3. Ian Mumford, Lithography, Photography and Photozincography in English Map Production before 1870, in The Cartographic Journal, Vol.  9, pp 30-36, 1972.
  4. Michael Twyman, Lithography 1800-1850, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1970.
  5. W. W. Ristow, Lithography and Maps, 1796-1850, in Five Centuries of Map Printing, ed. David Woodward, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1975.
  6. Augustus Sala, Stone Pictures, in Household Words, pp 176-181, 1852.
  7. Parliamentary Papers: Report on the Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom, for 1855-56, 1857.