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Map Curators Group > Workshop 2010 > Ifan D H Shepherd & Steve Chilton Paper Abstract

Ifan D H Shepherd & Steve Chilton
Middlesex University
Middlesex University Staff Carriers and Bean Counters: Unraveling the who and the why of the first 6-inch maps of England and Wales

In this paper we re-examine the 13,000 or so 6-inch sheets that comprise the first complete cadastral map of England and Wales. Surveyed and published over 5 decades of the nineteenth century, and extensively documented in contemporary annual OS reports to parliament, several significant elements of how these maps were produced, and the reliability of the data they contain, remain under-explored. By extracting marginal information from these published sheets, we will attempt to cast light on three themes: the contribution of named individuals among map survey teams to the recording of the English and Welsh landscapes during the Victorian period; the decision making of the OS survey planners whose choice of the number and location of sheets had both cost implications for the contemporary public purse and usability implications for current users; and the quality of the marginal metadata that accompanies the map detail captured within the neat lines of these sheets.

Named contributors
Paradoxically, the naming on individual sheets of selected individuals responsible for surveying, leveling, contouring, engraving, ornamenting and publishing them serves to highlight the fact that the identities of most of those who contributed remain nameless. Nevertheless, the identity of survey team leaders on a large number of early 6-inch sheets provides an insight into the peripatetic life of a career spent largely out in the field. By means of a handful of case studies, we will use the name, rank and dates present in the map margins to reveal something of the contributions made by these hardy individuals, most of whom came from a military background.

Data quality
Some of the 6-inch marginal data can be used to ascertain the data quality of the detail within the neat line. Our attention in this presentation, however, is with the quality of the metadata itself. Taking three examples (the contributor details, the survey and publication dates, and contour indicators), we assess the varying reliability of the information. We will reveal how both the presence and the quality of the marginal information vary from sheet to sheet, county to county, and region to region across England and Wales.

The map in the margin
The distinction between map and margin is not an absolute one. Historically, cartographers have frequently ‘leaked’ map content through the neat line into the sheet border. In a significant number of cases, 6-inch sheets contain detail from adjacent sheets in one or more of their margins. We refer to this practice as margin incursion, and it appears that it resulted from a decision-making process within the OS aimed at reducing the production and issue of sheets with minimal detail. However, our research has revealed that this practice was far from consistent, and that margin incursions frequently disappeared or appeared between the production of the earlier uncontoured sheets and the later contoured sheets of the first edition 6-inch maps.

Data from the margins of nineteenth century 6-inch maps are an essential source for deciphering how the maps were made, and their reliability of the ground detail they represent. In building carto-bibliographic and GIS databases from these maps, marginal metadata provides an essential -- but problematic -- key to unlocking their history, and to enabling effective search and retrieval.

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