Publication data
First publishedOctober 1931
Last revised reprint1941
Sheet data
Number of sheets146 (planned)
35 (published)
Sheet size52,000 × 32,000yds (original)
62,000 × 47,000yds (later)
Technical data
Geodetic datum?
EllipsoidAiry 1830
Projection typeTransverse Mercator
Projection origin49°N 2°W
Unit of measurementBritish Yard
Meridional scale factor0.9996
Map gridOS GB National Yard Grid
Map scale1:63 360

1928-1934: New projection, light relief

The 1-inch Fifth Edition came about mainly because Ordnance Survey wanted to adopt a new projection for their maps: the Transverse Mercator projection. This was felt to be a more useful projection for Great Britain than the Cassini projection used previously, which distorted angles slightly.

The plan was to create a completely new set of sheets, drawn from scratch, based on the material gained from the Fourth National Revision at the 1-inch scale, which had begun in December 1928.

The sheets of the 1-inch Fifth Edition were laid out on the lines of the new National Yard Grid. This was a precursor to the National Grid in use today - using the same projection (Transverse Mercator) and with the origin at 49°N, 2°W. As originally envisaged, the series would have consisted of 146 sheets, mostly 52,000 yds × 32,000 yds (or 52,000 yds × 42,000 yds), each overlapping the adjacent sheets by 2,000 yards.

The Director General of Ordnance Survey at the time wanted to completely change the depiction of relief. He felt that contours could not - in themselves - give an immediate impression of the lie of the land. Instead it was decided to depict relief by differing shades of colour - light brown for low-lying land, dark brown for higher ground.

Figure 1
Figure 1
1-inch Fifth (Relief) Edition
sheet 144 (pub. 1931)
Figure 2
Figure 2
1-inch Fifth (Relief) Edition
sheet 113 (pub. 1933)
Images from ‘Map Cover Art’, Ordnance Survey:
Southampton, 1991, ISBN 0-319-00234-9.

In October 1931 the first sheet of the 1-inch Fifth (Relief) Edition was published. Sheet 144 covered Plymouth and the surrounding area, and was issued in a very elaborate cover, designed by Ellis Martin. (Figure 1)

The initial reaction to the new series was decidedly mixed. Some critics levelled the accusation that the relief shading made the maps appear “mud-coloured”, and sales were sluggish. The price of the maps may not have helped - the standard price for mounted and folded Fifth (Relief) Edition sheets was 3 shillings, which was sixpence more than the 1-inch Popular Edition.

Ordnance Survey’s Director General was not going to give up his Relief shading easily, but agreed that the flamboyant cover may have deterred potential buyers. Ellis Martin was called upon to redesign the cover, and the result was a design which was almost a regression to that of the 1-inch Popular Edition The new Fifth Edition design showed a rambler on a hillside, and was first used from early in 1933. (Figure 2)

The difference in price between the Fifth (Relief) Edition and the 1-inch Popular Edition - caused mainly by the extra printing involved in the Relief Edition - and the relative complexity of the Relief Edition, meant that sales were still slow to pick up. Indeed, in certain areas the Popular Edition sheets were kept in print alongside their Fifth (Relief) Edition equivalents.

1935-1938: A change of plan

Figure 3 (click to enlarge)
Figure 3
1-inch Fifth Edition sheet 146 (1937)
Figure 4 (click to enlarge)
Figure 4
1-inch Fifth Edition sheet 112
(pub. 1938)

Reluctantly the Director General agreed to allow ‘non-relief’ Fifth Edition sheets to be published - produced without the Relief shading. These sheets were issued in a blue variation of the Ellis Martin cover, published from early in 1935. (Figure 3). The price was lowered to match that of the 1-inch Popular Edition, which helped sales. After 1936, the Relief Edition was formally abandoned.

The publication of new sheets in the Fifth Edition was painfully slow, and early in the summer of 1935 the sheet lines of the series were reviewed. It was decided to abandon publication of any new sheets in the existing sheet layout, and instead publish the remainder of the series in larger sheets, standard size approx. 62,000 yds × 47,000 yds (or 67,000 yds × 47,000 yds). These new sheets were to be numbered in a non-continuous way, each ‘large sheet’ taking the number of one ‘small sheet’ in the same area on the original 146-sheet layout. Quite why it was felt that larger sheets would make for faster publication is not clear.

The first of the large sheets to be published was no. 141 Southampton, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight early in 1937. This was followed by sixteen other ‘large’ Fifth Edition sheets, covering almost all of Central Southern England. (Figure 4)

‘Small sheets’ 95, 113 and 114 were the only such to be subsequently replaced by ‘large sheets’: St. Albans District, Sheet 113 Reading & Newbury, and London District respectively. The numbers from two of these sheets were omitted, to be numbered once their ‘small sheet’ predecessors could be withdrawn. This never happened, however.

1938-1941: A way out

An investigative committee had been set up in 1935 under the command of Sir John Davidson to recommend how the mapping and efficiency of Ordnance Survey could be improved. One of the more important recommendations to emerge from the Committee in 1938 was that a kilometre-based national grid should be introduced. For Ordnance Survey, this meant there was a way out of the now rather messy Fifth Edition, and it was decided the series should be discontinued.

Figure 5 (click to enlarge)
Figure 5
1-inch Fifth Edition sheet 93
(pub. 1939)

From 1938, the ‘Bender-fold’ - which allowed any part of the map to be viewed without opening the sheet fully - was introduced to some sheets of the Fifth Edition. The covers for these sheets were in one piece, hinged at the top.

Sheet 93 The Cotswolds was the last new sheet of the 1-inch Fifth Edition was published, in the autumn of 1939. (Figure 5). By this time, only 35 standard sheets - covering most of Southern England south of Saffron Walden - had been published. Work had already begun on the 1-inch New Popular Edition, and the Fifth Edition sheets were reprinted only as necessary.

The last printing of a coloured Fifth Edition sheet was printing ‘3041.M39.R39.’ of sheet 127 Bideford and Bude, probably carried out early in 1941. However, unrevised outline printings of some Fifth Edition sheets continued until 1944.

Page last updated: 14 April 2012