Catalogue description Ordnance Survey: Records of the Deputy Director Small and Medium Scales: Rights of Way Archive: Definitive Maps

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Details of OS 75
Reference: OS 75
Title: Ordnance Survey: Records of the Deputy Director Small and Medium Scales: Rights of Way Archive: Definitive Maps

This series contains the Definitive Maps supplied to the Ordnance Survey by Local Authorities in England and Wales, and held within the Ordnance Survey Rights of Way Archive. They were created as part of a system establishing public rights of way, set up under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and developed through subsequent legislation. These maps are statutory documents which are intended to show the classification and alignment of the complete consolidated network of public rights of way in each local authority area at a given Relevant Date. Preparation of a written Definitive Statement to accompany the map was also a requirement under the legislation, providing descriptions of every right of way shown on the map.

Local authorities were required, under the 1949 Act, to prepare, review, fully update and publish Definitive Maps at regular intervals (intended to be no longer than five years). Preparation involved considerable research effort and consultation with landowners, district, borough, town and parish councils, user groups and the general public. The periodic review was to cater for any alterations subsequent to the Relevant Date of the existing Definitive Map (i.e. when the original survey commenced), and to consider inclusion of any additional rights of way which may have been claimed or dedicated in the interim. The resultant revised Definitive Map was to be made available for public viewing.

Ordnance Survey agreed to show the rights of way information (as depicted on the Definitive Maps) on the national mapping of England and Wales, and did so from 1960. However, the definitive network of public rights of way is constantly changing and Ordnance Survey, in order to maintain its obligation to publish current information, required details of any revisions between editions of the Definitive Maps. This was achieved by receipt of Public Path Order information from the local authorities as changes were made to the public rights of way network.

These Definitive Maps are based on Ordnance Survey mapping, although not always using the same scale or sheet lines as the published maps; and not always the most recent edition available at the time. For many of the local authorities the Definitive Map has, as the 1949 Act allowed, been split into a number of separate sheets, with an index supplied for overall reference. Groups of sheet maps were also bound in folios, numbered sequentially by authority within a county.

The maps have been heavily annotated, by Ordnance Survey staff, to record references to rights of way network changes as they were received, and to plot resultant amendments to the Ordnance Survey mapping - in some instances covering up to 30 years of amendments. Earlier sheets may also include overlay tracings produced for the same purpose. Up to June 1994 Ordnance Survey added unique path numbers (in purple), numbered to the parish, supplied by the Local Authorities and included on the Public Path Orders.

From June 1994 a new system was introduced. The Definitive Maps held by the Ordnance Survey were based on outdated mapping presented on a variety of materials, so making accurate interpretation (of rights of way alignments against detail on the ground) a problem. Annotation detail had become congested, making the addition of further amendment detail difficult. Furthermore, following the 1981 abolition of the 5-year system of review and its replacement with a continuous review method facilitated by Modification Orders, many local authorities had begun to supply Working Documents based on 1:10,000 scale mapping instead of revised Definitive Maps. Under the new system all effects of Public Path Orders were recorded (in red biro) on a library set of current editions of the 1:25,000 scale mapping. This included a record of the date of the entry and a sequential reference number unique to each map sheet. The same number was added to the Public Path Order. Details of the rights of way changes on each map sheet were recorded on a register fixed to the back of the sheet to which it applied. This system enabled easier revision of the current mapping using the library set, and provided a link to National Grid references which were also marked on the related Public Path Orders.

The Ordnance Survey Rights of Way Archive is the record of all rights of way information received by the Ordnance Survey from various sources, in order to carry out its mapping task for England and Wales. It records how and when that information was applied to detail on the ground, and thus to the national mapping. The Definitive Map is conclusive evidence of the existence of a public right of way, and its accompanying Definitive Statement is conclusive evidence of its position and width. Rights of way as shown on the Definitive Maps have legal authority under the 1949 Act, hence the use of a disclaimer by the Ordnance Survey on their own mapping since it was an interpretation of the legal position.

The Archive includes Definitive Maps for 78 local authorities, including some created by the 1972 Local Government Act which have ceased to exist, i.e. where full consolidated Definitive Map cover has not yet been created by the authorities which replaced them. For some local authorities a history sheet is included with the maps. The sheet gives a history of the extent of the local authority and its name changes. The 1949 Act did not apply to the Administrative County of London, nor to most county boroughs. The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act extended the compulsory survey cover to the whole of England and Wales except in the Inner London Boroughs and the Scilly Isles. Cover from each authority is not uniform. Some did not have Definitive Map cover or did not update their maps regularly. The Ordnance Survey only retained the most recent Definitive Map for each local authority area. Superseded maps were offered back to the local authority.

For Definitive maps in this series, the date range given for each piece shows the Relevant Date (RD) as the first date, being the date when the rights of way information contained on the map was regularised. The second date is the Withdrawn Date (WD), being the date when the map was withdrawn from use by the Ordnance Survey because a replacement was available; except where the map was superseded as a result of a change in administrative area or area name, when the date is the date of this change. This second date appears as a manuscript annotation on each map. The maps also carry a date stamp which records the date of receipt of the Definitive Map by the Ordnance Survey.

The series also includes two sets of records compiled by Ordnance Survey's Rights of Way Section as part of the administration of documents and information received:

  • (a) County Index Cards. These give details of Definitive Maps previously held by the Ordnance Survey. Manuscript maps drawn on the cards show historic information relating to administrative areas and rights of way cover. National Grid lines and sheet numbers for related 1:50,000 scale mapping are also shown.
  • (b) Indexes to Folios. These are Ordnance Survey Administrative Area Diagrams for individual counties or groups of counties, annotated to show the extent of areas covered by the numbered folios of Definitive Maps. They also carry the sheet numbers relating to the Ordnance Survey 1: 50,000 scale mapping.

Date: 1951-2009

The Definitive Maps are arranged by county name sorted into authority areas as appropriate. The whole is arranged within two groups: those based on county mapping and those based on National Grid mapping. Some of the local authorities no longer exist. Former authorities are cross-referenced to authorities responsible for that area in 2009.

The County Index Cards and the Indexes to Folios are alpha sorted by local authority name and in former reference order.

Related material:

National Parks Commission correspondence, papers and minutes are in:

Gosling Committee files are in AT 26

Gosling Committee papers are in AT 51



COU 10

Policy files relating to access to the countryside are in HLG 92

Hobhouse Committee papers are in HLG 93

Registered files relating to depiction of rights of way on OS maps are in OS 1

Policy paper files relating to depiction of rights of way on OS maps are in OS 11

Public Path Orders, when available, will be in: OS 78

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, Directorate of Data Collection, 1994-2003

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, Directorate of Data Collection and Management, 2003-

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, Directorate of Map Production and Publication, 1961-1968

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, Directorate of Small and Medium Scales, 1947-1961

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, Directorate of Surveys and Production, 1979-1994

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain: Directorate of Map Publication, 1968-1979

Physical description: 8132 flat sheets and volumes
Access conditions: Open
Immediate source of acquisition:

in 2011 Ordnance Survey

Selection and destruction information: Acquisition Policy criteria: 3.2 Interaction of the state with its citizens and its impact on and documentation of the physical environment.
Accruals: Series will accrue.
Administrative / biographical background:

The National Parks Committee (chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse), reporting to the Minister of Town and Country Planning in 1947 recommended that a complete survey of public rights of way should be made, and shown on Ordnance Survey maps.

Part IV of The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 provided for classification of three types of public rights of way (footpaths, bridleways, and roads used as public paths) in England and Wales to be defined on maps of an appropriate scale, on the basis of surveys carried out by parish councils, and other local bodies, who were to submit information to the local authorities.

The survey was to cover all lands in each county over which a right of way was alleged to exist. It was to follow a lengthy procedure involving draft maps, public inquiries, provisional maps and court hearings, all designed to protect the rights and interests of both users and landowners, and resulting in the publication of the Definitive Map for each county. Local authorities were required not only to prepare Definitive Maps, but also to keep them up to date through periodic reviews covering the whole county.

A copy of each Definitive Map was to be supplied to the Minister. From the early 1950s copies of these maps were forwarded to the Ordnance Survey by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and later by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office. This provision was endorsed by circulars to Local Authorities in 1983 (Department of the Environment Circular 1/83 and Welsh Office Circular 1/83: Public Rights of Way) requiring them to send a copy of new editions of Definitive Maps, Statements and Public Path Orders to the Ordnance Survey.

In 1958, following meetings with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ordnance Survey accepted the Hobhouse Committee recommendation and agreed to show rights of way, as defined by the 1949 Act, on its mapping. But this was to be no simple transfer of information from one map to another. The rights of way shown on the Definitive Maps produced by the local authorities had legal authority under the Act, but there were complications associated with their inclusion on the national mapping. Rights of way were being created, amended and extinguished by a variety of authorities at irregular intervals, making it impossible to keep the Ordnance Survey mapping up-to-date.

This issue was resolved through the publication of Ordnance Survey Policy Statement No 55 (1959) which indicated that the national mapping would show all the public rights of way included on Definitive Maps of a certain date. By this time there was enough Definitive Map cover produced by the local authorities to make inclusion of rights of way information on Ordnance Survey mapping worthwhile. This began with the most appropriate scales for the purpose: the one-inch Seventh Series (scale 1:63,360) in 1960 and the Second Series of the 1:25,000 scale mapping (later called Pathfinder) from 1965.

From 1965 Public Path Orders generated by the local authority, were supplied to the Ordnance Survey. These Orders, amending rights of way, were used to update the Ordnance Survey mapping between editions of the Definitive Maps. Details from the Orders were transferred to the Ordnance Survey's copy of the relevant Definitive Map, but only if confirmation was given, through a Validation Instruction, that the Order was operative.

The Local Government Act 1972, created new counties, abolished and amalgamated existing counties and transferred areas between counties. This Act also provided for local councils to accept responsibility for rights of way in their own areas, which were previously the responsibility of the County Council. This necessitated a rearrangement of Ordnance Survey holdings of Definitive Map cover and the Public Path Orders filing system. Names of local authorities were changed only when new Definitive Maps were produced.

The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act abolished the requirement for five-year reviews of Definitive Maps for the whole county area, replacing it with a continuous review system facilitated by newly created Modification Orders which amended Definitive Maps and could be applied to parts of counties.

The 1981 Act also extended the cover of the compulsory survey to the whole of England and Wales except the Inner London Boroughs and the Scilly Isles. Under the 1949 Act County Councils were empowered to exclude built-up areas on the grounds that a survey in these fully developed parts would not be beneficial. The survey was optional for the County of London, and the County Boroughs. The response among the County Boroughs was varied but the London County Council (LCC) did not take up the option. At the creation of the Greater London Council in 1965 (from the former LCC area and parts of the surrounding County Council areas), survey powers were given to all the newly created London Boroughs, which were only obliged to continue the survey where it had already begun (i.e. in the 20 Outer London Boroughs). Thus compliance for the 12 Inner London Boroughs remained optional.

By 1994 Ordnance Survey Rights of Way Section recognised the need for a change in the method of accurately recording amendments to the rights of way network. The Definitive Maps, which were no longer being kept up-to-date, did not reflect the extensive changes to the built environment. There was a need to register the network changes to more up-to-date base mapping. So from June 1994 the Ordnance Survey's Rights of Way Section began recording changes to the rights of way network using a library set of current Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale mapping, instead of annotating the Definitive Maps supplied by the local authorities. The introduction of the Explorer Map Series (replacing the Pathfinder Series) in 1995, and the introduction of new raster data production techniques, provided an opportunity for a complete review of rights of way information. Comprehensive checking of the rights of way component of Pathfinder maps was undertaken by Local Authorities and the Ramblers Association, and completed for the whole of England and Wales by 2001.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) 2000 also extended public access, and identified Open Access Areas, established by Commencement Orders. These changes are depicted on Conclusive Maps produced by the Countryside Commission (now part of Natural England) and the Countryside Council for Wales. These ar regional definitive maps, produced between 2001 and 2005, recording land which qualifies as open country or registered common land. The areas thus defined have been incorporated on the Ordnance Survey Explorer mapping - which also replaced the Outdoor Leisure mapping in 2002.

The Ordnance Survey's Rights of Way Section was from the outset a part of the Directorate of Small and Medium Scales. From 1961 this became the Directorate of Map Production and Publication, and from 1968 simply the Directorate of Map Publication. Internal restructuring by 1979 created the Directorate of Surveys and Production which in 1991 included the Rights of Way Section as part of the Small Scale Services Branch, in turn part of Carto 3 Division. The Section was responsible for maintaining the public rights of way information published on the Pathfinder, Outdoor Leisure, Landranger and Tourist Map series. In 1994 a new operational unit was created entitled 'Mapping Intelligence', which included Rights of Way, Tourism, Small Scale Carto, Large Scale Carto, and a supporting survey unit. Mapping Intelligence was part of the Directorate of Data Collection until 2003, when it moved into the new Directorate of Data Collection and Management.

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