Archive maps prove valuable historical resource, says Lochaber Archive Centre

Lochaber Archive Centre holds first (1871) and second (1899) Edition Ordinance Survey maps of Fort William showing changes including arrival of West Highland Railway Line. NO F20 archive map 1
Lochaber Archive Centre holds first (1871) and second (1899) Edition Ordinance Survey maps of Fort William showing changes including arrival of West Highland Railway Line. NO F20 archive map 1

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Archive maps are the subject of this article in our regular series written by the Lochaber Archive Centre staff exclusively for the Lochaber Times.

When piecing together the narrative of a story, geography often has just as much of a role to play as any major character. At the Lochaber Archive Centre, we frequently welcome family and local historians researching not only people but the places they lived, travelled through, arrived at, or left.

Often, they have come across a place name on a birth, marriage, or death certificate, or a census entry, and wish to understand it in more detail.

To do this, it would make sense for them to consult our vast collection of Ordinance Survey, National Grid, and estate maps.

Maps can provide a very visual context by which to better know a place and its surrounding environment. They might give insight into how far children travelled to school, or what the surrounding countryside might have looked before certain transformations took place.

Maps have obviously existed for many hundreds of years, but the first comprehensive survey of Britain was not undertaken until the 1840s. Mapping of the Highlands had started with Roy’s Military Map following the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.

This process soon stalled, but the production of maps, driven by military needs, continued throughout the rest of Britain.

The Napoleonic Wars led to the surveying of England and Wales in the early 1800s and
Scotland followed. However, not until the final sheet was published in 1882 did a complete set of Ordnance Survey maps exist.

The Ordnance Survey maps held at the Lochaber Archive Centre are mostly first and second editions and these are divided into six-inch to the mile and 25-inch to the mile scales (the more in-depth 25 inch for urban and cultivated areas only).

Having both first (1862-1867) and second (1897-1903) editions allows for comparison between the two, and one can notice the changes that become an area over time.

Lochaber Archive Centre holds first (1871) and second (1899) Edition Ordinance Survey maps of Fort William showing changes including arrival of West Highland Railway Line. NO F20 archive map 2
Lochaber Archive Centre holds
first (1871) and second (1899) Edition Ordinance Survey maps of Fort William showing
changes including arrival of West Highland Railway Line.

First edition Ordinance Survey Maps were accompanied by an ‘Object Name Book’, which provided information about landmarks and features indicated on the maps.

They provide a detailed description, the map reference, and information about the spelling of names. Where the landmark features had Gaelic names, these have been translated into English.

These volumes have been transferred onto Microfilm and are available to view in the Searchroom at the Lochaber Archive Centre.

Our maps can be consulted for a multitude of reasons – to help family historians locate remote farms, to work out which school an ancestor attended, to show the changing industry of a town, to prove a boundary line, and to locate sites of archaeological importance.