When choosing the most suitable type of OS map for your research you may find you have a choice of scale, depending on what is available at the local archives or for purchase. The most usual scales that you will find are 1 inch, six inch and 25 inches maps.
The first one-inch map of Kent was published in 1801, although this was very much along the lines of previous county maps in terms of the fact that it stuck rigidly to the county boundary. After that however the OS took the decision to create an official national numbered series of maps that were not constrained by county boundaries. The first standard OS sheets are four sheets for Essex published in1805 while Kent was reissued in the new style in 1819.
So the first OS maps were at a scale of 1" but by the 1840s following a survey of Ireland at a six-inch scale, the OS decided to start mapping England and Wales at a scale of six inches too, thus producing much more detailed maps. Although 1” maps provide a good overview of an area in general, six-inch maps are much more useful for your research because they are detailed enough to show the various facilities in the area as well as the shapes of houses. It is a good idea to use them in conjunction with local directories such as Pigot’s, Kelly’s and Bulmer’s and which provide a summary of the local services, transport and industries for each town or village. Using these tools in parallel helps you to reconstruct life as it was in your family’s town or village at the time they were living there.
Twenty-five inch maps were introduced from the 1850s onwards and provide even greater detail and are therefore great for tracing house history. Not only do they give the exact shape of a house but they also name the majority of roads and clearly show local amenities and industries. Most towns had been mapped at this scale by the 1880s and some much earlier and will show features such as railways, pubs, factories, churches, mills, canals, and even paths and track ways, wells and outhouses.
Even a modern day OS map is a good starting point. The first thing I noticed when I looked at the modern day six inch OS map of Studley was that the main road running through the village is a roman road - Icknield Street. I then noticed that the parish church, which dates back in part to the 12th century, was some distance away from the modern-day village itself (which today runs alongside the roman road) together with the site of old motte and bailey castle, indicating that the original settlement is likely to have predated the Roman road and that the village centre must have migrated at a later date to the area around Icknield Street some quarter of a mile or so away.
A look at a twenty five inch map from 1887 and another in 1903 told me a lot more about how the village evolved during the 19th century. I was therefore able to use these in conjunction with the census returns to help build up a picture of how the village looked when my great great grandmother Elizabeth Heritage lived there between the 1840s and 1880s. The map shows me the sites of several needle factories in the town and the size and shape of their buildings including the main factory which is now the site of the Coop Supermarket and a plethora of inns one of which, The Barley Mow, was owned by Henry Hemming, Elizabeth's father. It also pinpoints other features such as the site of one of Studley's lost mills (indicated by the presence of "Mill Pond"), the Methodist and Catholic churches, a brewery, the police station, the local hotel and other institutions such as the Liberal and Conservative clubs, as well as a train station.
What was most fascinating however was trying to identify the house where Elizabeth Heritage once lived. After her husband's death in 1857 she continued to run the grocer's shop and in the 1861 census this is also described as the Post Office. The 1887 map clearly shows the post office was located in Marble Terrace and, because it is a large-scale map there is sufficient detail to narrow the identity of the building down to one of two houses. Noting that one of these two houses was set slightly back from the road and had archway at one side (this is marked on the map by a small cross on the building) I then used Google Earth to "street view" the road and houses in question. Lo and behold the archway is still there in the house in question although now filled in and forming the top of a window! What does not yet add up is the fact that in the 1861 census Elizabeth's address is referred to as "Post Office Road" but this has then been crossed through and altered to Alcester Road. This adjoins Marble Terrace and was how the Heritage property was also described in 1851. My next move will be to locate a map for the 1860s to see if the Post Office is marked in a different location at that time in order to evaluate whether this is just a confusion over how the address was described or not!