Half a century mapping the land

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As Tony Baginski retires after 50 years of working for Ordnance Survey he reflects on the changes he’s witnessed in UK mapping.


Tony Baginski

It was Tony’s passion for maps as a youngster that made him determined not to follow his father “down the mines” in their small Midlothian mining village but instead pursue a “more outdoorsy” career.

Having chanced upon the glossy booklet, A Career in Ordnance Survey, at the age of 16 and with a handful of O-levels to his name, Tony, filled out the application form and hoped for the best.

He says he was fortunate to gain an interview and headed to Southampton where the chairman of OS noted that he, as a young man, played in the same village miners’ silver band as Tony did.

Tony recalls: “Most of interview time was dedicated to him regaling tales of music and band members. I never did find out whether or not I got the job through what I knew or who I knew.”

His new career began in Southampton itself as a draughtsman on October, 11, 1965.

Tony says: “The map drawing and production was interesting but my love of the outdoors made me restless. My office life didn’t seem as attractive as I’d imagined and I longed for a job as an OS surveyor. I was lucky again because when I made application for transfer to that division I was accepted.”

After nine months of basic training as a surveyor Tony was “posted” to Stanmore in Middlesex. Yet the familiar hills of his home country of Scotland still seemed too far away.

Tony says: “I got on with it because it was my job and I moved around England, mainly in the south, as I learned my trade and developed my skills. But I did miss Scotland.”

Then, “luck came around again” and Tony was successful in landing a post in Falkirk.

He says: “It felt like it had been a long time coming but in the late 1960s I moved back to Scotland where my mapping career has been ever since.”

Mapping a fast-changing technology

In a career that spans half a century, Tony, has obviously witnessed some changes but he said he could never have foreseen how fast and big the changes would have been.

The OS Field Surveyor says: “The rate of change of technology has been astounding during my time with OS. It has also been exciting. I have been fortunate because I have been part of these incredible changes. When you work with OS you are like one of the family and I have felt at the heart of an organisation that has adapted and innovated.

“We have had to adapt to survive, however, and to be able to continue to make our products attractive to businesses. We have faced big challenges but we have also been at the forefront of experimentation and developments in mapping. It has been incredible.”

When Tony first started his career his tools comprised a sharp pencil, some basic measuring equipment and walking boots.

He says: “The technology was very basic back then. We measured with a metal chain and links and also a tape. We used a set-squares and I walked a great deal and measured and maps things as we saw them on the ground. There was a lot of skill in mapping what you could see and measure.

“We also had to use logarithmic tables for our computations, which must seem so very old fashioned now. The technology available for measuring and mapping is very different in the 21st century.”

The early 1970s heralded the micro-chip revolution and its exploitation saw the advent of some very – at that time­­ – sophisticated surveying devices. Tony says: “We still used our traditional tools, as well as theodolites, but we were also able to combine these with electronic measurement and computer-powered computations.

“It all felt so advanced back then and OS were keen to embrace the new devices and technology. The changes even back then seemed light years away from our humble beginnings.

“But then this progression became suddenly unstoppable.”

Full speed ahead for digital mapping

Tony describes the 1980s as “experimentally challenging”. He says: “Ordnance Survey has always had the courage and foresight to exploit technology and adapt to a changing world. But there were challenges and these came from new technologies.

“The digital era of mapping saw OS take the technology bull by the horns with lots of investment, creativity and innovation. I worked on the large scale maps, the ones that created the OS Mastermap, digitalising each point on the map.”

OS Mastermap takes the form of continually updated database. Today, Mastermap contains 450 million geographic features found in the real world, from individual addresses to roads and buildings. Every feature has a unique common reference (a TOID), which enables the layers to be used together and combined with your own information.

Mastermaps is the cornerstone of OS mapping, including the maps we might use for walking, and is also utilised by many organisations and businesses, such as emergency services, utility companies, and governments.

It also became the Launchpad in April 2014 for Resilience Direct, which offers a secure platform for multi-agency partnerships to share information in both emergency response and planning.

Next came GPS…

OS equipment.jpgIn the early 1990s came the emergence of Global Positioning System (GPS). Tony says: “This was obviously an interesting and highly useful tool yet it also brought its challenges. OS had to adapt to embrace this new technology. GPS was developed over a few years by OS and is now the main surveying tool employed.”

Tony recalls a resistance to GPS. He says: “People told us it wouldn’t work, that there was no point in using GPS. They didn’t think it could be trusted. But look where we are today.

“Who would have thought we would have GPS mapping on devices that we hold in our palms? Or navigation apps? Technology has moved at an astounding speed and the modern mapping world is incredible.

“OS had the foresight to see the future. I know I sound like I am promoting how wonderful the OS is but I have always felt proud to work for the organisation and to be part of the technological progress.”

A passion for his work

Tony and OS CEO Nigel Clifford

Tony and OS CEO Nigel Clifford

Now approaching 67, Tony says he still feels like the restless youth he was aged 16. He says: “I have never lost my passion for the outdoors nor for my job. I am about to retire but it’s been a great career working with OS.

“What other job could offer the chance to see every part of Scotland, places where few people have seen, breathtakingly beautiful and never uninteresting?

“I have driven over mountains in beefy Land Rovers, climbed to Triangulation Pillars, flown low in helicopters. All this has seemed like Boys’ Adventure stuff but the best bit is, I got paid to do it.

“And, yes, there were some less glamorous days. I could be on my own for days, wet, hungry and very tired as part of my work but I was still very happy to be doing my job.

“Today, the work for surveyors tends to be more sedentary than in previous decades, with many people working from home. They can work with GPS and maps without going outside. It’s not how it was.”

What’s next for Tony?

As Tony closes the door on his work for OS he says: “OS has been part of my family for 50 years and it is always difficult to say farewell to a child. But the time has come for me to say goodbye to it and the wonderful people who work, and have worked, for it.

“I have enjoyed the best job in the world. There has not been a single day when I’ve not wanted to go to work.”

Tony might do some hill walking “once I’ve had a rest and had a chance to pursue my hobbies of building fast cars and microlighting. When he does go walking he will take a map and compass, rather than a GPS gadget.

Tony says: “I still think people should be able to navigate by map and compass. I am still old fashioned about it really. The modern technology is fantastic and it has brought about so many great changes in my work and for outdoorsy people but batteries can run out or gadgets can fail and so you should always have a traditional mapping back up. In any case, I like to see a map and to use a compass.”


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2 comments on “Half a century mapping the land
  1. Tony Baginski says:

    Congratulations on, and thanks for a, superb article about my retirement and time with OS. I hope your readers enjoyed it.

    Yours aye,
    Tony Baginski

    • Neil Braidwood says:

      Our pleasure Tony – you’ve been lucky enough to have what many would consider a dream job!


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