The Lost Maps of the Commonwealth

Sometimes you lose 50 pence down the back of the sofa, sometimes the government loses 1.5 million Commonwealth maps and aerial photographs because they forgot where they were!

The material is the work of the Directorate of Colonial Surveys established in 1946 by the Colonial Office to map overseas British Territories.

It was merged into the Ordnance Survey (OS) in 1984 and became known as the Overseas Surveys Directorate (OSD).

Discovered in an old museum in Bristol, the material is now being catalogued by the National Collection of Aerial Photography ( NCAP) based at the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ( RCAHMS) and will soon be available to the public online.


The 3D aerial photography in the DOS Collection in the DOS Collection records the changing urban and rural landscape of large parts of the Commonwealth throughout the second half of the twentieth century.


The work of DOS was recorded in colour for the 1969 documentary ‘Framework For The Future’ which is now held by the British Film Institute and the work of this unique organisation, its social history and stories of the land surveyors' interaction with local people, was the subject of the 1996 Mapping The World by Alistair Macdonald.

It’s amazing to think that the Government could put so much effort into gathering this data only to forget about it!