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April 2019 

The London local group met at Gospel Oak to hear John Davies describe the secret Soviet military maps of London and their relationship to OS maps. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the Military Topographic Unit of the General Staff of the Soviet army embarked on a gigantic global mapping project, producing maps at seven scales, ranging from 1:1 million to 1:10,000 of much of the world. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the maps gradually became available in the West, many by way of Latvia, where the founder of the Jana Seta map shop had purchased several tonnes of ‘waste paper’ as the Russians made hasty preparations to vacate a military map store in Cēsis in the east of the country.

 In 1997 OS put out a statement claiming that the Soviet maps were essentially copied from OS maps and as such violated copyright. The purpose of the evening’s talk was to examine the small-scale topographic maps and the large-scale city plans of London and to explore the similarities and differences between depiction of landscape, buildings and infrastructure on Soviet and OS mapping.

 A typical comparison can be seen in the extracts below showing Trafalgar Square, in which the Soviet map includes detail not shown on the OS sheet, such as street names, tube stations (M) and their names, colour-coded ‘important objects’, footprints of individual buildings, structural material of the railway bridge, and the nature of river embankment; omits ‘political’ information such as the name of the London Borough (LB) and uses a different classification for major roads. Top: OS 1:25,000 TQ 28/38 City of London, 1983 Below: Soviet 1:25,000 London sheet 1, 1985 

Special thanks to Henrietta Nasmyth who hosted the event and welcomed members with a glass of wine. Offers to host such events, in London or elsewhere, are invited. Please contact the editor if you are interested.