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Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 16:45 UK

Five old-school map symbols

The president of the British Cartographic Society has attacked a new generation of online and satnav maps for blanking out British heritage.

So here are five classic map symbols for those who know nothing but the bland route-finding of the Google Maps generation.

The Ordnance Survey symbol for a battle is crossed curved sabres/cutlasses
Ordnance Survey symbol for a battle site

Imagine pootling down the B3046 out of New Alresford, looking to your left across a bit of English scenery. Those navigating using one of the more functional modern online maps will see nothing marked except blank grey space.

But those using an Ordnance Survey map will see the crossed swords that reveal this to be the site of 1644's Battle of Cheriton. Without which you're missing one of the key strategic shifts in the English Civil War. You're missing the chance to investigate Lord Hopton's Royalist army being soundly beaten by Sir William Waller's Parliamentarian army.

The Ordnance Survey symbol for religious building with a tower
Ordnance Survey symbol for a religious building with tower

Perhaps familiar from school geography lessons - the different symbols for churches with spires and churches with towers.

As those who were paying attention will remember a filled square with a cross is a church with a tower. A good example of one that might be missed without help from an old school map is St Peter's Church in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, an imposing Victorian rebuilding of a Norman church.

In multicultural Britain, the meaning of the symbols has shifted slightly. A filled circle with a cross is now a place of worship with spire, minaret or dome.

The Ordnance Survey symbol for English Heritage site
Ordnance Survey symbol for English Heritage site

A first-timer to Wiltshire steaming down the A303 is going to want to plenty of advance notice to alert the passengers to the presence of Stonehenge by the side of the road.

The symbol that does this on Ordnance Survey maps is the lattice-work emblem of English Heritage, while sites administered by Historic Scotland are indicated by a stylised depiction of a church and those by Welsh Historic Monuments by a Celtic cross.

The Philips maps symbol for a historic ship
Philips maps symbol for historic ship

No trip to Dundee would be complete without a visit to HMS Unicorn, a 46-gun frigate launched in 1824.

On a Philips map it's indicated by a stylised purple depiction of a yawl two-masted sailing boat.

On your common or garden online map, you would just get a blank piece of dockland. And you would miss out on a maritime treasure.

Collins map of area of Lake Windermere
Collins map of Lake Windermere

Nothing to do with heritage and history, but a vital ingredient for pacifying more disgruntled and youthful car passengers, aquariums are marked on Collins Road Atlases with a delightful seahorse motif.

Pictured right is an example from the southern end of Lake Windermere, accompanied by a star icon which indicates a site of interest, in this case a mill, and a train icon that shows a tourist railway.

"You don't get as much sense of the area on an online map as you do on a road atlas," notes Iain MacDonald, of Collins Road Atlases.


The online map service Multimap points out that it does feature items that can't really be accommodated in old-fashioned maps.

Icons indicating cash machines, petrol stations and click-throughs to Wikipedia entries are among the innovations, the company says.

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