An unusual find- in more ways than one!

On 31st July the mappa-mercia gang of mappers descended on Shenstone for our monthly pub meeting. It was a glorious summer’s evening which confirmed our strategy of getting out and about around the region during the summer months to take advantage of the late evenings to combine some mapping with our usual meeting . For Shenstone we had a set ourselves the challenge to see if we could map a complete village in one evening. We did cheat slightly by pre-populating the buildings from armchair Bing aerial imagery tracing. We almost got there but not quite!

To the North of the village we came across a small memorial commemorating “Shenstone Lammas Land”. Now we all believe we know what Common Land is, it being a familiar presence in rural England, but Lammas Land had us all guessing. So a quick Google search soon informed us.

Lammas land’ is land with ‘common grazing rights’, which are grazing rights belonging to those commoners who had registered the right to graze their animals on the land.

Lammas rights go back to the middle ages, but only existed between August 1st (Lammas Day) and February 1st (Candlemas), when the animals were removed to allow crops (usually hay) to be grown for harvesting in mid summer. Then on Lammas day the animals were returned to graze off the stubble.

You can read about the villagers’ 25 year legal campaign to preserve their rights here, which successfully concluded as recently as 1998.

What a coincidence to come across this piece of Lammas Land on the eve of Lammas Day!

Local Usage of OpenStreetMap:

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It’s always good to see the hard work you’ve put in surveying and editing being put to good use. I came across recently whilst researching listed buildings in Wolverhampton. As you can see it uses OpenStreetMap as the default map base layer – correctly attributed as well! The website is a collaboration of the museum and archive departments of all the councils in the Black Country – that’s Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall and Sandwell. It’s aim is broadly to provide a digital gateway into their vast reserves of historical material.

The website introduces the Black Country as:  “an area located just to the west of Birmingham right at the heart of the UK. It lies between the towns of Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton and is noted for its industrial past. It is so named because of the concentration of coal mining and metalworking in the area. It has no agreed borders and no two Black Country men or women will agree on where its starts or ends. American visitor, Elihu Burritt was impressed with what he saw and said in 1869 ‘ The Black County, black by day and red by night, cannot be matched for vast and varied production by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe.’ ”

It’s no longer like that of course. It now provides a rich source of  industrial heritage and searching out particular sites or buildings associated with past industrial powerhouses provides a great incentive to getting out and surveying. It’s just very sad  that the major preservation body in the UK, the National Trust, ignores all this and concentrates on preserving the country houses of the aristocracy and nineteenth century factory owners, i.e where the wealth got spent by the few rather than where it got created by the many.


OpenStreetMap 10th Birthday Party Saturday August 9th

posted in: Mapping Party, Participate | 1

OpenStreetMap’s 10th birthday party is on Saturday Aug 9th. We’ll be celebrating here in the West Midlands complete with birthday cake alongside scores of other cities and communities around the globe.

It’s hard to believe just how much we’ve developed our map and community in 10 years.

Anyone who has ever contributed to OpenStreetMap in the West Midlands or adjoining counties is welcome to come along and chat about the past 10 years of mapping and probe into the future of the next 10 years. That’s about 1,000 of you! Or indeed anyone who has ever registered as a user and not been able to make an edit – see how you can get started! Or anyone who’s just interested in maps and wants to find out what we’re about.

Our venue is very central. We’ll be located in the basement of 6/8 Kafé on Temple Row B2 5HG from about 12noon until about 2pm. Being mappers we have to provide a map on how to get there: it’s here.

Get there early or there may not be any birthday cake left (only crumbs, smiles and photos).

Birthday cake will be provided by Andy Robinson’s partner Liz and judging by the food we got at past  planning meeting at Andy and Liz’s house – its an event not to be missed!

6/8 Kafé are generously providing the space free to us so come along and sample some of their coffee and food. The venue has been voted as one of the top 50 coffee shops in the UK by readers of The Independent newspaper. Google Reviews opines: “ Relaxed cafe where coffee-mad baristas serve up artisan brews, home-baked cakes and deli fodder.”

Join us for your first global birthday party. Pop in and stay for as long or short a time as you like.

Tysoe Mapping Party May 31st 2013

posted in: Mapping Party | 2

On Saturday we held a mapping party in the Warwickshire village of Tysoe (it’s really Upper, Middle and Lower Tysoe) strung out along the foot of Edge Hill. Edge Hill was the site of a Civil War battle in 1642 – fought just to the North of Tysoe, close to the village of  Radway. We were based in the Village Hall  to take advantage of its wifi.

Thanks are due to Mike and Sue Sanderson for organising the event, the local WI for providing the refreshments and the 55 residents who turned up to contribute. Contributions ranged from long walks along unmapped footpaths, geo-tagged photos, addresses and postcodes along with a wealth of local knowledge and history that only residents can provide.

We had a screen displaying OpenStreetMap live edits and people were engrossed to see themselves as part of a much wider mapping community, watching what was going on around the world and seeing their local contributions making an appearance.

Rob and I were hard-pressed entering the data provided, answering questions and demonstrating various editing techniques. We were both exhausted at the end of the day!

The map is considerably improved and will continue to evolve as the local community and Parish Council evolve a Neigbourhood Plan. Several people expressed an interest  in developing their editing skills and we look forward to helping the good people of Tysoe develop their map.

We were so busy during the day that we forgot to take any photos of the event!

For readers not based in the UK the WI is the Women’s Institute – a venerable UK voluntary body set up in 1915 to revitalise rural communities by encouraging women to join the war effort in food production. Its aims have since broadened and it now the largest women’s voluntary body in the UK with over 200,000 members. You can find out  more here.

Mike Duffy (OSM username Miked29)

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It was the sad duty today for Andy Robinson and I to pay tribute to Mike’s contribution to OpenStreetMap at his memorial service, for Mike died on 28th April 2014, aged 78.


Mike was a stalwart of the local OSM community and had mapped large swathes of the Black Country and North Birmingham. He was a regular attendee at our social meetings and although his mobility was limited he did his share of walking streets to gather data in surveys  when we had our mini-mapping parties. Sometimes Mike might have to catch 3 buses to get to an event, but he’d always be there. Mike compensated for his limited surveycoverage on the ground by spending hundreds of fruitful hours armchair mapping from aerial imagery and Ordnance Survey OpenData.

If you’d like to see just how significant Mike’s contributions were, a summary can be found here

Those of you attended SotM 2013 at Aston University in September 2013 may well remember Mike in his orange volunteer T-shirt (a much prized item of apparel according to his daughter Julie). He might well have issued you your delegate credentials, and if you bought a spare T-shirt you will almost certainly have bought it from Mike.

Our personal condolences from local mappa-mercia OSMers and organisational condolences from the wider OpenStreetMap community go to Mike’s children John and Julie and to his wider family and circle of friends.

Wherever Mike is now I’m sure he’s trying to map it!




Musings on tag historic=memorial

Following on from my blog recently about the tile in Birmingham Snow Hill Station to an unknown cat,  I received a lovely email from the Press Office of London Midland, the railway company that manages the station.

“I believe the old Snow Hill station (before closure in the 1960s) had a real station cat (like many railway stations) to help keep mice at bay!! When the station re-opened in the 1980s, a tile was installed in memory of the former role of the station cat.  I understand the staff at the station were keen to see it retained and this was supported by the station manager – hence the tile will be staying after the refit.”

I subsequently asked the obvious question “Did the cat have a name?” but the Press Office didn’t know. So any Midlands readers out there – do you know anyone who worked at Snow Hill station in the 1960s who might know?  The Press Office suggested tongue in cheek that “Snowy” might be a good posthumous name.

There is a Wikipedia entry for anyone interested in the history of the station.

So – on to my musings. How unusual is it for there to be memorials to animals? I know the rest of the world thinks Brits are hyper-sentimental about animals, but even here in the UK I can think of few public (civic) memorials to animals. So would anyone like to contribute about memorials to animals they’ve mapped? I’m expecting a few about famous racehorses; famous warhorses and heroic actions by rescue dogs, but I’m prepared to be surpised.

Mysterious Objects: No 6 in an occasional series

posted in: Observations | 2

Cat Tile Snowhill Station

Snowhill station in Birmingham is undergoing a major refurbishment at the moment. This tile which is curiously situated about 6 inches off the floor opposite the automatic ticket barriers ( well they’re designed to be automatic for everyone with a normal ticket but still need to be manned for travellers with passes – even those with smartcard capability – that is when the rail company bothers to staff the barriers, other wise they’re just left open)

But back to the tile of the cat. I’ve been meaning to find out its significance which is obviously high because before the tiles were stripped from the concourse the cat had the ignominy to be covered up with a  large sign reading “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TILE” so that the contractors could leave it in place. It will be interesting to see how the tile is presented when the wall gets its final treatment.

I’m always meaning to stop and ask someone in authority on the station to explain but I’m always in a rush to get somewhere so I never do. So I rely on the power of the web for somebody to let me know what it is.  Then I can tag it appropriately. This is real micro-mapping

Any offers?



OpenStreetMap recognised by Free Software Foundation Europe with Document Freedom Day Award 2014

On Saturday evening 22nd March at the Warehouse Café in Digbeth Birmingham members of mappa mercia received the annual Document Freedom Day Award 2014 on behalf of the OpenStreetMap Foundation from the Free Software Foundation Europe, whose members travelled down from Manchester for the event.

DFD certificate


Document Freedom Day is organised every year by the Free Software Foundation on the last Wednesday of March “ for celebrating and raising awareness of Open Standards and formats . On this day people who believe in fair access to communications technology teach, perform, and demonstrate.”  So watch out for events all round the world this Wednesday 26th March.

Last year’s award went to  Die Tageszeitung  for using  five Open Standards in publishing  their daily newspaper.

Receiving the award Brian Prangle long time OSM contributor and local mappa mercia community co-ordinator said: “It’s always great to have your work recognised, so thank you, on behalf of all the hundreds of thousands of contributors to OpenStreetMap, to FSFE for their award. We’re thrilled that you see OpenStreetMap as making such an effort towards open standards and it’s especially pleasing that you position us as an ‘emerging standard’”

DFD award


A celebration is nothing without a cake, so apart from the mandatory certificate which we can share with the whole of OSM, FSFE generously provided a superb cake which we ate so unfortunately we can’t share it! But rest assured we worked hard on behalf of OSM and devoured as much as we could before heading off to a nearby pub.

 DFD Cake

“This was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the achievements and problems faced by a sister movement” said Anna Morris from the Document Freedom Day campaign. “We found that we have many common goals and ample opportunity to share skills and resources.”

DFD cake cut

We had such a good time with a lovely bunch of people from FSFE and as Anna said we share many goals and ideals so we are planning to keep the contact and collaboration going to see how we can assist each other.

DFD group

Images   Andy Mabbett,
CC-by-SA 3.0

Not all Notes are equal

The Notes feature available on the OSM home page is a great way to encourage non-mappers to add comments and point our errors and omissions (it’s also a great method for mappers too!)

BUT …. now all the extant OpenStreetBugs Notes have migrated over , some of which are YEARS old, it’s all getting a bit crowded and hard to differentiate new notes.

I like to view new notes and try to encourage those who have added them to add more by either amending the map where it’s obvious what’s needed or I know the area; doing a ground survey if it’s close or adding a comment where the note is not clear. The encouragement only works if the note is acted on quickly.

So I have a proposal whereby notes are differentiated by age, gradually fading in colour as they age until they turn white , (much like us really!)

 So for example new notes get a bright colour on the day they’re created, then fade at week, month, 3 month, 6 month old until they become white after a year. I’m sure that to those who code such things this is not a major task

Re-mapping industrial wastelands

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For most of the twentieth century Birmingham was dominated by car production, centred at the Longbridge site to the South of the city. Originally Austin Motors, it went through many changes of name before settling on Rover. At its height the factory employed tens of thousands of workers and covered several hundred acres. It was the birthplace of the Mini and at one time Rover had 40% of the UK market.

Birmingham City Council have a good history of the company and site here.

At its collapse in 2005, the company and site were  shadows of their former selves, but the closure was still a devastating blow to the local economy. The Nanjing Automotive Group purchased the rights to MG Rover and resumed production in 2010 on a fraction of the original site and with a fraction of the workforce.

The remainder of the site was levelled and stood empty as a stark reminder of Birmingham’s past.  The empty space was quickly subject to ambitious plans for  massive regeneration. Led by the developer St Modwen Group, a complete new urban centre has been envisaged.   It includes a new town centre with retail space, residential areas, a new park, the relocation of Bournville College, a new transport interchange and large industrial and office parks for local employment.

So lots of work for mappers as the site development rolls forward!   Bournville College  relocated there in 2011, there’s a Technology Park (opened 2007), an Industrial Park (opened 2008), hotel, bars, cafés and a Sainsbury’s supermarket (opened August 2013) already open. A new park aptly named Austin Park runs through the centre of the development. Housing is going up at a rapid rate.

Luckily local mappers have the co-operation of St Modwen Group which  makes it easy for us to gain access and stay abreast of the development schedule. It also gives us an insight into the issues associated with assigning new road names and new postcodes and the ensuing mayhem for delivery drivers waiting for satnav systems to catch up.

Naturally we’ve been busy and have the most detailed and up-to-date maps of the new town centre, and we are able to keep pace with the development as it progresses. Needless to say we have NOT  used any copyrighted plans or maps – we’ve done it all by survey and observation.

Here are views of Longbridge from Google,Bing, Ordnance Survey and OpenStreetMap (spot the best!):

Longbridge BIng Longbridge GGLe Longbridge OS Longbridge OSM

If you want to explore the area more fully  in OpenStreetMap  start here

So the methods, tools and volunteers of OpenStreetMap once again demonstrate that for keeping pace with the organic development of urban environments there really is no competition. If we can develop better  links with urban planners and developers then perhaps we can become their  natural go-to partners.

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