Fix that road name! A brief tutorial on using OS Locator in JOSM

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Switching on the OS Locator imagery  in JOSM for missing/mismatched UK road names is a great way to see what needs to be done in any area when you’re editing. You can enable this in JOSM from Preferences, selecting the WMS/TMS button and scrolling down the list of imagery providers to the GB section and choosing OS OpenData Locator

You can then toggle between Bing Imagery and the view you’d see below

John Woodward Way Before

The green box indicates the extent of the missing road named John Woodward Way. Now that can be a good indicator of the extent of the road and if the Bing imagery is up-to-date then a toggle to that could confirm its layout. However in this case the Bing imagery is so heavily shaded that the road was not visible, even though  the building outlines were.

So a survey was necessary, but because of the adjacent pylon my GPS trace was rubbish so using the building outlines and some photographs I was able to insert the highway=residential tagged way,with name confirmed from the street sign.

John Woodward Way After

You’ll notice from the end result that I was able to improve the locality’s map by adding some addresses, traffic calming and remove a footpath which no longer exist, which is a great byproduct from fixing road names.  The rectangular box is a good fit to the actual layout: but you do need either good Bing imagery or a survey to confirm.

OSM Wiki pages: tablets of stone or beacons lighting the way?

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A long and as usual heated debate took place recently amongst the UK OSM community about the status of place nodes within large cities, prompted by a mapper changing a large number of place names to a blanket tag of place=suburb in London and Birmingham. The defence was that an OSM wiki reference that said this was the proper way to do things. Naturally, the situation on the ground is more complicated than this and the upshot was a revert. The heat and light generated by the debate and the nuances of the various threads of the argument needn’t concern us here, interesting though they were

What is more important is to concentrate on just what status the content of an OSM wiki page has.

In my opinion the content of a wiki page is:

1. as close to authoritative as possible but NOT AUTHORITATIVE

2. for guidance only: it is NOT MANDATORY

3. reflects only  the collective opinion of the editors of the page (and there may be very few editors, or very many but still not representative) and not the collective opinion of the wider community.

4.subject to local knowledge and ground surveys which ALWAYS TAKE PRIORITY OVER WIKI CONTENT

5. to be ignored only after careful thought and suitable tagging with a note= xxx tag to explain the exceptional circumstance

6.not to be used as a basis for routine automated edits: see OSM policy on automated edits which requires discussion with the community affected and the reaching of a consensus before proceeding

As ever OSM mapping is all about mapping truthfully what you see on the ground and reflecting any local knowledge you either have personally or have gathered from local residents. (Copyright-free authoritative sources can also be used – how else are we to add boundaries?)

One good suggestion made to me was that if you are in doubt about how to tag an object and the wiki isn’t clear or doesn’t fit your situation, a quick search of taginfo will let you discover how other mappers have tagged it. Or you can discuss your problem with your national OSM talk email list.

Don’t just assume the wiki is the ONLY way to do things and must be adopted whatever the circumstances.

Probably for 99% of the time the wiki can be relied on – it’s just the other 1% has so much potential for causing mayhem.

“Mapping for the renderer” is frowned upon. Should we also frown on “mapping for the wiki?”

To those who spend considerable energy and expertise editing wiki pages: thankyou. This is not to belittle your efforts, just adding a cautionary note. And I know that improving wiki pages is down to everyone but as ever it’s much more fun to be doing than documenting.

There’s only ONE Royal Oak

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I’ve meaning to visit Boscobel House and the Royal Oak for some time. Rationale: it’s relatively nearby and it’s an essential visit for anyone interested in in English History. Boscobel House sits on a 615 mile long distance path known as  the Monarch’s Way. The Monarch’s Way attempts to match the route of the flight of Prince Charles ( later to become King Charles II) after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, which marked the decisive end of the Royalist campaign in the English Civil War and the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell and Parliament.

Boscobel marks the furthest point North on Charles’s flight to France and exile.   Initially, Charles was led to White Ladies Priory  just a mile down the road; and after a failed attempt to cross the River Severn he ended up at Boscobel, aided and abetted by the tenants, the Penderel family. Charles had to spend a day hiding in the branches of the tree before spending the night in a priest hole in the nearby Boscobel House.  Hence the name: Royal Oak.


There’s a great summary of the adventures at Boscobel House here.  Upon the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II awarded the Penderels a pension in perpetuity, which their descendants still receive today.

So famous did the tree become in the folklore of England that Royal Oak became a favourite name for pubs and ships of the navy.  Using taginfo I found over 500 pubs named Royal Oak and over 100 roads/streets also named Royal Oak.

Souvenir hunters gradually wore away the original tree  down the centuries, so what you see today is a sapling which is a direct descendant of the original. The original eighteenth century iron railings have also been supplemented with another fence some 20 metres out from the tree to make sure this one survives.

There is a backup tree which was planted from an acorn of the original tree in the year of Queen Victoria’s  Golden Jubilee, 1887, which stands in the gardens of Boscobel House. Needless to say, both house and tree are protected by statute

The house and site are managed by English Heritage and are open to visitors

October Joint Social Meeting with Beacon Roads Cycling Club

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This month on Thursday October 2nd we were lucky to be invited to present the local work of OpenStreetMap to the Beacon Roads Cycling Club at Rednal Social Club. BRCC is active in South Birmingham and Worcestershire, with about 150 members and is a long-established club.

Andy (Blackadder) gave a thorough presentation both on OSM and reviewing the tracking/navigation tools available to cyclists. Most BRCC members currently use Strava and there was a great appreciation of the  value of OpenStreetMap which powers many of the cycling tools. Andy’s estimation of his presentation time was blown out of the window as he had to answer so many questions and comments!

Beacon RCC Presentation

BRCC members generally felt that the cycling-specific tagging schema for entering OSM data seemed to be more orientated to urban cycling and they’d like to see tagging that was more orientated towards rural club cycling that didn’t confine itself to NCN routes.

They were very concerned that there was currently no way to alert cyclists to  hazards.  There is alocal stretch of NCN Regional route 55 , Icknield Street, that they  always avoids on club rides so dangerous do they consider it to be.  There and then we edited the stretch with two new tags: cycle_hazard=yes  and paving_quality=poor.

Thanks to the Beacon Roads Cycling Club for their hospitality and interest. Hopefully in the coming months BRCC members will add their considerable knowledge of the area to OpenStreetMap.

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.


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.

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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