The London Subterranean Survey Association (LSSA) and the archaeology of the GIS industry

It sometimes happens that small pioneers, ahead of their time in areas that subsequently develop into elaborate systems, are unrecognised and unknown. This article  attempts to put the record straight in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  discipline.

On 15 October 1968 the Centre for Advanced Studies in the  Environment in Bedford Square, London held a three day conference on ‘The Subterranean Structure of London - How to  Map It’.

The conference set out to determine the feasibility of  assembling records of underground London in a comprehensive  map covering natural, archaeological and historical structure with tubes, tunnels and utility services. It was  the first conference in London to gather together representatives of the various utility authorities, central  and local government, professional engineers, architects and archivists in order to discuss the recording and exploitation of the capital's subterrain.

Following the huge success of the conference the ‘London Subterranean Map Committee’ (LSMC) was formed as a broad spectrum  grouping of interested parties under the chairmanship of GLC Member Ellis Hillman, and a follow up seminar was organised  in January 1969. In November 1969 the LSMC convened a third conference at the  Building Centre under the title ‘The Foundation of London’. This  concentrated on the practical problems  of  instrumentation and detection of underground objects, the range of problems thrown up by the state of existing utility  maps, and the value of data banks as against maps.

As a result of the very wide interest engendered by these  conferences the LSMC reconstituted itself in May 1970 as the ‘London Subterranean Survey Association’ (LSSA), reflecting the view  that the solution to the problem was not necessarily in the  form of a physical map, and invited wider membership at a subscription of five guineas per year. The objects of the LSSA were to promote the discovery,  recording and dissemination of information on the natural and man-made features of subterranean London;  to make  representation to and co-operate with Government and  official bodies and other associations, firms and organisations; and to promote research and development  work. The Appendix lists papers given at the three conferences  instrumental in the formation of the Association.

The educational aims of the Association were furthered by  yearly courses and visits from 1975 under the auspices of  the University of London and City University Extra-mural  Departments. In 1971 the LSSA initiated talks between the North East  London Polytechnic and the London Borough of Hackney which  were to result in a pilot subterranean survey of the  borough, and supported an application to the Social Science Research Council for a grant to study the recording of underground information in electronic databanks using data  collected for the extension of the Victoria Line. In January 1977 the LSSA and the British Tunneling Society  elicited support from the Construction Industry Research & Information Association (CIRIA) for the Hackney pilot survey, and an  MSC STEP project employing five surveyors and a supervisor  was initiated from 15 October 1979 for a year.

However, independently, and unknown to the LSSA, the four major  utilities formed the National Joint Utilities Group (NJUG) in September 1977 to facilitate record sharing, and in 1979 the NJUG Digital Records Working Party was constituted to consider digitising their plant records. NJUG went on in 1981 to recommend a full trial of a digital  map based system, and Dudley, which had been developing a comprehensive LAMIS system since 1979, was selected. From the Dudley NJUG\LAMIS combination has developed the  whole GIS concept, culminating in the Chorley Report.

Scanning the organisers of the 1988 AM\FM Conference I see an  early member of the London Subterranean Survey Association  committee - I would like to think that the pioneering work  done by the LSSA (four years before GISP, LOGIS, NGPS, and  LAMIS; and thirteen years before the Dudley trial) had some part in raising conciousness of the concepts of multi-disciplanary  geographically based data bases sufficiently to now, twenty years later, bring them near  fruition.


Papers given at conferences in the formative stages of the London Subterranean Survey Association 1968-9

The Subterranean Structure of London

A. T. J. Dollar, BSc PhD. FGS, Geology Dept.. Birkbeck College.

Historical and Archaeological London

Peter Marsden, Guildhall Museum.

London’s Main Drainage System

S. H. Dainty, BSc. MlCE. MIWP. Chief Public Health Engineer, Greater London Council.

London Beneath the Plan

J. C. Craig. ARICS. MTPI. Chief Developments Planning Officer. Greater London Council

Site Investigation Problems in the Greater London Area

T. R. M. Wakeling. MSc (Eng), AMICE. AMlWE. Foundation Engineering Ltd

Underground Parking and Garaging

G. Williams, MA, MICE. Scott, Wilson. Kirkpatrick & Partners.

Diversions and Obstructions

T. Stevens. BA, AA School ofArchitecture.

Underground Tunnelling: An alternative for urban motorways

D. Hennessey BSc, MICE, MlStructE. MConsE.

London Transport Underground

E. R. Ellen. BA (Oxonl, Planning Officer, London Transport.

Is there a Case for an Underground Map for London?

B. Benjamin, PhD. SIA, FSS, Director of Research & Intelligence, GLC

An Existing Data Bank for Planners

W. Oxburgh, MEng. AMlCE, AMBIM, Planning & Transport Research & Computation Co. Ltd.

Chicago Below the Surface

Alvin Boyarsky, BArch. MRAIC. AlP.

London Underground: 2000 AD?

John Hawkes  ARIBA, AMTPI. Hancock and Hawkes.

The Problems of Mapping Subterranean London

Ellis Hillman. BSQ. FGS.

Panel Discussion ‘Records of Underground Services'

Discussion led by representatives of Metropolitan Water Board, Gas Council, General Post Office

The Problems of the Borough Engineer

J. C. Stoneham CEng. MlMunE, Assistant Borough Engineer, London Borough of Newham.

The London Atlas and Its Relevance

Dorothy Castle. London Atlas. London School of Economics.

Aerial Surveys of Urban Areas

P. E. Forsey and L. Scott FRICS, Fairey Surveys Ltd.

Ground Survey Aspects of a Subterranean Map

M. Layland. J.A. Story and Partners.

London’s Geology

Alisdair Burnett. MSc, Royal School of Mines.

Information Systems

Col. K. Orrell. OBE, BSc. MICE, Ministry of Public Buildings and Works.

Special Information and Data Centres

T. H. Cannon. MA, PhD. Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

*The Future of Subterranean London

Ellis S. Hillman. BSc. FGS. Chairman, London Subterranean Survey Association.

*Practical Aspects of Putting Existing Underground Installations on a Plan

R. W. Vango. J.A. Story and Partners.

*Transporting Mail across London Underground

G. M. Mew. BSc, FIEE. Chief Regional Engineer. General Post Office.

*The Cost of Underground Motorways

S. G. Tough. FICE, FGS. Mott. Hay and Anderson.

*Underground Plant for Telecommunications

A. J. Thompson. ISO. Regional Controller of Works, General Post Office

*Given at a conference sponsored by the London Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Association.

Published in ‘Mapping Awareness’ magazine Vol 2 No 2, Editor Peter J Shand, May 1988

Copyright Roger J Morgan 1988


Ellis Hillman  (1928 - 1996) founder of the London Subterranean Survey Association