National Grid References - an introduction

The position of any point in Great Britain can be described by its National Grid Reference. These references are often used in conjunction with Ordnance Survey maps, and are used to give the names of individual Ordnance Survey data tiles.

Grid References are made up of:

These components are usually written without spaces. However, spaces are included here for legibility.

Examples of Grid References are: SK 07, SK 07 SW, SK 042366.

The First Two Letters

Two letters together identify a 100km square, and are derived as follows:

500km squares enclosing Great Britain The first letter identifies a 500km square, from the diagram shown here. The letters are allocated in alphabetical order from left to right and top to bottom, and omitting the letter "I".

Ordnance Survey's products lie completely within four of these 500km squares: H, N, S and T.

100km squares covering Great Britain Each 500km square is then divided into twenty five 100km squares, and these squares are then labelled using the same pattern of letters. The resulting 100km squares covering Great Britain are shown here.

The digits

The digits identify a location within a 100km square. The first half of the digits give the Easting, or distance East from the edge of the 100km square. The second half of the digits give the Northing, or distance North from the edge of the 100km square.

If there are:

If there are no digits, the Grid Reference applies to the complete 100km square.

The quadrant name

If there is a quadrant name present, it indicates one quarter of the area indicated by the rest of the Grid Reference.

For example, within the square SK:

Sample Grid References in Grid Square SK

Technical background

The details of the construction of the National Grid from latitude and longitude is mathematically complex.

In summary, the process is that the irregular shape of the Earth is approximated by an ellipsoid or spheroid. This spheroid is then transformed onto a flat surface using a mathematical transformation known as a projection. The National Grid is then a cartesian coordinate system calculated on the resulting flat surface.

Different spheroids and projections are used in different countries and regions of the world. For Great Britain, the technical details are as follows:



Further information

Ordnance Survey have a number of resources that explain the National Grid in detail, the common ones can be accessed using the links below: