Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Vintage aerial photography of Britain

Aerofilms Ltd. DH60 Moth at Hendon, 1928.  Image courtesy of Britain from Above.

Yet more archival material now available online - aren't we being wonderfully spoilt of late?!

Britain from Above: English Heritage unveils thousands of fascinating aerial images

Last year I blogged about the beginnings of English Heritage's latest project Britain from Above which, as the name suggests, features several thousand images of Britain taken from the air.  Interesting enough, but the clincher is the fact that these photographs were taken between 1919 and 1953.  Now the dedicated website is live and you can see parts of the British Isles from the air in a totally new and different way - in the past!

What Britain used to look like from the air

Just one year after the end of the First World War and only 16 years after the first powered flight, pilots Francis Lewis Wills and Claude Grahame-White founded Aerofilms Ltd. and took to the skies to photograph the United Kingdom from a never-before-seen vantage point - the air.  It is simply fascinating to see locations - areas one can be familiar with today - looking so very different during the 1920s and '30s, in their first appearance from an aerial platform.  Already I've found images of local places, such as my local railway station, that give a glorious insight into the life of the area during the first half of the 20th Century. 

Wickford railway station - from where for 10 years I commuted to London - in 1928.
Image courtesy of Britain from Above.

Early aerial photos of the UK go online

Truly this is a remarkable resource and one I feel sure I shall continue to delve into for a long time to come.  There really is something for every amateur (and, dare I say, professional) historian here - I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one picture of a place near you - and things aren't finished yet as barely 20% of the 95,000 images in the 1919-53 collection have been digitised so far.  Over the course of the next four years English Heritage aim to turn the project into one of the premier sources of early British aerial photography, and I for one can't wait!

Southend seafront, Marine Gardens, pier entrance, Palace Hotel and the High Street, 1920.
Image courtesy of Britain from Above.

Vintage aerial photography of Britain

We can help in the creation of this ultimate collection too by sharing memories and knowledge of locations, many photos of which have little or no information attached to them.  One can sign up for free, join groups, annotate pictures and even download them!  This is one of the most magnificent archives I've come across in recent years, deserves to flourish and is possible thanks to Heritage Lottery and other private donations for which we should be inordinately grateful.  Happy browsing!

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