More than 15,000 images from one of the earliest and most significant collections of aerial photography of the UK have been made freely accessible online to the public for the first time, including some stunning images from Bath, Newquay, St Ives, Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare – and Swindon.
Britain from Above, a new website launched by English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Wales, features some of the oldest and most valuable images of the Aerofilms Collection, a unique and important archive of over 1 million aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 2006. Its chronological and geographical coverage is superb and documents the face of Britain during a period of intense and unparalleled change.
The photographs featuring on the website date from 1919 to 1953, and have gone through a painstaking process of conservation and cataloguing. Due to their age and fragility, many of the earliest plate glass negatives were close to being lost forever.
The Aerofilms Collection was acquired for the nation in 2007 when the company was facing financial difficulties. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foyle Foundation, English Heritage and the Royal Commissions embarked on a programme to conserve, catalogue and digitise the collection and make it freely available online.
Highlights include images from Swindon Railway Works, above, the Graving Dock, Pumping Station and Royal Edward Dock, Avonmouth; Atlantic Hotel, Newquay; St Ives Head, the harbour and town, St Ives; Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton; the Royal Crescent, Bath; Weston-Super-Mare and Birnbeck Island Pier and the Foster Building, including the fire-damaged recreation hall, Bodmin.
See and download a selection of images here:
Britain from Above website features a high degree of interactivity and is designed to encourage wide public participation. Users can download images, customise their own themed photo galleries, share personal memories, and add information to enrich the understanding for each of the images. They are also invited to identity the locations of a number of “mystery” images that have left the experts stumped.
Anna Eavis, Head of Archive at English Heritage, said: “The Aerofilms Collection embodies all that is exciting about aerial photography. What is equally remarkable is the skill of the expert staff in England, Scotland and Wales who have saved and conserved these vulnerable negatives and prints and converted them into the high resolution images you see on screen today. We are pleased that the items have been given safe, long term homes, and that each of the organisations involved has been enriched immensely by their addition.”
By the end of the project in 2014, 95,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 will be available online, showing the changing face of modern Britain.