The Aerofilms Collection

Your help is needed assessing this extraordinary collection.

Aerofilms image: Bicester Aerofilms image: Grimsby docks Aerofilms image: Glasgow Exhibition Aerofilms image: Cardiff Docks

This extraordinary collection of images documents the social and economic development of the UK through te twentieth century. Having recently bought the collection, English Heritage and the Royal Commissions of Scotland and Wales would like to know what CBA members think of this valuable resource. Katy Whitaker, from the EH National Monuments Record (and also a CBA trustee), explains.

We would like to know what CBA members think about the Aerofilms Collection.

English Heritage, in partnership with the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Wales, acquired the Aerofilms Collection of historical air photographs from Blom ASA in 2007. The purchase was made possible by generous financial support from English Heritage’s donors and supporters, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of National Libraries.

The collection of over 1,000,000 images is the best and most significant body of oblique aerial photographs of the UK that remained in private hands. Dating from 1919 to 2006, it presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the twentieth-century. Almost every British settlement, industry and environment is included. It is also the only major source of air photographs pre-dating World War II.

The prints, negatives and associated documentation have been transferred to specialist archival storage but we have a lot of work to do before we can provide full access to the collection. Around 80% of the images are negatives with no photographic prints for researchers to view. We need to conserve these fragile negatives before we can scan them to make an image that people can look at. The collection is also un-catalogued which makes it very hard to find images for researchers. This is where we need your help.

We have been contacting CBA Regional Groups with small selections of images and a simple online survey. You may have received our e-mail correspondence via your Group – in which case, please do complete our survey if you haven’t already done so. We want to hear from you even if you do not make use of aerial photographs!

If you haven’t received our e-mail please look at the small range of images posted here and then follow the link to our questionnaire. Comments we have already received include, “This is a superb collection”, “This looks like a fascinating resource”, “This sounds great, would love to be involved!”.

One of the collection’s problems is the lack of information about the images. The leather-bound Registers that list the negative numbers often have no more than a place-name in the subject column. This isn’t very helpful to understand photographs of streets, factories, aerodromes, football grounds, housing estates, farms and the other myriad of subjects in the collection; especially when Britain has changed so much since 1919.

Our plans could include a “virtual volunteer” programme to fill the gaps. People viewing images online at home or using the local library’s internet access could contribute local history, personal reminiscence, specialist knowledge and other information to interpret Aerofilms images. This information would immediately improve the collection and also open the images up to wider understanding and appreciation by others. It would also be an exciting new development, breaking new ground in the ways that a national air photograph collection’s record is created. But would people like to participate?

The online survey for commenting on future plans for the Aerofilms Collection ran until 19 December 2008 and is now closed.

To view a sample set of images from the Aerofilms collection, please visit the CBA Online Gallery.