Media Release: Britain from above – rare and fragile aerial photos conserved, digitised and available online

MORE than 5,000 images of Scotland by the oldest commercial aerial photography company in the world, are now available online to the public for the first time.

Britain from Above, a new website ( launched today (25 June 2012) features the Scottish photos alongside some 12,000 others from across the UK.

Together, they are some of oldest and most valuable images of the Aerofilms Collection, an unique and important archive of over one million aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 2006.

The Aerofilms Collection embodies all that is exciting about aerial photography. Many shots were taken in the early days of aviation by ex-World War I pilots, from extremely low altitudes, a technique which was very dangerous. It shows just how far their pilots were willing to go for a great photograph.

Scottish highlights from the collection include:

* Crowds on the banks of the River Clyde watching the first voyage of the newly-built RMS Queen Mary in 1936 and the ship undergoing speed trials off Bute in the same year

* The famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, host of the 2014 Ryder Cup, pictured in 1932

* Glasgow Green and the tightly-packed tenements of the Gorbals in 1928

* The new Ness bridge in the centre of Inverness under construction in 1947, alongside the old bridge, and a temporary bridge

* The spectacular Highland scenery around Loch Beannacharain and Strathconon Forest pictured in 1950

The public are now invited to share their local stories of these rare views of Scotland and the rest of the UK – and to help identity the locations of a number of ‘mystery’ images that have left the experts stumped. See and download a selection of images HERE.

The Aerofilms Collection was acquired for the nation in 2007 when the company was facing financial difficulties. With the financial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foyle Foundation, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), its sister organisation in Wales, and English Heritage embarked on a programme to conserve, catalogue and digitise the collection and make it freely available online.

The photographs featured on the website date from 1919 to 1953. Due to their age and fragility, many of the earliest plate glass negatives and old photographic prints were close to being lost forever. They have now gone through a painstaking process of conservation and cataloguing.

As more images are digitised, the website will showcase these so the collection online will continue to grow. By the end of the project in 2014, some 95,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 will be available online, showing the changing face of modern Britain.

Britain from Above features a high degree of interactivity and is designed to encourage wide public participation. Users can:

* download images free of charge

* customise their own themed photo galleries

* share personal memories, and

* add information to enrich the understanding for each of the images.

Rebecca Bailey, head of Education and Outreach at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), said: “The history of Aerofilms is inextricably linked to the history of modern Britain. The original pilots and photographers were veterans of the First World War, and they brought specialist skills learned in the conflict to the task of capturing the nation from the air.

“Between 1919 and 1953, there was vast and rapid change to the social, architectural and industrial fabric of Britain, and Aerofilms provides a unique and at times unparalleled perspective on this upheaval. We hope that people today will be able to immerse themselves in the past through the new website, adding their own thoughts and memories to this remarkable collection.”

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.”


For further press information please contact Giselle Dye or Stuart Young at Pagoda PR on 0131 556 0770 or email

Notes to Editors

1. The Aerofilms Collection The Aerofilms Collection consists of over one million items, including negatives and photograph albums. Dating from 1919 to 2006, these images show the changing face of Britain throughout the 20th century. It represents the largest and most significant body of air photographs of Britain taken before 1939.

The collection was created by Aerofilms Ltd, a pioneering air survey company set up by First World War veterans FL Wills and C Grahame-White just after the end of WWI in 1919. Wills brought to the partnership knowledge and enthusiasm for air photography. Grahame-White on the other hand was a pioneer aviator and was the first Englishman to qualify for an aviator’s certificate (Aero Club de Paris) and became famous in England four months later when he made the first night-flight during the London-Manchester air race.

With just £3,000 seed capital, the company grew from strength to strength, spurred on by the rapid technological advances during WWI, both in aeroplane engineering and aerial reconnaissance. At first, flying planes were borrowed from the London Aeroplane Club and glass plates were developed in a bathroom at the London Flying Hotel on the Hendon site where Aerofilms had set up office.

Increasing demand meant they needed to fly more regularly and so they started to rent planes and hire pilots such as Gerry Shaw, the first ever pilot of an international, commercial flight (in 1919, Netherlands to England, two passengers, landed at Croydon).

In addition to Aerofilms’ own imagery, the firm expanded its holdings with the purchase of two smaller collections – AeroPictorial (1934-1960) and Airviews (1947-1991).

This very large collection of historical air photographs was acquired by English Heritage, in partnership with the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Scotland, from Blom ASA in 2007, thanks to the financial support from English Heritage’s donors and supporters, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of National Libraries. The collection is jointly managed by the three partners.

2. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) collects, records and interprets information on the architectural, industrial, archaeological and maritime heritage of Scotland. RCAHMS has been doing this for more than a hundred years and their extensive archive offers a unique insight into the special nature of Scotland’s places. RCAHMS also holds Scotland’s National Collection of Aerial Photography and one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of international aerial photography.

3. The English Heritage Archive is one of the largest publicly accessible archives in the UK and the biggest dedicated to the historic environment. It has a vastly expanded online catalogue at where you can search photographs dating from the 1850s to the present day, as well reports, drawings, and plans of English buildings and archaeological sites. It is maintained by English Heritage in Swindon where it has a Public Search Room.

4. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) is the investigation body and national archive for the historic environment of Wales. It has the lead role in ensuring that Wales’s archaeological, built and maritime heritage is authoritatively recorded, and seeks to promote the understanding and appreciation of this heritage nationally and internationally.

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