Historic photography

Britain from Above & people who like looking at pictures…

In 2007, working with the Welsh and Scottish Royal Commissions, English Heritage acquired the historically important Aerofilms collection of oblique aerial photography. And in 2011, the Britain from Above project began – our aim was to conserve, digitise and make available to the public via a dedicated website the early part of this collection.

My name is Laura Maddison and I’m one of four cataloguers working on the English Aerofilms images. I’m based at the Engine House in Swindon, home of the English Heritage Archive which includes the largest public archive of aerial photography in England. Although my background is in archaeology, I spent nine years working in an art library where I managed the visual resources collections – apparently I like looking at pictures.

I use three large monitors when I’m cataloguing. The left-hand monitor shows an Excel file which is a transcript of the original handwritten Aerofilms registers. The right-hand screen shows the photograph I’m working on which I can zoom in and out of and rotate using Photoshop. The middle screen shows DeskGIS and AirPhotonet where I can access different dates and scales of mapping, and create a record for the individual photographs.

Sometimes I can site a photograph immediately using information from the original registers or because I recognise the place. Other times I might have to search the internet or trawl through Kelly’s Directories in the English Heritage library. Every time I open a new photograph it’s like having a new puzzle to solve – great fun!

We’re working through the collection chronologically – at the moment we’re cataloguing 1935. Last week I had some great images of the FA Cup Final for that year. In the photo below, you can see players on the pitch, the stadium packed with fans, people milling about and some crazy car and coach parking. Incidentally, Sheffield Wednesday beat West Bromwich Albion to win 4-2…

And we always get lovely seaside shots like this one of New Brighton…

Once catalogued and checked via a rigorous peer review process, the images are uploaded to the Britain from Above website. This happens about every three months. The public can view the photos or create a profile and add their own tags and comments, and even suggest locations for photographs we’ve been unable to locate. The response to the website has been fantastic – the site went live back in June, and we now have over 17,300 registered users!


Laura Maddison – cataloguer for Britain from Above

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