Fascinating aerial images available as Historic England launches new photography site

Iron Age or Roman Fort in Thurleigh, Bedfordshire - ©Historic England 30/06/2011 Photographer Damian Grady

Incredible aerial photographs taken of the East of England over the past 100 years are now available for the public to search and explore.

Today (Tuesday), Historic England has launched its new Aerial Photography Explorer – which for the first time allows users to search and explore an online map showing aerial photographs of the East of England.

Aerial imagery provides a fascinating insight into the development and expansion of the nation’s urban centres and changes to the rural landscape.

It can also reveal striking discoveries – such as ‘cropmarks’ showing hidden archaeology beneath the surface.

From Bedford Borough, a buried Iron Age or Roman settlement (about 800BCE-400AD) in Thurleigh features on the site.

According to the Aerial Photogprahy Explorer: “[The location in Thurleigh] had been photographed several times, but drought conditions in 2011 meant that more detail was revealed as cropmarks.

“The ditches defining parts of the site are very wide, probably because they have been re-cut many times, hinting at a long occupation here. Inside some of the enclosures, there are outlines of circles, probably the bases or roof drip-gullies of round houses.”

Over 400,000 images from 1919 to the present day have been added to the tool, covering nearly 30% (c.15,000 square miles) of England including Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Essex.

The platform will allow people immediate digital access to Historic England’s nationally important collection of aerial photographs.

Around 300,000 of these are the work of Historic England’s Aerial Investigation and Mapping team. Established in 1967, the team takes photographs of England from the air to discover new archaeological sites, create archaeological maps and monitor the condition of historic sites across the country.

The remaining 100,000 images come from the Historic England Archive aerial photography collection, which numbers over two million images in total, and includes important historic photography, including interwar and post-war images from Aerofilms Ltd and the Royal Air Force.

By opening up these images to the public through this accessible online tool, Historic England hopes that people will use it to research their local areas, offering an insight into a century of changes and development.

This will allow them potentially to make their own discoveries about their local areas. It will also provide industry professionals and local authorities with a useful resource to help planning, heritage projects and archaeological investigation.

Tony Calladine, East of England Regional Director, Historic England said: “I am delighted that our new online tool will allow people to browse our wonderful collection of historic aerial photos that my team uses every day to unlock the mysteries of England’s past.

“The remarkable pictures of the East of England give a fascinating insight into our local areas, allowing people to see how their street and their town centre looked when their great grandparents lived there.”

Over the coming years, Historic England aims to expand the platform, as more of the six million aerial images in the Historic England Archive are digitised.

The Aerial Photography Explorer joins Historic England’s recently launched Aerial Archaeology Mapping Explorer to offer an unparalleled insight into England’s archaeology and the nation’s development.

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