Scotland from above: New aerial archive rolls back mists of time

Hampden Stadium surrounded by open space in 1927

Hampden Stadium surrounded by open space in 1927

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IT IS a bird’s eye view of the past by the pioneers of flight and the veteran aerial combatants of the First World War.

An image of Edinburgh Castle, peering out of the mists of time as well as the low clouds of Auld Reekie, is just one of thousands of rare aerial photographs of Scotland launched today.

The snap of the shutter has captured the loneliness of the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney, the majesty of the Waverley steamer and the national stadium, Hampden, in those distant days before seated stands when 149,000 could attend a game.

Giving an insight into the country during the first half of the 20th century, many of the pictures were taken by war veterans, who experts say had “specialist skills” for capturing images from the air.

The photographs include aerial views of the Forth and Tay bridges, the Wallace Monument, Edinburgh’s Princes Street, the Caledonian Canal and Glasgow Green.

They also show the luxury hotel and golf resort at Glen- eagles, as well as the seaside town of Oban, Balmoral Castle and the A8 road between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

More than 5,000 images from the Aerofilms Collection have been conserved and digitised, and they are available to be viewed online for the first time on the website britainfromabove.org.uk, which also features about 12,000 other photographs from across the UK.

Many shots were said to have been taken during the early days of aviation by former war pilots at very low altitudes. Aerofilms’ archive collection was acquired by the nation in 2007 when the company was facing financial difficulties.

Britain from Above allows users to download free images and share personal memories, as well as adding information to help enrich the understanding of the story behind each one. The public can also help identify the locations of a number of “mystery” images that have left the experts stumped.

The images were conserved, catalogued and digitised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), its sister organisation in Wales and English Heritage. Due to their age and fragility, many of the earliest plate glass negatives and old photographic prints were said to be close to being lost forever.

As more images are digitised, the website will showcase these, allowing the online archive to 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.

Rebecca Bailey, head of education and outreach at the 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 will add their own thoughts and memories to this remarkable collection.”

• Images courtesy of Aerofilms Collection

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