The hidden gems in Historic England’s 100-year-old photo archive

New online library features 400,000 ‘bird’s eye views’ of the country dating back to 1919

A new online archive of more than 400,000 aerial photographs is giving people across England the chance to see how the country has changed over the past century.

Preservation organisation Historic England has launched the freely accessible online tool to help members of the public get their buildings listed. But the archive, which dates back to 1919, also allows users to “trace the construction and alteration of historic buildings”, spot “ancient archaeology” and track the changing faces of their local neighbourhoods, said The Telegraph.

“What better way to discover our shared history than through this fascinating new online tool which offers a bird’s eye view of our past,” said Nigel Huddleston, the minister for heritage. “I can’t wait to discover more about my local area and encourage everyone to explore the thousands of English sites from the last century.”

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From abandoned villages to famous football grounds

The newly digitised archive covers a third of England and features images including the remains of “a Neolithic long barrow near Broughton, Hampshire”, said The Telegraph. Other ancient treasures caught on camera include “Iron Age forts such as Pilsdon Pen in Dorset and abandoned medieval villages such as Old Sulby in Northamptonshire”, the paper added.

One of the earliest images in the collection shows Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange in 1921.


Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange in 1921

History buffs can also check out a “Roman military camp at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales”, said The Yorkshire Post. Other images from the region include shots showing coastal erosion near Kilnseam, and the East Hecla steelworks, which were demolished to make way for the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield.

Nuclear power stations feature too, as do Second World War defences. Aerial shots show “anti-aircraft obstructions at Hampton Court Palace and camouflaged runways at RAF Kenley in 1941”, The Guardian reported. And “bomb damage can be seen in images of central Liverpool and the Albert Dock from 1941, 1946 and 1948”.

Another photograph “of note”, said the paper, shows Newcastle United’s St James’ Park football ground in 1927.

St James Park

St James’ Park football ground, Newcastle, in October 1927

And for pure wow factor, it’s back to Ipswich and a picture of the Suffolk town’s Stoke Bridge Wharf in 1933.


Stoke Bridge Wharf, Ipswich taken in May 1933
(Image credit: Historic England)

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