Where have all our old Aerofilms images gone?

Blom Guest Blog by Verity Hancock – Britain From Above Project Manager, English Heritage

Blom History Timeline
Blom History Timeline

For this week’s Guest Blog we have invited Verity Hancock from English Heritage to write us a short blog.
Back in 2007 we sold our aging archive of oblique images to English Heritage. Far from “selling off the family silver”, this strategic sale released this incredible archive to the nation and has helped to ensure its longevity. Verity joined the English Heritage team in February 2011 as the Project Manager for “Britain from Above.” Prior to that she worked for a large UK youth charity overseeing the Archives team.  This included managing a series of heritage projects designed to engage young people in valuing, and being inspired by their heritage; she takes up the story…

If you take a look at [intlink id=”2″ type=”page”]Blom’s history[/intlink] as [intlink id=”50″ type=”post”]Aerofilms[/intlink] Limited, they pioneered commercial aerial photography in the UK. Between 1919 and 2006, they took or acquired more than 1 million oblique aerial images. Operating across the UK, Aerofilms Ltd created a unique photographic record by covering almost every settlement in Britain from the air, often many times over.

English Heritage and its partners, the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Scotland, acquired the Aerofilms Collection in 2007. The fragile negatives were under threat from continued physical degradation and to allow the collection to be shared with as wide an audience as possible, the Britain from Above project was developed. The project received £1.7m funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve, digitise and catalogue the very earliest images in the collection (from 1919 to 1953) with a view to making them freely available online early in 2012.

As you’d expect from a collection which is nearly 90 years old, the negatives have a wide range of problems including broken and cracked glass, water damage, mould and dirt, as well as damage from poor quality storage materials. Our specialist conservator and two conservation assistants clean the negatives before re-housing them in high quality materials suitable for the long term storage of photographs. They also assess the condition of each negative, so that any item requiring further treatment is identified. Negatives are repaired to ensure they can be scanned without causing any damage to the object.

The preservation process is an essential part of the Britain from Above project, as it not only ensures the long term care of the collection, but also means the resulting images that are made available online will be of a much higher quality than before [see the below example – before cleaning/conservation on the left hand side and after on the right]

Aerofilms image before and after cleaning/conservation
Aerofilms image before and after cleaning/conservation

To keep up to date with progress on the project and be the first to see the website when it goes live, you can sign up for our e-newsletter

Britain from Above team (Verity sat front left)
Britain from Above team (Verity sat front left)