Sunderland from the sky: Historic England launches online map of old aerial photos including Wearside and Seaham

Sunderland and Seaham feature in Historic England’s new online Aerial Photograph Explorer tool, giving the public access to more than 400,000 aerial photographs taken over the last 100 years.

Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 10:26 am

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

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 major areas of the North East.

Images from the region include aerial photographs of St James’ Park Football Stadium in Newcastle taken in 1927, ancient archaeology in Northumberland, industrial heritage in Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and the coastline at Seaham Harbour in County Durham and Saltburn, Teesside.

Sunderland’s shipbuilding heritage stretches back hundreds of years. By the 19th century it was one of the most important shipbuilding centres in the world. This image shows the MV Andulo, which was built by Bartram & Sons, and was probably taken to record its completion in May 1949.

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.

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

The new Aerial Photography Explorer tool will also provide a useful resource for industry professionals and local authorities, to help with planning, heritage projects and archaeological investigation.

NORTH EAST Seaham Harbour. This photograph of Seaham harbour was taken by an RAF reconnaissance aircraft in 1941

On Wearside, images show an aerial view of the Souter Lighthouse and ship building in Sunderland, with a picture of the MV Andulo, built by Bartram & Sons, probably taken to record its completion in May 1949.

In County Durham, there’s an image of Seaham Harbour taken by an RAF reconnaissance aircraft in 1941.

Around 300,000 of the photographs 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 Tees Newport bridge was opened in 1934 and this image shows it just a few months before, in June 1933. It was the first vertical-lift bridge in England, meaning that its centre span was raised and lowered to allow shipping to pass underneath. It was Grade II listed in 1988.

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.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive, Historic England, said: “I am delighted that our new online tool will allow people easy access to our wonderful collection of aerial images and to enjoy the historic photography that our team uses every day to unlock the mysteries of England’s past.”

Nigel Huddleston MP, Minister for Heritage said "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. 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."Over the coming years, Historic England aims to expand the platform, as more of the six million aerial images in 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.

You can view the explorer tool here.

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