The Aerofilms Collection is a significant archive of aerial photography which captures nearly 90 years of British history as evidenced through its changing landscape. Original negatives, glass plates and photograph albums of locations in Scotland are held by NCAP.
Aerofilms Ltd was founded on 9 May 1919. An unprecedented business venture, it hoped to marry the technology of powered flight to the discipline of photography. Its founders were Claude Grahame-White, an internationally-famous aviation pioneer, and Francis Lewis Wills, a trained architect who had flown as an observer for the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. Together, they created the UK's first commercial aerial survey company. From developing photographic glass plates in a hotel bathroom at the London Flying Club in Hendon, to producing many thousands of aerial images every year, they took a tool which had first been used for military intelligence, and repackaged it for the mass market. As a result, Aerofilms lived through, and recorded, one of the most tumultuous periods in British history.
Sitting either side of pilot Henry 'Jerry' Shaw are Francis Wills and the cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene. Wills is holding up an aerial photographic camera, while Friese-Green is gripping a film camera designed to capture moving images.
This image was taken in July 1919, just two months after Wills and Claude-Graham White had formed their new, pioneering aerial photography company.
The company survived the worldwide economic crash of the Great Depression in the 1930s and, as a subsidiary of the Aircraft Operating Company, the staff were co-opted to serve in photographic intelligence work during the Second World War. Re-formed after the cessation of hostilities, Aerofilms was on hand to help shape the Britain of the future, photographing the major reconstruction projects of the 1940s and ‘50s. The company continued to undertake survey contracts around the world, surviving through several changes of ownership, until 2010. The resultant archive covered a vast array of subjects, forming a record of development in industrial, urban, suburban, rural and coastal areas of locations across the globe.
The Aerofilms archive of historical oblique aerial photographs was acquired for the nation in 2007. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foyle Foundation, RCAHMS, English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales embarked on a programme to conserve, catalogue and digitise the collection and make it freely available online. As a result of this funding, over 5,000 oblique aerial photographs of Scotland before 1953 were preserved, digitised, re-housed, catalogued and uploaded to both the NCAP and Britain from Above websites.