At first sight the summer of Blackpool 1920 isn’t so very different to the Blackpool of today.
No headlands. No Festival House. No scaffolding around the Tower associated with the ongoing paint job.
And it’s in black and white and shades of grey. Rather like our weather today.
The picture is one of 15,000 available free to view on the web, from one of the earliest collections of aerial photography.
The photos on the Britain from Above website, launched this week, have gone through a painstaking process of conservation and cataloguing by English Heritage.
Many of the photos, which range from 1919 to 1953, were so old and fragile that they were close to being lost forever.
The photographs come from the Aerofilms Collection, which was acquired for the nation in 2007, when the company faced financial difficulties. The archive has more than a million pictures.
The images are instantly recognisable in most cases – whether it’s Wembley or Brighton Pier or Blackpool Tower – but English Heritage is also appealing for help in identifying others, the origins of which have been lost in time.
The Britain from Above website has interactive features, where users can add information about the images, share personal memories and download images.
The photographs are all the more remarkable when you consider the technology available at the time. Photographers were often former First World War pilots, who mapped out terrain and topography for enemy locations and other intelligence. Back on civvy street, they took to the air anew to paint a picture of life in the UK.
There are sports fixtures, billowing chimney stacks from the industrial north, early campsites and those landmark buildings, Blackpool Tower up there with St Paul’s and so many more – the archive shows a nation on the up and up.
Elaine Smith, chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust, which is celebrating civic week this week, admits: “We can never have too many heritage shots of Blackpool. We have a special relationship with English Heritage and are delighted this picture is featured. It’s not so long since nobody thought Blackpool had any heritage.”
Blackpool Council’s built heritage manager Carl Carrington says it also marks another English Heritage-Blackpool partnership – a special exhibition starting in London next week, to coincide with the Olympics, features Blackpool at length. From Wednesday to August 24 the Quadriga Gallery at London’s Wellington Arch presents Blackpool: Wonderland of the World, an exhibition of the resort’s two most remarkable buildings, Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, depicting history and conservation through posters, photographs and other images.
The exhibition, organised by English Heritage, explores England’s story through heritage in different shapes and guises. By 1900, Blackpool offered more than 20,000 theatre seats each night, and only London could match the variety of shows on offer.
Mr Carrington says: “We’re delighted with English Heritage’s conservation of the Aerofilms Collection, but more thrilled with Blackpool taking centrestage at such a prestigious gallery.We couldn’t have a better platform to show off Blackpool’s two best buildings.”
Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and culture, concludes: “We’ve got a rich history and some fantastic heritage here, and it’s great that some of these wonderful photographs of our past are being showcased. Hopefully it will bring even more ‘heritage hunters’ to the town!”
To see more pictures from around Britain, visit www.britainfromabove.org.uk.
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