County Durham's history explored from the air

The history of a number of villages in Co. Durham will be explored in an open event at Brandon Library in Brandon on Thursday 18 October, when a group of local historians who have been working with English Heritage gather to share their discoveries.

The event marks the culmination of a local project which is part of Britain from Above, a project for which English Heritage has joined with partners, the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland and Wales. They acquired the Aerofilms Collection (1919 to 2006) in 2007, containing over one million oblique aerial photographs showing the changing face of Britain throughout the twentieth-century. The project, Britain from Above, has received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to make 95,000 images accessible from the earliest part of the Collection (1919 – 1953) by conserving the fragile negatives, scanning them, and putting them on for everyone to access and use. The images provide an unparalleled photographic history of Britain from the air in the twentieth century illustrating the enormous changes that have taken place in housing, leisure, industry, transport and agriculture and the physical impact of two World Wars.

Dr Dorothy Hamilton, who teaches local history classes, has worked with groups from Brandon and Esh Winning in County Durham to help explain a series of images taken by photographers of Aerofilms Ltd flying over the region.

The project started back in February, when local history volunteers were given access to a number of aerial photographs of the area from this unique collection. They were then tasked with finding out the stories behind the pictures of the people, buildings and events that had been photographed and, in some cases, relating that back to how the places look today.

“In isolation, many of these photographs probably mean very little to someone who doesn’t know the background, but when you start to find out more about exactly what has been photographed and why, you realise their significance as a fantastic resource on our local history,” explains Dorothy. “For example, we’ve got photos of a 1940s Miner’s Gala which, to the uneducated eye, simply features a lot of ‘dots’, but we’ve been able to explain that groups of ‘dots’ are people gathering round the stages, listening to the speeches and suddenly, the photograph really comes to life.”

The project has also helped inspire a new generation of local historians, who have taken photographs to be added to the website, showing the Brandon area today. Through comparing how the village used to look with how it appears today, they have gained a new appreciation for their local mining heritage, including visiting the sites of mines that have long since closed and been redeveloped.

“This is a wonderful project that with the involvement of local communities will produce a fantastic online resource of information, anecdotes and audio recordings, covering England, Scotland and Wales,” comments Britain from Above Activity Officer, Sandra Brauer. “Adding personal recollections makes the Aerofilms images come alive and paints a wonderful picture of social history that will be available for generations to come.”

The open evening runs at Brandon Library from 4.00pm to 6.00pm on Thursday 18 October. Admission is free.

For more information on Britain From Above, please visit


For further media information, please contact:

Jay Commins – PRO English Heritage

Tel: 0113 251 5698

Mob: 07810 546567