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Airship, Bedford
Photograph: Aerofilms Collection / Historic England.

Browse this epic archive of 400,000 aerial images from across England

The Aerial Photography Explorer offers access to more than a century of overhead shots

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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Ever wondered what your house looked like a century ago? Well, if you live in England there’s a handy new tool that could show you just that. It’s called the Aerial Photography Explorer, and it contains more than 400,000 overhead shots from the archives of Historic England.

The APE collects aerial photographs of England that date all the way back to 1921. The total area covered includes around 30 percent of all of England – a whopping 30,000 square miles of land. The photographs are combination of archive collections and the work of the Historic England Aerial Investigation and Mapping team, which has been documenting the country from above since 1967.

Now, your natural instinct is almost certainly to have a snoop at your own house or local area. Obviously. But there’s plenty more fun to be had with the Aerial Photography Explorer. It’s a great way to have a peek at historic landmarks or famous events, like the above shot of an airship in the 1920s, or these photos of Bishop Rock Lighthouse in the Isles of Scilly and Coventry cathedral following German air raids during World War II:

Bishop Rock Lighthouse, Isles of Scilly
Photograph: Damian Grady / Historic England
Coventry
Photograph: Historic England Archive

The APE is also a great resource for anyone curious about how both cities and the countryside have changed over the past century. You can peer at shots of the same area, side-by-side but decades apart. And some of the photos go back even further, too, showing how flooding and farming patterns can reveal ancient archaeological sites like Neolithic barrows and Iron Age forts.

In short, you can now have access to a ton of really cool and fascinating photographs – and there will soon be even more. Historic England is in the process of digitising six million more aerial images from its archive, so it’ll certainly be worth checking back in on it every once in a while.

Fancy taking a virtual trip back in time? You can check out the Aerial Photography Explorer here.

Got five minutes to spare? Want to tell us what life is like in your city? Take the Time Out Index survey here.

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