One of the things that has really proved inspirational to me in the creation of this blog is Google Earth. As a young kid, long before computers could do anything remotely like even the most basic mapping, I was was fascinated by aerial photos. I remember that the Walsall Thompson Local directory for a while in the eighties featured such photos of the town on the cover. I spent hours, poring over the photographs, identifying buildings and places I knew. Any such image was devoured – I spent hours perusing the ‘Britain from the air’ books… one of the things that most fascinated was the way one could observe changes in landscape over the years.
In these days of the internet, we take the wonderful resource that is Google Earth for granted. It’s a personal quest to find out new features, check for new images and explore the layers of imagery and information that the community layers provide. It was with this casual goal in mind that I downloaded the latest one, version six, last week.
The feature to view previous versions of the satellite imagery in the application has been present for a while, but it seems recently that wartime aerial photos have been added and are present in many local areas. The photos are dated December 1945, but I think their basis is probably from within the wartime RAF effort.
The photos are easy to access. First of all, download the latest version of Google Earth and install it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Windows or mac user, the site will offer you the correct version. Once that’s done and installed, fire up the application, and navigate to an area of your choice.
When there, look for the ‘History’ button on the toolbar, and click it.
Now a slider appears top left of the main window. Drag the slider to the left – small lines are present in the slider bar where historical images are located. As you drag the slider to one of these lines, the imagery changes to that matching the selected date. You can now browse it at will just like normal in Google Earth.
The 1945 aerial photo coverage is not universal – south Brownhills is currently covered, but not central or north. The images are large and very clear for photography of their day. Bear in mind that lens and processing technology of 65 years ago was not what it is now, so some topographic distortions are evident if you turn on the ‘Streets’ layer or use overlays.
Including this imagery is a remarkable and little-noticed step from Google, and one which I welcome wholeheartedly. Let’s hope there is yet more to be added, so that a larger record of our changing landscape can be stored for the future.