Record of the Month

Aerial Photography of Chichester (APH 126, 1904)

A type of record not mentioned in our 70th Anniversary booklet or previously on this blog is aerial photography; In particular early aerial photographs, like this one from 1904. According to the caption it was taken at 1500ft in a hot air balloon by Aeronaut Percival Spencer on 4th June 1904. It is an oblique view of Chichester, meaning it was taken at an angle from a fixed point or hand held camera. The Chichester Observer comments that its inhabitants were ‘startled as a couple of balloons made their way towards Chichester and Goodwood reaching a maximum height of 10,00ft’.APH 126 with Caption

Interestingly, the history of aerial photography might be surprising to some. The first aerial photographs were taken by the Frenchman Gaspar Felix Tournachon (also known as Nadar) in 1858, almost 32 years after the method of photography was invented by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826. Sadly none of Nadar’s photographs have survived, but since then methods in photographic technology have developed significantly from pewter plates and 8 hour sunlight exposures to instant images taken on a digital camera.Picture1

Like Percival Spencer, Nadar also used a hot air balloon, which was invented by the Montgolfier brothers in 1782, with the first human flight by their comrade and pilot Pilatre de Rosier on 21st November 1783. Before the invention of the plane by the Wright brothers in 1905, early pioneers not only used hot air balloons, but also kites, pigeons and rockets to lift their cameras high. Panoramic aerial views of the destruction left by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake were captured using a string of 17 kites with the Camera attached to the last kite and carrier pigeons of the Bavarian pigeon corps were used both as messengers and reconnaissance birds, in the early part of the 20th Century.

Like maps, aerial photographs are an excellent source for looking into the history of the landscape because they show features not normally recognised by the OS maps, such as house boats, caravans and swimming pools. Our main collection of aerial photographs covers a period form 1947, with RAF photographs, to 2001, taken by companies such as Meridian or Bluesky ltd.

So why not consider aerial photography as a source when conducting your own House History.

Imogen Russell

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