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Suffolk from above: Amazing aerial images from the last 100 years




As more and more housing is given the green light, our landscapes are forever changed in pursuit of progress.

But, as your local council gives the nod to developments, there is a website which allows you to peek behind history's curtain and see just what your town or village looked like almost 100 years ago.

Britain From Above offers access to tens of thousands of images, providing a glimpse from the skies of moments in time captured forever on film.

An aerial view of Bury St Edmunds' Angel Hill area taken in 2020. Picture by Mark Westley
An aerial view of Bury St Edmunds' Angel Hill area taken in 2020. Picture by Mark Westley

From our industrial past to the hey-day of classic British seaside resorts, all are captured in remarkably detailed aerial images.

"It is an amazing collection," explains Neil Fraser from Britain From Above. "Some of the views are so familiar and picture areas which have barely changed over the years and in other cases where whole communities are unrecognisable."

The images were acquired in 2007 by the key heritage organisations in England, Scotland and Wales - today known as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and the, slightly more of a mouthful, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

A recent view of Sudbury's Market Hill from above. Picture: Mecha Morton
A recent view of Sudbury's Market Hill from above. Picture: Mecha Morton

The pictures were originally gathered by Aerofilms Ltd - a pioneering company born in 1919 and the earliest days of manned flight.

As the UK's first commercial aerial photography company, it took to the skies and cornered a niche market - one today cluttered by the rise in drone photography.

Founded by Francis Willis - who had served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War - he teamed up with Claude Graham White, who had started a flight school at Hendon Aerodrome and had the claim to fame of being the first man to make a night flight in 1910.

The pair were on to a winner as they captured a previously unseen view of the nation. Sometimes flying a little too close to the wind as they snapped buildings protected under the Official Secrets Act, such as Dover Castle. The War Office firing off a letter to Willis informing him that "prison cells were not pleasant".

An aerial view of Haverhill. Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography
An aerial view of Haverhill. Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography

Undeterred, they continued and by the time the Second World War came around, its staff were incorporated into the Air Ministry's team, become a "fully-fledged military intelligence unit".

When hostilities ended, it captured the rebuilding on a post-war Britain.

Explains Neil Fraser from the website on which the images can be freely viewed: "In some of the earliest images you can see people actually looking up as they walk along lanes because, of course a plane in the sky would have been a relatively unusual sight for many decades of the 20th century.

"I just think the images chronicle so much of the country, whether its rural or urban.

Newmarket aerial photo
Newmarket aerial photo

"As soon as the site went live a few years ago we soon discovered a lot of interest came from model railway enthusiasts because the aerial imagery of the time gave a perhaps never-before-seen view of quite a lot of famous stations. Ground photography just didn't do that.

"You'll find lots of people interested in it perhaps looking at old football grounds or other sport venues which have since changed dramatically or disappeared. Or they are simply looking for the factory their grandfather worked in.

"Of course lots of people today use it just to compare how much their local area has changed over the years.

"And those who register can not only zoom in on the images, gaining far greater detail, but can also put flags on the images to share memories of particular areas to share with other users."

The good news is there's more to come too. All three of the heritage partners who own the collection are keen to digitalise more of the images "but as yet there is no timescale for this work".

Below are a sample of the images - it is well worth registering on the site - it's free - as it allows you to zoom in on the images, which reveal far more detail.

So let's take a look at some of those areas we know best....

Beccles

- St Michael's Church and the town, 1928

St Michael's Church and the town, Beccles, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
St Michael's Church and the town, Beccles, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Bury St Edmunds

- Cattle Market and Guildhall Street area, 1920

Cattle Market and Guildhall Street area, Bury St. Edmunds, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Cattle Market and Guildhall Street area, Bury St. Edmunds, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- Butter Market, Town Hall, Pavilion Theatre and Corn Exchange, 1920

Butter Market, Town Hall, Pavilion Theatre and Corn Exchange, Bury St. Edmunds, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Butter Market, Town Hall, Pavilion Theatre and Corn Exchange, Bury St. Edmunds, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Eye

- The town, 1953

The town, Eye, 1953. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The town, Eye, 1953. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Felixstowe

- The Pier and the town, 1935

The Pier and the town, Felixstowe, 1935. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The Pier and the town, Felixstowe, 1935. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- The Felix Hotel, 1932

The Felix Hotel, Felixstowe, 1932. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The Felix Hotel, Felixstowe, 1932. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Framlingham

- Framlingham Castle, 1947

Framlingham Castle, Framlingham, 1947. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Framlingham Castle, Framlingham, 1947. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- Market Hill and the town centre, 1948

Market Hill and the town centre, Framlingham, 1948. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Market Hill and the town centre, Framlingham, 1948. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Haverhill

- The town centre, 1929

The town centre, Haverhill, 1929. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The town centre, Haverhill, 1929. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Ipswich

- The Corn Exchange and Town Hall area, 1921

The Corn Exchange and Town Hall area, Ipswich, 1921. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The Corn Exchange and Town Hall area, Ipswich, 1921. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- Town Hall and Corn Exchange, 1921

Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange, Ipswich, 1921. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Ipswich Town Hall and Corn Exchange, Ipswich, 1921. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- The railway station and town, from the south-west, 1949

The railway station and town, Ipswich, from the south-west, 1949. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The railway station and town, Ipswich, from the south-west, 1949. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Lowestoft

- Claremont Pier and the seafront, from the east, 1928

Claremont Pier and the seafront, Lowestoft, from the east, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Claremont Pier and the seafront, Lowestoft, from the east, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- General view of the town and the Harbour, 1920

General view of Lowestoft and the Harbour, Lowestoft, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
General view of Lowestoft and the Harbour, Lowestoft, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Mildenhall

- St Mary's Church and the town centre, 1930

St Mary's Church and the town centre, Mildenhall, 1930. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
St Mary's Church and the town centre, Mildenhall, 1930. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Newmarket

- The High Street and town, 1951

The High Street and town, Newmarket, 1951. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The High Street and town, Newmarket, 1951. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- Newmarket Heath, race day at Newmarket Racecourse (Rowley Mile Course), 1948

Newmarket Heath, race day at Newmarket Racecourse (Rowley Mile Course), 1948. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Newmarket Heath, race day at Newmarket Racecourse (Rowley Mile Course), 1948. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Stowmarket

- The railway station and environs, 1928

The railway station and environs, Stowmarket, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
The railway station and environs, Stowmarket, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- St Peter and St Mary's Church and the Market Place, 1928

St Peter and St Mary's Church and the Market Place, Stowmarket, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
St Peter and St Mary's Church and the Market Place, Stowmarket, 1928. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Southwold

- Pier and lighthouse, 1920

Southwold pier and lighthouse, Southwold, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Southwold pier and lighthouse, Southwold, 1920. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Sudbury

- St Peter's Church and the Market Place, 1929

St Peter's Church and the Market Place, Sudbury, 1929. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
St Peter's Church and the Market Place, Sudbury, 1929. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

- St Peter's Church and the town, 1950

St Peter's Church and the town, Sudbury, 1950. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
St Peter's Church and the town, Sudbury, 1950. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

Woodbridge

- Warren Hill, Ipswich Road and environs, from the north-east, 1947

Warren Hill, Ipswich Road and environs, Woodbridge, from the north-east, 1947. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above
Warren Hill, Ipswich Road and environs, Woodbridge, from the north-east, 1947. Picture: Historic England/Britain From Above

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