Wings over Norfolk


A good audience in the Village Hall heard our speaker for the March 2012 meeting – Derek Edwards.  He arrived with two screens and two projectors (Phil’s extension lead definitely was needed on this occasion!).

The talk was fascinating.  We were guided through aerial photography from a hot air balloon, a gypsy moth plane, to a helicopter.  The two pioneers of aerial photography were George Swain followed by Harry Lowe, both masters of their skill.  Aerial photography, of course, was used as military reconnaissance but the first aerial archaeological photograph was of Stonehenge in 1904! 

The audience was most interested in the aerial photographs taken over Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Potter Heigham and Horsey, showing many of the great changes:

The weekend in Great Yarmouth when the fishing boats were all lined up in dock because the girls, who gutted the fish, went on strike for a pay rise from 19s.6d. to one guinea a week.  They got their rise!

The Britannia Pier, where steamers docked bringing day-trippers from Southend;

The flower gardens where the Pleasure Beach now is;

The floods of 1938 in Horsey.

Most interesting - so we have booked Derek to come again.

This is actually the first of a two part talk, so this report will be extended in due course.


Norfolk from the air

Memoirs of an Archaeological Photographer –

Derek Edwards

PART TWO of Wings over Norfolk, October 2012

There is a lot more to aerial photography than most of us imagined.  Many of us are used to Google Earth photographs, and some of us know of how Ordnance Survey use aerial photography to produce their modern maps. These give us the broad view, seeing what we happen to see. Archaeological photography is a more precise skill, seeking out and observing what mere mortals didn’t even know was there.  It is the Sherlock Holmes of aerial photography.

It is clear that Derek Edwards and his many predecessors had the time of their life.  Imagine being able fly in a highly manoeuvrable lightweight aircraft anywhere in the UK, taking off and landing in airfields that at first were little more than meadows, seeking out clues to the hidden history of our land.  The pilot, we were told, was the most important person, whose job was to get the photographer to precisely the right place, altitude and angle.  In the early days the right angle might involve hanging upside-down out of an open cockpit.

(Geeky detail:  The plane used by Derek was a Cessna 150, which is a two-seat tricycle gear general aviation aeroplane.  It was designed for flight training, touring and personal use.  The Cessna 150 is the fourth most produced civilian plane ever, with 23,839 aircraft produced.)

Aerial photographs have been taken in Norfolk for 115 years.  For a long time 1897 photos taken during balloon trips in Norwich, celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, were thought to be the oldest in the UK.  Recently, however, balloon pictures of the Crystal Palace at the1851 Great Exhibition have been found (is this right, or were they taken some time later?).

Early photos have become historical records.  Compare them with modern aerial photographs and the massive, sometimes devastating change is starkly revealed.  What a lovely secluded country village was Hemsby in the 1930s.  How unlovely it looks from the air right now.  How much more dramatic the fisher girls’ strike of 1936 becomes when the aeroplane reveals the harbour chockfull with the serried ranks of over 400 out of work drifters.  From the air the recession of our coastline looks more threatening still.

 Aerial photographs of crops innocently growing in our fields reveal the most astonishing details of past landscapes hidden beneath.  Settlements can be reasonably reconstructed from the Bronze age and even before.  No time for this now - but we hope that an example with pictures can appear in due course.  I think it is the best bit of all.    

Noel Mitchell


Cesna 150
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