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Aerial Photographs

There is a small collection of aerial photographs in the Map Library. Ordnance Survey published a set of mosaics of Great Britain following World War II (1947-53). Some current commercial aerial photography, almost entirely of the UK, is also available.

Detail of London sheet of Ordnance Survey Mosaic.

Ordnance Survey Mosaics

The British Library holds a small collection of aerial photograph mosaics of UK places for the period 1947 -1953.  These are at two main scales, six inches to one mile (1:10,560) and 50 inches to one mile (1:1,250). They were taken by the Royal Air Force and published by the Ordnance Survey. Photo mosaics of aerial photography combine several smaller map images into one large detailed overall view. These were originally intended by the Ordnance Survey to be a short-term substitute for regular large-scale mapping, which was in short supply following the Second World War. They were needed for vital planning and reconstruction work following the devastation of the war and were intended for government departments.  Initially, only mosaics at a scale of 1:1,250 were planned for urban areas, but these were followed by a smaller scale (1:10,560). Although some mosaics were withdrawn for security reasons during in the 1940s and again in the early 1950s, these restrictions were dropped in the 1990s.


  • Paper: The mosaics are available for ordering via Explore the British Library and may be consulted in the Maps Reading Room. As coverage is not complete, the sheet indexes in the Maps Reading Room must be consulted first. 
  • Digital scans of the 1:1,250 photomaps are available for viewing on the standalone terminal in the Maps Reading Room. For help with this resource, see staff at the Maps Reference Enquiry Desk. (Landmark scanned the photomaps to make commercially available via Envirocheck). 


Commercial Aerial photography

Commercial aerial photography of the UK is collected to a limited degree, and areas outside Great Britain are less represented.


  • Hard-copy holdings can be found on Explore the British Library by searching within the "Cartographic Items" subset and entering search terms, eg "Global Mapping" in the publisher search field for materials published by Global Mapping Ltd, or reviewing results of a search for "aerial".
  • Digital aerial photography of Great Britain is available via a 1:25,000 Anquet Maps database on the standalone computer in the Maps Reading Room. 


Aerial photography websites

Current aerial photography of the UK online. Though most are commercial and require purchase of better resolution images, all offer free viewing to some extent. For more information about historic photos, see the section following.

  • UK Aerial Photos - UK aerial photos and satellite views spanning over 60 years.
  • Getmapping - Small, reduced clarity image of any area of Great Britain.
  • Multimap – Primarily a map tool, the aerial photograph option can be turned on at larger scales.
  • GlobeXplorer – Coverage of world cities at fairly large scales with smaller scale satellite photography at other locations.

    Historic aerial photography

  • The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA) moved in 2008 from Keele University to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh. This is an important archive of Second World War Allied and German aerial photography.
  • National Monuments Record An excellent collection of UK aerial photography.


For more information on Ordnance Survey air photo mosaics, consult the following articles:

Air photo mosaics: a short-term solution to topographic map revision in Great Britain 1944-51 by Dr. Christopher Board, Dept. of Geography, London School of Economics and Political Science. Proceedings Vol. 1 of the 17th International Cartographic Conference, Barcelona, September 1995. Barcelona 1995. p.1246-1255. (There is a copy available for consultation in the Public Service Guide at the Enquiry Desk of the Maps Reading Room.) 

Air Photography at Ordnance Survey from 1919-1991 by S.A.MacDonald. The Photogrammetric Record. Vol. XIV No. 80, Oct. 1992.

For more information about collections of aerial photography, see the Directory of Aerial Photographic Collections in the United Kingdom compiled by the National Association of Aerial Photographic Libraries (NAPLIB). The most current edition (2nd ed, 1999) is available for consultation at the Map Enquiry Desk.