Ordnance Survey: Aerial Imagery (Scotland)

Scope and Content

Aerial film / aerial prints paper and digital sortie plots. Aerial imagery is 9 x 9 inches (229 x 229mm).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Ordnance Survey (OS) is responsible for undertaking surveys and cartographic work of all kinds for the British Government. The results are made available to the public in the form of published Ordnance Survey maps and by the publication of survey and revision data.

The First World War (1914-1918) provided the stimulus that brought air photography to OS but it was not applied to survey work immediately after the war because it was not considered sufficiently accurate. Experiments launched by the War Office Air Survey Committee in 1925 and 1928 confirmed that the cost of map revision using air photography was 45% greater than by ground methods and therefore was still seen as unsuitable. A further experimental survey in 1935 / 1936 commissioned by OS and undertaken by Aerofilms Limited proved that air photography could now provide an economic method of revision in built-up areas but it did not lead to anything further at that time.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), what little OS aerial imagery existed was destroyed by wartime raids that hit its Southampton headquarters on the 30th November and 1st December 1940. At the end of the war OS again investigated the use of air photography as a quick method of survey for civilian maps, and in 1945 the Air Photo Division was created. The Davidson Committee had recommended that a special air survey unit should be created under the control of OS but, as there was a surplus of both military personnel and aeroplanes in the Royal Air Force (RAF), their facilities were used instead.

In 1951 the above arrangement with the RAF was terminated and most flying was undertaken instead by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (MTCA), though the RAF did continue to provide some photography. Under the MTCA agreement OS purchased its own cameras and provided its own air camera operators. The quality of air photographs began to improve and it became clear that savings would result from plotting map detail directly from the air photographs. In the 1950s OS was facing a phased reduction in personnel and the development of air survey techniques helped to compensate for reduced staffing levels.

Ordnance Survey has collected survey quality vertical aerial imagery since 1955 to aid in map revision work. Under a service level agreement with RCAHMS, RCAHMW and English Heritage, 10 years worth of aerial film and prints of Scotland, Wales and England respectively are deposited with each body after a 20-year interval.

Access Information

Open. Accessible by appointment via search room and Paid Search Service.

Other Finding Aids

GIS catalogue in NCAP search room provides access to digital copies of sortie plots.

Conditions Governing Use

Ordnance Survey copyright applies to material less than 50 years old. For material over 50 years old standard licence terms apply.

Custodial History

Within the Scottish Office it was held by the Department of Health for Scotland until its 1962 transfer to the Scottish Development Department. Within these departments it was held by the entity variously known as the Air Photograph Library / Air Photographs Unit. The collection was transferred to RCAHMS in 1993.

Related Material

Ordnance Survey aerial imagery and sortie plots for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are held by:

  • English Heritage Archives, The Engine House, Fire Fly Avenue, SWINDON, Wiltshire, SN2 2EH. Tel: 01793 414600, E-mail: archive@english-heritage.org.uk
  • Central Register of Air Photography for Wales, Welsh Assembly Government, Room G-003, Crown Offices, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF1 3NQ. Tel: 029 20 823815, E-mail: air_photo_officer@wales.gsi.gov.uk
  • RCAHMW, National Monuments Record of Wales, Plas Crug, Aberystwyth, SY23 1NJ. Tel: +44(0)1970 621200, E-mail: nmr.wales@rcahmw.gov.uk
  • Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 66 Balmoral Avenue, BELFAST BT9 6NY, Northern Ireland. Tel: 028 9025 5905, E-mail: proni@dcalni.gov.uk

Corporate Names

Geographical Names