Monday, 4 February 2013

Wartime London on Google Earth

I spend far too much time in Google Earth. I look at where I've been and where I'd like to go. I look at where I grew up and where I live now. I follow roads, rivers, canals and railway lines. I even collate libraries of placemarks of great places I visited abroad, and send them to friends who ask me for recommendations of where to stay/eat/drink/party/relax in those far flung places.

Hello, my name is Chris, and I'm a Googleearthaholic.

Something Google introduced in one of the last updates was the ability to go back in time, imagery wise you'll understand. This was moderately cool, for example I could go back from 2008 to 2003 for the imagery of where I grew up, and see how much of the local wood has been chopped down, how many acres of hop gardens we've lost recently. Yes, it was quite depressing, but interesting nonetheless.

Now though, there is a far better option available to us for historical viewing. In London, you can rewind the clock to 1945. Not satellite imagery of course but pictures from an end-of-the-war aerial photographic survey. This is fascinating. It is brilliant, and it's already cost me several hours. All those hideous buildings you always suspected were put up in the place of a bomb site, now you can see the actual bomb crater.

Less morbidly, you can see the dying days of our city's industrial past - the docklands that were such a German bomb-magnet are, in these pictures, actual docklands, not a glass-and-steel agglomeration of shagpads and highrise office blocks called "Docklands". And what's that in White City, where the BBC is now? It's the Olympic Stadium! The actual Olympic Stadium, from the 1908 Summer Games. We see parks still "under the plough" as giant Dig For Victory allotments along with now-vanished infrastructure such as Holborn Viaduct station and myriad gasometers.

The pictures take a little getting used to, but perseverance here really pays off. Generally, white space is a bomb site, though there also clouds across some of the areas. Have a go!

This was originally posted in February 2011, before the excellent Bombsight project went live online, of which more anon.

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