Imagine a large resource of historic photos that were collected at a then industrial scale, for commercial use, that lay neatly archived largely unknown about. Well, last week new startup Timepix launched just such an archive in the UK.
Ordnance Survey, the UK's national mapping agency, can trace its roots all the way back to 1791 with its name a give away as to the original military applications of maps. Their first remit was mapping Scotland in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, but that was replaced with a wider requirement to maintain detailed maps of the UK and Ireland. In fact, the first national mapping was undertaken during the 1800s at 1:10,560 (six inches) with many towns at an astonishing 1:500.
After World War II, these detailed town plans continued but given the rapid and extensive post-war construction, required regular updates. The surveyors needed a more rapid way to tie in all new measurements to the existing maps - enter the Revision Point or RP. These were simply features in the urban landscape that were unlikely to move - building corners, bridge piers, parts of churches. Pretty much anything big and immobile. However a text description such as "at corner of bridge on main road" isn't too helpful! So the surveyors took photos of them - cue a vast nationwide collection of RPs or, as they were more affectionately know, "Man with a white arrow" photos! And, yes, that's what they are - a man holding a white arrow pointing to the RP next to a chalkboard describing it.
What's remarkable about this set of photos is that they provide a window on to the streets where they were taken - new startup Timepix is making these collections available starting with Manchester as it's the single biggest independent archive. The image above is a nice example of the sort of scene - man with white arrow and chalkboard. But I love the setting of the petrol station with the pumps in the street, barely any cars and what must have been a "normal" day. See images of children playing, a man climbing a lamp post (seriously!), buggies outside houses on sidewalks, clean streets, shops, advertising hoardings, buses, railway lines, people cycling. It's a great reminder of what everyday life was really like. Perhaps unsurprisingly there are some efforts to find people that appear in the photos, such as here.
The map-based interface allows you to pan around the city to find streets that might interest using either contemporary or historic maps (useful where there's been a lot of redevelopment). You can also search by keyword. An app accompanies the website and enables the geolocation of your phone to set the search parameters. Watermarked images are free to share, with pricing as per the website. Want to get a sense of post-war urbanization in the UK? Then this is the site to visit!
Images courtesy of Timepix.