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Work of pioneering aerial photographer celebrated

The Harold Wingham Collection of almost 2,000 photographic negatives and corresponding prints has been made available online to the public.

19 October 2022

Friends and colleagues of a pioneering aerial photographer have come together to celebrate his work.

The Harold Wingham Collection of almost 2,000 photographic negatives and corresponding prints has been made available online to the public for the first time.

The collection is divided into 86 flights, which were flown between April 1951 and July 1963 across the south-west of England.

Wingham photographed Tewkesbury Abbey in 1951 (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA)
Wingham photographed Tewkesbury Abbey in 1951 (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA)

Wingham, who died last year, used hand-held aerial reconnaissance cameras, which could produce images with excellent resolution, hence the quality of detail captured in his photography.

The collection is celebrated for its mix of architectural, archaeological and industrial subjects and views of villages and towns in the early post-war period, offering a unique insight into the changing landscape of the region.

Wingham was born in the New Forest in 1924 and during the Second World War served in the RAF as a wireless operator and trainee navigator.

After the war, he compiled weather reports for the Ministry of Civil Aviation in Gloucester and later worked for the Gloster Aircraft Company.

Wingham, who lived at Cranham in Gloucestershire, took flying lessons and learned photography so that he could carry out aerial reconnaissance for archaeological purposes.

He acquired Government surplus camera equipment and film and began recording the archaeology and architecture of the West Country, covering sites in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire.

Much of his flying was self-funded and reflects his archaeological and social interests.

St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall remains a popular tourist destination (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA).
St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall remains a popular tourist destination (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA)

Wingham’s collection began in the 1950s and aerial photographs and negatives were retained in what is now Historic England’s archive.

To commemorate his life and work, Historic England collaborated with some of Wingham’s friends and associates to create three online displays.

Katy Groves, from Historic England, said: “The Harold Wingham Collection is my all-time favourite collection that I have had the privilege to work on.

“There is a timeless quality to his photography that just makes his material stand out.”

Richard Savage, a friend of Wingham’s, said: “I first met Harold in 1970 at the second season of excavations at Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire.

Harold Wingham photographed standing beside an Auster 5J-160 light aircraft (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA)
Harold Wingham photographed standing beside an Auster 5J-160 light aircraft (Historic England Archive/Harold Wingham Collection/PA)

“He came to the site hut, in traditional country walking tweeds and said, in the light, quiet voice all his friends will remember: ‘I wonder whether these might be of any interest to you?’

“He was holding out prints of his classic air photographs of the site. We were indeed very interested, and they were immediately and always important to our work, enabling us to set the excavation results year by year in the context of the unexcavated remainder of the site.

“I came to learn that this quiet, generous approach with important material was characteristic of his kindness and scholarship.”

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