Aerial Photos of the Vale - June 1947


The Ordnance Survey organisation was slow to use aerial photography to map Great Britain. In fact, it was not until 1945 that an Air Photo Division was established in Ordnance Survey, using surplus RAF equipment and staff. Of course by this time RAF aerial photography was arguably the best in the world. It had proved itself in all theatres during WW2 when it had taken million of photos. In 1944 the RAF turned its attention to capturing photographic images of Great Britain itself, which it did between 1944 – 1950 in an undertaking called Project Review.

Project Review flew 500 sorties over Scotland concentrating on the more urban areas which had a requirement for post-war development and redevelopment. The planes used were mainly Spitfires and Mosquitos - ideal for unarmed high speed and high altitude reconnaissance over occupied Europe, but considerable overkill for the job on hand where slower less sophisticated planes would have been better suited. The cameras were state-of-the art F24 and Fairchild 17 cameras, and the pilots were highly skilled RAF reconnaissance pilots.

The project was a great success – perhaps too good as we shall see – and OS decided to publish over 200 mosaics of photographs from the sorties as a stop-gap until conventional surveying and mapping could be carried out. The photographic survey took on the short-hand name of the “Mosaics photographs” since together they built up a mosaic image of the countryside. Initially they were put on sale to the public between 1945 -47, but demand was poor. Also, and more importantly, security concerns arose about just what a powerful tool had been produced.

As early as 1950 doctored Mosaics were being issued which airbrushed over military sites, and by 1951 libraries were asked to withdraw the original Mosaic photographs, while by 1954 even the doctored ones were withdrawn from sale altogether.

It is only in the last few months that they have become available again to the public at large and even at that only on a couple of web-sites: (where selected photographs can be viewed) and also at

Notes on the photography

The Mosaic photographs which follow have been in the possession of Dumbarton Library for some time and we are grateful to Graham Hopner for allowing them to be made available on the web-site. All of the 14 photographs were taken in a few minutes on 16th June 1947. The track of the plane that day was from south to north on the west side of the Leven with a few minor course adjustments on the way - the banking for which shows up on one of the photos.

When he got to Drumkinnon Bay he seems to have swung round and tracked south onto the east side of the Leven. He took the photos by pressing a button and since his 4 cameras (2 under each wing) were set to take stereoscopic photos i.e. 2 images quite close together on each wing or varying them to photograph in two directions more or less simultaneously, he probably pressed the button no more than 3 or 4 times over the Vale that day, the first one being over Place of Bonhill going north and the last over Linnbrain Hole heading south.

The taking of the photos can be grouped into no more than 3 or 4 locations, but apart from photographs 1 and 2 and 7 and 8, they do not appear in the order in which they were taken. That doesn’t really matter since it is the contents of the photographs which are of interest to us.

Apologies to Renton and Bonhill folk, but either the pilot did not take photos while over each town or they have been lost, and now there are no close-up shots of either place. The same is almost true of Balloch and Jamestown, but a number of buildings of interest, which have since disappeared, do appear in the distance in some of the photos.

Alexandria, however, is very well served by the photos and practically every building in the town has been captured in one photograph or another. The overall impression is of how many buildings were packed into the centre of Alexandria in 1947. Many buildings and places, long lost, re-emerge in these photos and many questions can be accurately answered such as, where was Castle Danger or where was Tooraladdie Lane, or what did the Northern Halls look like? A short commentary accompanies each of the 14 photos which hopefully will help readers to identify places and bring a few memories back. Hopefully, too, the photos will prompt readers to contribute corrections, stories and additional information.

The Images and Commentary

Photo 1 taken over Place of Bonhill and looking north-west.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 01

Note the traces of photo identification at the bottom of the image. Places of interest include;

Photograph 2 – probably the stereoscopic image of Photo 1, and covers almost the same territory from a few yards further on, looking north-west.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 02

Points of interest.

Photograph 3 – taken more or less over what was then the Vale Academy and is now Christie Park Primary School, looking south.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 03

The plane had banked slightly to change onto a direct northerly course from the north-west one it was on, and that shows up in the angle of the photo. The photo is taken in a southerly direction and shows amongst other places:

Photograph 4 – the first one from the east of the Leven, taken almost above Linnbrain Hole from the Dalmonach side, looking south.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 04

This is probably slightly out of sequence since the plane is probably heading south by then. There is a treasure trove of images in this photo and this is a by no means complete list of items of interest:

Heading under the railway and north-west up Bank Street, the buildings on the east side of the Street with their backs to the camera are:

Back on the west side of Bank Street just to the right of the railway line and bridge are a row of shops which include

Photograph 5 – taken above the Masonic Temple looking north.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 05

There are a lot of fields, woods and open spaces in this photo which looks right up the Loch, but some points of interest are:

Photograph 6 – taken above the south end of Upper Smollett Street looking north-west.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 06

There are a lot of places of interest in this picture including:

For a picture taken about 2 miles away, it covers a lot of ground.

Photograph 7 – taken above Napierston Terrace and looking south-west

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 07

Photograph 8 – taken from only a few yards further on than 7, is probably another stereoscopic photo, looking south-west.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 08

Much of the content is similar to what is in Photograph 7 but much of the detail is a lot clearer.

Photograph 9 taken from about the junction of Gilmour Street and Middleton Street in the middle of Alexandria looking north.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 09

This photo is a vivid illustration of just how many houses and buildings there were in the centre of Alexandria in 1947, and it had been that way for most of the 20th century, although a few of the buildings had been demolished and replaced. There are even 2 1930’s 3 storey blocks of flats in the town centre, still standing, clearly visible. It is also the only photograph in which you can clearly see any part of the Fountain, even if it is just the top of it. Perhaps the photo’s greatest value is in showing points of interest in the side streets off of Main Street and Bank Street. These include:

Photograph 10 – taken above the Gasworks, looking north-east

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 10

Photograph 11 – taken over Burnbrae looking north-east.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 11

Most of the details in this picture have already been covered elsewhere in the commentary, although there are a couple of points in the background:

Photograph 12 – the next press of the button after 11, taken over Overton Road looking north

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 12

The most striking thing about this photograph is the complete absence of road traffic – no parked cars, no moving traffic not even a cyclist or a horse and cart. There are a number of other points of interest:

Photograph 13 –taken over Upper Smollett Street looking south, may have been taken at the same time as Photograph 12 with a back-facing camera.

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 13

Again many of the details in this image appear in other photos. However there are a few points of note:

Photograph 14 – taken above Drumkinnon Quarry looking due south

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 14

By the time this picture was taken the plane seemed to have turned and was flying south. It contains a number of noteworthy features including:

Aerial images of the Vale of Leven 15

For comparison purposes this is an image that was taken for the Polaroid Corporation in the 1980's when they were major employers in the area. The picture focusses on the Polaroid plant (in the foreground) but most of the rest of the Vale is also visible. Click image for larger version.


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"For those we loved are scattered,
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