FOR almost a century, until the years immediately after the First World War, photographers employed by the Aerofilms company recorded the changing face of England from the air. When Aerofilms started out, the railway was the predominant form of transport, with a network of main, secondary and branch lines stretching across the land.

But as the 20th century progressed, the dominance of the railways declined as motorcars and lorries became preferred modes of transport.

Early railway builders had invested greatly in creating impressive stations for what had been a new, revolutionary form of transport and, in the 19th century, leading architects were commissioned by the railway industry. After the Second World War, however, many of these buildings were swept away.

In his new book, England’s Railway Heritage from the Air, Bradford-born Peter Waller uses images from the Aerofilms collection held by Historic England Archive, to depict the country’s railway heritage from the skies. From this vantage point in the air, we can see how much the railway came to dominate our landscape, even in small country towns. Along with tunnels and viaducts, the railway shaped much of the landscape of modern England.

Drawing upon 150 images from the collection, Peter Waller explores various aspects of our railway history, from city stations and glorious Victorian engineering and architecture to the humble goods yard and signal box.

“The aerial views offer a unique perspective on how railways could dominate the landscape,” says Peter. The author of many books on transport heritage and industrial archaeology, he has worked with the Aerofilms Collection for a quarter of a century. His new book follows England’s Maritime Heritage, published in 2017.

England’s Railway Heritage includes an image of Bradford Forster Square station, taken on July 14, 1937. The first railway to reach Bradford was the Leeds & Bradford, authorised by an Act of Parliament of July 4, 1844 to construct a 22km route from Leeds, via the River Aire valley, to Shipley then to run parallel to the Bradford Canal to Bradford.

Passenger services were introduced on July 1, 1846 to a station at the end of Market Street, initially known simply as ‘Bradford’. With the opening of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s station at Drake Street (later the Exchange) in 1850, the first station was known as the ‘Midland’, ‘Market Street’ and ‘Forster Square’. From 1924 onwards, it was known as Bradford Forster Square.

The Leeds & Bradford Railway had constructed a neoclassical station, but following the Midland Railway takeover in 1851, the new owners built a larger station in 1853. By the 1880s it was insufficient for the growing industrial city of Bradford, with North Eastern Railway also now serving the station (courtesy of the Otley & Ilkley Joint Railway and running powers over the MR route from Milner Wood Junction to Bradford), and a new station, including a hotel, designed by Charles Trubshaw, was completed in 1890. Visible in the 1937 photograph, taken from the south-east side, are the hotel, the station with its six platforms and roof, the goods offices and screen arcade.

Under the ‘Reshaping’ report of 1963, most passenger services from Forster Square were listed for closure. While the Leeds to Bradford and Harrogate to Bradford services were withdrawn - subsequent electrification saw the former reinstated in the 1990s - local authority support led to the retention of local services to Ilkley and Skipton via Keighley. As part of rebuilding in the 1960s, the roof was removed and replaced with concrete platform awning, and the concourse area was also rebuilt in concrete. Bradford was home to some of the country’s largest mail order businesses- and from the mid-1960s Forster Square was perceived primarily as a parcels depot.

The most significant survival of Trubshaw’s rebuilding work is the Grade II listed Midland Hotel, and part of the screen arcade linking the hotel and goods offices.

Also featured in the book is Pudsey Greenside, initially a single line to freight traffic in 1877. Both Pudsey stations survived until being listed for closure in March, 1963. Writes Peter: “Since the line’s closure, the station site at Greenside has been re-developed with warehousing and housing, although the Carlisle Road overbridge remains, illustrating where the railway once ran.”

Peter also highlights the fight to preserve the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, which led to passenger services restored in June, 1968.Two years later the railway achieved enduring fame as the backdrop of much-loved film The Railway Children.

Morecambe - once known as “Bradford-on-sea” - is featured, with a striking image of the Midland Hotel, built to replace the ageing North Western. The Midland stands opposite the ex-Midland Railway Morecambe Promenade station which, although no longer a station, remains in commercial use.

* England’s Railway Heritage from the Air, published by Historic England, £35.