Taken over the past 100 years, they can be compared to modern images to show changes in the landscape as well as archaeology hidden beneath the surface and only visible from the air.
The archive includes the outline of the Roman military camp at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, coastal erosion near Kilnsea, the East Hecla steelworks which were demolished to make way for Meadowhall, the foundations of a World War One camp in North Yorkshire and images taken in World War Two of defences such as barrage balloons and a fake airfield.
Over 400,000 images from 1919 to the present day have been added to the tool, covering nearly 30 per cent of England.
Some of the wartime photos were donated by the RAF.
Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “I am delighted that our new online tool will allow people to access easily our wonderful collection of aerial images and enjoy the historic photography that our team uses every day to unlock the mysteries of England’s past.”
What can you view?
Roman camp, Malham
A layer of snow helps to pick out the earthwork of a Roman camp in the hills above Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. This type of camp was built by the Roman army when they were on manoeuvres.
WW2 decoy airfield in Bossall, Ryedale (taken in 1940)
Deception strategies were developed during the war to draw enemy fire away from real airfields. The image shows three wooden dummy aircraft, perched on top of medieval ridge and furrow. Close inspection reveals the wooden props supporting the wings of the furthest plane.
Tholthorpe WW2 airfield, near York
Tholthorpe airfield was a sub-station of nearby RAF Linton-on-Ouse and had grass runways. An attempt to disguise the airfield from the air has been made by softening the edges of the runway although it appears on the photo as a striking dark diagonal mark. The darker lines that extend out from the runway are also painted onto the grass and were intended to confuse those flying over into thinking that the area was covered in fields.
WW2-era Chain Home Low Radar, Bempton (taken in 1941)
Chain Home was the codename for the early warning radar stations built by the RAF before World War Two. Early Chain Home Low sites had separate transmitters and receivers, but after 1942 sites such as Bempton had the transmitter and receiver combined and housed in a single block with the aerials mounted on top. This 1941 photo shows the entire site within a fence and protected by several circular gun emplacements around the central cluster of camouflaged radar transmitter/receiver block and administrative buildings. This site was disbanded in 1945.
Leighton WW1 camp, North Yorkshire
This image shows the remains of Leighton Construction Camp at Breary Banks in North Yorkshire. It was originally constructed to house workers building Leighton Reservoir but became a training camp for the Leeds City Battalion (the ‘Leeds Pals’) and from 1917 was used as a prisoner of war camp. The camp had accommodation huts, a hospital, mission room, school and even its own sewage works.
Sheffield, images show the East Hecla steelworks and Meadowhall in 1946 and 2007
The photographs, taken more than 60 years apart, illustrate the dramatic change in use of this area of Sheffield.
The East Hecla steelworks was an important factory for the production of artillery shells in World War One, producing 289,200 shells. From 1917 some of the factory’s capacity was converted to the manufacture of 60-pounder guns. Shells were also made there during the Second World War.
The East Hecla steelworks was closed in the 1980s and the Meadowhall shopping centre was built on the site between 1990 and 1992.
Rotherham, WW2 barrage balloon - 1940
The 1940 aerial photograph shows a barrage balloon between Rotherham and Sheffield. The balloons were tethered to a ring of concrete blocks and raised and lowered from a lorry-mounted winch.
Barrage balloons were an important element in airborne defence. They were raised to make enemy aircraft fly higher over their intended targets and make bombing less accurate, while also forcing a route that brought them in to the range of anti-aircraft guns.
Fort Godwin, Kilnsea, First and Second World War battery
The East Yorkshire coastline is rapidly eroding and several metres of land can be lost during years of extreme weather. This image shows the remains of Fort Godwin, a coastal gun battery that was active during both World Wars. Originally constructed inland, the receding coastline now means that some buildings are perched on the cliff while large parts are on the beach including one of the circular gun emplacements.