Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Research methodology – How to tell a story with data

The beauty of Britain is demonstrated by the famous landmarks, ancient and modern that adorns the landscape from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

Embellished with royal palaces, castles, magnificent cathedrals, legendary sites and picturesque villages, the ever-evolving British landscape has changed dramatically since World War II. Many new developments have been welcomed with open arms, whilst others have courted controversy.

Using our archive of 1.4 million map images, including Historical Maps, which form part of the Envirocheck Report, Landmark Information Group analysed the site of  the Angel of the North, one of the more controversial landmarks built post-war, to demonstrate how the British landscape has changed.

The Story of the Angel of the North
Overlooking the A1 at Gateshead, at least 90,000 motorists a day – more than one person every second – pass the Angel of the North, a steel sculpture of an angel, 66ft tall and with wings measuring 177ft, designed by sculptor Antony Gormley and completed in 1998.

Opponents raised concerns that the sculpture would distract drivers and cause accidents and ruin views.

Built in an area of coal mining, the Angel of the North signifies that coal miners worked beneath the structure for two centuries.

Sculptor, Antony Gormley commented of the Angel of the North: ‘I want to make something we can live with and that becomes a reservoir for feelings – feelings that perhaps we hadn’t known about until this thing was there, or feelings that couldn’t arise until it was’.

Our in-house analysis showed:

  • That the coal pits and collieries surrounding the Angel of the North were largely dis-used by the 1950s.
  • The Angel of the North is built on the site of an old reservoir, a potential source of ground instability.

How you can discover the story behind your site
Although investigating the past land use of a site or area can be a challenging and complex prospect, Landmark Information Group have reduced the complexity of this process by:

  • Establishing and maintaining an archive of digital historical mapping. 
  • Developing on online historical map analysis platform, Envirocheck Analysis
  • Developing bespoke GIS tools for fast and easy data interrogation.
  • Utilising existing GIS software such as Mapinfo and ArcMap for analysis.
  •  Completing the project of analysing the UK’s historic mapping to identify past land use.

With these foundations in place a site’s history can be established  without having to leave your desk, by “peeling back” or “building up” imagery to create layers of easily visualised information. Where changes occur between the image layers changes to the environment and landscape can be identified, both minor and significant.  These can range from alterations of the landscape (in-filling of depressed land and water features) to the development of housing and industrial centres.
Visualisation of data provides unique insight into the changing landscape of the UK that can be accessed through our environmental product range.

Take the first step to discovering the story behind your site
If you would like more information about the Envirocheck Report, or to book a demonstration of Envirocheck Analysis, please contact 0844 844 9952 or email

Application: Analysis of the Angel of the North

Angel of the North site as depicted on streetview mapping

Using a bespoke data interrogation tool we selected and viewed combinations of the hundreds of datasets available to Landmark.   With our site selected we chose to view landfill data from multiple sources, both historic and contemporary, and current licensed waste sites, planning application data, fuel stations, areas of outstanding natural beauty and many more.

Next we composited historical map images with OS mapping to create a visual depiction of changes to the human and natural landscape. In the case of the Angel of the North we started by viewing a county series map from 1862. 

The map image depicts collieries, coal pits and rail infrastructure in the area.

County series historic map overlaid on contemporary Ordnance Survey mapping.

The 1862 County series map.

Layering historical map images reveals that the site of the Angel is built directly on top of a man-made reservoir.

Angel of the North site with Landmark’s in-filled land feature displayed as a red polygon.

1951 Ordnance Survey mapping depicting the reservoir site still in use.

Landmark’s holding of historical mapping is viewable within Envirocheck Analysis, an online software tool, aimed to provide significant time saving and improved accuracy benefits when undertaking historical map analysis,. These historical maps are projected over the national grid to ensure accuracy.   For any one area there can be as many as forty unique maps, spanning from the mid-1800s to the modern day.

In the case of the Angel of the North we have thirty viewable maps, ranging from 1859 to 2013.

The historic maps used for the analysis of the Angel of the North are available as part of the Envirocheck Report, which delivers site-specific information, that enable you to complete a phase 1 desk study.

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