I’ve been to Harperbury a few times and my photos have been up on Flickr for ages but I’ve never actually put together a site report. The trouble is that I went there really before I knew what Urbex was – I was just looking for somewhere cool to take photos, as such the details an nuances of the visit or lost although I have been there recently (brief site report due soon) so I have a good memory of what the place looks and feels like.
Harperbury was built as a specialised Mental Health / Learning Disability hospital in the period between the first and second world wars, referred to at the time as either an ‘asylum’ or a ‘colony’. At it’s height the place had over 200 staff and over 1,500 patients, for a full historical account of the place please read the excellent History of Harperbury Hospital which goes into quite some depth. The site is quite large but despite those stats the site doesn’t feel like it has the scale of somewhere like Nocton Hospital, partly because many of the buildings are at least 2-storey and the buildings are also quite close together. It’s worth noting that some of the site appears to still be operational and there’s a small cluster of houses right at the bottom of the lane where I usually park so be careful not to spook the people who live there as it’s not fair.
First Visit: Discovering Harperbury
The first time I went to Harperbury was in April 2008, in fact I went twice split over two weekends through lack of time to explore (the first was more like a reccy). Both times I went on my own and found the experience to be quite spooky but quite exciting too, especially given that in the very first building I encountered graffiti advertising “<— DEATH THIS WAY”, I checked and it turned out to be a toilet – nothing too sinister! This very same building (along with most of the others on the site) is now boarded up properly and I’m not the type to go forcing my way in so I’m glad I got the chance to have a look around when I did.
As the site is very close to convenient parking I took my tripod with me (I often don’t bother because of the added weight) which enabled me to get one of my favourite shots to date: Dark Dark Room (pictured right), the room itself was pitch black and I mean pitch black – you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face even. The exposure was taken over 30 seconds and all of light in the picture comes from my trusty Maglite which I striped furiously across the room as even as possible but you can clearly see the mottled exposure it created, my first experience of light painting. Despite it’s semi-rural location there’s quite a bit of graffiti in there, some general rubbish (tags, crap slogans) and some quite visually striking pieces. Sadly I was short on time during both visits so I only managed a quick poke around the lower buildings but I knew I’d end up returning at some point!
There’s lots of insulation hanging from the ceilings, I’m not sure if there’s any asbestos about but given the state of considerable ruin the place is in (and if nothing else the general stench) I’d recommend wearing a P3 mask when you visit. It’s also worth noting that there are quite a lot of bad floors at Harperbury so you should wear boots/wellies for protection and tread carefully (try to stick to the under-floor beams if you can (they’re the only truly solid bit in some rooms).