Having made an initial visit to Harperbury in April 2008 I went back in October 2008 with a friend of mine, also a photographer. He’d been intrigued by the shots I’d posted on Flickr and fancied a look around the place so we headed over, it was cool to have two of us there to bounce ideas off of each other and also to act as models / props / light stands for each-other. On arrival I found a couple of previously open buildings had now been sealed but otherwise access and the site as a whole remained relatively unchanged.
On entry into one of the first open buildings (the one with the swimming pool) we took a few photos then headed into the main hall, there we could hear a very low-level buzzing sound. As soon as I realised what it was ‘the fear’ rushed over me: it was a hornet’s nest and I’m scared to death of bees and wasps let alone their giant evil cousins! They were very dopey and zig-zagged around the hall very slowly and crawled in and out of roof tiles and all over the floor (I’m itching just thinking about it). Luckily they were dopey enough that when they’d landed they were ignorable and when they were airborne the buzzing was plenty loud enough that you knew to get the hell out of the way!
After a little poke around the swimming pool area and a brief stab at light painting we moved on to what I assume must have been the wards of Harperbury – large (but not massive) rooms, all with high ceilings. It’s in here where you find some of the cooler graffiti, as well as some of the most dangerous and sodden flooring so please pay equal attention to both the walls and the floors. After light painting at some of the graffiti spots we headed down to a room with severe paint peeling at the end of the block, most noteworthy as it’s the only place I’ve ever seen stalactites having formed indoors (in this case on a light fitting).
On the way out we spotted a windowless room with an intact door so we went in to do some light painting and shut the door behind us, inside it was pitch black and very quiet (aside from the two of us chatting and flailing Maglites around). As we were timing an exposure I thought I heard a noise outside the door, I turned around to see the door move slightly and I knew that it wasn’t the wind as it’s a heavy old door. With no hesitation whatsoever I walked over to the door and pulled it wide open to find myself face-to-face with a terrified guy who panicked and ran away, I stepped out of the room in time to see him fall on the floor as he ran and then spotted his friends also looking mildly panicked. As I pulled my mask off and said “Hi” they realised I wasn’t a threat (neither maniac nor security) and we stopped to chat for a bit, they were just exploring as well so I apologised for causing any alarm and we went our separate ways.
The rest of the explore was less eventful, we covered some of the lower buildings and got a couple of good shots in the padded playpen, usually I find when I visit Harperbury there’s not a great deal of variation once you’re past the main buildings so we sped through a lot of them finding nothing unusual save for the decomposing corpse of a bird (still pretty well preserved). We finished off the day with a good set of shots between us but I always come away from that place feeling a little grubby, even though I wear a mask, gloves, wellies, etc. – it’s nothing a good shower can’t fix though!