Archive for the ‘Spotlight’ Category

Harperbury Hospital, Aug-2009

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On August - 26 - 2009

Corridor in New BuildingI’ve been hankering after a proper wide-angle lens for a while and after ages of trying to decide between the Sigma 10mm and the Sigma 10-20mm, I’d kind-of settled on the zoom because you get a little more flexibility and it’s cheaper but I’d read that the 10-20 had quite poor build quality.  On a pay-day whim I ended up buying the Tamron 10-24mm (which had favourable comparisons to the Sigma 10-20) and tonight I popped out to give it a quick test – the weather was turning out rubbish so I needed somewhere indoors and Harperbury seemed ideal.

The place was in an even worse state than the last time which one would expect to be the case in a derelict building but the bulk of the new damage is human and one of the previously sealed buildings was open on three sides, I even saw the remnants of what would’ve been a padded cell but only the floor was intact as the walls had been stripped bare.

It was interesting to explore a couple of new rooms but they all looked essentially the same as the others anyway – pretty mashed up…

Needs Redecorating

It’s often difficult to find inspiration in a site you’ve visited before and I really struggled to find anything to do that I’d not done before, despite the new lens – it didn’t help much that I was knackered after a long day at work either.  

37I guess this is a lesson really, that the fun and interesting part of Urban Exploration really is the ‘exploration’ component – finding something new and interesting as opposed to covering the same ground over and over again. Just because it’s probably the most diverse building on the site, I spent the longest amount of time in the swimming pool block doing a couple of long exposures but I really didn’t get anything I hadn’t done before and I didn’t have the patience to do time consuming work such as light painting, which is a pity as it’s quite a cool spot to do it.

I achieved the lighting in these shots through a combination of the light from my head torch and the external flash unit being handheld off-camera…

Oxford Dipper

Swimming Pool

West Park Asylum, Jul-2009

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On July - 26 - 2009

The fact that there’s so many abandoned asylums across the country mystifies me, why did they all close? Where are all the former and/or expected residents? Are we all collectively more well-adjusted these days to the point where asylums are no longer needed? I think this mystery along with the general mystery of the mind and its maladies is what makes exploring abandoned asylums a particular favourite of mine, they have odd layouts and structures – nothing quite like an industrial or commercial site.  West Park has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while, it’s one of the more popular destinations on the urbex ‘circuit’ and I assumed that because of this and the wealth of Flickr photos of the place that it was completely uninhabited and extremely easy to get into but only one of my assumptions was true. On arrival I followed my sat-nav right up into the complex, right past the security/construction hut and up to a place with at least 20-odd cars dotted about – not the abandoned site I was expecting! Whilst I was driving up the main internal road I did spot what appeared to be a derelict area in the background so I knew I was in the right place but I just hadn’t approached it in the best way, as it goes I’d have probably gotten away with parking amongst (what I assume are) the staff cars because there were enough of them that I probably wouldn’t have looked out of place.  Instead I just stuck the car around the corner in a less obtrusive place though I did park it on its own so perhaps it would’ve stood out more. Rather than walking right back through the main gate I wandered up a footpath alongside the complex and came across one of several holes in the fence that was a doddle to step through, still I ended up behind a building that looked like it might be in use so I was getting a little concerned but a short walk around the back of this building (and the accompanying van parked outside) led to an area that was clearly abandoned and a massive area it is! I wasn’t really limited by time during my explore at West Park but I knew that I’d only be there a few hours, I find that explores lasting much longer are more likely to result in detection so I don’t like to push my luck, with that in mind I treated the day as extended reconnaissance and tried to get a good feel for the place with a view to returning in the future. Once into the derelict area of the site I came across building after building, most of them sealed which I presume were wards though I couldn’t get into them to see what the layout was like, each of the buildings had an accompanying green hut that was half way between a summer house and a bus shelter. After coming across so many sealed buildings I eventually got to an area where there were lots of smashed windows, this allowed me to grab a couple of shots by putting the camera through the window and shooting with the flash on, the photos didn’t always turn out but it’s interesting to see what was in there. After the smashed-window building I found a door that had been sealed but subequently ripped open, I clambered in and found what is probably the grubbiest and most rotten room I’ve ever seen during an explore…

Whilst I was positioning my camera to take shots of this room I did have a feeling that there was someone nearby, I even saw a shadow (of what looked like a man) flick across one of the windows at the far end of the building which got my heart pumping a little bit! After staying still for a while I carried on taking photos but for at least fifteen minutes I had a definite sense that I wasn’t alone and sure enough when I clambered back out of the doorway I was confronted by a deer, yes – a deer! There seemed to be quite a lot of them in this area of the complex and whilst they were a bit jumpy they were very curious and in some cases approached me for a better look, only the babies ran away through fear – the adults just stood there stating at me. After the ‘Caution Wet Floor’ room I came across a boarded up prefab right next to what looked like an entrance to the site next to a large car parking area, I think this may be one of the boundaries between the derelict site and the live site, there was a van parked in the near distance as well but I couldn’t see any signs of activity so I carried on. The prefab’s lock was smashed off so I had a look around, the place was completely boarded up so it was pitch black inside but with my trusty head torch I could see that the place was in a derelict but not completely ruined state, I managed to get the chair shot below on a 30s exposure, at f/14 on ISO 1000 and that was with the aid of the head torch! Other than having a couple more face-offs with the local wildlife I didn’t stick around too much longer, I identified a few areas that warrant further exploration so no doubt I’ll be back at some point. I’m not sure exactly how to get into the main corridor network but judging by Flickr plenty have done so – if anyone who knows the place can offer some pointers please let me know.

Harperbury Hospital, Apr-2008

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On April - 11 - 2009

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!

Safety Notes & General Tips

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).


Nocton RAF Hospital, Mar-2009

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On April - 6 - 2009

I originally made an ill-fated trip down here in May 2008 and managed to get one useful shot off before my camera (a Canon 400D) started throwing up the chilling ‘ERR99′ – the error it shows when it knows somethings is wrong but doesn’t know what. Thankfully that turned out just to be the Tamron 17-50mm I had (since replaced by the Sigma) but it did mean my original attempt at Nocton was an epic fail. I don’t really pass through this area very often so it was a while before I could make my repeat visit but in March I managed to swing by with an hour or two to spare and it was well worth it. There are two possible explores at Nocton, one is Nocton Hall (pictured right) and the other is the enormous former 740-bed RAF Hospital, I went for the latter and passed by the hall as I had limited time and the lure of an abandoned RAF hospital was just too much!

Entrance to the site was simple, I parked up right next to the giant metal gates which were already completely busted up. I got my tools out (Canon 400D, Sigma 18-50mm, Speedlite 580 EXII, Maglite), gloves on (left hand full DeWalt, right hand fingerless), mounted my head-torch and headed on into the site. At first I had a poke around some of the nearby buildings and a few Anderson shelters before heading towards the nearer edge of the site, at this point I pulled back because that area is easily visible from the houses and flats in the distance and I didn’t want to blow my cover this early! After looking around a few of the other buildings in near the gate I headed rightwards.

It’s easy to underestimate this place at first but Nocton is truly massive – space isn’t really a problem in Lincolnshire so almost all of the buildings are single storey and if you imagine a combined RAF base and 740-bed hospital it ends up being an extremely large site. Inside the main body of the facility there are a series of long corridors, in what appears to be the main building there’s a large corridor running down from front to back (i.e. from the gate end straight forward) which is then crossed by long corridors running to the left and right at several intersections down the main corridor.

The walls contain directions around the site in the form of coloured stripes and every now and again you see a red bar hanging from the ceiling showing which department you’re at, in my time there the only labelled bits I made it to were the pharmacy, path lab, surgical ward and gynaecology department. Pretty much all of the rooms across the site are large and empty, it’s reasonably clear to see where an area would have been full of beds (i.e. a standard ward) and where there would’ve been a series of private rooms with beds but some of the areas are a bit ‘different’ and have some interesting little quirks. One of the more interesting buildings I found must have been some kind of administrative block and housed a giant safe, seemingly impossible to get into now but the door is still there and the whole unit is at least the size of a normal door. The place must have housed sensitive documents and military secrets, I’m not sure exactly when Nocton closed down but it’s intriguing to think about whether there’s still some classified material stashed away in there!

Across the whole of the base there are in excess of 50 buildings (see Google Maps) so there’s quite a lot of work to be done if you want to cover the whole place. I only skimmed the surface really but I think I managed to rush my way in and out of most of the major areas (but certainly not every building in each area). In terms of safety I saw a couple of signs and even some graffiti pointing out that there is asbestos present on the site so make sure you go in there wearing a P3 dust mask.

I picked mine up at Screwfix for about £5, there are cheaper P3 masks but don’t compromise your safety by using a lower rated (or unrated) mask or by using some other fabric to cover your mouth – if it doesn’t work out you could end up with serious illness down the line. Otherwise I thought that most of the surroundings, floors, ceilings and the occasional staircase all seemed relatively intact – it doesn’t mean they all are though so keep your wits sharp and don’t forget to read the Urbex Safety post.

After exploring for nearly a couple of hours I began to get one of those ‘sixth sense’ feelings that I’d overstayed my welcome and decided to leave, I took my time traversing the site and popped into a few areas on the way but I was fully intending to head off the site. I’d gotten this strange vibe that maybe I wasn’t alone on the site, it’s hard to explain why as I hadn’t heard any voices and sites like this always have strange noises (doors creaking/banging, pipes rattling, etc.). I wouldn’t say that I was worried as it was a windy day which will increase that sort of ‘natural’ activity and besides the only people likely to be on the site would be other people exploring and I’ve always found other explorers to be polite and courteous (if not slightly suspicious!) but something deep inside me told me that I really ought to leave and it’s always worth listening to your instinct.


Annesley Colliery, Mar-2009

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On April - 2 - 2009

I grew up in a mining area and like so many others the mines that my father and grandfather worked in were closed down in the eighties and nineties. For me this made visiting a still intact and historically significant mine such as Annesley an absolute must, especially given that the whole thing could be torn down any minute, my historical information on this mine comes from Subterranea Britannica whose article dates the mine back to 1865, running all the way up to the year 2000.

Despite the fact that the whole area of Annesley has been designated a Conservation Area many of the buildings on the site have been demolished and there is a great fear among the locals (proud of their heritage) that the rest will go too, along with the iconic headstocks that still stand. Besides the headstocks only two other buildings have been spared the bulldozers, one I believe housed the canteen and the other seems to have some exterior winch-like equipment but I have not managed to determine it’s original usage.  An article in local newspaper The Chad says that demolition was given the green light in January 2009.

Surrounded by a mound of dirt and piles of extremely large tyres, the only building left easily accessible is the headstocks still white with the giant red “A” on the side (although it shares it’s space with some graffiti now). Once you’ve made your way past the completely ineffective (bent out of shape) fence you’re into the main chamber, there’s a few bits of hanging metal and cables around but it seems safe enough. The area inside is relatively small and you can’t see a great deal looking up to the roof but there is a ladder, for safety reasons I didn’t do the climb myself but others have in the past and have lived to tell the tale – take care whatever you decide. There’s a lot of metalwork inside, along with a giant rusted doorway and several rusted pieces of switchgear left over from the mine’s operational days.

The other buildings weren’t easily accessible and I was in a hurry so I didn’t try too hard to get in either of them, the winch building does have a window entrance that might be OK and the larger building with the clock seems to be fenced off but there may be a way in round the side or front (it is accessible from the main road).

I’m not quite sure if this causes a TimeCop-esque Urbex paradox but I did come across a few bricks on the site made by the London Brick Company, previously based at one of my recent explores at Stewartby Brickworks – I guess the world is full of coincidences!


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About Me

If youre into Urbex or youre trying to find out what its all about you may find yourself needing some help finding out about the art of Urban Exploration.  Here at Sick Britain Im planning to put up original content like my What is Urbex? and Urbex Safety articles as well as posting links to other community sites such as 28 Days Later or Derelicte.

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