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

I Heart Street Art

Posted by sickbritain On July - 4 - 2009

It’s one of the many Marmite “Love it or Hate It” areas of the art world and a controvertial subject in the general public’s eye but I really do love graffiti, or to use it’s euphemistic moniker, street art. In the world of music I tend to like high-energy music (e.g. drum’n'bass, heavy metal) or songs where the lyrics really have something to say (e.g. rap, hip-hop) and the same can be said of the graffit world – I like a high visual impact or I like the graffiti to speak to me, to carry a message.

I’ve put together a few examples of graffiti that I found whilst grazing the pastures of Flickr, I guess you can’t start any post like this without really mentioning l’artiste du jour: Banksy. Not only is this piece very pretty it also carries with it a heavy social commentary as does much of his work, whist it’s instantly funny I feel a wave of sadness when I look at it – that feeling of our history being washed away…

That’s not to say that you have to be particularly arty to create work with humour and social commentary, there’s something about this piece that I really like even though there’s not a great deal to it…

Whilst it doesn’t carry any appreciable meaning I love aethetics of something like this…

The same goes for this more elaborate and colourful piece, I love it…

I’m not really convinced that this next one counts as Street Art since it was an installation in the Tate Modern but I think it shows what impact a piece of art can have when rendered on a large scale (something graffiti plays to significantly)…

Please don’t get any of my praise confused with tagging (i.e. single line drawn names – neither colourful or artful), the pointless scrawling of a name across a building or railway bridge does nothing for anyone. I’ve heard arguments that graffiti started out as tagging so we should think it’s OK but I don’t buy it, tagging is for wankers – pure and simple. The above examples all take thought and skill, that’s what makes it art to me and that’s what makes it awesome.

I heart street art.

Harperbury Hospital, Mar-2009

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On April - 27 - 2009

tfs_hh_001Almost a year on from my initial visit, this is the third installment of my Harperbury series bringing us up to date (see Harperbury in April 2008, Harperbury in October 2008), a productive visit albeit a short one. I recently decided to upgrade my camera from the Canon 400D to the more robust and richly featured 50D (lord knows I’d love a 5D MKII but the cost is staggering) and I needed somewhere to test it out, it wasn’t the prettiest of days and I felt like a drive so I headed over to Harperbury Hospital. On arrival I didn’t notice much that had changed externally, although there’s a couple more buildings across the site that have been sealed.

tfs_hh_002As usual I gravitated towards the swimming pool and found a whole load of new graffiti (but thankfully no hornets). The paint peeling room is in a glorious state, pretty much the essence of urbex and the “Dark Dark Room” is still as mouldy as ever, despite the mask I could still smell some of the Harperbury stench too – makes me consider using a non-disposable mask. I was on a tight timescale for this visit so I just toured through a few favourite spots and ignored some of the less interesting bits though you never know, they might have become interesting since my last visit – that’s one of the cool things about urban exploration.

After heading back into the real world I was just about to leave and thought that since it’d been such a quick trip and I still had a bit of time spare I might try and get down to part of the facility near the road. It looks as though some of it is still in use but there’s definitely a huge cluster of derelict buildings down there, I’ve just never worked out the best way to get down there without raising the alarm or spooking the residents. Well, this time I thought I’d try going round the back along the edge of the field and it worked a treat! I was still on a whistle-stop tour because of time pressures but I could clearly see that there are quite a few abandoned buildings down there, most of them looked sealed but I didn’t have the time to probe closely.

tfs_hh_003The buildings over here (maybe 10 in total) are arranged around a central ‘playing field’, after a little wander I found one open and accessible building (front door wide open) so naturally I had a look in, unlike a lot of the others over the road many of the buildings down the bottom are two-storey – the stairs seemed solid in my one so I had a proper look around. Architecturally it’s not too different from the others and inside the walls are painted (mostly peeling) either the cream or turquoise-blue that appears to be common across the site. It’s worth noting that in this area there are a couple of diggers so it looks like someone has been working here, that might make it difficult to do anything but weekend or out-of-hours exploration but I suspect that’s what most of us do anyway.

I’m sure I’ll be back at some point, there are still whole areas that I’ve not been into and that somehow gets to me, like an unsolved mystery or when Sky+ buggers up recording the end of an episode of The Apprentice!


Harperbury Hospital, Oct-2008

Posted by thirtyfootscrew On April - 18 - 2009

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!



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).


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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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