long grove | early urbex
Photographed: 1995

Whilst this all still seems relatively new, lone urban explorers have been quietly sneaking around for decades, and it was only the social networking provided by the Internet that allowed explorers to hook up, explore together, share locations and form communities.

Every now and then, I get sent pictures from explorations which took place in the eighties and nineties. These are extremely interesting as they often feature buildings which were demolished before urban exploration became more popular; buildings that would’ve been targets if they were still with us.

Therefore I was extremely pleased when Brett Robertson, now living in New Zealand, found a cache of old photographs.

"Of particular interest is a small collection of photos I took of Long Grove Hospital at one of the many visits friends and I made to the hospital having 'discovered' it abandoned in 1995. Unfortuantely by this time vandals had all but destroyed the complex and the theatre had been torched. I have often wondered what became of the beautiful buildings and after a google search have discovered your urbex site and learnt that Long Grove has in fact been redeveloped into housing. I am fascinated by your site. The experiences at Long Grove were truly amazing. Although extremely eerie and an almost sinister experience.I developed much confidence by braving the last bus trip from Surbiton after a few prepatory ales and roaming the compound (and basement by torch light) on a few occasions. I actually enjoyed the tranquility of being at Long Grove and absorbing the history, while at the same time letting the imagination run wild contemplating what must have gone on there in the past."

These are his pictures...

This is a possible hospital worker's cottage, or small gatehouse, in the grounds. Architecturally it’s more akin to 1930s suburbia than a Edwardian asylum. However, the triangular roof decoration is shared by the gatehouses of Horton Asylum (just across the road). As G T Hine designed both, and at this point was busy rubber-stamping the same asylum design all around London’s outskirts, then the similarities between both should be expected.

This building was probably either nurses' accommodation or (more likely) a patients' villa. Again, some of Hine’s architectural style can be see here with his distinctive use of pebbledash on the upper floors (a nod to the Arts And Crafts movement).

"I was a patient at this villa between 1964-1966 aged 12-14. The villa was home to about 20 or so children (dorns) male and female. The picture that you have of possible workers cottage/gatehouse (above) was actually a school for us youngsters and I recall a bit of a chapel. Many memories. Kids used to run away and were subsequently captured around Epsom by the police and returned to the Hospital, injected with a sedative and put in a padded room for days on end then returned to the villa, some never came back.

"I have some very fond memories of having young relationships while there. But also some very disturbing memories of young kids who were suicidal and how they were treated.

"I often wonder to this day what became of theese kids an if there still alive?

"I'd be very happy to talk with anyone who is interested and where my life went from there. It would be nice to go to my grave knowing that some survived. - Paul Finn

As Long Grove was essentially a slightly better version of Horton (with the position of the Administration Block being the only real difference) then I can use the Horton floor plans to try and identify the main asylum buildings. This ward is easily identified by its four sequential bay windows. We're actually in an airing court, in the heart of the complex of buildings and this is either the Laundry Patients (Female) day rooms or the Chronic And Working Patients (Male) day rooms.

Note the horizontal lines of black bricks which serve to highlight the buff concrete lintels above the windows. Whilst this banding is a characteristic of Hine’s designs, this colour scheme appears unique to Long Grove. Oddly, surviving building at Long Grove (including some of the ward blocks) don’t share this colour scheme (they use Hine’s classic standard yellow stock bricks for the banding).

The blue colour of this unidentified room suggests a workshop or storage area, perhaps in the male half of the asylum.

This shot is really difficult to identify. It’s possible that Long Grove and Horton also differed with respect to the configuration of the boiler house, water tower, kitchen courtyards and so on. This may explain why I’ve failed to identify this view using Horton's plans.

My one suggestion is that we’re looking over the kitchen courtyard, with the Stores to the right, the start of the Kitchens to the left, and a large Meat Store in the centre.

However, the large building just off to the left of the shot looks a little too grand, and too tall, to be part of the kitchen complex.

Any ideas?

I had more luck with this shot. It’s taken from the first floor, looking across the semicircular main corridor and over towards the back of Female Acute Ward 1-44 (to use Horton's naming). This the only ward to have the placement of the sanitation tower (to the left) and the small lavatory spur to the right which has allowed me to identify it.

Note again the distinctive use of the black bricks for all the banding. This gives Long Grove a rather unexpected grim appearance.

This is obviously the Ballroom and, unfortunately, in a familiar state for most urban explorers. However, this was back in 1995! It would seem arsonists have been burning down the Ballrooms since the asylums started closing. An interior view (below) shows the doors bricked up with breeze blocks (suggesting the hall has been in this state for a while).

As Long Grove has been converted to housing, I’ve only visited once to look at the Administration Block. But when I went looking for Netherne's cemetery I got chatting to a David Wilson Homes representative on the Netherne site. She'd worked on the conversions of Netherne, Warlingham and Long Grove. Her memories of Long Grove were not good: she hated it and found it a particularly creepy and eerie place.

It had its famous patients: Ronnie Kray was admitted to Long Grove. They dosed him on Stermatol and assigned him to Napier Ward. He made the radiator his best friend and thought the man in the opposite bed was a dog.

When Iain Sinclair trudged around the M25 for his book “London Orbital” he also trudged around Long Grove and Horton asylums en-route. Long Grove was secured, guard dogs on patrol, access impossible. It’s a pity there wasn’t a friendly urban explorer to call on at the time.

In a pub, keeping to the generic rules of crime fiction, she fell into conversation with a ‘large balding man, dressed in grey overalls.‘ He was a driver; for years he had delivered medical equipment to the hospitals in Horton Lane. ‘He moved closer and told me in whispers that the Long Grove had mysteriously burned down, along with the records, five years previously... He lowered his eyebrows and told of strange goings-on, unexplained fires, weird disappearances.‘ When Rachel produced her notebook, the man backed off, retreated to the fruit machine. ‘More than my jobs’s worth,‘ he muttered" - Iain Sinclair, London Orbital

If the Internet urban exploration movement started ten years before it did, then Long Grove would've been a right-of-passage, the first asylum to be explored, the first to be mourned when it was redeveloped. Good to know that others were there with cameras first.

Pictures: © Brett Robertson 1995
Text: © Simon Cornwell 2007

"I was interested in your photo of [Long Grove] where I trained. I worked there from 1985 to 1991. Many happy memories. Sad that most who bought the flats there today only use them as a second home. The famous I nursed: Pete Green of Fleetwood Mac in Ross Ward; Belinda Cunningham (Terry Thomas' wife was in A2 ward). When he passed away our Nursing Staff brought his Wife to the funeral where I met his sons Timothy and Cushan. I got promotion and moved to Crewe from there later working in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey before settling back home in Scotland. I originally moved to London when Norman Tebbit famously said we need to get on our bike if we want to find work. My registration as a Staff Nurse gave me a ticket to travel." - J.Lavery R.M.N