misc | books
Last update: 29|07|06

Left London

William Eckersley and Alexandrer Shields
ISBN 0-9553143-0-5

Londoners could be mistaken in thinking their city was under siege. With the forthcoming Olympic developments bulldozing a huge swathe through the east end, the ill conceived demolition of Wembleyís twin towers and the potential toppling of Batterseaís cooling stacks, the capital seems to be changing at ever increasing rates.

With the exception of the popular Derelict London website, the capitalís many derelict and disappearing haunts remain undocumented and unrecorded in their final throes. Urban explorers, perhaps unwilling to pay the congestion charge, limit themselves to the periphery, circling the capital and picking off the odd asylum in their path. Derelict London itself is an unsatisfying prick tease; all bluster and talk, with no penetration, no satisfying probing of the interiors.

This is where Left London succeeds. The first book by Stucco Press is also the first to get to grips with the capitalís derelict landscape. Travelling the length and breath of Londonís sprawl over the course of a year, photographers Alexander Shields and William Eckersley immersed themselves in Londonís lost, decaying and decrepit places, recording the final vistas of ruination, and finding unexpected beauty and grandeur as the old buildings succumbed to nature or the bulldozer.

Whilst completing a Masters course at Central Saints Martin, Shields' initial idea was to create artistic installations within derelict places, using the shattered surroundings at backdrops to his work. He then discovered the backgrounds were far more interesting, and embarked on quest, aided by architectural photographer Eckersley. The resulting thousands of pictures whittled down, sorted into categories and presented as a thick, glossy coffee table book, became an alternative guide to London.

Targeting into industry, transport, health and leisure (which became the four chapters of the book), Shields and Eckersley scrambled around old mills, walked track beds, infiltrated hospitals and asylums, and breached social clubs and lidos. Their first forays sometimes became unwitting epitaphs, as the demolition teams moved in and reduced the buildings to rubble before their return trip. This served to emphases the transient nature of the capitalís derelict places, the dynamism of the genres following them, and the poignant reminder that nothing lasts forever.

They captured the eerie wonders found within derelict places perfectly. The operating theatre at Putney Hospital with lighting still burning; a desk at Cane Hill with a phone angled as if to be waiting for a call, the empty Lidos just requiring a quick top-up. They also captured the buildingsí temporary last uses: as graffiti artistsí canvasses, urban explorersí wildernesses and arsonists wet dreams.

Apart from Telegraph journalistís Gervase de Wildeís introduction, the book features no text. To try to contextualise and rationalize the images would time consuming, space wasting and, ultimately, would detract from the bold, colour pictures themselves. To repeat a hackneyed phrase, the pictures do tell their own, somewhat morbid, sad, stories.

Weighing in at 170 pages, Left London is a hefty tome, packed with colour pictures of strangeness and stillness. Urban explorers will be familiar with some of these places, but Shields and Eckersley find new ways to represent them. (For example, their photographs of the extensively covered Cane Hill offer some new views and unexplored areas, a fresh viewpoint on an overexposed subject). For that, and all the other pages, this book should definitely be tracked down.

For copies and further information: www.leftlondon.co.uk

Crossley Hospital East
The Rise And Fall Of A Sanatorium

Daniel Clark
The Scientific Press Ltd, London

One of my critiques of urban exploration, especially when used as a modus operandi for a higher purpose, is the sheer randomness of the entire process. Documenting a building entirely is difficult, especially if evading patrols, sneaking past PIRs and blocked by barricades.

Imagine the possibilities if given the opportunity to do it properly, unfettered by chance and circumstance.

Offered such an opportunity, Daniel Clark grabbed it with both hands. His passion, Crossley Hospital East, a former Sanatorium lost in the woodland of Delamere, Cheshire, had been lying derelict for over ten years. With permission, Clark photographed its decaying exteriors and lost interiors. This book is the result.

Professionally bound and printed using high quality paper, the 94 page book offers a short history of the institution, then takes the reader around the exteriors before diving in the dilapidated interiors and culminates with the ancillary buildings scattered around the site. Combining the vastness of empty wards, stairwells and communal spaces with the miniature of abandoned furniture and rusting fixtures, the book confers both the size of the institution and glimpses of the human stories that undoubtedly played out there.

Crossley Hospital East is not a history of the hospital, nor offers any opinions or solutions to the buildingís predicament. It simply shows it how it was (using a small selection of archival photos) and how it is now. It is a picture book where the hospital tells its own story.

The pictures are black and white and taken in winter. This conspires to make the location noticeably bleak and flat, losing the beauty and detail of any coloured brickwork and stone. This is my only main criticism, which is purely subjective at best, as the pictures are beautifully taken and framed. There is also noticeable pixilation in a couple of shots, which betrays digital origins, but doesnít detract.

Those who like derelict places, and the delay and beauty of these fragile places, should purchase a copy.

Additionally those interested in the documentation and photographic preservation of derelict and lost places, and who want their work recognised and immortalized, should definitely buy this book. Itís the way forward. It shows whatís possible. For that, itís is extremely important.

For copies and further information: www.crossleysanatorium.co.uk

Hospital and Asylum Architecture in England 1840-1914
Building for Health Care

Jeremy Taylor
ISBN 0-7201-2059-4

Published in 1991, Jeremy Taylorís comprehensive and detailed study is now almost impossible to find. But if you can locate a copy, then itís definitely worth purchasing if youíre interested in the development of the asylum.

Twenty eight pages are devoted to the rise of the Victorian and Edwardian asylums - from ad-hoc designs through the corridor, radiating pavilion, echelon and colony patterns. Many urban exploration favourites are covered, and Taylor supplies comprehensive lists of asylums, architects and projects.

Taylorís lists were subsequently used by SAVE to compile their own report (see below).

Mind Over Matter
A Study Of The Country's Threatened Mental Asylums

Published by Save Britainís Heritage, this list of Victorian and Edwardian asylums formed the basis of my own asylum list. But this 150 page booklet features much more than my summary. Along with a picture of each asylum (some of which werenít the most flattering), thereís a section on the buildingís history, usage, and forthcoming plight.

Thereís also essays on asylums, the landscaping of their grounds and the development of their architecture.

Itís now totally out of date, being written in the early nineties, and sad to say, most of the buildings have now gone or are being converted.

But itís an excellent resource and I recommend purchasing a copy from SAVEís website.

No Voice From The Hall
Early Memories of a Country House Snooper

John Harris
ISBN 0-7195-6149-3

"The demolition of these houses is a tragic story, but the author's battles with weather and hostile caretakers, and his discovery of unexpected treasures, are entertaining and beautifully written." Eric Anderson, Sunday Telegraph

John Harris: proto urban explorer. Not that he'd ever call himself that, preferring the more mischevious "country house snooper". But this book is the precursor to everthing on this website; except his snooping lead him to become a member of the RIBA staff and to work for Pevsner (several times).

Harris concentrates on the glut of country houses left to rot after the war (in a similar way that I seek out asylums) and his wealth of pictures and incredible stories of cheek and cunning are a delight.

What he saw, and explored, and watched being demolished, is amazing. The urban landscape has changed, society has changed, but all his methods (even down to pretending to be relatives of the owner of the building) could still be used today.

Echoing Voices
More Memories of a Country House Snooper

John Harris
ISBN 0-7195-6492-1

Echoing Voices covers Harris' early life, reading as an expanded version of the Prologue of the first book. In some ways, this book should be read first, as it sets the scene for No Voice From The Hall. And it also paints a picture of the wild, almost unruly Harris, and some of the (dangerous) adventures he got caught up in.

And then there are the tales of sneaking around country estates, or simply racing up private roads, snatching photographs, and wheel spinning away on their gravel drives.

"By 1939 a frisson went through Cliff Villas whenever we arrived, due soley to my rebellious behaviour. Over the years I broke up the toilet bowl with a hammer; let loose six white mice in the 'best' front room... and melted brown boot polish into the large bowl of dripping that always stood on the table in the kitchen, where bread and dripping was a staple."

And then there was the time he got bored on a country house tour and feigned a heart attack... I can understand that.

The Guide July 5th 2003 (listing suppliment for The Guardian)
Pipe Down

Hugh Wilson's piece was written after talking to the many tunnellers and cavers who cluster about the Nettleden community. This resulted in a underground slant to the first published piece about urban exploration in the UK, but Wilson did some homework, and some non subterranean locations were mentioned.

Yes, he did some homework - but the underlying representation of the urban explorer, bolstered by the graphic illustrations, was of an exclusively male group, a touch geeky, and unlikely to go anywhere without some weak lemonade drink.

Iím being a little unkind - the comments and quotes were spot on, detailing why we explore urban locations, and the thrills and spills to be experienced. It also covered the grey legal areas of trespass and concluded that urban exploration isnít a police priority.

ďOld military complexes and abandoned lunatic asylums are often considered to be the pinnacle of UE.Ē

Well, thatís me then.