in depth
Last update: 14|10|10

The urban exploration scene has settled into a predictable pattern. An apologetic opening paragraph offers a potted history of the location (usually quoted verbatim from another source) followed by several "arty" photographs of dereliction and a link to a further hosting site where the remaining "arty" photographs have been dumped.

For popular locations, the opening paragraph becomes optional; as it’s assumed we've gained the full information from a previous report.

This simply doesn’t interest me. The location’s history is extremely important, the photographs (both external and internal) should be labelled and there’s another story which is often missed: the actual story of how the pictures were taken in the first place.

This section of the website appeared from the start on urbex|uk as I knew there was more to say about some places. So whilst the "explorations" section fulfils the last criteria (the sheer drama involved taking these pictures), "in depth" takes a look at the history and offers a logically ordered collection of pictures of these buildings.

lunatic asylum: cane hill mental hospital

The Cult Of Cane Hill
In the years between its closure in 1993, and eventual demolition in 2009, the labyrinthian Cane Hill became the unexpected focus of the burgeoning urban exploration movement in the UK. I was an unknowing catalyst in the phenomena and my early explorations inspired and motivated subsequent urban explorers. This eventually snowballed; the buildings were besieged and the running battles between artists, photographers, explorers, film makers and the hospital’s security began.

My visits bookended this unlikely history. From my earliest sorjourn into a mysterious building to the final mad dashes to capture images before permanent erasure by the wrecking ball, I was part of this insane infatuation with this complex of dilapidated buildings; what I call the Cult of Cane Hill.

Most of the buildings have gone. What remains are the stories, the pictures and the growing legend. And this section of the website documents what I discovered, forms an archive of images and historical information, and, finally, tries to analyse what was going on in the final years of Cane Hill.

lunatic asylum: rauceby mental hospital

Rauceby Virtual Asylum
After visiting various locations throughout 2002, I'd begun to formulate an ambitious plan. It was to photograph a location so thoroughly and systematically that it could be virtually rebuilt as a computer model when the physical structure had long gone.

My initial plan was to photograph Cane Hill in such a matter, but the ever increasing security and succession of unsympathetic, unenthusiastic and unimaginative owners made such a project completely unfeasible. Add to the mix the ever increasing security and it became impossible.

I realised my ambition at Rauceby instead. The asylum was relatively unguarded, access was easier and the owners amenable to exterior and interior photography.

I’d also unwittingly picked a suitable candidate for my study. It was designed by G.T. Hine, the most famous, and one of the most prolific asylum architects in the UK. Rauceby was an excellent example of one of his medium-sized echelon asylums built during the mid-point of his career.

The buildings have now been mostly demolished and what is presented here is my entire collection of pictures, maps, documents and plans. One day I’ll return to these and start to rebuild the asylum virtually.

industrial: pyestock

One of the largest, interesting and unique sites I've ever explored, Pyestock deserved far more than the few acedemic references and random urban exploration photographs floating around the Internet at the moment. Following on the lessons learnt at Rauceby, this was another project to document a site using urban exploration techniques.

lunatic asylum: hellingly hospital

Hellingly Hospital
This section was prompted by the huge amount of archival material collected by Peter Aitkenhead concerning the former East Sussex Asylum. Therefore we visited the main asylum in 2008 to take pictures of the buildings before their demolition; and in doing so, ensured we completed the historic record of this former institution.

In the coming months, pictures of the buildings will gradually be uploaded along with the historical record of Hellingly Hospital.

lunatic asylum: warley mental hospital

There are some wonderful old converted Victorian buildings close to Brentwood. Pitched for the London commuter, they offered the latest in luxurious living combined with the elegance of Victorian architecture set in the rolling Essex countryside.

Did any of these prospective purchasers look a little closer into these old buildings? If they had, perhaps they’d read the account of the future MP for the area: as a schoolchild, full of fear, he used to run past the gates to the buildings as they’d garnered such reputation and were the subject of much superstition.

We spent an afternoon in the oldest part of these buildings before conversion started. The photographs taken that day are probably the last record of Warley Mental Hospital before it was converted and the developers tried to erase as much of its history as possible.

second world war: deep shelter number four

Deep Shelter Number Four (Cane Hill Bunker)
One of the most misunderstood areas of the former Cane Hill Hospital site was the Brighton Road Shelter. Located beneath an overgrown wood adjacent to the main Brighton Road, and with the hospital complex perched on the hill-top above, it became infamous due to its rumoured association with its fearful neighbour.

The stories of these neglected tunnels became ever more fanciful and frightful: nuclear bomb shelters, Cane Hill mortuary or secret medical testing facility were all banded about with equal seriousness.

I was contacted by Lawrence whose father worked in these tunnels and a trip was arranged. Not only did we explore the tunnel system and dispelled some of the more fanciful rumours, but Lawrence had documentation, plans and various diagrams of tunnels at different stages of their history.

Therefore it made sense to collate it all in one place.

cold war: raf wyton photographic factory

RAF Wyton Photographic Factory
The Photographic Factory at RAF Wyton was once the nerve centre of a massive photographic development process where film from spy missions flown over the iron curtain were developed and studied. Now surpless to requirements – thanks to both political and technological changes – the Photographic Factory stood derelict waiting for redevelopment.