Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reasons why I never get any work done #1376

I have a new obsession.

No, not that. My new obsession is (armchair, currently) Urban Exploration. It started thus:

Near to where the Ex and I lived was a disused hospital. It used to be the County Asylum, and had continued as a psychiatric unit until closing in the early nineties. During the time we lived in the neighbouring town (from 1996-ish), it was empty. There was no perimeter fence, no security and the place was fascinating. We used to go and poke around up there on Sunday afternoons – me, him and a very nervous Labrador. In those days, it was possible to walk right around the buildings – taking in the three-storey wards with their broken windows and flapping curtains, the deserted airing courts, the endless corridors and the massive water tower. We found the old chapel, the staff graveyard (elaborate headstones bearing florid testimony to the deceased), the patient graveyard (rows of anonymous headstones marked only with a hospital number and the date of death), and a number of open windows giving a glimpse into rooms still cluttered with equipment. What we didn’t find was the courage to go inside. On one occasion, the Ex discovered an open door onto the exterior corridor that led into the heart of the main building. He walked up to the junction with the main internal corridor and beckoned me to follow. It was dark in there, and creepy, and I had seen way too many horror films. He didn’t go any further that day. Another visit found the main door to the Admin block ajar. We were with friends on that occasion; one of whom wanted to explore, one who didn’t. The two of us who were reluctant to enter the decaying building were also too spooked to wait outside, so nobody went in that day either. The Ex has never forgiven me.

I’ve never forgotten those silent, eerie afternoons spent wandering round the grounds of an empty asylum. I wish I’d been brave enough to go inside. With this is mind, it’s remained a fascination of mine, and I recently came across some fabulous websites run by people who do exactly that – find an old asylum and poke around in it. One of the best UK sites is urbexuk, run by someone with a real passion for documenting the history and architecture of some of the finest derelict buildings in the country. I’m sure there’s a Boy’s Own element to this practice – the thrill of eluding security, the danger of wandering around somewhere that’s gently falling down around you, the last-house-on-the-left creep factor of finding dark, forgotten rooms, old patient records and strange-looking medical equipment. But looking at some of the photos on this site there’s also a real sense of wanting to document the architecture, the history and memory of these places. And I for one can’t get enough of it.

There are some other excellent UK sites (which I’ll put in the sidebar at some point), but for me, my absolute favourite recent site is American. Opacity is run by a man named Motts, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time in places he’s not supposed to be. And the results are stunning. My current favourite galleries* relate to Danvers State Hospital, as featured in the (slightly rubbish but compelling) film Session 9. Some of the photos are outstanding, and if you get bored with that there are about another three thousand or so pictures to look at instead.

I’m trying to understand what my interest is in these forays into the forgotten. What it is that captivates me (and a lot of other people, by the looks of it) about damp, empty relics that hold nothing more than decay and memories. I’m too scared (and too sceptical) to be a ghost hunter. I’m not one to revel in the misfortune of those who found themselves incarcerated. Nonetheless, a grim fascination remains. Looking at the photographs on these sites, I can’t help but wonder about the people who lived, worked and died in these places.

I also really, really want to go and have a look round some of them**.

Um. Okay. I seem to have quite a lot to say about this. Still, at least I haven’t discovered a latent fascination for stamp collecting. Or naked pictures of John Prescott. So think yourselves lucky - I know I do.

*For “favourite galleries” read “gave me nightmares most of Monday night”

** Until anyone offers to take me, that is.


Blogger Katy Newton chimed in with...

That sounds really exciting. I would quite like to look round buildings like that myself, but then I watch too much Most Haunted and freak out, even though Derek Acorah is so obviously phoney that I feel like kicking him til he's dead. The shyster.

09 May, 2006 20:01  
Blogger claire chimed in with...

oh my god - me too.

I used to spend a lot of time at the three closed psych-hospitals in my county. One was strangely enough converted into the New York Institute of Technology, a college that actually DORMS people there. Could never for the life of me imagine who would sign up for that.
But one in particular still has an outpatient area across from the main, abandoned building which can be seen from miles away. The entire grounds have been deemed as protected by the state and made into a "park" so that no one can buy it.

I, too, am scared shitless of the place, but used to go all the time to explore. Would never go inside a building, but i took a few rolls of pictures. Those websites scare the crap out of me too. Last time i checked one that filmed around here, i couldn't even watch the film though i had seen the place in person. Too scary.

Am chicken-shit.

09 May, 2006 20:04  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

yes but even as you were kicking him he'd be whining on about how he'd visit you in spirit. i'd make really sure i messed his hair up, if it was me doing the kicking.

make sure you look at the pictures too. don't have nightmares...(i did)

09 May, 2006 20:05  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

claire - that one was for katy. here's yours:

ooh! where? turned into a park? does that mean the building is still intact?

*checks flight times*

09 May, 2006 20:06  
Blogger claire chimed in with...

OOOHH!! I just checked your Opacity site.
Mine is there! Check Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

Buildings are locked up (like chain and padlock-locked up) but there are ways in. Not for me though, no thank you. But yes, you are allowed to roam the grounds and peak through the broken, barred-up windows.

09 May, 2006 20:08  
Blogger claire chimed in with...

here's a pic of the biggest building - the "overview" link is above it:


ok, i'm done now.

09 May, 2006 20:29  
Anonymous Whinger chimed in with...

Spooooky. What an interesting hobby. If you'd like, there's an abandoned house next door to mine. You could come poke 'round it for practice. It used to be a crack house, so there are still medical-looking things.

09 May, 2006 21:55  
Blogger garfer chimed in with...

I liked to explore derelict properties in my youth. They all smelt of stale pee, but there was always the chance of discovering a discarded porn mag.

09 May, 2006 22:29  
Blogger Kyahgirl chimed in with...

this is an interesting twist surly!

09 May, 2006 22:53  
Blogger crisiswhatcrisis chimed in with...

I'm fascinated by this too. I used to go here all the time when I was supposed to be working at my old job. Sadly, the founder of the site died last year, but they're still at it. There loads on there - including a trip to the Paris catacombs which I so want to go to.

I embarrass too easily to get caught on an abandoned site. I might go, one day. If I'm in town.

09 May, 2006 23:08  
Blogger Arabella chimed in with...

I find old asylumns fascinating too - started for me when researching 19th century lit.
Then, well into the 20th, it still resonates I think, because so many of us girls could end up in one: bad period, rotten husband/brother/father, pregnancy etc.
Thanks for the links.

10 May, 2006 00:02  
Blogger zanna chimed in with...

I can't believe I'd forgotten about that place, It was the dogs reaction that scared me most, (they see dead people you know) Well apart from the girly screams of you know who!

10 May, 2006 09:31  
Blogger frangelita chimed in with...

Ooh, freaky. You probably did the right thing not going in, hiding in scary buildings is how you get dead in horror films.

10 May, 2006 12:45  
Blogger Lee chimed in with...

Blimey! I get nervous wandering around ASDA!

Although there's good reason for that.

10 May, 2006 13:47  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

I'm not scared of anything (apart from Asda on a Saturday afternoon).

10 May, 2006 15:57  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

Kindred spirits!! I'm a trespasser from waaaay back. Farms, outbuildings, dumpsites, old towns, you name it.
I used to live down the hill from an abandoned private mental institution in Portland, but you didn't dare go up there because of the winos. You'd see their campfires glimmering in the night through the old windows up on the hill and it sure LOOKED haunted. This was the view from my bedroom window, btw.
Have you been to the Derelict London website? it's incredible! Particularly all the overgrown High Victorian graveyards.
I've been to all the Danvers Hospital sites I could find! Other trespasser sites? Links? I got links!!
*could blither on excitedly for hours*

10 May, 2006 16:59  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

first nations - the derelict london link is in my side bar...

and links!! gimme links!! if you can't post em,email me at the address in my profile...

and did you look at the danvers pics on the opacity site? incredible.

oh, and claire - the kppc looks amazing. i would never get to sleep if i lived near there tho...

10 May, 2006 20:37  
Blogger patroclus chimed in with...

Oh man, I love stuff like this. Why do old asylums *always* look spookier than other disused buildings?

My old flat in Slough, where my brother lives now, is in a block of four houses that were apparently once owned by Aleister Crowley. The two next door to mine/my brother's are derelict and very spooky indeed. Recently we discovered a broken window at the back of one of them, but were far too terrified to climb in. Might still do that one day, though.

11 May, 2006 13:12  
Blogger Jemima chimed in with...

This has brought back a lot of memories about an abandoned house I used to explore as a child. Friend's next door neighbour, scramble over a crusty wall and find yourself in another, infinitely terrifying world, a parallel universe if you will. The sense of danger and with it the thrill, of illicit exploration, rule bending, and the actual real possibility of plumetting through rotten floors was zingy.

Looking beneath the carpet, behind the wallpaper, into the wall cavities is like mining the skeleton of social living. Or something. I'm feeling a little incoherent, overwhelmed by the rush of memory.

11 May, 2006 20:45  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

I aint fergot; i just mislaid em. still looking!

11 May, 2006 23:13  
Blogger Tabby Rabbit chimed in with...

Fab links (now I won't get any work doen either).

12 May, 2006 18:56  
Blogger Tabby Rabbit chimed in with...

that's 'done'. it's been a long week...

12 May, 2006 18:56  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

tell me about it.

i got nothing. i have bloggers block again.

what if i quit, and we all go over to these links instead?

12 May, 2006 19:26  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

here they are!


13 May, 2006 01:20  
Blogger rockmother chimed in with...

There used to be a really SCARY derelict psychiatric hospital in Barnet which I used to be made to film in all the time. Bad enough in the day - lots of rooms with restraint beds, abandoned files, paraphernalia and endless corridors with blind corners - terrifying. I used to dread filming late as it was a real scramble not to be last off the site. Almost went mad with fear myself. It was bought up mid-90's and turned into posh flats 'with character' - fascinating but gave me the heebie-jeebies every time.

13 May, 2006 08:01  
Blogger james henry chimed in with...


15 May, 2006 00:21  

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