Asylum Hindsight

This post was inspire by The Winch, who popped up on Facebook and reminded a whole tract of explorers about the Asylum Hey Days!

Following on from our trip down memory lane to Pyestock, and our slight regret that we never attached a blog to the original website, we are looking back at the Asylums. Even though they don’t feature that highly in the exploring world any more, partly due to their mass demolition and slight lack of interest from the ‘old guard’, they are something we loved. Nearly every explorer has been to one and like a few others, TheTimeChamber became a little obsessed.

It all started out with a trip to Severalls, a sprawling mass or corridors North of Colchester, straight after we had visited Pyestock. Being our first one we had decided to avoid the harder and more interesting ones in Surrey. Whilst it is an impressive size although the NHS had done a thorough job in clearing out everything and leaving behind nothing other than a single bed frame. We spent nine hours exploring a stark and empty space. We loved it. And when we landed back home, we spent hours reading about it after we stumbled on a book in the library. Feverishly, we started to look for more and came across the now defunct website County Asylums, and Simon Cornwells country wide list. We were hooked and within weeks we had paid the part demolished Park Prewett a fleeting visit.

That was back during the summer of 2007 and it would take us another 6 months to visit some where else. It wasn’t until a very cold winters morning did we find ourselves shivering our way across the fields towards Hellingly in Sussex. Hellingly was an odd one, situated in the middle of no where it had suffered innumerable damage and vandalism. Yet it held a derelict charm that made for some great photographs and an awesome main hall.

There was also little on site security, but we still found ourselves taking caution as we looked for a way in. Unknown to us, the window we had used to climb through was just round the corner from a door swinging in the wind. We could have avoided the tangle of brambles and the mad scramble through a letterbox, but why make it simple for ourselves? We spent the day there, carefully avoiding crashing through the ground floor and occasionally hiding from other explorers that we could hear in the distance…

Here the ball started to roll, we quickly followed it up with trips to Cane Hill and West Park, where we discovered how effective the security was. And how crooked some of them were. Cane Hill was protected by some very observant guards, who spent so much time walking the site that they had developed the ability to spot things out of place. Our first visit was fraught with the constant fear of turning a corner and being confronted by an angry guard. Out of all the the hospitals it was filled with the interesting stuff to poke about in, such as patient belongings/paperwork/equipment and we spent more time looking at what was left than taking photos.

West Park, for a while, was in a world of its own. The site owners had spent a vast sum of money installing a state of the art CCTV Alarm system activated by a laser grid. It did have a weak link, the guards. The highly effective security system was disabled by a guard who was more interested in sleep than his job. This meant that the land pirates descended and slowly the place opened up at the start of the summer. So we hit the tourist trail. It was just our luck that at the precise moment we stepped through a window, one of the guards stepped around the corner. Like rabbits caught in a cars headlights, we scrambled back through the way we came. Much to our surprise, the guard invited us for a walk round! Eh? Not what we had heard about the place.

Over the next 18 months we paid both Cane Hill and West Park numerous visits as they opened and closed up. On our final visit to Cane Hill, part way during demolition, did we come face to face with the Security. Luckily for us, one of our group knew who they were and started up a conversation. It was a strange bust as we spent most of the time reminiscing about the last 5 years worth of explorers traversing through the fence and into their hands. During our chat, the guards dog was going off the hook and barking at the bushes. It wasn’t until he set off back down the path did two explorers emerge and join us in what would become a very amusing explore involving a cupboard.

Eventually they both faced the wrecking ball and our local jaunts were lost. Even Hellingly suddenly disappeared and only a few were left scattered around the country.

This didn’t stop us for too long, the website had grown and we felt confident enough that we could try and organise to see a NHS hospitals that had started as Asylums. So we fired off a few emails and were in our way! Springfield, Goodmayes and Shelton threw open their doors and allowed us in.

Then, we stopped. Life took over for a while and we concentrated on other things. The old buildings were falling left, right and centre. The northern ones that we were patiently waiting to see suddenly disappeared, as did the southern ones. At the time we were at university and lacked the money required to make any long trips. Our interest waned.

Then, our last local Asylum was suddenly up for conversion. Graylingwell had been a nemesis for years, nailed windows and nervy security guards kept even the best explorers at bay and only a few made it through. Even then, they found the interior to be locked down and their movements limited. It sat quietly on the edge of the collective conscience, taunting us from behind a simple chain link fence. Then the developers moved in. Our first trip down was quickly scuppered by bad luck. Or second was much more fruitful and on yet another frozen morning, we made our way towards the buildings.

We spent the every daylight hour within the confines of the building. We dodged other explorers who were making one hell of a noise, fearful that they would attract unwanted attention. Considering it was the height of winter and the hours were short, we spent a large portion of time in the tunnels looking for a way across the site so to avoid the other explorers. Like many people before us, nailed doors stopped us dead and we didn’t find a way until we made out way back above ground.  But we did find something we had not expected.

In our experience, every service tunnel is a jumble of pipes to bang your head on and the scattering of unneeded items. In another hospital, Denbigh, we found an old filing cabinet tucked out the way in the service tunnels that contained a full set of hospital plans. What we found at Graylingwell was special, as we turned a corner to try another door that would take us out of the tunnels our torch beam fell upon a pile of old doors. These weren’t any doors, they were of a padded variety. We had only ever seen one before at West Park, and that had mysteriously disappeared after a music video shoot. After taking a few photos and having a general poke about, we left the way we came and started grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Since Graylingwell we haven’t visited another Asylum.  Severalls doesn’t interest us that much and we would only return to take some better photos. The few that do remain are in far flung reaches from where we currently live. Cornwall, Lancashire, Mid-Wales and Staffordshire aren’t in easy reach of a weekend. We may get round to dropping in on them, but the developers are lurking and waiting for the markets to improve, or the rot to set in and the listing to be over turned. They were great whilst they lasted.