Some places just seem to draw you back again and again. It might be because of the size and complexity. Maybe the style and the features or how each have gradually decayed as nature takes them back. It could be that a site holds a special place in your heart as somewhere which really inspired you to immerse yourself in the world of urban exploration. In very rare cases, it’s for all of these reasons and more.
Lunatic asylums are somewhat of a cliché in terms of urbex and decay-photography but, like all good clichés, they are so for a very good reason. Derelict asylums present an enticing mix – beautifully constructed structures gradually falling to ruin. They tell us a story about how British attitudes to mental illness and non-conformity have changed over the years. The hospitals were home to some people for many years and staff spend lifetimes working the wards and offices. Some patients saw them as much-needed escape from society, if only for a short time needed to become well. To others it would have felt like a prison of oppression and cruelty. Personal stories are revealed and occasional hints as to the buildings’ former lives appear behind peeling paint and once-locked doors.
Over the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Many lunatic asylums were built across the country, each conforming to one of several possible layout designs. Some were built as a scattering of buildings across a wide area creating almost a village feel. Others were designed around a long central corridor with wings jutting off at regular intervals. A more complex system known as ‘echelon plan’ had wings growing out from the centre in an efficient fractal pattern. This design allowed the hospital to become very large while still providing quick routes to and from central facilities such as kitchens and administration offices.
Between the 80’s Tories closing down most asylums and the modern-day cash-strapped Tories desperate to claw back cash from the valuable land, we are, piece by piece loosing these uniquely important remnants of our architectural heritage. Sad times indeed. The particular asylum which inspired me explore and attempt to capture the dramatic beauty before it is lost forever is now the last echelon plan structure left standing and I (and many of my colleagues) intend to do everything we can to preserve it photographically before the £12,000,000 asking price is offered and she is reduced to rubble. She is a superstar and I will return every chance I get.
Well, having travelled all that way it would have been rude not to stay the night.