All fur coat and no knickers

The entrance lobby to the managerial offices of a derelict insurance building in Greater Manchester. This street-level section was built to a grand spec in the late 1880's, with ornate Victorian tiling and glass installations no doubt designed to give the impression of a professional company. Clients would enter the lobby and be greeted by this ornate fireplace before entering the branch managers office decorated in a similar design, but what people would rarely see behind the scenes was the rest of the building where the real work took place. An asbestos-lined maze of nothing special at all.

Northern Monument #28

Hadrian's Arch, constructed in 1765 as a copy of the arch in Athens to commemorate Admiral Anson, who is noted for his circumnavigation of the globe and his role in overseeing the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War. For 255 years it has stood on the hill overlooking the entrance to Shugborough Hall, the home of the Anson family, Earls of Lichfield in Staffordshire. Upon returning from long stints at sea as a Royal Naval Officer, George Anson would obsessively decorate the hall and grounds with collected artefacts and commission replicas of the wonders he had found across the world. Above the arch is an additional structure with busts of the Admiral and his wife flanking a central naval trophy by famous London sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In the spandrels of the arch are naval medallions displayed as a symbol of Anson's voyages.

Then & Now

1834-2020 Windleshaw Abbey, St Helens. Possibly one of my favourite comparisons so far, because despite being an engraving from before the era of photography, the viewpoint remains almost entirely unaltered after nearly two centuries. Also known as the 'Chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury', it was founded as a chantry by Sir Thomas Gerard in 1415.

The Swiss Bridge

Built in 1847 as a footbridge over part of the east lake at Birkenhead Park, which was designed as an idealised version of the English country, as many local residents had left the countryside in order to find work in Birkenhead, Liverpool and the Wirral. Upon opening it was the first public park in the world, and became a major influence on the layout of other parks in Britain as well as being the design basis for Central Park in New York. The second photograph shows the bridge in its derelict state in 2005 before achieving its most recent restoration.

Deceptive Ruins

The jungle-like ruins of a deceptive cottage & mill tower near the far north coast of Wales that's a totally different building from two angles. It was part of an estate built in the early 1800's, and in those days having free flowing water come through your land wasn't an opportunity to let pass by (no pun intended..) If you look closely you can see a handful of culverts where the water from the brook was directed through several routes to serve the mill and to provide fresh water. For just over a century the large estate served the adjacent hall, the road to which leads across the top two storeys of the building. This small section was used as a cottage, so on first impressions it's quite a small building until you realise there's two storey's hidden beneath the road. These lower storey's functioned as a saw mill, and if you think that's strange, the building is actually listed on a late 19th century map as a 'Kennel' so in its post-mill years it would've been overrun presumably with hunting dogs.. talk about multipurpose! Amazingly it appears that the tower had found use as a dwelling even in its final years with a bathroom and semi-modern touches added to the cottage interior, presumably after the hall's estate shrank and the out-buildings found new owners. I imagine the novelty wore off quite quickly though as there was no signs of electricity to the building!

Fountains Abbey

Built in North Yorkshire in the early 12th century, Fountains Abbey very quickly grew into one of the largest and wealthiest abbeys in England as a 'mother house' for further monasteries in the north and into Scotland. As unlikely as it may sound, a large part of that wealth was based on sheep; surrounded by vast grazing fields and mills, Fountains was known for its wool, and trading in that wool brought enormous wealth to the abbey over the entire medieval period. A large amount of that wealth was put into enlarging the abbey buildings and enriching the architecture.

The fruits of that wealth can be seen today in the rich decoration of the abbey ruins, particularly the vaulting of the undercroft which in its prime would've showcased Fountains as the most important Cistercian house in England. It has survived remarkably well following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century which, like all abbeys in England, saw the upper levels mostly brought into ruin by the Kings order. I have also documented the many out-buildings linked to the operation of the Abbey and will share their history soon.

VE Day

Then & Now. A little added touch to a couple of my old photos to illustrate the memory of 8th May 1945 on its 75th anniversary. Happy VE day to every free person in Europe!

Northern Monument 27

The memorial tower aka 'Crich Stand'. Completed in 1923, at first glance it resembles a lighthouse looking out to sea, which is most likely deliberate, as the large plaques on either side dedicate the tower to the memory of the soldiers from the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiments who have died in action since World War I. The stand is held very dear by local communities, which was evident on my visit when I caught a glimpse of the monthly ex-servicemen's lunch held here throughout the year. In its early years it looked over the workers of the regions renowned quarrys, mills and factories that employed many who had returned from war. Despite most now having closed, it can still be seen from almost any point in the surrounding area and people have been coming here for decades to pay their respects - the iron railings at the base of the tower were even spared the fate of most decorative castings during WWII which were usually melted down for the war effort.

Norton Sandstone Quarry

Norton sandstone quarry - perhaps the oldest quarry in Runcorn. Quarried stone was used here in much of the construction of parts of Norton Priory in the 1300's. It's last use was probably in the 1800's when it would've contributed to some extent in the building of Norton water tower, but even by then it was listed on maps as the 'old quarry' and would have been left to the elements in the decades before the priory's estate began to diminish. It lies to the base of a small hill at the south east of Norton priory estate known as Windmill hill, so was often referred to locally by the same name.

The House Of Moreton

The heritage of many British villages often comes to be defined through the centuries by the house of one particular family. None more so than at Moreton Corbet in Shropshire, England. Here at St Bartholomew Chapel, the nave and chancel originated in the late Norman period, and there is infact a list of rectors of this church unbroken since the year 1300, proving that christians have been worshipping here for more than 700 years. To think I have visited churches to have lasted just a fraction of that time that are now merely crumbled and overgrown ruins makes the achievement of keeping this place so ornate even more impressive. Much of its preservation has been down to its continued links to the Corbet family of the surrounding estate, with chest tombs of members of the family still dominating much of the interior. Over more than six centuries their power and wealth was inflicted upon the chapel in the form of extravagantly personal interior donations and upgrades. A shining golden canopy above the central stained glass window of St Bartholomew himself boasts a canopy of heraldic shields, and in the 1700's a squire's pew" was added - this three-sided room off the south aisle had a fireplace to keep the grandees warm, with cushions and curtains which they could pull across so that they wouldn't have to gaze upon/smell the commoners of the village - typical of behaviour within the classes of rural religious communities for many centuries. Extravagance such as this has resulted in an interior that would rival that of any surviving example around the world, no doubt earning its prestigious Grade I listing as a scheduled monument, becoming something of a museum for a family who still own the castle that defines the landscape of this village despite standing in ruin since since the 18th century. This small but brilliantly preserved corner of the country is a true example of the very best of English Heritage's work and why it's so important to support their efforts through the generations.

Crescent Row

At this rate, this could become the first of many 'local' then & now's as we all continue to adhere to lockdown rules. Luckily for me, I live in an area absolutely steeped in history and I'll be the first to admit to having overlooked much of it in recent years. Crescent Row, Runcorn Old Town. Original photo presumed around 1890. This is the only one to survive of three rows of dwellings built by the 1st Duke of Bridgewater for workers on his groundbreaking canal at a time when it passed by here under the Waterloo & railway bridges towards top locks eventually reaching the river Mersey. It seems as though the row once housed several families all linked to the keeping of the infamous ten lock flight, but now exists as just two homes. The owner of the furthest from the camera tells me how he is the third generation to live there, and how much change it has witnessed in the town centre through the years.

Dinorwic Upper Levels

The cutting shed at Dinorwic slate quarry in North West Wales. Probably the best surviving example of its time, the equipment has been left to the forces of nature on the higher levels of the quarry for half a century since this mammoth site closed. Slabs the size of men would be transported here by the quarry's own railway to be split into thin segments by hand before being trimmed by rows of circular saws. Put into batches, it would be sent down to the lower levels and transported across the country ready for use, at a time when it was still recognised as the most durable roofing material in the world before cheaper alternatives entered the market. Work here only ever stopped for lack of daylight, and the men were paid very little despite the dangers of their work. It truly is one of the most fascinating places to walk through

Then & Now

1877-2018. Plas Gwynfryn, North Wales. Once a grand country home, the building was also a wartime hospital, an orphanage and a hotel throughout its history. Sitting within extensive parkland, it has now been derelict since 1982 but efforts to restore the building have stopped and started ever since. Concerned that the full set of 40 original drawings (see 2nd & 3rd photos) which date from 1875 when the house was rebuilt, could've been split up and lost unless they were purchased, led to a promising outlook in 2018 when a local property developer we met on site made it their goal to retrieve the drawings and take on the mammoth task of restoration. However, with the last owner believed to be abroad unable to be traced, and the drawings seemingly impossible to retrieve in their entirety, the task of gaining planning permission became nigh on impossible. The project was no longer feasible and the property was back on the market as of last year. Bad luck just seems to surround this mysterious place.. during the early 1980s, while under its last hopeful redevelopment, the house mysteriously caught fire and was gutted. Superstitious people might say that it simply doesn't want to be saved, but while there's walls, there's hope.

Isolation

As the country grinds to a halt, sadly this hobby has to take a step back for now, but every cloud has a silver lining - maybe now I'll finally be able to work through my archive which is now more than two years behind. For so long now, my spare time has been spent documenting these wonderful forgotten places around the UK. So much so that I've travelled far more often than I've sat down to edit. There are so many locations with history and stories that I have never shown and photographs even I have forgotten about just waiting to be uncovered. Isolation provides the perfect opportunity to finally show them to you - perhaps now at a time when all of Britain is unseen, this website might find a new purpose in reminding us what lies silent in our absence. Stay safe. Stay home, and watch this space.

Image: Barmouth Beach, Gwynedd

Blue Lagoon

The ruins of Abereiddy slate quarry sit on the northern edge of Pembrokeshire in South Wales. One of more than a hundred quarries in the county that operated in the late 18th century, slate that was extracted from Abereiddy was transported by tramway to the neighbouring Porthgain Habour and shipped out to sea. The quarry itself was active until the early 20th century and later abandoned and deliberately flooded when the channel connecting the quarry to the sea was blasted using explosives, allowing the sea to flood in. Ruined quarry buildings still sit on the clifftop, including Abereiddy tower which is one of the oldest structures believed to be late 17th century and is thought to have been built as a lookout beacon for ships using St George's channel.

WW2 Gas Works

What's left of ICI Randle - a highly contaminated ex-mustard gas works that sits in an unfortunate position inbetween the Manchester ship canal and River Mersey that was directly linked to Rhydymwyn valley works in North Wales. Despite being used for chemical landfil since the war, decontamination & demolition has been a slow process here since it closed in the 1960's/1970's but the site will likely be unusable for generations to come. An eerie place with not much left but a single storage bunker (with one mysterious steel door blocked shut by a five tonne trailer) and a lone asbestos-riddled building that have both somehow survived the decades of disuse.

“It was called the Hush Hush on Wigg Island. They made the mustard gas there during the war. Me mam used to work there for a bit. It was secret what they were doing, that’s why you couldn’t talk about it. I think they were making bombs in case the Nazis invaded.” Dot, 78, local resident

Status report:

During the period 1939 to 1945 ICI (1996) indicate that it is believed a number of „Ministry of Defence‟ Classified projects were carried out on the site. Although ICI records of wartime arrangements with the MoD have been destroyed or are not free for examination (ICI, 1996), limited details are available with respect to the “Tube Alloy Project”, which involved early development work for atomic energy and the atomic bomb. 5.12.75 ICI note that „war gases were developed and manufactured throughout the Second World War‟. ICI was the Governments largest industrial agent and the largest investment of all was in the research, development and manufacture of war gases.

Hidden Lancashire

The darts champions dormer bungalow. A small home in a quiet village in Lancashire filled with trophies and artefacts leaving clues to the passionate hobby of its former owner. Most likely left behind some time in the 1990's as there was barely anything modern to be found.

Hidden Yorkshire

The old packhorse bridge at lumb hole falls, a waterfall surrounded by woodland along crimsworth dean beack in Calderdale, West Yorkshire. More than a few centuries ago this narrow, age-old route that crosses the falls, known as 'Sunny Bank Road' would have been a main passage for horses & carriages travelling to and from the mills that were once scattered across these valleys. Since their closure barely anything has changed here and beauty spots like this all over Yorkshire have effectively been untouched by the modern world. You can sit back and choose a year to imagine you're in, and disappear for a moment or two.

The Shackleton

The scrounged remains of the central fuselage behind the cockpit of an Avro Shackleton. Developed in response to the post-war expansion of the Soviet navy, of the 185 that were built since the late 1940's only one airborne example now survives. This particular model drew the short straw and has slowly been stripped for parts to help restore other models on display in museums across the world. The aircraft were used primarily in anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft roles, and occasionally as an aerial search and rescue platform. This section would have been the most integral part of the Shackleton's operation - on the left would once have been state of the art radar equipment with two men manning the devices, and on the right would have been two navigators alongside the sonobuoy operator who was responsible for the expendable sonar system that was dropped/ejected from aircraft whilst conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research.

It was replaced by jet powered alternatives during the peak of the cold war and its numbers have slowly diminished ever since, along with the Avro brand itself that now only exists in memory. Soon this whole airfield is set to be new housing, leaving this battered old girl with an uncertain future.

Then & Now

1935-2018. Cliffe Park Hall, original photograph taken two years after the hall had officially opened as a youth hostel, 124 years after its construction as a private manor. Despite it's glory days having well and truly passed, it continued to serve as a hostel until the late 60's when it returned to private ownership and fell into steady decline. Only in the past decade have new owners acquired the site with the hope of restoring its former grandeur. Good luck to them!