Then & Now

1905-2018 Runcorn High Street. The most noticeable change here is the disappearance of the Scala ballroom on the right which was used as a club until 1987 hosting the likes of the Beatles on numerous occasions until it was converted to a bingo hall, closed in 2006 and was demolished six years later. Another criminal loss of local history made worse by the fact that all that's replaced it is bushes and weeds that somehow warrants permanent security fences.

1934-2015. My first one of the year is more of a 'then & then' tribute than anything else. This was once the main entrance to Whittingham asylum in Lancashire, UK. Whilst more than a hundred psychiatric institutions were established during the 1800s across the country, this was the largest. In total there was up to four thousand persons here during its peak including staff and patients. That's almost four times the size of a modern day city hospital, and when it closed in 1995 what was left behind was essentially an entire self contained village. Nowhere else I've ever visited has ever felt like this place - I still have memories of wandering it's corridors with the chilling echo of hundreds of crows in the distance who never seemed to stray far from the site right up until its last days when these few remaining buildings were torn down in 2016 to make way for new housing. This photo was taken on the day I decided to go and pay my last visit to what remained of this formidable place. Gone, but not forgotten.

Looking back on 2018

Looking over at the many places I've visited this year, this one stood out to me from back in march when I took on one of the trickiest solo explores I've ever done. This telephone exchange sits within some of the last remaining office buildings of a huge oil facility in northern England that was mostly demolished after the company was acquired around the turn of the century. With reports of this place having all taken place last year and then falling quiet, this was a bit of a stab in the dark and upon arrival it seemed that its location smack-bang in the middle of one of the UK's biggest industrial districts had lead to it being secured at basically all access points. The flood of unwarranted visitors must have clearly prompted the land owners to properly seal the site, with 10ft high gates and cameras on each bridge over the brook running between me and the buildings. After walking across a handful of rubble-filled patches of land leading to nowhere, rather than turn around and call it a day I decided to figure out the route of the old pipeline, and used the marshland to slowly but surely find a way in with water up to my shins and soggy socks making it all the more interesting. Once I could see the buildings it was clear that whilst the site was derelict, it was still connected to the processing plant next door and staff used the old roadways for access and even lunch-breaks sat in their vans. I even saw one fella in an orange jumpsuit and hardhat taking a ride on his pushbike! One glance from these guys and it'd be game over. Long story short, I ended up shimmying along an industrial bridge on my stomach to avoid being seen, whilst duck-and-diving more than a few times along an embankment before finally two hours later making it inside the buildings. If this was in winter, I wouldn't have had much daylight left to take any photographs! But gladly I had time to dry my socks whilst photographing this charming old secluded place that's decayed nicely without interruption thanks to its placement far away from the eyes of the public. It felt like a real mission-impossible this one, and maybe that's what people would consider 'real' exploring, either way it definitely felt like an achievement that's for sure.

Happy Holidays!

Better late than never - I hope all followers and wandering visitors to this page had a jolly old Christmas, however or wherever you celebrated it across the world. I didn't have any festive-themed photographs to post until I found the santa train today whilst photographing a railway carriage yard. No word of a lie - wasn't even expecting to find this on my trip! So here you go :)

Still Defending

Rather than focusing too much this year on many of the big places catching everyone's attention I've found myself admiring some of the locations that hide stories from our history right underneath our noses. In August I walked the northern bank of the River Mersey alongside what was once RAF speke, where thousands of aircraft were built and stationed during WW2. It's vulnerability was clear from the outset, and these pyramid anti-tank barriers were placed on the banks of the river to protect the site in case of an amphibious German invasion. The home guard were also stationed inside Pillboxes around the perimeter of the airfield, all of which were so heavily fortified that they still exist today, long after the airbase returned to civilian use.

Then & Now

1915-2017. Hale lighthouse, a landmark on the river Mersey that I can see from outside my house on a clear day, standing alone where the southernmost part of Merseyside faces the river. Originally a bathing house stood here at Hale point, but a busy maritime era at a time when hundreds of ships were using the water to supply goods each day to and from Liverpool meant that it was converted into a lighthouse in 1838, which was then extended to the current larger tower in 1906 that could be seen from as far as 40 miles away. Eventually the Manchester Ship canal became a safer and more reliable choice for the larger modern ships, and the lighthouse was no longer required by 1958 when it was decommissioned. The original lenses and main light unit can be seen today in the maritime museum at the Albert Dock.

Then & Now

1981-2017. The Grand Cinema ( known at the time as the grand casino/bingo hall ). This particular section has remained remarkably intact, so much so that its hard to imagine how so much time had passed with so little changing, especially considering that this room has gone almost two decades without use.

Opened originally as a car showroom in the early 1920's, it was repurposed as an ornate modern cinema in 1938, and operated for three decades until its final showing, Sean Connery's "Thunderball". Like almost all cinemas and theatres of this kind it saw later use as a bingo hall before closing, and whilst some sections were used more recently as a casino there is no longer any plans in place to secure its future. As British seaside resorts attempt to evolve in order to survive, it's somewhat inevitable that the old eventually loses ground in favour of the new. Unless the wetherspoons pub chain pick this one up, I doubt it'll be saved any time soon.

Northern Monument #17

Ponchin Mausoluem, known as ‘The Poem’, is a family mausoleum designed by the chemist and industrialist Henry Davis Ponchin in 1882. Built in a classic neo-norman style, it later became the traditional resting place for the Aberconwy family. Follow tag #northernmonuments on instagram to see the project so far.

Helsby Hill - November '18

On a last minute unplanned trip on a cold friday evening I decided to take a short trip west to Helsby hill in Cheshire to test out some new equipment I'd recently invested in. As usual, I intended to be back before sunlight but was thoroughly glad that I stayed to witness the landscape changing before me, even if I had to find my way back in total darkness!

Helsby is widely known to have been a hillfort during the bronze ages, and settlements here are believed to have first been established as far back as 4000 BC. With wide open views of the surrounding landscape spanning over to Runcorn, Chester & Ellesmere port, it is easy to see why many have chosen this spot as a safe refuge over the centuries. Its sandstone foundation remains largely unchanged and is now protected by the national trust. In 1970 a trig point was placed on the hill to for surveying purposes.

100 yards inland from the edge of the cliff face is a little known relic of cold-war Britain. A nuclear bunker, or ROC post, still lies dormant upon the hill surrounded by private farmland. Up until around 20 years ago it was still in pristine condition despite having been decommissioned, but unfortunately has since been fire damaged inside, leaving nothing but burnt ash and rubble for explorers to find. These were placed across the British Isles to monitor the event of a nuclear attack from Russia, and spots such as this were chosen for their vantage points and strategic location. This, however has to be the most dramatically positioned bunker I've seen yet. One can only imagine what the views across the Mersey estuary would have been like if the worst actually came to happen!

11.11

Today marks the 100th Armistice day since the end of the 1st World War at 11am on 11th November 1918. More than 700 thousand British men were killed during the grueling four year conflict that saw the world at war with itself for what was once naively said to be the 'war to end all wars'. Today, we paid a small personal tribute to my Great Grandfather Edward Roberts who served in the Royal Field Artillery from 1915-1917 in Europe. He survived the war but not unscathed, with permanent damage to his upper arm that stayed with him for the rest of his life. The bayonet pictured is one of the only family heirlooms we have left from the era. Standard issue from the war, this was once most likely attached to end of a Lee Enfield rifle for close conflict. It is unknown whether or not the blade was ever used in action. Edward's main duties would have been to transport the artillery trailers across to the frontlines via horse to provide support for the British Army. The horse that he served his time with during the war was unfortunately killed from it's injuries, and I am told he often spoke fondly of it until he passed away some 42 years later, with his wife Mary following him to the grave not long after. Their own spoken words still to this day read on the gravestone; 'Goodnight, God Bless'.

Grotto In The Woods

The headless preying monk. Found within what was once the grounds of a post-medieval abbey, where a long established family of Roman Catholic baronets are said to have built this extravagant folly with its unique religious stone carvings in the mid 18th century. A closed order of Benedictine nuns eventually took over the estate and are thought to have used this bizarre location for secluded worshippings. They left some time in the mid 1970's, however most are now buried closely together outside the folly in the dense woodland that surrounds it. Is this a chair? Or is it a carved art piece made to immortalise the practise of the monks who once resided here? The mystery is possibly what makes this place so intriguing. You'd be forgiven for thinking this place was some kind of film set - the fact that it even still exists without any form of protection is a wonder in itself.

Natural Wonder

The Caló Blanc Bridge, one of a handful of natural rock formations on the Balearic islands to have formed this unique shape after embracing millions of years of corrosion from the wind and sea. Hundreds of coves are hidden beneath these structures that have famously provided a perfect cover for Balearic sailors and pirates, as well as those seeking refuge from crusaders.

Bodnant House

Sat in the Eglwysbach Conwy Valley in North Wales the structure of Bodnant was built by Colonel Forbes between 1770 and 1821, and the late Georgian house was bought in January 1875 by Henry Pochin, a wealthy industrial chemist and china clay magnate from Lancashire. He progressively rebuilt the house from 1875-6 in Old English style, refaced with hard blue local stone and using Talacre sandstone for window dressings and quoins whilst replacing the sash windows with stone mullions and casements, and went on to begin cultivating the extensive botanical gardens that are world famous today. Bodnant House eventually became home of the late Lord Aberconway, and members of his family continue to be actively involved in the management of the garden, its tea pavilion and surrounding estate on behalf of the National Trust. The house now remains under the private ownership of the Mclaren family, but isn't lived in permanently.

Within the garden itself, originally built in 1730 as a gazebo at Woodchester, Gloucestershire, and later used as a pin mill and later still as a tannery, the Pin Mill building was moved to Bodnant gardens and reconstructed in 1938/9 as a pavilion at the south end of the canal terrace. The coat of arms on the building is of the family Surman (Shurmer) whose connection with the building is still a mystery. On the central pier of the eastern pavilion arcade is a dedication inscription with the date 1939, in raised characters: 'C and H A, 1939' (for Christabel and Henry Aberconway).

Then & Now

1891-2018. The facade of 118 Duke Street, Liverpool city centre. Situated in an area south of the city more recently renamed the 'ropewalks', the growth of Duke Street commenced following the opening of the old docks in 1715, resulting in a demand for premises that directly led to the customs house and the dock itself. As shipping intensified, so did the need for roperies and the gentleman pictured, Mr Roberts at number 118 supplied the demand for many decades as it passed through the family until the ports eventually died down in the late victorian era. A little known fact that I only found out through some archive digging was that the house is infact the birthplace and childhood home of Felicia Hemans, poetess and writer of 'Casabianca', but the more recent history of 118 is unclear, as it has remained derelict for the past decade, and with black faux windows it has almost faded from sight along the road. It was most likely boarded up and used as warehouse storage like many of these buildings following the post war era, however records show that the premises were sold at auction at the beginning of this year and on my most recent visit the sale signs had been taken down. Many of these Georgian townhouses have been redundant for the best part of half a century due to their protected listed status and required maintenance, and now that the regeneration of the city is finally taking shape - their time has eventually come to shine again.

Prisoners Of War

Then & Now 1942-2018. This prisoner of war camp stationed within the grounds of a farm in rural England held German and Italian prisoners during WW2. The men would have seen out the duration of the war by contributing to the county's agricultural workforce, which had great need for able-bodies to work the farmland, seeing as the majority of young men were fighting in Europe. Deemed 'politically unmotivated', these men were considered low risk prisoners. Many of them integrated into the local community following the end of the war, and the sheds were then left behind to remain miraculously untouched for over 70 years.

Guarding Home

Sat at the base of Castle hill in Huddersfield is an early 1940s Heavy Anti-Aircraft installation. Rumoured to have also contained a supposed POW camp, the emplacement would have housed two guns, probably 3.7` and would have been used to target high altitude bombers in WW2 heading to and from the cities of Leeds and Manchester. A few of these sites had a life after the war but this one has become part of the surrounding rural landscape. The two gun positions are directly in front of a formidable concrete bunker and have sloping concrete trenches that lead down to the ammo store. The ammo store is semi-sunken to protect it from blast damage, but has since meant that it has permanently flooded. Seventy years ago Hitler’s bombers were wreaking havoc on Britain’s cities with the Blitz. Huddersfield had several Home Guard units – and it was certainly no laughing matter for the men stuck out all night and in terrible weather manning gun batteries and guarding areas around Huddersfield. 

One Huddersfield woman believes the man in charge of the gun battery at Castle Hill had lost his wife and family killed in an air raid on the south coast and used to fire the gun every time a bomber went over. It caused shrapnel to all fall over the area. The woman whose family owned a fish and chip shop in the Newsome area during the war said: “One night we were ready to open our fish and chip shop. There was always a queue right to the corner, but the gun opened up and my dad said the customers would all go but when we opened the door not a soul had moved. “They were still in the queue, the shrapnel was falling and the only concession was the man from the end house had gone in and fetched his umbrella. Mr Wimpenny, they called him.” 

 Huddersfield Home Guard also had its own signals section. A command post was manned by the Royal Observer Corps at Castle Hill and after a German bomber was shot down maps found in the wreckage indicated that Castle Hill was used as a main navigation point for German bombers attacking northern England. Just about every village in Huddersfield was protected by its own home guard. Units from Huddersfield Sector of the Home Guard’s 25th and 26th West Riding Battalions were based all over the town including Hall Bower Chapel in Newsome and St Mary’s Sunday School in Outlane where patrols covered the bleak moors towards Manchester.  

Diary Entry

As this now crumbling yet brilliantly unique manor house spent some of its later years as a youth hostel, I thought I'd dig out a diary entry from one of its customers, dated 3rd February 1936. 'Found hostel, alone again. A most peculiar place this time. A great draughty barrack of a house, built in the sham-castle style – somebody’s Folly – about 1860. All but three or four of the rooms quite empty. Miles of echoing stone passages, no lighting except candles and only smoky little oil-stoves to cook on. Got out of bed so cold that I could not do up any buttons and had to go down and thaw my hands before I could dress. Left about 10.30 am. A marvelous morning. Earth frozen hard as iron, not a breath of wind and the sun shining brightly. Not a soul stirring. The lake had frozen over during the night. Wild ducks walking about disconsolately on the ice. The sun coming up and the light slanting along the ice the most wonderful red-gold colour I have ever seen.'

Tea Break

Inside the main room of the huge soda ash works in Winnington that produced this fine white powder for over 140 years. I originally thought this was some sort of control room, but I was wrong! As the entire factory was inevitably covered in its own product, leaving very few areas untouched for workers to use for their lunch breaks, a nearby solution was needed. Alas, the lunch-hut solved this issue, giving these grafters a place to grab a cuppa away from any chance of contamination. (Not to mention how easily soda ash could be mistaken for sugar..)

For Sale

One of the most unique places in the world.. the Snowdonia car mine.

Sold today to a happy customer!

These 14x11" mounted prints are now available for £40

The Car Caves

Some time during the 1970's hundreds of cars were somehow dumped into a slate mine in Snowdonia, for reasons yet unknown to all of those who have ventured here. At the time in which these cars were left behind, they were far from old enough to be scrapped. These are cars that are now considered serious classics; Ford Anglia's, Mini coopers, Cortina's, Escorts, Vauxhall Crestas, Victors and numerous others that were once iconic motors on the roads above. These caves were first found by enthusiast abseilers who were unaware of what they would find beneath - with the entrance to the redundant mine, having been unused for more than half a century, sitting at the opposite side of the underground cavern. The only source of light is a small gap above the cars that has grown smaller and smaller as rock slides and a build up of earth around the original opening have changed the landscape around the mine in the decades since these cars were left here. A 100ft descent welcomed us after wading through knee-high water in the flooded opening, but what met us at the bottom was nothing short of breath-taking. Another jewel in the heart of Wales uncovered, and one that will surely stay with us for a very long time.

Northern Monument #14

Ewloe Castle, built around 1257, is a relic of a brief triumph that the Welsh had over the English Crown in the mid 13th century. Until then, this part of north east Wales had been the starting point for repeated Norman invasions of Gwynedd for more than 150 years. The castle was built from local stone. Its design – such as the Welsh Keep – suggests it was conceived and built entirely by a Welsh workforce. Two decades after its construction, in July 1277 Edward I began the first Welsh War by marching his forces out of Chester and up the west coast of the Dee Estuary. Ewloe Castle is not mentioned in chronicles of the 1277 invasion suggesting the Welsh had abandoned the castle before the attack; retreating to stronger defensive positions. As Edward I's castles at Flint and Rhuddlan could be provisioned by sea, Ewloe was never used by the English military. By the late medieval period some 2 centuries later, the site was in ruins. Much of the castle's dressed stone work from its curtain walls and keep were carted away for reuse in later buildings. Despite having avoided its use as a defensive position, in essence, Ewloe castle still stands as a monument that represents a time before Wales was fully integrated into the empire, and the woodlands could still hide enemies at any given point in time. Something that's really quite hard to imagine in this day and age!