Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Road To Ruin

What is it that draws many of us to old abandoned buildings? For many years I thought it was just my own personal quirk but now there’s a whole internet subculture of ‘Urban Exploration’ dedicated to finding and documenting obscure and disused buildings and structures.

When I was a child, my corner of London still had plenty of WWII bombsites along with derelict and deserted warehouses. That’s all gone now (see Ghost Milk entry). But perhaps it gave me a hankering curiosity. Some need to always want to look inside. Just to see. Usually, what one finds is always the same detritus. But the aura of mystery and the small frisson of trespass remains.

Here’s a place I used to visit in Essex. A classic ruined 18th Century 'haunted' mansion - at the time it had become almost completely overgrown with creeper and bramble; every crevice sprouting with elder and buddleia. The only people that seemed to know about it were thieves and vandals. And me. I spent many afternoons up there hacking through the undergrowth to find a stone face staring blankly back at me. I felt as though I were discovering some lost Incan city.

Since that time, the house and it’s gardens have been rescued from decay by a Trust who are diligently restoring it to it’s former grandeur. Finally safe from the depradations of the antiquity raiders and the tendrils of nature, it can be visited on several open days each year when you will be guided around the good works.

Here’s a ruin from another age. This place can be found, almost incongruously, hidden tree-deep in otherwise bucolic Suffolk countryside. It’s a former chemical factory. I stumbled on it almost by accident and was suddenly transported back to ‘the Zone’ in Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’. Even the weedlife looks oddly mutated. Hope I don’t grow any extra fingers....


  1. I think these are the most wonderful photos of both places, A. So contrasting but with the same degree of intrigue. Yes there is such beauty in decay - I wonder why that is? Better watch out for the weedlife round the chemical factory tho' - there used to be some seriously monstrous giant hogweed round that way too... enough to warrant a Public Information Film about!

  2. Thanks C, glad you like them. I puzzle over the appeal of these places a little: I probably would have little interest in touring a working chemical factory. But bereft of people and shorn of machines and pipes they have a faintly melancholic, ghost-laden air. And perhaps a sense that, just temporarily, they belong to us.

  3. That's rather beautifully poetic, if I may say so!