1995 - 2018. The once idyllic 'Tots TV' film set was part of a terrestrial TV production for children in the 90's built to 1/3 scale as a replica cottage where three puppet characters lived with their pet donkey. It was a weird show even by today's standards, and it lasted all of five years before being left to the elements in the Warwickshire countryside when the show was cancelled in 1998. If nothing else it's a unique place, and as we visited it on the 20th anniversary of the show ending it made us feel like giants and not just because we've now all grown up, but it was also hard to fit through the door..!
The extremely steep ascent of a narrow gauge tramway left behind in the Cheshire hills. Once used around 80 years ago during the construction of Bulkeley reservoir, a haulage engine lifted locomotives up and down this 45 degree incline which would've been the only way to obtain the required materials at the top of the hill. The line was abandoned after its purpose was served, but the newly connected gravity-fed water main was successful in distributing water to the potteries as far away as Staffordshire.
Secluded off the mainland at Derwentwater in the Lake District, it was once used by Benedictine monks when it became known as 'vicars island'. After their worship became illegal in Britain, a new private owner in the late 1700's built a villa, fort, a druid circle folly, a church and boathouse which you can just about see on the far right of the island. It remains largely unchanged from it's original layout and is mostly untouched by modern civilisation. It's still only accessible by boat, and milk is delivered fresh daily from a local farm by canoe.
A brilliantly preserved little building which has an early history shrouded in mystery - not one record has survived with information of its construction, leaving past generations to identify its Norman/Romanesque columns and conclude that it was built around the 13th century, making it the oldest surviving building in the region and one of the most historic chapels in England. It spends most of its time locked up for preservation, but occasionally a traditional Latin mass is held here as a continuation of its original services.
One of UK's last remaining coal fired power stations. It closed just around two decades ago roughly a century since first being commissioned after it was decided that power for the active site it sits within was to be sourced externally. Back in the day this site and the others surrounding it used to be part of wholly British institutions, but is now owned by Tata chemicals which is part of an Indian corporation of the same name. Over the past few decades they have acquired and dismantled so much of our industry and killed so many jobs that it's nothing short of criminal. They're already in the process of dismantling this derelict section to make way for a new waste-energy plant which will likely enable them to avoid high-tax corporation tariffs on their energy once it goes live. This was obviously a bitter sweet place to visit, but nonetheless I'm glad I got to see it inside before it's gone as it was once vital to the community of the surrounding area near where I grew up.
1892-2018. New Brighton lighthouse in Cheshire sits on the bank of the river at Perch Rock on the Wirral. In 1827 it replaced the original lantern beacon first erected in the 17th century, and is said to be modelled on the trunk of an oak tree. With fog being common on the shipping route where the Mersey opens to the Irish sea, it was installed with three bells under the gallery to act as a signal in both high and low visibility. It was decommissioned in 1973, but restoration work took place in 2001 when an LED lightsource was installed which flashes the names of those lost at sea during its history; including all the 1,517 victims of the sinking of the titanic.
Tŵr Mawr lighthouse on Ynys Llanddwyn / Llanddwyn Island, one of the most beautiful places I've ever photographed in the British Isles. The lighthouse was stripped of its duty in 1976 just over a century after being converted from what was most likely a windmill in 1873. It now stands as a monument that traditionally continues to mark the western entrance to the Menai Strait. The island itself is rich in legends; the name Llanddwyn meaning "The church of St. Dwynwen" the Welsh patron saint of lovers, who retreated here to live a life of solitude to pray for true lovers in the 5th Century. Through these legends this idyllic spot became an important shrine during the Middle Ages, with a holy well in the centre of the island a site of pilgrimage, at which the movement of fish within the surrounding waters was believed to indicate lovers' destinies.
..at Shugborough Hall, one of just two main rooms to survive from the 1740s period. Formed from a room in the corner of the original house, it has a deep segmental arch flanked by Ionic columns through the former external wall. In this room Thomas Anson built up a remarkable library with a particular focus on architecture and archaeology, whilst the house itself was developed as something of a museum commemorating the admiral's nautical achievements, containing a model of the Centurion, the ship in which he circumnavigated the globe. The entire house is now being painstakingly restored to represent how it existed in its prime - with work having now moved on to the 1st floor of the building.
The 1,000-year-old 'Allerton Oak' in Liverpool is one of the oldest in the country and unsurprisingly has a rich history to tell. Its spreading branches once formed a medieval courtroom long before Britain became the civilisation we know today. A long tradition has seen its leaves and acorns sent as a symbol of love for soldiers fighting at the frontlines of war. It now relies on metal supports to help keep its ancient branches upright, due to having lost much of its trunk at some point during the 19th century when it is said that a shock-wave from an exploding gunpowder ship on the River Mersey caused the tree to split straight down the middle. Despite having been given only a few years left to live around a decade ago, it still shows no signs of letting go and will probably see past us all.
1999 - 2017 St Gabriel's Convent / Knolle Park House, Woolton. Built as a private manor House in 1840 it eventually became home to an order of nuns as part of a catholic institute. Its last year's were scarred by allegations of abuse, and it was consequently forced to close around the time of the above photo due to it going public. After my visit I tried to contact the London House of the 'poor servants of the mother of God' where the order of nuns are based, but wasn't given any access to archive imagery or further insights to its past, so I chose not to put together an article on this one - not least because the photos themselves no longer do the building justice. (They've clearly chosen to forget this place, which has lead to several arson attacks and the entire interior to become trashed beyond recognition)
Whitby lighthouse (also known as Ellesmere Port lighthouse) at Whitby Locks in Cheshire on the southern side of the River Mersey. The main function of the light was to guide boats into the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal's dock complex from the river. The canal was designed and built by Thomas Telford the renowned canal and civil engineer in 1796, and the light was visible by boats up to 19 miles away as they came up the Mersey with the tide into the docks. It operated successfully until the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, reached Ellesmere Port in the same year which cut off the river from the port, meaning the lighthouse was made redundant overnight. The lighthouse and the Harbour Master's office is now a listed building and is fitted with artificial lighting as a testament to its past service.
This pre-war cinema in Liverpool was built at the start of a new era for the film industry. Seating a massive 1500 guests at a time it was the first in the country to use a revolutionary new 'modern' system that automatically changed film reels and controlled lighting systems between showings. Despite its cutting edge design, the industry moved on and multiplex cinemas with more than one screen left places like this with no choice but to close by the time the 60's came along. It has now been derelict for just over two decades after having hosted bingo events in its final years.
1796-2019. Moreton Corbet house. A 12th century medieval castle-turned stately home that was extensively damaged during the civil war in the 1600s as a result of Sir Vincent Corbet fighting for the king, in turn bringing the battle to his own estate. This watercolour was drawn in the last years before the manor was abandoned as a family home, and it soon became roofless and deteriorated into ruin. Although still owned by the Corbet family, it is now managed by English Heritage as a historical monument.
Eglwys bach y mor ( Welsh for "the little church in the sea"). This 12th century monument holds a brilliant story of survival through the ages. A Jacobean map dated 1636 shows the church standing on the mainland of Anglesey, but with approaching roads battered by the coastal weather, it seems to be after that date that sea erosion of the boulder clay cliffs turned Cribinau into an island. By the 19th century, erosion was causing graves in the churchyard to fall into the sea, so a seawall was built around the island to protect the remaining graves and the church itself. Although now isolated it is still accessible at low tides when wanderers can find a donation box which helps the chapel to continue its fight against the sea and open for the occasional ceremony throughout the year.
The 12th century Haughmond Abbey sits on the outskirts of Shropshire and been in a ruinous state since the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century. The chapter house is the only section that survived with its late medieval ceiling intact, so is likely to have been the only part of the Abbey that had remained in domestic use over the last 400 years. Amazingly after the English civil war the site was primarily used for farmland for more than two centuries until its excavation in 1907 which eventually led to it falling under the permanent care of English Heritage.
Latin for 'kiss of peace' can be found above the names on each of these forgotten crosses marking the graves of dozens of benedictine sisters who occupied the adjacent hall as a secluded place of worship for more than 60 years. This would once have been a burial ground, but the hall is now a private residence and these surrounding woodlands are forgotten, and the life these nuns chose meant that they now have no family to visit them. There are probably hundreds of similar places around Britain just like this where resting places go unnoticed until people like us stray from the beaten path.
1896-2018 Barmouth Viaduct, looking onwards towards Cader Idris. Constructed for the Welsh coast railway some 30 years before the photo was taken, the underwater ironwork became severely corroded not long after, and was extensively reinforced in 1902 whilst adding a swing bridge for passing vessels at the increasingly busy waterfront which explains its altered appearance between images. A flood culvert has replaced the railway arches in the foreground during its conversion from timber railway line to a modern, gravelled track that slightly alters the vantage point for photos but allows the bridge to remain operational to this day as part of the Cambrian coast rail link, allowing passengers to continue northwards towards Pwllheli.
The Fruit Merchants Panel - one of the only sections here at Liverpool's hidden historic auction rooms to have power, this switch panel would illuminate the name of the merchant whose goods were on display for auction at any given time.
In the late 19th & early 20th century exotic fruit from across the Atlantic was reaching British shores, and Liverpool was the port by which it reached our tables. The likes of bananas & pineapples were a sign of wealth and culture, an exclusively elite delicacy that merchants would flock here in their hundreds in order to bid against each other for when the ships unloaded their stock. After all, having it in their stalls and markets to send across the country was worth paying for. The names on this panel were therefore amongst some of the richest in the city, and I'll be delving into their individual history in my article when I eventually get around to it. Until then, the lads at Urbandoned who I explored this brilliant place with have recently uploaded their video so head here to view it.
No matter where in the country I might end up on my travels, one thing can be sure - you're never too far from one of these. In total 1,563 Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts (ROC posts for short) were commissioned, manufactured and submerged 14ft below ground in strategic points all across the British Isles during the cold war era between the early 50's to the early 90's. In the event of a nuclear attack, they would collectively monitor the country safely hidden from the surface.
When stumbling upon one one of these unassuming sites, the same layout comprises of a protruding access shaft, and two air vents covered by downward-sloping louvres above ground which lead to sliding metal shutters below ground to control air flow during contamination by radioactive fallout. They would usually contain bunk-beds and a desk to host up to four personnel at a time, and had basic electrical supply but no plumbing systems. Luckily they were of course never forced into full service, and today most posts lie derelict and abandoned.
As the landscapes have changed around them in the years following the cold war, many that I have found now sit within the boundaries of golf courses, farmers fields, nature reserves and water-fronts. Approximately half of those built have been demolished, either on stand-down by the ROC or by private owners in subsequent years. Most landowners tightly seal them to avoid vandalism, but sometimes you strike gold and find one that's open for you to have a climb inside to see what's left behind. Unfortunately a trend has emerged over the years whereby youths set fire to them causing total destruction below ground, so some can just be a charred carcass inside.
Whilst it'd require a lot of effort to remove them entirely, some no longer exist at all on ground level and you can often find yourself wondering if you're in the correct spot to begin with. It can be a risk setting out to visit them for this very reason, as there's usually around a 75% chance that it's either been locked up or demolished. So far I've visited around half a dozen that are still intact and worth photographing. The sheer over-engineered construction of these bunkers means that, provided nobody has sought their destruction, they remain in fantastic condition having braved the elements remarkably well. The steel doors have a spring-latch system that more often than not opens as smoothly as the day they were installed, and I've yet to come across one with ladders that I wouldn't trust to use. Even in the worst of conditions they were clearly made to last. I imagine that this will be one of the most long-term documentary projects for me, as i doubt anyone has ever travelled to every single one that's survived the test of time.
This blog post is a preview of a handful of the treasures I've seen so far whilst visiting these hidden time capsules. Eventually I'll get around to posting an in-depth look at some of the best posts I've seen. You can also find information on how to visit preserved examples across the UK here.
I had the pleasure of being given a tour around the Daniel Adamson over the weekend by the gents volunteering on the project. The last surviving steam-powered tug to be built on the Mersey, believed to be the oldest, operational Mersey-built ship anywhere in the world. Currently moored at sutton weaver during off peak season.
Shown below, the first photograph is mine, taken inside the newly restored cabin, the black & white photo shows it during its prime in the mid 1900's - note how accurately it has been restored, even down to the same patterned fabric on the carpets and chairs. Final photograph shows how bad a state it was in before the heritage lottery fund kickstarted the project in 2015.
Finally, below the deck the controls, engine and mechanics have all being painstakingly restored to original working order. Only a fraction of what's here has been modernised, meaning that she runs essentially in the exact same was as she did when she first left the shipyard in 1903.