Churchill's Secrets

This was one of the designated houses Winston Churchill used to stay overnight under lock-and-key when visiting the North West of England during the war. The owner kept his personal photographs a secret until he finally sold the property to the city's university in the late 90's. After serving as student accommodation for a short while the building has remained disused whilst it waits for renovation and a new purpose. Despite enough time having passed, it's history has still remained largely unknown and I wasn't aware myself until one of the contractors on site gave me a brief walk-through of its past. I now know of atleast three of these unassuming secret wartime locations - possible future project in the works!

Then & Now

1872 – 2017. The Sankey Canal, built onto the Mersey flats by Henry Berry who was Liverpool's Second Dock Engineer. The canal was built to bring coal down to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool from towns further inland along the Mersey, without having to work around the strict tides of the river. Young boys were paid by the coal companies to guide horses as they pulled the boats along the water and were led via the towpath on the bank of the canal, often up to 30 miles at a time. This was a tradition carried forward from as early as the mid 1700’s. At this time when the canal was first completed it spread back along the line to St Helens, Warrington and Widnes, which were relatively small villages until this period. Many historians credit the Sankey canal with the growth of the entire region by putting these towns onto the industrial map and linking them to the ports and factories at either end of the line. ​Whilst the canal was built originally primarily to take coal down to the Mersey and Liverpool, once the mines in St Helens started to close down the final traffic on the Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction – bringing raw sugar from Liverpool to Earlestown in the late 19th century. The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to full closure of the canal in 1963, allowing nature to reclaim it as its own. The immediate commercial success of the Sankey Canal instigated the so-called ‘canal-building mania’ across the country during the industrial revolution and it became a direct influence to the construction of the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals that are still in use today.

Layers of Years

The smell of stale air, decades worth of dust seeping through the fabric of the seats, sweat-lined windows and the creaking sound of an over-worn gearstick. This coach obviously saw one too many school trips before reaching it's end..

Last Men Standing

The forest of Dean coalfield, whilst being one of the smaller mining areas of Britain when the industry was still widespread, is now one of the only places in the country where freeminers still continue to travel beneath the surface in these disused tunnels. Mining here almost entirely closed in the 1960's, and by the time the government closed the pits in the UK permanently in the late 80's, a landscape sculpted by the industry here became completely silent. Half the men who lived in the forest of dean had to find new career paths. A few years ago, we had the chance to meet a retired miner who still spent the majority of his time either in or around the pits, and knew the complex tunnels better than anyone else. Only a handful of mines in the Dean are even still accessible, and once these sentimental men are gone, it's unlikely anyone will ever set foot here again.

The Mersey Sisters

The Twin Bridges that span the river Mersey estuary between the towns of Widnes and Runcorn in Cheshire, UK. On the left, the Runcorn Bridge, otherwise known as the Silver Jubilee Bridge has stood alone as the only means of crossing the water by foot or car since 1961. Later this year the bridge will close for maintenance and the new Mersey Gateway bridge, seen on the right,  will open as a means of relieving the severe congestion issues as more than 80 thousand cars currently cross the river at this location each day.

anglesey barracks

History hidden within the mountains - Lying in the shadow of the gigantic disused Dinorwic slate Quarry which was mined for slate as far back as the late 18th century. Over 3000 men worked in the industry this side of the valley at its peak. Aside from local workers, those from further afield in Anglesey required to lodge or barrack at the quarry, spending the entire working week up in the hills before returning home to family for the weekend. The barracks were built using the slate from the quarry itself, and consist of two identical blocks of 11 units facing each other across an unmade street. Each unit had a living room with a fireplace and a bedroom with space for four men. Amenities were few - no electricity, soft mattresses, toilets or running water, just basic furniture and little else. Windows were provided only onto the street. This way of life survived until 1948 when an unannounced visit by the local Public Health Inspector saw the barracks condemned as unfit for human habitation. The industry here quite literally fueled the entire region, and hailed as the second largest opencast producer in Wales with an annual production of over 100,000 tonnes of what was highly regarded as the world's finest slate. The Great depression kick-started the end of the slate industry in Wales as new mining technology and foreign import took over, leaving the quarry and the buildings used by the miners to sit eerily dormant within the mountains now for almost fifty years.

A metaphor for a broken faith

The smashed church window, a metaphor for a broken faith - There are now more disused or converted churches in the UK than active ones. Whilst the population grows, the number of Christian born children drops by 10,000 every week. If that rate of decline continues, the congregational practise of Christianity will come to an end in 2067. That is the year in which the Christians who have inherited the faith of their British ancestors will become statistically invisible. Parish churches everywhere will have been adapted for secular use, demolished or abandoned. By 2020, worship of other major religions will overtake Christianity for the first time in well over a millennia. In other words, we can all look forward to many more decades of appreciating some of this country's finest architecture after the inhabitants of these buildings are inevitably forced to leave them behind.

RIP

St Helens Sacred Heart Presbytery, the heart of the parish formed out of what was a town centre school problem in 1850, where the development of industry in the town had led to a population explosion and a growing population meant an increase in child numbers. The presbytery, aka clergy house, was the home of the catholic priests of the diocese that preached in the sacred heart church next door that was sadly demolished in 2004. Despite plans to knock both buildings down, the project was mysteriously never completed and the presbytery left to endure a further 12 years of dereliction before being torn down earlier this year. The site will now undoubtedly remain a disused pile of rubble for many more years to come, as any signs of true architecture are slowly but surely wiped from the region.

One Spark

Two years ago this period thatched cottage met its end when a single ember from the fireplace in the living room sparked a fire that destroyed the entire roof, leaving only a shell behind. Plans have been in place to restore it to its former glory but the sheer complexity of doing so has meant that this cottage has sat dormant within this quaint, historic village ever since. (click image to view next photo)

Then & Now

The Lime Street Futurist Cinema. Another iconic part of our heritage gone forever. After a vicious fight last year on behalf of the gracious efforts of SAVE, the supreme court eventually ruled against the protection of this early 20th century building that has been closed since the early 80s. The appeal ran straight down to the last minute but the demolition crew had already moved in immediately after the decision was made, with the new building foundations now already taking shape. Why they couldn't retain the facade and construct a new modern cinema for the center of the city instead of more new shops is just beyond me. So the deeply divided subject of the regeneration of Liverpool continues..

Two Sides

In this photo, taken from my photo documentary of St Josephs Catholic Seminary, the right side represents the beauty and the pride of the buildings we photograph. The left represents the dark side of the hobby; the 'urbex' community. Only in football have I ever experienced such drama-loving elitism among people that detract so far from the actual point of the matter. For every follower I ever gain on instagram, I lose one due to the acts of people who call themselves 'pro' urbexers, who think that because I allowed an author to use my images and my words for his ongoing written report on sexual abuse at this Catholic college I photographed two years ago, I was therefore considered a 'sellout' for the fact that the author eventually granted the same material to be used in the Huffington post and the daily mail, disregarding the awareness it might have further gained for such an important issue within our dark and recent past. I will always be proud to say that I distance myself from this toxic community of people, and that my work is a deeply personal project that gives me so much pleasure and will carry on for many more years to come as I document the beauty of our abandoned heritage. My work is not 'urbex' and it never will be. For those that have always appreciated my work and for all the great artists on instagram that I share experiences with each day, I know it's not about the number of likes or the followers or keeping secret locations in groups hidden away from everyone else, it's about appreciating what we have before it's gone. It's a pity some people have forgotten that.

RC

Honda vs Nature

I absolutely love how relentless the green growth becomes at this time of year. Suddenly places disappear or become something entirely different, giving you a whole new reason to revisit.

Porth Wen

An abandoned brick works facility has now sat dormant on the shores of Wales for over a century since it closed following the First World War. This quickly became one of my favourite places in the world, with the crystal clear waters running over iron-stained pink rocks beneath this stunningly preserved maze of overgrown factory buildings. Back in the day a railway brought the ore to the cliff above the brick works where the rocks would be pummeled and rendered to a size that could be further processed. According to written accounts, women with iron covered gloves would break the rocks into smaller pieces, whilst engineers decided to take advantage of the slope and gravity to bring the ore down to the plant. The production stages were tiered and the further processed ore would descend from one level to the next towards sea level. Once the ore was finely resolved it was moulded and dried before being stacked inside the Bee-Hive Kilns, then shipped out onto the Irish Sea and beyond.

Horncliffe Mansion

Then & Now 1986 - 2015. Horncliffe Mansion, sitting adjacent to a once busy b-road, this 11-bedroom venue was originally built as a private home for local mill owner and businessman Henry Hoyle Hardman in 1869. The grounds, made up of several buildings both old and new, were used more recently as a wedding venue, restaurant and nursing home until it's closure around a decade ago. Planning approval was granted for a local property developer to convert the house into a dwelling in April 2009, but is has remained derelict and he has now had it on the market for more than 8 years. The 10,000 sq ft mansion has been valued at £500,000, but the sheer extent of work needed to bring this place back to its former glory means that the Grade II listed property has been entirely forgotten and now requires a comprehensive scheme of renovation that, as of yet, nobody has decided to risk their money on.

For full album visit www.rikcotterill.com/albums/the-jaguar-graveyard/

Then & Now - Downhill House

Then & Now 1874 - 2016. Downhill House, sat dormant on the remote shores of County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. "Built where only a romantic would expect to find one and only a lunatic would build one.” Constructed at huge expense, it was once normal when commissioning a mansion to site it where it might enjoy a view, but also some shelter from the elements. Downhill is all view and no shelter. On its exposed headland, the house is battered mercilessly by wind and rain. However, it was not the weather that reduced Downhill to the ruin we see today, rather the more mundane forces of declining family finances that levelled so many great houses in Ireland and Britain. Frederick Hervey began building Downhill in the 1770s; if its location seems remote now, it must have felt like the ends of the earth in those days. The top photo was the first known image to be taken following the restoration of the house following a huge fire in the 1850s. It's last known use was as a billet for RAF servicemen during World War Two. Since the great depression and the extraction of the military from the area following the war, the weather has reduced Downhill mansion to an empty shell, as if dusted and cleaned off by the winds that still greet its walls each day.

For full album visit www.rikcotterill.com/albums/downhill-demesne/

The Groundskeepers House

Void of its owner, nature is now successfully undoing a mans life work. Est 1879.


The Great British Signal Box

More than 500 signal boxes across the UK are in the process of being made redundant as the modernisation of Britain's railway continues. The Victorian boxes, some of which have been part of the railway for around 150 years, will be retired as new technology is introduced. Since the announcement two years ago, 26 Signal boxes across England have earned listed status to preserve the country's rail heritage, but the vast majority will either be removed or allowed to fall into disrepair. For some they still serve as a reminder of the industrious railway network put in place by the Victorian railway pioneers. Originally, all signalling was done by mechanical means. Points and signals were operated locally from individual levers or handles, requiring the signalman to walk between the various pieces of equipment to set them in the required position for each train that passed. Before long, it was realised that control should be concentrated into one building, which came to be known as a signal box. As well as providing a dry, climate controlled space for the complex interlocking mechanics, the raised design of most signal boxes also provided the signalman with a good view of the railway under his control.

Whittingham

The admin building at the late Whittingham asylum. A place that will always remain close to my heart, as it was one of the first spectacles I managed to witness at a point where Britain's largest ever psychiatric hospital complex was being dismantled piece by piece, leaving behind these five dormant Victorian deco buildings. Earmarked for development, these were promised a full restoration as part of an agreement to hold onto the villages heritage, but were instead scandalously demolished to pave way for new housing. I'll never forget the relentless cries of the ravens out in the courtyard that echoed across this once monumental place. It just goes to show how delicate and vulnerable our history can be when allowed to fall into the wrong hands, and why exploring them is so much more than just a ticking a box on a list.