In 2005 I did my first explore in Canehill Asylum and to date it has been my best explore, a Victorian asylum, with items still remaining, what I would give to go back there as I have no photos worthy of showing. Soon after our exploring cherry had been popped, followed an obsession with Westpark Asylum, we also visited Severalls in this time but again I have very few photos in existence of these places over months we visited again and again, before finally in 2009 we got caught and told not to return again. Now that Canehill and Westpark have been bulldozed I will just keep the memories, etched into my mind, full of surreal memories. It wasn’t until late 2011 that I truly became obsessed with exploring and started to take photos I felt I could show on the internet but these initial explores I will never forget.
Below are some photos I took of my brother wearing a costume made by Lara Jenson, which she created for her MA in Costume Design, when I was studying my Masters degree in fashion photography. We ran into some other explorers that day when my brother was wearing the costume, must have freaked the hell out of them running into a winged creature from hell in an abandoned asylum.This was the first time I had shot a person in an abandoned place and West park was the perfect setting for this. An array of shadows, darkness but with rays of light. Highlights of the many times I went to West park, which was at the time on the doorstep of my university was the padded cell and how big it was you could just wander round for hours and keep finding things. I wish I could go back, but the sad fact is that so many abandoned places get bulldozed to make housing and not restored to their former glory, its such a shame when they exist with such incredible architecture a lot of the time.
The last remaining part of what was the largest complex of psychiatric hospitals in Britain is being demolished. West Park Hospital in Epsom in Surrey is being cleared to make room for new housing. The hospital once played home to nearly 2,000 patients and was the last of five psychiatric hospitals built at the site to house London’s mentally ill. The central tower and some buildings will be retained as part of the redevelopment. West Park was completed during World War I and formed the final part of the “Epsom Cluster” of hospitals. The design consisted of an ornate central water tower, from which wooden corridors radiated out to groups of wards. Like the adjacent hospitals, West Park was built for patients with mental health problems from the urban metropolis of London and was intended both as a place of tranquility and confinement.
The hope was that people leaving the stressful narrow courts of London would be out there in the country air and would gradually recover some of their equilibrium,” says Jeremy Harte, curator of the local Bourne Hall museum. Inside the hospitals, a highly disciplined environment was created both for patients and staff. Electro-convulsive therapy would have also been deployed as the controversial treatment fell in and then out of favour.
In the early decades before the development of anti-psychotic drugs, brute strength was used to control some patients, and until its demolition, West Park featured an original padded cell. But the hospital was later a place of innovation, says Mr Harte, where “industrial therapy” (light metal work) and music therapy were used, as clinicians developed a better understanding of mental health and the needs of individual patients.
The site also featured an elaborate recreation hall, which doubled up as ballroom and sports centre and which was used by the local community beyond the hospital for dances. The Epsom Cluster is one of the last remnants of a bygone ere when health care and particularly mental health care was paramount in peoples’ minds.”Mental hospitals were built with the wellbeing of the patients in mind. They weren’t just there to be treated, but to be protected from the world, and so a lot of thought and care was put into these institutions.”But the Epsom Cluster is not without its controversies. A 2008 A BBC investigation found evidence that at least 43 female typhoid carriers were locked up for life at the former Long Grove psychiatric hospital, after they were deemed a public health risk. That site has been redeveloped for housing.
Just in time for halloween we headed to what is remaining of Westpark to check out what is left, for a eerie Sunday morning explore. Before the redevelopment I visited West Park asylum many many times and it will always remain solidly routed in my heart as having some of the most surreal experiences of my life.