“It’s gotta be around here somewhere” i said to Chris, if i’m being honest, i had no idea where it was, but i was hoping it wouldn’t be far… We’ve both been itching to explore some abandoned buildings with our cameras and today our dreams had a pretty good chance of coming true.
“I’m pretty sure i just saw it, let’s double back and have a look down that road, it must be there somewhere.” We parked the car in a nearby car park, grabbed our kit and walked back down the road to where we thought the building was. “Urgh, why does this track have to be gravel?! I couldn’t be making any more noise if i tried!” We saw a gate to a blue bungalow a few metres to our left and decided to head in the other direction, it looked like it was definitely occupied and the last thing we wanted was company. “Let’s walk off the path and through these woods, i think i can see something.” We carefully negotiated the brambles and stinging nettles in the wooded area and then we saw a clearing, ducked under some branches and emerged the other side. There it was, we could see Crookham Court.
We didn’t know much about this place, i’d seen it online whilst searching for abandoned buildings, but in reality i didn’t know if we could get inside, if we’d get arrested or if it would even be worth it. We decided we didn’t want to spend much time here, i’ve always fancied these sort of things to be done with a sense of urgency, “let’s kit up here before we go any further” i said to Chris. I grabbed my camera out of my bag and made sure i had my 10-24mm lens, that my camera was set to bracketed exposure (5 frames, 0.7 increment), the ISO was nice and low and that it was on a self-timer of 2 seconds. I was ready.
We snuck round the back of what looked like an old outdoor tennis court and made our way round the back of the building, my eyes scanning the property for any points of entrance. Chris was walking behind me, maybe about 10 paces, he’d seen something i hadn’t “there’s an old guy back there, round the front of the house, with a walking stick, i’m not sure if he saw us though.” This could be bad news.
We carried on for a couple minutes and stood in awe of this building, i didn’t know where to start, that’s when i heard the grumbling but authoritative voice calling out at us “what are you doing here!” It was the old man from round the front. “Can’t you read the signs, it says private property, keep out. You’re not supposed to be here. The police will be here in five minutes.” This guy sounded pretty mad, i didn’t know how to react, i can’t remember my exact words but it went something like “Just taking some photo’s, oh i can read the sign alright, it says ‘keep out’, and i am out. If i’m not supposed to be here, then neither are you!” In hindsight it was probably a little more sarcastic and possibly aggressive than it needed to be, especially when he replied with “I am supposed to be here, i live here”. “What? In there?” i questioned, pointing at the derelict, boarded up building. “I used to live in there, until about 30 years ago, i live in the house you walked past. What’s the attraction of this place? Why do you people come here?” He had a slightly anxious tone in his voice.
The conversation carried on for a couple more minutes, i decided to try and make friends with the old man, i didn’t want to leave here without getting any shots. I extended my hand and introduced myself, we explained that the photos were just for our hobby and wouldn’t be used for journalism or any other commercial use. His name was Keith. I explained the practice of HDR photography and that buildings like this have a cult status online. “That’s no good to me, i don’t even have a computer, i’m not ONLINE” exclaimed Keith. “What’s your hobby then?” i asked, “Classical music, i like listening to music.” he said.
“Do you mind if i take a picture of the building?” i asked. “Go on then, but once you’re done taking pictures, come and see me, in the blue house by the gate.” Keith retreated back towards his house but not before telling us stories of the recent vandalism and increased police patrols, i now knew why he hadn’t greeted us with open arms. Almost in disbelief at the last 5 minutes and with a good dose of adrenaline running through our bodies, that’s when the fun began….. We explored most of the old buildings in the grounds, being extra careful to avoid broken glass, debris and the risk of collapse. We even negotiated our way up an old wooden staircase that looked ready to crumble at any second, don’t tell my Mum.
If you want to know more about the history of this site then it’s worth reading about, from what i’ve read it’s had a pretty horrific past, it was once a school and some of the teachers have been sentenced for their part in serious child abuse which is apparent from some of the graffiti around the site…. I won’t run into technical detail about the pictures, i don’t want any dialogue to detract from the images, if you have any questions then feel free to ask.
Many thanks to Chris for being my partner in crime. I think it’s safe to say i have a new hobby.
p.s. We saw Keith afterwards and it was the most surreal thing ever, ask me about it!