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GES026 - Runwell Hospital, Essex

June 2010

R Hospital opened for patients in 1936. When it closed on 23 April 2010 it was operated by South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

Following the ending of contracts accommodating patients at the Essex county's Brentwood mental hospital, joint facilities were developed between East Ham and Southend-on-sea boroughs. A site was chosen at R Hall farm, to the east of the town of Wickford and the firm of Elcock and Sutcliffe were chosen as architects to the site, the former having previously designed the new Bethlem Royal hospital at Monks orchard. Elcock and Sutcliffe were at the forefront of institutional design and when completed, R was seen as being pioneering development in mental hospital compared to its contemporaries. Judging by some of the buildings, there was an element of secure accommodation here. History source: Wikipedia

Like most rural hospitals of it's kind, the site is huge and includes numerous buildings spread over a large area. As seen from above. (Copyright Bing Maps)

A warm but overcast night in July, and I headed over to Islington to pick up TheSpaniard. We had agreed 3.30am, but my text saying 'where are you?' acted as his wake up call apparently, so he finally turned up at 4am. After I'd failed to help numerous drunks in search of somewhere selling more booze. We headed off through East London and into Essex. A county i'd not really visited before. One of the many good things about exploring is you do see a lot more of the country.

After what seemed an age of a journey, we got off and parked up by some houses. Then walked down the road until we came to the bottom of the road that led into the hospital. We headed off into some fields and through seemingly endless brambles and stinging nettle clusters until we popped out into the site. We headed for the Watertower, which i'd seen photos inside of recently, and wanted some of that goodness.

However despite circling the building twice and checking every possibility, I couldn't find a way in. Obviously security had been watching the posting on forum sites, and sealed it up. We did find a way into the boiler house though, and that was pretty awesome. The 4 blue boilers each had a control panel sat next to them.

On the edge of boiler No. 1 was this rather attractive gauge.

This appeared to be the main control board, a few things appear grouped in 4's.

A fisheye of the 4 old boilers, and one slightly less older boiler propped up against the middle one.

This beast sat in a side room, and as the glowing light shows, was very much alive.

Another large room of tanks, pipes, wheels and chains sat at the back of the main boiler room. GE015 got all power crazy, like something out of 'Young Frankenstein.'

Some fisheye action from the corner of the room above.

An old hand truck in the basement area of this room.

We got out a slightly easier way than we got in, and headed West across the site. I grabbed a photo as we moved off from the Boiler House.

We walked past a few buildings that appeared to be shut up tight, and came across a building that wasn't. With clowns and animals painted on the walls, this could only be somewhere for kids. A plaque on the wall showed it to be 'Tinkerbell's Nursery' opened April 1989 fact fans. It was mostly stripped rooms, in a couple of rooms someone appeared to have gone nutso with a staple gun. Whole walls were covered with random staple firing.

Quickly bored we moved off further around the Western side of the site, and passed a modern looking building with a very high thin holed green mesh fence making the area inside secure. We lifted up the gate's drop bolt into the ground and went in for a nosey. However there was no way in, and it was a little exposed, so we left this part. Crossing a field and ducking down to avoid a security chap whizzing by on a bicycle, we arrived at some old ward buildings. They were very reminiscent of West Park and most other asylums. Gently rotting buildings, with a sad atmosphere of loneliness. The first one we came to had a window with no glass in, so we popped inside. It appeared to be built around two quadrangles, and had been empty for quite some time. Vandals had set to work inside.

For some reasons doors were removed in a corridor, nature can be seen trying to reclaim the site at the windows.

One thing that as an explorer you expect, ney, demand, to find in an asylum, is peely paint. And I finally found some on a set of stairs with some rather nasty carpet.

Upstairs, as everywhere in this building, the rooms were all stripped. Where the lack of repair effected the roof, water had dripped in, and with wooden floors that can only lead to mould.

We tried to get into the next block but were thwarted on numerous attempts, mainly by the disturbing amount of nettles, brambles and such like. Also by some unexpected anti-climb paint, which I partially removed with most of my skin on the brickwork and bits of vegetation. We came back the way we'd come, as ahead of us is where we'd seen the security chap on a bike, and it was a little exposed. We arrived back at the boiler house. I took a snap of the workshops buildings courtyard.

It was then onto finding a way into the main block that sits in the middle of the site. We found a small building that faces the boiler house that had central swivel windows. These have a pivot through the middle and come out to horizontal position. They're a huge pain and painful to get through. This one was smaller than normal, and after a couple of preambles, I decided I wasn't going to get in there. A look around showed an open sort of hoist doorway on the first floor, and after some messing about, TheSpaniard got up there only to find it was just a single room with no way out. GE015 then walked carefully along a precarious glass roof to get onto the roofs of the building. I went back down to get my camera bag. As I did so a tough looking security guard walked about 10m away from me. I carefully tried to hide behind a foot high set of flowery weeds. Pathetic I know, but I was also wearing dark clothes in a shadowy area. I think if he'd have looked closer he would have spotted me, but he didn't. I was trapped in this area, so as soon as he was out of sight, I ran across to some windows and watched him through the glass. He stood to the side of the boiler house for around 5 minutes, as if waiting for someone to walk about inside. Satisfied there was no one in there, he carried on with his route. When clear I joined GE015 on the roof. Here we found the old projection room. A sickly light green colour. The holes in the wall where a projector would have pointed, showed a large hall inside the building.

That was the next problem, how to get into the building. The buildings were only recently vacated, and metal thieves hadn't turned up to make more entrances yet, nor had decay rotted window frames. It was going to need some careful work, and after a short while, and a scary squeeze and precarious drop, we were in. Walking around we came upon the kitchen area, still neatly laid out with huge cooking pots and mixing machines.

A canteen serving area lay off to one side. Walking around the corridors, we found some doors open into the corridor. They led into a chapel, judging by the confession booth, a Catholic one. Being someone who despises the Catholic Church for it's vile policies over the centuries, I held back from defiling the place. Instead I sat where the priest would sit to here people's sins.

Next up was the main hall for the site, with a stage and lovely wooden doors, art nouveau windows in the ceilings and up-lights on the walls.

After some malarkey on the stage, that didn't come out very well on camera. We pressed on Southwards through the building and came to the reception block.

Most of the rooms around here had been stripped and were featureless and dull. I did find the odd interesting one, including one full of gorgeous wooden floors and sides. Some kind of library or research room. In another room was an original fireplace, and I do like a good fireplace!

More Art Nouveau was present in the boardroom, a wondrous light streaked down the room over where a large table would have been full of people making important and oh so serious decisions. "we don't have enough ham sandwiches at these me etings do we John?" "You're quite right Mark, more ham sandwiches, those in a agreement?"...

After exploring all of this area, it was off back to the kitchen area, where we'd found a much easier way out. Being careful at windows, as we'd watched a security guard staring into them from the roof. A long corridor stretched up to the kitchen area.

After getting out, we weren't too worried about being caught as we were tired and keen to leave. We walked Eastwards from the boiler house past some more workshops. We walked alongside buildings that reminded me of a 1950's holiday camp (I should point out that watching Hi-De-Hi is my only holiday camp experience!) The place was still neatly laid out, the grass still presentable.

One of the buildings had a long external corridor.

We spotted where the security desk was, near a church, and hopped over a fence into the woodlands that line the site. Somehow we took a wrong turn, and ended up in an area we must have bi-passed before. Full of rather old buildings fully boarded up.

We crossed the sports ground again, and walked down the road back to the bike. There were houses lining the road also boarded up and showing signs of decay. It has to be said, there is a lot left to see at this place, I hope to return before Mrs. Wrecking ball, and Mr.Skip pay a visit.

Cheers to GE015 for the company and drugs.