new to this community thing..anyway to get the ball rolling here's an account of my UE group's trip to West Park asylum in Epsom, England. It's been abandoned for about 8 years now, and there is plenty to see. Hope what follows is a good description of the place.
West Park trip 16/04/04
Our second trip to West Park was a hurried affair. It was my last full day at home before returning to University, and we had planned a whistle stop tour of our two favourite abandoned asylums - West Park in Epsom, and our 'local', Basingstoke's Park Prewett - while the group was still together. The titan drinking session we had planned for the evening, which functioned as a cross between a going away party and an early celebration of my 21st birthday, lengthened the day further.
Fuzzy from our 9am rally in Basingstoke and through eyes still encrusted with sleep I spied the squat ward buildings and lofty water towers of the Epsom cluster. We made short visits to Horton (now a housing estate), and several of its sister hospitals which would soon be housing estates. Sleek new link roads and roundabouts criss cross what once was a massive knot of buildings, and while the other hospitals seemed to have UE potential, things were a bit busy for our liking.
We pressed on towards the South Western corner of the cluster where West Park stands silently. Information from SU's very own Jondoe suggested that the police were in situ that week dog training, so we made a stealthy circuit of the hospital around the perimeter road to check for activity. Approaching through the main gates at the east end of the site we passed site security's cubby hole - a tiny shed perhaps purchased from the garden centre nearby. This confirmed our suspiscions about security (or the lack of) - for such a vast site, their prescence was miniscule.
Skirting the northern side of the main hospital, boarded up like Fort Knox, the only activity was the usual rumble of patients and doctors that still use the out buildings and villas in this area. No sign of 14 stone Alsatians that slaver at the mouth or their authoritarian trainers that probably love testing out Lassie's death grip on the skinny forearms of unfortunate Urbexers. Of more concern was the fact that the gates to the vast interior courtyard we documented on an earlier visit were wide open. We were to find out more about this area later. Overall, West Park seemed quiet enough for us to infiltrate, and we prepared to park up and walk in.
Our point of insertion was the tried and tested one - the open window in the toilet block of Barton ward. While Barton and neighbouring Ashford, Abington and Burford are the best example of preserved wards I've seen, and contain some incredible trinkets (such as the photo album Batman liberated last time out), we raced through their corridoors uninterested. We had bigger fish to fry today.
After yomping through the wards we infiltrated the walkway network. This still does its job and provides easy access to a great deal of the hospital. Scraping through a tiny bathroom window, we reached what is marked on the map as Anderson block. This uninspiring building, once utilised as nurses accomodation and by admin, contains very little in the way of souvenirs, with a few old postcards from 1980 the best of a bad bunch. So why bother visiting it? Well, on our last trip to West Park one of our group had found something quite interesting..
West Park has extensive, and very well preserved tunnels (or subways as they are referred to on hospital signage). While not quite as glorious as the catacombs of Park Prewett (which look like theyve been swept clean that very morning and are wide enough to drive a car through), these provided almost unlimited UE potential. And we had one particular target - West Park's enormous water tower.
How do you write about tunnels? They were dank, dark, wet, and smelt like HMS Victory. After accessing them from Anderson we appeared to be in a very narrow side tunnel, with little or no headroom. It met the larger subways, which run underneath the walkway network, at right angles. These were far more comfortable; wide and about six foot high. Unfortunately, at 6'1, I was forced to slouch my way around the hospital - adding back ache to the headache i got after giving a particularly ugly pipe a Glasgow kiss. The main subway network appeared to run straight for some distance, perhaps even half a kilometer, with scores of side passages leading into every ward and out building. There we obstalces to traverse though, as huge pipes crossed the subways in front of us. Some were at head height and required a ducking action. Others could be stepped over. The worst were half way up, and neccessated a limbo like shuffle to get under them.
We made a beeline in the vague direction of the tower, navigating through glimpses of buildings stolen through drains. No cigar. Access was impossible, although we did find a huge, and very intact, boiler room. But we didnt hang around long - this was near habitation and our jibing and laughing echoed noisily, amplified by the tunnels. Tell tale signs of pigeons - the rumble of cooing and clapping of wings - dissuaded us further, and we headed for the blackened, sooty shell of the great hall.
BANG BANG BANG. We froze in our tracks underneath the stage. BANG BANG BANG. It came again. It was too noisy to be a door rattling on its hinges, too deliberate to be somone pissing around. Holding our breath, we shuffled towards where light streamed into the tunnels in the area under what was once the stage. We listened carefully. My UE friends from Warwick were going to be at West Park that day, but we hadnt run into them yet, and couldnt be sure it was them. Had we been making too much noise? Probably. And here, where the tunnels looked up into blue skies through a huge gash, we were exposed. Suddenly I became very aware of my mobile phone in my pocket. If it went off now, we would be discovered for sure. BANG BANG BANG. Was this Simon Cornwell's 'Hammer Man' of Cane Hill on a quick trip to the country? Was it security? Was it our friends? After the booming subsided, we waited a few minutes, then moved back into the protective darkness of the tunnels, treading as quietly as we could.
Gradually our spirits returned and we headed back towards Anderson, along a subway which ran directly underneath one of the interior corridoors near the admin block. Passing under a huge pipe I froze. CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK. The noise was unmistakable this time. Footsteps on the hard floor of the corridoor above, approaching from behind us. Slow paces. CLACK CLACK CLACK. The footsteps passed over us. Then they stopped.
There was another person in West Park, and they were standing just above us.
Silence. Again we subdued our breathing. Seconds later, the footsteps moved off. We pressed on quickly towards Anderson, turning right down another subway. Then...
Again. The footsteps were back.
Again, they moved above us, and they stopped. Directly above us. This time the silence that followed lasted much longer. 'Fuck this' muttered Sherlock Holmes, in his 'I court danger' way. 'Lets give em a fright!'. He rapped a pipe and it clanged noisily, echoing around the tunnels. He had a point, we had to do something. The best bet would probably be to get back to Anderson as quickly as possible and move upstairs where it was safer. If 'footsteps man' was security, then he would have been felled by his own sword, as West Park's main defence against trespeassers is that access between buildings at ground level was impossible. We could travel faster than him in the tunnels, and our routes were unimpeded. We scampered back to Anderson and very cagily emerged. And that's the last we heard from 'footsteps man'.
Pausing for breath at the top of Anderson block, we assessed our options. It was probably prudent to leave West Park, as time was running out and we didnt want to turn a corner to be faced by some power hungry security bod. Still, we selected the scenic route - through the Great Hall and out via Ashford/Barton. And that was it. Although i found out later that while on our exit march we gave my Warwick contact a fright. He was on his way into the hospital, exploring upstairs in Barton, as we were confidently striding through its ground floors on our way out. Hearing the commotion that seems to follow any UE team around an old building - the crunching of trainer on detritus, giggling, clanking of tripods - , he prompty soiled a new pair of y-fronts.
Our second visit to West Park was a real eye opener. Previously we had assumed an aura of invulnerability when it came to security, and had expected our good luck to continue. Like most experiences that are initially frightening, one becomes desensitsed to any danger as your exposure to it increases. We felt very at home roaming West Park - and taking some idiotic risks - before we met 'footsteps man'. After our fright we were forced to reconsider our position, and the truth is that it's a matter of time before we run into someone else on an UE trip. As it is, security at West Park is minimal, but we will keep the noise down in future.
We never found out who 'footsteps man' was, though we came across a few clues. Small boxed-shaped air analysis machines (see photo) had been left around the main hall and surrounding corridoors, seemingly very recently - possibly to test for asbestos or impurities from the arson attack which raised it to the ground. Therefore we concluded that 'footsteps man' was probably just the workman who set them up. As I was to chillingly discover from my Warwick UE friend later on, his party had not arrived at West Park at the time of the footsteps, so that ruled him out. As for the banging, we found a panel had been kicked out of a door on the far side of the great hall to the stage. The route into the great hall is quite well concealed, so perhaps the workman, who had not previously visited West Park, decided to make a new one. We'll probably never know for sure. Still, conundrums are fun.
Jumping into the cavalier, we headed back to home turf and Park Prewett, where we would attempt to emulate Jondoe in exploring its intact main hall. But that's another story.