Abandoned Places

Halloween in the Hall of Corpses

If you follow some of the Team Mushens (as in Juliet Mushens, our lovely agent. Yes, she has a posse. I know.)  group on Twitter, you’ll probably have heard about the Halloween Shorts thing we’ve got running, arranged by the marvellous @mygoditsraining.

I say “we”, because I’m kind of cheating on this one and going slightly off-campus. While the others have all been terribly good and clever and written proper actual new short stories for Halloween, I’ve not had time and am horribly disorganised and, well, me.

However, the other day while I was rummaging through my hard drive looking for yet another file that I’d managed to save to completely the wrong place and then lose (because – again – me) I came across this. Think of it as something from the catacombs.

Murderess Lane is an old story of mine… I must’ve written it around 2009, 2010 – something like that and it was published online by Hub Fiction magazine. I’m very attached to it, partly because it’s set in Smithfield and the City of London. This has long been one of my favourite places and I’ve both lived and worked there. It’s part of my history – which is probably why I feel an incredible urge to go back and mess with it. This is also the story which introduced the Hall of Corpses – which is the closest thing to a mythos I’ve got. It’s turned up (either alluded to, in disguise or flat-out as itself) in a couple of things I’ve done, for no other reason than my idiotic affection for the idea.

So, ahead of Halloween (and posted now because come tomorrow I disappear down the convention rabbithole for a week)… welcome to Murderess Lane.

 

MURDERESS LANE

 

I once met a man who had a habit of finding strange places. I say “habit” rather than “gift” although that’s what I’d call it, myself. He was a man who could be found next to a bar – no matter the time of day or night; the kind of man who, if asked the right sort of questions and given the right sort of drinks, would tell you anything you wanted to know. Just the kind I was looking for.

I met him in a pub in west Smithfield, where he was slowly but steadily working his way through the row of bottles behind the bar: he wasn’t especially pleased to see me, but I sat down beside him anyway and began by asking if he was the man who had found the Hall of Corpses. The question didn’t surprise him, and instead he squinted across at me, then laughed. “So you know about that one, do you?”

(more…)

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Asylum Architecture

To get away from anything angel-related for a bit, I came across this fascinating article on asylum architecture yesterday.

I’ve mentioned it before, but because I’m interested in urbex, and stumbled across that fantastic photograph of the hall of Hellingly asylum which I now have on my wall, I’m completely enthralled by the idea of “institutional architecture”: that it has set constructs and conceits and can be used both for good and for ill.

I can’t remember where I read it now, so you’ll have to take my word for it – but recently I read that the passageway from the former condemned cell at Old Bailey was a series of archways, each narrower than the last. Anyone walking to their execution would have their already (justified) sense of impending doom heightened by the deliberate and increasingly claustrophobic effect.

Brrr.

Fall of an Empire

Sign at the Empire petrol station

The blog Irregulars might remember I have a thing for ghost towns and derelict places, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m fascinated by the story of Empire in Nevada: America’s newest ghost-town.

One of the last company towns in the US, built around a gypsum mine & drywall factory in operation since the 1920s, it has two churches, a pool and its own airstrip. The one thing it no longer has is residents.

When United States Gypsum mothballed the plant at the end of 2010 due to the recession and downturn in building trade, they gave residents a few months to move out of their homes (although several employees remain to keep an eye on the factory and houses – and, interestingly, to mow the lawns – and the store, just outside the town, is still open: close enough to the Burning Man festival to hopefully supplement any passing trade from the area.)

Perhaps most striking of all, the town’s Zip code, 89405, has been retired: a stark reminder that even in the modern world – just like us, body and soul – towns can die.

Welcome to Hell (ingly)

Last week, we bought a couple of new pictures for the house. One was something arty by way of a wooden staircase and a chandelier (Other Half’s choice), and mine was… well, it was this.

Hellingly Main Hall: photograph by Mike McLean

I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was very taken with it. A village hall, maybe? Some kind of theatre…?

Nope.

An asylum.

Welcome to Hellingly.

Opened in 1903, it was designed by GT Hine – consultant to the Commissioners in Lunacy and asylum specialist (seriously, is there anything about that sentence you can’t love?). It remained in use until 1994, when the main building was vacated and decommissioned. Hine designed the hall as the centrepiece of the asylum, its heart, and even in its derelict state, it’s still possible to see the status it was awarded.

Since its closure, several of the associated outbuildings have remained in use: some are now privately owned, and some are retained by mental health services to house the criminally insane–but the main building has long fallen into disrepair. Frequent attacks by vandals and arsonists haven’t helped, and all that’s left is a shell.

Albeit a bloody creepy one…

 

You can learn more about Hellingly here, and here, as well as take a photographic tour on the Abandoned Britain site and read the account of a site visit by a UE group.

Pleasant dreams….

Buried

You remember how I like my abandoned places, don’t you? Well, it’s been a while… so here’s a new one. An old one. Oh, you get the idea.

In the early years of the 20th Century, diamond fever hit Namibia.

The gem-rush led to the establishment of Kolmanskop: built to support the mining community, it even had a ballroom, theatre, casino and – apparently – the first tram system in Africa.

But after the First World War, diamond sales lost their sparkle and the town was gradually abandoned.

By the 1950s, it had become a ghost town; swallowed by the desert sands.

Judging by these photos, not even diamonds are forever….

Like most ghost towns, Kolmanskop is hugely interesting – because it’s empty. The thing about these places is that they show us our world in negative: by our absence, they show us the spaces we should be filling, the lives we should be inhabiting. They’re places that wouldn’t be there without our intervention… and without us, they’re fading away, just like their residents did.

One day, there’ll be nothing but sand, and dust, and the memories of houses lost to the desert; the ghosts of buildings with nothing to haunt them but air. In the meantime, it’s strikingly, sadly beautiful.

In the Underbelly

Dan Witz for Wooster Collective (c/o Wooster Collective)

It’s all going down in New York’s subway system. Literally.

Since news of the ambitious Underbelly Project broke, the hunt has been on to find it.

If you’ve not heard of it, imagine works by 100 of the best street-artists working today, names like Ron English, Swoon and Revok–all created in secret, hidden away in a disused subway station… and sealed away. That’s the Underbelly Project.

It took 18 months of cat-and-mouse with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the artists behind it were all too aware of the fact that not only could they be prosecuted for trespass or criminal damage, but given the location of their “gallery” and the long-term nature of the project, they could face altogether more serious charges… the kind that come with men in black suits, windowless cells and orange jumpsuits with silver accessories as standard) and now it’s done.

And there’s no denying it: the art is incredible: just look at the Vandalog flickr set of Underbelly works. This piece by Jeff Soto has got to be one of my favourites, along with this one by Surge, and this ever-so-slightly creepy one by Dan Witz. He has more of his work from the project (as well as his other pieces) on his site.

I like the idea of this, of all that art hidden away in the dark. From the photos, you can only imagine the working conditions–but you can also argue that hey, that’s part of street art. Should it really all be on gallery walls–or is doing it for the sake of it, somewhere like this, still the point? It’s almost quantum: if the art’s down there in the gloom of the tunnels, does it still exist? Well, yes.

If you’re cynically-minded, you could argue that for all the Underbelly’s comments about the secrecy of the project, they’ve still gone to the press now it’s all over–but, seriously, having managed to pull it off: to get all the artists down there and back out, to collect together a quite-literally-underground gallery on this scale, how can you not want to celebrate it?

If you’re interested in learning more about it, there’s articles here and here, as well as the NYT’s slideshow of photos. There’s another article–and a video tour of the tunnels–here.

And really, go and look at the pictures of the pieces; share the links round. They deserve to be seen, in context with their surroundings, with the weight of the city and its inhabitants pressing down on them, rushing around overhead–unknowing and unseeing…. and isn’t that part of their charm?

Suffer the Little Children

At Reculver in Kent, not far from Herne Bay, there’s a ruined church.

The Romans–always ones with an eye for strategy– built one of their Saxon Shore forts here and it became an important lookout point over the mouths to the Thames and the Medway rivers.

Later, the Anglo-Saxon kings took it as a seat of power: Aethelberht of Kent was said to have moved his court here from Canterbury, taking over the abandoned Roman site. A large church–St Mary’s–was later constructed, and along with it a wealthy monastery. A 7th Century cross, most likely a high cross, was discovered by archeologists outside the church and is now kept at Canterbury cathedral.

The church, and the village it served, was perilously close to the sea by the 17th Century, and by the 18th, the village was largely abandoned and a new church built further inland. St Mary’s was suddenly surplus to requirements.

As the buildings around it (including the vicarage and the original village inn) were claimed by the sea, the majority of the church was demolished. Its imposing towers, the Twin Sisters, were allowed to remain as a navigational aid, and the ruins were protected from further sea-attacks by the construction of a series of groynes.

Illustrious–and complicated–as its history is, it comes with an even more interesting and particularly gruesome legend–that if you listen carefully, you will hear the sound of a crying baby in the ruins of the church. And that’s fair enough, you know. Ruined churches. They’re spooky, right? But in the 1960s, archeologists working on the site discovered a number of children’s skeletons buried deep beneath the walls of the Roman fort. The legend tells that they were buried alive as a sacrifice to protect the fort and its inhabitants….

Is it me, or did it suddenly get a bit chilly in here? Brrr.

Deadly Town

(or the town so haunted, it died)

On the outskirts of Cornwall, Connecticut, if you look hard enough–and are brave enough–you’ll find Dudleytown. Named for the sheer number of Dudleys (allegedly descended from the Dudleys who got into so much trouble in the 16th Century) settled there, it was an isolated community which legend says was so cursed that it killed the town. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s technically not so much a town as it is an outpost of the Cornwall township, whose church served the community.

A run of bizarre deaths–barn-raising accident, attacks by hostile Native Americans, cholera outbreaks, lightning strikes and suicides–swept the town through the 18th & 19th Centuries, along with tales of missing animals, dementia and madness, and finally the disappearance of two children (who were never found). There were rumours of hauntings and demonic activity and slowly, the community dwindled.

Its location can’t have been much of a help: surrounded by hills and forest, winters there were long and harsh, the soil was rocky and the ground swampy. Not exactly the ideal spot to build a town. But the stories that came from Dudleytown left their mark and soon it was deserted.

In the early 20th Century, so the story goes, a Dr Clarke from New York bought the land in which Dudleytown sat and built a second home there. He and his wife would spend weekends and summers there–until one weekend he was called away to an emergency, leaving his wife behind. When he returned a day later he found his wife completely insane, raving about terrors that had come from the forest. She took her life soon after.

The land is now owned by the (ominously named) Dark Forest Entry Association, who have closed it off–not that it stops the tourists, ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers. The remains of Dudleytown still stand, although in recent years they have been vandalised: like they haven’t had to deal with enough.

Whether you believe the stories or not–whether it’s ghosts and demons, or whether it’s plain bad luck and a collision of circumstance–there’s something odd about Dudleytown. Visitors who have braved the considerable wrath of the DFEA report a strange atmosphere about the place, of hearing strange sounds, of being touched or even scratched by unseen hands.

Maybe it’s all just a legend, something built upon with each telling. Or maybe not. But whatever might have caused the place to be abandoned, it seems that it still has plenty of ghosts…

 

Boneyard

There was one minor consolation in the morass that was yesterday (apart from seeing Mike Carey again of course, which in and of itself should be consolation enough. I am such a geek) and that was my walk over Hungerford Bridge.

Not only was there a massive puddle–and by massive, I mean mahooosive, about ten feet across–right at the end of the footbridge, which lent itself nicely to a bit of Crystal Maze-style clambering along the railings at the Charing Cross end (I like to live dangerously, me, and it was very interesting when you met someone coming the other way) but for the first time, I spotted the skateboard graveyard on one of the piers. I can only assume it’s there because of the area on the South Bank that’s been taken over by the skaters & BMXers, and I wonder how many of the poor broken boards did their final ollies there.

Now, no doubt there’s a load of other Londoners sitting there thinking, “Umm, yeah?” but I had genuinely never seen this before. I can’t decide if it’s a lovely, touching sight or something crushingly sad: all these shattered decks, once someone’s pride & joy…

Anyway, I’m obviously not the first one to notice it, and then it turns out there’s actually a memorial page connected to it–not especially busy, but that’s not the point, is it?

Next time you’re headed over that way, stop and have a quick look–and let me know what you make of it.

And, while you’re on the subject, what else have you seen in unexpected places around London–or elsewhere–lately? I used to be absolutely scuppered by bits of wood on the top of bus shelters in Shoreditch with EINE written on them–of course, now that mystery’s solved… but are there any still out there?

Chippewa Lake

I can’t entirely take the credit for this find–well, I can, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair. Not that it usually stops me…..

I’m reading the copy of Best New Horror 21 I picked up at Fantasycon, and I’ve just finished “Out & Back” by Barbara Roden. In her introduction, she mentions the photos of Chippewa Lake Park she’d found online, and it would have been rude not to look, wouldn’t it?

Yes. Yes it would.

Not far from Medina in Ohio, it opened in 1878 and was abandoned a century later. Since then, it has stood derelict with the rides slowly collapsing or being overtaken by forest. In the case of the 1924 Pearce-built wooden rollercoaster, this looks a little weird; almost as though the coaster rails have suddenly woken up again and started to grow leaves.

Deserted amusement parks have always struck me as being slightly spooky places, but one that’s been that way for 30 years and has run to wilderness… that’s a whole new level of creepy.

Sadly, as with all abandoned places, the park has fallen victim to more than the elements: vandalism is rife, and the Grand Ballroom finally gave up the ghost (or however many it had) and burned down in mid-2oo2 in a suspected arson attack.

But it would have taken more than a couple of fires to drive the spooks out of Chippewa: if anything, the buildings ground it. Only if they were gone–the ticket booths, the restaurants and the restrooms–could it start to look really haunted. Not by people or monsters, but by the ghosts of amusement rides long-left and forgotten.

It’s a shame that it never got to be quite that way: earlier this year, the site was cleared for redevelopment. Somehow, it feels like a greater loss than the closure of the original park.

There are more pictures–and a lot more detail–on the Defunct Parks site, where these photos were originally posted. And go read Barbara’s story. It’s creepy as hell.