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Report - Cane Hill Remastered - A Look Back at the 'King' of Asylums - 2006 to 2008

Discussion in 'Noteworthy Reports' started by Speed, Feb 18, 2016.

  1. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
    Regular User

    Nov 15, 2005
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    I actually sorted out these photos quite a few years ago now but never got round to posting them up. After seeing some people had been here recently picking over the rubble it reminded me that they were still lurking in a long forgotten flickr set and now, almost 10 years since i first visited the place, i thought it might be a fitting time to have a trip down memory lane.

    Cane Hill was the the undisputed king of the derelict asylum world for myself and most others. The first UE photos i laid eyes on were from this hospital and it is ultimately what inspired me get involved myself. Back in those days i had no idea that places like this existed. A derelict building was just an empty building to me back then. Cane Hill showed me that they could be much more than that. Locked inside here as with all other derelict buildings was a glimpse into a world past..
    Our last trip before demolition started in 2008
    So what made this place so good? Well to start with it was an asylum, the word itself puts you slightly on edge. These places were feared places where you never quite got to know what was going on inside unless you were part of one. Exploring an asylum was one of the ultimate voyeuristic pleasures of simply getting to see something that would have, at the time at least, been out of bounds. Not only were they an unknown, some might say 'creepy' but they were also vast sprawling sites that, yes, were large in scale but within them also had many different things to see. You would always head for the chapel or the mortuary. Possibly attempt to see the dentists or maybe even the taylors shop. They all had the same areas that were needed to operate as a closed community so once you saw one the next would always be similar but never quite the same. Every time a new asylum came along you would race to be the first to conquer not just the hospital itself, but each individual part, Clock, Hall, Tower etc.
    'The Hill' as it came to be known (or even 'Caine Hills' by one newbie explorer that i remember!) was really quite special as it was one of the few asylums that seemed to retain nearly every part of the ensemble. The main hall was burnt down years before i had a chance to visit but that was one of its few casualties. Due to its almost unique 'Radial Pavilion' design these parts also came in a really compact space but as each ward was still separate and sprouted off from a main curved corridor the hospital managed to retain a similar 'unitary' feel to the later 'sprawling' designs like those at West Park or Runwell. As far as what this meant for exploring the place it's a hard concept to explain in words but essentially what it meant was, once you were in , you were in. No crossing between buildings or finding parts locked up, yet at the same time you could clearly split the place up into sections and there were really quite big differences between sections that reflected when they were built, abandoned and even which side of the place they were physically located on. The tight spacing of the wards also reduced the light coming in considerably and with nature taking over the place very quickly became totally overgrown and dark, Once you were in it was like being in a totally different world.
    An overview of the overgrown site in 2008
    Another big concept you have to understand are the security arrangements. Although security probably did change throughout its entire abandonment, during the time i visited it was always notably fearsome. The site was entirely surrounded by a palisade fence topped with razor wire. This lead to palisade gaining the nickname 'Cane Hill Fence' although it's fair to say as memory of the hospital has slipped away so had the use of such an expression! Ordinarily a fence would be no problem. It had various gates and was also broken at the boilerhouse where it was possible to climb over (had you been given the chance that is). In reality it was never that simple. Security were what i can only describe as 'on it' There were only a couple of ways to approach the site and usually they had both well covered, especially during the early morning when most people would try their luck. Although i can't take credit for it myself at all, eventually, after many fails, explorers managed to work out a semi reliable way around the defences. We would usually approach from Portnalls Road. A footpath here took you up to the fence but they would always park right there and if you looked suspicious you would be pursued down the fence line until you left. We eventually worked out how to cut round them and pop out further down the path allowing us to get close the the fence un-noticed.. From here it was still not that easy. Most pioneering explorers basically had to bust through the fence. Some dug under but your hole would always be discovered, usually while you were inside, and then they would either come after you or wait you out, nabbing you on your way back though! The place was an absolute death trap inside by the end but there was no hiding. They would come in with the dogs and knew the place better than most of us, even once in you never knew when a guy would walk round the corner and nab you! Some people loosened bolts in the fence but even then they would somehow be discovered very quickly, probably as patrolling guards caught other people in the act of unbolting them i guess! Eventually a stroke of luck came when security changed tactic. Instead of repairing holes they simply left them open and 'booby trapped' them. They would lean a brick or a stick up against the hole that you would have to carefully move and then replace exactly the same once you were through. If you messed up they would know you were in and pursue but ultimately it was easier to get in unnoticed..This almost constant 'lockdown' really added another element to the the legend of the place. The likes of West Park or High Royds were sometimes quite hard, but other times a walk in. Cane Hill was always difficult right from me first trying to the day the demolition guys took over (by which point the original feel of the place was essentially ruined.)
    This curved corridor connected most of the major wards
    So now maybe you have an idea at least of why this one was special let's take a look inside. I will start first with the wards. Each ward was named after a famous historical figure and as you moved around the hospital each block the names of each block went in alphabetical order. Starting at Admin you would head into the larger female side of the hospital and find into Alleyn ward named after the founder of Alleyn’s College Of God’s Gift, Dulwich. By the time you had done the full loop you were back at Zachary. Named after Zachary Macaulay, a Victorian abolitionist. He helped found the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery (later the Anti-Slavery Society) in 1823. I cant say i have the photos to cover every single ward on the site. Some were very memorable and some simply burnt out shells that i dont even really remember but i will do my best.

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  2. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
    Regular User

    Nov 15, 2005
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    Alleyn - Andrewes - I must admit my mind is a little blank with this one other then that it was essentially joined to the much more interesting 'B' wards.

    A typical 'wheelie' chair

    Many of the beds still had health authority branded linen
    Browning - Blake - One of the most interesting wards for sure and as far as i know one of the last to close. Browning retained much of its contents and after a tidy up there was enough in there to make up a full ward full of beds and other paraphernalia. This is classic Cane Hill. The just walked out and left it. This was also the ward we would usually enter via and and awesome introduction to the hospital. Some days if we were a little early you could have a little kip on the beds until the sun came up enough to start taking photos. Crazy really.

    Made beds in Browning Ward

    More beds

    The 'Yellow Pages' was the hospital phone directory

    Paperwork abandoned in the 'B's

    More offices

    A toppled piano

    Downstairs in Blake
    Chaucer - Cruden - These wards had been burnt out long before i set foot in the hospital so i'm afraid i dont have any photos.

    Donne - Dickens -
    Another really good one. there was less to see in here but the floors were really atmospheric and there were some great signs showing what the rooms had been used for when it closed.

    Top floor of Donne / Dickens

    TV Room

    Main Floor of the 'D's
    Ellis - A small ward that contained little other than a few bed frames. I do remeber the fire escapes being pretty epic in these wards but dont appear to have a picture

    Abandoned beds in Ellis
    Faraday - Guy - Harvard - Hill - Hogarth - Jenner - Johnson - To be honest i find it hard to differentiate between these ones. They mostly seemed to have been closed prior to 1991 and according to the latest hospital guide book had had various other uses. Faraday for example had been used as a training school and had the remains of a human skeleton lying around... and i dont mean a plastic one either!

    A dated ward toilet block

    This ward had some 1950s-esque glazed brick features. Probably from a past attempt to modernise it

    A seclusion room that was still locked

    A Sun room

    'Seclusion Rooms'

    A 'smoking room'.. In a hospital!

    Twin or even triple bathrooms were typical of these asylums. Not much privacy here!
    Keats - Keller - Kings - The K wards were one of the slightly later additions to the hospital built to house an ever expanding number of female patients. They were reasonably sparse in contents and a little more modern in feel the the likes of donne Dickens but this feeling may have just been a side effect of the more spacious and airy design

    Airy and Spacious

    A body trolley had found its way into the 'K's on one trip

    Lidgett - Lettsom - The L wards were home to a grand piano on the ground floor and on the top floor a blue pool table that had grown layer of green moss.

    Grand Piano

    Pool Table


    Attached Files:

    RustyG, drbaab, A-Plevin and 13 others like this.
  3. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Nov 15, 2005
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    Mapother - This ward was later converted to the the art room. It contained wooden shelves stacked to the ceiling with patients art work dating back many years. Quite why they kept it all i dont know but it made for hours of rummaging fun and some pieces were really quite disturbing. I'm afraid i lack photos of many of the best bits. Often they were taken home as souvenirs or worse moved into the adjacent sun room for better photographic lighting and never returned.. As soon as it rained they became damp and were destroyed. Indeed it seemed that every time we visited the art had managed to fall off the shelves and lay all over the floor. We would always make an effot to tidy up only for it to be back on the floor within a few days..

    'With god on our side'

    8450045577_db9c3507a1_z.jpg 8451133462_120efcac97_z.jpg
    Dated 1975

    The 'Purple People Eater'

    Olave - Queens -
    Another set of wards that seems to stick in my memory. Again home to many wheeled contraptions. Olave was later renamed Guy after the original Guy ward closed and presumably the patients were moved here.

    More wheelie things in Queens

    Nightingale - Pugin - Paxton - Ruskin - Rossetti - Shaftesbury - Salter - Turner -
    Another couple of sets of wards mainly on the male side of the hospital that i remember very little about. The wards on this side had been closed quite some time and had been largely stripped of anything major. Quite a contrast to the female side.


    Vincent - Vanbrugh -
    The 'V's had recently been gutted by fire on my first trip. it allowed a good view of all three floors if nothing else.

    The remains of the middle floor of the 'V' block

    Unwin - Wren - Wesley - York - Zachary - The last few. Again very sparse and i can't seem to find any photos really worth posting. In reality the wards were only skimming the surface of all there was to see at Cane Hill anyway. Following the main corridor around you soon started to see many of the communal parts of the hospital and unlike a lot of derelict hospitals most areas were clearly defined by either their contents or old signage. Hospitals today tend to be a sea of miscellaneous rooms. Not at CH.

    Laundry - This was one of my favorite parts of the site. Who doesn't love big washing machines!

    Giant Driers


    The Chapel - Another highlight of the hospital that was just crammed with highlights was of course the chapel. An amazing space that was slightly unusually situated right in the heart of the site. This was another thing that contributed the the feeling of the hospital being so compact. Usually to go to the chapel you would have to leave the main asylum and walk to the outskirts of the site and hope it too was 'open'. Here it was all there to explore in one go.

    At the altar

    No pews but an amazing space
    Mortuary - The mortuary here has to go down as one of the all time great mortuaries. It wasn't big but it was one of the most 'eerie' and atmospheric i've had the pleasure of mooching around. Twin ceramic slabs. body fridges with lifter and even the morticians wellingtons remained

    Twin Slabs

    Body Fridges

    Boiler House -
    We had to wait until demolition had started to finally access the boilerhouse. This was a more modern building than most on site so i can't say i was expecting much but by today's standards it was still quite good.


    Water Tanks

    Corridors and The Miscellaneous - There was much that you can't really categorize but that went together to make up 'the legend' if you like.

    The Bike -
    Apparently some kind of physiotherapy device, it was left abandoned in a corridor just outside the art room. It became a bit of an icon of the hospital really. When it closed i wanted to salvage it but it was rather too heavy to move easily. I decided to return another day and unbolt the heavy wheel and adjustable seat post (which was made from an old bottle jack.) The three chunks should have been manageable but alas someone beat me too it. On my final trip it had gone.​

    All that remained of the main hall

    The Dentists, a small room just off the corridoors behind admin

    Abandoned Patient's belongings


    The 'Salon'.
    Im pretty sure this wasn't the actual salon but it gained that name for obvious reasons.


    An office complete with an iconic, pale green, Ericsson 'Cane Hill Phone'

    The Tailors Shop, There was also a 'Tinsmith' nearby


    This crazy mural was just round the corner from the Taylors. It was apparently painted by kids who went there for work experience. A rather dodgey subject for a mental hospital to say the least!

    The Hospital Post Office


    Pots and pans in a kitchen used by occupational therapy

    Nature taking back the kitchen. this was always a good place to hunt for CHH branded cutlery and plates.

    The Boutique, later we found another hospital shop on the the male side.


    Main Admin Entrance -
    i dont have too many photos of admin. It was dark and ruinous by the time i went there. there was a considerable amount of paperwork and stuff like that lurking in the basement that today i would spend hours reading but back then kind of just blended in like epic in a sea of epic.


    For my last photo one of the memories of the hospital that just makes me cringe when i think about what 'might' have been lurking in the place if only we had looked harder. This corridor had been boarded off long in the past and was full of old patient belongings and general junk. Today it would be the kind of place i would spend hours sifting through but can you believe i didn't even really look back then. I remember sticking my head in. realising what it was and just carrying on taking photos. Priorities all wrong! As much as i loved my time at CH it must be said we do a much better job nowadays!

    Hopefully people find this interesting rather than just more photos of old places that have been and gone.​

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    #3 Speed, Feb 18, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
  4. Camera Shy

    Camera Shy Old enough to know better
    Regular User

    Nov 14, 2011
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    Facking awesome, makes me sad I wasn't into this lark around this time.
    PatientTheory and The_Raw like this.
  5. Mr Beady

    Mr Beady Over 8
    Regular User

    Feb 2, 2011
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    Nicely covered there. Really enjoyed seeing these.
  6. The Lone Ranger

    The Lone Ranger Safety is paramount!
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    Feb 25, 2010
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    Fantastic set of images :thumb Wish I was more aware of places like this at the time, would loved to have spent a few days here.
    PatientTheory likes this.
  7. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    Oct 17, 2005
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    Awesome mate, loved that place, was always a mission and an adventure.
  8. ZerO81

    ZerO81 Moderator
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    Mar 7, 2010
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    I don't often use the term 'Epic' because it's so over used, but I think this is exactly the sort of report that term should be classed as.

    As Camera Shy said really as well, wish I had seen this place.

    I think this deserves to be placed into Notable Reports and I shall move it there in due course.
    Boomstick84 and The Lone Ranger like this.
  9. Bugsuperstar

    Bugsuperstar Irresponsible & Reckless
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    Mar 10, 2009
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    I really enjoyed reading that Speed. Thanks for posting up a really full report with a good write up.

    "Once you were in it was like being in a totally different world."

    I felt exactly this with West Park and St Mary's (Gateshead) back in 2009. A feeling I've chased since and never found again in its entirety.
  10. The_Raw

    The_Raw 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    Dec 1, 2013
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    Fascinating stuff from start to finish, I want to read some purple people eater stories now :thumb
    EyesOpenWide likes this.
  11. dweeb

    dweeb Super Moderator
    Staff Member Moderator

    Oct 20, 2005
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    Never forget my first time... hole in the fence, spent ALL day in there, and wandered out back to the car! It was never that easy again.

    I think a lot of people share my feelings about just how much incredible stuff was seen in 'The Hill', but worse still the amount of epic that was stepped over in true n00b style. I guess we all have to cut our teeth, but it almost pains me to look at my 2005 - 6 pictures.

    The boarded up corridor was epic... back when @Speed was a total n00b I did actually have a good rake through there. I have a photo of a letter from a relative to patient discussing the Lord Lucan scandal! That is the level of the age of stuff that was just lying around in there... The concept of that whole affair is just astounding. Look closely at the photo above. The corridor was deemed to be not needed, it was filled with junk (probably from deceased patients), and boarded over to such a permanent extent the plastic protective strip that ran the length of the walls was even added.

    The other sad thing is I actually began to tire of the place in the end. I kind of felt like I'd 'seen it' (of course in actual fact I had seen very little of what was actually hiding in there!) In hindsight I perhaps should have spent more time there but at least I went, I saw and I remember!!

    Oh and indeed, I still to this very day say "Cane Hill fence", a term of phrase that should be rekindled!
    merryprankster and Dangle_Angle like this.
  12. PatientTheory

    PatientTheory Yung explorer
    28DL Full Member

    Aug 28, 2015
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    Brilliant report and photos! Wish this place wasn't demolished yet. Theres almost a sense of nostalgia that radiates from this place, even though I've never been there. :(
  13. Goldie87

    Goldie87 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    May 3, 2007
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    Good stuff, it's nice to remember it as it was. I really wish I had taken more photos.
  14. DubbedNavigator

    DubbedNavigator 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    Sep 11, 2008
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    Gotta be said speed, this is just an amazing read. I am one of those that didn't hit the scene in time for it, but have always marvelled at the history and photos of the place.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.
  15. host

    host 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    Nov 19, 2009
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    Simply stunning, like most i guess i wish i had been around to do this..where's Marty Mcfly when i need him...
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