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Report - - Runwell Mental Hospital, Essex - Pre & Post Development 2012 - 2021 | Asylums and Hospitals | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Runwell Mental Hospital, Essex - Pre & Post Development 2012 - 2021

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Wastelandr

Goes where the Buddleia grows
Regular User
The History

This place doesn't need a whole lot of introduction, but it was perhaps the last ever purpose-built county asylum whilst never officially named so, given that such phrasing was dated by this time. The foundation stone was lain in 1934 and began taking patients in 1936 as Runwell Mental Hospital. It was essentially Essex's third mental hospital with Warley and Severalls being the first and second, although it was a joint-venture between the boroughs of Southend and East Ham, connected via railway.

With Essex's previous two hospitals representing Victorian and Edwardian asylum architecture, Runwell represented something different to any other that I have found. It was built in an unusually clean Art Deco modernist style, in contrast to the second latest mental hospital; Cefn Coed in Wales of 1932 which followed a more traditional Edwardian-inspired design. The Art Deco influence is more apparent on the admin block and water tower, although the wards were more plain and aged less-well with their flat roofs which at the time would have been somewhat futuristic. When you look at people's interior shots though, some rooms and the sash windows still hark back to the asylums of years gone by.

It was designed by London architects Elcock and Sutcliffe and the layout of this hospital showed a departure from the popular compact arrow plan of the previous decades, towards a colony layout with the wards comprising separate villa buildings connected by corridors. The hospital wound down by 2009 and by 2010 its final staff member had left. I'm sure others will be more knowledgeable about the technicalities of the stuff I've mentioned but that gives you an idea.

It's also worth mentioning that this place had a real local reputation. I was too young to know of it, but my parents and everyone else all seemed to know of Runwell. My dad tells me that when he was at school, kids would insult each other by calling out 'oii Runwell!' - how endearing. As well as knowing a few people with friends/relatives who found themselves inside, my grandad would tell me that he once had to visit there to make a delivery or do some sort of repair job (can't remember why) and a patient shouted 'av you got any 'f' sweets?' as he politely worded it. My mum also tells me one of her colleagues once worked there and was chased by a man wielding a chair! In all seriousness, it seems it had a dark history and stigma right up to its closure, although Facebook would tell you that the staff had a very happy time there.

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The 2012 Explore

As a 15-year old, this place was only 20 minutes away from me which now I would make my local, but back then that felt like a big expedition. I'd only gotten into urban exploration the previous year, and all my explores were strictly local reliant on lifts and buses. @KismetJ and I managed to convince my mum to drop us near some surrounding fields and wait for us to explore, parked down some track which she soon realised was on the edge of a gypsy encampment. We rambled through the fields for what felt like an eternity, having to jump big ditches and hedges to approach the site from its western outskirts. The water tower loomed in the distance, and as we got nearer we were greeted by a heras fence surrounding the blasted shells of some of the villas, their hollow window frames leaving a daunting impression on little me. We next saw security and guard dog signs and the adrenaline was kicking in hard, as I don't think we'd done any large-scale sites before.

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Climbing over, we soon found ourselves walking the overgrown paths of the hospital. We passed several wards and took photos on our tiny compact cameras, and got some footage on a classic camcorder with plenty of unnecessary zooming in and out on everything. One of the compact camera's had a sepia mode which applies a horrible warm tint and harsh vignette to, and stupidly we thought it'd be a great idea to take most of the pictures in this novelty mode. Most of the pictures in this post I've recently re-edited to try and correct this, so feel lucky that they've been restored for your viewing. I've even upscaled a few but these are too big for the post.

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We must've hit the site at the wrong time, or weren't trying hard enough, because I'll break it to you that we never actually found a way in. Slightly off put by asbestos signs and the imposing nature of the post-apocalyptic place, we carried on walking around the villas, firstly of the bare-brick finish. We saw bits of several corridors that were accessible, of the style open to the elements. We also passed some of the larger villas painted in white, one of which was surrounded by high-security fencing for the trickiest of patients. Finally we found an open door, but it led to nothing more than a single room with two porno mags neatly opened on the table. I assumed that the construction workers came here when their shift was dragging on, the dirty bastards.

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We eventually came towards the centre of the site. We approached it from the rear near the water tower and boiler house, snooping around behind walls as we heard signs of construction workers and vehicles near the admin block where some demolition was already underway. The central section was a building site and there was a lot of rubble. We should've gone closer as the half-demolished buildings were wide open. We also looked at a few garage and single-storey buildings in this area, I presume for various services.

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After all this, we decided to call it a day as we had a long walk back and didn't want to keep my mum waiting any longer at the mercy of Wickford's finest. Funnily enough it was actually on Halloween, and it was a memorable explore I'd absolutely kill to redo. Now I'm having to travel to Scotland and Wales for asylums, back then there was one on my doorstep. I'm glad the photos have come out half decent with a bit of editing, but I'll leave you with an example of how the one above looked when I took it in all its sepia glory.

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Wastelandr

Goes where the Buddleia grows
Regular User
The 2021 Revisit

So fast forward all these years and I'd heard that the hospital had been demolished. First I believe there were plans to build a prison on its site, but was voted out due to unpopularity with the locals. I suppose that's still a step worse than a mental hospital. It eventually met the same fate as many such places with redevelopment into houses, named St. Luke's Park after the hospital chapel. Demolition began in 2012 and continued for several years.

The chapel, admin block and water tower/boiler house were set to stay, with the former two being listed structures. I read a development brochure hailing the water tower's landmark significance upon the area and how it must remain as a heritage asset. Builders had to painstakingly demolish around the water tower to preserve it, visible on Google Earth, until suddenly it disappears. I have been told 'the developer claimed that the water tower required more work than originally estimated. Chelmsford Council refused its demolition. However later it was found to have subsidence that had not previously been discovered (despite it having a massive cellar), and was demolished by another company'. As sad as this dubious loss is, the admin building and chapel look quite tidy, although at the time of this visit the chapel was still disused inside upon a building site. There was also scaffolding up the admin block and I intended to revisit it to climb to the roof, but I don't think it would've shown anything that interesting.

There's also a few more survivals about, including a random utility shed in the bushes and the tall nurses' block still in use by the NHS down the road. I'd be interested to see what these buildings are all like inside and to what extent they've been changed. Otherwise, the place is now completely unrecognisable, and like many former asylums I wonder if the new residents know what went on before on the sites of their swanky new builds.

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Site of the boiler house and water tower - not quite sure a lump of wood makes up for it

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slayaaaa

Moderator
Moderator
Way before I started exploring I was obsessed with this place. Rumours of brain blocks and all the strange stories I'd heard locally in Chelmo that probably had no substance to them gripped me. Despite it's younger age and totally unique design, its absolutely my favourite asylum, even if I've only had experience with anything post 2014ish, it just has this feel to it that was just a bit stronger than the Victorian examples. Plus I love modern architecture and Runwell really was a stunner. Absolutely love seeing any pics of it, still today it still has this air about it that totally mystifies me. I was mega chuffed when we saw that the boiler house was still there in like 2015 (think it was?) It just looks like a human slaughterhouse with its bold outline and those dark windows. This ,combined with some very unsettling noises heard from the newer facility when we were in there, even if it has aged with some nostalgia, still gets me every time. Cheers for sharing!

Also, anyone ever work out what the font for the signs on the buildings is called? You see it around the UK on similarly aged buildings, its a token mid-century UK characteristic and I can never seem to find anything quite the same. I might try and mock something up in photoshop otherwise!
 

Wastelandr

Goes where the Buddleia grows
Regular User
Way before I started exploring I was obsessed with this place. Rumours of brain blocks and all the strange stories I'd heard locally in Chelmo that probably had no substance to them gripped me. Despite it's younger age and totally unique design, its absolutely my favourite asylum, even if I've only had experience with anything post 2014ish, it just has this feel to it that was just a bit stronger than the Victorian examples. Plus I love modern architecture and Runwell really was a stunner. Absolutely love seeing any pics of it, still today it still has this air about it that totally mystifies me. I was mega chuffed when we saw that the boiler house was still there in like 2015 (think it was?) It just looks like a human slaughterhouse with its bold outline and those dark windows. This ,combined with some very unsettling noises heard from the newer facility when we were in there, even if it has aged with some nostalgia, still gets me every time. Cheers for sharing!

Also, anyone ever work out what the font for the signs on the buildings is called? You see it around the UK on similarly aged buildings, its a token mid-century UK characteristic and I can never seem to find anything quite the same. I might try and mock something up in photoshop otherwise!
Some cracking descriptions there, I definitely known what you're on about. Being one of my first big explores it definitely had this eerie unnerving feel, there's something colder about the designs of the buildings. Like you say about the human slaughterhouse vibe, it's got to be one of the most industrial feeling asylums going. I'm guessing it was designed to be bright and airy but these things always change with age.

You'll have to link me any posts or pics you've done on it. And let me know if you find the font, reminds me of an old holiday camp!
 

Exploring with Andy

Behind Closed Doors
Staff member
Moderator
Also, anyone ever work out what the font for the signs on the buildings is called? You see it around the UK on similarly aged buildings, its a token mid-century UK characteristic and I can never seem to find anything quite the same. I might try and mock something up in photoshop otherwise!
I don't think there was one specific font used, rather a selection of similar looking slab serif typefaces. These were popular in the late 1960s and through the 1970s because they were easy to form using plastic, a technique that was proving to be very popular at the time. Although not the exact font used on the signage here, one such typeface that was often used was Clarendon Extra Bold Oblique, a variation on the original Clarendon font dating back to the mid-1800s. However it is the manor in which they are used in certain aspects of architecture that make them synonymous with such - an oblique variation confined within a closely fitting box, and usually contrasted against a dark background. This use of the lettering creates a visual style in itself, quite recognisable, more so than similar signage schemes using the same fonts on shop fronts, for example, with ample spacing around the lettering.
 

Speed

Got Epic Slow?
Regular User
Yep totally underrated place I think. Was one of my first exploring 'roadtrips' (it was like 45mins away lol). Wish I could go back to the labs nowerdays.
 

Bikin Glynn

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Thats really nice that well documented.
did anyone get in the boiler house? that looks really cool
 

raisinwing

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Also, anyone ever work out what the font for the signs on the buildings is called? You see it around the UK on similarly aged buildings, its a token mid-century UK characteristic and I can never seem to find anything quite the same. I might try and mock something up in photoshop otherwise!

Yes to there being more fans of slanty fonted signs!

As Andy says there were actually multiple different fonts used, but they're all fairly similar and generally seem to be derivatives of Profil.
As a web font, Decorated 035 is a fairly good approximation of the bi-colour version that was often used - Decorated 035 Regular : Download For Free, View Sample Text, Rating And More On Fontsgeek.Com

I found a Twitter thread about this topic a few months back which is really interesting (to me anyway...) -
 

TheTimeChamber

Torch Wavker
Regular User
Nice, I always through the boiler house was listed! Looked great, I only ever stopped in here on the way back from Sevs one time and got chased off by an angry digger driver lol.

Nice info on the fonts too.
 

Esoteric Eric

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Yes to there being more fans of slanty fonted signs!

As Andy says there were actually multiple different fonts used, but they're all fairly similar and generally seem to be derivatives of Profil.
As a web font, Decorated 035 is a fairly good approximation of the bi-colour version that was often used - Decorated 035 Regular : Download For Free, View Sample Text, Rating And More On Fontsgeek.Com

I found a Twitter thread about this topic a few months back which is really interesting (to me anyway...) -
The HH Finch part is the Stymie. So two types going on there.
 

tumbles

Drama Queen
Staff member
Moderator
Thats really nice that well documented.
did anyone get in the boiler house? that looks really cool
Yes. See my report at bottom of this thread recommendations. For a comprehensive set of reports on place check out speeds reports on the place
 

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