INVESTIGATES: Urban Exploration

By Antony Morris

What do Storthes Hall, Huddersfield Gasworks and Reins Mill all have in common? Well, other than being derelict, dilapidated and of at least some historic significance, they have all been the subject of local urban explorer, Daniel Sims, known on social media as ‘Beardedreality’, on his quest to document some of our county’s heritage. In part one, I am going to answer that burning question, what is Urban Exploration? As well as tackling some of its benefits and ethical issues. Part two will be reserved for exploring some of the local Huddersfield history Daniel has been involved in capturing.

Daniel Sims, pictured at the dis-used Kirklees College site

Defined simply as exploring abandoned man-made structures, Urban Exploration (UE), as the name might suggest, is not restricted to towns and cities. ‘Urbex’ for short, we can be pretty certain that the activity of exploring buildings is hardly a new past time. But, this modern day incarnation, that traces its roots back to San Francesco in the Seventies (Clark, 2008), is certainly a fresh concept that brings with it a number of areas of intrigue and potential historic benefits.

Getting the legalities of Daniel’s explorations out of the way, it is important to stress that he does not break the law. As an advocate for traditional UE, Daniel follows the code of trespassing abandoned structures, never stealing or breaking and entering and always leaving the place if asked (Sam, 2020). Some may question the ethics of roaming a derelict building that is somebody else’s property. Let me try pushback at these thoughts a little by highlighting the benefits of this intriguing vocation.

For those following the code, any manner of theft or damage is strictly prohibited. Anybody not following the code is a criminal or squatter, and not an Urban Explorer. For Daniel, as a History graduate from the University of Huddersfield, his primary concern is with documenting structures of historical significance that have been left to the wild. With most of these buildings not generating enough interest (or money) to protect, they inevitably fall into despair and nature takes over. Without care, it really does not take long for the elements to encroach. Daniel makes the valid point that it is important to capture these things at all stages of their history. Additionally, I would argue that given the eventual fate of these buildings and the lack of interest to study or renovate them, combined with affordable easy access to cameras, there is a culturally responsibility to capture as much as we can. Urban Explorers are ahead of the game in this respect. Which brings me to what Daniel credits as the most rewarding aspect of his work.

Daniel’s latest video exploring abandoned Whitacre House in Huddersfield. Credit: Beardedreality (Youtube)

As a vocation, Daniel is passionate about documenting history in the fashion that he does. As a consequence of this work, he has found himself in the unique position of interacting with the pasts of people he doesn’t know. Upon sharing many of his videos about specific sites, Daniel will receive an array of feedback from a plethora of people who have worked, served, lived or been married in the places he is helping to visually preserve. This is what Daniel cites as the biggest reward for what he does. People sharing their memories go a long way to bringing these dilapidated relics to life. Thankfully with the advent of online content that has seen a rise in Urban Explorer, capturing these structures at various stages of their decline until they are gone and sharing their material. A good example of this would be St Luke’s Hospital, Crosland Moor that closed in 2011. Thanks to UE enthusiasts you can find pictures of this historic place, that still holds significance to many in Huddersfield, from the time it closed to the moment it was torn down.

So, this is our little introduction into what I like to call preserving-footage-of-important-spots-that-nobody-else-seems-to-care-for aka Urban Exploration. In part 2 we will dive into some of the local historic structures that Daniel has traversed. But for now, I would just like to draw everybody’s attention to the potential of UE going forward. For those who have moral quandaries with the practice, perhaps you can raise some money to have these properties persevered, restored or reasonably adapted.

For those who enjoy the awesome work of Urban Explorer’s such as Daniel be sure to reach out to them offering information, historic titbits, personal experiences but most importantly support for what I consider a noble, and dangerous, historic cause.

Now let’s delve a little into the history of three of his Huddersfield subjects…

Daniel Sims exploring Storthes Hall.

In 1904, the now notorious doors of Storthes Hall Asylum opened ushering in a near-century of mental health ‘care’. A report on this and several such psychiatric ‘hospitals’ was conducted in 1967 and highlighted a severe level of malpractice and mistreatment of the asylum’s patients (Robb, 1967). The history of our countries asylums and treatment of disabilities is not one to be proud of, but it is one to be preserved. In 1992, after much social reform and having fallen into decline, Storthes Hall closed its doors for the last time. Then, in 2019, BeardedReality took to the old asylum to document this seemingly sinister place. 

Once a massive estate with many residential buildings, a farm, and its own dance hall where music played a big part in the patient’s daily lives (YorkshireLive, 2013). Now, all that is left to inspire the imagination is a building converted into a pub for students to get lobotomised in and the estate’s manor house. Over the years this building has been the subject of a few members of the UE community, capturing it in various stages of decline. 

Yet, on the sunny Spring day that BeardedReality visited, he was greeted by what I consider a positive sight; redevelopment. The building, rather being left in disrepair, was about to begin a new chapter in its history. Thanks to Daniel and others who have captured this place over the years, we will have some footage recording the building’s decline and preservation. Good work people. Hopefully, the ghosts that are said to haunt the place will not be a nuisance for any new occupants (Roberts, 2012).

Daniel Sims exploring Hinchliffe Mill.

Another, less ominous local build visited by Daniel that looks to be in the process of redevelopment is Holme Valley’s, Hinchliffe Mill, a mill in a tiny little village of the same name. While any physical preservation is certainly a positive thing, it appears plans here come with some controversy. Developers wish to turn this mill into a number of homes, in addition to building a number of new ones close to the mill. The contention here lies in flooding concerns as the site lies close to the River Holme. The first mill on site was built in 1832 (Holme Valley, 2015), and along with the old village of Holmfirth, the area has had a torrid history with flooding. 

In 1852, a dam holding back the river burst and caused a tragic flood. 41 people from the Hinchlliffe Mill area, including whole families, sadly drowned (Harlow, 2004). Further incident occurred in 1868, when one Thursday morning a fire broke out in the mill. It is said that the room on fire had contained a barrel of gunpower, but it had been spotted early and put out, averting a greater tragedy (Huddersfield Chronicle, 1868). 

The larger mill that Daniel visits was finished in 1932 and continued to be the home of Whiteley & Green Ltd woollen and worsted manufacturers (Huddersfield Official Handbook, 1968). A local company still involved in the fabric’s trade, hopefully those moving into the new homes will consider decorating their space with some old materials straight from the source.

Daniel Sims exploring Dalton Grange.

Last on our historic adventure through the lens of urban explorer Daniel is Dalton Grange. In 1870, this most splendid of structures was erected by a local mill owner’s son, Henry Brook (Minter & Minter, 1993) – though a conflicting account says it was built by John Kirk in 1871, as a home (Abbiss, 2018). Sold to builder W H Jessop in 1902, who passed on its ownership to British Dyes Ltd fourteen years later. From 1917 for the next ninety-five years, this building both majestic on the outside and handsome on the in, served as a social club for the employees of Syngenta (formerly British Dyes Ltd). Over the years, Dalton Grange Club had been somewhat difficult to maintain, attested to by Miss Skelton, a former manager (Shaw, 2018). 

In 2012, the club disbanded, and the building became an apt wedding venue until 2017 when the place once again proved difficult to keep up (Sutcliffe, 2017). Since this time, Syngenta have boarded the property up and allowed the inevitable to happen. As seen in Daniel’s explorations the exterior is still in mostly good shape, but a lack of care by its owners has left it prey to some of the idiocy our society has to offer. With break-ins and attempted arson attacks, this gem of a structure is in danger of becoming an historic casualty. 

The current owners are still making a good effort to block intruders, and as such Daniel could not legally enter, so stuck to the grounds. This barricading will not stop the more nefarious. Having been a social club for nearly a century before going on to host weddings in its recent past, this beautiful building has an important personal history for those attending events here. It would be more than a travesty if Dalton Grange does not get to create more memories.

As my focus is on the historical sites documented, rather than to explain Urban Exploration itself, I will conclude briskly. There is a good, supported argument out there that suggests the work of urban explorers is creating new and intriguing interactions with our pasts that may not have been recorded or thought of otherwise (Garrett, 2011). One look at the comments of Daniel’s videos will show you how some of this interaction plays out. Folk love to share their experiences of a place, and if the powers that be can not, or will not, preserve a structure, then footage and memories is all we have.

Please support the urban explorers out there, partaking in a dangerous occupation to see that some of our [mostly] doomed historic buildings receive at least some visual preservation. Visit the YouTube of BeardedReality and others involved in UE and let us help progress this vocation to a semi-professional occupation.

Visit Daniel’s YouTube Here:

http://www.youtube.com/c/BeardedReality

Follow Daniel aka Bearded Experience at the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/BeardedRealityUrbex

References:

Clark, J. (2008, June 2). What are urban explorers? HowStuffWorks. https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/urban-sports/urban-exploration1.htm

Sam, U. (2020, May 19). Is Urban Exploring Illegal? Abandoned Places Urbex UK. https://www.urbex.co.uk/is-urban-exploring-illegal

Abbiss, B. (2018, October 6). Take a look inside the dilapidated Dalton Grange wedding venue. YorkshireLive. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/gallery/dalton-grange-look-inside-explorer-15244514

Garrett, B. L. (2011). Assaying History: Creating Temporal Junctions through Urban Exploration. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 29(6), 1048–1067. https://doi.org/10.1068/d18010

Harlow, I. (2004). Holmfirth floods : the story of the floods in Holmfirth. Ald Design & Print.

Holme Valley. (2015). Riverside Way: Hinchcliffe Mill. In 28dayslater. https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/hinchliffe-mill-holmebridge-nov-2010.55691/

Huddersfield Chronicle. (1868, January 25). Holmfirth: Fire at Hinchliff Mill. Huddersfield Chronicle.

Huddersfield Official Handbook (1968). (1968). Huddersfield.exposed. https://huddersfield.exposed/book/17928#mode/2up

Minter, G., & Minter, E. (1993). Discovering Old Huddersfield Part One. Huddersfield Local History Society.

Robb, B. (1967). Sans everything: a case to answer; presented by Barbara Robb on behalf of Aegis. Nelson.

Roberts, K. (2012). Haunted huddersfield. The History Press Ltd.

Shaw, M. (2018, August 18). Fascinating history of Dalton Grange Club that welcomed WW1 workers. YorkshireLive. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/history/fascinating-history-dalton-grange-club-15043881

Sutcliffe, R. (2017, August 28). Clock ticking for wedding venue managers as eviction looms large. YorkshireLive. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/news/clock-ticking-wedding-venue-owners-13541213?_ga=2.103443587.2063781180.1616262810-1855972443.1609450652

YorkshireLive. (2013, June 11). Huddersfield History: Behind walls at Storthes Hall … YorkshireLive. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/lifestyle/huddersfield-history-behind-walls-storthes-4884019

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. Try not to get crumbs in the keyboard.