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New Zealand Bruce Woollen Mill, Milton - May 2017

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History

Even though the small town of Milton was connected with the goldrush years in the 1860s, it was actually founded as a milling town at the beginning of the 1850s. It is rumoured that this is how the town received its name – Milltown is said to have been shortened to Milton. The Bruce Woollen Mill, which was primarily a vertical woollen and worsted manufacturing mill that made blankets, rugs, carpet and apparel fabric, was one of the later additions to the industry as it was not established until 1897. A considerable amount of money was invested in the mill as much of the company’s machinery was specialist equipment imported from Britain. If anything, then, this indicates how prosperous the industry was at the time. Although there are no records of the prices of the machines, a government website reveals that the estimated cost to run the mill initially was £6,000 ($998,000 in today’s NZ currency). However, despite the huge investment, the doors at Bruce Mill did not stay open for long as a devastating fire destroyed the building four years later. Although no one was killed, only the brick walls were left standing after the incident.

The mill was rebuilt in 1902, though, thanks to the high demand for woollen products at the time. Thereafter, no further disasters occurred, and by 1923 the company had, apparently, produced the first Swanndri shirts (hard-wearing wool bush shirts). In the same year renovations had to be made to increase the size of the building to meet increasing consumer demands for their growing range of products. The main classical styled office building was the last building to be constructed as part of the expansion plans. Yet, by 1962 Bruce Woollen Mill was taken over by Alliance Textiles. The mill was run smoothly thereafter, without further incident – up until 1992 at least, when forty-nine workers were locked out for refusing to sign new contract agreements. This would result in a group of thirteen protesters assembling outside the gates for the next six years. This was the longest industrial action in New Zealand trade union history. Unfortunately, the protests did not amount to much as Alliance Textiles closed the mill in 1999, with the loss of fifty-four jobs. It was reported that it was no longer economically viable to run the mill due to cheaper products being imported from China and India. 

Despite the closure at the end of the 1900s, Bruce Woollen Mill Ltd. was re-established for a few years by a consortium of Wool Equities Ltd. and a group of manufacturers and wholesalers in 2012. The mill reopened as a manufacturer of woollen, merino possum, worsted and hand knitting yarns Nevertheless, the Bruce Woollen Mill went into receivership in January 2016. As a result, it is said to have had a considerable impact on the local community in terms of the job losses incurred. 

Our Version of Events

We’d spotted Bruce Woollen Mill while we were checking out the old bacon factory in Milton, but decided we’d come back the following day to have a crack at it during the day. It’s easier to get photos during the day after all. The only problem, though, was that we weren’t quite sure if the place was abandoned or not. Therefore, we spent a little while researching the location, and eventually came across a few articles that indicated it was indeed partially closed. Well, that was good enough for us. It was time to find a way inside!

Getting in wasn’t particularly easy, especially since workers from the live section of the factory kept coming outside to satisfy their nicotine addictions. However, we persevered and crept around the site checking out all the nooks and crannies, hoping one of them would reveal a way inside. In the end, our searching turned up nothing, except access to an old workshop – a part of the site that looked a lot more fucked than the other buildings. At this stage, though, we were out of options, so we decided to have a poke around inside anyway. Industrial porn is industrial porn at the end of the day, and sometimes you just have to take what you can get. 

As it turned out, the workshop we’d managed to access wasn’t too bad at all. The entire place was alive with the rich smells of oil and used metal. The wooden benches and floor boards were littered with hundreds of screws and heavily stained with years of grease. The sheer amount of old-school equipment in there was great to see too, and it even had the classic stash of VHS porn tapes lying around. It’s likely that we would have spent longer in this room, testing out a few of the machines to see if they worked, but this didn’t happen because we happened to find a door hidden among the shadows at the very back of the room. It goes without saying, our curiosity got the better of us and we couldn’t help but take a peek to see what was on the other side. 

Sure enough, it led into another room. It was a good start. This one was much different, however. Suddenly we found ourselves inside a small warehouse that was filled with cardboard boxes and metal carts. At this point we started to get a little excited, wondering if we’d perhaps found a way into the actual woollen mill as this section appeared to be an old storage area for products ready to be transported. So, with this in mind we cracked on and made our way to the other side of the building, where we found a set of industrial rubber curtains. Little did we know at the time, but this was our last obstacle – the last thing between us and the juicy machinery on the other side. 

One by one we passed through the curtain and, on the other side, we found ourselves standing before rows upon rows of pure industrial goodness. We’d managed to wander into the closed part of the old woollen factory, and it was fucking amazing. There were cogs, switches, levers and buttons everywhere we looked. For the next ten minutes or so, then, we were all happy snappers. If anything, mind, there was too much to take photos of! However, in our excitement we inadvertently ended up wandering into the live part of the site, where the production line was still up and running. So, from this point on we turned from being excited schoolboys into epic ninjas with unrivalled stealth skills and, somehow, managed to work our way around the workers and active machinery. It was great, being among whining machines and the whirring of drilling that coming from somewhere on the far side of the factory floor. 

Somehow, though we’re not quite sure exactly how, we managed to remain undetected the entire time we were inside the old woollen mill. At one point all of the machines even stopped, meaning our footsteps and camera taking noises suddenly seemed unbelievably loud. But, the guys working inside seemed oblivious to our presence. Nonetheless, after a further half an hour or so we decided that we’d pushed our luck far enough and that it was probably time to call it a day. We still had a bit of daylight left and more explores lined up, so it made sense to leave while we were still ahead. The battle to resist the urge to take more photos was intense on our way out, but eventually we managed to get back to the bus without incident. It was time to get back on the road and get a few more explored under our belts. 

Explored with Nillskill and Bane. 
 

Equipment being assembled in 1897

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    • By WildBoyz
      History

      As far as history goes for this particular property, it is sparse as it is nothing more than a fairly modern residential building. One newspaper based in Barnsley reported that traffic came to a standstill as a result of a fire at the property on Rotherham Road. Two fire crews attended the scene and spent two-and-a-half hours extinguishing the blaze. A second source suggests that the fire was caused by a lit candle, and that a woman had a lucky escape. The woman concerned apparently suffered slight smoke inhalation but was otherwise in good health. The property itself is an average sized two-storey house. Its notable features include an indoor swimming pool and a spiral staircase. 

      Our Version of Events

      Of all the places we could end up in, we ended up in Barnsley. After looking at the town hall and wandering around the town and its meat and fish market for half an hour it didn’t take long to run out of things to do, so we decided we might as well look for an explore. However, the best thing we could find, unfortunately, was an old burnt down house. We tried a couple of other spots beforehand but didn’t have much luck overall. 

      The house on Rotherham Road is exactly what you might expect for a residential explore – mostly empty and damp. As noted above, though, it does feature an indoor swimming pool where you can try your hand at floating across on doors someone has thrown in. Needless to say, we weren’t very successful but it was certainly worth a quick go. The second bit of the building that’s worth a look at is the spiral staircase in what we think was the former living room. This room was the most photogenic part of the explore so we spent most of our time in here. Going up the staircase turned out to be a complete waste of time because this is where the fire was. There is very little left of the roof and most of the floorboards look rather fucked. Compared to the mansions and castles of Belgium and France, then, this explore is a big disappointment, but it does kill fifteen minutes if you happen to be passing and fancy a swim. 

      Explored with Ford Mayhem. 
       
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    • By WildBoyz
      History

      The Waterloo Tunnel is a 779 metre (852 yards) long disused railway tunnel in Liverpool. It opened in 1849. At its Eastern end, the Waterloo Tunnel opens into a short cutting (approximately 63 metres long) which connects to the Victoria Tunnel which is 1.536 miles (2.474 kilometres) long. Effectively, both tunnels are one long tunnel with an open-air ventilation cutting in between; however, they were given different names initially because trains in the Waterloo Tunnel were locomotive hauled while trains in the Victoria Tunnel were cable hauled. 

      In terms of tunnel architecture, the Waterloo Tunnel features a semi-circular opening, wide enough to accommodate three separate tracks. The westernmost section has been backfilled and there are occasional accumulations of calcite on the brickwork. Most of the Waterloo Tunnel is brick-lined; however, it is not listed. The Victoria Tunnel, on the other hand, is Grade II listed. It features a rusticated arch flanked by buttresses, together with a modillioned cornice and ashlar-coped parapet. The first two-hundred yards of the tunnel are brick-arched, but after that it is unlined up to the fourth ventilation shaft. There are five visible air shafts in the Victoria Tunnel, and an additional five hidden shafts. A drain also runs down the length of the tunnel, but this has collapsed in certain places. 

      Both tunnels were constructed because the city of Liverpool is built on a densely populated escarpment (a long, steep slope) that drops down to the River Mersey. This meant building on the surface would have been difficult without causing major disruption, but also that the landscape was ideal for the construction of a line that could be placed beneath the ground. Nevertheless, cutting both tunnels still proved to be a difficult task as care had to be taken to avoid disturbing the buildings above due to their shallow depth. The work from Byrom Street eastwards proved the most difficult and perilous and, despite efforts to excavate carefully, the soft clay in the area caused several houses to give way, rendering them uninhabitable. All the inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes at short notice. What this means is that the design of the tunnel – becoming two separate structures – was a result of circumstance.

      The first goods traffic travelled through the tunnels in August 1849. However, a three-foot section of Victoria Tunnel collapsed in September 1852. The collapse was quickly repaired and the tunnels were used by goods traffic without any further major incidents until 1899, when a freight train consisting of a tank, twenty-three loaded wagons and a brake van separated when a coupling between the seventh and eighth wagons fractured. Two wagons and the van were destroyed in the incident, and two of the three men aboard were killed. A train that was travelling towards the docks was also caught up in the accident as it collided with the debris and partially derailed. 

      Although both the Waterloo and Victoria Tunnel were initially part of a freight line, they were opened to passenger traffic in 1895. Passenger services continued to run up until February 1971. Many of the large docks in Liverpool ‘dried up’ as they were affected by declining industry across the UK and this resulted in a significant decrease in traffic on the line. Both tunnels were officially closed on 19th November 1972; although, a small section of the Edge Hill line was retained as a headshunt. It is rumoured that this track is still used very occasionally today. Whether this is true or not, though, is another matter.

      The futures of both the Waterloo and Victoria Tunnel are uncertain. However, the Merseyrail Network have proposed to use part of them to create a connection to the low-level Liverpool Central Station. Creating the connection would reduce journey times to Edge Hill. Unfortunately, though, so far all plans have fallen through due to some local opposition and budget constraints. The last attempt to revive the line was made in 2007, driven by plans to redevelop the north shore area of Liverpool. 

      Our Version of Events

      After meeting up with a couple of Liverpool based explorers, and hitting an old industrial site first, we decided to head over to the Waterloo/Victoria Tunnel. It was good to meet a couple of locals for a change because they both had an exceptional knowledge of the area – something we lack when it comes to exploring in Liverpool, unfortunately. Anyway, this saved us having to do much research and scouting for a change. So, thanks fellas!

      When we initially rocked up outside our chosen access point, several Network Rail guys were busy standing around a couple of shovels and one guy down a hole. Rather than leave and come back, though, we decided to sit in the car and wait for them to fuck off. Our patience paid off pretty quickly since the boys in orange decided to down tools literally five minutes after we’d parked up. Once they’d left, we gave them an additional five minutes before we grabbed our gear and made our way into the tunnels, to account for any of them who might have left their beloved tape measure or spirit level behind. 

      The first tunnel, the Waterloo Tunnel, smelt strongly of tar or creosote. We weren’t sure of the source, but the floor was fairly manky, giving an indication that there may have been a recent spillage. That, however, was perhaps the most interesting part of this section of the explore. All in all, it didn’t seem especially exceptional – even if it was quite wide. Hoping the explore would be better in the latter half, then, we cracked on and made our way towards the open-air section. 

      As several other reports have revealed, the open-air section/accident between the two tunnels is full of shit. It seems Liverpool folk don’t bother visiting the local tip, they simply lob their old goodies off the bridge on Fontenoy Street. Anyone seeking spare lawnmower parts, or a second-hand seatee, should get themselves straight down to the Waterloo Tunnel. Sadly, we didn’t need either, so we had to clamber over the mountain of shit instead, to reach the Victoria Tunnel on the other side. 

      Once inside the Victoria Tunnel, we began our long walk towards Edge Hill Station. At this point, we weren’t aware how long the bloody thing is, but it soon became clear to us that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t getting much closer any time soon. Nevertheless, we plodded on, heading towards the small dot of light in the far distance. The Victoria Tunnel was much more interesting that its sister. A large proportion of it is brick-lined, but there are also large unlined sections that have simply been carved out. There are several ventilation shafts to look at along the way too, and each one is different to the last. It’s only now, having been inside the Victoria Tunnel, that we understand what a few of the random structures are on the surface directly above. Finally, the tunnel ends with a short section of railway track that is still in situ, which is always nice to find. The only things to be careful of down this end are Network Rail workers and, so we have been told, a camera waiting for unsuspecting visitors to the tunnel. 

      Explored with Veryhighguy and The J Man. 
       
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    • By WildBoyz
      History

      The local history for this one is a bit vague, so we’re going off a few dodgy sources here. One of those includes a local lad we met inside the building who happened to be ‘salvaging’ trophies. With that in mind, it is unknown when the International Social Club was constructed. However, judging by the style of the building, and the fact that the social club only traded for the past twenty years or so, it could be surmised that it was originally a three-storey house that was built at the same time as some of its neighbouring buildings. In its current form, the building has a four-room underground cellar, a snooker room and main bar area with a stage and dance floor on the ground floor, a lounge and bar area on the first floor, and a one bedroomed self-contained flat on the top floor. The property is currently on the market with a guide price of £175,000. The brochure advises potential buyers that the building is ‘suitable for residential redevelopment’ and ‘benefits from central heating’. As for the reason for it being derelict, according to the local lad we met, the building was condemned and subsequently shut down due to a rat infestation. This information comes from an individual who, apparently, used to frequent the club on the odd occasion when he fancied the odd Carlsberg or lager shandy.  

      Our Version of Events

      With a bit of time to kill over in Liverpool, we decided to go check out the International Social Club. It was fairly close to a couple of other buildings we’d been scoping out, so we agreed it was a good idea to pop in on our way back to the city centre. We found it without any bother; however, it just so happened that when we rocked up, so did a local chav. Clad in his dark blue tracksuit, we caught him sneaking onto the grounds trying to enter the building. At this point, then, we assumed he was meeting a few other local yobs to drink a couple of bottles of White Lightning in the cellar or smash the place to shit, or both. Nevertheless, no sooner had we thought these things did he emerge from the building once again, looking a little lost. So, we decided to confront him and ask him what he was doing.

      After a quick chat with the local youth, he declared his ‘interest’ in abandoned buildings but also admitted that he didn’t have any kind of torch or light with him. This was when he happened to notice that we were armed to the teeth with torches, so we shared with him our intention to enter the premises. Our new chavvy friend was elated at this news because we could now light the way for him. With the newfound knowledge he would be able to see where he was going, he led the way and showed us how to enter the building (which, as it turned out, was rather easy anyway). 

      Once inside, we chatted with our new chavvy friend and did our best to convince him that ghosts don’t really exist. We didn’t seem to do very well in that department, unfortunately, so we told him that real ghosts only haunt pubs and clubs that had a good selection of beer, which this one didn’t. This seemed to settle Chayse’s (we made this name up, but it seems suitable) nerves and, from that point on, he started to reveal his true reason for being in the social club. He was there to steal a couple of trophies. By the time we were finished taking snaps, we realised his tracksuit pockets were filled with the things. We were about to ask him what he was doing, and how much he thought he was going to fetch for the merchandise, when we heard someone run (presumably away from us) up a set of stairs. This startled Chayse and, after checking to see the stairs were clear, he made a run for it himself. We never saw him again. 

      Following Chayse’s untimely departure, we continued to explore the remainder of the building. All we really had left to check out was the top floor. Once we found the staircase that took us up there, we quickly discovered that the door was firmly locked. It turns out, as we discovered later when talking to two Liverpool-based explorers, that some guy is living in that section of the building, claiming it’s his home. In hindsight, then, it was probably this guy we heard bolting up the stairs, to make sure we didn’t wander uninvited into his personal living quarters. We did knock, but there was no answer, so, having explored the entire building at that point, we decided to call it a day and make our way back out. 

      Explored with A Local Chav. 
       
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    • By WildBoyz
      History

      “We’re excited at the opportunity to restore the Littlewoods Building and give it an exciting new lease of life that will put it on a national stage and finally give it the recognition that it deserves” Tim Heatley of Capital & Centric. 

      The former art deco style Littlewoods Pools Building, which is rumoured to have been designed by Scottish architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser, was constructed in 1938. It was run by Sir John Moores and his brother Cecil as the headquarters of their retail and football betting company, Littlewoods, that was founded in Liverpool, and originally used to process betting slips from the Football Pools. At the time, with almost twenty thousand employees, the brothers possessed England’s largest family owned business empire. It was also the world’s largest football pools business. 

      Following the outbreak of World War Two, the Littlewoods Pools Building, with its vast internal space, made a significant contribution to the war effort. When war initially broke out, the building’s enormous printing presses were used to print over seventeen million National Registration forms in just three days. The main workshop floors were later used to assemble Halifax Bombers and barrage balloons. The building also served as the nerve centre of MC5, the government agency that intercepted mail to break enemy codes. 

      After the war, the Littlewoods Pools Building resumed its normal pools operations, and later became the headquarters for the Littlewoods Printing Division, JCM Media. However, Littlewoods huge success came to an abrupt end towards the end of the 1990s/beginning of the 2000s. Subsequently, as the various branches of the company were sold off, the former Littlewoods Pools Building was vacated in 2003, after the lease was sold to the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA). The building has since remained unoccupied. For many years, the threat of demolition hovered over the rapidly deteriorating site. However, as of April 2017, the iconic building has been sold and is due to be redeveloped into a major film and television studio hub, to make it ‘the heart of Liverpool’s film and media industry’. It is anticipated that thirty-five million pounds will go into regenerating the site. 

      Our Version of Events

      The old Liverpool Pools Building has been on the cards for a very long time. Unfortunately, it seems we’ve never been in Liverpool long enough to get it done. It was time to change this though, since we’d heard the building has now been sold and is due to be refurbished. With no time to lose, then, we made our way over there pretty sharpish. 

      Initially, we were rather worried that we’d missed out on our opportunity to explore this site, as several other explorers have recently reported that they had difficulty accessing it due to cameras and security guards. True to their word, when we arrived we immediately spotted a chap sitting in his car outside the site’s main entrance. He looked kind of like an authority figure, but we weren’t entirely sure. We also, inadvertently, found the camera with the speakers while we were scouting out the other side of the building, after a strange bloke walking his dog lobbed a stick at it. Needless to say, the speaker went mental and informed everyone nearby that the police had been alerted. It wasn’t a great start. 

      Despite the first few problems, we found accessing the Littlewoods Pools Building a doddle. So much so, we popped back the next day because we ran out of daylight while exploring it the first time. So, given it might not be an explore for much longer, any local Liverpool lads and lasses might want to pop by now while they still have the chance. We’d say it’s well worth a visit. Anyway, once inside we set about photographing the main halls, then moved on to the front reception buildings. Once we’d finished with those, we made our way over to the clock tower. Although it’s mostly stripped, it still offers some nice views looking out over Liverpool. There’s also a very photogenic room at the top, just before you ascend the last staircase to the tippy top. 

      It took a good few hours and two visits to cover the entire site – other than the underground bits. The underground section we did find was flooded, and we didn’t fancy getting wet. At the time, we weren’t that arsed we’d missed it out. However, in hindsight there’s a wee bit of regret that we didn’t venture down there, especially since none of us are local to Liverpool. Still, we’re glad we finally got the rest of the building under our belts.

      Explored with MKD. 
       
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    • By WildBoyz
      History

      Simpson Street School is a Grade II listed building that was constructed by the local council between 1904 and 1905. It opened on 1st May 1905 and was, apparently, originally known as Deptford Terrace Council School, Junior Department, and later Deptford Terrace Junior Mixed School. Whether this is true or not is another matter because Deptford Terrace is a completely different street to the north of the school building. It is reported that Deptford closed on 26th Match 1929; however, Simpson Street Council School, Junior Boys Department opened on the same site one week later. The school remained an all-boys school until 11th January 1943, when it was amalgamated with the Girls Department to form Simpson Street Council School, Junior Mixed Department. The school eventually closed on 21st July 1967 as a larger one was built nearby. 

      Although the precise date is unknown, at some point in its history Simpson Street School fell into the hands of Sunderland Artist’s Group. Subsequently, it was ‘redeveloped’ into a number of workshops and used by artists for a number of years. There is little evidence to reveal why the artist’s group left the premises; it could be surmised that the group no longer exists as their website no longer works, or that they simply moved to a new site and renamed themselves. Whatever the reason, it appears that the building has been left to deteriorate gradually over a period of time. The fate of the old Simpson Street School is currently unknown. 

      Our Version of Events

      Having just purchased a new car, we decided to take it for a spin. And what better way to break a car in than to take it on its first explore. We chose the Simpson School site for two reasons: it was close by, and, based on what we’d seen from Dave’s report, it looked like a decent little wander that wouldn’t take up too much time. We planned to have a get-together later in the evening, so we didn’t want to waste too much valuable drinking time. 

      Finding the place was easy, as the name is a bit of a giveaway. Actually accessing it, though, was even easier! It only took several seconds before we were stood inside a building that had a very arty feel to it. However, this was slightly problematic, as we weren’t sure if the place was actually abandoned at first. After all, artist workshops tend to have that general derelict feel to them. Anyway, we found ourselves in room that was filled with stuff, and some of the junk looked like it had been placed there relatively recently. Fortunately, our initial doubts didn’t last too long, once we ventured downstairs. Apart from the first two rooms, the rest of the building teased our nostrils with the familiar smell of decay. 

      On the whole, there wasn’t a great deal to see. A lot of the rooms have interesting bits and bobs in them, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to find in an old art college type of place. A few of the old art projects were perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the explore, along with some of the framed photographs we found. In terms of it being an ideal little explore if you happen to be passing, then, it’s spot on. It should take you about twenty minutes to cover the whole lot. That means you’ll have plenty of time afterwards to spend in the pub. 

      Explored with MKD and The Hurricane. 
       
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