A quick video from the footage I took on my second visit to Crookham Court School. It’s the first video I’ve made with my new wide angle 10-18mm lens and naturally shot at the wide end of that. I rather like the distortion that brings and how much more apparent it is on moving images, give a slightly more surreal perspective as you pan. Given the ending shot there was only one bit of music for me to finish things on, but in keeping with the other music used I absolutely had to find a very particular sort of cover version!
I first explored Crookham Court School last year, bemoaning how I’d missed my chance since the main house was well sealed at the time and the only route I found in was worryingly one way. I’ve a vague recollection of reading that in the intervening period the site had had some temporary travelling visitors, and when I checked ahead of a work journey up the A34 it was clear from a number of other reports that the house was very much accessible, and suffering as a result. As it happens visiting Crookham Court was actually my plan B, but when my plan A (the Pianoforte Supplies factory in Roade near Northampton) turned out to literally be mid-demo, I was damned if I wasn’t getting any exploring in on the way home!
Wide open is an understatement, but that’s very much come at the cost of the lovely (albeit with a horrible dark history) manor house getting totally trashed. The largest space is the open hall in the middle of the building, with a wide staircase up to a hanging landing around it, though that landing has a little bit of added edge given the fact that the bannister around it has been totally removed. There are few signs of metal theft in the building, but I reckon that’s mostly been lead off the roof rather than pipework and wiring – huge radiators remain and there’s no obvious piles of cable insulation. Hence most of the smashing up of things is down to pure vandalism!
Generally speaking, the numerous rooms are pretty empty and stripped of most content. An obvious standout though is the library, which is still full of books. It is a big old place though, with room after room, interspersed with things like bathrooms. A few slightly sketchy floors too, and with holes in the roof it’s only going to get worse! I did particularly like the fact that one of the internal courtyard areas at the heart of the building along with the service areas are beautifully tiled with white glazed bricks. All-in-all the whole building was beautifully light throughout too, helped by those internal courtyards and lots of glass! I’d also heard it said that the school had its own fallout shelter … err, that’s a large walk in fridge folks!
I worked my way up to the top of the building, before coming back down another staircase and ultimately, having covered the service areas, heading down into the basement area accessed through the the courtyard where the roof had totally collapsed. The basement had clearly been a recreation area for the pupils with gym equipment, a dark room, several lounge areas including an awesome Ghostbusters mural (since I’m clearly not afraid of no ghosts!) and then … above me I heard voices. Given that it was more than one person, it seemed most likely to be other explorers or at worst a bunch of kids. I’m usually super quiet when I explore on my own, but rather than sneaking out, I thought “sod it!” I made plenty of noise coming up out of the basement, and was aware of the voices trying to get away from me. Seemed rude not to find them and say hello therefore! I quickly tracked them down to the natural furthest point in the building, helped by the fact that somebody had strong after shave on, where they were hiding! Three photographer dudes with some professional full frame kit, who explained that most evenings the “caretaker” did visit the site with his dogs. A nice chat later, and I left them to head up to the roof whilst I headed home!
My exploring life is littered with numerous places I never quite got around to, and then it was too late. Crookham Court is one of those, and I paid the price since this was basically a fail! I’d most seriously intended to go last year when it was seemingly wide open for ages, but I dragged my heels where I’m always busy and then heard it’d been properly secured so forgot about it again. However, last month I’d been up the A34 for a few days and so whilst pondering things I could do on the way home remembered Crookham Court. Naturally a quick search showed that it’d been more accessible a month before, but yet again I was too late! Even so I decided I’d check it out …
There’s a rather dark cloud over Crookham Court, or more specifically its later life as a boarding school.
The current Crookham Court was built in the mid-nineteenth century on the site of a previous manor house that was destroyed by fire. As was frequently the way with grand family mansions, the current building grew over the remainder of the century with several further phases of building. Also as was often the way with such mansions, at some point it stopped being a family home. Given the proximity of RAF Greenham Common, for a while it was a school for the children of the nearby RAF personnel. Whilst most recall Greenham Common’s active use being into the early 1990s, the RAF actually departed in 1964, before the base was resurrected in 1967 by the USAF courtesy of the needs of the Cold War. Likewise post-RAF Crookham Court was resurrected as a independent boarding school for boys.
That boarding school was operational from the early 1960s, but in 1988 several cases of child sexual abuse involving staff members came to light. The school featured in a BBC investigation on the programme That’s Life, leading to three members of staff being convicted in 1990, including the owner of the school! The school closed in 1989. Another member of staff was convicted in 2012. Needless to say the school’s notoriety features in several bits of scrawled graffiti.
My approach was pretty amateur to be honest. I took a quick look at the aerials, could see that there were houses by the entrance and actually through the site at the bottom, and so didn’t come in that way. Initially I couldn’t even get near since the road past was closed by the police courtesy of an accident! Ultimately I found somewhere appropriate to park up, and it wasn’t too difficult to find my way from there. The trouble was that main building was still totally sealed up, well certainly to somebody on their own. I did find one possible way in, but it was a drop-down one-way route and even then I suspect blocked once inside, and when you’re on your own you can’t take such risks. So instead I mooched around various outbuildings, and at least got my first smell of exploring in a while. The largest outbuilding had most notably been used as a science classroom which was cool, but with hindsight I totally missed out one end of that building that I reckon was used as a chapel or similar from others’ pictures. The most edgy moment? I approached the outdoor swimming pool, heard a buzz, and suddenly realized I was stood half-a-metre away from a very active wood hornet nest in the wood cladding of a building!
I’d still love to see inside the mansion proper, so next time I’m that way might try my luck again!