After an annoyingly explore-free weekend last weekend (well, did some field research at least) and a bit of a fail when I was in London during the week, I was itching to get back there and cracking on. After reading that Lillesden had had a fire, I decided it was worth checking to see how bad the damage was. I had two options to get there; a 20 minute train journey to Staplehurst and a 10 mile bike ride to Hawkhurst, or a hour and a half train journey to Etchingham and a 5 mile bike ride. I went for the former, which proved to be a bit of a mistake, as I'm in no shape for the seemingly endless uphill climbs that I encountered. On the train down I realised I'd forgotten to find out where Babies Castle was, to do after, but found it by accident on the way into Hawkhurst. May do a report of that when I go through those photos.
History from Doctorwholocations.net
The school occupies what used to be the Lillesden Estate Mansion, built at the estate (south of Hawkhurst) in 1855 by the banker Edward Loyd, who moved there after marrying. The house and estate remained in the family until just after the First World War, when it was then sold and eventually became the Bedgebury Girls Public School.
The school closed around 1999 and has been abandoned ever since. Due to the theft of its lead roof, water damage is now sadly causing the buildings to collapse. However, it is now owned by a property developed and expected to be converted into private apartments at some point in the future.
So fortunately the fire didn't appear too bad from the road, only appeared to effect one small building. I made my way inside the grounds, and had a look in some of the outbuildings on the Southern side of the site.
There wasn't too much of interest left, and I began to make my way into the main building, starting with what used to be the gym and changing rooms.
I then made my way around the ground floor of the school, taking in what was a much larger site than I had originally thought.
Not entirely sure what was going on in the room below. Wondered if it was a piece of art or something as the videotape appeared to be purposefully laid out and tied up.
There were some lovely staircases dotted around, including one that I forgot to snap between the first and second floors.
When I got to the end of the bottom floor I headed outside, and over to the old assembly room.
Here the roof had fallen in, shown from above in a later photo.
Behind this building lived the swimming pool. Not looking as inviting as it did thirteen years ago I imagine.
I then made my way down to the basement, which was huge. The first room contained this bar:
A room towards the back had a sleeping bag laid out with some pringles, so I wondered if the events of the night before had scared off its owner.
One for the eels fans who read. Cheers guys.
The brick work in the basement seemed more like a deep shelter than a school.
I made my way up, but access to the middle level was severely hampered by lack of suitable flooring. And I thought Eastry was bad...
The top level was pretty barren really, the main piece of interest being the infamous bath graffiti shown below.
Just around the corner from there I found a window to the fire escape staircase, upon which I sat and enjoyed a smoke for five minutes, taking a few shots of the site from above. The first shows the damage to the assembly building.
I did however realise that the sun was going down, and that I had a cycle against the sun to get to the station, so I had to rush around what was left of the site. Found the time for a shot in the mirror though.
The photo below really doesn't do the magnificent dome justice.
With that it was time to pack up and make a move. I took a quick handheld of the building where the fire had been raging not eighteen hours before. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, and did not spread to the main building.
It was a shame that I didn't have longer to explore Lillesden, could have done with another hour so that I could crack the middle floor properly, and find a way up the clock tower too. Still, assuming it stays fire-free, I'll definitely be heading back at some point. Definitely not cycling next time though. Had a treacherous journey home.
Thanks for reading.