Recording Abandoned Locations: Aston Hall Mental Hospital

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time (years, in fact) is to visit places/buildings that have been abandoned. The older they are and/or the longer they’ve been left, the more interested I’ve been. Sadly, due to various issues, I never got around to going to any such locations… until about 2 weeks ago.
So I wanted to make a post about my first experience visiting and recording at a set of abandoned buildings. Mostly to outline the mistakes that were made, which has helped me learn what will be required next time one of these sessions/explorations comes around.

I went to visit an old friend from my time at Derby University. We only get to see each other once or twice a year, so the plan was for this to be a general catch-up and hang out visit. That was until a week before I was due at his, and I remembered there were a few abandoned buildings close to where he lives. Thus I mentioned to him that, if possible, I’d love for us to go look around them.

When it actually came to the day he, I, and my fiancee were to go looking around these buildings, he mentioned that certain changes had recently been made to the area. The local council had sent a construction crew in a few times to the smallest building to preparing it for demolition, and a second building had been fenced off with a guard patrolling the grounds (our assumption was that this would be the next to be levelled).
A third building (an old flooring storage building) was only around the corner, but it harboured certain dangers. The building was known to be used by local homeless and drug addicts as a place to crash and get high, so there could be a few health risks. Firstly, used needles could be seen scattered on the ground, but the greatest difficulty/danger being that much of the ground floor had collapsed, leaving the odd wooden beam in some rooms as the only way to cross from one side to another. Though this was cause for some concern, all worries were forgotten when we came to find that the building had had it’s most used (and safest) entry points sealed.

Derby Flooring Storage

Not to give up too easily, my friend had a quick think and came up with a new possibility – it turned out that about half an hours drive away there was a place called ‘Aston Hall’, an abandoned mental hospital. After checking for directions and having another friend join us, we set off to find the derelict hospital; my friend armed with his DSLR, and me with a Tascam DR-07mkII (something that would come in as rather handy for it’s size and portability while climbing in and around the buildings).

This is where I want to point out something that is very important when going to these types of places to make sound recordings (well, in all honesty, this actually applies to any recording session you want to undertake): PLAN! The worst thing about our visit to these buildings was that, especially with our original ideas not working out, it was done on-the-fly. We had lost a large portion of the day, so we only had an hour or so to go around and find things of interest. And while generally looking around was very interesting on it’s own, the main reason for going was so as to make some recordings.

We made sure to do some quick research online about the buildings before we left, and we could see that a couple of them appeared to be the same as each other with similar interiors. However, it also showed that there was a building that housed a pool (though the pictures we found showed the roof had collapsed), and another building housed a theatre – these kinds of things had potential for interesting results. It was also seen that somewhere amongst the buildings were a lot of old mechanical switches – these were the kind of things I could see from our research that I would have liked to have captured.

Aston Hall - Window

As mentioned, we were left with only a short amount of time before we lost daylight, and though we had torches and phones for light, we didn’t really want to be wandering around pitch black buildings that were known to have started falling apart. That latter point being the reason we didn’t go into the house attached to what use to be the pool – all of the roof had deteriorated badly, and we didn’t want to take the risk of something falling while it was getting dark.
The darkness did, in fact, prove itself to be hazardous when a friend’s light randomly went out on his phone. He stopped to turn it back on, and upon taking his first step forward as the light returned, he disappeared into the floor – a hatch had been removed and placed against the wall, so he fell through. Luckily it was only a drop of about 4 feet, and he managed to catch himself (kind of), so he came away with some nasty looking bruises but was otherwise fine.

At the end of the visit we had managed to explore only two of the eight (correct me if I’m wrong) buildings, and they both had very similar interiors. I did manage to make a couple of recordings, but I do really feel another visit will be necessary to take advantage of some of the spaces and potentially interesting items. Though mostly unsuccessful in terms of a recording session outing, it has served to increase my desire to visit more abandoned locations.

I shall leave you with one of the edited recordings I made while at Aston Hall: a toilet. I received a few odd looks from my those in my party when I stopped to make this recording, but I really took to it’s sound. The toilet, quite obviously, doesn’t work anymore (see picture below) as there is no water coming into the building. So upon trying the flush mechanism out of shear curiosity, I found it gave out an interesting creaky-squeaking sound that I really liked.

Aston Hall - Toilet

Feel free to download and use the above sounds however you desire. Accreditation would always be appreciated, but not absolutely necessity (though I would love to hear if/how anyone uses the recording for any projects). I am hoping to share more recordings in the future, so I’ll start in the toilet and hopefully work my way up!