One of the Last Remaining Development Opportunities

21st May 2013
One of the Last Remaining Development Opportunities

Not without exception, I like a ruin to remain a ruin. Some buildings deserve restoration, few are improved when maintained as a controlled ruin, mostly a ruin should be allowed to be a ruin.
I have lost interest somewhat in photographing ruins in the last year. There are numerous reasons. My ego is lessened whenever I go on other ‘urban exploration’ websites and/or I take a trip to North or South Wales and I discover so many other ruins I’ve yet to photograph that this project (life-long obsession) will never be, can never be, completed. There are simply too many ruined properties. There are too many miles to cover, too much research, too little time. I have compiled a list recently of notable places to visit. Some I’ve visited before but did not take photographs. Trimley Hall is notable. I first visited in 1998 and found that there was no one home in the house that stood beside it. Instead of trespassing I simply walked away without taking any photographs. I do not like, per se, to trespass. The camera I use means I cannot simply step inside an overhanging bush and take a few snapshots. I need time and consideration over each image.

I have recently had an email from someone who lives beside such a ruin. He informed me that a photographer had wandered around in his garden photographing the mansion that stood beside it. When the owner questioned the photographer he turned around and told him, quite impolitely, that there was no mention on the website (‘welshruins’) that it was private property.

A person has no right to trespass. He has no right to stand in someone’s garden and push himself into someone living room window view. Of course, in the past I have trespassed. Less so these days.

I have also generally answered any emails from people who wished to know the exact location of a property. Of course this is open to abuse. It is often quite easy to distinguish those innocent enquires from those whom wish to ‘check out’ the place for possible theft (lead, furniture and fittings etc). I understand that I have a responsibility towards not only the owners of these ruins but also towards the buildings themselves. There was a report in the local paper, The Cambrian News, a few years back, which reported the lead had been removed from a ruined farmhouse in the Devil’s Bridge area. I knew instantly when I read the report that it had been Dolgor’s Farmhouse. The question remained. Was I partially to blame for the break-in and theft and damage to the fine building? Yes, Dolgor’s has a roadside location but a quick trawl through my website reveals other less obvious choices. And if I am partially(!) responsible then should I stop visiting, recording and displaying such photographs? Isn’t my endeavour a completely selfish one? The simple answer is yes.

It began that way, as a selfish act. I first began photographing ruins as soon as I could afford my first camera in 1989. I was seventeen. My intention was not to record every ruin in Wales and display it for all the world to see. My intention was to walk and to photograph what I saw. It was another few years before I purposely set out to find ruined mansions and record those but even then, before the internet, it was only for my own satisfaction. I began to exhibit the photographs a few times a year. I thought that was what photographers were suppose to do and although I despised the thought of having to hang those personal memoirs on a public wall I also realised that the public had a genuine interest in old buildings.

(It must also be noted that I was not, by all means, the first person to visit all these houses. There had been many before me and those whom had had not decided to exhibit their creative and historically interesting photographs – what gave me the right?)

The public’s general interest then became my driving force. That and a personal drive and dedication. I found the ruins fascinating, especially those smaller properties in Ceredigion. Ceredigion has a particular closeness to its recent history. It seems the rest of Wales, with some exceptions, has seen an upsurge of ruined houses being restored and renovated. For me it seems like a whitewash of mediocre has begun to blight our remote landscape. Farmers are ostracized for leaving farmhouses empty and becoming ever ruinous. A quick trawl through estate agent websites show ruined farmhouses being sold off – one is currently listed as ‘one of the last remaining development opportunities’.

It breaks your heart. This particular property is not one of the last. There are many, scores, hundreds even in Ceredigion alone. They are not always evident from unclassified roads. Some will never be sold, some will soon find their sorry facades in estate agents windows.

So, not without exception, I like a ruin to remain a ruin. Almost exclusively I have found these ruins by driving around or by examining O/S maps. GoogleEarth has made things easier – take Plas Crwn Mansion – I was uncertain if this still stood but on GoogleEarth the sun casts a shadow of the house, and it is easy to make out, in the shadow; tall chimney’s, no roof and window-less frames. Mostly, however, with the farmhouses in Ceredigion, it is a case of studying the O/S map and watching electricity poles to see if they have any wire attached to them! (A quick note to all those who email for directions: buy, beg, borrow an O/S map and trawl its lines and hidden information. Follow disused railway lines and explore forestry plantations. Don’t do things the easy way!)

I have decided, since I receive scores of emails from fellow ruins-hunters, that I will no longer send them directions to particular houses. Part of me feels I have shared enough and I am responsible enough, for potential theft and damage to particular houses. I cannot write here that I condone trespassing. That would be hypercritical. I can only urge people who wish to seek out such properties that they ask permission whenever they can and they respect owner’s wishes.

These ‘one of the last remaining development opportunities’ will keep popping up on estate agent windows. I should be less critical and show a positive response to those farmhouses which are restored and modernized. You can’t live in the past. Things change. You can’t stop progression. Yet, the very thing that makes Ceredigion the special county that it is, is the fact that in many ways the old ways remain. Only now are the lead and silver mines being cordoned off and their inheritance and importance being recognised. The county is turning into a museum. I have no other alternative except just let it be, what will be will be. It’s difficult to avoid the clichés. It’s difficult not to be selfish in ones wishes.


Photo comment By Carol Sherman: Thanks for sharing your insight. I enjoy your photographs. Since I am unable to travel to these places to see the ruins, viewing your photos allows me to enjoy these places and buildings without actually being where they are. I can see your concern about the repercussions of your photos being made public. I hope you continue your work.

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