A Small Intro to my CRX World...
The CRX... yesterday (as they say!)
The 'CRX' is short for the 'Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital' - situated in Taplow, near Maidenhead. It was constructed in 1940 after Lord Astor had offered a site on his estate (that had previously housed a pre-fab hospital during the First World War) to the nation. His offer was not taken up by the British, but by the Canadian Red Cross - for use as a military hospital during the Second World War.
After the war, the hospital was donated to the NHS and became a maternity hospital for the Maidenhead area, and a nurses' training school. About 60,000 babies were born there between 1947 and 1985 - when it finally closed its doors. It also treated rheumatic diseases and arthritis in children, and many ground-breaking developments in this area were made at the CRX.
Since closure the buildings remained, but became largely forgotten and steadily became more derelict - thanks in no small part to the many vandals who broke into the site over the years and trashed it.
The inevitable demolition of the buildings began at the end of October 2005, when 777 Demolition moved onto the site and began the long and complicated job of dismantling the hospital.
Anyway, it's the place where I was born, and, apart from the day my sister was born a short while later, I unfortunately NEVER went back there again. I was aware the building was there, but as it was hidden behind a wall and covered by trees, it never really caught my attentions... it was just some old hospital I'd been born in near Cliveden House. When it closed in 1985 I couldn't even recall what it looked like, or ever really thought about it that much. Not that is until a little while later...
I can recall reading articles in the Maidenhead Advertiser in later years reporting vandalism and trespassing at the site (including alleged devil-worship!), and although I thought this was pretty sad, I assumed it would soon be demolished anyway. I still wasn't tempted to visit the site myself... why would I?
Only much, much later (2003 in fact) did the penny drop! I'd been to Cliveden for a picnic by the river with my son and my mum, and browsing the gift shop afterwards my mum came across the famous 'green book' which charts the life of the hospital... I had a flick through and was very surprised indeed...
As I was looking through the book, I was startled by an aerial photo of the hospital site printed across two pages... startled because it seemed to cover a vast area and looked HUGE! (in fact the site spreads out over 15 acres). I was surprised as I'd really always assumed it was just one square building... I was also impressed by photos of the pillared frontage, and had never realized the building looked so elegant. And, after all, this was the place of my birth - it now had some kind of meaning to me, and I must admit I was fascinated.
I started to think.... was it still all there? How did it look now? Can I go and see it maybe before it's finally demolished? (I'd always had a fascination with derelict buildings and the atmosphere they create, going right back to when I was a kid). I had seen the ongoing planning issues relating to the site in the press, and the proposals to build a vast housing complex there... now I could see for myself why the site was so attractive to developers.
In the days that followed, I discussed the hospital with some of my co-workers... and one lady came up trumps when she found an amazing website dedicated to the ruined hospital, simply called The Shrine, beautifully compiled by CRX fanatics Damon Torsten and Owen Pellow. It had never occurred to me that the hospital had been of such interest to others, and I certainly never imagined it would have its own website!
The Shrine contained everything one could ever wish to know about the hospital, including a tantalizing 'virtual tour' of the site with photos of all the different areas. I was further amazed to see photos showing the frontage looking pretty much intact - apart from the coat-of-arms which was conspicuously missing from the portico - appearing to have been mysteriously (and sadly) removed at some stage.
I loved The Shrine so much I printed off virtually the ENTIRE website and put it into a ring-binder! (I guess it was reassuring also to at least that know other people had sought out the hospital, and it wasn't just me).
The photos on The Shrine were by now a few years old, so I wondered what condition the hospital could be in these days? I decided to ignore their sensible advice for interested parties to keep well away and find out for myself...
I decided to have a 'sneaky' look first (and not knowing what security measures were in place) parked in the Cliveden Woodlands car park, paid my admission(!), and walked along the green way till I eventually reached the western perimeter of the site.
I could just make out some of the tops of the buildings temptingly poking out through the thick trees - it felt not unlike discovering some long-lost temple in the Amazon jungle! But, as I ventured in closer, to my dismay I found the entire site was fenced off with a high steel panel fence. Just walking along the fence perimeter felt eerie and strange though... eventually I found a gap in the fence towards the north-west corner where a panel had been smashed, and saw my first glimpse of the ruined hospital.
But... it looked awful - completely overgrown, rubbish everywhere and virtually every window smashed - and this was just the back of one ward! It was obvious too that many people had been hanging out around there and had just trashed the place (there were discarded bottles and cans scattered around too). I figured maybe I'd wound up at the 'party' ten years too late...
There was also what I can only describe as a sort of peculiar silence hanging in the air... it looked so eerie and creepy, I didn't even step over the broken fence panel to explore any further! I didn't like the look of it one bit... I wanted to get the hell out of there to be honest.
But... the hospital held a magnetic attraction for me (as I guess it has for many others before), and soon after I went back feeling a bit braver (with the help of an accomplice!) to take photos and at last have a good old look round. I'm normally a law-abiding citizen, and wouldn't dream of 'trespassing' anywhere... but this was just too good an opportunity to miss. I was worried too that it could be demolished at any time, so didn't want to delay exploring it for too long...
The, er, scary story of the 'Flincher' experience on The Shrine (an alleged winged creature who inhabits the hospital - and sent two explorers running from the site in terror one night!) had scared the life out of me, and made me even more jumpy that first day - and definitely added to the general air of unease I felt when I finally entered the hospital grounds. It really looked like the kind of place where freaky things could happen...
Despite this, I did manage to get in and out safely and soundly without encountering any of the alleged ghosts (or Flinchers)... or anyone else for that matter. There are reportedly three ghosts who have been seen down the years in the grand corridor area - a soldier on crutches, a woman pushing a pram... and a baby(!), but sadly none of these apparitions showed up for us - phew!
Anyway, I made several more visits to the hospital following this, gradually seeing all the areas I'd missed the first time, and familiarizing myself with its layout - and feeling more relaxed each time. So I guess by then I was a fully-fledged CRXplorer - part of an 'esoteric' club that was a lot bigger than I thought.
Grateful acknowledgements to The Shrine at this stage, for it was they who identified what all the rooms and little areas of the hospital were with their 'virtual tour' - many of which would be very difficult to identify and map out these days.
So, let the photo-tour begin...
These are just 'edited highlights' of the many photos I' took at the hospital over a number of visits way back in 2003-2005:
The road outside the hospital, as it looked on a cold winter's day back in 2003. The main hospital building was just beyond the other side of this wall, on elevated ground behind the trees - so it's invisible from the road. The entrance gates are just up on the left-hand side where the, er, foggy bit starts...
And this is what greeted you on the other side of the gates - the former 'sentry' box where the security guard was stationed. Remember, this was a wartime hospital built by the Canadians to tend to their casualties. The building behind is a corner of the former nurses' hostel - many nurses 'lived in' due to the remoteness of the site. This was still occupied by nurses till the latter part of 1989 - in fact I found a newspaper from that period discarded there. There was also a very strange eerie silence that hit you as you entered the grounds.
This is the view from the sentry box looking south, and towards the main hospital buildings. You can just see the pillared reception block behind the trees. Time to proceed a little further - if you dare...
And here at last - the main frontage of the hospital as it looked in 2003. It did possess a kind of bleak beauty... and as Damon Torsten mentioned so eloquently on The Shrine, it really did feel 'as if the building is watching your every move'. After seeing only glossy old photos of this frontage, it was quite something seeing it for the first time in its derelict condition. And as my son later observed, "it just looks really cool!". Precisely. By this point though I was feeling a little 'skittish' to say the least... did I really (gulp) want to go inside?!
And before I venture in, incriminating photo #1 - me outside the hospital armed with my camcorder!
(for anyone familiar with the BBC's old 'Restoration' show, I wonder what our friends Ptolemy and Marianne would have said if they were un-blindfolded at this point?!)
Anyway, in we go... and this is upstairs in the room just to the left of the portico in the previous photo, showing one of the gaping holes in the roof with daylight streaming in...
Back downstairs, this is the front corridor - how inviting is that?! This picture shows (as dubbed by the mighty Simon Cornwell) the famous CRX Spectral Mist! Very eerie, I'm sure you'd agree. Simon experienced this effect on some of his photos of the CRX, and has an excellent website devoted to urban exploration - see his CRX photos here. In fact this man is the KING of urban exploration!
We turn left at the bottom of the misty corridor, and are now standing in one of the corridors in the maternity department - linking the 'delivery' rooms to the front ward. Amazing to think I was actually born only a few yards from where this photo was taken - as if by this point my whole life had come full circle, because I'd never seen it since!
The same corridor, looking back from the maternity ward. This is one of my favourite examples of graffiti in the hospital - the simple but memorable: 'The Green Lady comes if you knock 3 times'. Well yes, we did... and no, sadly she didn't!
On an adjoining wall in the ward was the equally enduring message, advising us to 'Beware of the Bangee'... either it's a mysterious cryptic message - or maybe someone just can't spell 'banshee'!
This is the infamous 'angled corridor' which links the western wards of maternity to the grand corridor. Infamous because this was the area where the legendary 'Flincher' incident occurred one dark and scary night many years ago...!! It must be the most overgrown area of the hospital too.
This is the grand corridor - so-called because it is a staggering quarter of a mile long. In fact it spans the entire length of the hospital from north to south, with fifteen wards leading off westwards (left in this photo). It gives the effect that if you stand at one end, it is impossible to see the other... not unlike a bottomless pit! Was this the longest corridor in Berkshire? Quite possibly.
This is my sister Diana at the southern end of the grand corridor, alongside some more entertaining graffiti. Someone obviously enjoyed their stay... At this point she also declared: "it smells like a rabbit hutch in here!"
This is inside one of the fifteen wards that led off from the grand corridor - they were grouped in pairs all along the back of the hospital. Wards 14 and 15 were later converted into nurses' accommodation.
This is the entrance to one of the children's wards towards the south end of the grand corridor. Amazing how this mural had remained so intact. There were various murals in this ward - in particular a yellow submarine and a giant rainbow. We have, from left: Mr Wrong, Mr Skinny, Mr Busy, Mr Chatterbox, Mr Mean and Mr Noisy (I think!)
Emerging from the southern end of the grand corridor, you were greeted by this grim-looking building. But it gets worse - this was in fact the former animal experimentation laboratory block...charming. No furry friends inside when we explored though - just very damp, dark, full of junk, gutted by fire and black... hence its re-naming by hospital explorers as the suitably doomy 'Black Labs'.
Back inside towards the centre of the hospital, this is me in the Blood Bank! You may just be able to make out a sticker attached to the front of the cabinet bearing the legend: 'Blood bankers have liquid assets'. This room was, naturally, off a corridor adjacent to the operating theatre - though there wasn't much equipment lying around in there by the time we visited.
Just down the corridor from the operating theatre was this room - full of discarded back issues of the British Medical Journal! I'm sure they'd have fetched a fortune on E-bay... hee hee.
Here's Diana again - back at the centre of the hospital near to where we came in, in what was once the staff dining room. According to The Shrine, the face just about visible at the centre of the rear wall was one of the oldest examples of graffiti in the hospital. And something else has obviously caught Diana's eye too!
Next door to the dining room, as you might expect, was the kitchen. Notice to the left of this picture the famous 'blood spattered' walls... not real blood of course! There was still plenty of industrial-sized kitchen equipment in here too. (Since this photo was taken in 2003, vandals smashed many of the glass roof panels that can be seen here).
And finally, here's one of the more unusual rooms - this is me standing by the former hydrotherapy pool, opened by Lady Astor in 1956 (a plaque commemorating this was once attached to the wall just to the left of my outstretched arm, where the plaster is missing). In post-war years, as well as being a maternity hospital, the facility was also used to treat children with arthritis and rheumatic diseases - hence the pool. When the hospital closed, a new pool was provided at Wexham. Inevitably, in the years since abandonment, the smooth, pastel-coloured walls of this room had proved popular with less artistic graffiti-ists...
And before we leave, here's another view of the nurses' accommodation block (which we saw as we entered the site earlier). Apart from the reception block, it was the only two-storey section of the hospital - there was also some roof damage visible here from a fire caused by arsonists in July 2004. This had long been a favoured place for 'bums' to camp down in following closure of the hospital! We can also see clearly against the skyline the familiar site of the trio of CRX smokestacks - rising up from the nearby boiler house.
And so, that concludes my 'whistle-stop' tour of the hospital. There was much more to see of course, but not enough room here sadly to show everything. A pity no one can see the ruined hospital these days - but there are plenty of photos on the internet to keep it alive, plus of course the excellent aforementioned Shrine website: http://www.crcmh.com/