Worcester’s former fire station is a huge complex of buildings that’s just over the road from The Kiln where I usually work. As someone who finds photographing the inside of disused buildings like this really interesting, I have often found myself wondering what I’d find exploring the place with a camera.
A couple of years ago, the fire service was moved to a new premises outside of the city centre. Since they vacated, the fairly expansive set of buildings has remained empty whilst its current owners have tried to find a buyer or someone interested in doing something with it. The incumbent architect – who happens to be a member of The Kiln – has recently been showing a few interested parties around. I caught wind of this about a few weeks back and asked her if she wouldn’t mind if I came along to take some photos next time she was taking some people for a tour. She agreed on the proviso that she would be able to use the images to help encourage more interest in the building. I was more than happy with those terms…
This isn’t the first set of images I’ve shared on this website detailing the inside of a disused building. I’ve been very fortunate in the past that – through various contacts in the city I live in – I’ve been able to gain access to a very large BT building and a disused swimming pool.
I feel I should add at this stage that I don’t think of myself as what most people would class an “Urban Explorer”. For a start everywhere I have been able to gain access to has been through permission, whereas a lot of these urban explorers gain access through slightly less legitimate means. I’m also a little less interested in what I see in a lot of urban explorers’ work. This is not to denigrate it at all mind – I’m aware of a few urban explorers who travel the world taking quite stunning images. In fact, I know one locally who I sold a camera to – check out her work here. The motivation of those types of photographers often seems to be to capture something – for want of a better word – “spooky” about the environments they explore. This isn’t what it’s about for me.
What interests me more about disused spaces is simply in the lack of use. Of the three spaces I’ve taken photos in like this, the swimming pool gave me the most profound sense of this feeling. I was an occasional patron of Samson walk swimming pool, so I myself was able to remember the frenetic environment it once had been. As I talked about in the post about the images I took there, it was the palpable silence of the space that I felt there that wanted to capture.
The BT building gave me a similar feeling, but there it was the shear size of the place that struck me. It was huge, and would have been buzzing with people at one stage in its history, but the advancement of technology had meant that the need for space had diminished into a small corner of the building leaving vast swathes of it empty. The feeling I had there – that was very much enhanced by the old bits and bobs of antiquated technology that lay around the place – was one of how much technology changes the way we live and work. It moves so quick, that we as humans just can’t keep up with it – despite being those that create it in the first place. This nearly-disused building felt like a massive monolithic relic to this fact.
The fire station was different again. I didn’t really know anything about it when I walked around it. Though I do have some preconceptions about what it must be to work for the fire service. I think of close-knit teams of people who through odd shift patterns and repeated life-and-death situations have a strong bond. To me, a fire station feels like it’s probably a bit of a second home for its staff.
As I walked around the building I found things that seemed to build upon those preconceptions too, but I also found what I saw as hints toward the technology behind the operation, the systems and routines, the hierarchy, and something of a sense of tradition and institution of the service. I could go on, but I hope at least some of my photos capture some of these feelings for you to see in the photos yourself.
Toward the end of my visit, whilst taking a few final shots in the old appliance bay, I found a moment to text a firefighter friend of mine who used to work in this building. I took a wide angle iPhone shot and sent it to her. She replied straight away too.
“The amount of time I left a wet glove or two on those radiators. The hours spent scrubbing that floor only for it to look no better afterwards!!!”
Stood there, having wondered around the building taking shots of things that captured my imagination, this was pretty much the best response she could have sent me. It sort of validated my imagination – of course that’s where wet gloves would go… and was the floor cleaned because of the need for a cleaner floor, or because it was just part of the routine? I didn’t ask, I was just happy to have my imagination topped up with a slither of the reality of the place.
I’ve since asked her why the service moved. Apparently it was just no longer fit for purpose and had become too expensive to fix up and keep running. There’s a couple of short news stories about the move here and here.
So for now it remains empty – it could all be yours for £1.3m (though give me a shout if you decide to buy it, I’d love to do something cool with the appliance bay!)