First visit - Recce
Difficult to find at first as the original access road is blocked of while renovations take place on a building at the entrance. No doubt this will delight the ‘Friends of Firbeck Hall’ – A bunch of enthusiasts who will no doubt get all get dewy eyed at the fact that after 25 years some bahookie has finally got around to knocking together the entrance to Firbeck village – fine as it was but can’t have scoundrels wandering around wielding implements like cameras, rucksacks and thermos flasks and threatening to whop people with cucumber sandwiches.
Once inside the grounds – no major problem but easier for those of the chimpanzee persuasion who could swing through the trees towards the main building instead of wandering down the bog infested path – teach me to visit when the heavens choose to micturate at my expense!. Plodding onwards it wasn’t long before I saw the mighty Firbeck looking up ahead - an amazing sight! Funny but I have little interest in these places when they are up and running but there is a fascination about them in a derelict state that I can't explain. The building genuinely looks awesome – rising out of the mist and gloom of the former gardens – and I cannot wait to see what this looks like form the inside.
Initial observations are that it seems very secure with boarded up windows, high fences, razor wire and the obligatory scare signs threatening doom and disaster to anyone who dares set foot inside the grounds. Interestingly enough though is a sign on the front door that warns people that they enter at their own risk which seems to suggest that it’s OK to enter but you are responsible if a disaster befalls you. It was good to see though that explorers seem to have been well catered for in the shape of a complete set of aluminium ladders lying near, what I assume, was the sports centre!
I also noticed lots of birds in and around the grounds. I’m no expert so can’t say whether they were moorhens, grouse, or escapees on the run from a battery chicken farm but they were certainly making a lot of noise. I mention this as the sound of them scuttling in the bushes is not unlike that of a person wandering around the undergrowth – a little disconcerting if you are on the hunt for a way into a property and keeping a look out for anyone who may put the fear of God into the average explorer such as pikeys, squatters, security guards and Japanese tourists.
While no security was in evidence it is obvious that the grounds are being maintained - the grass around the front of the building is short, there was a trailer containing various (I assume) weed killers, fertilisers and the like + and there is an assortment of materials such as wheelbarrows, paint, gardening equipment etc.
Main visit (Sept 2014)
Arrived and parked up just in front of the Annexe to Firbeck Hall (a mistake as we were to discover later) and made our way into the grounds with relative ease. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll towards Firbeck Hall and soon saw it emerging spectacularly out of the early morning gloom. Having quickly found an entrance we decided to have a look at the building from the grounds. Just as during my first visit I noticed that the grounds are definitely being tendered – mown grass, feeders for the birds, bags of fertiliser. What also became apparent was that everything was in exactly the same place as it had been on my first visit (everything except the aluminium ladders that is!) – clearly someone is trying to give the impression that the grounds are being tendered on a regular basis.
It is hard to believe looking at the hall from some distance away that this building has been abandoned at all. But whatever impression one might get of the building from the outside the inside quickly shatters any illusions. In a short space of time it took us to walk down a corridor towards the main staircase we had crashed through rotting floorboards, tripped over fallen masonry, been stabbed by protruding nails, chased by wasps (which seemed to follows us into every room we entered both upstairs and down) and encountered signs at ever stairwell warning us that the floors above had collapsed, were dangerous and that access had been sealed off. With that we did what any explorer would do and made our way up the stairs.
It was clear that, despite the signs on the ground floor, the stairs were actually a) very accessible and b) quite solid. The rooms themselves though varied widely – from intact, solid and easily accessible to completely rotten and very much inaccessible (unless falling to your death through the ceiling is how you get your jollies). Having said that once in the rooms there is very little to see – a few light fittings here and there an upturned bath, the remains of fitted furniture but that’s pretty much it. I am also convinced that Firbeck was at one time frequented by someone who’s ego must have been as big as the building given the unusually high number of ornate mirrors we came across – then again maybe it was once owned by a aesthetically challenged masochist who enjoyed torturing himself. This was further evidenced by the high number of toilet facilities on every floor – clearly a suitable place for someone who looked like shit!
One area that did give us cause for alarm was a section close to the centre of Firbeck where the roof was listing badly – a bit like a ship moments before it gets sucked into the murky depths below. We were hesitant about moving forward at this point but all seemed solid enough underfoot. It was clear though that it won’t be long before this section of the roof collapses. The rooms around this area – were among the worst we had seen since setting foot inside the building, ceilings caving in, floorboards so rotten you could crumble them between thumb and forefinger, walls that had collapsed and vast areas of rotting woodwork – not to mention the usual peeling paint, fallen masonry and smashed and broken glass.
From here we made our way out onto a section of the roof for a quick look – nothing much of interest here other than a large water tank accessed by rusty ladders and a collection of beer cans (who parties up here?) though we were treated to great views over Firbeck and the surrounding countryside. I was so engrossed in my sightseeing I hadn’t noticed that Snot was busy peering through a hole in the side of the roof. I was shaken out of my reverie when he said that the spectacular view of the floor below was the same floor we floor we had just recently been gazing up at where the roof was collapsing. Since it became clear to us that we would not shorten it’s demise by standing on top if it we beat a hasty retreat back down to ground level and the basement.
Heading for great views but dodgy given that it stands atop a collapsing roof!
Just one of the spectacular sights we saw on the roof - but not worth plummeting to your death for!
OK – this is one area you really need a torch – it’s pitch black – not a chink of light to be seen anywhere. Having said that this is one of the more interesting areas – rooms filled with crockery (signed by previous explorers!) , mysterious looking boxes, discarded papers, pieces of stonework , dead electrical cables (We hoped!) and items of furniture strewn around as if a petulant child had used the pieces for a makeshift game of Jenga.
The following images were taken using flash as it was pitch black! I pointed my camera in what I hoped was the right direction and hoped for the best!
Something else that surprised me is the lack of graffiti – OK I suppose to many explorer’s this is no bad thing but given that graffiti and derelict buildings usually go together it is unusual. What is there all seems to have been put there by ‘Cres’ with one or two large tags in bathrooms and lots of small less elaborate tags dotted around elsewhere. We also came across quite a large piece in one of the downstairs rooms but it was impossible to make out what it was due to poor lighting and the fact that it appears to have been painted by someone who clearly has a hard time distinguishing between faces and faeces
Out of the cellar and back outside for a quick look at the view from the inside the grounds. Very overgrown as you would expect but some amazing views when looking at the walls and the sky – especially when viewed through a fisheye lens. We also found a room containing the remains of a vehicle; the bonnet, bumper, seats, radiator and a tyre (just the one) – which I cleverly assumed must have been the garage! (I am wasted as an explorer!). On a more disconcerting note though was the room next to it which warned of dangerous gas – a good time we figured to run away in order to fullfill Snot’s ambition of wandering around an empty swimming pool (and mine of seeing if I could persuade him to dive in!)
Finding the sports hall didn’t take long but finding an entrance to it did. We were about to call it a day when a thought occurred to me that maybe we were trying too hard and the entrance was more obvious than we thought – I was right – though it involved adding to my ever increasing collection of cuts, grazes, bites and stings! Once inside the place was quite interesting – rooms filled with the sort of things you would expect in a sports hall – climbing ropes suspended from the ceiling, a diving board (on the basketball court!) , long deserted lockers, showers, changing rooms and yes - more toilets! (was the previous owner I mentioned earlier constipated as well as ugly!?) Then (much to Snots delight!) the elusive swimming pool! A bit of wandering around, a few selfies and walking in the dry pool – then it was up and out.
It is usual following a decent day out on a sunny summers’ day to emerge from your outing tanned, chilled, refreshed and contented. This was partially the case when we emerged from the rear of Firbeck Hall in that we were contented – having seen a good section of the building, had lots of fun doing it and fulfilled Snots’ ambition of doing some aimless wandering in the middle of an empty swimming pool.
Unfortunately just as we emerged from the rear of Firbeck we saw a van hurtling towards us with a clear sense of purpose i.e. us. I made a show of casually reaching for my camera in the hope that I would not look like someone who had just spent three and a half hours wandering around an abandoned building – difficult as I was covered from head to foot in brick dust, my knees were muddy from taking photos from low down and had a trail of blood running down my right arm from a six inch nail.
As the van pulled alongside us I peered inside the murky interior expecting to see a burly looking guy of the security guard persuasion and was surprised to see a little girl staring back at me aged about three. Just as I was thinking how does her foot reach the peddles I was suddenly made aware that the actual driver of the van was a young guy who I noticed also had another little girl with him (his daughters I assume) who made short work of telling us that we shouldn’t be on the property as there had been a lot of problems with “robbers muggers and gypoes” also that if we didn’t beat a hasty retreat back up the path we had emerged in from his dad was going to come along in ten minutes and help us on our way - albeit in a more heavy handed fashion than his friendly warning. With that he drove of in the direction from which he had come and left us reflecting on the fact that we were probably the only explorers in existence to have been given the heave ho by big brother and bouncers under the age of three! They should add another sign to the usual scaremongering ones that reads BEWARE – Big Brother and the Kindergarten Squad – methinks someone has taken ‘Kick Ass 1 & 2’ way too seriously!
This photograph is a likeness of one of the people who accosted us in front of Firbeck - If you see anyone looking like this in a white van - Run Away!
A really enjoyable visit but not one I will be repeating in a hurry – except perhaps to get a few more shots of the sports centre. I won’t be bothering with the upstairs area though – it’s basically dangerous and boring. Instead I will focus on areas we missed plus the cellars, gardens, sports centre and viewing Firbeck from grounds which are much more interesting.
Thanks for looking!
Firbeck Hall was formerly the home of 19th-century architect and writer Henry Gally Knight who is assumed to have been a principal information source for Walter Scott during the writing of Ivanhoe. Firbeck Hall was built in 1594 by William West, who made a fortune practising law and serving as an associate to Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury from 1580 to 1594. West was the author of a legal textbook called Symbolaeographia. In his will of 1598, West stipulated that "a grave stone be set for me and my said wife in Firbeck Church, and ingraven with our arms and names and some posy."
In 1935 a Sheffield stockbroker, Cyril Nicholson, opened the hall as a country club, investing £80,000 in its renovation. The interior was dramatically modernised and featured a mirror-walled ballroom and an elaborate and versatile state-of-the-art lighting system. There was also a heated outdoor swimming pool. Membership fees ranged from three to seven guineas, and the club was patronised by the likes of Amy Johnson and the then Prince of Wales. Such was the reputation of the club, that the BBC transmitted its weekly Saturday show "Late Night Dance Music" with Henry Hall, Carroll Gibbons and Charlie Kunz from Firbeck.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the hall was used by Sheffield Royal Infirmary and the Royal Air Force, with the adjacent aerodrome becoming RAF Firbeck. After the War, the building was bought by the Miners Welfare Commission for use as a rehabilitation centre for injured miners. This centre closed in 1984. It was purchased by Cambridge Construction. From then the Hall fell into a state of disrepair.