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Inside Kent's abandoned buildings: From Aylesford Newsprint to Littlebrook Power Station

'Take only photos, leave only footprints, break only silence' is the motto at the heart of urban exploration.

Disciples of abandoned buildings make pilgrimages to the hundreds of huge empty sites across the country every week, entering and documenting what they find.

Pictures of the abandoned Aylesford Newsprint site. Picture: www.28dayslater.co.uk
Pictures of the abandoned Aylesford Newsprint site. Picture: www.28dayslater.co.uk

Our county is rich pickings for them. According to photography website ShotHotspot.com there are more than 60 relatively well-known locations in Kent, covering everything from 12th century hill-top castles to 1940s sea forts via cement works and newsprints.

Together they represent our history and taking a peak inside offers a fascinating insight into the past - before it's permanently consigned to the history books.

One place where that's happened is the former Aylesford Newsprint.

Once one of the jewels in the county's manufacturing crown the sprawling 90-acre estate was shut down in 2015, putting 290 people out of work.

For 93 years the factory had churned out recycled paper, averaging 400,000 tonnes of newsprint annually and making The Times, Mirror and The Observer from what was at one point the largest such factory in Europe.

But the rise of digital media and flood of supply meant the business was no longer viable, making £32 million of losses a year by the point it went under.

A year after the closure was announced administrators KMPG said the site would be torn down .

Fast forward four years and the now flattened site is subject to a planning application for a £180 million industrial park promising to employ 3,000 people and support a further 2,560 indirect jobs.

But before the bulldozers moved in and the machinery and stock had been flogged to foreign buyers a pair of urban explorers jinked round security and navigated the giant machine rooms and winding corridors one last time.

Posting on forum 28dayslater , a bible for 'urbexers', 'Maniac' detailed his trip which he and a friend had spent some time planning.

While inside they were able to chart the production process through pictures, from the warehouse where most of the recycled print in the South East ended up to the gigantic 100m-long production machine, PM14, which is now making paper in China.

Nip along the M20 and in Maidstone you'll find our next derelict structure worthy of mention.

The former Rootes car showroom and its curved Grade II listed facade is a familiar site to those living and working in the County Town.

The then-state-of-the-art showroom and garage opened in 1938 on the site of a tannery and provided a crucial function during the Second World War, servicing every Commer truck which went out to Europe.

Latterly Len House was best known as the Peugeot garage, become something of a waymarker for residents.

But it fell into disrepair and eventually shut last year, with owners Roberts and Day moving to purpose-built premises in Park Wood.

The grubby garage and scummy water of the River Len's Mill Pond which it butts up against are a far cry from its future - as luxury waterfront flats.

But for now at least the smell of paint and oil and vintage car manuals remain, as documented by motor enthusiast YouTuber furiousdriving AKA Matt Richardson.

Here's what he found.

Matt Richardson's full urban exploration

When it comes to grabbing a final glimpse of a landmark before it's wiped from the landscape you'd be hard pushed to get closed to demolition day that these two urban explorers.

The team from YouTube channel UrbeXUntold scaled the 880 steps of the explosive-packed 700ft chimney of Littlebrook Power Station in Dartford days before it was blown up in a controlled demolition.

From the top they took in the spectacular views across the Thames from what was the river's last remaining power station.

The chimney was the second tallest of its kind in the UK.

At one point Littlebrook was a collection of four stations dating back to the 1930s and situated next to what is now the QEII Bridge (Dartford Crossing).

The team from UrbeXUntold explore the chimney

The first three were originally coal-burning before being converted to oil fuelled and shut down from the early 1970s to 80s, to be replaced by oil-burning 'Littlebrook D'.

That final station ceased operating in 2015 before its eventual demolition last year, which went ahead despite one man threatening to chain himself to the chimney.

The chimney is brought down

Taking a break from Kent's industrial past, a brisk walk up a rather steep hill and a journey back to who knows when.

Granted, Thurnham Castle may not be quite as risky to explore as a doomed power plant but it is no less fascinating.

Its origins are up for debate and little is known of the relic's history but it was a ruin even in the 1500s.

Also referred to as the Castle of Thorne and formerly Sir Leonard Godard's Castle it stands on the chalk downs above the Pilgrims Way in what is now White Horse Wood Country Park.

Thurnham Castle Picture: Brian Henman
Thurnham Castle Picture: Brian Henman
Thurnham castle Picture: John Wardley
Thurnham castle Picture: John Wardley

The flint-built castle is often said to date back to the 1100s when it was apparently constructed by Robert of Thurnham in the reign of Henry II.

It belonged to the de Say family and then the Thurnhams. Stephen and Robert de Thurnham crusaded with Richard the Lionheart but never returned and the castle was left to decay.

But before them came the Saxons who built a fortress at the peak long known as Godard's Castle and going further back still it is thought a Roman watchtower originally stood on the site.

It is now owned by Kent County Council.

Used in the 1958 Pictures of Maidstone book by H. R. Pratt Boorman - a picture of the castle drawn by William Dampier in 1864
Used in the 1958 Pictures of Maidstone book by H. R. Pratt Boorman - a picture of the castle drawn by William Dampier in 1864

While inside it might not offer much inspiration for photographers the views of and from Grain Battery Tower are quite something.

The haunting structure jutting out of the mud on the banks of the Thames makes a great shot - but it could soon make a desirable home too...

For £1.5 million the 165-year-old abandoned fort, which boasts the address No.1, The Thames, could be yours.

And if 15ft-thick bomb-proof and 2,300sqm of space is what you're after - and why wouldn't you be? - this 1855 Martello-style property is for you.

It's been marketed as a possible nightclub, hotel, outdoor pursuit centre or casino and if the new owner has an extra £1 million to spare could be transformed into a seven-bedroom mansion.

Its original purpose was to protect Chatham and Sheerness dockyards as well as The Thames from invasion, so it was fitted with an enormous gun on the roof.

In 1912 two 4.7 Quick Firing guns were moved to the tower, then during the Second World War, it had a pair of six pounder QF guns installed. A two-storey red brick barracks was also built on stilts to house 60 soldiers to man the fortress.

One of its drawbacks is it can be accessed only by a half-mile causeway during low tide or by boat. At high tide, the tower is completely cut off from the mainland and is accessible only by boat or helicopter.

It was little surprise, therefore, when a lifeboat crew had to rescue four men stranded at the fort last year.

The building also does not have electricity or running water and is around four-and-a-half miles from Swale train station.

The barge has been sat empty on the River Medway since 2014. Picture: Aerial Imaging South East
The barge has been sat empty on the River Medway since 2014. Picture: Aerial Imaging South East

Skirt round the Hoo Peninsula from Grain and eventually you'll reach an abandoned hotel floating in the River Medway.

The barge has sat rusting off the Medway City Estate since 2013 and due to a wrangle over ownership its stay doesn't look like ending any time soon.

Current owners reckon it would make a hostel for the homeless or even a quarantine vessel for patients with coronavirus. That or they could slice the top off an use to carry things up the river.

Before the 69-bed 200-capacity hotel was towed from Portsmouth it was used by Navy crews who were switching ships and even has its own cinema.

It was originally built for the Dutch Navy as a way of providing transportable accommodation.

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