A visit to GKN Shadow Factory: Video

GKN Shadow FactoryAfter walking around with a flip cam in Belmont Row I decided to try out a go pro and take another visit to the GKN factory.

Thankfully having a headcam meant that there was a smaller chance of tripping over some debris and shredding my hands, maybe they could work that in to their marketing somehow.

Anyway the weather was amazing and I took a good look around. I still haven’t managed to find the tunnel system but I’ll keep looking and maybe find some other urban explorers who I could join.

I have to say this was one of my favourite visits and am really happy that I can share it with you.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (41)

Belmont Row Co-Op Factory, Birmingham: Video

Belmont Row Co-op factory (40)


It’s been a few months since I last visited the Co-Op factory in Birmingham and I thought I’d try out a video walkthrough of the building.

It was hard to get in this time as there were police around the area so I tried to look as inconspicious as I could whilst lugging a camera and flip camera… not suspicious at all.

The video is quite shaky as it was my first time and there was a lot of debris on the floor. There was also the though of the floor collapsing beneath my feat.

Also it was sunny, yay!

Anyway, check out the video below.

cwm coke factory

Exploring the abandoned Cwm Coke Factory, Wales

cwm coke factory


Earlier this year I decided to visit a location closer to home in South Wales. It was also the first time I had gone with a friend which is probably the safer way to go urban exploring.

cwm coke factory

Getting in wasn’t easy, primarily due to the sound of a booming dog in the background which made me nervous, as well as straight roads which made it easy to be spotted.

cwm coke factory

With the ground being completely saturated, it was difficult to get a full explore of the factory, which was disappointing because it is possible to climb up some of the larger buildings. So for the moment you will have to put up with the pictures on here!

cwm coke factory

cwm coke factoryHistory

Originally called ‘Cwm Colliery’, coal extraction started in 1914 from two shafts called Margaret and Mildred which were over 750 yards deep. We weren’t able to get to the two ladies this time as the weather started to turn. Also it turns out that an abandoned factory provides good acoustics for a giant dog.

The National Coal Board invested heavily in the factory, with £9 million spent between 1952 and 1960 to re-develop the site.

The National Coal Board closed the colliery in 1986, and Cwm Coke works in 2002.

cwm coke factory

cwm coke factory

I’m a bit disappointed we weren’t able to see more of the factory, especially the large buildings. Being terrible with heights can inhibit the success of an explore so I’m hoping to go back and get some more interesting pictures of the imposing buildings.

cwm coke factory

cwm coke factory

For some amazing pictures of the rest of the factory check out:

Belmont Row Co-op factory (40)

A trip to Belmont Works Co-op Factory, Birmingham

Belmont Row Co-op factory (42)

Finally a visit actually in Birmingham!

It took me a while to find out who actually owned the building and whether permission to visit was… permissible?

It wasn’t and I duly heeded their advice due to health and safety concerns… ahem.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (18)

The Co-op factory’s red hue contrasts sharply with the modern buildings surrounding it. It currently sits in the middle of the Eastside Locks redevelopment site, which, according to  the architects, aims to create:

a place of vibrancy,beauty and, critically in this case, to create long term benefits for Birmingham.

Whether this will be the case remains to be seen. According to the masterplan for Eastside Locks and the planning permission, the Belmont Works will be turned in to a new hotel sitting in front of ‘Arrival Square’.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (6)

I’ll be honest, this was the most nervous I’ve been in a while visiting a building.

First of all there is a construction site right next to the building and it was disconcerting to hear a giant digger whilst inside the crumbling remains of the building.

I decided not to venture upstairs

I decided not to venture upstairs

Secondly there seems to be a running theme with urban exploration. Asbestos. I’m considering buying a breathing mask but it may look a bit conspicuous wearing a white mask with a camera around my neck.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (19)

The historic building dates back to 1899 and has served as a factory making rubber, underwear and pianos. Hopefully not combined though.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (14)

Belmont Row Co-op factory (12)

Unfortunately a fire gutted the building in 2007 and strong winds toppled over much of the roof.

Belmont Row Co-op factory (48)

Taking risks is all part of urban exploration but I didn’t feel like trying my luck this time. Maybe some hearty explorers will pick up where I left off?

Belmont Row Co-op factory (24)

Belmont Row Co-op factory (39)

Top five urban exploring hazards

One of the appeals of urban exploring is the inherent dangers that are associated with it. Whether it be finding the site, dodging the authorities or negotiating obstacles, be sure to do some research and be wary of what you might find in each location.

Top 5 urban exploring hazards

Finding/Entering a site

Finding an appropriate site to visit is the most important thing to do when starting out. Ultimately you will want a location which is easy to get to, devoid of prying eyes from authorities and is easy to access. Many abandoned buildings are in the process of being demolished and will have fences erected to stop people from gaining access. Attempting to climb these fences is extremely risky as they are usually covered in barbed wire.

Spending hours researching locations and traveling to a place, only to find it is impossible to gain access will be a frustrating experience. It is possible to gain permission to a building if you can find the demolition contractors or owners of the site. This takes some of the edge off the experience but can guarantee you a safe passage in to a building.

Top 5 urban exploring hazards

Unsafe structures

Derelict building by their very nature are unsafe. Some will have asbestos inside them, others may have dangerous chemicals or items. Others may be undergoing demolition and will be unsafe to go in. Doing the research, often phoning the company who own the building, can minimize the risk of exploring an otherwise dangerous structure.

Top 5 urban exploring hazards

Broken glass, nails etc

Wearing your brand new trainers will ensure that your feet eventually get torn up by the amount of debris scattered on the ground. Glass is no commodity in derelict buildings and it is surprising where it can make its way to. Glass not only will shred up your new pair of shoes but also makes surfaces difficult to grip on to.

Nails can be present throughout abandoned buildings, hidden in debris and planks of wood. It is easy to rush and climb on some rubble without thinking and end up stepping on a nail. I’ve had to constantly remind myself not to rush and be patient whilst exploring an area, even if that means being in sight of contractors or demolition people.

Top 5 urban exploring hazards

Be wary of authorities

Trespass, as it turns out is illegal. Funnily enough it wasn’t something that I really thought about until I heard of others who had been caught and alerted me to it. Somewhat embarrassing for a law graduate…

Who you have to watch out for depends on the type of building and location. Some buildings are currently in the process of being demolished and will be full of people. Others may be entirely abandoned, however members of the public may phone if they see suspicious people climbing buildings. Whatever the scenario, make sure you understand the consequences of trespass.

Top 5 urban exploring hazards


When urban exploring in Berlin I frequently came across people squatting inside buildings. There can be horror stories about ‘drug takers’ or other dangerous people who reside there. In my experience I never encountered this, in fact the people that I met were really friendly. But in case they aren’t, be sure to be cautious.

GKN Shadow Factory

A visit to GKN Shadow Factory

GKN Shadow Factory

Walking in to the Shadow Factory site you are initially greeted to a wide vista. Several buildings surround you which lie under the gaze of residential tower blocks in the distance. Oil tars the floor and materials usually seen on a construction site are scattered everywhere. Whether this is an image of its past or future remains to be seen.


Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds’ origins go back over 250 years as a small ironworks in Dowlais, South Wales. The company was bourne from the merger between the Birmingham screw manufacturer Nettlefolds and Guest, Keen & Co in 1902. This made it the largest employer in the town.

By the outbreak of the First World War the company produced over half the screws and about a quarter of the nuts and bolts made in the country.

The building itself was originally an Imperial Mill, which was converted for the manufacture of nuts and bolts. The only evidence of this are the bolts scattered among the debris and vegetation which is slowly trying to reclaim the land.

GKN Shadow Factory

Further exploring

My favourite thing about abandoned buildings is the small stories you begin to imagine as you stumble across little sites. Things which are ordinary in everyday life stand out amongst destruction and decay.

GKN Shadow Factory

GKN Shadow Factory

I spent quite a while in the toilets for the same reason. Not a sentence I thought I would ever say but it was almost a sombre experience. The more ordinary the room, the greater the disparity between what it was and what it currently is.

GKN Shadow Factory

GKN Shadow Factory

A building of interest

One building in particular fascinated me. It stands out from the others as one which would be rich with stories and images.

GKN Shadow Factory

Unfortunately it does not seem to be accessible through ‘non-traditional’ means. There is the possibility that I can gain access in the future, having called the demolition company. Currently the building and the site are full of asbestos and was told January would be the earliest point for a visit. A scary thing to hear after having visited! In future a breathing mask, proper boots and flashlight are in order!

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I have also made a video of the factory.


A taste of things to come

My taste for derelict buildings started when I visited Berlin in the summer. The city is littered with beautiful abandoned buildings. My curiosity was struck and among the group of people I travelled with, I was the abandoned buildings guy. Not the catchiest nickname, but I took it.

Berlinker Eisfabrik

Berlinker Eisfabrik

Berlinker Esifabrik

The first site I chose was the Berliner Eisfabrik. This building was an ice factory, making 1.5 metre long blocks of ice. However after running in to financial difficulty it closed down in 1995 and is currently occupied by groups of travellers who now call it home. Rather than renovating the building, there are plans to knock it down. A Wikipedia entry on the factory details the potential future of the building.

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Güterbahnhof Pankow

The next place I visited was Güterbahnhof Pankow train station. The site is huge, with many buildings scattered around and vegetation slowly reclaiming the area. It used to handle up to 1800 trains a day, but was hard to imagine in its current state. The main attraction now is the impressive round building, which was user to rotate freight trains without the ability to reverse.

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It is always an unnerving experience visiting these buildings. Standing in an abandoned building, in an unfamiliar city is bad enough without having to watch out for other explorers. When I stumbled across a massive dog and its owner in Pankow train station I froze in fear. Incidentally both were very friendly but it is these moments which attract me to exploring these locations. Watching out for nails, broken glass and any other number pitfalls adds to the charm of the building and makes it a more somber experience.

Why Birmingham?

I later realised that there are lots of places with derelict buildings, waiting to be explored and have their stories told. Some may have been left derelict for many years and are awaiting destruction. Others are recently being closed, due to the economic climate and have communities rallying to get them re-opened.

Whatever the history behind the buildings, I am interested in finding out, exploring and documenting them with audio, video, interviews and text.