If These Walls Could Speak

There’s just something about abandoned places that speaks to me; each one has a unique history, and an ending that seems somehow premature.  Whether it be a shopping mall in Thailand now occupied by goldfish; cities within range of the radioactivity of Chernobyl; an island that was once inhabited but now forlorn; an underground station or even an entire train station in the middle of an inhabited city, or an abandoned house, they each have a story to tell.  If their walls could speak, what would they say?  What have they seen?  What would they have liked to see but were prematurely cut off from the habitation or transient experiences of humanity?

DSCN5118 - Overtoun House

Overtoun House. Image Credit: Stephanie Huesler

I once lived in a manor house in Scotland, called Overtoun House; it was often my home over the years that I lived in the UK; once we moved away it fell into disrepair, ransacked by vandals and left to rot by the town council that was charged with its maintenance.  Several years ago I went back to visit and actually cried at the state it had fallen into – it was literally like finding a good friend face down in the gutter.  Finally, a few years ago an organisation moved in to restore the building to its former glory, and it will be used to house women in distressed circumstances.  My husband and I met there in 1991, and this past summer we went back for a visit; it was comforting to see her in good hands once more.

If you google “abandoned places”, you’ll find thousands of photos and stories just begging to be told:  Salton City, former Olympic venues, World War Two installations, train stations, castles, theme parks, homes, libraries (abandoning books is just wrong), subway / underground stations, shipwrecks, asylums, private homes, and even (most tragic of all) the abandoned dead in the “death zone” of Mount Everest.  Each one with a history and a reason they were abandoned, yet also an inspiration for writers to dig below the superficial surface to create an untold tale.

If those walls could speak to your inner writer, what would you hear?  Write it!

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21 Comments

Filed under History, Research, Writing Exercise

21 responses to “If These Walls Could Speak

  1. Thank you! I’m keeping this one in my private note stash to give me ideas for books to write.

  2. So sad, and then relieved to hear about Overton House. It was certainly a beautiful place when we visited you there years ago – 25 years! Can it really have been so long?

  3. I love old buildings and the living history they contain. So glad this one will be restored and for an especially good cause!

  4. I love abandoned houses, my passion for antiques and the love to preserve make me always imagine how they were and I would love to bring them back to a new life …my creativity kick in…

    • Me too! When I was living in Scotland, friends and I came across an abandoned mansion in the woods; we crawled through a down-stairs window and explored; in one room we found a very old, rusted-through printing press, with stacks of books left to rot; I rescued two – one, a Scottish hymnal, and the other, a Scottish New Testament (written in Scots). Sadly, they both disappeared in one of my moves (I was on a street theatre travelling troupe at the time)… lost books are the only thing I ever really miss, but those two are irreplaceable!

      • oh very interesting! I had a similar experience I was living in Italy my native country, I am in US only from 13 years, I guess I was 15 when with friends we went into a rural abandoned house it wasnt a mansion but was a nice home, I rimember the ceiling was falling apart and we had to be careful but I rescued a small treasure. I found an antique tile with a beautiful pattern and delicate colors

      • Good memories! On one hand, we were young and both meant no harm, but on the other, when someone goes to restore those places I wonder what else went missing? When they began restoring Overtoun they found (via old photos) that two huge paintings (one each of Lord and Lady Overtoun, that hung either side of the entry fireplace) had gone walkies – perhaps someone thought they were rescuing them too… hopefully they’ll one day be returned.

      • I have photos of them, but can’t attach them here in the comments – unless you know how?

  5. Carol Ferenc

    I’m so glad to hear your old home has been saved and put to good use. Too often in the U.S. historic homes and buildings are just demolished in order to put up new buildings. It’s very sad.

    • I think Europe in general has a much wiser appreciation for historical sites, though it was hard-earned in some places (destruction during WW2 especially)… Also, depending on what the structure is made of, it is easier to restore or tear down (stone vs. wood facades).
      There’s something beautiful about older buildings – they took pride in how they were packaged; it is definitely sad when old buildings are forced to give way to “new”, especially when “new” also often means cheaper construction that won’t stand the test of time…

  6. I was born in Overtoun House when it was a maternity hospital many years ago- as was my brother.
    It has been used as a film set in the film ‘Regeneration’, as a stand-in for Craiglockhart Hospital.
    I think it was owned by James White, the chemical manufacturer and he incorporated a no alcohol policy into his bequest, so that’s why it could never be turned into a hotel. Before that it was owned by the Swan family, I believe and my family, the Dixons intermarried with them.

    • Hello Candia! Yes, the no-alcohol policy kept it from becoming commercialised, which I’m actually glad for!
      It was also used as an exterior in “The Cloud Atlas” – it can be seen in the trailer, with a digitally-added vine growing up along the back (where the drain pipe is, at the top of the stairs).

  7. Lovely post and I agree about the certain aura and atmosphere that abandoned buildings possess. You don’t have too look far afield to find them and as a child loved playing in old abandoned barns and factory buildings, the latter particularly were very haunting. Now they have been modernised to top of the market flats but in their renovation quite lost their soul I feel.

    • Hi Annika! Thank you for stopping by!
      Here in Switzerland there are not too many abandoned places; the Swiss are very good at taking care of resources, including places, so they’re not as easy to find. We are also good at renovating; old factories and even the arches beneath a rail bridge have been converted into trendy shops and flats; in those cases I don’t think those buildings have lost their souls, but gained new companions; otherwise they’d still be lonely and empty, or torn down to make something new…

  8. I think I would hear something like “please! Help me to pass this winter…” Because apart from the stories they may tell, which I am sure they have, they are alive in a peculiar way and is the residents duty to keep them healthy. When abandoned, they confront the misery of watching the time flies and feeling the seasons inside their structure without a caring gesture…

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