St Mary’s Lodge – A real blast from the past

Whilst perusing a well-known (well, to those ‘in the know’) urban exploration online forum, I came across a comment about a St Mary’s Lodge in North London. The name rang a bell, and I couldn’t quite work out why. A quick google search informed me that this was the name of the boarded up house which I had walked past everyday on my way to school. I hadn’t really ever considered going inside as a kid. This was mainly because, although it was boarded up, it wasn’t disused.

In fact, as I looked into it I found that there was a local campaign to save the building. The story of St Mary’s Lodge is fascinating, from its construction as a country house in 1843 by the architect John Young and its various uses, including as a hostel in the 1960s for unwed young mothers. The story concludes with a dodgy Council deal in which the property was sold, under questionable circumstances, for £400,000 below the market value of the land alone.

The buyers have disregarded local planning permission rules, as well as the implications of Lordship Park becoming a designated conservation area in 2004. Thus when I was walking past the blue hoardings as a child, the site was in fact being used as a tyre tip, and later for dumping and burning construction waste.

Its a story which highlights the unspoken, underlying tensions between the different communities living here now, and it demonstrates how one building can tell us so much – and for the residents here this is a story and a building worth saving.

So naturally I had to go and have a look for myself…


St Mary's Lodge

St Mary’s Lodge today, a shell of a building


I think I’ll ‘Go Along’

So having finally forced myself to put pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) I have started to write the methods section of my dissertation. Only three months behind schedule!

Interviewing was an obvious choice of research method for my study,  in order to get a sense of my participants’ attitudes and thoughts on urban exploration. Rather than conducting conventional ‘sit-down’ interviews, I have opted to use a ‘go-along’ interview method. The go-along method a bit of a mixture between participant observation and semi-structured interviewing. As the researcher, I am required to engage with the environment as well as my research participant. I take cues from my participants’ reactions to our surroundings and from the surrounding space itself.

Go-along interviews are popular in numerous disciplines including health studies, anthropology, sociology, and geography. This popularity stems from the increasing attention in research to that all important C-word (“context” that is) – and to acknowledging the positionality and experiences of the researcher as well as the participants.

‘Go-alongs’ are particularly suited to this project as urban exploration is a so-called ’embodied practice’, in the sense that urban explorers are consciously interacting with their surroundings, both physically and imaginatively. I can get stuck in as the researcher and really experience (or try to) the places in a similar way to my participants.