An Urban Explorer Braved A Rock Star’s Crumbling House – And Captured Some Insane Footage Inside

Image: via Daily Mail

This sprawling mansion was once the opulent residence of a famous rock star. It has also been a rest home for the elderly and a hotel, to boot. Ultimately, though, the property was abandoned, and the house that forms its centerpiece has since been deserted for years on end. Few knew exactly what lay behind the mansion’s decaying walls – but now an online video has afforded people a rare peek inside.

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Today, the grand house stands as but a shadow of its former glory, but its neglected facade cloaks a significant history. And while the mansion’s formerly impressive appearance may well once have turned heads, it was arguably one of the estate’s former owners who really put it on the map. You see, the residence once belonged to Ian Gillan – the lead singer of Deep Purple. Yet it was not to be the rock star’s forever home.

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The house was actually built back in Victorian times – so how did Gillan come to own it? Well, first, let’s press rewind. Gillan came into the world on August 19, 1945, and grew up as a Londoner. He spent his younger years soaking up the influx of fresh musical influences that were pervading England in the 1960s. And, in fact, his passion for new sounds no doubt laid the foundations for the successful career that was to follow.

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Gillan took his first steps on the path to fame when he became a member of the band Episode Six in 1965. The group certainly learned from some big names, too; they even hit the road with Dusty Springfield. However, they didn’t enjoy much commercial success. Then, in 1969, Gillan and his Episode Six bandmate Roger Glover jumped ship to join Deep Purple as vocalist and bassist, respectively.

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Deep Purple had actually been formed two years previously, and the group was at one point going to be called Roundabout. Who knows what destiny might have been in store for that proposed iteration of the band? As it was, though, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore mooted the name Deep Purple – reportedly because it was the title of an old track favored by his grandmother.

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Now whether what transpired boiled down to the band’s name change, its new recruits or both, the 1970s were certainly the breakout decade for Deep Purple. In hindsight, then, Gillan and Glover’s move was rather fortuitous – and the reason why so many people know of them today. Indeed, the pair are household names among rock fans and the wider music-loving public.

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It was Gillan who stole the spotlight, though – with his vocal style serving as an unmistakable calling card for the band. What’s more, his sound and technique also raised the bar for his peers. So much so, in fact, that music reporter Malcolm Dome asserted, “Gillan remains completely in control of his voice whilst going completely insane.” And as the frontman’s Facebook page boasts, even now his vocal tones are “instantly recognizable.”

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So, spearheaded by Gillan’s vocals, Deep Purple took the world by storm. In the U.K., for instance, their fifth studio album, Fireball, went to the top of the charts. And the hit song “Smoke on the Water” – taken from the band’s sixth album, Machine Head – sealed their immense popularity. Deep Purple continued to witness various different band members come and go, mind you, and the group eventually had a break for a spell of eight years.

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Yet despite the band’s disintegration, they reformed in the early 1990s and proceeded to record plenty of new material. Deep Purple then officially cemented their place in history when, in 2016, they were welcomed into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And nowadays, Gillan and Glover can be counted as part of the contemporary line-up.

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But what of the man behind the music – and in particular, that iconic voice? Well, according to the biography on Gillan’s official Facebook page, beyond the vocalist’s professional interests, his hobbies are hiking, writing, soccer and keeping up with his relatives and the news. What’s not mentioned on the list, though, is the singer’s apparent penchant for property development. After all, he once sunk almost three-quarters of a million bucks into a single home – the very one featured here.

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That’s right: in 1973 Gillan made a pretty hefty purchase. Presumably he had some sizable disposable income, then – courtesy, of course, of the heady days of Deep Purple’s huge popularity. In any event, the celebrity spent £100,000 – or around $130,000 at current rates of exchange – on a grand pile of bricks and mortar in the English countryside. And indeed, the palatial residence that Gillan bought still stands in Wallingford – a town located in the county of Oxfordshire.

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But not only did Gillan and his former girlfriend, Zoe Dean, splash the cash on buying the property; they also reportedly injected the equivalent of $500,000-plus into various projects around the house. Perhaps the couple put some of that sum towards soundproofing; after all, the year before Gillan’s purchase, a gig in London had earned Deep Purple the title of “Globe’s Loudest Band” in The Guinness Book Of World Records.

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Presumably Gillan’s mansion on the bank of the River Thames played host to some famous faces and potentially showbiz parties, too. And just in case the neighbors didn’t know that Gillan was a famous musician, they might have twigged once they spotted the large swimming pool in the shape of a guitar there in the grounds. After all, if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, then what is?

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Yet the frontman’s rock-star lifestyle ultimately came to a halt – under that roof, at least. Why? Because Gillan’s finances were in disarray, and he was nearly declared bankrupt. So it was that in 1995 a couple by the names of Svenia and Paul Franklin came into possession the property. The new owners then turned the place into a hotel and named it “The Springs” – a nod to its view of a nearby stream-supplied lake. And amusingly, Gillan later revealed that he’d refused an offer to return to see the reimagined property on account of the new dress code that was in force.

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Thus, the former rock-star pad entered the next phase of its existence. Upstairs rooms that had perhaps once hosted special invitees and celebrities subsequently became accommodation for golfers and other paying guests. And the former private home was now also known to host weddings for certain lucky brides and grooms.

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Unfortunately, though, the property’s good days ultimately proved to be numbered. You see, less than two decades after the Franklins’ initial investment, the couple made the undoubtedly difficult decision to throw in the towel. The ever-increasing expenses involved in maintaining the hotel were what eventually led to its closure. And having stopped functioning in its newer guise, the property was then largely forgotten.

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Today, then, the mansion’s heyday seems like a distant memory. Yet a fascinating video has recently provided a glimpse into the interior – and given an intriguing idea of what living there may have been like when the property was in its pomp. Naturally, the footage showcases the present-day predicament of the place, too. The current state of Gillan’s former pad in fact offers only traces of its past splendor and the money that was invested into its upkeep. How, though, did anyone manage to gain access in the first place?

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Well, it was a man named Warren Tepper who found a way. Tepper hails from the nearby county of Hampshire, and he has a slightly unusual hobby. Specifically, he likes to spend time exploring abandoned spaces and filming what he finds. He even has a YouTube channel called Warren Urbexing – the latter term being an amalgamation of the words “urban” and “exploring.”

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Now some, of course, might consider the fact of being on someone else’s property as morally dubious. Tepper himself thinks otherwise, though. In a 2018 interview with the BBC, the urban explorer explained, “Nobody actually seems to care about the buildings anymore, or they’ve just been left there to rot for years and years and years.” And although urban exploration can get you into trouble with the law, Tepper added, “I don’t see that being a problem as long as I’m not breaking and entering when I get there.”

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That said, regardless of the questionable legality of Tepper’s pastime, the dangers that it can present are a concern for him. In the caption underneath his video, the urban explorer wrote, “Do not attempt this yourself. If you do decide to explore, please make sure you tell someone where you are going. Try and go with a friend.” And, practicing what he preaches, Tepper had an associate – Tazer – with him on this particular expedition.

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So, what details have the duo captured for posterity? Well, the video’s opening montage plainly shows that the passage of time has left its mark on the property. One of the first views featured is an aerial shot, taken from what must be an upstairs window, that gives a bird’s-eye perspective on the overgrown garden and filthy pool. Then, the camera retreats through the broken glass windows into the house’s interior – which, it’s safe to say, has seen way better days.

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Tepper then turns the camera on himself and states, “We’re in a massive mansion.” He’s not wrong, either. One cavernous room seems to be part of a colossal landing. And although it’s devoid of furniture, the space boasts an impressive fireplace. A closeup above the mantelpiece also reveals an ornate carving – a swirling pattern engraved into the wood.

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The stairs, meanwhile, are carpeted in purple and topped with white treads; their color notwithstanding, were these additions made in the mansion’s hotel days? The staircase adjustments certainly seem to scream “safety first” more than they do “rock ‘n’ roll.” Either way, a sign on a wall pointing to the men’s washrooms must surely be a more recently added feature.

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In the video, the duo then wander into other areas of the mansion. One room contains a wide window that allows light to fall on a dirty red carpet and an empty hearth. Tepper points out the fact that the wall fixtures are “little chandeliers hanging” that would once have illuminated the wood paneling. The YouTuber is evidently impressed by the ornate white ceiling, too, for he describes it as “proper, decent old-school stuff.” Mercifully, the mold doesn’t quite seem to have reached this pretty elaborate room, either.

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Tepper is next seen strolling around and admiring the joinery when suddenly his attention snaps to his left. “Oh wow! Look at this,” he says excitedly. “Proper brass screens. So that’s all brass with a lump of glass behind it – so that would have been to put some ornaments or something in there.” The cameraman then swings the screen open, but where there was likely once shelving, it’s now just a stark empty space.

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The building’s faded grandeur is, then, sadly all too apparent – but it’s when the camera moves to a sunlight-filled walkway that the potential of the property can be appreciated. Indeed, it’s hard not to imagine celebrities or vacationers in their bathing suits waltzing down this corridor in the sunshine. The daylight streams in through large glass windows that afford a view of the surrounding grassy fields and the golf course.

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Back outside, though, nature appears to be slowly reclaiming the property, and weeds have grown up through the stone balcony. The elevated platform also seems to be home to an old yellowed hosepipe. But the white balustrade here still shines bright, and the lake can also be seen through the trees. At one point, then, this would have been the perfect spot in which to sit outside and admire the serene setting.

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The next snapshot shows the true extent of the neglect indoors, though. Yes, the damage and decay that the building’s abandonment has led to is patently clear. For example, a discarded sink lies on a stained carpet that was possibly once brown but now looks to be growing fungus. A few books lie haphazardly in the middle of the floor, too, and one wall sports a green streak of mold snaking its way across the paintwork. The room in question still resembles a hotel bedroom – just one more likely to be found in a horror movie.

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The dilapidated state of the rooms contrasts starkly – and ironically – with their high-end names, too. The plaques on the doors show suites labeled “Belgravia,” “Chelsea” and “Mayfair” – all upmarket districts of London. Another bears the name “Ascot” – a place that’s in fairly close proximity to Wallingford and is home to a renowned horse-racing venue. Only those of a particular social milieu would have frequented both those places and these bedrooms.

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Next up on the duo’s self-guided tour is a room called “Temple.” Here, before Tepper enters, he witnesses a sign advising of a ban on smoking inside. This prohibition doesn’t seem like something that Gillan would have introduced, so it must have been added by the subsequent hoteliers. And while this assumption could be doing the rock star a disservice, he has definitely been previously photographed with a cigarette in his hand.

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In the video, Tepper then ventures into the room. Torchlight illuminates the walls, a stack of mattresses and the floor – which is looking undeniably the worse for wear. As Tepper says, “You can worship the god of mold in here.” Indeed, it’s actually hard to tell what color the carpet once was – though now it’s predominantly beige, with lime-green and purple hues. The discoloration shows just how powerful and unforgiving the passage of time can be.

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And the dismal scene is also a world away from one 1988 hotel review. At that time, you see, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported, “Our bed, complete with bedside clock, is supremely comfortable, with fine sheets and decent blankets.” But given the room’s damp and moldy walls, it’s doubtful that many people would want to sleep in it now.

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The room is obviously a relic from the building’s hotel days, though; the classic chairs and side table are still present, as is the phone – although the handset is not placed on its receiver. Even the lampshade contributes to the general sense of disorder, slanting as it does at an awkward angle.

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At the same time, it’s as though the floral curtains have made an extra effort to appear disheveled; they are half drawn, yet the light filters in through the folds of yellow fabric. Greenery can be glimpsed outside, too, and Mother Nature is apparently also winning the battle inside, judging by the green mold that blights the space. Doubtless, the deserted quarters are overdue a clean, and as the guys leave, they hang the “Please make up room now” sign on the door.

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The pair’s escapade didn’t stop there, either. In the video, the torchlight continues to cut a path through the gloom, giving viewers a look inside the spacious Ascot room. The first object to greet the camera is an exposed electrical wire protruding messily from the wall. And further into the pinkish space, the windows are boarded up, and some of the glass has shattered.

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Then, all of a sudden, the footage shifts to the outdoors again; the men are cautious and have departed. But why the swift escape? Well, as Tepper whispers, “We’ve got to be very careful, because we’ve just seen security inside, so we got out before we got caught.” And yet the urban explorers nevertheless still have time for a few closing shots.

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To finish the film, the camera captures the swimming pool. Here, although the guitar motif – including the neck, frets and sound hole – can still clearly be seen, the forsaken garden feature is now various shades of moldy green. A rubber ring and at least one sun lounger have met a sad fate, too – lying swamped in murky water among the algae. And at the same time, plants are encroaching, trailing over the side of the pool down to the dirty rainwater-filled bottom.

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The overall state of Gillan’s former country home is, then, one of total disrepair. And the property’s miserable condition is proof that renovations haven’t been too high on anybody’s list of priorities. In 2014 previous owner Svenia Franklin told local newspaper The Oxford Mail that restoring the crumbling building would probably cost millions. Yet Darwin Escapes – a leisure company that owns the neighboring golf course – is apparently taking on the challenge.

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Hopefully one day the property will therefore be restored to its former glory. Some of the comments on Tepper’s YouTube video certainly echo this sentiment. For instance, Wendy Cunningham’s message reads, “Love this and hope they can rescue it somehow.” And yet one commenter had reservations about the mansion’s palatial proportions, writing, “You’d rattle around a bit in a place that size.”

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As for Tepper, well, it seems that his derelict house-hunting days are set to continue. Addressing his passion for urban exploration to the BBC, he admitted, “One hundred percent I’m addicted to it. Walking around in an old abandoned building, you can’t beat the feeling; it just gives you a massive adrenaline rush.”

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