I first visited the more or less abandoned Shire back in 2009 with a few more revisits before it was taken over by the new owners. Warnings of unfriendly travellers pitched onsite kept a few people away which, thankfully, is the possible reason as to why the site had suffered little vandalism compared to some of the sites we have seen across the UK. On our fist visit, there for sure were a couple of caravans but nobody to be found anywhere so we decided on to have a quiet walk round the whole site, expecting to run into someone at some point. Past experience of running into hostile people kept us on our toes & back in the '90's I had to make a hasty exit from a disused mill in Bradford to avoid confrontation with a huddle of junkies. Thankfully this turned out to be quite the opposite.
First opened in 1978, the centre became the top Shire Horse Centre in the country just 7 years later in 1985, not long after expansion to accommodate more horses & attractions. In 1978, the Guinness Book Record for the World's Tallest Living Horse was awarded to the resident Boringdon Black King standing at a whopping 19.2" hands.
Attracting around 300,000 visitors a year at it's peak, the Shire ran into financial difficulties in the mid-nineties. It was then taken over by the Hockin family who struggled on with it for another four years until it's final closure in the Autumn 2000, with the auctioning of assets including the Shire Horses taking place in the November of the same year.
Since closure, the site lay derelict, awaiting development that never came until recently when new owners purchased the site for their family home. Back in '09 when we took the photos, the site was used by SW War Games for airsoft, & a filming location for a comedy movie called Holy Water that featured Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor in Terminator) & Tommy 'Tiny' Lister (The Fifth Element), signs were still to be found dotted around the site.
|Postal van used in the filming of Holy Water|
|Bedroom set in the former family cottage|
|Part of the film script. The VHS videos were found in-situ in the bedroom|
Joined by Si & Graybags on the first visit, we spent a full day walking round the site & to great surprise, found every building open. Personally I found some of the buildings a little sad to see, essentially a place time forgot with nature taking her hold, especially in the outdoor adventure area that now resembled a jungle course. I was pretty taken aback when we came across some of the old Shire Horses reigns & saddlery that didn't sell at auction, still on display in one of the older stables.
|Saddlery left on display & just look at that incredible stone floor|
|Stables lie silent & empty - awaiting the warm welcome sound of hoofs once again|
|Amusing stable graffiti - Lazy Horse?|
There was a building that we couldn't find at first, known as Junglemania, a soft play area for kids so we opted for a nice wander around the outdoor arenas & nature walks - that's when it really sank in how much of a loss to the area this multi-themed site really is. All the trade skills lost through it's closure including blacksmiths, glass engravers, saddlers & potters, not to mention the many other jobs to allow the centre to function. Sadly, I moved to Plymouth a few years after it closed but would have loved to taken my son there just for the education alone with the skills on display.....oh & get him on the deathslide.
|An eerie silence lies amid the former outdoor arena, slowly being reclaimed by nature|
|Sketchy bridge over the lake along the old nature walk|
|The bridge of doom across to the top of the deathslide|
We did finally find the Junglemania after a good few hours enjoying the lovely sunshine & a good hour of fun was spent coming away with friction burns from the slide that really did need a good polish. It was really what we needed after hours walking the site with some rib-cracking moments. Oh by the way, if you think we are young, our combined age at the time was 118 - yeah, you're right, we're just big kids at heart enjoying life whilst documenting our lost heritage!
|Righty then, Junglemania......GO!|
|Ah but hang on, we're too tall......|
|....quick, there's a noise outside......best blend in!|
|Graybags couldn't resist but ruined his favourite top from the friction burns|
So there we have it, a glimpse of the old Shire for you to see through our eyes. Once the site's assets were sold off, there was little chance of something like it returning & it was going to get redeveloped either way but I'm really pleased for the new owners who have taken it on to care for as their family home.
If you have any memories of the centre, worked there or indeed have any photos you would like to share, please do get in touch as we would love to hear from you!