Sunday, June 26, 2022

Dead?


The photo above - click on it for larger version shows, works on the Erith Pier Square development which was due to have been completed at the end of February. Due to a number of issues with the contractor and workers, the whole project has been massively delayed. As you'll see if you look closely at the photo, there are some issues with the work that has been undertaken. When the project started, several locals complained that a number of mature trees had been cut down and removed from the site; at the time it was said that these would be replaced with premium new trees and foliage. Unfortunately, as can be seen in the photo above, a number of the new trees that have implanted are already dead, and several others look like they are about to die. This reminds me of the situation back in 2017 in Erith Riverside Gardens. A number of the bushes and other foliage were replaced by council employed contractors. The problem was it was an extremely hot summer, and the contractor failed to water the plants at all and as a result several hundred plants died. I would not want this situation to be repeated again, although it would appear that negligence on the behalf of the contractor would be a contributing factor to the death of expensive plants. I will be raising matters with the council. Not only is the Pier Square development extremely late, but it would appear that the quality is also less than would be expected. I know that a number of locals have expressed doubts over the garden development. I would hope that the situation is remedied in the near future. It is not long until the redevelopment of the Erith Riverside Gardens is due to proceed. The current work on the Pier Square does not inspire very much in the way of confidence. These two areas are real flagships for the local area and the only places in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley where you can gain access to the River Thames. It is a unique feature to the area and something to be celebrated, although it would appear that the contractors employed by Bexley council are working in rather an uncommitted fashion.  What do you think about the situation? Email me with your thoughts to hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above shows Christ Church Erith, which forms one of the most noticeable landmarks in the town. This year is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the historic building, which looks quite a lot older than it actually is. The church is actually a relatively modern construction – the cornerstone was laid back in 1872; the land the church is built on was donated by local land owner and philanthropist Colonel Wheatley – initially church services had been held in a temporary building made of corrugated iron. The consecration service took place on the 6th June 1874 by Archbishop Tait of Canterbury. The church is built mainly of brick, in the Early English style that many Victorian architects favoured. The building cost around £8,000 – a sizable fortune at the time. A few years later the interior of the church was “Beautified” with a series of frescoes being added; representations of the resurrection, Christ with Angels, four historic Bishops of Rochester, and scenes from English history. These painted wall panels make the church interior look Medieval – certainly far older than it actually is, and make the interior one of the most stunning of any church in the area. I would strongly recommend that you pay the place a visit – the place may look fairly unremarkable from the outside, but the interior is something else altogether. The church bell tower and spire was added forty years after the main building was completed; the first stone on the 13th of June 1914, and was completed and dedicated on the 5th June 1915. Colonel Wheatley was generous in his donation of money towards local public buildings. In 1875 he offered a site for a new hospital in Erith High Street at a nominal rent. The new Erith Cottage Hospital had 12 beds - nine for adults and three for children - although admissions were restricted to six adults and two children because of lack of funds. By the turn of the century the population of Erith had greatly increased. Industry dominated over agriculture. The number of adult beds was increased to 12, but the Hospital building was cramped, with small rooms and narrow stairs, and had only one bathroom for patients and staff. The staff were housed in underground cellars near the morgue. Noise was a problem as the Hospital was on a main road and also adjacent to a coal-truck shunting yard. It was soon decided that the Colonel Wheatley funded hospital was no longer fit for purpose, and a new one needed to be built. WW1 delayed plans for the new hospital but, in 1922, a Mr. G.H. Gunning donated a 2 acre site at the top of Park Crescent. An additional piece of land was bought for £228. A Building Committee was formed to raise funds and, on 19th November 1924, the new Hospital was opened by the Prince of Wales. The new building had 21 beds, three of which were in a ward for special cases and two were for private patients. The two main wards - one for males and one for females - had sun balconies. An operating theatre and a Nurses' Home were also included. By 1933 it was necessary to erect a temporary extension, which gave the Hospital an extra seven beds. In 1935 a children's ward with 13 cots was added at the cost of £10,000, along with an Anaesthetic Room and a new Nurses' Home; the Casualty Department was modernized. The X-ray and Electro Medical Departments were extended at the cost of £2500. In 1938, with another war imminent, an underground hospital was built in the grounds as part of the Emergency Medical Service. It was intended as a clearing station for bomb and gas victims. During WW2 the surface Hospital itself remained open, with its number of beds being increased to 50. In 1948 it joined the NHS, coming under the administration of the Woolwich Group Hospital Management Committee, part of the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board. The large underground hospital, half sunk into the ground and covered with earth, was refurbished to become the X-ray Department. The sun balconies on the wards were enclosed, so they could be heated and used through all seasons. In 1954 a new single-storey Out-Patients building opened with a Reception desk, a Physiotherapy Department with a gym, Medical Records Department, secretarial office and a small pharmacy. In 1965 the Hospital had 45 beds for acute cases. A general medical and surgical unit was built in 1972 for the use of visiting consultants and local GPs. In 1974, following a major reorganisation of the NHS, the Hospital came under the control of the Bexley District Health Authority, part of the South East Thames Regional Health Authority. In the mid 1980s the operating theatres were condemned and not replaced; patients for major surgery were referred to larger local hospitals. The main Hospital building ceased to function as an acute hospital. In the early 1990s, with the introduction of the 'market place' system, whereby hospitals became 'providers' of services for 'purchasers', the Hospital joined the Queen Mary's Sidcup NHS Trust. In 1993 it became part of the Oxleas NHS Trust. In 1997 the Hospital was refurbished and became a community psychiatric hospital. In the early 2000s the local Health Authority proposed to demolish the underground hospital and the Out-Patients building and to build a centre for child development services - the area occupied by the underground hospital would become a car park. Opposition to this plan ensured that the unique underground hospital / X-Ray Centre became a Grade II listed building (the only other one is in the tunnels under Dover Castle).


If you are a user of Freeview TV, you may not be aware of several changes that are to happen to the service in the very near future, which have not been at all widely publicised. The Freeview multiplex COM 7 is being closed down to make way for increased 5G phone and data coverage. The rights to use this service were won by British mobile network operator EE, with 5G heralded as the future of mobile devices, offering much faster download speeds and a more reliable signal. This is, of course, great news for mobile users but less so for digital television broadcasters such as Freeview. COM 7 includes the Freeview television channels BBC News HD, Quest HD, FreeSports, Now 70s, PBS, QVC Beauty HD, More4 +1, and most disappointingly Forces TV. If you were not aware, Forces TV is ostensibly meant to be entertainment for members of the UK armed forces. Whilst it does have a short daily news bulletin aimed at serving soldiers, sailors and aircrew, a bulk of the content of Forces TV is composed of classic 70's and 80's cult television, with shows like Blake's Seven, CHiPS, The Brittas Empire, Sorry! Doctor Who and Surgical Spirit. Shows that were first broadcast when a vast majority of currently serving forces personnel would not have been born. It has always struck me that Forces TV is actually aimed at an older audience. I must admit that I have enjoyed catching up on classic Tom Baker era Doctor Who, which Forces TV played entire multiple episode stories over Saturday afternoons. They also recently transmitted the entire Blake's Seven story from the start, with two episodes each weekday evening. Forces TV is not just leaving Freeview, the station is closing down altogether.

The first Bexleyheath night market was held on Friday evening. It will run on the last Friday of every month to showcase local traders including street food and craft beer as well as live music and DJs. The monthly event is being partly funded by the mayor of London's office. I have known for years that Bexley council have wished to bridge the gap between when the shops close at about 5:30, and when people go out for a drink or something to eat later in the evening. there has been a lull in that period where the Broadway felt empty and abandoned. The night market is an attempt to resolve this. It is essentially an attempt to foster a night time economy in Bexleyheath. The night market will operate from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. I think this is a commendable idea, but I have doubts as to whether it is going to work. Unfortunately, Bexleyheath Broadway has somewhat of the poor reputation for crime and antisocial behaviour in the evenings. I do wonder how a night market will deal with this. I recall the attempt made some years ago to bring a street market back into Erith Town centre, which lasted exactly 5 weeks before the traders gave up due to a lack of publicity and very few customers at the time it was said by several locals that the market had been set up to fail. I wonder if the same thing will happen again to Bexleyheath? I am very hopeful that something like a night market will bring people together in Bexleyheath, but I do worry that it may be Bexley council saying that they have ticked a box, and then let the event die on the vine. I think that if the initial couple of events proved to be successful, then this may well encourage more people to visit and it may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've read online quite a few comments from local residents who are quite cynical about the whole idea. It will be good if something constructive comes of the event, as long as it is given enough resources, publicity and security to become an attraction to a large number of people. I do hope that the police are involved with the management and operation of the night market, as without them I think success would be even more elusive.


A story has developed this week, that has been a long time coming. I don't think anybody can argue that the Erith Park development has been a massive improvement on the original Larner Road Estate which it replaced. Indeed, Orbit Housing Association won several award when the housing estate opened. Nowadays, there have been some complaints from residents, mainly regarding the lack of car parking space on the development. From what I recall, when the estate first opened there was an a space allocated for one car per household. It would appear that in the intervening years a number of the residents have changed. Houses and apartments been sold and resold and the current makeup of the residents of the Erith Park Estate. is somewhat different to what it was initially. I'm aware that some residents have been complaining about the lack of parking spaces. Unfortunately, the change in general demographic on the estate has not been reflected by the rules enforced by orbit housing association, who own the site. In local papers, including the News Shopper a series of complaints of lack of parking and for residents having to walk considerable distance to somewhere where they can park their vehicle have been voiced, I feel that this must be rather difficult for people with mobility issues and their carers. The original stipulation when Erith Park opened was that each property would have access to one single parking space. In the intervening years many of the residents have changed and a number of them have multiple vehicles. This has had the effect of reducing the available space for vehicle parking for all. I am aware that some efforts are being made to reutilize some space on the site to form extra parking bays, but how effective this will be is currently unknown. I think the bottom line is that when the Erith Park development was first opened, it was not anticipated that so many residents would have personal vehicles. From my understanding, Orbit Group intended for many of the residents to use public transport and bicycles rather than motor vehicles. What do you think? Email me at the usual address - hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Following my article on Kate Bush last week, Several other local stories came to light:- My late dad was friends with a guy called Bob, who had twin daughters who were in Kate's class at St. Joseph's Convent in Woolwich Road, which is now luxury flats. I recall as a child being told by the two girls that the song  The Man with the Child in his Eyes was about their English teacher. Another story involved a local resident who was about 10 years old when he attended a fireworks display in the field behind Bush farm. He was leaning against a fence when a young woman came out and started chatting to him. He vaguely recognised her. She then shared her mug hot chocolate with him. Eventually he realised it was Kate who was staying with her parents at that point. I have seen her in Welling on a couple of occasions, she was driving a black Jaguar X-Type estate with her son Bertie in the back- this was about 14 years ago. Nowadays she does not live locally, although for quite a while she lived in a house adjacent to Eltham Palace. After she moved out, the subsequent owners fitted large ornate gates to the front of the property with the name "Heathcliff" - I guess that they wanted to emphasise the link with Kate, although many locals thought this was rather tasteless and tacky. Kate had absolutely nothing to do with it. At one stage in the mid 1980's a friend of mine was her gardener, the two dogs (Bonnie and Clyde) on the cover of The Hounds of Love were actually hers - my mate complained about having to clear up their mess! 

The end video this week features some of the recent TV news coverage in respect of the giant sink hole that has appeared in Bexleyheath. Comments to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.