Sunday, June 10, 2012

Icy June.

I think the most memorable thing about the jubilee celebrations for me was the atrocious weather; not only was the Erith Riverside Festival an unfortunate wash out, but any plans for watching the ships returning from the flotilla in central London were also quashed. I was making my down to Erith Pier; as soon as I started walking along Appold street in the direction of the River walk, I was beset by a huge gust of icy wind. Bearing in mind I was wearing a winter grade heavy duty fleece top (in June) I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and I retreated home. A couple of minutes later a deluge of rain began, which lasted for more than an hour. I think I got away lightly under the circumstances. I pity those who went into London for the various events; it looked to be more of an ordeal to be endured, rather than something to be enjoyed. The photo above of the entrance to Erith Riverside Shopping Centre was taken before the weather took such a nasty turn for the worse.

I have been approached to ask if I would be interested in becoming a marshal for the forthcoming Olympic torch run through Erith. Thus far I have not responded, as to be honest I would find it hard to give a civil answer. I detest the Olympics and the whole money pit economy that it engenders;  the torch ceremony is, as I have previously written, a creation of Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels for the 1936 Berlin games, not some ancient tradition as many people assume. The Olympic flame represents the spirit of Nazi ideals, surely one of the most reprehensible and hateful philosophies ever devised. I refuse to encourage or assist in any endeavour that encourages inequality and discrimination in any form - even if pretty much everyone nowadays has no clue as to the origin of the fabricated "tradition" that is little more than seventy years old.

The supermarkets have also taken quite a hit in the last week or so; I noticed that both Morrison’s and Waitrose in particular had huge street party / back garden Barbecue in – store features; I think they were hoping for good weather over the jubilee period, and that they would shift huge amounts of burgers, sausages and all round party food. I know that Morrison’s in Erith was working extra hard to produce bread burger baps, most of which have now unfortunately gone unsold and subsequently to waste. The terrible weather has financial as well as social implications, though it may well have finally put paid to any further hose pipe bans.

Have you seen the current television advert for Carlsberg lager? It features a lot of famous faces, and must have cost a mint in appearance fees. The commercial features a mythical England fan academy for the forthcoming European Championship football tournament 2012. Not being a follower of football (or any sport, for that matter) many of the in-jokes and guest appearances go straight over my head. What does grate with me is that they associate Carlsberg with England; Until very recently, the advertising agency used to make quite a point of the Danish origin of the lager, nowadays they infer that it is an English (note – not British) product, which is entirely misleading. I somehow doubt that many of the people who guzzle the fizzy and tasteless muck really would care either way, but it does beg the question, does the Advertising Standards Agency need to get involved – after all, the advert intentionally misleads the viewer.

I am pretty certain that the editor at the News Shopper has changed the person responsible for the Pub Spy column. For a period late last year, and the early part of this year, the reviews were cruel, spiteful and quite often poorly written; recently this appears to have changed for the better. The new under cover reporter is far more even handed, and I suspect that the person is quite possibly female. Whatever way, the column is now slowly rebuilding its’ somewhat tarnished reputation, and not before time in my opinion. The News Shopper really do need to enable comment moderation on their website – inevitably any story with any level of contentiousness will get three or four fairly well reasoned comments, before suddenly the debate will deteriorate into a slanging match with personal insults flying left and right. There does not appear to be anyone from the News Shopper monitoring or moderating what is posted; I think this could potentially lead them into hot water if a discussion thread gets out of hand, as they seemingly do on a regular basis. You can see a prime example of the kind of behaviour by clicking here.

Over the last few weeks I have had a couple of people comment that I have not featured anything about the history of Erith for a while; well, I am now going to correct that oversight. Did you know that Erith was once one of the centres of English cricketing excellence? What is now the Europa Industrial Estate was once a cricket pitch and recreation ground? On Saturday 20th September 1884 a local team of sixteen played an eleven raised By a Mr. H.H Hyslop - a local businessman, from the Australian touring side of that year. Hyslop's Australian team won. A similar match took place between another scratch Australian team again put together by Mr. Hyslop on the 3rd May 1890. The Erith local team was composed of eighteen local men, pitted against a visitors team which included nine members of the Australian test side. This match resulted in a draw. Hopes for a rematch were dashed when the cricket ground was sold and a heavy engineering factory built on the site. Nevertheless, local historians refer to the matches as "when Erith took on the Australians". As many of you know, I am not a sports fan, but it is fascinating to discover, as I have done during my research for this weeks' entry, that Erith and the surrounding have been pivotal in the development of several now major sports. Football had much of its' origins in Erith in the early 1880's. Prior to 1885-1886, only Rugby Union was played in Erith - there were three clubs in the area; Star Rovers RFC played on Lessness Heath, near the Eardley Arms pub. Erith Raven RFC played on the recreation ground adjacent to the aforementioned cricket ground, and lastly, Erith Anglo - Normans RFC played on Faulkner's Meadow. This club had to be disbanded when the meadow was purchased, and the Nordenfeldt gun works was built on the site; no suitable alternative playing ground could be found for the club and it was wound up. In April 1885 Association Football was introduced to Erith by a gentleman called Bernard Beard, who came to Easton and Anderson's engineering works as manager of the boiler shop. A club was formed, called Erith F.C which played on an area then called Hartley's Meadow - which was located on the banks of the River Thames, just of what is now Lower Road. As a result of a personal dispute between club members,  a rival club was established called Erith Avenue F.C. At first, as they had no ground, they were forced to play all of their games away, but they later were successful in securing a ground in what is now Avenue Road. Meanwhile, Erith F.C relocated from Hartley's Meadow to Lower Belvedere. Several members of the team subsequently played for Woolwich Arsenal F.C, what was later to become the current Premier League Arsenal club. The present Erith and Belvedere club was founded in 1922 and had its' ground adjacent to Belvedere railway station for many years, until arsonists destroyed their main clubhouse and Park View stand in 1997. The club soldiered on for two years, using portakabins on the site, until they entered into a ground sharing arrangement with Welling United in 1999, which is still in place to this day.

The Co-Operative Society also has strong roots in the Erith area. A co-operative shop was opened in Erith in 1868 by Sir William Anderson of Easton and Anderson engineering. The shop unfortunately soon failed, as it refused to give credit, and was patronised mainly by the emerging middle classes, for whom it was not intended.  1868 also saw a much more successful launch of the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society at Woolwich. By 1881 they had extended the delivery of bread and groceries into Erith. On the 30th March 1882, a co-op branch store, costing £1,225 was opened on the corner of Manor Road and what is now James Watt Way. A reading room was provided on the first floor by the society's education committee, and supplied newspapers and periodicals for public use. In 1887 this was extended to form a purpose built district library, with a budget of a whole £30 to purchase books. Over the years the trade increased with the surge in growth of the local population, to the point came where the building was not large enough, and new premises were constructed in 1893. It was not very long until this co-operative library fell into disuse, when the Andrew Carnegie sponsored public library in Walnut Tree Road opened in 1906. Records show that the co-operative library had some strange rules in respect of their employees. The first manager of the Manor Road (see the photo above) based library was a Mr. James Hall, who had left school at the age of eleven. He was soon promoted to General Manager on the condition that he got married within three months of the appointment! He eventually got spliced four months after his appointment, but this was deemed to be near enough for his employers. Hall eventually rose to become General Manager of the RACS from 1902 until his retirement in 1918.

On a related matter, the Crossness historic pumping station will be open for the visiting public on Sunday June the 24th. The station is only the second Grade 1 listed industrial building in Greater London - the other is Tower Bridge. The restoration of the historic and beautiful building is partly funded by the admission fee paid by visitors, but also by the use of the interior of the building as a movie set. If you have seen the first Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes film, the masonic temple where Lord Blackwood is about to sacrifice a maiden is actually the main pump room at Crossness. The building has also been used in the original Alien movie, the first Tim Burton directed Batman film, and a number of television programmes.

The BBC are about to make a new television series called "The Great British Story" on BBC 2. It is described thus: - Rulers and royals, lords and ladies have all had their say down the centuries, but what were the last 1,600 years like for everyday Britons? Now it's your chance to get involved! Come along to a local history event at historic Hall Place and Gardens, discover more about Bexley's fascinating history and learn how to delve into your own past. Find out more about family history, archaeology, oral history, artefacts and and local history. The event, which is tickets only will be taking place on Saturday the 23rd June between 10am and 4pm at Hall Place. You can find out more and apply for the free tickets on the BBC Events website here.

Confirming my geeky image, I have played Dungeons and Dragons since being introduced to the role playing game whilst at school. I used to play in a weekly group, every Thursday night for quite a few years, though this ended when the various members moved on. Nowadays I have fond memories of the time, but no group in which to play. As I have mentioned in the past, I am not a keen computer gamer; I lack the skills or time to get very far in anything more arduous than Angry Birds. The only game that has really grabbed my attention was the Dungeons and Dragons approved computer game called Baldur’s Gate – it accurately followed the game format and rules, and whilst not as fulfilling as playing with a group of friends, it was much better than most fantasy based computer games. Baldur’s Gate was released for the Windows platform only back in 1998, and has been unavailable for many years. I found out earlier this week that a team of developers including the group who wrote the original game are working on a new, improved version to make use of modern processors and much improved graphics capabilities. It will also be available for other platforms such as OS X and Android. I eagerly look forward to its’ release some time later in the summer.

Something those of you with a technical slant may find interesting; GCHQ and Bletchley Park will be joining forces and inviting the public to take part in a unique recreation of the wartime codebreaking process at this year’s Times Cheltenham Science Festival from 12 to 17 June. These activities will form part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing. For the first time, members of the public will be invited to encrypt a message on one genuine Enigma machine, loaned for the period by GCHQ, the message will then be decrypted by a replica Bombe machine at Bletchley Park; the results will be published on Twitter.

And now for some fun; a number of companies in the UK are creating replica video games machines using a modern Windows or Linux PC running MAME - a very accurate arcade game machine emulator, and the original game ROM's - most of which are either out of copyright, or have been made freeware, inside a custom made replica cabinet  The end result is an arcade game machine that is virtually indistinguishable from the original, excepting that you don't have to shell out coins to play the games, and rather than having one game per dedicated machine, they play a multitude of different ones. The video below shows a fairly typical "cocktail cabinet" games machine. It plays 60 different arcade games (more can easily be added) and can be used as a table when not in its' intended use. It retails for £895 - I would have one like a shot, if only I had somewhere to put it - which most unfortunately I don't. I can but wish. Do feel free to leave a comment below. I have moderation enabled, as I am currently being targetted by a huge number of spammers.


  1. Loved the link to the NewsShopper. Who needs Big Brother or Jeremy Kyle with entertainment like that?

    I always thought that the V in the acronym stood for vacuous, not violent!

  2. Two things of interest to me in this post - Sir William Anderson and the old RACS store. To take Sir William first, it appears that he improved and marketed a design of an hydraulic pump in partnership with its original inventor - a John Appold. Hence, I assume, Appold Street.

    Secondly, the old Co-op always had memories for me. I was allowed to make my own way there at the age of five (something that could not happen now) to get my weekly NHS free gift courtesy of Clem Attlee and Nye Bevan of a bottle of Cod Liver Oil and a square bottle of fresh, organic, orange juice. In an act of collusion, the cod liver oil bottle always seemed to be spilt over the fence to the railway line, a story always accepted by my mum. It was an old and fusty shop even in the 50's and it never got the rebuild and modernisation gifted to other RACS shops like the one in Bexleyheath. One final memory was the monthly cashing of the 'divi' in the shape of little tin and plastic tokens for either real cash in a little old office - wonder if any of these old tokens still survive in some co-op museum somewhere ?

  3. Hugh, can you email me. I'm interested in what you have written about the early history of Erith F.C.

    Andy Kelly