Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Veterans' Club.

Last Wednesday evening I was invited to present a short talk about the Maggot Sandwich to members of Erith Town Forum. I have never attended one of their meetings before, and I went along with some trepidation. I need not have concerned myself; they were an extremely friendly and welcoming bunch of people. The Forum is open to the general public, and quite a few interested local residents turn up. The whole purpose of the Forum is to provide the voice of local Erith residents in regard of decisions and actions carried out by Bexley Council. Several local councillors attend, and it is possible for the public to address them directly regarding matters that affect them. The Forum also supplies volunteer workers who plant flowers and bushes in Erith Riverside Gardens, and also water the flower beds during periods of hot and sunny weather. I gather that they will be making an announcement fairly shortly regarding a new annual event, which should be a crowd pleaser. The Forum meet in Erith Veterans’ Club, which is located in Park Crescent, which is in the “posh” part of Erith, to the West of Queen's Road, nearby Erith Leisure Centre. The hall is really lovely; it has only recently been refurbished, and still smells of fresh paint. The hall is relatively new, having been built in 1956, but it feels quite a bit older, almost pre – war in a way. Others have described the building as having a “homely” feel,  and I would agree with this. It is immaculately kept, very tidy and has a sizeable open plan kitchen. It is surrounded by well kept gardens, and really feels like a place worth visiting. Various clubs and societies use the Veterans’ Club as a base for their operations, and I can easily see the attraction. Well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity. One comment which really summed up the place was “it does not feel like the Veterans’ Club is in Erith”. Click on the photo above for a larger view of the entrance to the building. It is a very nice place to visit.

The local press has been full of stories concerning Greenwich, and the number of big budget Hollywood movies that use the town – and specifically the Old Royal Naval College as a location. The latest movie to film there is Thor 2, the latest super hero film from the Marvel studios. Previous movies shot in the Old Naval College include the awful Pirates of the Caribbean 4, parts of Skyfall, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sherlock Holmes and parts of Les Miserables. All of this got me thinking. What about Erith? What parts of town could feature in a big budget movie, and why? We have the River, the Marshes, the soon to be built Erith Park housing development, and the Riverside Gardens; nearby we also have Franks Park. What kind of movies could be shot locally? 

I was standing at a bus stop in Erith last Saturday morning, minding my own business. An elderly couple were ahead of me in the queue. The 99 bus trundled up, when suddenly a middle aged bloke ran up, elbowed the elderly woman out of the way, and jumped on the bus. I was outraged; I shouted at the man, saying “Have you never heard of queuing? Did your Mother not teach you manners?” and suchlike – he just gave me a very nervous smile and carried on. When I joined the elderly couple on the bus, the driver commented on my intervention, saying that he wished that more passengers stood up to rudeness and anti social behaviour. It has been quite a long time since I last had to intervene in such a manner; nowadays I don’t use buses as extensively as I used to, back in the time where I  was Dad visiting daily. I recall on one occasion physically hauling a Chinese pirate DVD seller off the bus after he elbowed me in the side in order to jump the queue to beard the 380 single decker in Woolwich. There is absolutely no call for behaviour of this kind.  If more people stood up to queue jumping, then perhaps it would not happen so frequently.

The Bexley Times do have a rather strange idea of local geography; they have been reporting that the new Tesco distribution centre in Church Manor Way. The Bexley Times say that the distribution centre is in Erith – but according to my research, it is actually on the old industrial estate located between Abbey Wood and Plumstead, just around the back of the Crossrail development. I, along with many people have strong reservations about Tesco, and their domination of the UK retail market; I also don’t like the way they “land bank” development sites – purchasing land for redevelopment, then sitting on it for years on end to prevent rivals opening rival stores in the area – they were guilty of carrying out this behaviour in Dartford, and only the belated intervention of Dartford Borough Council has caused Tesco to actually develop the site on Spital Street. The trouble with land banking is that the development that Tesco propose, then sit on, involves a large element of social housing (in order to get it past the Council planners). The ongoing delays mean that local people go without accommodation for extended periods of time. Countering all of this, I cannot help but congratulate Tesco on building the distribution centre locally, and employing a total of 650 people, including 84 people who were previously long term unemployed. Obviously they have built the centre for hard nosed business reasons – it is located in an area of South East London that has historically been under represented by the supermarket chain, and the location of the centre on a previously very run down (and cheap) industrial estate with excellent road and rail links to both Kent and London cannot be a coincidence. I find it somewhat ironic that Tesco have a department specifically to deal with complaints from people and groups objecting to them building new stores, whereas Waitrose have a team dedicated to people contacting them asking them to build a store in their area. It just goes to show how wildly different their images and reputations are. It is just a pity that the Dartford branch of Waitrose is likely to close next year - it has never been very well used; I understand that it has been running at a loss for quite some time. I suppose it is possible that the John Lewis store at Bluewater may be given an extended food area, or that a dedicated Waitrose may end up being constructed on the forthcoming Bluewater extension. Time will tell. 
One of my very reliable local contacts forwarded me an announcement on Wednesday, before the story was later reported by the News Shopper on Thursday this week. The story has gone some way to restoring some of my lost faith in the Environmental Health team of Bexley Council.  Kebab Express in Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath See the photo above - click for a larger view), was served with a compulsory closure order on the 17th September; the full announcement (some of which did not feature in the News Shopper) reads thus:- "The London Borough of Bexley was granted a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order on 17 September, following the closure of Kebab Express, 194 Bexley Road, Erith. Environmental Health Officers had visited the premises the previous week and found numerous breaches of food safety requirements. In accordance with national guidance, the business was given the opportunity to carry out urgent works to improve conditions at the premises overnight. However, when officers returned the following day, they found that although some works had been carried out, the continuing food safety contraventions, including poor cleaning and working practices, continued to present an imminent risk to health. Despite exhaustive efforts with the shop, a voluntary closure agreement could not be reached and so there was no alternative but to serve a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice, closing the premises with immediate effect. Cllr Gareth Bacon, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Public Realm said: “While we appreciate the many and varied pressures that food business operators continue to face, they need to ensure that their businesses are operating hygienically at all times and that the food they are selling is safe to eat. "Thankfully such an extreme measure as this is rare in Bexley, but where we identify significant risks we will take the necessary steps to ensure public safety." Council officers continued working constructively with the business to bring it up to a safe standard. The shop remained closed for six days before it was allowed to re-open on 23 September. The London Borough of Bexley encourages businesses to display their food hygiene rating certificate or sticker. If the one you are planning to visit does not have one on display, please ask them why.” The trouble until now has been that the Environmental Health team have been reluctant to issue Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Orders, even to shops that rated a zero star out of five on the “Scores on the Doors” website. As I have extensively written in the past, the London Borough of Bexley has a larger percentage of zero and one star rated establishments than any other local authority in the UK. It would seem that up until now, the Environmental Health team have been using a “Softly Softly” approach, which does not appear to have been particularly successful. Hopefully this enforcement order will send out a message to other owners of dirty and unsanitary food outlets to clean up their acts (and their kitchens).  I have checked the latest results on the “Scores on the Doors” website, and there are NINE food outlets in Erith that get a score of zero out of five possible stars. I have only counted places that are in Erith itself – not Northumberland Heath, Lower Belvedere or Bexleyheath, for example. I have decided that they should be named and shamed. The list includes:- Aglory (Erith High Street), China Red (Alford Road), Creative Kids Childcare (West Street), Foods 4 U (the Manford Industrial Estate), Jojan Co Store (Pier Road), Lucky Inn (West Street), Pizza, Chicken and Kebab Express (West Street), Prestige Catering (Fraser Road) and finally Zion Tropical Food (Pier Road).  Bearing in mind that the official advice is never to eat anything produced by a food outlet with a score of less than three out of five stars, and the rest of Eriths’ food outlets mostly have one or two hygiene stars, it really does not paint a pretty picture. One thing is abundantly clear. Steer away from any food sold in West Street – not only does it have a high proportion of zero star rated shops, but the others in the street are all less than three star rated. West Street is the worst street in the worst town in the worst borough in the country. When I last checked a couple of months ago, none of the food outlets in West Street had their hygiene rating sticker on display. I wonder why? Probably as they did not want to scare potential customers away. This is the whole reason why the labelling system needs to be compulsory, and run like a car tax disk – no ticket, no shop opening. As I have said before, if a licencing charge was made, the whole system could be self financing.  Since at present showing your rating sticker is optional, anywhere that comes out poorly will of course not show the rating. Ironically a few local  places that get exceptionally good ratings, like the superb Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath are quite diffident about displaying their five out of five star hygiene rating. Rather than shouting it from the roof tops, they have the sticker discreetly attached to the base of their pub sign. One could say that they are confident in their high standards of food preparation, and their regular patrons know how great the place is. There is always the chance of passing trade, despite the fact the multi CAMRA award winning pub is located in a very sleepy side street.
It has been a while since I featured the area’s own interactive web based weather station. It is a local resource I check on a daily basis, to find out what the weather is doing, rather than what the BBC or the London Weather Centre thinks it is doing. The excellent site, which reports wind strength and direction, temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, humidity and a number of other fields. The site is run by local resident and fellow Radio Amateur Bob Hewitt, and can be seen here. I really recommend you bookmark his site, as it is a valuable way of finding out what the weather is really doing.
Work on the new Bexley College campus is now proceeding well; at present the reinforced concrete frame of the building is being constructed, aided by the giant tower crane that I photographed a while ago. It would seem that the crane has caused problems for a group of local residents who live at the Eastern end of West Street (yes, I know!) and in Tramway House, Wharf House and Tranquil rise. Apparently the crane and the new college concrete structure block line of sight with Sky satellite dishes, and residents of these areas have been unable to view Sky since the construction got above ground level. I understand that some kind of arrangement is being made by the contractor for those affected to be given Virgin cable installations instead, as the problem is not going to go away – the crane will come down in time, but the new college building will still block line of site satellite access for those residents very close to the new building. As many are aware, the new college campus is being built on the site of the original Walnut Tree Road Tram Depot. Erith was heavily dependent on trams for local transport for many years. The main line between Erith and Abbey Wood was heavily used; Walnut Tree Road was constructed to allow trams to go from West Street up towards Northumberland Heath; a branch line went from Pier Road all the way up to North End. Strangely trams never ran from Erith to Upper Belvedere, as the residents of Upper Belvedere were strongly opposed to the idea. I would hazard a guess that as a good number of wealthy and influential people (including some of the owners of the factories in Lower Belvedere)  lived in the big houses at the top of Picardy Road and in Eardley Road, they probably did not want the great unwashed flocking onto their doorsteps from working class Erith. There were also technical issues with the proposed route up Picardy Road, which for the most part is a one in ten, or steeper hill. A conventional tram would have difficulty in climbing such a steep incline.  The coming of the trams meant that the small power station in Walnut Tree Road needed to be doubled in size (it was located where the old Erith Swimming Baths once stood, and is currently a patch of grass).  The tram shed was built on the opposite side of the road, on the new college campus site. The existing level crossing over the railway at Lower Road was replaced with a bridge (locally still know as “the new bridge”) and a set of gates were constructed adjacent to the Ballast Wharf Siding in West Street, which is now called Chichester Wharf. Another tram siding at the bottom of Walnut Tree Road was protected by what was the longest level crossing gate in Britain. The rails, which weighed a total of 1,480 tons, were laid into a bed of six inches  of concrete, lined with granite blocks, except outside of churches, schools and Erith Cottage Hospital, where quieter wood blocks were laid instead. When the tram service began on the 26th August 1905, there were a total of fourteen double decker trams servicing the Abbey Wood – Erith – Northumberland Heath line. Of these, only half had covered upper decks, which could not have been much fun if you were stuck on an open upper deck in the middle of winter. The trams were pretty impressive and grand looking, with maple lined interiors and gold coloured curtains. The original exterior paint livery was regarded as being initially a bit showy and garish – bright green and canary yellow. This was soon replaced with brown and cream, which was regarded as a more sober look. Financially Erith Tramway was not a great success. The only period where the tram company made any substantial profits was during the First World War. At that time the area had a great influx of workers to the munitions factories at the Vickers and Maxim gun works; after that time, the service began a slow decline. To make the complete journey from Abbey Wood to Northumberland Heath cost 3d. The drivers wage, for a minimum sixty hour week was 6d an hour. By 1933 Erith Tramway had 4.1 miles of track and a total of twenty tram cars. At this point, the service was losing money, and the London Passenger Transport Board converted all local tram routes to the newer trolley bus technology. The last tram ran through Erith on the 9th of November 1935, thought the depot on the new college site was retained until 1965. When the whole of Manor Road was resurfaced four years ago, the contractors uncovered buried rails running the full length of the road; no record of a tram or trolley bus service running along the road is available. I wonder if any reader knows what the rails were there for? When the road was rebuilt, the rails were covered over until next time the road needs repairing, which really could be very soon, as it is falling apart yet again.
I realise that it is more than quite a while since I published a photo of the Maggot Sandwich production office in Pewty Acres, so here you are - a shot of my home office which I took in Friday afternoon, whilst working from home. This is where each weekly episode of the blog is nailed together for publication each Sunday afternoon. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The ending video this week is something gleaned from the National Geographic Channel; it is a full length, hour and a half dramatised documentary that explores what might possibly happen if it was discovered that life on Earth only had seventy five more years before the planet was destroyed by a Neutron Star. It shows the effort to evacuate as many of the population as possible on a "generation ship" to a nearby star system which houses a potential "Earth 2" planet. It being a National Geographic Channel production, the science fiction elements of the programme are tempered by a lot of hard science and input from a very distinguished group of scientists and researchers. It is very much worth a watch. Let me know what you think.


  1. Our local kebab shop displays an outdated scores on the doors sign from when it had a higher rating.

  2. The tesco site is on the Church Manorway in Erith. Their is a Church Manorway in Abbey Wood leading to Plumstead but it is a narrow road with housing, and no space for any warehouses.

    Agree about tesco & land banking. Many developers do it - it's one of the ways big housing companies can restrict supply to keep prices up. I was reading that building Greenwich Millenium Village will take 33 years. It started in 1999 and will finish in 2032. It's not even that big a site! Houses are built and sold at a very slow rate, all the while demand for housing and prices for buy/rent go up and up.

  3. I've already done a film in Erith. I've done a whole series called , "Kidnapped Sister's" that is a 5 part movie on YouTube. Also in many other videos I've featured Erith in.
    Pt.2 of Episode 5 (THE FINAL) :