Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Christmas Tree Festival.

I took the photos above on Friday afternoon, not long after the annual Christ Church Erith Christmas Tree Festival opened for 2013. The event raises money for local charities, and is a very worthwhile undertaking. Local organisations and families donate a tree which they then decorate. A large number of people visit to look at the festive sight, and donate money which goes to good causes. I have not covered the event before, and I was pleasantly surprised not only by the number and ornateness of the trees, but by the number of visitors who had already turned up only a few minutes after the church opened its' doors.

The concourse of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is often used by sales people to try and push various products. The once ever present gold buying stall has now disappeared; this is probably due to the recent fall in gold prices, and a real drop in the whole scrap gold market. The chap selling mobile phone accessories seems to carry on, though I am unsure as to how much business he actually does; I must admit that I would not want to be standing all day in the chilly and draughty thoroughfare to flog a few phone cases and the like. It must be very boring for much of the time.  For me, the real pains are the “professional” sales teams that descend on the shopping centre from time to time. They are usually selling gas or electricity, but when I encountered a team recently, they were trying to get passers by to change their internet and phone service provider. Normally I am pretty adept at ignoring or avoiding these irritating people, but on this occasion is was stopped in my tracks by a young chap in a tight fitting and rather too shiny suit. He asked me “How much do you pay for your internet access?” To which I replied “It is none of your business”. Before I got the chance to walk on, he rapidly changed approach and then asked “I guarantee we can give you a better mobile phone deal than you currently have!” I responded with “I guarantee that you can’t”. He then went into a spiel about the great rates that they were offering, and the number of texts they were throwing in for free; once he’d done this he said “What does your deal offer then?” When I told him I didn’t have a deal as I didn’t have a mobile phone he was initially dismissive and thought I was just trying to pull the wool over his eyes, but when I confirmed I really did not have one, he was astonished – “How do you keep in touch then?”  “I don’t”. He was totally perplexed and at a loss for words. Oh well; each to their own I suppose. I was probably the first person to counter his sales pitch in that way for a long time. I saw him again a couple of days later; fortunately he seemed to recall our original encounter and did not trouble me again.

The photo above shows a rather unusual , if not unique model of bus that was seen for a brief few years in the late 1960’s and very early 1970’s in the local area. It was used to ferry cyclists through the Dartford Tunnel; cycling through the tunnel has always been prohibited, but in the early days of the then new river crossing, the tunnel operators made provision for people using bicycles. They had some standard Ford Thames Trader model double decker buses modified by coach builder Strachans so that the lower deck was converted into bike racks with the capacity to carry 23 push bikes. The upper deck was conventionally laid out with 33 seats for passengers, although the staircase had to be substantially steeper than on a standard bus.  The Dartford Tunnel buses operated out of the Dartford Bus Garage, but the service was stopped in the early 1970’s, as few cyclists availed  themselves of the service, and it was deemed to be uneconomic. The buses were judged to be too costly to reconvert for conventional use and appear to have been scrapped, though one derelict model was photographed in the yard of the Ensign Bus Company in Dagenham back in July 1993. No further information on these unique and striking looking  machines is currently available. More on the Dartford River Crossing later.

After writing at some length over the last few blog updates about the history of public transport in and around Erith, with a focus on the pre – war tram system, I have been contacted by a chap who has just joined the newly formed East Kent Trolley Bus Group. Dana Whiffen writes: “ For some time now The East Kent Railway have been looking to purchase a bus to add as an additional attraction, there are not many for sale and as most that are have had extensive renovation they normally want quite a bit of money for them. Both Jeff White and John Kemp found that Cardiff and South Wales Preservation Group had a Bradford 704 trolleybus which was surplus to requirements and which they were thinking of scrapping if they could not sell it. So both Jeff, John and Alan and Josh Mears travelled to inspect the vehicle in May 2013, all 4 were made welcome by the group and although they had spent well over £1,000 on it they offered to sell it to them for a nominal £1. This was agreed and The East Kent Trolleybus Group was formed. The Bradford 704 dates from 1946 and it ran until 1972. The Group have now moved it to alongside the Colonels Cafe at The East Kent Railway and have started work on restoring the trolley bus to its former glory. The Group are now looking for membership in order to fund the continued work in the future. Applications to join can be obtained from Mr Jeff White at;- or by visiting the Railway Cafe at  Station Road, Shepherdswell, DOVER CT15 7PD. There is no doubt that this bus is a welcome addition to the Railways many attractions, I look forward to seeing it in 2014. Thanks Dana - much appreciated. I know that a substantial number of Maggot Sandwich readers are transport enthusiasts; in fact this weeks' update has quite a lot of transport related content - which just for once I did not plan in advance, it just ended up happening that way. There will be more from Dana next week. 

A very many "thank yous" need to go out this week to all of you who responded to the question I posed last week; as you may recall, one long time reader Emailed me with the observation that in his opinion the blog had a name that did not reflect on its’ contents – that I should rename the Maggot Sandwich to make it both more representative and less seemingly frivolous. I asked you the readers what you thought – as I genuinely did not know what you would think. I have been astounded by the responses. They have been unanimous in wanting me to keep the name; One person commented “I vote to keep the blog name as it is. I think it was the unusual, quirky name that prompted me to first visit your blog and it is certainly memorable. In any case, whatever you call it I enjoy the blog, so keep up the good work! “ This has been pretty representative of all the responses received – so Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich will continue! Thanks to everybody who took the time to respond.

On Wednesday night TV channel E4 showed the final ever episode of sci – fi comedy drama “Misfits”. The show, about a group of young offenders who are sentenced to community service, and mysteriously gain extraordinary super powers has run for 37 episodes over five series. It has a strong cult following and several websites dedicated to the show. “Misfits” was filmed on location, mainly in the Tavy Bridge and Southmere Lake areas of Thamesmead. The Misfits base is actually the old Southmere Community Centre. I suspect that the real reason for the cancellation of the show is that these locations are all being demolished and redeveloped, and the producers were unable to find a suitable set of alternative locations. The look of the show was very much influenced by “A Clockwork Orange” – which was also filmed in Thamesmead, albeit when it was a brand new development. Indeed, there is some thought that Misfits is set in the same dystopian fictional universe. I recall that during the filming of series two of the programme, the director wanted to get some shots of the lead actors looking over South East London from a height. The location manager identified the roof of the main tower block of the old Bexley College in Tower Road as being an ideal place. It was all arranged, and filming subsequently got under way. The only problem was, nobody had thought to tell the local residents, or indeed the Police. The sight of a group of figures milling around on the roof of the high rise building caused several people to dial 999; consequently a unit of the Mets’ finest rushed to the scene (I gather it was a copper on a pushbike, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it). Cue much embarrassment all round and a slap on the wrist for the producer. Several of my local contacts have sent photos of the filming of Misfits over the last few years. I was not a follower of the show, but it was nice to see part of the local area getting some television exposure – we don’t normally see North Kent or much of South East London on the TV.

There has been much coverage of the recent launch of both the new Xbox One and Playstation 4 games consoles; indeed, both machines have shipped over a million units each already. As I have previously written, both units are excellent, but there is a third option not too far away. Valve Software are launching a rival console called the Steam Machine. It will use a modified version of Ubuntu Linux called Steam OS and will be based on commonly available PC hardware, rather than a custom architecture. There will be several models of Steam Machines with different levels of performance and price; the hardware and software is in beta testing at present – around three hundred volunteer gamers in America are currently testing the devices. It is anticipated that the consoles will go on sale in the Autumn of next year. It is anticipated that many games currently published on the Steam gaming platform may become Steam Machine only once the consoles are launched, though Valve Software are remaining tight lipped on the subject at present. I would guess that most computer gamers will buy an Xbox or PS4 anyway, and possibly buy a Steam Machine as an additional console when they are launched – I don’t see many people waiting the best part of a year to see what the console is like – they will buy one of the mainstream models, and maybe supplement this later with a Steam Machine. I think the retail price will dictate many people’s decisions.

The new Thames crossing downriver from the Dartford Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and tunnel is still undecided. This is not to be confused with the proposed new crossing at Gallion’s View in Thamesmead to replace the Woolwich Ferry – the downriver one is designed to ease the traffic pressure on the Dartford Tunnel. There are three proposals currently on the table. The first of these is to build a new bridge right next to the existing Queen Elizabeth II Bridge – this is called Option A. The second, unsurprisingly known as Option B was to connect the A2 near Swanscombe with the A1089 Road by Tilbury Docks has already been canned – it was thought that a road and bridge in this location could seriously affect the forthcoming Paramount theme park that is to be built in the area; anything that could negatively affect an estimated 27,000 new jobs would not be permitted – the Paramount park will benefit much of South East London and much of Kent, so the development is of regional importance. Option C, which would connect the M2 with the A13 and M25 at Tilbury Fort is the current favourite option, though it would appear that things are a fair way from a final decision. Either way, in the next few years, the Thames will become less of a barrier to traffic moving North and South.

It is not very long now until the annual exhibition held by Erith Model Railway Society. This year it is going to be held at Bexley Business Academy in Yarnton Way, Thamesmead on the 25th and 26th of January from 10am to 4pm. The society will have thirty model train layouts on display, as well as around eighty stands, including traders, model railway demonstrations and industry representatives.

The image above shows a postcard from Erith from back in the summer of 1970. Strange that a postcard should exist from a town that had not been a holiday destination since around 1900. The card shows the old Erith swimming baths, which were demolished a few years ago - why such a bad looking concrete monstrosity of a structure would be commemorated on a local postcard escapes me. The second photo is of the old railway crossing at Pembroke Road, which has long been replaced with a footbridge. I dimly recall the crossing as a small child, though I cannot recall the crossing operators' house - that must have been a very noisy place to live! The third photo is probably the most recognisable today - it shows Erith High Street looking East. The Police station (now converted into fairly shoddy apartments) is still there, as is the Cross Keys pub (the tall building in the centre of the photo, now being restored and converted into office space for the Aleff Group - an international management consultancy). To the right of the Cross Keys are a couple of buildings which are now gone and replaced with the Erith Playhouse Theatre. To the far right is the White Hart pub, which was defaced by having its' Victorian frontage ripped out and replaced with hideous plate glass, even though the building is both in a conservation area, and Grade II listed. This was done by the crooks who ran the Potion bar - a short lived emporium which sold tasteless, gassy lager and class A recreational pharmaceuticals; fortunately it is now permanently closed down, this sadly means the building is currently empty. The final photo in the bottom right corner of the postcard shows Erith Pier as it was when it was a working entity as part of the deep water wharf. The giant cranes are now long gone, the wharf is now rebuilt as a large Morrison's supermarket, and the pier is a very pleasant place to walk when the weather is nice (or if you are an angler, it is a good place to fish, year round, day or night).

Every so often I invite someone to be a guest writer on the Maggot Sandwich, and this week is one of those times. I have been in Email contact with Alan Magin for a few weeks; he's a retired fire fighter who has lived and worked in Erith for most of his life. Here is his story: "I was born in 1952 at The Hainault Maternity Home, Lesney Park; moving in with my grandparents some ten days after  - just six years after WWll ended. We lived on the Frinsted Road Estate in Birling Road. The estate was a mish-mash of houses. Some were conventional (brick built) others tin and the temporary flat-roofed breeze block ones that still stand today!! It was a friendly, streetwise society where everybody knew one another. Near-neighbours used our garden as a cut-through to Stelling Road shops, and likewise we used the houses/bungalows opposite to get to the shops in Colyers Lane. My mum often had a full dining room on a Saturday morning supplying tea and coffee in exchange for a bit of gossip. 24 years working shifts as a ‘clippie’ (bus conductor) out of Bexleyheath Bus Garage obviously got in the way of what was going on! The sound of natter and the stench of smoke wafting up the stairs tended to make me determined to leave the house a lot quicker for the much anticipated jaunt to Saturday morning pictures. My mates and I would walk down Stuart Mantle Way, across Frinsted Road, onto wasteland, past the allotments, through the ‘rec’, past the bowls club and into The Avenue with The Odeon already in sight. Depending on how much money we’d scrounged from our parents we would alternate weekly between the stalls (6d) and the circle (9d). Another port of call would be to a very good toy shop called Derritt and Dormans. I particularly remember the toys called ‘Swoppit's’ mainly for their intricate design. You were able to take guns from holsters, knives from sheaths, swords from scabbards etc. These toys soon became overlooked when we found out that the shop sold square section rubber in 1/8" and 1/4" thicknesses and sold by the foot. I’m not too sure of its original purpose but it was a necessary component for our first weapon – a catapult. My friends and I would challenge kids from a neighbouring, private estate to showdowns. They seemed just a little bit ‘better off’ than us and they owned air guns! The skirmishes would usually occur in ‘The Orchard’ where a reservoir now stands in Colyers Lane. Sometimes we’d do battle slightly further afield - the sand pits at Birch Walk. These were by far the better battlegrounds. The disused pits were excellent playgrounds. They were useful because the excavated stones were the perfect size for our ‘ammo’. We’d scoop them up by the handful. It all ended in tears as one of my comrades took a .22 slug in the top of the forehead. It slid up under his skin to the top of his cranium! It was pure madness. We were young teens not seeing the potential danger. The sandpit also boasted lots of open water where we would catch smooth and crested newts long before they would become a protected species. On leaving Brook Street Secondary Modern School for Boys in 1968 (after five long years) I secured a job with the G.P.O. Accounts Department on Oxford Street. A lot of people made the decision to work in London at that time. Catching a double-decker train from Barnehurst was novel - with ‘women only’ compartments and 15 shillings (75p) for a weekly ticket! Commuting in the 60’s is still vivid in my mind as the windows on the upper deck didn't open. Each one turned into a proverbial sweat-box during the summer months. During one freakishly hot summer I witnessed people fainting on the trains thus my days relying on British Rail were very short lived. I applied for a job with a large construction company called Holland, Hannan & Cubitt's. They had started to build the concrete jungle elegantly named Thamesmead. Stage 1 from Harrow Manorway to East Bridge was well under way. I was involved in the Civil Engineering side of things. The largest project that I worked on was a culvert that ran alongside the railway line from Abbeywood towards Belvedere, swerving inland to open water. The culvert was supposed to stop the area flooding. I'm not too sure if they were confident that it would work as every residential property on Stage 1 was built above garages on the first floor! Moving on from Thamesmead I was head-hunted for a similar role with Willett's Construction at Greenhithe. The Merchant Navy's officer training ship, The Worcester, (anchored in the Thames opposite Ingress Abbey) was being taken away. A land-based college/accommodation complex was then built or it may have been the other way around? By this time I was thinking of marrying my fiancĂ© and wanted a secure job with regular, steady income as I knew mortgages etc were just around the corner. It was that craving of stability that provided me with the incentive to apply to join the London Fire Brigade and, after the relevant and appropriate training, I secured a job as a Fireman. I was first based at Greenwich, then Lewisham and finally at Erith Fire Station. I served a total of nearly 29 years. 15 of those 29 years were served at Erith which was very special to me as I felt that my skill set was being spent serving my community – a community that had embraced me as a child. It was time to give something back. Erith Fire Station’s ‘ground’(our designated area) stretched from Knee Hill/Harrow Manorway eastwards taking in all of the industrial sites on the Marsh to the bottom of Ray Lamb Way, Brampton Road going South along into Long Lane, Little Heath Road, Belmont Road, right into Brook Street, across into Colyers Lane. Emergency 999 call-outs from residential and industrial ‘clients’ made for a very interesting and varied end to my career - no two days were ever the same! I started at Erith (E27) Fire Station just before the infamous BBC weatherman, Michael Fish’s hurricane faux pas in 1987. I must say that I got a great deal of pleasure from actually driving the fire engines. Having my own seat was a bonus. Can you imagine four beefy firemen trying to rig in their fire gear in the back cab on the way to a fire? It was pandemonium believe me! Added to that, if there were multiple calls to the same fire we knew it wasn't going to be a false alarm so then a couple of guys used to don a breathing apparatus set…all at high speed! Now in my retirement, I look back and do you know what? I wouldn't change one thing! Well, maybe one thing, the fish on the roundabout in Erith! My two sons are a credit to my wife and I. As for that lovely, long-suffering wife I often wonder how she put up with my 29 years of shift work!" Many thanks Alan - a fascinating story, and a real insight into the recent history of the area. If anyone has stories of the social and personal history relating to the local area, and they would like to share them with other Maggot Sandwich readers, please drop me a line to and we can discuss it.

I came across the end video completely by chance, whilst I was looking for something else. "Wholock" is  a very clever mashup video made by someone who is both a massive fan of Doctor Who and Sherlock. They are also a dab hand at advanced video manipulation and CGI. The end result is very creditable indeed, and well worthy of a viewing. What is interesting is that both Sherlock and Doctor Who are made by the same BBC production team, led by Producer Stephen Moffatt and writer Mark Gatiss. What is interesting is that this fan - made video has not been taken down from YouTube; I wonder if the producers have given it their tacit approval? Watch and make up your own mind. Comments below, as always.

No comments:

Post a Comment