I took the photo above a couple of weeks back - click on it for a larger view. It shows the traveller pony which is kept on a piece of waste land that is sandwiched between the back of Erith Morrison's and the riverside path. A pony of one sort or another has been kept on the site for several years now; the RSPCA have visited on a number of occasions, but as long as the animal is kept fed and watered, there is no crime being committed, and nothing much can be done about it. To be honest, the animal gets pretty spoiled by local people; quite often parents or carers with small children will take them to see the pony, which usually ends up with it getting fed carrots or apples. I have a theory that whenever a pony is kept on the land, it ends up getting fatter due to all of the attention it receives. Nevertheless, there is a serious and growing problem with ponies and horses being illegally kept all over the region. A couple of parks and open spaces in Thamesmead have actually had signs erected warning people against bringing ponies onto the land. There is an issue whereby these animals are worth very little in cash terms - it is possible to purchase one for between five and ten pounds. They do cost a lot in feed, accommodation and vets fees, hence why they tend to be "squatted" on areas of waste land.
Some time in the early morning of last Tuesday, the Maggot Sandwich hit a landmark. The site got its four hundred thousandth unique page view - that is 400,000 different people have visited the site on at least one occasion - the repeat views are not recorded. This also does not mean that I have that many regular readers, just that 400,000 people have stumbled across the site, quite possibly when looking for something else. I am aware that any Google search for content or images that contain the word "Erith" will feature a large amount of Maggot Sandwich material. This is because I ensure that I embed relevant meta data for search engines to discover in every post; I also always location tag every post and update. Last Saturday evening I popped into the Royal Standard in Upper Belvedere and as soon as I walked into the bar, three chaps came over and said "Are you that Arthur Pewty bloke?" to which I replied in the affirmative. It turns out that they were regular readers. I was gratified they had some nice comments to make about the blog - it could easily have been the other way around!
I was walking along Erith High Street on my way to my barber (Liam at Bojangles, since you ask) when I noticed something I really never thought would happen. The Ladbrokes betting shop was closed and empty - the place had gone out of business. You may recall how I recently wrote about the seemingly incessant rise of high street betting shops, and especially how the almost unregulated spread of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) has enabled the big betting companies to increase their revenues several fold over the last few years. This success seems to somehow have evaded the Erith Ladbrokes. I suppose one could surmise that Erith High Street is a little secluded and out of the way when compared to the location of the large Paddy Power bookmakers in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre - where I am guessing most of the local gambling transactions take place nowadays. I don’t know how many people were employed in the Ladbrokes shop, but I feel sorry for their loss of livelihood. I did wonder how a relatively small and not particularly well off town like Erith could support three bookmakers - and it would seem I have now got my answer - it could not. I am uncertain of the number of regular gamblers in the area; I certainly see a regular flow of people in and out of the two remaining shops. Personally my knowledge of betting is minimal at best. I have only ever been into a betting shop once, and that was around 25 years ago in order to place a wager on the Grand National for a friend who was wheelchair bound. My opinion that the only long term winner when gambling is the house has not changed in the intervening years, and I doubt that it ever will. Still, I do strongly subscribe to the philosophy that “if it works for you”. Nevertheless it is interesting to see that the business model of the gambling companies does not always function to their benefit.
Last week you may recall I mentioned how so many of the most important inventions of the last century were developed in and around Erith. The reality was in most cases, other inventors got a commercial product launched first, or the local inventor gave up just before making a significant breakthrough – a case in point would be Edward Butler – the inventor of the internal combustion engine motor car, named the Butler Petrol Cycle (see the photo above, courtesy of Garry "Tadge" Taylor), which pootled around Erith at speeds potentially up to fifteen miles per hour, back in 1884 – a full two years before Karl Benz in Germany would come up with what is popularly considered to be the first automobile. The big problem faced by anyone experimenting with self powered vehicles at that time was the 1865 Red Flag Act, which forced all self powered vehicles to travel at a speed of no more than two miles per hour in built up areas, and no more than four miles per hour in rural areas. On top of this, the vehicle had to be accompanied by three people, one of whom had to walk in front, waving a red flag to warn other road users. Bearing in mind the 15 mph and 40 mpg capability of the Butler Petrol Cycle, the act seriously impacted the testing and development of the vehicle. Edward Butler said at the time” "The authorities do not countenance its use on the roads, and I have abandoned in consequence any further development of it.". He then abandoned the project as unworkable under the regulations of the time. Edward Butler broke up the machine in 1896, and sold the metal as scrap. Karl Benz was not so hindered by traffic laws, and was free to develop his automobile in peace. I can sympathise with Edward Butler, but he does seem to be symptomatic of local ground breaking inventors who get to within what seems to be inches of a truly stunning piece of engineering creation, only to say “sod it, I can’t be bothered to take this any further” and chuck in the metaphorical towel. Even prestigious local inventor Hiram Maxim had a stunning failure in addition to his many successes. The very first heavier than air flight was not as is commonly believed made by the Wright Brothers in 1903, it was actually undertaken in 1894 by a team led by outstanding inventor Hiram Maxim when the experimental steam powered aeroplane accidentally took off during ground testing in Baldwin’s Park, Bexley – it flew for an estimated 281 meters at a height of 1.4 metres, according to contemporary accounts. You can read more about the story here. Suffice to say that Maxim realised that his design of flying machine was dynamically unstable, and not viable for any longer flights. He abandoned the project shortly thereafter, leaving the Wright brothers to gain the fame and fortune that went with the first viable aerodynamic flying vehicle. As well as being a skilled engineer and inventor, Hiram Maxim was a very shrewd businessman, and I think he realised that his own flying machine was an engineering dead end, and he decided to stop throwing good money after bad, and work on other projects instead. Maxim was already a very wealthy man, and did not really need the flying machine to be a financial success at all. There was a second foreign born engineer and inventor who worked in Erith at around the same time as Hiram Maxim; his name was Thorsten Nordenfeldt. He was a Swedish born and educated man who married a British woman and moved to the UK; initially they lived at an address in the Uxbridge Road, Paddington, after migrating to the UK in 1867. Thorsten and his British brother in law started a business trading high quality Swedish steel for British railway rails and engineering fittings. After a while, he founded the Nordenfeldt Arms and Ammunition Company, which manufactured a variety of medium calibre deck mounted guns for arming motor torpedo boats and coastal patrol vessels. The guns were manufactured in Erith (as you may gather, in Edwardian times, Erith was a major centre for weapons manufacture, and many locals were employed in the factories). The problem that Thorsten Nordenfeldt had was that he was an excellent engineer, but an absolutely terrible businessman. His arms factory was losing money hand over fist, and after much pressure from his bank – Rothschilds – Nordenfeldt was forced to merge his company with Maxim to form the Maxim Nordenfeldt Guns and Ammunition company, with Maxim as the majority shareholder. Two years later Nordenfeldt was declared personally bankrupt, and lost complete control of the company, leaving Maxim the benefactor. Not to be deterred, Nordenfeldt and his family upped sticks and moved to France, hoping to start afresh. He set up a new company designing arms, and developed a revolutionary new breech mechanism for the French 75mm field gun. This all went swimmingly until he received a letter from Maxim’s lawyers, reminding him that he had signed a non compete clause that Nordernfeldt had signed upon leaving the Maxim Nordenfeldt company. The case went as far as the House of Lords, and was found partially in Nordenfeldt’s favour, but by this time he had grown heartily sick of the arms business, and decided to go into the then brand new submarine business instead. He formed a new company with a vicar and keen amateur naval architect called the Reverend George Garrett. They jointly designed a new submarine – the Nordenfeldt One, which weighed in at fifty six tons, was 19.5 metres long and had a range on the surface of 240 kilometres, powered by a one hundred horse power steam engine which gave the vessel a speed of nine knots. It was armed with a single torpedo, and a deck mounted gun. It had to shut down the steam engine before it could dive. It was accepted by the Greek Navy, but never saw active service, and ended up being scrapped in 1901. A Nordenfeldt Two submarine was later built, followed by a Three, which was larger at thirty metres long; It did have one claim to fame – it was the first ever submarine to successfully fire a torpedo at a target whilst fully submerged. The final Nordenfeldt submarine was the Four, which was commissioned by the Russian Navy, but in sea trials it proved to be unstable and very unseaworthy, and ended up running aground off Jutland. The Russians refused to pay for it, in yet another commercial disaster for Nordenfeldt. He then decided to call it a day and retired to Sweden, where he died in 1920 aged 78. Some small signs of Thorsten Nordenfeldt do still exist in Erith. Nordenfeldt Road, off West Street is one link, as was the Nordenfeldt Tavern at 181 Erith Road – a local pub named after the man; it is now long closed and converted into flats, and so another link with our past is severed.
As longer term readers will know, I am keen to promote and encourage independent local businesses wherever possible. This does also mean that when I experience poor service from a local company, I will highlight this too. To expand; Pewty Acres is currently undergoing a makeover and partial refit to complement the extensive remodelling work I had done in 2012. Part of this work involves having the lawn and rockeries in my back garden stripped out prior to the large pine tree being professionally removed by qualified tree surgeons. The lawn stripping and rockery removal is being done by my preferred local contractor, who I have been using reliably for several years. He started work on Monday morning at 7.30. He’d made arrangements to have a skip delivered by J. Hearnden Skip Hire of the Darent Industrial Park in Erith, only a couple of minutes from Pewty Acres. He contacted them a week in advance, got a firm booking and also confirmed by text message. By 10am the skip still had not turned up despite numerous chasing calls to their office. Initially they said that they had “forgotten” about the job, which later changed to “we are really busy”. In the end my builder ended up cancelling the skip, which still showed no signs of appearing. He had to then transport around two and a half tonnes of spoil to the Crayford tip in the back of his van in a series of journeys. Pro rata, spoil properly disposed of at a licensed disposal site from a skip is about half the cost of a van load. Understandably my builder has had to pass the increased costs onto me, as it is no fault of his. I find the working practices and “could not care less” attitude of J. Hearnden Skip Hire to be extremely unprofessional, and would urge you to check them out carefully before employing their services. In my experience, the claims made on their website are not reflected in the real world, and I would not recommend them to anyone. Beware!
Further questions have been raised as to the viability of the KFC franchise in Manor Road. You may recall that last week I raised concerns as to how much longer the place could operate as a going concern – they had a sign in the door saying “No Credit or Debit cards”, and several menu items were unavailable. This has continued; a report reached me earlier today saying that not only did the KFC have no coffee, but they also were out of Pepsi, and were offering customers a Fruit Shoot instead. My informant (who wishes to remain anonymous) visited the fast food outlet on Monday and after finding no coffee or sachets of tomato ketchup available for him or Pepsi for his son, made his views about the dubious financial viability of the place known to the staff – only to receive some very stony stares from the staff and managers. As I wrote last week, the chances are that any change in the franchisee will be invisible to the customer – saving in that a full range of products would once again become available. KFC as the brand holder would ensure a smooth transition to a new franchise holding company. As it happens, my informant was given a customer feedback form with his meal receipt, and he was going to register his concerns regarding the branch online. Time will tell, but I get the feeling the current intolerable situation will not last for long.
Since I mentioned a while back as to how the garden at Pewty Acres was to have an artificial lawn installed, I have been amazed at just how many people have, or are now considering having an artificial lawn to replace an end of life “real” grass lawn. It seems that almost everyone I mention the subject to is aware of the benefits of synthetic turf; please don’t call modern synthetic grass “Astroturf” as that is a trade name that refers to the original very crude fake grass that was patented in 1965 in the USA – it was lurid green, coarse and was designed for use in covered sports stadia that had no access for natural sunlight. Astroturf caused nasty grazes and skin burns if you fell and skidded on it, and it quickly got a pretty unfavourable image and reputation; it however bears little resemblance to the modern stuff which is indistinguishable from the real thing. It would seem that the uptake of synthetic lawns has come at an ideal time – we have had droughts followed by floods, and many lawns have either died through moss infestation (as had mine) or been turned into a morass of mud through poor drainage. Synthetic turf is not that much more expensive than top quality real grass, it never needs cutting or weeding, and is guaranteed against fading and wear for at least ten years. All it needs to keep in top condition is a regular sweep to remove leaves , and in some types an occasional sprinkling of sand to keep it looking top – top. I plan on publishing “Before and After” photos in due course, so that you can make up your own mind.
Following Dana Whiffen’s piece last week on the 75th anniversary of the launch of the AEC Regent RT model double – decker bus, regular reader Teresa dropped me a line with the following memory of the very same bus:- "Your blog entry about the London buses in green livery reminded me of my childhood! I used to catch the 410 to school from Westerham Hill to Bromley. This was a special design as there was a low bridge on the route so the seats upstairs were in rows of 4 with a gangway in a well at the side to reduce the height, rather than a central gangway with pairs of seats on each side. They were really odd buses (Dana later commented that “ I believe this bus was the RLH which stands for Regent Low Height, this was a specially designed low height (RT) bus, which had four seater seats up stairs and a corridor along one side which was below the ground level of the bus (downstairs) anyone sitting below would have seen a sign saying "Mind your Head" on the right hand side of the bus. I did not realise they ran on the 410 bus route). "Downstairs the passengers along one side had restricted head height to accommodate the upstairs well, and it was a good step up to the seats. As a schoolgirl, I travelled from the top of Westerham Hill (Hawley Corner) to Bromley High Street each school day from 1959 to 1966. The route ran from Reigate to Bromley North and the service was every half an hour. The 705 Greenline coach also ran on the route but that went from Slough/Windsor to Sevenoaks and the school bus pass did not entitle me to use the Greenline so it was the bus every time. The children who used it were those from Biggin Hill who had to travel to schools in Bromley – the Grammar School and the Tech – as the secondary modern pupils had a school bus to Hayes. Eventually the grammar school pupils had a coach service so the number of schoolchildren from Biggin Hill using the service to Bromley fell substantially. I went to Bromley High, so continued to use it until I left school. It was always quite lively on top of the bus and all the schoolchildren would congregate upstairs. As you can imagine, it was a pain for the bus conductors and upstairs was a no-go area for anyone with any mobility problems. The best seats were those at the front where my friends and I would sit! The London Country Bus services also ran from Bromley to Tonbridge – one of my school friends used to catch what I think was the 402 to Hildenborough, but that was a ‘normal’ bus in green livery. I also have fond memories of the little 271 service which did a circular route from Orpington to Cudham, Knockholt and Pratts Bottom. Indeed, I remember going shopping in Orpington with a friend in the bad winter of 62-63 and the bus getting stuck in the snow just short of Cudham church. It stayed there for the next 3 months!" Thanks to Teresa for her memories.
The ending video is a follow - up to the post of last week that featured the Vox range of guitar amplifiers and musical instruments, all of which were made in Erith in the 1960's. In this short clip, Queen guitarist Dr. Brian May (who is an authority on Vox) demonstrates the classic AC-30 amplifier to a bemused interviewer. The look on that chap's face at 1 minute 43 seconds is brilliant! Do give it a watch, and leave a comment below. Alternatively Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.