Sunday, May 25, 2014

Radio Erith.

The photos above were taken by me yesterday morning when the Mayor of Bexley, Councillor Sharon Massey launched a new boat at the Erith Rowing Club; she poured a bottle of bubbly over the new craft, which has been sponsored by local marine engineering company Kort Propulsion. The event was well attended by around forty people, including some representatives from Kort, whose offices are located in the old River Police building on Erith High Street, adjacent to the Erith Riverside Gardens. Once the boat was christened, she was then launched from the old wooden Erith Pier for a short demonstration run by some of the clubs' more experienced rowers - you can see a photo of the launch below - click the picture for a larger version. Tea and nibbles were then served. Despite the blustery and very changeable weather, it was an extremely pleasant event, and I would like to thank club treasurer Alison Fisher for inviting me along. 

I sometimes wonder if anyone in a position of power in Bexley Council reads the Maggot Sandwich? I don't think the Mayor really counts, as it is a purely ceremonial post. As you may recall, I have been raising the issue of the terrible state of Erith’s roads for many months. The two worst potholed and damaged roads in the area are with no shadow of a doubt are Fraser Road and Manor Road. There is a clear correlation between both the volume of traffic and the weight of the vehicles that traverse these two main roads. Both see a constant stream of heavy goods vehicles throughout the day and early evening; both roads also form key parts of the very busy 99 bus route between Bexleyheath and Woolwich. As I have previously mentioned, it is no coincidence that the very worst road damage occurs at the bus stops – the heavy double decker buses rip up the surface of the tarmac as they brake on approach to the stops, then accelerate away shortly thereafter. In recent years, Manor Road has been resurfaced twice – partially back in 2011, and previously to that in May 2009, it was lauded as a real step forward in new road technology. The top layer incorporated materials that were designed to reduce road noise and tyre rumble, and thus make things a bit more tolerable for local residents. The ploy worked, and when the surface was first laid, the passing traffic was measurably quieter than before. It would appear that the Highways Department and the civil engineering company that carried out the work did not take into consideration both the volume of traffic along Manor Road, or its' weight. Heavily laden HGV lorries and double decker 99 buses are regular visitors, and as you can see from the photo above, the road is falling apart in rapid order. I took the photo below (which I have to say that I am rather proud of) from the opposite side of the road, as the precisely the section of carriageway pictured above was being laid, back late in the evening of May 31st 2009 at around 11pm. On both occasions I spoke to the chief engineer – the same person on both occasions. He said that the works on both occasions were little more than a sticking plaster – a temporary repair that would last only for a couple of years before it would need to be completely redone. It would seem that this fact has been recognised by the highways department of Bexley Council. Manor Road is closing to all traffic for a period of ten weeks from the 16th June. What is troubling about this is that local residents have not been notified to date; businesses based in the road also have had no warning, which may be very difficult, especially for shops like Londis that rely heavily on passing trade, or for major organisations like European Metal Recycling that rely on a constant supply of vehicles arriving at and departing from their yard. What is not in doubt is the need for the work to be undertaken. I also understand that some traffic calming measures are to be incorporated into the rebuild. Manor Road is fairly unusual in that the Western end of the nearly mile long road is residential, whilst the Eastern end is exclusively industrial. The road suffers extensively from speeding drivers, a fact not helped by the very straight and long layout. Anything that can be done to reduce the number of traffic accidents would be welcomed. The fundamental problem with the two previous resurfacing attempts was that they did not address the underlying problem which is that the foundation layers of the road needed to be massively reinforced to cope with both the volume and the weight of the traffic running over it. A ten week complete road closure will give sufficient time for a fundamental re-engineering of the highway, something that really should have been carried out back in 2009. It will be very inconvenient for local residents (myself included) and I currently have no idea where people will have to park their cars (I am guessing Morrison’s car park, but I don’t yet know for certain). Anyone who relies on internet shopping for their groceries is going to be severely inconvenienced. I feel that the council have really dropped the ball in terms of communication. If the work had been carried out in a “posh” part of the borough like Danson, the council would have bent over backwards to inform and reassure the residents, but it being Erith, they don’t much care.

Many column inches have been written in the press over the last couple of weeks regarding the speculation that Apple may be purchasing niche audio manufacturer Beats. For the uninitiated, Beats market a range of headphones and audio processors / amplifiers that are incorporated into certain PC’s under a licensing arrangement. Personally I am mystified why Apple would want to buy Beats. If you have ever used a laptop equipped with Beats Audio, you will no doubt have noticed that there was a dramatic difference in sound quality when Beats Audio was switched on and off. In essence, the technology behind Beats Audio is pretty simple. The Beats Audio specification includes a tiny solid state power amplifier that is physically separated from the PC’s motherboard, and a clean, direct link to the headphone socket, which should be electrically isolated from all other sources. Other than that it is all down to audio frequency equalisation, and this is where Beats quite brazenly cheat. If you have the Beats Audio switched off, the sound of most kinds of music seems very lifeless and flat, whereas if it is switched on the sound is very lively and dynamic. The reason for this is that in the “off” position, the audio equalisation is deliberately set to reduce most low and high frequencies, leaving only the mid range relatively unchanged. When Beats Audio is switched on, the bass and treble are dynamically boosted, making the audio sound very punchy and live, which is particularly noticeable when playing urban / dance music. Neither option reproduces the true sound found in the recording studio or concert hall. You can use third party audio mixing and equalisation software to tweak the audio to give a more accurate rendition of the original recording, but to be honest, if you want hi fidelity sound, you should purchase a PC that does not feature Beats technology. It is all marketing hype aimed mainly at young people who listen to Hip Hop and Rap – where a bright top end and bass heavy sound is all they really care about. The same is true for their overpriced and gaudy headphones. Beats are the only mainstream headphone manufacturer that refuse to publish the full technical specifications of their products. If one carries out a direct A/B comparison with a pair of Beats by Dr Dre Pro headphones costing around £350 with a pair of Sennheiser HD 650 headphones costing a full hundred pounds less, most listeners will choose the Sennheisers. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me directly at

Everything regarding the Manor Road KFC Drive Through seems to have returned to normal now. No further notices in the window or applications for a change in the opening hours have been posted. I think this is just as well, as if the outlet had gone 24/7 opening, it would have started a trade war with the McDonald’s which is directly opposite. Personally I don’t use either outlet – I have been in the KFC once out of curiosity, and the McDonald’s a couple of times in the last seventeen or so years. I don’t have anything against them, they just don’t really serve the kind of things I like to eat. I do recall something that McDonald’s sold back in the mid 1990’s that most people don’t know about. Did you know that certain selected McDonald’s restaurants sold pizza? True – I recall that the main McDonald’s drive through just outside of Colchester used to sell the individual pizzas in about 1994. From memory they were actually very nice – unlike most McDonald’s stuff which to my palate tends to be both too sweet and very bland at the same time. Apparently the pizzas did not catch on, as each one took eleven minutes to cook in a special oven the franchise holder had to buy, and this was too long for people wanting fast food – what generally happened was that you would take away anything else you ordered from the counter, and a staff member would then bring you your pizza later, once it was ready. Obviously in a place that works on a the premise of a fast and efficient kitchen crew, having members continually leave the food preparation area to deliver pizzas is a bad idea. On top of this, customers did not associate the restaurant chain with pizzas, and marketing provide difficult. As previously mentioned, the irony is that they were actually rather nice. A lost footnote in fast food history.

Whilst digging around online for information about the history of Erith and District hospital radio (more of this later - who says I don't plan these things?) I came across an account of a chap who had served in the Belvedere Home Guard during the war. Unfortunately the gentleman is no longer alive, but Ken Chamberlain assured me that if he were, he would be delighted for his story to reach a new audience. Here is an account, which was written back in 1983 of how local man Bob Shrimpton spent much of World War II:- During the war, being employed in what was known as a ‘reserved occupation’, I enlisted (a euphemism – I had no choice) in the 56th Battalion Home Guard disrespectfully known as Dads’ Army. I became a private first class in No. 1 Platoon A Company. Platoon HQ was in a tin hut at the rear of the Belvedere Social Club in Nuxley Road and Company H.Q. was in a villa, long since demolished, which stood on the corner of Woolwich Road and Essenden Road. At the time I joined full kit and weapons were available. Most of the platoon rode bicycles to parades with full kit including army boots, a greatcoat in winter and a .303 rifle slung across the shoulders. It took a lot of practise to mount and dismount. If one ran with the bike and cocked ones leg over the saddle too hurriedly, the weight of all this equipment could hurl one flat on the ground. As in Dads’ Army we had our characters who could obtain anything for you - at a price. There was a slit trench in the front garden at Essenden Road and a sentry was supposed to jump into this when an air-raid was in progress. One night it poured with rain nearly all night. A raid was on and the duty sentry was trying to keep dry in the trench whilst some of us were in the house porch watching the raid. Suddenly there was a great agonising howl of rage. The rainwater had burst through the sand bags around the top of the trench and poured straight down the back of the sentry’s trousers! Once a month we did sentry duty at Battalion H.Q. in the mansion that once stood at the corner of Bexley Road and Park Crescent. ( The original Battalion Commanding Officer was Lt. Col. Briggs and later LT. Col. Tobin. Military exercises were held from time to time with other platoons. Our platoon Commander was Lt. Butler and his second in command was Lt. Shirras, who was the manager of Reeson’s Chemist in the Erith High Street. I remember one summer’s evening Lt. Shirras leading his section stealthily down Clive Road towards the enemy, with his revolver at the ready, when a hoard of youngsters burst upon us whooping and urging us on with shouts of ‘Go it Mr. Get ‘em’. etc. The Lieutenant’s blackened face turned a shade blacker as he shouted ‘-----off you b------ kids.’ He really was an officer and a gentleman though. We held manoeuvres on Belvedere Marshes taking us right through the gypsy encampment. I remember lying in delicious terror by the side of the line near Belvedere railway station with my bayonet a few inches from the live rail whilst trains sped by. One weekend was spent on night manoeuvres at Mount Mascal in North Cray, under the care of the Scots Guards. The night was so dark that it seemed superfluous to blacken one’s face. In fact, because of lack of visibility, our officer lost his platoon! I had been appointed runner, which meant I had to stick to the officer in case he wanted me to take a message – where to, goodness only knows! The officer walked along North Cray Road looking for his platoon when he sensed, rather than saw, a blackened face peering from a hedge, whereupon the following short conversation took place. Officer: ‘Is that No. 1 platoon?’ Blackened Face: ‘Sorry Sir. No, we are the enemy.’ We fired .303 rifles and Lewis guns on a range in the sand-pits right next to Birch Walk. The recruits were always the best shots. One of our platoon worked in the Woolwich Arsenal. He wangled a Sunday morning visit to the small arms proof ranges. There we were, large as life, marching in full kit inside the grounds. It was a different world inside – haystacks, cows grazing etc. We shot at 500 yard range (not at the cows) and we took it in turns to don little waist-coats and mark the shots at the targets. One was supposed to check on the field telephone that the men firing had ceased firing. Something went amiss and as we walked to the targets a bullet sped over our heads fortunately not hitting anyone

The 2014 Bexley Beer Festival was a great success; in my opinion it was the best one ever. The weather was glorious, the organisers had learned much from last year, and instead of housing the racks of beer barrels in the sports club hall, they instead had them set up in a large Marquee to the rear of the building. As I mentioned last week, the fact that a cricket match took place on the pitch whilst the drinkers looked on was an added bonus, even if it did mean having to duck out of the way of the odd flying cricket ball! The Bexley Beer Festival is big enough to have an interesting selection of beers, but small enough to still be personal. I was served a pint by a chap with a large beard and a pirate’s tricorn hat. He asked me “What kind of music do pirates listen to?” to which I said I didn’t know. “Aaar n B” came the reply. Ouch – I walked right into that one! Still the turn – out was good, the beer excellent, and the post festival curry hit the spot. Here is a short video slide – show of the event, courtesy of the Rev.  Do give it a watch and see what you think .

Whilst I have covered the history of arms making in Erith to some depth, until now I have neglected other forms of heavy industry that have had their roots in Erith. Did you know that historically much of the world’s mining could only take place courtesy of heavy equipment which was designed and built in Erith? Anglo American heavy engineering company Fraser and Chalmers had a factory on Fraser Road which opened in 1890, adjacent to the armament  factory owned and operated by Hiram Maxim. Fraser and Chalmers made all sorts of  mining machinery and power plants, boilers, engines and compressors, pumps, turbines; concentration, conveying, dredging, metallurgical, mining and miscellaneous plant. They exported a lot of equipment to South Africa, for use in gold and diamond mining, Later the company was taken over by GEC, but continued in Erith making a lot of pump and compressor components for use in both conventional and nuclear power stations. The last reference I can find for them is dated 1964, when they had all but discontinued the mining equipment manufacture, and were concentrating on power generation. Their old factory site is still in use, but is now occupied by BATT Cables, so the tradition of heavy engineering in Erith is still being maintained.

You may recall that last week I asked if any reader had information about Radio Erith, the hospital radio station that ran at Erith and District Hospital. Local historian Ken Chamberlain kindly put me in contact with a chap called Derek Smith, who was deeply involved in the station. These are his recollections:- My involvement started in about 1973 when I was given contact details for the Chairman. I rang him and was invited along to the studio in the old surface air-raid shelter just inside the gates. The building had been used as a storeroom but at some time the radio equipment rack for the BBC had been put in to supply the three bedside channels. If I remember correctly the channels were Radio 1, 2 and 4. I could never really pin down when Radio Erith actually started - there was a sort of vague 'about 5 years ago'. The station was run by a committee headed by the founding member Dennis Burrage, who I seem to remember lived in Slade Green. He must have been well into his 40s when I joined and I believe he has since died. There was also an elderly lady named Joyce, who lived in a very dilapidated house in Queens Road while waiting for re-housing. The engineering member of the committee was Terry Brett, a BBC engineer who had been building a new studio mixer (when time allowed - which wasn't often). In terms of presenters other than Joyce and Dennis there was Brian Lee, another chap who was OCD about Johnny Mathis, and Alan. The last named was a great experimenter and would often sit at home getting steadily drunk making up tapes to play on his show. His 'piece de resistance' was to mix Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of The Moon with The Clangers - interesting but not quite sure what the patients made of it! Finally there was Peggy, the hospital switchboard operator, who presented the Wednesday night request hour. I was 'interviewed' and sound checked and given the job of engineering the request show. The studio was small and consisted of a small 'green room', the studio control room and a presenter's booth. The control room was set for both engineered and self op programmes. Peggy was a great laugh but always presented her programmes with style - the patients loved her. Together we revamped the hour long request show as a two-hander before Peggy disappeared and I carried on with a general music programme for another hour. Normal broadcasting was carried out from 7pm to 9.30ish, with extra hours on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday. We gradually attracted more young presenters but these were not always welcomed by the Chairman - who had very set ways. Erith being a small hospital, had very few listeners so we decided to spread our wings and raised enough money to rent a post office line to Dartford West Hill. This enabled us to broadcast to both hospitals simultaneously but relied on the hospital engineer at West Hill switching us on at set times. Unfortunately our Chairman had rubbed the guy up the wrong way and he could be less than co-operative, so we were broadcasting to nothing as far as Dartford were concerned most evenings. The friction between some of us younger members and Dennis came to a head in early 1977. There were big changes in the world of hospital radio but Radio Erith wasn't keeping up. Brian and I suggested we should move our studios to Dartford and broadcast back to Erith - Dartford being the much bigger hospital. This suggestion was met with mounting anger from Dennis, and at a hostile committee meeting Brian and I announced we were moving to West Hill and were in talks with the Hospital Administrator to find a suitable building to house the studio. West Hill were delighted and allowed us to use an old store room over A1 ward as the studio - one great benefit was that it had a couple of large windows that looked out over the hospital, which made us feel a bit more part of it. In July 1977 we attended the Dartford Show as the fledgling 'Dart Radio', and received a lot of support. Part of the money raised from the show was donated to us to buy equipment and by September 77 Dart Radio was operational. I left after about a year to join the local cable station 'Greenwich Television', and Brian went on to become a star in local politics. with the destruction of West Hill, Dart Radio moved in with Radio Joyce Green and has now been absorbed by Valley Park Radio at Darent Valley. Radio Erith continued on after we left but not for too long. Don't have a date for closure but it was winding down by the end of the 70s and with the closure of the operating theatres in the early 80s the need for a dedicated hospital radio station had gone. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures - there was an article about the station in the Erith Times in about 1975 I think, with a photograph of some of the presenters. Funnily enough the sign outside the old studio that you featured was made by me in 1974 - so it has survived OK (probably better than me!) Brilliant stuff from Derek – many thanks for a fascinating recollection.It would be brilliant to think that Radio Erith could perhaps be resurrected as a local community radio station, though knowing the costs and bureaucracy involved in such an endeavour, I doubt that this is a wish that would be fulfilled, although I would love to be proved wrong. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email me at

As I have mentioned recently, Pewty Acres is currently undergoing a bit of a makeover both internally and in the back garden. More on this next week; one of the side effects of the back garden refurbishment work is that I have had to have my shortwave amateur radio antenna temporarily taken down. I have had a couple of people ask me about amateur radio in the last week. I thought the easiest way to explain the technical hobby was to show you this short video from a chap called Jim Salmon. He and I go back a very long way, though unfortunately we lost contact for some years. This video succinctly summarises exactly what amateur radio is all about. Do give it a watch and see what you think. Comments below as always.

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