Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mother's Pride and Radio 390.

It is amazing how Erith changes with the weather; when overcast and rainy, the town seems to metaphorically sink into the gloom, but conversely when the sun shines, the place perks up considerably. I noticed this last weekend when I went out with my camera to get some photos of the town centre and the Bexley College new campus on Walnut Tree Road. As you can see in the shot above, the building is steadily taking shape, ready for opening in September, at the start of the 2014 / 2015 academic year. I have been invited for a guided tour around the new college, and will be reporting back, complete with photographs once I have had a good old nose around next Thursday. I cannot help but feel concerned that the old Erith Library, which as you can see above is located directly opposite the new college campus, is still left unused and locked up. It is an excellent building, and to my mind in every way far superior to the soulless and anodyne new library, which is located opposite Erith Health Centre in Erith High Street. The old library building was gifted to the town by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. I really wish it could be put to some use, as I think otherwise the building could end up being demolished to make way for yet more flats. Erith is under a lot of development pressure at present; the overheated property market all over Greater London has meant that developers have been snapping up  affordable land all over the place. Erith has a reputation as a town that has (relatively) affordable housing that is in easy reach of central London. One can get from Erith to London Bridge or Cannon Street in around forty minutes by overland train, and the forthcoming Crossrail link to Abbey Wood will mean easier access to places in West London and Heathrow, again making the local area more desirable for the commuter looking for a convenient place to live. The downside of this is that currently it feels like every scrap of land is either built on, or about to be built on. The apartment block that is sandwiched between the KFC Drive Through and Morrison’s petrol station on the old Erith Trades and Social Club site is taking rapid shape; the Erith Park development, currently the largest housing development in Europe is proceeding apace, and the huge area of brown field land on what was the old gravel pit located between Bexley Road and Fraser Road has been earmarked as the potential location for a thousand residential properties. This is over and above innumerable smaller scale developments that are springing up all around the town. Erith is undergoing building growth unlike anything I can recall, and in many ways it will bring opportunities to the area; my concern is that I have seen little activity in respect of improving water supply, drainage and other essential amenities, and how schools and social services will cope with the influx of new people, especially in this current harsh economic climate – things may be getting better in the City, but in the less trendy suburbs, there has been little evidence of new employment and financial recovery.  What Erith needs is a new employer on the scale of Morrison’s or ADM Oils – two huge organisations with resources that really make a difference to the local economy.  Tesco have opened a delivery depot in the area, but compared with some of their other sites, it is relatively small scale, and as warehouses are largely automated nowadays, they do not provide the number of jobs one would have seen historically.

One local company based in the Manford Industrial Estate on Manor Road may not be the largest employer, or the most prosperous, but they do have a couple of important things going in their favour; they have a very specialised field, and they have a great sense of humour. Cat Flaps South East are a dedicated supplier of cat flaps ranging from the most simple mechanical flaps to the most sophisticated micro chip reading cat flaps which will only admit your own cat and not half the moggies from the neighbourhood. You can see a short promotional video about them below. I wish them every success.

I am not a great party goer; unless the person holding the party is well known to me, I must admit that I tend to decline invitations. The reasons are various, but one of the main ones is that when I invariably get talking to someone, and they ask what I do for a living and they find out I work in IT, the reaction is like that of a moth to a flame. The party goer will almost without exception then regale me with tales of computer problems and a tedious list of issues that they cannot resolve. Almost as night follows day they will then ask me to “take a look” at their PC. What this infers is that they then expect me to fix their computer woes for free. The fact is, I have not got my hands dirty fixing hardware issues or resolving software bugs on personal computers for years; my day job involves massive corporate databases and applications which may span over multiple servers and thousands of desktops around Europe, the Middle East and India. I employ resources from various technical specialisations to actually carry out the remedial work “on the coal face”.  All this is lost on the person wanting my individual help. When I tell them I am not really the person they need, they tend to counter this with “I can pay you your going rate”.  What they don’t realise is that my corporate charge rate is nearly £500 per hour (please note this bears absolutely no relation to my actual wages – it is what my employer charges clients, and how they make shed loads of money – believe me, the consultancy business is extremely lucrative for the large corporate professional service providers). On top of this, my knowledge of Windows is minimal at best – I think it more than likely that they know more about Windows than I do (I run a Mac and various Linux boxes myself, and only use Windows when I am being paid to – my background is in Linux and Unix). You can get a good idea of what I am talking about by clicking here. I have even gone to the extent of, when asked at a party, saying that I am an undertaker – it certainly kills the conversation stone dead, if nothing else. You would not get a party goes expecting a landscape gardener or plumber to do work for free, so why expect someone with an IT background to do so? Do please feel free to comment below, or Email me directly to

The News Shopper did not really do justice to local (Dartford) chap Nicky Boardman, and his excellent blog “” which covers his struggle with a rare form of terminal abdominal cancer. I feel that he should publish the blog as a book; it is excellently written – both upsetting and blackly humorous in turn. You will find yourself both disturbed by his plight, whilst also laughing at his turn of phrase, for example Chapter One of the blog is fetchingly entitled “The Day My Bum Fell Out”. Nicky Boardman writes unflinchingly about his situation and the experiences he has gone through; the blog can be harrowing, but his prose is beautifully crafted, and often very funny indeed. Unfortunately I doubt that there is going to be a happy ending to Nicky’s story, but his online writing may help bring greater attention to this horrible, invisible killer. Highly recommended.

I received some very pleasing news from one of my anonymous sources on Wednesday. As long time readers will be aware, I am keen to preserve and promote community pubs, and to ensure that they are run to the benefit of locals. There is one notable exception to this – an establishment called the Phoenix, which was located in Lower Hythe Street, Dartford (photo above copyright David Anstiss). I am delighted to be able to announce that the place has recently been bulldozed flat. Back in November 2009 I wrote a scathing report on the place, which got me a lot of enemies for a while – you can read the piece here. A small (ancient and rather smelly) unrepresentative sector of Dartford’s biker community took umbrage to what I said, all of which was true; the pub allowed smoking inside, served very underage drinkers, and had posters on the walls promoting extreme racist hate organisations. On top of that, there was an elderly motorbike in a side room which was in the final stages of disintegration, and reeked of raw petrol. With all of the smoking going on, I was surprised that the whole festering morass did not go up like a Molotov Cocktail. Patrons were seen urinating up the pubs’ exterior walls, and the place was covered by a barely suppressed aura of menace. Some readers thought that I was exaggerating for effect, but actually nothing could have been further from the truth. After my piece and a few challenging comments, it all then went quiet for a while, then in January 2011, the following story broke, initially in the local papers, but soon after in the national tabloids. The Dartford Messenger reported: “Police found guns, ammunition, and knives when they raided The Phoenix, in Lower Hythe Street. Officers executing a firearms warrant at the pub found a loaded handgun in a cabinet, a cloth-covered .22 rifle in a cupboard, a dart gun, a Taser-style stun gun, and a large amount of ammunition, including rifle rounds. They also discovered shotgun cartridges, a clear sealed bag containing three white bullets, and a small bag of Class B drug amphetamine". According to the report from North Kent Police's licensing department, search teams found knives and "an assortment of other weapons throughout the bedroom and the rest of the living quarters at the pub”. To which I then commented “The place has been a threat to civilised society for some time, it being the base of a group of racist thugs and drug dealers - the place would not look out of place in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie. The thugs call themselves bikers, but the bikers I have known for years would be offended to be associated with this lot. The Phoenix should be bulldozed and the hole concreted over. As Ellen Ripley once said "Take off and nuke them from space - it's the only way to be sure". Well, my wish has now been granted. The Phoenix is now no more. It will not be missed by many.

One of the most important and heavily used main roads in Erith is being closed for extensive improvement and remodelling. Manor Road will be closed for a period of ten weeks from the 16th June to allow it to be completely rebuilt. The road has had attention in the recent past. It was resurfaced in 2009, and again in 2011, but in both cases the new surface started disintegrating within months of being laid; not something you would wish for when one considers the cost of the special road noise reducing tarmac formula is somewhat over £1 million per mile to the council tax payer, this is not good news. This time a far more dramatic set of repairs are planned. The road is being constructed pretty much from scratch, something that really should have been done before. The crumbling road foundations are being dug out to a depth of several feet and replaced with new material being installed. The work will be carried out in phases, so that access to homes and businesses will be kept, albeit with some fairly dramatic diversions – if you look at the graphic above, it will give you a good idea of the drastic route changes both buses and private vehicles will be subject to for the duration of the rebuilding project. Personally I feel that it will be a lot of short term pain for a lot of long term gain. Finally the council and their contractors are doing what they really should have done back in 2009. Hopefully by the end of the summer Erith will have a road to be proud of. I will be documenting the work over the forthcoming weeks, and will post any interesting developments – watch this space.

Every so often I like to highlight something that locals may not be aware of; Thamesmead has had a food bank for quite some time, and recently one has also been set up in Erith. I asked Reverend Julie Conalty of Christ Church Erith to be a guest writer this week to explain exactly how the food bank works, and what they do. I have also found out that they are planning a credit union as a secure and far more affordable source of credit compared with the pay day loan companies that proliferate and charge thousands of percent in interest. More on this in future editions. 

Bexley Foodbank – Erith Distribution Centre

Like the esteemed author of this blog, prior to moving to Erith I too supported the Greenwich Foodbank in Thamesmead. When I became vicar at Christ Church Erith, it seemed evident to me that Erith was also in need of a Foodbank Distribution Centre. From the leafy vicarage it is hard to tell, but our parish is the 4th most deprived in the Rochester Diocese. Recent changes in benefits regulations have undoubtedly made things even tougher. Fortunately my fellow ministers at St John’s Erith and Queen Street Baptist Church agreed that in addition to praying for our local community, our churches should follow Christ’s command that we quite literally feed the hungry. Avery Hill Christian Fellowship had already set up a Trussell Trust Foodbank for Bexley Borough but at that point were only distributing from Sidcup, so we teamed up with them to set up the Erith Distribution Centre based at Queen Street. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 10am until 1pm at Queen Street Baptist Church Hall our volunteers distribute food to local people who have been sent by the JobCentre, Citizens Advice Bureau or other recognized referral agency (a ticket is needed from a referrer who knows more about the circumstances of the individual claimant). The food bank cannot provide a long term solution to poverty – it is designed to plug gaps and address crises - but at the moment we can’t keep up with demand. In Erith we are distributing food faster than it comes in. Morrisons in Erith have come on board to support us (you may have seen the trolley for donations down there) and many churches in the borough now collect food for Bexley Foodbank, but we still don’t have enough. If you want to find out more then go to You can deliver food donations direct to the Erith Distribution Centre during opening hours or drop food off in the box in porch at Christ Church from 8.30am to 11.30am any Sunday morning. Finally I need to say that there really is something very wrong with a society that seems to be removing the safety nets that protect vulnerable individuals and families from poverty and deprivation. As I write this there are media reports about how the UK targets to reduce child poverty will be missed – even the most optimistic projections for wage and employment growth suggest that absolute poverty is still forecast to be a full 16% above target by 2020. Volunteers and donors are stepping in, but we must not lose sight of scandal of people going hungry in the UK. So don’t just give food (or time or money) to the Foodbank, raise your voice in protest.

The Revd Julie Conalty, Vicar of Christ Church

I have found out a strong link between a local company and a short lived, but incredibly popular 1960’s offshore radio station (which were erroneously labelled “pirates” by the popular press, but were in fact no such thing, as they operated outside of British territorial waters, and at least until the 1967 Marine Offences Act, were outside of the law). As I have previously written, Erith based Grooms “The Hygienic Baker”, who began in a shop in West Street in Victorian times, became extremely successful, and later moved into dedicated premises in Belmont Road, Northumberland Heath. This massive bakery also featured stables for the horses that pulled their vans, along with a tack room and even a forge for their dedicated Farrier. The bakery is still there nowadays, though it is now owned by British Bakeries, and the stables are long gone. What I have uncovered this week is that in the mid 1960’s, Rank Hovis McDougall (the company who took over and absorbed Grooms prior to the advent of British Bakeries) were a major sponsor and commercial partner with offshore radio station Radio 390. Radio 390 was located on the abandoned Red Sands sea fort, off the coast of Whitstable. The station was the third enterprise to broadcast from the fort – previously it had been used by Radio Invicta from June 1964 until February 1965, followed by KING Radio from March to September 1965. Both these earlier stations were amateurish affairs, and used a relatively low powered one kilowatt AM transmitter feeding into a rather inefficient antenna system. This meant that their signal was not heard over a wide area, and they struggled to gain a decent audience, and consequently they were largely ignored by advertisers. All this changed with the advent of Radio 390, which was a far more slick and professional, and had both a rather more powerful ten Kilowatt medium wave transmitter (which they told people was actually thirty five Kilowatts, but it wasn't), and a huge and very efficient 297 foot tall vertical antenna mean that the signal of Radio 390 was audible all over London and the South East – the most lucrative market in the UK as far as advertising revenue was concerned. The format of the station was also a complete contrast to that played by the ship based offshore giants – Radio London and Radio Caroline; they both played non – stop pop music. Instead, Radio 390 was firmly targeted at housewives. When regular broadcasts began on the 25th September 1965 at 4pm on a wavelength of 388 Metres (773KHz) the musical format was easy listening, smooth classical and big bands – the first track played was “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller. While other offshore stations had shows lasting two or three hours, Radio 390's schedule contained a number of short programmes. This was more like a BBC schedule than an offshore one. And, although slightly more warm and informal, the presenters had an almost BBC-ish style too, even to the extent that at the end of each show one of the presenters would give a credit (“South Of The Border was introduced by....”) in the manner of a continuity announcer. As Radio 390 grew, other programmes were added to the mix. There was a daily drama serial, “Doctor Paul”, imported from Australia, and bravely scheduled opposite the BBC Light Programme's long-established Mrs. Dale's Diary; and there were shows devoted to musicals, blues, country and light classical music. After only three weeks on the air, the station was receiving some five hundred fan letters a day. By May 1966 National Opinion Polls estimated the station's audience as 2.6 million listeners, a majority of whom were women. This was an absolute goldmine for the advertisers, who flocked to the station in droves. Back in the sixties, it was less common for women, especially once they were married to go out to work; many stayed at home and looked after the children. They had almost complete control over domestic purchases such as brands of food and cleaning materials. The fact that Radio 390 very cleverly targeted this audience meant that advertisers were prepared to pay high rates to get their commercials broadcast; companies that took out ambitious and successful campaigns on Radio 390 included The News of the World, and the magazine Reveille, along with a host of smaller companies, but the biggest of the lot was for Mother’s Pride bread, which was produced by Rank Hovis McDougall in the Northumberland Heath bakery. There is some evidence to suggest that the advertising campaign and programme sponsorship on Radio 390 was so extensive that the baker became an investor and business partner in the radio station during the summer of 1966, though as the Government began to take action to stop the offshore stations, and prepared to introduce the Marine Offences Act, many investors decided to distance themselves from offshore broadcasting altogether. In September 1966, Radio 390 was taken to court for the first in a series of cases where they were accused of broadcasting from within British territorial limits. The cases were fought, and one by one they were lost by the station, they appealed, then lost the appeal; by the summer of 1967 the Marine Offences Act passed into law, and all offshore stations with the exception of Radio Caroline had ceased broadcasting. Radio 390 was also such a casualty. The station is largely forgotten now, but in 1966 it was one of the biggest radio hits in the UK, and had a real connection with the local area, thanks to the power of Mother’s Pride and the Northumberland Heath former Groom's bakery!

I came across this weeks' end video somewhat by accident. It has been made by a local person who wants to illustrate how much Erith has improved over the last few years; it is mostly a slide show featuring locally taken photographs. I noticed with some amusement that roughly half of the photographs are actually mine, and have been copied from my Flickr photo site here. I am rather flattered - though it would have been nice to have been asked before they used them! See what you think anyway, and feel free to leave a comment below. 


  1. Just to say that I always thanked Radio 390 for introducing me to the real authentic blues, this via Mike and Mandy Raven's early evening blues hour. It was original in two ways - the first airing of a musical genre unobtainable to most, and the only one hosted by Mr and Mrs offshore presenters.

  2. I deal with people who need to use food banks and its true that the powers that be and the state now rely or rather pass the buck onto them without a moments thought, whereas it used to be part of the welfare state. The thinking is "it doesn't matter because at least they can get some food". It's a very demeaning way to treat people.