Sunday, August 03, 2014

Better Scores.

The poster above is for the forthcoming Erith Fun Day, to be held at Erith Riverside Gardens on Saturday the 30th August. Local MP Teresa Pearce will be unveiling a new signpost that will commemorate the link Erith has with Alexander Selkirk, the real life inspiration for the fictional character of Robinson Crusoe.

After publishing the Maggot Sandwich last Sunday, I went for a stroll into town. I was taking a leisurely amble through Erith Riverside Shopping Centre when my left leg was suddenly struck from behind, causing me to lose balance and almost end up on my knees. As I staggered, trying to remain upright, a woman riding a mobility scooter drove by whilst talking on her mobile phone, completely oblivious to the fact she had just mown me down. Fortunately I was not badly injured, with just a small bruise on my calf to show for the encounter, and a slight limp that lasted a few days. These mobility scooters are a menace – they may have several humorous alternative names such as the Nanbretta or the Frinton Ferrari (an offshoot of the old saying “Harwich for the continent, Frinton for the incontinent"). This hides a sad story that quite a large proportion of mobility scooters can travel at substantially more than normal walking pace; when this is combined with the lack of compulsory training or the need to have third party insurance it does leave a legal minefield for both the operator of such a vehicle and also the members of the public than encounter them. I firmly believe that mobility scooters are a good thing; they enable people who otherwise might find it difficult to get out and about, and stay in contact with general society. The old situation with people becoming housebound and isolated when their ability to move under their own steam became impaired has become far less common. I think it vital for elderly and mobility impaired people to retain their independence. The problem is that a small minority treat the scooters as some kind of fairground ride – the lady who collided with me being a case in point – she was whizzing along oblivious to her surroundings whilst yacking on her mobile phone. The reason I did not chase and challenge her after she hit me was that I was acutely aware of what the situation would look like to a passerby who had not seen what had happened – it would look like I was harassing an innocent old lady. I think that there should be some kind of compulsory formal training for mobility scooter owners, on a similar basis to the (voluntary) cycling proficiency test, along with a compulsory insurance policy covering third party liability. Some mobility scooters seem to be capable of travelling much faster than the fifteen miles per hour limit that is meant to be applicable to such vehicles; indeed I have seen a couple of elderly ladies on the pavement beside the Erith Construction HQ (the former Job Centre) in Queen’s Road who were racing each other – it reminded me of the Monty Python “Hell’s Grannies” sketch. It is only a matter of time before a mobility scooter rider, or a pedestrian is seriously injured unless some action is taken.

I have had some good news from Cliff Murphy, the chief brewer at the Bexley Brewery contacted me earlier in the week to inform me that all is on schedule for the brewery to open for its’ first brew in September. After this, he invited me to come along to the brewery for a chat. On Friday I made my way along to the brewery, which is located on the Manford Industrial Estate at the far Eastern end of Manor Road. It was a sweltering day and I was as usual suffering from the heat. Cliff greeted me, and seeing how frazzled I was, he showed me into the chilled conditioning room. It was blissfully cool, as Cliff was testing the cooler unit prior to the other brewing equipment being installed. We had a long and detailed chat, and he later showed me into the brewery office where he brought out a couple of delightfully cool bottles from a pre - production run. We sipped the excellent real ale out of promotional glasses as you can see in the photo above. The Bexley Brewery is very much a family run affair, and Cliff explained much of their business plan; he already has ambitions to expand, and the brewery building certainly offers plenty of space for that. The work that has gone on to make the building ready for brewing is impressive - a high level of workmanship and cleverly thought out industrial design was evident.  I will be putting together a Bexley Brewery special edition of the Maggot Sandwich nearer the time of the opening. It seems that things are looking very positive for local small enterprises such as these. I for one will be supporting them. The photo above shows a bottle of Bob ale (Bexley's Own Beer). alongside a promotional glass that Cliff most kindly gave me. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot more from the Bexley Brewery in the future. I have a feeling we have a local success story in the making. 

The photo above was taken from the same 8mm silent colour cine footage as the shots of L.B Stevens – Master Butcher last week. It shows an orange lorry in Erith High Street.  According to local historian Ken Chamberlain, the footage was taken from the first  floor of Burton's Tailor's looking towards Crayford Road (now Compton Place) in 1967. The building in the background is The Prince of Wales public house, which was demolished to make way for the current McDonald’s drive through. What strikes me is that not one single building in the photo, taken in 1967 still exists today. The row of shops to the right hand side of the road are now replaced by the Sherwood House residential care home and the Erith Health Centre, and the left hand side contains residential flats and the new Erith Library, built in what used to be the lovely Art Deco Odeon Cinema. The second photo shows a broadly similar view today - the road position has changed somewhat, making a precise comparison impossible. Nothing is left of the old, pre 1960’s town centre, which as I previously wrote I consider to be an act of cultural vandalism. I am of the opinion that the 1970’s brutalist concrete shopping centre was built at minimal cost  for what it was, and that someone had their fingers in the till. Nothing else can explain how planning permission could have been granted for the wholesale destruction of a historic town centre with a structure that was not just hideously ugly, but blatantly unfit for purpose, and was so shoddily thrown together than it began to fall apart almost as soon as it was finished. The only shop to have remained throughout the period from the opening of the new concrete shopping centre to the present day is the pharmacists Howells and Harrison – who still have the same sign outside as they did in the 1970’s. Anyone that remembers the old concrete shopping centre will recall how dark and forbidding parts of it were, and how the overpowering smell of Jeyes fluid and stale wee permeated the whole area. The dingy and forbidding multi storey car park over the shops was the hangout of vandals and winos, and one could feel very intimidated when parking in there. The new Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is a very clever re – use of the carcass of the old structure, but in a far more sympathetic and people – friendly way. The oldest buildings that survived the destruction of the town centre are the post office (originally a livery stables from the mid 1700’s) and the both the Cross Keys and the former White Hart, which briefly got re – branded as lager and cocktail bar Potion, and became the “go to“ place for the areas drug addicts and ne’er do wells until it was forced to close, not before time.  The Cross Keys is currently undergoing a sympathetic restoration to return it to a pristine condition, as it would have been in 1900 – I will be doing a Maggot Sandwich special on the Cross Keys and what has been going on in the last eighteen months in a future edition; suffice to say that I have had a unique perspective on the whole project, and have had extensive access to the restoration process. It may not currently look much different from the outside, but it is utterly stunning internally. I wish the same could be said of the White Hart / Potion which has been architecturally ruined. The pub is empty and apparently unloved; it currently has a number of bill posters over the front windows, and the place has an air of abandonment. Anyone taking the place on would have an uphill battle; not only would they have to replace the kitchen and the currently wrecked bar area, but the upstairs accommodation needs full refurbishment. The biggest elephant in the corner is that the current plate glass frontage would have to be removed and replaced with a replica of the original salt glazed green tiles and acid etched Victorian frontage that the owners of Potion illegally ripped out – not only is the White Hart / Potion building locally listed, but the whole of Erith High Street is a conservation area. I think a conservative estimate of around £100,000 would be needed to get the place up and running again, and at present I just don’t see the will to do this.

Fellow local blogger The Thamesmead Grump has been featuring a warning about a chap called Joshua Bonehill; whilst I know many people keep up with the Grump, on the off chance that some don’t I have chosen to also feature Mr. Bonehill, as he deserves a certain kind of publicity. Joshua Bonehill has a strong online presence – he runs an organisation called the National British Resistance (if your internal warning bells are not ringing by now, they really need to be). I would call Bonehill a Neo Nazi, but he’s not. He’s a full, old school traditional Adolf Hitler idolising National Socialist, who has managed to harness the world wide web to build a profile that is disproportionate to his influence in reality. If you consult his website here you will see that he’s a dangerously deluded aspiring megalomaniac. Not bad for a 22 year old who’s on the dole and lives with his mum. Bonehill has been prosecuted for spreading malicious lies about Asian men kidnapping a six year old, and making up a false story as to how a pub had banned military personnel to avoid offending the local Muslim population. All of it was utter tosh, and when Bonehill had his day in court, he only just escaped a custodial sentence, instead he was sentenced to 180 hours community service. I don’t write about Bonehill to promote him; quite the opposite – to warn others that this nasty, bigoted little man and his repugnant views exist.

I am pleased to say that Bexley Council’s Environmental Health department seem to be really making a difference as far as local fast food takeaways are concerned. Last year I wrote at length at how many places in the London Borough of Bexley had zero ratings – then by far the worst food hygiene ratings of anywhere in the country. A corner definitely seems to have been turned, and major improvements in the “Scores on the Doors” star ratings have recently started to come through. Nemesis Gym, which previously only scored a one star has now been revisited, and they now get a very creditable four stars; the same is true of the Ark Cafe and Christian bookshop (see the photo above). It had scored a two out of five, despite getting a very good review from a couple of anonymous readers who contacted me back when the original rating was published. Now the Ark has improved to get four stars, as has the Yildiran kebab shop in West Street, which somehow originally only scored a one. This surprised me at the time – I have had kebabs from there before, and the place appeared immaculate – and the kebabs were certainly very tasty indeed – many people went out of their way to visit the tiny corner shop. Now it has a rating of four stars, and I can now visit the place again without having to worry. It is nice to be able to report such a positive improvement since the last round of inspections. There is however a fly in the ointment. Erith’s only surviving pub, the Running Horses has seen its’ Scores on the Doors rating drop from two stars to zero.  Under previous ownership back in the 1980’s, the Running Horses Carvery was incredibly popular – to book on a Sunday you usually had to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance. The food was well cooked and plentiful, the place was packed and the service was great. The excellent view over the river Thames from the upper floors windows only added to the whole experience. I can recall being taken there with my sister by my parents on many occasions. It was always a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately things have gone downhill since. The Running Horses used to be a “treat” destination, but nowadays it seems to be the last refuge of the desperate. The current owners spent a lot of money on the place a few years ago, but I don’t think they have recouped it. Walking past the place early on a Sunday afternoon, I rarely see more than a couple of cars in the car park at the back, or in the Riverside Gardens parking spaces at the front of the pub. This contrasts with the eighties, when a driver would be hard pressed to find a space after midday.  What the solution for this is I don’t know. Apart from the Mambocino coffee house and cafe in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, there is no other “sit down” eaterie in the town (I refuse to count Morrison’s cafe, as it is not the sort of place that you can make a reservation). So the Running Horses does not have any direct competition, but it still is not doing very well.  All I can say is that it has a couple of issues: 1) Lack of publicity – many don’t know the carvery / restaurant still exists. An advertising campaign or even a FaceBook page might help in this regard. 2) A concentration on quality of food and drink. When I last visited the Running Horses a couple of years ago, the only real ale they had on tap was Young’s Bitter (one of my favourite bog standard bitters) but it was sour and off. When I took back the pint the barman denied it was off, and when I showed him my CAMRA membership card, he offered me a pint of Carlsberg lager in replacement. I am pretty sure he had no idea how insulting that was to a real ale enthusiast, so I got a refund and went home. This is no kind of customer service. I think a change of management company or brewery might be the best way forward to keep the place going – I have worries that it might get closed and converted into flats, or worse still, demolished to make way for yet more faceless new flats. If someone like Shepherd Neame or Fuller’s were to buy it, invest some money in it and re – open with a full food menu, I think the glory days of the 1980’s could once again be back for the Running Horses. It needs a new lease of life instead of limping along with an appalling zero star rating. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Transport historian Dana Whiffen has provided an update on his post of last week; this time it is a piece on the kind of buses that would have been running locally at the start of World War One.
"The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) B-Type Bus which was later nicknamed “Ole Bill” because of its war service. Running from 1910 to 1928 The B-Type Bus was the first mass produced bus introduced in 1910 for testing, production saw them start service in 1911 and by 1913 over 2,500 had entered service with a total of 2,900 being built. With a top speed of 16 mph B-Type could carry 34 passengers 16 downstairs and 18 on the uncovered upper deck, with covers being fitted to these upper seats for wet weather. During the start of WW1 the war office purchased around 1,000 from LGOC to move troops behind lines mostly in France and Belgium although some were shipped as far as Egypt. These were then painted Khaki and had their windows removed and boarded over, they were also used as ambulances and mobile pigeon lofts. Back home some night service B-Types were painted Black as part of a Black-out policy. Ole Bill itself B43 is now preserved in The Imperial War Museum and B340 is kept in its Red (LGOC) Livery in The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, when it is not in operation at events. There has been an appeal to restore B2737 with a lottery grant and donations enabling it to return to The Battlefields of France and Belgium this coming September 2014, to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by transport workers during the war".

Bexley Council have done a drastic 180 degree about face in respect of coverage of their council sessions. As famously covered by the intrepid Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers blog, the council have had a blanket ban on any form of audio or video recording at their meetings, in direct contravention of the guidelines published by local government minister Eric Pickles. The decision not to allow recording made the national press, and has formed a corner stone of the Bonkers Blog for over a year. Recently they have (to their credit) reversed this controversial ruling and now they have launched the Bexley Council video channel. To call it mind numbingly boring would be to under sell it. You may recall that I urged the Council to webcast all meetings as a matter of course when this whole issue first came to light. I said back then that as soon as people realised how utterly dull and tedious the events at council meetings were, they would switch off in droves. I would appear to have been correct in this statement.  You can view the online videos of Bexley Council in their Technicolor awesomeness here. I think the term “underwhelming, tedious and mind numbingly boring” would fit quite well. No surprises there then.

You may be aware that the Erith Watch neighbourhood watch group have been campaigning against illegal off - road motor bikes that are used on the Slade Green Marshes. The marshes are a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and are preserved from development as they contain one of the most important areas of freshwater wetland in the country. The marshes are home to several unique species of birds and rare water voles, as well as a Jacobean tithe barn, which is of special historical interest. Some irresponsible local chavs ride illegal, stolen off - road bikes on the marshes, which along with creating a lot of noise and pollution, dig up footpaths and grass which are only supposed to be used by walkers. The Police are aware of the problem, and periodically they raid the illegal riders and confiscate bikes to be crushed. Some criminal idiot called Scott Booker has posted the footage below on YouTube of his mates clearly engaged in illegal activity on the marshland. At several points the number plate on one of the bikes can clearly be seen, although from past experience it is quite likely to be a false plate. Scott Booker also posted another video showing him and his scumbag mates performing wheelies and other illegal stunts whilst not wearing helmets on public roads which you can see here. These are the same people that regularly illegally ride their motorbikes on the pavement in and around Slade Green and Manor Road. The details of both videos have already been passed to North End Safer Neighbourhood Police team for investigation and hopeful prosecution. Please leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. The "orange lorry" in the pic of the old Prince of Wales / High Street is, in fact, an Erith Corporation (as the the pre GLC council styled itself) dustcart. The chassis carried a semi-circular shaped hopper which could be opened up from the side like an old roll desk for bin empyting