Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Vickers Maxim legacy.

The photo above (click on it for a larger version) was taken just after 7am last Monday morning by Maggot Sandwich reader and local businessman Manjinder in Manor Road, Erith. It shows the rising sun illuminating the vapour trails left by jet aircraft that have flown over the town. I must admit that I too saw the scene whilst I was waiting for my train at Erith station, but I did not have my trusty Nikon with me; Manjinder kindly sent a couple of shots through to me, one of which is displayed above. Occasionally the weather and lighting conditions coincide to produce some really stunning scenes like the one you can see. If you ever take a photo that you think may be of interest to other readers, please feel free to send it through - you will get full credit, or can stay anonymous, as you wish. Email to

Earlier this week I was going through some of the historical photos of Erith that I have stored on the hard drive of my Apple iMac. I noticed something quite remarkably consistent about the shots, whether they had been taken in the 1920’s, 1960’s or in the last few years. Unless the photos depicted the river, or the area around what is now the Riverside Gardens, they all contained one element – the spire of Christ Church Erith. The church has dominated the skyline of the local area since it was constructed. The building has a dominant location on Victoria Road, adjacent to the railway and the Bexley Road Bridge, at what could be construed as the gateway to Erith. Whatever one’s beliefs, or lack thereof, it is clear that Christ Church forms an important part of the local community, and is a historical, cultural and social centre of the town. To reflect this, a group of local people have been invited to form a committee to oversee The Friends Of Christ Church Erith (FOCCE). This is to be a secular organisation that will assist in fund and awareness raising to maintain the fabric of the Church and its’ ancillary buildings, and to raise money for local charities and other worthy causes, and to encourage the use of the church in community affairs. FOCCE will be assisting in the forthcoming annual Christmas Tree Festival, which is held in the church on the 12th to the 14th December, and has been a very popular attraction for years. The idea behind the festival is simple but astonishingly effective. Local companies and private households alike can donate to have a Christmas tree displayed in the church for them to decorate to their taste; alternatively they can pay a little extra to have the decoration done for them. The entire church is filled by eighty decorated and lit Christmas trees over the three days, and a huge number of visitors come to view what is a really spectacular sight. The money raised is donated to the Greenwich and Bexley Hospice and to the church. I would strongly encourage you to pop along for a visit. The Christmas Tree Festival runs from 12 to 7pm on Friday the 12th December, from 10am to 6pm On Saturday the 13th December (immediately followed by a Carol Concert between 7 and 8pm) and between 12 and 5pm on Sunday the 14th December. Admission to the Christmas Tree Festival is free, but donations are welcome – all of which go to good causes. Members of The Friends Of Christ Church Erith will be on hand throughout the festival, with leaflets on how people can join the group. Membership applications can be made on the day, or visitors can take away a leaflet to fill in and return at their leisure. If you would like to become more acquainted with other members of the community, and to help several extremely worthwhile causes, you may well wish to join.

One problem the Maggot Sandwich has long suffered from is spam messages the purport to be comments from readers; fortunately the Blogger platform I use is part of Google, and they have extremely clever and powerful spam filtering technology. Nevertheless every so often a spam message or two does manage to evade the filtering and make it into the Maggot Sandwich editorial control panel. This is one of the reasons that I have comment moderation switched on at all times – I get the final say in what is published, not an automated system, however good it might be. This kind of problem is besetting many online publications, along with malicious posts being uploaded by internet trolls. Some online publications have had so much libellous and / or offensive content posted on their websites that they have taken the step of removing the option to leave a comment altogether. The expense of having a human moderator was judged to be uneconomic in many of these cases. One only has to look at the News Shopper website to see how this can happen – and most of the comments on that site are relatively mild when compared  to those found elsewhere. One only has to look at the comments left after the publication of a story covering a violent incident involving a knifing that took place last Saturday evening in the Maharana Indian Restaurant in Halfway Street to see that a regular bunch of so called “wits” take delight in making jokes at the expense of the people involved in the story. Personally, if I was running a website with a large number of comments and a proportion of those trended towards the malicious and hurtful, I would be inclined to remove the commenting option too. Fortunately the Maggot Sandwich readership is thankfully devoid of trolls, the angry and the deluded (with one notable exception, which I hope to be in a position to tell you all about after the 15th of January – there is a court case pending regarding the sorry individual). Nevertheless, the posting of offensive comments is so rife online that it is no wonder that site operators are giving up in disgust.

On a lighter note, it would seem that the mobile device market is about to enter a new round of competition; after a year or so of consolidation, the big players are planning on some innovations for 2015; Samsung, who are the market leaders in terms of share, if not profitability, are planning on introducing a new range of mobile phones with flexible, foldable screens. Quite what benefit this will bring to the user I cannot quite see. In my opinion it strongly smells of a solution in search of a problem, though no doubt there will be many who will be wooed by the new technology and flock to be amongst the first with a “bendy phone”. Samsung needs a shot in the arm after the Galaxy S5 failed to fly off the shelves, and there are reports that warehouses in the Far East a chock full of the model that they cannot shift. I foresee a similar issue with smart watches – however they function and whatever benefits they bring to their users, I question their long – term viability. Even the most parsimonious models run flat after less than two days, and most models require a charge after only eight or nine hours use. Even if users are prepared for this level of inconvenience, I can see problems halfway through next year; the early adopters will then have had their smart watches for eighteen months or so; bearing in mind most models use a variant of Lithium Ion power storage technology, which is usually good for around 500 – 550 charging cycles, the power cells will be coming to the end of their life, and will hold their charge for an even shorter period of time. I have not heard any experiences with changing smartwatch power cells, but I would not be at all surprised of some cannot be fitted with a new battery. An expensive and relatively short life cycle device may be the end result. It will be interesting to see what happens; as always the early adopters do tend to carry out beta testing for the manufacturers - one of the reasons I have a policy of "never buy version 1.0 of anything". Comments / feedback to

Finally after weeks of terrible luck, I have been able to sample a couple of pints of Bexley Brewery BOB Ale in the manner that it was always intended to be served - in draught form directly from the cask. I happened to meet my Mother for lunch in the excellent Robin Hood and Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath yesterday, and BOB was the guest ale. A cracking pint of proper real ale, and something that I would heartily endorse. As you will notice it was served as it should be - in a dimpled jug. Top notch. 

Maggot Sandwich readers of long standing may recall that quite some time ago I explained why I refused to take advertising on the blog. One of the reasons I cited was that I did not want to be at the thrall of an advertiser or sponsor, and thus be muzzled as to what content I wrote. It would seem that my feelings on the subject have now been crystallised after a report from The Advertising Standards Authority specifically targeting Vloggers (video bloggers) who have been promoting commercial products and using product placement in their videos, for which advertising agencies and public relations firms have been financially rewarding them for. Whether The Advertising Standards Authority actually have any power over Vloggers is debatable; many are based outside of the UK, and other may be based in the UK, but use platforms that are hosted outside of the UK. I suspect that the ASA are having a bit of a “fishing trip” to see who they can scare into submission. I think that in many cases their words may prove to be an empty threat. I get the feeling that the ASA don’t really have much of a clue as to exactly how video services such as YouTube actually operate. Whilst a file may be uploaded from an I.P address in the UK, it may end up being hosted on a server in the USA, Japan or a host of other locations, from which it is then “broadcast” to viewers via the World Wide Web. Which country is legally responsible for video content? The country from whence it was uploaded, or the country that hosts the video files? Users may upload files using a proxy, mirroring the upload to a third location anywhere in the world – The Advertising Standards Authority would need the resources of GCHQ to track activity of this nature, and I cannot see it ever happening. I think some clueless Whitehall Mandarin is blowing off steam over something that they really don't have a handle on. Let’s see what happens.

The area around Erith, Slade Green and Crayford has a long history of invention and engineering innovation. Factories have employed hundreds of local people for well over a century. Companies such as Maxim, Vickers and the Jennings Organ Company (later much more widely known as Vox) were based in the area and contributed much to the local economy. Many of the warehouses and factories that housed these companies are now long gone – in many cases housing has been built on their sites; only the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road is left of the original Victorian factory structures that once dominated the skyline. During both World Wars, the area economically benefited– for example in 1914, the number of trams run in Crayford and Erith was increased to transport the large number of munitions workers many of whom worked for Vickers making ammunition for use on the Western Front. With most of the young men volunteering for military service (conscription was yet to begin) many women entered paid employment for the first time, something that directly led to the start of female emancipation with the Representation of the People Act 1918. I have written at some length about inventor and businessman Hiram Maxim in the past; Maxim was American born but later naturalised British. He invented the sprung mouse trap, the first practical machine gun, the incandescent light bulb (though he famously failed to get the patent registered before Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan) and  the first heavier than air aircraft. After moving to England in 1881, Maxim began his aerial experiments at Baldwins Park, in the late 1880's, leading to the construction in 1893 of his enormous biplane Test-Rig, which weighed about three and a half tons. The machine's two steam engines each produced 180 horsepower. and turned two pusher propellers each 17-1/2 feet in diameter. Since the device was intended to be a test vehicle it was held to a track, preventing it from rising more than a couple of feet. On the Maxim Biplane Test-Rig's third test run, on July 31, 1894, with Maxim and a crew of three aboard, it lifted with such force that it broke the reinforced restraining track and careened for some two hundred yards, at times reaching an altitude of two or three feet above the damaged track. It was believed that a lifting force of some four and a half tons had been generated. After this, Maxim allowed his assistants to demonstrate the flying machine on a number of further occasions, but he took no further part in the development – he rightly realised that the machine was a design “dead end” as it lacked practical flight controls. It was not until 1903 that the Wright Brothers worked out their system of ailerons and rudders that made flying practical and controllable. Hiram Maxim was best known as the inventor of the Maxim machine gun, and many of these were manufactured both in Crayford, and in Fraser Road, Erith from 1887 onward. By 1903 the armaments part of the business (which was in a partnership with Vickers) was getting less orders, due to the end of the Boer War in South Africa. Some of the production capacity was turned over to producing motor vehicles – something that was still a bit of a cottage industry in the UK.  The factory produced Wolseley type cars under the name Siddeley Autocars. This ceased in 1910, when the manufacture of cars was moved to Birmingham. During the First World War both the Crayford and Erith plants produced Vickers machine guns (a development of the original Maxim gun made with fewer parts which was cheaper to mass produce and also more reliable and easy to maintain). What is less well known is that Vickers Vimy bombers were also constructed on a limited basis. It is thought that the aeroplane which transported Alcock and Brown on the historic very first flight across the Atlantic was one of those produced locally. In the present the fact that both Erith and Crayford were major arms manufacturing towns is unknown to many residents; indeed the only relic of the Vickers Maxim factory in Erith is that the area of shops and houses located at the bend where Woolwich Road becomes Fraser Road is still known by older locals as “The Pom Pom” – due to the sound of guns being tested in the dedicated shooting range that was adjacent to the factory for many years. I think it sad that many people still call the area by the informal name, but very few seem to know the actual reason for it. Nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the changes that have happened over the years that arms manufacturing was no longer something that no longer happened locally. In matter of fact nothing could be further from the truth. Slade Green is home to Manroy Engineering, a company that specialises in the manufacture and refurbishment of machine guns and light cannon for the military. They also make all sorts of weapon mounts, gun turrets for armoured vehicles and assorted other military hardware such as specialised sniper rifles and vehicle armour packages. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, but they are actually located on the Power Works site on Slade Green Road. It is amazing what a little bit of searching on Google Street view can find!

As regular readers will be aware, I am a great fan of Google Chromebook computers. They are very cheap, simple and light, and are capable of a great deal, as long as one has a Wi-Fi or 3G / 4G network connection. In essence they are not a “full” laptop, rather a cut – down device that only runs a sophisticated web browser. To be honest, for many people who used web based Email, check Facebook or upload photos to Instagram or Flickr, a Chromebook is more than enough – cloud based storage and browser based applications are the norm for very many people. There are certain pieces of software which cannot be run via a browser – complex applications such as AutoCAD and Photoshop have always had to be installed on a local hard disk, and have historically required high end PC’s to operate. This is now starting to change. The producers of Photoshop – Adobe Systems have been quietly working with Google for the last couple of years in order to produce a version of Photoshop that will be capable of running within a web browser and will not require to be installed locally. The way it works is pretty simple. The application is downloaded via the Chrome Web Store, and when you open it up you are actually connecting to a server which is running the desktop version of Photoshop CC 2014. The user interface of the desktop version is captured as a video and sent to your web browser, where JavaScript relays your actions back to the server, completing the interactive loop. It is not much different from how a virtual machine setup works, but it means that the application could be run in the browser on any computer — even on Chromebooks. Adobe essentially wants to let you stream a pound-for-pound copy of Photoshop, and I understand that the company is about ninety percent there. It does, however, have its limits. Right now, Photoshop Streaming works exclusively with files hosted on Google Drive, but  Adobe hopes to add the ability to work with other cloud storage services down the road. There are core functions that don't work in the program at the moment, such as printing, or processes that require a GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) like Photoshop's 3D functions. Otherwise, everything from making layer masks to using the Camera Raw editor works, though it was difficult to judge the amount of lag over the screen sharing software. Adobe will use the trial period to build out functionality and troubleshoot the overall experience from the feedback it gets. Initially the web based version will be offered to schools and colleges in the USA. Many educational institutions are full of people working with low-end hardware — which is what Adobe wants to optimise the program for. Once Adobe feels comfortable with the experience it will open up the trial to a broader audience and, hopefully a commercial release in the not too distant future. This could well prove to be a “killer app” for Chromebooks – but, as they say, time will tell.

A couple of readers have mentioned to me that nothing seems to be happening with the old Andrew Carnegie gifted Erith Library building in Walnut Tree Road, opposite the new Bexley College campus, which has been empty and unloved since the library was relocated to the soulless eyesore of a new building in the High Street. One person has even enquired with Wetherspoon’s as to if they would consider converting it into a pub and restaurant, but apparently got a response in the negative. I am aware that negotiations are under way to put the superb building into productive use, but I will refrain from mentioning the details at this point as this might potentially put any deal at risk; suffice to say the proposed use will be excellent and very beneficial to all concerned if it get the green light.  Hopefully more news on this subject in the not too distant future.

The ending video should prove to be of interest to many readers. As I covered back at Easter, this year was the fiftieth anniversary of Radio Caroline coming on the air, back in 1964. It was also the fiftieth anniversary of Manx Radio beginning on the Isle of Man. As some may know, I used to work for Radio Caroline when it was still broadcasting from the South Falls Head in the North Sea back in the late 80's / early 90's. You can see a few photos from back then here. Manx Radio took the opportunity to visit the Ross Revenge, which has been the floating home of Radio Caroline since 1983 at its current mooring on the River Blackwater in Essex. I can now let you into a secret; for a couple of years there were negotiations between Radio Caroline and Bexley Council about mooring the Ross Revenge on Erith Pier during the 50th anniversary celebrations. I had a very minor role in the talks, but due to a number of reasons no agreement could be reached, and the project was regrettably scrapped. If the ship had come to Erith Riverside, as well as broadcasting on a short term RSL (Restricted Service Licence) it would have been open to the public. I had several conversations with my old boss, Caroline Managing Director Peter Moore about the situation, and had things panned out differently, I could have had a small role in responsibility for the ship and the station, had the trip to Erith been made. It however was not to be the case. The video below shows the Ross Revenge as she looks today - which is far smarter than back in the day when I was on board, when it looked like a floating student bedsit for the most part. Now she is far better cared for, and at certain times can be visited by the public. Radio Caroline broadcasts 24/7 on the internet - you can listen live by clicking here, and the station has a large and active listenership around the world; watch the video and see what you think.

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