Sunday, December 07, 2014

An abnormal load.

The photos above were taken by local resident and Maggot Sandwich reader Rosemary. She grabbed the shots on Monday, whilst an absolutely huge Dutch barge was moored alongside Erith Pier. The four giant storage silos had been transported by sea from the Netherlands; they were waiting on the pier for a final trip a little further East and across to the other bank of the River Thames, in order to be installed at an industrial plant in Dagenham. Personally I would have thought that it would have been quicker and more convenient to have built the silos actually on the Dagenham site, but I guess that there must have been pressing reasons why though could not be achieved. What also amazes me is that the local press have been entirely silent on the subject, even though the silos actually stayed on the barge next to the pier all week. I know that the North of the London Borough of Bexley gets treated poorly when compared with the more prosperous South, but something of this nature would surely merit a few lines of text and a photograph? In the eighteen years I have lived in Erith, I have never seen anything so large and imposing moored on the pier. Comments and feedback to

Last week I walked almost the entire length of Bexleyheath Broadway for the first time in a couple of months; there has been much talk in the business pages of the broadsheet newspapers about the economic recovery and the end to the recession. In practical terms this has yet to be reflected in the recovery of the retail sales business. Many units in both the shopping centre and the Broadway are still shuttered and empty, and it made for a rather depressing walk. One hears many horror stories as to how the high street is dead, and that online sales are everything - personally I have seen the likes of Amazon dominate certain sectors of the market, but I still feel that physical shops have a very important role to play. The trouble is that compared with an online shop, a physical shop is a far larger financial outlay, and consequently much more of a risk. This may well be why despite the apparent upturn in the market, that locally both Erith Riverside Shopping Centre and and Bexleyheath Broadway are still struggling with a number of empty shop units. What can be done to remedy this situation? Well, I feel that the cost of rent and the business rates both are of concern - for anyone wanting to start a retail outlet, the costs can be prohibitive. I know that Bexley Council have an almost obsessive focus on cash - at the expense of pretty much everything else. Their central mantra would seem to be “don’t increase the council tax level - even if it means catastrophic cuts to local services”. An example of this can be seen in their attitude to the Belvedere Splash Park, as I have previously mentioned; It seems that they can see a new cash cow in the recreation park opposite to the Splash Park in Woolwich Road. It is well known that Belvedere Library is threatened with closure, and the parcel of land that the library site, along with the adjacent recreation park site, complete with tennis courts and children's play area would make a prime site for residential development. Moving the non - water based recreation park over to the current Splash Park site would rid the council of two perceived headaches - what to do about the relatively maintenance intensive, but extremely popular Splash Park, and secondly to free up a sizable parcel of land to be sold off at immense profit to property developers - which would also have the longer - term benefit to the Council's coffers in bringing in more council tax revenue. The fact that all of this would be in direct contravention of the clearly expressed wishes of the existing tax paying residents is of little concern to those in the council who can see nothing other than the figures on a spreadsheet.

Early on Monday morning I was making my usual way to Erith Station to catch the train to work; I normally walk along Pier Road, past the small huddle of pensioners who wait outside of the Martin newsagents for it to open at 7am – as I have written before, it entirely escapes me why they need to go so early when they have all day to pick up the paper and a pint of milk; they stand around in the semi dark and freezing cold. It seems to be some kind of obscure and arcane ritual that entirely puzzles me. I walked down the steps towards the underpass that runs underneath the horrendous fish roundabout and leads to Erith station. The lights in the foot tunnel have recently been upgraded to LED bulbs, and the tunnel is far better lit than it ever used to be. I noticed a couple of bundles on the ground, pretty much smack bang halfway through the underpass. I mentally tutted. It looked very much like someone had fly tipped a load of domestic waste where it could not be seen by the nearby CCTV cameras. As I walked closer, I realised that my assumption was incorrect; it was not the results of fly tipping – it was two sleeping bags on some flattened cardboard boxes with a couple of people and a dog sleeping rough. I was shocked; in all my years of living in Erith, I have seen many things, but I have never encountered people forced to sleep rough. The sleeping bags did not look very warm, and it was bitterly cold at just before 7am – only around three degrees, though the temperature in the tunnel is usually a couple of degrees above this, but it is still most certainly not somewhere anybody would want to sleep. There was no movement from the sleeping bags, or indeed the dog that slept between them; I decided that there was little I could do to help at that point, and continued on my journey to work. I did alert the authorities in the hope that something positive could be done for the couple. I have not seen them since. One gets somewhat hardened to seeing people sleeping in the street in London – though personally I think any society which has homeless people is failing in some way. To see people with no option but to sleep in an underpass no more than a few minutes’ walk from my own house is something that really brought the whole situation home to me. I know that there are charities that help homeless people throughout the year, and there are also special projects to care for the homeless over Christmas, but it seems to me that these are little more than a sticking plaster for an axe wound. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Following the piece I wrote on the newly re - formed Friends of Christ Church Erith last week, the group has just made the following announcement online, which I reproduce with permission:-

There is no denying that Christ Church is an architectural landmark in Erith, standing tall among the ever changing urban landscape. Step into the grounds and you suddenly find a place of peace from the everyday bustle, venture inside the church and admire the impressive stained glass windows and murals. The Victorian Church, consecrated in 1874, is a listed Grade 2 Star building, and together with the bell tower and extensive grounds is not only a place of worship but also a valuable facility for the local community. Friends of Christ Church Erith recognise the importance of the building and the need to maintain the fabric and improve it where possible. Christ Church Erith receives no financial support towards the church's upkeep and repairs (an average of £10,000+ a year) and these are funded by the generosity of the congregation and supporters. We would truly appreciate you joining us and becoming a Friend of Christ Church Erith. As a Friend it would be entirely up to you to decide how much you would like to be involved. You would receive a welcome pack including a brief history of the building, be invited to exclusive gatherings, have the opportunity of participating in social events and fundraisers, and receive a Friends Newsletter at least once a year. But more than this you would be making a real difference to an important part of Erith’s heritage. By becoming a Friend of Christ Church Erith and kindly making a minimum annual donation (£10 individual/ £15 joint/ £50 corporate), you will be contributing to the funds required by the Parochial Church Council to help maintain the building and its grounds, for the benefit of local people.  If you are not sure, perhaps you are not a church goer or you are of a different faith, we warmly invite you to come and visit Christ Church to see for yourself what a special place we all have here. If you would like to join Friends of Christ Church Erith please Click on the links below for the relevant forms. if you have any questions or concerns, you can contact the Friends at the following Email address:- 

The photo above was sent to me by reader and local resident Christine; it shows the newsagent that used to be located in Watling Street, Bexleyheath on what is now the site of the new Bexley Council offices, which were originally constructed for the Woolwich Equitable Building Society. Christine tells me that she thinks that the photo was taken in 1977, shortly before the buildings in the photo were demolished to make way for the construction of the office building. I think she is correct in her date; one can clearly see an advertising board with an advert for the then new Renault 14 car. The Renault 14 was released in 1976, and became available in the UK in 1977. Unfortunately whilst the 14 was technically innovative, with a very large amount of internal space, due to it being fitted with a transverse engine powering the front wheels, in the same way as the original Mini, the Renault 14 was a substantially larger car, more in the mould of a Ford Escort; in fact Ford launched a new, front wheel drive version of the Escort only a year later as a direct response to the innovation that the Renault 14 brought. Things got off to a bad start when the Renault 14 was launched, with a disastrous advertising campaign that compared the 14 to the shape of a pear. A preview at the Pompidou Centre in Paris as a bare body shell did little to win it customers. The car would later gain a reputation for premature body corrosion which saw the 14 being dubbed as the "rotten pear" by the motoring press. In France, "La poire"' (literally "the pear", but also slang for "gullible") still refers to the 14. However, the best-selling Renault 5 also had a reputation for premature body corrosion, but a far more effective advertising campaign for the Renault 5 helped boost its sales and resulted in it being a commercial success. The Renault 14 (click here for a photo view) also had a reputation for being difficult to start in damp conditions, due to easy water ingress into the ignition coil, which was poorly placed and not well sealed against damp. The placement of the temperature gauge on the transmission tunnel behind the gear-lever, rather than on the instrument panel where it was directly in the driver's field of view, led to incidents of engine damage if the engine overheated and the driver failed to notice. It also had a nasty habit of jumping out of reverse gear unless the driver physically held the gear stick in place when reversing. Bearing in mind many driving schools in the UK used Renault 14’s in the early 1980’s this did not endear it to either instructors or pupils, despite it being easy to manoeuvre, and having both good all - round visibility and very comfortable seats. I must admit that despite being a classic car enthusiast, I have never seen a restored and running Renault 14; the model was never a massive hit, and with somewhat fragile mechanics, perilously dodgy electrics and very poor rust protection, they don't offer much reward for even the most ardent collector.

On occasion life imitates art; in this case you may recall that only last week I wrote about the rise of the simple and cheap Google Chromebook in the education market, at the apparent expense of Microsoft. This week major U.S based market research company IDC published a report that states Google, for the first time ever, has overtaken Apple as a provider of computer hardware to both students and teaching staff in United States schools. The research firm claims that Google shipped 715,000 Chromebooks to schools in the third quarter, while Apple shipped 702,000 iPads to schools. Chromebooks as a whole now account for a quarter of the educational market. IDC says that the lower cost of Chromebooks when compared to iPads is a huge factor for school districts. Chromebooks start at $199, while last year’s iPad Air, with educational discounts applied, costs $379. The research firm also says that many school corporations prefer the full keyboard found on Chromebooks instead of the touchscreen found on iPads. Some schools that use iPads, however, supply students with a keyboard case as well, but that only further increases the cost of iPads compared to Chromebooks. IT departments also tend to favour Chromebooks because they are simpler to manage when compared to iPads. Regarding the shift in purchasing behaviour, IDC analyst Rajani Singh was quoted as saying:- “Chromebooks are really gaining traction. The growth of Chromebook is a major concern for Apple’s iPad. As the average age of the student grows, the need for a keyboard becomes very important.”  In 2013,  Apple worked diligently with the Los Angeles Unified School District to supply every student with an iPad. The deal fell apart, however, over how the iPads would be given to students and the fact that students were figuring out how to bypass usage restrictions. The Los Angeles Unified School District has since supplied students with Chromebooks and a small number of Windows laptops. Chromebooks have consistently been among the most popular and highest rated laptops on Amazon since their initial release. The Acer C720 is currently the best-selling laptop on Amazon with a four and a half star rating from more than 2,600 reviews. Unfortunately these figures are very U.S centric, and IDC have not done a similar analysis in the U.K or mainland Europe at this point. My understanding is that UK schools still strongly favour Apple over competition, but if Google can market the fact that remote administration of Chromebooks is far easier, along with the hard fact that a fully featured Chromebook is only around a half the price of a competing iPad, and the iPad will need an additional external keyboard to give it the same functionality as a Chromebook. This could well tip the balance in the future; either way, Microsoft is so far behind in the race to win the favour of the massive and influential education market that it needs to either drastically re – evaluate its’ strategy or to exit the race altogether.

In the photos above you can compare and contrast a locally manufactured (either at Crayford or Fraser Road, Erith) Vickers machine gun (the upper photo courtesy of local historian Ken Chamberlain) from 1911 with the modern equivalent in the lower photo – the 2014 Manroy Engineering General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) manufactured at their factory in Slade Green Road. There is an incident that had been mostly lost to history, which involves a tragic loss of young people as a result of the historic local involvement with the arms trade. You may recall that back at the end of August I described in some detail the events that led to the terrible gunpowder explosion on the Belvedere Marshes back on the 1st of October 1864. Unfortunately this was not the only accident to claim the lives of local people as a result of munitions work. A lesser known accident occurred back in 1924. Slade Green was at that time home to a number of armaments factories (and it still is home to Manroy Engineering – more on them later). The marshland between Lower Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green was an ideal place to locate factories working with explosives, as though the locations were physically relatively close to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, they were isolated from centres of population, thus limiting casualties in the event of any catastrophe. Ethel Pullen, 18, nicknamed “Topsey”, was one of twelve young women to die in the Slade Green Filling Factory in the disaster which also killed their foreman Edward Jones, 29, on February 18, 1924. The factory, on the Slade Green Marshes, was used to produce two inch and six inch mortar shells and to break up and render safe surplus ammunition recovered from the First World War battlefields. On the day of the fatal explosion the women, all aged 16 to 24 years old, were breaking up cartridges used as flares to light up the trenches. Just before 9am, the explosion occurred and a fire broke out in the shed they were working in. Tragically Ethel Pullen was engaged to be married the very next week, and would have most likely have given up work to be a housewife thereafter, as was the custom at the time. There is a memorial to the victims of the explosion in Erith Cemetery in Brook Street. It is ironic that in the past so many local people relied for their livelihoods on weapon and ammunition production which also could result in their very lives being put at risk. Nowadays the only defence contractor to my knowledge still operating in the area is the aforementioned Manroy Engineering. Thankfully they don't manufacture ammunition or explosives, so the risk of a modern version of the 1864 or 1924 explosions are really minimal. Manroy are basically a light engineering company that make machine guns and sniper rifles for NATO military forces, along with armour and gun turrets for light armoured vehicles.

Erith, Slade Green and Lower Belvedere have been home to all sorts of mechanical and infrastructure engineering for many years. One world leading such organisation was Callender’s Cables, a company that was originally formed by William Callender in 1880; Callender had already been in business for at least ten years; he started off importing bitumen and asphalt from Switzerland to the UK in order to feed the demand for tarmac roads in London. At this time the business was run by Callender and his two sons from offices in Leadenhall Street in the City of London; they also had a large depot in Millwall where the raw asphalt and bitumen was landed ashore from cargo ships before it was sold on to the civil engineering companies engaged in road building. Later Callender decided to diversify; he realised that the world was becoming electrified, and that a great deal of money was going to be made by those in the business. His son Thomas took over the production of large capacity insulated electric cables, and famously provided electric lighting for the St. Petersburg Opera House in Russia; Cables were also supplied for the electric lighting of the new law courts in the Strand, and for the Royal Opera house in Covent Garden in 1883, as well as mains cables for the growing number of electricity supply companies. By this time the large factory in Erith had opened, which was the base of many Callender operations for the next five decades. By 1898 the number of contracts won had grown from 31 to 70; total sales over the same period had increased from £95,764 to £296,946 – a fortune at the time. Callender Cables continued with the development and sale of high voltage, large capacity power cables until World War II, when their specialised engineering skills were devoted to war work. Callenders jointly developed PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean) with Glovers of Trafford Park in order to supply fuel to the Allied invasion force in June 1944. By the end of the war Callenders were a very different organisation to that they had been prior to the conflict; at this point they opted to merge with British Insulated Cables to become British Insulated Callenders Cables ltd – better known as BICC. The story of BICC to the present day will be covered in a future Maggot Sandwich update.

I don't normally promote mainstream TV shows, but something on the BBC Christmas schedule really caught my eye and imagination. When I was at primary school I was a voracious reader; indeed when I was seven years old I was rated with a reading age of eleven. I read anything and everything I could - something that has stayed with me today. My favourite works of fiction back then were the "Professor Branestawm" books by Norman Hunter. On Christmas Eve there is going to be a made for TV one hour movie:- The Adventures of Professor Branestawm, with the eponymous character being played by comedian and TV presenter Harry Hill. I have to say that in normal circumstances I don't have a lot of time for Harry Hill, but if the trailer is anything to go by, he was born to play Professor Branestawm. The show is to be aired from 8.30 to 9.30 on Christmas Eve. See what you think.


  1. Why was the shop being demolished in 1977? It doesn't make sense.

  2. One of (and about the only thing) I miss moving away from Erith and the Thames was seeing the boats and using the pier. Good that you got some shots of such an interesting visitor. Not surprised the local press missed it though.

  3. There are enough people and houses in the area, we don't want any more flats, especially if it results in the library and recreation park at Belvedere going! There isn't the infrastructure to support them. When will the people running this country and the councils have some common sense and come up with real ways to fix the problems in society? (e.g. excessive immigration, way too high benefits, inefficient use of money on management consultants and PFI schemes and new buildings at every whim, wasteful foreign aid etc...). If this continues there won't be anything nice and no services, just a huge number of people living in squalid flats, and those in work paying huge amounts of tax, of which most gets wasted.

  4. Hugh,
    I am so interested in the photo of the newsagent in Watling St as my ancestors lived on that original block behind the Lady Grey pub at 28 Watling St. Can you or any of your readers give me any information at all about this building or the neighbourhood. I have traced then until about 1892 when my grandmother died.