Sunday, March 08, 2015

The 20th Earl of Suffolk.

The photo above shows the tug the GPS Avenger, moored on Erith Pier recently. It is a pity that few people outside of the town realise that Erith has a strong maritime heritage, and close links with both the River Thames, the North Sea, and the English Channel. It is the really unique selling point of Erith in the London Borough of Bexley, being the only town in the borough with access to the River Thames. 

I have concerns that Erith is soon quite possibly to be swamped by a flood of dumped shopping trolleys. As has been widely reported in the local press, Morrison’s supermarkets are in the process of removing the coin locks on their fleet of shopping trolleys, as according to their customer feedback, people don't like having to temporarily employ a pound coin to free up a trolley. This is all fair and good if the theft and / or dumping of trolleys was to be discouraged in some other manner, such as having an electronic perimeter past which the trolley wheels lock – as is often used by Waitrose. Unfortunately Morrison’s have no such plans – they are effectively allowing free and unrestricted access to their trolleys on the sites where the locks have already been removed. Thus far the Erith branch has escaped this fate, though I have no information for how longer this situation will continue. One can imagine what would happen if people have free reign with them – Erith will be covered by abandoned trolleys, and you can be certain that local scrotes will not only take them to throw in to the River Thames, but would also try flogging them off to scrap dealers. It has been reported by the News Shopper that a similar situation has arisen in Sidcup, where the pound locks were removed inJuly last year; now Sidcup residents are complaining about the number of trolleys which can be found abandoned all over Sidcup, and even further afield. Parked cars have been damaged by being hit by errant trolleys, and all sorts of disruption caused. I really don't want to see a similar situation in Erith. I definitely think the whole idea is a bad one; I understand that a basic shopping trolley costs something in the order of £70 for the supermarket to purchase; even if Morrison’s have a dedicated team of trolley – wranglers, there will inevitably still be a large number that permanently go missing.   If anyone works for Morrison’s, and can give any inside information as to the plans for the Erith store, please drop me a line to – any information will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Some readers may be aware that I am a radio amateur (often referred to as a Radio Ham) I hold an Advanced class licence, with the international callsign M1CXN. To be honest I am currently not the most active ham, only operating on the 2 metre VHF radio band. The next stage of the refurbishment of Pewty Acres is to completely re - engineer the shortwave radio antenna that until last June stretched down my garden. The old antenna was a relatively modest contraption that was only used to receive radio signals from around the world on Shortwave. The new antenna will be somewhat more sturdy, and capable of transmitting signals of up to 400 Watts in power - for which I am legally licenced and qualified to do. A great deal of the work to make radio communication possible was down to one visionary man. Guglielmo Marconi was a 22-year-old technology genius, who, stung by the lack of interest in his work in his homeland, moved to a new country to develop his ideas. Whilst born and educated in Italy, he only really made a name for himself when he emigrated to the UK. In a single year, this individual extended the performance of a key, then brand new technology by a factor of more than 20. It sounds like an outlandish tale even by modern Silicon Valley standards, but by the end of 1901, had pushed the range of wireless communications from just over 80 miles (128km) to 2,000 (3,220km). Marconi’s breakthrough turned conventions about the then-new wireless technology on its head, earning him a joint Nobel Prize for Physics nine years later. If one technology dominated the early 20th century, it was wireless – thanks largely to Marconi. Before TV, Marconi's work established wireless as the world’s first mass medium, trouncing the long established electric telegraph and replacing print in many areas. He facilitated the spread of communications, entertainment, politics and propaganda around the globe in a fast-modernising world of motor-driven cars, and propeller-powered aircraft. Long-range wireless transmissions made the oceans a safer place, too, allowing ships to stay in touch with the land long after they had journeyed over the horizon. Marconi’s work also allowed the development of the SOS signal – and his company received the first one in 1910. Contrary to popular opinion, Marconi did not invent radio – that was a chap called Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist. Marconi did massively increase the transmission range, efficiency and sensitivity of radio designs. Marconi was fortunate in that he came from a wealthy family who not only owned a lot of land, but were also part of the Jameson whisky distilling dynasty. Marconi set up a wireless transmitting and receiving station in Poldhu, South East Cornwall – a location picked as it was very close to the Atlantic, and the ships that traversed it – at that  time Marconi believed that the main use of wireless would be for ship to ship, and ship to shore communications. In June 1901, Poldhu communicated with a station at Crookhaven in County Cork, 225 miles away. In September, high winds blew down the masts, but that wasn’t going to stop Marconi making history. With a temporary pair of 160-foot masts he set off for Newfoundland in Canada to receive transmission of the first transatlantic wireless signal – from those masts. On the 9th  December, he used cable telegraphy to ask his team to start sending signals. On the 12th December 1901, he heard their reply: an "SSS" in Morse. Wireless radio communications had crossed the Atlantic, and further tests found that Poldhu’s range could exceed 2,000 miles. January 1903 saw the first transmission from the US, from American President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII. This may have been the first example of poorly timed international calls due to time differences; Poldhu received the message at night, after the post office in the nearby village of Mullion had closed, so it didn’t get through to the king until the next morning. How times change.

Transport for London (TfL) have announced something that I predicted some time ago; a river crossing to join the London Borough of Bexley with the Borough of Havering by means of a crossing between Lower Belvedere and Rainham. The News Shopper have reported that a new crossing at Belvedere would mean an additional 70,000 businesses and 165,000 jobs within an average commuting time of North Bexley – though how this figure is arrived at is somewhat unclear. Back in April last year I came up with the following possible solution to the current problem of cross – river communication:- My suggestion, provisionally entitled “The Arthur Pewty Memorial Tunnel” would stretch between the Ferry Lane roundabout, South of Rainham town centre and the A2016 Bronze Age Way / Picardy Manor Way roundabout in Lower Belvedere. In effect, this would connect the A13 and Rainham in South Essex with the A2 and M25 via Bronze Age Way, and the South Circular via the A2016 Eastern Way towards Woolwich. It could also have the added bonus of connecting Rainham and Belvedere railway stations via a regular bus service through the tunnel. My vision would be of a structure very similar in size and scope to the existing Medway Tunnel which links Strood with Chatham in Kent. The Thames tunnel would use the same kind of immersed tube construction that the Medway Tunnel does – that is, sections of prefabricated tunnel sections are sunk into the river, joined together, then the water is pumped out. This relatively new method of construction is well suited to shallow and medium depths of water, and creates tunnels which are both very strong and relatively cheap to construct. Unlike the Medway Tunnel, I would hope that the Lower Thames tunnel would permit the use of bicycles via a raised cycle / walkway kept physically separate from the vehicular traffic. As previously indicated, by the time any tunnel of this nature had been constructed (which I understand normally needs an Act of Parliament) the level of harmful pollutants emitted by vehicles will be far lower than the already pretty low levels now, and many of the cars may well be zero emission via either conventional batteries, Hydrogen fuel cells or possibly even LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) power, if one is somewhat on the optimistic side. More on LENR power next week - it is not the pig in a poke that many once thought. This would not be the only new link needed across the Thames South of Tower Bridge; I suspect that the proposed Gallions Reach crossing will probably go ahead in some form or another, despite the traffic having to run through a housing estate and close by a large residential nursing home on the South side of the river.  I would not hold your breath about a quick build for the proposed new bridge – even if funding is sourced, and planning procedures go smoothly, it is unlikely that any new bridge or tunnel would be completed before 2025. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or drop me a line to

Millers Pie and Mash shop in Albert Road, Upper Belvedere (don't call it "Nuxley Village" - there is no such place - that name was invented by Estate Agents who did not live in the area, and had no knowledge of the local history when they began selling properties in the vicinity). The shop has just been awarded a five star rating on the Scores on the Doors website, for the second time around. This is excellent news indeed; I know of several local people who use the shop regularly, and report that the quality of the traditional London fare it serves is very high indeed. It is good to see an independent local business that is doing everything it can to maintain a very high quality product and service.

Southeastern Railways are making some changes to the services running from North Kent into Cannon Street – one of the busiest lines in the South East of London, and one of the prime commuter routes. It has to be said that for once they have listened to the opinions of rail travellers. Early morning and evening services are being increased, with additional carriage capacity – though the once promised twelve carriage trains will still not be making an appearance – due to the length restrictions imposed on any train due to the layout of Woolwich Dockyard station – which has a tunnel at either end, preventing any train over ten carriages stopping at the station. I am led to understand that the type of train used by Southeastern has a door control system that is “all open / all closed” rather than a selective system whereby the driver can prevent certain doors from opening, as is the case with the Docklands Light Railway. At stations such as Cutty Sark for Greenwich, the DLR train front most and rear most doors stay shut, as those parts of the trains are still in the tunnel – passengers wishing to get off have to move to the central part of the train in order to disembark. Automated announcements are made on every trip, but it is not uncommon to see travellers wondering why the door in front of them won’t open. The same kind of approach cannot be undertaken on the overland trains, and the option of running twelve car trains, but just not have them stop at Woolwich Dockyard station is also apparently not available – unlike during the 2012 Olympics (where many locals think that the real reason trains did not stop at Woolwich Dockyard was to prevent overseas tourists seeing what a dump the station and surrounding area was, and rather than invest some money in improving the environment local to the station, trains instead just whizzed through without stopping).

The campaign to save the much loved Belvedere Splash Park rumbles on; I have heard views from a number of different local sources, and it would appear that the park was not quite as dead in the water (to coin a pun) as some had feared, though the vote at the Council meeting on Thursday night to close the park for good may well change that. I am aware that Cory Environmental Ltd have offered a substantial sum of money towards the refurbishment of the Splash Park, but that the Council have said that it would not be sufficient to cover the costs. I find this strange – from what I have discovered, when the Council hired the original installation contractors, they did not carry out much in the way of due diligence. Normally when undertaking a substantial capital project of this nature, the project team would draw up a scope of works and terms of reference document, and send this out to five or six potential contractors. When those contractors had returned their responses, the three most suitable candidates would then be called in to conduct a presentation and questions and answer session with the project leaders. A final choice of contractor would then be made, and a contract signed. From what I have heard Bexley Council pretty much opened the yellow pages and stuck their finger on a name. When they subsequently wanted a quote for refurbishment of the nine year old Splash Park, they only went back to the original installer. This is really not the way to conduct a major public work, and it is no wonder that the figures being thrown about are somewhat on the high side. If no element of competitive tendering is employed, the contractor can pretty much charge as much as they think they can get away with. The other problem is that I have heard from an inside source that Cory Environmental are currently up for sale, and looking for a buyer. Any sale of the company could well result in changes to their corporate social responsibility policies, and could mean an end to funding for projects like the refurbishment of Belvedere Splash Park. Time will tell. This is all part of Bexley Council's campaign to sell off any and every open space in a desperate bid to raise cash. London Live have recently covered the story - you can see the video report here. Is the Belvedere Splash Park finally doomed, or will someone intervene at the last minute? I really cannot say. 

Another anniversary has come up this week; did you know that the humble wine box is fifty years old? The Australian invention, known over there as a “goon”, has been occupying wine drinkers fridges since it was first developed back in 1965. The wine box actually owes a lot to the space race and NASA.  The bladder that is located inside the cardboard outer box is made of a material called Mylar – or more correctly, Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate. This form of polymer was originally invented back in the mid 1950’s by American chemical giant DuPont, for use in early spacecraft. The inert, tough and flexible plastic has since found hundreds of uses in everything from drum skins, the magnetic media in recording tape and computer floppy disks to tiny flecks of it being added to nail varnish to make the varnish “sparkle”. It is a very versatile material that is tasteless and impervious to liquids and gases, thus making it an excellent choice of material to form the wine containing bladder that sits within the reinforcing cardboard box. The clever concept of the wine box is that the Mylar bladder collapses as wine is drained from it, so air does not seep into the container  - which would cause it to begin oxidising and would seriously shorten the shelf – life of the wine once it was opened. As it is, wine inside a wine box remains drinkable for around six weeks once the seal has been broken. Having said that, I don't know of anyone who has managed to make a wine box last anything like as long as that! At one time wine boxes were thought of as being suitable only for student parties and barbecues; nowadays the quality of wine found in boxes is far higher, and they have achieved greater social acceptability.

One building more than any other dominates the skyline of Erith, and that is the clock tower of Christ Church. Interestingly the spire was built quite a bit later than the main church building, and the spire celebrates 2015 as its centenary year. The bell ringing group from the church has sent me the following news:- The tower and spire were added to Christ Church Erith in 1914-15. Documents held in the Bexley Local Studies and Archives Centre provided the inspiration for this project. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled us to produce a series of displays on three floors including ground floor displays and CCTV links to the ringing chamber and bells. If you would like to see more of the building itself and look at our displays then please come along to Christ Church, Victoria Road, Erith to one of the tower open days on the following dates:-

March 22nd 2015 3-5pm
April 19th 2015 3-5pm
May 17th 2015 3-5pm
June 7th 2015 11.30am-12.30pm
June 21st 2015 3-5pm
July 5th 2015 11.30am-12.30pm
July 19th 2015 3-5pm
August 16th 2015 3-5pm
September 20th 2015 3-5pm

I was surprised to discover that the local area has a strong link with Charles Howard, the 20th Earl of Suffolk. Charles Howard led what can only be described as a colourful and eventful life.  He was the son of Henry Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk and his American wife, the former Margaret Leiter ("Daisy"), sister of Lady Curzon and daughter of the American businessman Levi Leiter. The 19th Earl was killed in World War I at the Battle of Istabulat, in Iraq. After leaving the Royal Naval College, Osborne at 15, he attended Radley College, but quit in 1923 to join the sailing ship the Mount Stewart as an apprentice officer. After his return from a round the world voyage, he was commissioned in the Scots Guards but was later asked to resign from his post by his superiors because of his "wild ways". In 1926 he returned to Australia; where he first worked as a junior cattle station operator, and later owned a large farm jointly with Captain McColm, who had been Captain of the Mount Stewart. The earl was a great animal lover, and unlike many of his class he hated hunting and shooting, and was a keen amateur naturalist. In 1934, he married Chicago-born ballet dancer  Mimi Forde-Pigott, with whom he had three children. The Earl enrolled at Edinburgh University, graduating three years later with a first-class honours degree in Chemistry and Pharmacology. In his early twenties, the Earl was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Nuffield Institute of Medical Research at Oxford University offered him a research post in the area of "explosives and poisons".  As Liaison Officer for the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research during World War II and was instrumental in evacuating the French stock of heavy water and radioactive isotopes that had formed the French nuclear research programme, just ahead of the German invasion – he also managed to liberate over $10 Million worth of gem diamonds and 600 tons of high quality machine parts in the process. For this and other escapades, Herbert Morrison, the Minister of Supply, later described him as "one of the most remarkable young men employed by the Government on dangerous missions." Morrison told the House of Commons that "A considerable service has been rendered to the Allied cause by the safe arrival of this shipload of materials”. Following his return from France, the Earl worked for the Ministry of Supply as a Research Officer learning how to defuse bombs of new and unknown types.  The Earl served as part of an unexploded bomb detachment in London during the Blitz. The detachment consisted of himself, his secretary  Morden, and his chauffeur, Fred Hards. They called themselves "the Holy Trinity" and they became famed for their prowess in detecting and successfully tackling thirty-four unexploded bombs with "urbane and smiling efficiency." Morden stood by his side taking notes, as the Earl worked at defusing the bombs. On the 12th May 1941 Charles Howard was working at a “bomb cemetery” on Erith Marshes. A “Bomb cemetery” was a place where bombs that had failed to explode, or bombs were transferred there after being temporarily made safe for transport, and then destroyed using controlled explosions. The Erith bomb cemetery was one of the largest in Greater London. The Earl was tasked with defusing a particularly difficult type of 250 Kg German bomb that had been dropped over six months earlier, and had been around for so long that the bomb cemetery staff had nicknamed it “Old Faithful”. The Earl attempted to defuse the bomb, but was killed along with his secretary Morden, and his chauffeur Fred  Hands, along with eleven others who were nearby when he tried to remove the fuse, as it had been fitted with a type of booby-trap called a Zeus 40. Sir Winston Churchill wrote of Charles Howard “One bomb disposal squad I remember which may be taken as symbolic of many others. It consisted of three people, the Earl of Suffolk, his lady private secretary and his chauffeur. They called themselves 'The Holy Trinity'. Their prowess and continued existence got around among all who knew and 34 unexploded bombs did they tackle with urbane and smiling efficiency, but the 35th claimed its forfeit. Up went the Earl of Suffolk in his Holy Trinity. But we may be sure that, as for Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, all the trumpets sounded for them on the other side”.  In 1973 the BBC produced a television play on the life and death of Charles Howard called “ The Dragon’s Opponent”. A memorial to the Earl can be seen in a dedicated stained glass window in St. John the Baptist church in Charlton. The 1979 ITV television series “Danger - UXB” which featured the fictional (but both historically and technically accurate) exploits of a wartime Royal Engineers bomb disposal team had an episode (“Cast iron Killer”) featuring a bomb fitted with a Zeus 40 anti-handling device just like the one that killed the Earl of Suffolk. I would strongly recommend that you watch the entire series of “Danger - UXB” (available on DVD from Amazon and other online retailers), as it makes very compelling viewing; despite the story being fictional, the methods used to defuse the bombs, and the situations the team find themselves in are accurate. The programme was titled and partly based on the memoirs of Major A. B. Hartley, M.B.E, RE, Unexploded Bomb - The Story of Bomb Disposal, with episodes written by John Hawkesworth and four screenwriters. The series was filmed in 1978 in and around the Clapham, Streatham and Tooting areas of South London.

For many years I have been a fan of BBC TV's "Top Gear" - I have found it to be highly entertaining and something that I would go out of my way to watch. The current series on BBC 2 on Sunday evenings is I have to admit starting to pall with me; the show is getting tired, and I feel that it would be a good idea to either give it a re - vamp, or end it entirely. I think one of the problems with TV shows like "Top Gear" is that in recent years the rise of amateur and professionally produced car shows online has really changed the game. An example is below. "Harry's Garage" is a car show hosted on YouTube that reviews both new and classic cars, most of which are owned by Harry, the eponymous millionaire car enthusiast who also presents each episode. Unlike Jeremy Clarkson, Harry is quietly spoken and somewhat thoughtful; his deep knowledge of the vehicles he reviews is evident, and he really makes for a likeable and engaging presenter. See what you think - in the video below, Harry does an in - depth review on his 1987 Ferrari Testarossa. Leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. Great video Hugh. Notice in the garage he has a Defender which when he reverses the Ferrari it changes into a Series, possibly a S1. Landys living with Ferraris :)