Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Angerstein Wharf branch line.

I took the photo above a couple of months ago; it shows the ongoing work to construct an affordable rented apartment block in James Watt Way, between Morrison's supermarket, and the KFC Drive Through in Manor Road. I regularly pass the site, but it is unusual to see any building work going on , as when I pass it is either before the start of the construction day, or after the builders would have packed up and gone home. Word reaches me from a couple of sources that there has been no activity on site for several weeks. At this point I don't have any idea why no further work is being undertaken. Local Councillor Abena Oppong - Asare is on the case and investigating. Hopefully by next week the situation will have become clear. More news as it happens.

The Erith Riverside Shopping Centre still has empty and un-let retail units available. Bearing in mind how long it has now been open, this is something of concern. I understand that the original aim was to have small local shops in the centre, alongside the larger national chains. With the exception of the wildly successful Mambocino (which is technically part of a small chain, but seems to operate to a very different business model to other branches, it being far more concerned with serving “sit down meals” than just serving coffee). Pretty much all of the other shops in the centre are branches of large chains. I predict that this may well change as the profile and demographic of Erith changes with the influx of new residents over the next few years; not only will phase two of Erith Park come on stream, but the Erith Quarry development, the housing being built on the old Bexley College site in Tower Road, and the affordable housing apartments in James Watt Way as previously mentioned, and the proposed development on the old Erith Riverside Swimming Baths site will all attract new local residents. More people will by default mean more shops of a greater diversity to supply their needs. If what I have been told is true, and Erith’s demographic does begin to become more prosperous, then the kind of shops will reflect that increase in disposable income. The arrival of Crossrail to Abbey Wood in 2018, and the opening of the Paramount theme park in Swanscombe at Easter 2020 will also do much to raise the popularity of the whole region – things are now looking cautiously optimistic.

Longer term readers may recall that back in last February I wrote a piece about Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) – a process that used to be known as Cold Fusion. Back in 1989 Martin Fleischmann (then one of the world's leading electrochemists) and Stanley Pons reported that their experimental cold fusion apparatus had produced anomalous heat ("excess heat"), of a magnitude they asserted would defy explanation except in terms of nuclear processes. They further reported measuring small amounts of nuclear reaction by products, including neutrons and tritium. The small table top experiment involved electrolysis of heavy water on the surface of a metallic palladium electrode. The reported results received world - wide media attention, and raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy. Many scientists tried to replicate the experiment with the few details available. Hopes fell with the large number of negative replications, the withdrawal of many positive replications, the discovery of flaws and sources of experimental error in the original experiment, and finally the discovery that Fleischmann and Pons had not actually detected nuclear reaction by products.  By late 1989, most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead, and the popular press rained derision on the two scientists. At this point pretty much all third party experimentation and external funding ceased, and the whole thing was deemed to be little more than a hopeless quest for a perpetual motion machine.  A few independent scientists and engineers did continue with research and for many years this was considered to be a “garden shed” business, with little hope of anything concrete resulting from it. The tinkerers continued their experiments, away from press attention, and the general public forgot all about the subject. Nowadays there is renewed interest in what has been re – branded as Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (the proponents are aware that the term “cold fusion” may not only be technically inaccurate, but that the term is now poisoned). LENR is a phenomenon where unexplained amounts of heat are created in specific conditions when certain metals (for example, nickel and palladium) interact with hydrogen or deuterium, and an external stimulus such as heat or an electric current is applied. During these reactions it has also been observed that the atomic mass is altered as energy is released. These reactions can take place at relatively low temperatures, and in many cases far more energy is produced in LENR reactions than is input into reactors. At the moment the most promising forms of LENR are those that are able to operate using nickel and hydrogen — both plentiful and inexpensive natural resources. In LENR reactions no pollutants or emissions are produced, neither are harmful radiation or radioactive waste. This makes LENR a clean and sustainable form of energy. We are in the very early days of research and development in this field, and much about this phenomenon is poorly understood. There are competing theories proposed that try to describe the exact mechanism by which this anomalous heat is generated, but none has as yet been accepted as authoritative. There are many researchers and companies studying LENR at the moment, many of whom are competing to patent a viable commercial power plant based on this little understood phenomenon. Understandably many in the established scientific community are intensely sceptical about LENR, and view it as being a gigantic scam. Personally I think it is certainly not a con – too many respectable scientists and engineers have been able to successfully replicate the reaction under controlled laboratory conditions. Indeed, only last month Professor Alexander Parkhomov of Lomonosov Moscow State University has published a paper describing his successful replication of the experiments, and was able to generate an output of 2.78 times the energy input. In a recent visit to Italy, billionaire Bill Gates said that for several years he has been a believer in the idea of LENR, and is a sponsor of companies developing the technology. Gates is not only the Chairman of TerraPower, a company developing a “new class of nuclear reactors using innovative core physics.” He is also a member of the American Energy Innovation Council and supporter of new technologies through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he founded in 2000. Other mega corporations such as Mitsubishi, Sony and Hitachi are investing heavily in LENR research, but they are keeping very quiet indeed about it. This is not surprising, if the technology does indeed work as described, and can be up – scaled to commercially viable levels, it could be a breakthrough in clean, cheap and renewable energy production. Potentially there are fortunes to be made and lost. It will be interesting to watch this story develop. You heard it here first.

The future of Britain’s small, independent cider makers is under threat;  Last week the European Commission demanded that the British government do away with a duty exemption worth £2,500 to small-scale producers of Cider and Perry. Under the exemption, introduced in 1976, cider-makers who produce fewer than 70 hectolitres a year – about 12,000 pints – do not have to pay duty. The National Association of Cider Makers calculates that this accounts for about 80% of the UK’s 480 cider-makers. Some small cider producers believe the intervention by the EU came about because of sour grapes from their counterparts in the wine trade who are not exempt from the duty. Others have blamed “big cider”, the industrial-scale makers who account for the bulk of the 130 million gallons of cider produced in the UK each year. Either way, the UK Government needs to make a stand soon, or risk many of the small, craft producers closing their businesses. There is a far greater variety of ciders produced by smaller makers than by the industrial giants. With the loss of smaller producers, the range of choice and diversity of cider would be sadly diminished, with the market even more dominated by corporate brands; this cannot be good for consumer choice. Talking of consumer choice, earlier this week I was sent the following press release:- "There's gold in Eltham!  Gold from two of Eltham's gardens.  To be precise Eltham Gold, strong cider!  Now, you may have thought that cider making was the province of Somerset and Cornwall, and that the last place you would expect it to be made is in Eltham in S. E. London, but it is and it has been recognised by aficionados. The person behind Eltham Gold is Eltham resident Mike Allen, who lives very near to where the old farmhouse was when it was a farm. It is made primarily from apples from two Eltham gardens. It is thought that some of the apple trees used for the cider were part of the original orchard and so Eltham Gold truly is a produce with a firm local connection. Eltham Gold has had recognition, including being cider of the festival at both South East London and Bromley Beer festivals last year.  But unfortunately it is only made in small quantities and so truly is cider gold.  On the other hand it is 7.8% strong and so a little goes a long way. Should you wish to sample this delight, the good news is that it will feature at this year's Bexley Beer Festival along with a staggering range of real ales. This year's Bexley Beer Fest, 23rd – 25th April, is itself a milestone celebration being the 10th such Festival, and which in turn marks the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Bexley Branch of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) which was founded in 1975. The Bexley Beer Festival regularly sees visitors from outside Bexley, and even from beyond London.  Eltham folk will be most welcome, and if they come to sample some of their community's cider then so much the better: what better way to celebrate local heritage than imbibing it. The beer fest will be held at the Old Dartfordians Sports Club, War Memorial Club House, Bourne Road, Bexley, DA5 1LW.  This is not far from Bexley rail station and is on the 132, 229, 492 and B12 bus routes. See All welcome. Cheers".

There has been so much media hype over the new range of Apple smart watches this week; anyone would think that the whole smartwatch concept was brand new, when in fact they have been available for Android devices for over a year – albeit in a slightly different form factor. I have a theory as to why the launch of any new product by Apple gets the press in a feeding frenzy. Journalists have always used Apple Macs since the brand was first launched – mainly because back in the day, desktop publishing and page layout software tended to be written primarily for the Mac, rather than the PC in the pre – Windows 3.1 era. The Mac habit stuck, and even today you will be hard pressed to see a PC in the offices of any media organisation. I can cite an example – a few weeks ago I visited the large advertising agency Grey London in Hatton Garden as part of my “day job”. The place was pretty much as you would expect – a converted warehouse with bare brick walls and a floor covered by zinc plates (it looked very stylish and trendy, but was very noisy and echoey). The place was staffed by bearded hipsters, and pretty much every advertising cliché was present – including every member of staff was equipped with a Mac. This is par for the course, and thus when journalists see a new device by Apple, they go mad over it, assuming that everyone is like them. The fact remains that the Apple Watch is going to sell well, especially after the free publicity so many magazines and online commentators have given the range of devices. There has also been a lot of online comment and opinion about the wide price range the Apple Watch covers. In the UK the entry level models will undoubtedly prove popular with many; the £299 to £349 models will be the main sellers. I don’t think that the stainless steel “mid-range” models at £479 to £949 will fare as well, and the ones that have really grabbed the headlines – the top end 18 carat gold models which start at £13,500 will be something that Premiership footballers and others with more money than taste will opt for. Bearing in mind that all models will incorporate the same internal hardware, and all models are being built on the same automated production line, there seems  to me to be very little to differentiate the model ranges, except the materials being employed. In the world of premium mechanical watches, the value added is not so much of the exotic and expensive materials of which they are made, but of the hours of hand – built craftsmanship which goes into their production. On top of this, whereas a premium mechanical watch will, with regular servicing and maintenance last for several generations, a smart watch will be out of date almost as soon as it is purchased. Additional to their famously short period between charges, the battery will have a finite life (usually around five hundred charge and discharge cycles). No information has yet been forthcoming concerning battery replacement on the Apple Watch, but I advise against buying one for now. You can be utterly sure that a new, thinner and more powerful model will be out within a year – a fact borne out by the history of the iPad and the MacBook Air. I am still of the opinion that the whole smart watch thing is a solution looking for a problem, but obviously as I always say – “if it works for you”. Personally I will stick with my vintage 1969 Longines and 1976 Omega mechanical dress watches – no charging required every eighteen hours – just a quick wind up every couple of days. They keep good time, look great, and will never be replaced with a better model. The choice as ever is yours.

Earlier this week I had an Email from regular Maggot Sandwich reader and local resident Tony Fairbairn. He's not keen on the concept of a road crossing that has been proposed to connect Rainham in Essex with Lower Belvedere. I am always keen to reflect all sides of local arguments, and so I asked Tony if he would like to be the guest contributor this week. Tony has written the following piece, which certainly makes food for thought:- "As Blog readers you will know that TFL supported by Bexley Council are proposing to construct two road bridges across the river at Thamesmead and Belvedere. These are not going to be Tower Bridge lookalikes, but built on a massive scale as per the Dartford Bridge, each with a potential carrying capacity of up to 3000 vehicles per hour i.e. c60k vehicle movements per day. A few other facts: 90 percent of the Dartford and Blackwell Tunnel traffic continues south on reaching Kent. The A13 in Essex has five times the volume of traffic than the A2016. Bexley Council are proposing to build 15,000 new homes within one mile of the bridges; this is equivalent to 22,500 additional cars each needing two parking spaces one at home and one somewhere else, probably in North Bexley. Surprisingly the AA recommended route south from the Belvedere Bridge and the majority of new houses towards the A2 (Black Prince and Blackfen) is via Erith and the Bexley Road. History tells us from the construction of Tower Bridge in 1880, through to Rotherhithe, Blackwell, and the crossings at Dartford that the traffic congestion problem has not been solved, and there is no real evidence to prove that two new road bridges will do the same. The log jam will simply move elsewhere, and now it is our turn. From 8000 survey responses with a population base of 1.5m (0.05 percent) TFL claim that the crossings are necessary to enhance jobs growth, attract new businesses to the area and to construct new houses. Extracts from the TFL and other reports; 83 percent of businesses say they have no recruiting problems, the remaining 17 percent cite poor quality of applicants. around 75 percent of employees either lives locally or commutes by public transport. Jobs growth in the Thames Gateway Boroughs is almost twice the national average, and 54 percent higher than West London which has 15 River crossings. ASDA, Lidl, Tesco, Iron Mountain among other major distributors operate successfully and now Ocado are bringing 1200 new jobs to Erith despite the lack of river crossings. Large scale housing is moving ahead at Abbey Wood, Belvedere Park, Tower Road, Erith Quarry and the Larner Estate etc. There is continuing demand for these new properties without the promise of river crossings. Reading from a Quote by a leading estate agent in the Bexley Times 25 Jan 2015. “Bexley enjoys high levels of demand for houses. It offers good transport links into the city centre.” Road crossings may be wanted by some, but there is no proven need. It is true that the journey time between Belvedere and Dagenham can be improved, but that implies one needs to make such a journey between those two particular points in the first place. A further argument is that the crossings will be for local users only, this is nonsense because once a bridge is installed traffic ceases to be local in nature. It is noted that from the Bexley and TFL questionnaires options were not offered for cycle or train crossings and TFL have dismissed the ferry options including Woolwich. Now new pressure groups are promoting viable alternatives in train and cycle crossings:  TFL are looking at an extension of The Overground to Barkingside; from there it is only a short distance to Thamesmead and a link to Crossrail and the North Kent Line at Abbey Wood. The Fenchurch Street to Southend Line comes closest to the North Kent Line between Belvedere and Erith; there is no reason why the two could not be linked. This opens up the possibility of connections to Southend Airport, Lakeside and the Channel Tunnel line as well as supplementary routes towards East and Central London. Either or both of the above offer links to the Outer Orbital Railway proposed by Boris Johnson with extensions via the Loop lines to Bexleyheath and Sidcup, therefore embracing much of Bexley’s Strategy For Growth. This effective and environmentally friendly alternative is surely more attractive than the road crossings offered by TFL. Wake up Erith, Belvedere, Bexley Road and Northumberland Heath; under the present plans massive traffic jams and environmental problems are coming your way. If you need further detail please contact me by Email at:" - Thanks Tony; if you agree with him, or have an alternative viewpoint, you can either leave a comment below, or Email me at I am keen to reflect and expand on topics of local importance.

Some rather surprising news this week; almost exactly twenty years to the day when it was discontinued, Burger King are bringing back the Mushroom Swiss burger. This beef burger, topped with mushrooms and melted cheese is the sandwich that is most often requested by customers though not available. Many other Burger King franchises outside of the UK returned the burger to their menu some years ago - once again the UK lags behind countries in Europe. I am not a fast food eater; the last time I had a burger must have been at least a couple of years ago - maybe even longer. I live around five minutes walk from the Erith McDonald's drive through, but I have been there precisely three times in eighteen or so years. Even so, I do have a soft spot for the Mushroom Swiss burger, though I don't think it will be very likely I will be availing myself of one nowadays. I know that there are many out there who will be delighted by the news the long gone specialist sandwich is due back.

The council seem to have attracted the ire of News Shopper readers this week; at a recent council meeting the Conservative councillors voted to reject a bid to reduce their remuneration package by thirty percent, and also voted to impose a £33 per year charge for the collection and disposal of garden waste. I will leave the arguments about the excessive pay of certain senior council members to Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers (he does a far better job than I on such subjects) and will concentrate instead on the issue of the charge for garden waste. Anyone who lives or works in the London Borough of Bexley, or who has spent any length of time reading this blog will be fully aware of the endemic problem the area has with fly – tipping. Any money saved by charging for garden waste collection will be more than offset by the increase in fly tipping, and the need to clear up afterwards. I have been told by someone directly involved with monitoring and controlling environmental crime, that it costs Bexley Council something like £300 to clear up a van load of dumped waste for proper disposal. One thing also strikes me – garden waste is a valuable commodity. It can be sold on to companies that produce compost for further garden use. If the council were more business – savvy they would be able to engineer a cost – neutral solution to waste disposal, but once again the councillors involved choose the easy option that not only penalises people who need to get rid of garden waste. No doubt much will end up dumped by residents who don’t want to pay the charge, or by rogue waste disposal companies that offer to dispose of the waste on the sly for a consideration. Once more I suspect that the cheap option will actually end up being the most expensive in the long run. What do you think? Leave a message below, or Email me at

The end video this week is a bit of a curiosity; I was notified of it by fellow blogger Darryl of the 853 Blog, which covers the Charlton and Greenwich area. If you, like me, commute on the North Kent line on the trains that run from Dartford to Cannon Street via Greenwich line, you may have noticed that when heading in the London - bound direction, just after your train passes Charlton, the line divides just before it passes over the Blackwall Tunnel approach road bridge. One of the lines appears never to get used. This little known rail line is called the Angerstein Wharf branch line. It was built and opened by Russian born Charlton landowner John Angerstein in 1852 in order to get rail access to the to Angerstein Wharf on the River Thames; it also ran deep into the old East Greenwich gas works. Nowadays it is purely used for freight. Many of the ballast and gravel trains one sees passing along the North Kent line divert onto the Angerstein Wharf branch line. In a very special event on the 8th of November last year, a passenger train service ran on the line. It was a first class service in all carriages, with hot food being served, including a full English breakfast and a hearty dinner served with plenty of wine and beer. The passengers were pretty much all transport enthusiasts. You can see a video of part of the journey below. You certainly get a very different perspective on what you may well have thought you were familiar with. Fascinating stuff indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that the Angerstein Wharf branch is the oldest privately owned standard gauge siding in the world - it would be nice to have this confirmed.