Sunday, April 12, 2015

The fate of the White Hart / Potion bar?

The photo above shows the excellent Thames sailing barge mural on the side of the currently empty former White Hart pub in Erith High street; some readers may recall the abortive and short lived transformation into Potion – the cocktail cum lager bar which attracted drug dealers, thugs, drunks, fights and final closure after a series of enforcement orders by both Bexley Council and the Police. Notably the owners of Potion illegally ripped out the locally listed acid etched glass and green tiled frontage and replaced it with hideously inappropriate plate glass. They were taken to court by the Council, but never complied with the court order to restore the pub to very close to how it had looked before their vandalism of the historic building. Now the White Hart is empty and lifeless, and the lease is up for sale, as you can see by clicking here. There have been a few rumours over the last couple of years as to what the future was likely to bring the building, but thus far none have come anywhere near fruition. I am now becoming concerned about the place; Any company taking on the building will need to commit to a sizable investment in the fabric – the aforementioned frontage will need to be replaced with a close facsimile of the original (architect’s drawings exist), and the interior will need to be completely re – built, as it is currently gutted. I understand that any requirement of the place to serve food would mean that both the kitchens and the ventilation system would have to be ripped out and replaced. All very costly work. To any potential investor, the site is now almost certainly worth more than the listed building. A block of riverside apartments on the site would be a very attractive concern, and could generate quite a pile of cash. I hope that it does not happen, but if the White Hart was to undergo an “accidental” fire, I would not be at all surprised. It would not be the first time something of that nature had happened in Erith – back in 1992 the Prince of Wales pub in James Watt Way (see the historic photo below, kindly supplied by historian Ken Chamberlain) was mysteriously gutted by fire; not long thereafter it was demolished to make way for the current MacDonald’s drive through. Coincidence? Maybe, but I would not be too certain. More on these two former pubs in Erith High Street a bit further down this update.

I have noticed some very strange behaviour in and around Erith recently; I have seen shoppers both in the Riverside Shopping Centre, and in Morrison’s who have an overcoat on, but it is clear that underneath this, they are dressed in their pyjamas. These sightings are not confined to evenings – the other afternoon I was walking along Wharfside Close on my way home from work at around half past five in the afternoon, when a woman in her middle thirties got out of a car, wearing an anorak and a pair of pyjamas. She then walked across Morrison’s car park and entered the store. She’s not the only one I have seen recently. I was doing some evening shopping, again in Morrison’s when I encountered a bloke in his late fifties, pushing a large trolley around the store whilst clothed in a trench coat, pyjama bottoms and flip flops. Outside it was raining at the time. Is this kind of behaviour unique to the area, or is this something happening in other parts of the country? I think we need to know.  Perhaps we should form an observer group to monitor and report on inappropriate use of nightwear in public – we could call it “Pyjama Watch”. What do you think?

Another horse has had to be rescued from a water filled ditch in a field in Lower Belvedere this Friday. You may recall that a similar incident took place in the same location back in January. Fortunately firefighters from Erith Fire Station were able to free the animal without causing it too much distress. Like the previous incident, the horse was a well loved pet, and not one of the many horses and ponies that have been virtually dumped in the area, as I have covered several times in the past. Quite whether the owner will have to contribute towards the cost of the rescue is currently unclear. I have heard local calls for the ditches that surround many of the fields on the Lower Belvedere Marshes to be filled in to stop this kind of incident from happening; the trouble is, the ditches help to stop the fields from flooding when there is heavy rain, so currently there is not a great deal that can be done about the situation. I don't think that we will be seeing too many more incidents of this type, as the land in the area in question is ripe for redevelopment, especially bearing in mind the proposed river crossing between Rainham in Essex and Lower Belvedere, which would be built in this very location. Already pub giant Marston's are building a pub, restaurant and hotel in the area, as I first announced back in November of last year. Marston's are currently recruiting locally for staff to work in the outlet, which is scheduled to open in May - you can see details by clicking here. I will be reviewing the place shortly after it opens. Many more businesses and services will be built on the marshes over the next few years, and the horses that currently reside there will have no option than to be moved elsewhere by their owners. 

Last week there was an important anniversary that has been almost completely overlooked by the popular press. There was a ceremony which included the unveiling of a plaque at Abbey Road Studios in London. The event was to commemorate the prodigious scientist-engineer Alan Dower Blumlein. The reason the event was hosted by Abbey Road Studios was that it was the location in 1934 where Blumlein demonstrated his invention by recording the London Philharmonic Orchestra in stereo within a single groove on a gramophone disc. This was just one of the 128 patents earned by Blumlein before his untimely death in a plane crash at the age of 38. His life’s work revolutionised everything from audio to telephony to transatlantic cables to television to radar. This devilishly handsome young man with the brain the size of a planet knew how to look comfortable in a three-piece suit, sported round spectacles, puffed a pipe, had a playful sense of humour and spoke like Harry Enfield’s Mr Grayson. His lack of fame among the general public can be attributed to several factors, not least that he died young while working on top-secret inventions during World War II and, having a German surname and Jewish ancestry. Additionally,  home stereo systems only began to take off in the mid -1960s, more than thirty years after he invented it and more than twenty years after his death. In addition to inventing stereo recording, Blumlein’s disc-cutting machines, microphones and other studio equipment were far and away superior to anything that had been devised before. In effect, he invented the notion of high-fidelity for music lovers. It is a shame that he is so forgotten today, especially as the use of mobile phones to replay low bit rate MP3 and AAC files – for the first time in history, audio fidelity is decreasing instead of increasing. Audiophile equipment is still being manufactured and sold, but the general public seem to prefer convenience over fidelity. Somehow I don't think that Alan Dower Blumlein would be impressed. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or email me at

Following the modern photo of the Cross Keys Centre, the Playhouse and Potion at the top of this update, here is something from the past. The photo above (click on it for a larger view) was taken back in 1971 / 1972 by the look of the cars in the shot. It shows the Cross Keys pub, the Playhouse and the White Hart pub in Erith High Street. This was shortly before the Playhouse was rebuilt with a new frontage, which joined together the two buildings in the centre of the photo. The dark coloured structure (known locally at the time as number 38) directly to the left of the pale coloured Playhouse was incorporated into the new frontage a couple of years later; I was reliably told that the dark coloured building actually functioned for several years as a brothel! Bearing in mind the proximity to the (then active) riverside Police station only a hundred yards along the road, if this is true, I would not be surprised is some kind of accommodation was reached back in the day. If you have any information, please let me know.

The Bank Holiday weekend gave many rail companies a chance to undertake maintenance and modification of their rail networks; this was very widely reported in the popular press. The North Kent rail line was again mostly offline – the ongoing construction work for the forthcoming South East Crossrail terminus at Abbey Wood made this an inevitability. One unexpected outcome of this was a temporary service that ran from Dartford to Blackfriars via Blackheath and Lewisham. The service was a stopping one as far as Lewisham, from where it then ran fast all of the way to Blackfriars, via Brockley, then on to Nunhead, Peckham Rye, Denmark Hill, Loughborough Junction and Elephant and Castle, then terminating at the modern, airy and impressive Blackfriars Station, located above the famous Blackfriars Bridge. It was a pleasant journey with very interesting scenery; back in the late 1980’s trains on the Dartford via Lewisham line used to regularly run on to the old (and now long gone) Holborn Viaduct station via Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill; in the intervening years the old mostly industrial landscape seems to have been replaced with residential accommodation – though there is still the odd scrap yard and empty warehouse to show what the route used to look like.  I am no transport expert, but as far as I am aware, there has never before been a direct service to Blackfriars on the North Kent Line. Personally I would like to see one train an hour each way on the route as a permanent service – what do you think?

On previous Maggot Sandwich updates, I have mentioned various radio stations that I listen to - some on broadcast radio, some online, and some both. One of the oldest unconventional stations that I have been following for many years is Laser Hot Hits. They have their 25th birthday this very weekend. Laser D.J Gary Drew is my guest contributor this week, and you can see his article on the station below. Please feel free to leave a comment, or email

25 years of the hottest hits from Laser Hot Hits. Compiled by Gary Drew.

April 2015 marks 25 years of broadcasting from Laser Hot Hits. The station began as an FM pirate broadcasting to the home counties going on air on Bank Holiday Monday 16th April 1990 on 101 MHz VHF in stereo. Transmissions continued on FM most weekends with many frequency moves following the start of Classic FM. In 1993 Laser merged with staff from the former pirate Hits FM in London to emerge the reborn, bigger Laser Hot Hits that we know today. Shortwave broadcasts were added on 6220 KHz in the 48 metre band shortwave for over 10 years with many other shortwave frequencies being used in other bands and many channel changes over the years. They still come and go and in 1997 Laser started identifying on air as ‘Laser Hot Hits International’ and the name has stuck to this day. The strapline ‘the shortwave legend’ has also been added in the past few years and anybody looking for Laser on a Wi-Fi radio server or mobile phone app will see that ident so they know they have selected our version of Laser. Your favourite version! There are some imitators using the same name but we were first to claim it way back in 1990 when we built the station as a tribute to the format from the offshore pirates Laser 558 and Laser Hot Hits 576. Our format now still consists of popular music that everybody recognises but also in recent years we have developed a specialist music interest with some selected programmes dedicated to different types of music. The anorak and offshore theme is still present but in smaller doses as our audience has changed in recent years. In fact some younger listeners have been attracted to us which is why we recently launched a new dance stream on our internet service separate from our original shortwave or classic hits stream. The new service is identified as ‘Laser Dance Hits International’ you can find that on Twitter @LaserIntDance. We now operate on 4026 KHz in the 76 metre band and this goes out weekday evenings right through the night from around 18.30 UTC – 08.30 UTC and it is on air right through the weekend non-stop from Friday night to Monday morning. Meanwhile our internet streams are on 24 hours per day 7 days per week. Sometimes the shortwave is in parallel with the stream and other times it is playing archive a few weeks behind. We have relay partners like Magic 6205 helping us get more coverage and Radio Black Beard on 6950. There are also people who are radio enthusiasts and anoraks relaying our stream on FM in parts of the UK and USA on various frequencies at various times and again these come and go. Some are high power and some are low power. Recent frequencies we have been heard on are 105.8 FM in the West Country, 87.8 FM in the east of England, and 103.3 FM in north Norfolk, 93.5 FM in Indiana USA. 1476 KHz and 1566 KHz Medium wave. There are even internet stations relaying us at certain times as well. We have a Face book page and you can visit our website at

The current line of DJ’s and music is as follows:-

Martin Scott – Dance, Pop and charts, 80’s
Mike Andrews – Classic Hits, Adult contemporary, Pop, American Billboard
Stewart Ross – Rock, Euro Rock, Disco, Pop
Tony James – Oldies, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, TV themes, Film music, Album music
Dave Norris – Dance, Pop, 80’s
Dave Simpson – Rock, Motown, Blues, R&B, Oldies
Gary Drew – Jazz-Funk, Soul, Dance, Rap, Rare Groove
Ian Lawrence – Dance, Pop, Chart, 80’s
Paul Stuart – Pop, Chart, 70’s, 80’s

We stream at 192 kpbs and 32 k AAC+ for mobiles. Our streams are as follows:
Classic Hits (original shortwave) 192k mp3 stream :
Classic Hits (original shortwave) 32k AAC+ stream :
Dance 192k mp3 (Laser Dance Hits International) stream :

We have an archive of shows on our mix cloud site at

The internet stream is playing live shows in real time most Sundays from around 11am – 7pm give or take an hour at each end with various jocks on rotation but usually Ian Lawrence, Paul Stuart, Martin Scott, Dave Norris for the most part with some other jocks coming on live from time to time. Live shows also commence some weekday evenings with Mike Andrews on Mondays from 9pm – 11pm and Friday nights is dance night with Ian, Martin and sometimes Paul. Gary Drew is on almost every Sunday at 9pm pre-recorded with his regular ‘tribute to radio’ feature and the rest of the schedule across the week is filled with repeated shows from the archive and non-stop music. Sometimes we play documentaries with a radio related theme so there’s something for everyone with a free radio or offshore interest. This version of Laser Hot Hits has nothing to do with any other station using the same name and we are established as Laser Hot Hits International - the shortwave legend. Our hard working team continue to bring you the best radio entertainment we can offer in keeping with the spirit of the heyday of offshore and land-based pirate radio. These are memories of a bygone era we must never forget........... Here’s to the next 25 years. Cheers! Thanks Gary - excellent stuff! Congratulations on your 25th anniversary.

There has been some controversy concerning the announcement last week that Aldi are planning to open a superstore in Crayford, very close to the giant Sainsbury’s supermarket (I have been told that it is the largest Sainsbury’s in the UK, though I have had no verification of this – if you have any information, please drop me a line to and let me know).  Whatever the specifics of the size of the Sainsbury’s store, it is undeniably large, and Aldi are obviously taking a tilt at Sainsbury’s in building a store in such close proximity. Some locals welcome the competition, whilst others think that the additional traffic that a second supermarket in a relatively small area would be intolerable; those residents say that they would prefer more new housing – a subject that seems to divide many people. Crayford is one of those places that unless you live there, you tend to go through on the way to somewhere else. It has some good points – being close to the A2 and M25, and also has a micro – pub in The Penny Farthing. I get the feeling that Bexley Council would rather have a second supermarket on the site than more housing – mainly as the business rates that a large retail outlet would generate would far exceed the rates paid for residential properties, and as we already know, Bexley Council treat the bottom line of a spreadsheet as the most important motivator to certain Bexley Councillors. The proposed Crayford development may be significant for other, wider reasons as well; Aldi has overtaken Waitrose to become the UK’s sixth-largest supermarket chain. Aldi has grown rapidly in recent years as shoppers have kept a tight rein on their budgets. Having leapfrogged Waitrose, it is now closing in on the Co-op, the UK’s fifth-largest supermarket chain, which is now less than one percentage point ahead of the German chain in terms of market share. I understand that this success has been at least partly to a very aggressive campaign of store openings, often very close to premium supermarkets in order to steal some trade from under the noses of their rivals. It would seem in this instance the victim will be Sainsbury’s – who have a reputation for being somewhat on the pricey side. Lidl too have plans for a new supermarket on the site of the old Dartford Police Station in Instone Road, directly opposite the Dartford Sainsbury’s. It definitely seems to me that a supermarket war is about to break out in the local area, and both of the German discounters are taking the attack quite firmly to Sainsbury’s.

Last week the News Shopper published the latest of its lists. Over the past year or so, the local newspaper has changed editorial direction, and has become somewhat more tabloid in nature. Personally I feel this is an ill – advised move, but I understand the struggle for many local papers, who find attracting advertisers difficult now that so much has migrated online. Each week, the News Shopper now publishes an article which appears to be attracting comment and feedback – no doubt to improve the number of hits on their website, and thus increase the value to advertisers and keep the revenue rolling in. Usually the lists are quite anodyne and superficial – and the last list did not disappoint in this respect. It listed the top beef burger outlets in the area, and somewhat to my surprise, amongst the entries for the long established and well – loved Blackheath Tea Hut and the upmarket Five Guys and Byron Burger at Bluewater, they listed the Starburger outlet in Cross Street, Erith. The unprepossessing fast food restaurant has been quietly serving all day breakfasts, burgers, jacket spuds and several types of grilled chicken, all served up with artery hardening portions of chips. One customer told me that even if you ordered a portion of chips, it would come with a side order of chips! Still, the place is popular – it could not have kept going for all of these years if it was not doing something right. Starburger score a three out of five on their “Scores on the Doors” kitchen hygiene rating, so there is some room for improvement – especially as so many other food outlets in and around Erith have dramatically improved their ratings over the last year, albeit from a woeful starting point. Still, it goes to show a small food outlet in a quiet side street can compete successfully with the major chains. 

The dreaded Emirates Airline Cable Car, better known to locals as the Arabfly Dangleway has announced that it will be offering ‘Night Flights’ from this weekend - giving passengers unique views of the capital during night hours. Transport for London said the cable car service will remain open for journeys across the River Thames until 10pm from Sunday to Thursday, and until 11pm on Saturday. Journey times will also be extended from 20 to 25 minutes from after 7pm, with music and video entertainment on offer during the journey. It comes after it was revealed the service was closed 354 times in its first two-and-a-half years of operation, mainly as a result of weather conditions. The evening opening of the service is a tacit admission of something that observers have been aware of since the cable car opened – it is not, as Boris Johnson originally stated, an integral part of the transport system for London, instead it is a tourist attraction, designed to get more footfall in the South East of London – which apart from Greenwich has historically not had the number of foreign visitors that other parts of the capital enjoy. As a commuter service, the cable car is slow, unreliable and expensive – the Jubilee line which runs under the river is a far more convenient and speedy (not to mention cheaper) alternative. Boris called it an infrastructure project to be able to claim part of the funds from central government; the fact that Oyster cards and conventional season tickets cannot be used on the service was the first key indicator that the cable car was not as integrated as Boris would have liked people to believe. The whole project must be haemorrhaging cash – there is absolutely no way the numbers of passengers on the cable car can even be servicing the interest on the debt – and word has it that Emirates are keenly aware of the deleterious effect their sponsorship of the “white elephant” is having on their corporate image. I would be not at all surprised to see them quietly back away from the whole project in the not too distant future. I regularly travel on the Docklands Light Railway past the cable car; the only time I see people using it are in the school holidays, when parents take their offspring for a jaunt across the river and back – apparently the small number of users mainly don’t stay on one or other side of the river, but return almost immediately to the side that they started from. This reinforces the assertion that the whole thing is a failed tourist attraction, rather than a serious way for Londoners to get around town. If the Emirates Airline Cable Car had been built next door to the London Eye, I have no doubt that it would have been  a massive attraction, and a great success – the problem is that it was built in the wrong place, going from nowhere to nowhere over an industrial park, a scrapyard and a few warehouses on the way.

Over Easter, ITV launched their new rebooted version of Gerry Anderson's classic 60's sci fi action television series "Thunderbirds". Contrary to much press coverage, the new show is aimed at a family audience, rather than just children on their own (there are several very subtle references that only total anoraks like myself would notice - the pilot episode features a rescue from an underwater scientific research station run by a Dr. Meddings - a reference to the original series special effects supervisor, Derek Meddings, who also worked on several James Bond and Superman films). Instead of using puppets, the new series uses CGI for the main characters and the ships, but the scenery such as Tracy Island is built as physical models. The animation and model effects were carried out by Weta - the New Zealand company responsible for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, so the quality is excellent. Below is the title sequence for the reimagined show - I think it will do well.

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