Sunday, June 21, 2015


The two photos above both show views of the old Erith Library in Walnut Tree Road. The magnificent and imposing building has been closed and out of use for around five years, since the library was relocated to the new block opposite Erith Health Centre in the High Street. The upper photograph was taken by me last Sunday afternoon, whilst the lower one was taken in around 1910, by the look of the clothes on the two rather solemn and earnest looking young men in the shot - thanks to local historian Ken Chamberlain for the use of the photo. Several people have asked me what the future holds for the old Erith Library, which has been left abandoned and empty. Last year, when I was given a guided tour around the new Bexley College campus, directly opposite the old library, I was told in confidence that the college had applied for funding to buy the library and convert the interior into a training centre for the hotel and hospitality industry. Apparently with the planned opening of the Paramount Theme Park, there will be a chronic lack of trained hotel and restaurant staff in the South East. I was asked to refrain from mentioning this, as the deal was far from done. A year later I re - contacted my informant, and was told that the deal unfortunately had fallen through, and will now not be happening. The library remains empty and unused - possibly the most significant old building in Erith that is not in productive use. I will be discussing this in future updates. Any reader who has any insight into this, could they please contact me?

Some time last Sunday afternoon, a couple of hours after the last Maggot Sandwich update was published, I checked the blog dashboard, and discovered that the Maggot Sandwich has just received 500,000 unique page views. That is not the total number of blog hits (which is far higher), rather it is the total number of different people who have ever  come across the Maggot Sandwich at some point or another. On a normal week I average around 22,000 page hits worldwide. Thanks to all who have made this possible.

The following press release was sent to me earlier in the week by Dana Whiffen - the Chairman of Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association:- "Bexley Neighbourhood watch and Bexley Police have made history by being the first London Borough to achieve 2 wards with 100% coverage of NW. In January 2015 we announced that St.Michael's Ward in Welling had 100% NW-Coverage and now we are pleased to confirm that the neighbouring ward of East Wickham can also boast full coverage, that’s every street in these wards now have at least one registered NW member (coordinator). We are looking to see that the crime stats in East Wickham fall to the low levels of St.Michael’s where there has been zero domestic burglary since that was announced earlier in the year. This is due to the hard work of the police teams and NW-office staff in ensuring all these new members are registered, are aware fully of what they need to do and have their street signs put up, have their introduction letters and street signs. SAYING YES TO NW ALSO SAYS NO TO CRIMINALS

Dana Wiffen

Shoppers in Erith Morrison’s had a bit of a surprise on Wednesday and Thursday this week; scenes for the new advertising campaign were being shot in the supermarket. On Wednesday the action mainly involved filming in the main part of the supermarket, whereas on the Thursday the film crew concentrated on the large bakery the store has. Both video and still footage was shot, and signs outside of the entrances warned shoppers that they might be filmed, though it seemed that many did not see the notices, and were surprised to see the film crew. I have no idea when the adverts will be released, and I very much doubt that it will be possible to identify the location as specifically Erith, but I suppose that it is worth keeping an eye out for anyway. I was quite surprised to see the Erith branch chosen as a location; most video production companies are based in London’s West End, and generally the staff dislike going South of the River Thames. If anyone has more information on the filming, please either comment below, or Email me directly to

Back in January this year, I wrote about the problems the emergency services were having with their ancient and very out of date Airwave TETRA two – way radio system. You can read my original posting here. As I predicted, the issue of replacing the emergency services communications technology with something more suitable for modern conditions did indeed get “kicked into the long grass” until now – after the general election. The £1.2 billion emergency services contract which I flagged up as a disaster waiting to happen six months ago has now, as predicted, collapsed. After a year-long bidding process the government had whittled the tenders down to two companies: EE and O2. Now O2 has pulled out as a result of Telefonica selling the network to Three’s parent Hutchison Whampoa. The network is supposed to start replacing the creaking Airwave TETRA radio system used by the emergency services next April, but that date is now in serious doubt. There are huge question marks over the suitability of 4G mobile technology for this with the necessary standards for device-to-device communication and control of groups still in the planning stages, and even bigger issues over equipping emergency services with mobile devices that rely on 4G for push-to-talk communications (like an analogue walkie talkie) when 4G phone coverage is so patchy around the country. The other problem with using digital I.P based communications is latency – there is a delay between pushing the transmit button, and the audio arriving at the receiver. With analogue radio equipment, there is no delay other than the constraint of the speed of light. Mobile phone push-to-talk systems are rarely like this. You press the button, it switches to the right app, fires it up, makes an IP connection and then starts the communication. This is not instant. Indeed, using such a system where you can see and hear the other person is un-nerving, with a significant delay that is more than an echo. Even a traditional 2G or 3G voice call has a little latency which you can hear if both people are in the same room. Push-to-talk latency isn't a problem in the “it might replace SMS” scenario the mobile industry once envisaged for it, but it is in an emergency. The classic example the Armed Forces give is to imagine a commander who has a team of snipers on a roof pointing at a target. He gives the command: “Don't shoot”. Unfortunately, in a cellular, IP based device, it takes a fraction of a second for the app to fire up and make a connection – a fraction of a second which is just long enough for the word “Don’t” to fail to make it into the message. Obviously this is just not good enough in a critical situation such as a terrorist attack. The other problem with any emergency communication system using 4G technology is that coverage of the country is patchy and uneven, with some areas having no signal whatsoever. Even if the emergency service personnel can get a 4G signal, you can then add to this the problem that with 4G there are other users on the network: ordinary customers, who, given that they are in the middle of an emergency, will want to call their mum or post a video of the incident to YouTube. There are systems in place to give emergency services priority, but network congestion is still going to affect the ability of the back - end infrastructure to cope. All in all the situation is a mess, and could not really have come at a worse time. Back in February, James Brokenshire, the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who at that time was also Minister for Security and Immigration, said the Mobile Services tender process had “produced some impressive technical bids combined with the prospect of significant cost savings for the taxpayer”. Unfortunately these are now looking like hollow words. Any communications system relying on 4G coverage in the UK will have problems, as the UK officially has the worst 4G service in Europe, according to a recent independent survey. The testing company gave the UK networks scores out of 500 and said: While the best UK operator achieved a score of 366, the top performers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland scored in a range above 440; and even a score above 470 was achieved in the last years. The lowest values in those countries were above 325, which would still be enough for the second place in UK. The survey company showed that EE has the best service, puts Three in second place, and places O2 marginally ahead of Vodafone, in a disappointing fourth place. This will be bad news for Vodafone, which has been shouting about significant capital investment in their network, but which does not seem to be showing much improvement after the expenditure.

My personal battle with local fly – tippers has taken a new and more serious turn. On Tuesday evening I was alerted by a neighbour that a large quantity of building material had been apparently dumped in a private parking area just off Manor Road. Upon investigation it became clear that the material had indeed been illegally fly – tipped, and not only that, a vast majority of it was made up of broken up corrugated roof panels – the kind in common use between the late 1940’s and the middle 1970’s. The panels are composed of Asbestos which is an incredibly toxic material when it is broken up or scraped – any dust produced when working with Asbestos is highly poisonous. It has been in use for thousands of years, but did not start large-scale until the end of the 19th century, when manufacturers and builders began using Asbestos because of its desirable physical properties:- sound absorption, average tensile strength, its resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage, and affordability. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. When Asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibres are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. These desirable properties made Asbestos a very widely used material, and its use continued to grow throughout most of the 20th century until the carcinogenic effects of Asbestos dust caused its effective demise as a mainstream construction and fireproofing material in most countries. However, around two million tons of Asbestos were still mined per year as of 2009, half in Russia. It is now known that prolonged inhalation of Asbestos fibres can cause serious and fatal illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Health issues related to Asbestos exposure can be found in records dating back to Roman times. By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s Asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries. The severity of Asbestos-related diseases, the material's extremely widespread use in many areas of life, its continuing long-term use after harmful health effects were known or suspected, and fact that Asbestos-related diseases can emerge decades after exposure ceases, have resulted in Asbestos litigation becoming the longest, most expensive class action in U.S. history and a significant legal issue in many other countries. From this you can see that the fly – tipping of Asbestos based materials is a very serious affair. It was bad enough investigating the fly tipping incidents that happened in September 2013 in the James Watt Way council recycling centre, when a couple of villains dumped two and a half tonnes of rotten bananas on pallets at the site; after much investigation be Bexley Council Environmental Crimes Unit, one of the pair was fined, had his van confiscated, and was sent to prison for eight months. Disgusting and noxious as the liquefying rotten bananas were, they were nothing compared to the load of dusty Asbestos that has now appeared in the area. Fortunately the council are arranging for it to be safely collected and responsibly disposed of. I have been in contact with the North End Safer Neighbourhood Police team, and they are increasing foot patrols in the area. We do have a lead on the crime; a witness saw the illegal dumping take place, and has a description of the vehicle and occupants has been passed to the Police for investigation.

Both The News Shopper and The Bexley Times are full of the story that Bexley council leader Teresa O'Neill has been granted an OBE on the Queen's birthday honours list, making her the first sitting councillor in the borough to receive the award. Councillor O'Neill, who has been a member of the council for fifteen years, announced on June 12th that she received the news of the award. She has been honoured for serving the community and the local government. That’s the official line, anyway. Anyone who has been reading Malcolm Knight’s “Bexley is Bonkers” blog will know differently. I don't think I need to say anymore, other than in my opinion the award of an OBE to Teresa O’Neill is not merited.

Last week you may have seen my piece on why Erith Pier no longer gets the level of commercial traffic mooring on it that it used to. My former boss at Radio Caroline, the Station Manager Peter Moore is a regular Maggot Sandwich reader. He has written the following piece about the radio station and their experiences with the pier. I had a small involvement with the Erith Pier project (my role was to go onto the pier and photograph new ships when they moored there – as some parties needed proof that the pier was used for commercial mooring purposes). I used the excuse that I was a shipping enthusiast who wanted to get some photos (which also true to a small extent). Anyway, Peter has kindly written the following article, which I think many readers may find of interest:-  "Radio Caroline  ( MV Ross Revenge ) entered The Port of Tilbury in 2004 but after a long period of tolerance the port said that they would prefer us not to be there. We were good tenants and paid all the bills given to us, but they said they were not in the business of storing ships and that they could make more money by using the space we occupied for other purposes. Across the river at Gravesend were two areas of river wall that looked inviting and a couple of local Councillors were very supportive. But the first area was owned by a Pension Fund that had built a retail park on the shore. Their view was that if people parked to come and visit Ross Revenge, the traders would be annoyed and may not pay their rent. The other area was derelict awaiting development and we never could find out who the owners were. Our enquiries stalled when we got as far as the Bank of Ireland and then some Walter Mitty guy came along suggesting that it was his land but then he dropped off the radar. One of the enthusiastic Councillors was promoting the regeneration of the old harbour at Northfleet, hampered of course by the fact that the river wall had cut the harbour off from the river. He drew a futuristic artists impression of the restored port including Ross Revenge laying just outside, but it was never going to happen. Then we looked at Erith Pier, which I guess was restored and owned by Morrisons as part of the deal to have their Supermarket placed just nearby. They were happy for our ship to go there, but the Council said that any ship that stayed in one place for any length of time needed Planning Permission, so we applied. There were objections such as noise and obstruction of the view and a possible upsurge in vandalism and that maybe the leisure fishermen would be annoyed if we took up some of the space, but we pointed out that ships were there most of the time anyhow. Then the Port of London Authority appeared saying that while it may well be Morrisons pier it was their river and they had the final say, so we went to a meeting with them. They said that the presence of the ship may scour the area where it would be placed or conversely that it may cause silting. Then they asked if the ship may ever touch the river mud and we said that it might at certain tides. At this the PLA Environmental Officer joined the meeting and a very attractive young lady she was, but on hearing that the ship's keel may touch the mud she said that this would destroy the habitat of the Tentacled Lagoon Worm which seemingly was a vital part of the food chain of the river. Our marine man who had worked the river all his life said that ships had been 'taking the ground' from time immemorial and that the coasters that visited surely did the same, but this cut no ice with them and the question was raised of whether our presence would hamper these coasters and obstruct what was a temporary mooring place. But Morrisons were perplexed as they said that the PLA were telling them not to let ships tie up. So we assumed, and we do not think we were wrong, that the PLA did not want us there under any circumstances and would just surface objections until we gave up. They also pointed us at the Environment Agency and told us we would need a River Works Licence. We could also see that they could simply price us out of contention even if we complied with each and every other requirement.. Then we saw that our Planning Application had been struck out with the suggestion that it had been withdrawn by the applicant, which was not the case. So we left Tilbury and went right away and the ship is now in the middle of the River Blackwater. I am not suggesting the Radio Caroline would have been a huge boon to the area, but it was interesting and so typical of modern life that with a couple of notable exceptions all parties involved worked their utmost to ensure that a thing would not happen. Further they surely said ' Phew. we stopped that ' and returned to sitting on their bums. I wonder how we ever had an Empire.

Peter Moore,
Radio Caroline."

I don't think that there is very much that I can add to that. It just seems a pity that Erith could not have been a temporary home to a ship and radio station that arguably did more to influence British media than anyone else. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email Incidentally, if you would like to hear what I sounded like back in 1990 when I was out at sea on the Ross Revenge, you can now do so; here is an edited recording of my late night / early morning radio show on Caroline. On the day this recording was made, we were in the middle of a Force 9 gale, and things were somewhat on the bumpy side! Give it a listen and let me know what you think. As you will hear, my pirate radio pseudonym was Tony Palmer. You can see an online album of photos taken during my time on Radio Caroline by clicking here. I would be interested in hearing your feedback.

As regular Maggot Sandwich readers will be aware, I am keen to support and promote independent local businesses. Recently a young lady called Bukky Alabi has set up a breakfast delivery service which caters for hungry people in Bexleyheath, Slade Green, Erith, Northumberland Heath, Dartford and Thamesmead. Bukky has written the following piece about her service:- "Got Breakfast was birthed from experience and passion. On a cold winter Saturday morning after a long week at work all I wanted to do was lie in bed all day Saturday but still wanted breakfast in bed without the hassle of getting up and sorting it out and it didn't help that McDonald's round the corner stopped breakfast at 10.30am. For months this feeling continued and one weekend I decided to put this idea and desire into action. Fast forward 11 months after and here we have Got Breakfast, which is a weekend premium breakfast delivery company delivering breakfast to people at home or at work in and around Bexley. It is important to me to support local businesses and in saying that every dish on our menu is made with fresh locally sourced ingredients in and around Bexley. On the menu you can find the typical full English , American pancakes, scrambled egg and smoked salmon pancake. We also offer a healthier option which includes fruit salads, healthy salads, porridge, honey nut granola, and lovely sandwiches. During the week we also deliver breakfast to customers at work, however our office menu is slightly different and consists of sandwiches, salads, pastries, fruits and juices. As well as being the owner of Got Breakfast, I also split myself between  dealing with orders and concerns, helping the delivery team and also making freshly made smoothies when customers order. Got breakfast consist of a team of 4 - myself, driver, chef and our social media guru. Got Breakfast will be expanding in the coming months, we plan to open another branch before the end of year, and also expand the menu. We are currently working on a vegetarian menu and will expand to open during the week also. The response has been amazing so far and it can only get better, from the first day we opened we had orders flying out of the roof. Everyone on the team is passionate about what they do, so this makes the job come natural and easy we put our heart and soul into everything we do and give our customers what we would expect. We aim to make breakfasting in Bexley exciting and easier for people. For more information please find us on Twitter: @gotbreakfast_ Instagram: @gotbreakfast_"

Following the boarding up of Potion / the former White Hart a couple of weeks ago, the local rumour mill seems to have gone into overdrive. No planning applications have yet been made to the Council (I regularly check the planning application pages of the Bexley Council website). Nevertheless, this has not stopped what I suspect may be little more than wild supposition. I have heard from two separate sources that there are “definite” plans to convert the ground floor bar area into a Balti House restaurant. Whilst I, and many other local residents might welcome this, I find it difficult to believe. The amount of work and money required to completely refurbish the Victorian building, along with fitting a new commercial kitchen, and with a specialised fume extraction and climate control system would cost an utter fortune - a good couple of hundred thousand pounds; also bearing in mind that anyone that takes on the building will have to replace the hideous plate glass frontage illegally installed by the owners of Potion, to be replaced by a facsimile of the original frontage, complete with acid etched glass and green salt glazed tiles. This also will not come cheaply; I get the feeling that there has been a certain amount of wishful thinking going on - personally a local Balti House would be very agreeable, but this does not make it any more likely. Do you know more? Leave a comment below, or Email me at if you have any information regarding this. 

The ending video this week is something quite unusual; it features lots of archive footage taken in and around Erith over the last hundred years ro so, accompanied by a poem about the town, which was written by very long time local resident Pat Watson. The video is courtesy of Lee Ricketts, and his YouTube channel.

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