Sunday, September 13, 2015

The first birthday of Bexley Brewery.

The photo above shows the main entrance to Erith Town Hall in Walnut Tree Road. The building was completed in 1931, and housed The Municipal Borough of Erith - which was defined as a local government district in North West Kent from 1876 to 1965 around the town of Erith. It also included the generally suburban areas of Northumberland Heath, Belvedere, and parts of Barnehurst, Bexleyheath, Crayford and the SE2 London Postal District of Abbey Wood. The district was formed when the Local Government Act 1858 was adopted by the parish of Erith, and a Local Board was formed to govern the town. Under the Local Government Act 1894 it became an urban district. The district ran its own tram services as Erith Urban District Council Tramways until they became the responsibility of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933. In 1938 it gained the status of municipal borough. In 1965 it was abolished by the London Government Act 1963 and its former area transferred to Greater London from the administrative county of Kent. Its former area was combined with that of other districts to form the present-day London Borough of Bexley. Shortly after this point much of the work carried out in Erith Town Hall was centralised in Bexleyheath, in what was intended to be "temporary" accomodation in Bexleyheath Broadway, but which actually housed many Bexley Council departments for around thirty five years, until the former Woolwich Equitable Headquarters building was purchased and converted for council use at great expense. 

The photo above (click on it for a larger view) was taken back in 1880 of a very grand property which was called Walnut Tree House. It was owned by the Parish family, who by the looks of it were not short of a bob or two – the place looks lovely. The patriarch, John Parish owned the ballast wharf in West Street, and the ballast pit in what is now the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road. The very fine quality loam dug from the pit was taken to the wharf to be loaded onto freighter ships for transportation up to the great iron and steel forges on Tyneside, where it was used to make moulds for metal castings. Unfortunately Walnut Tree House does not exist today; it was demolished to make way for Erith Town Hall in 1931, as previously mentioned. I don't know what the Parish family would have made of the location nowadays, with 24 hour motor traffic using the hideous fish sculpture roundabout, it would definitely be very different from when the house was occupied. Still, the needs of the council had to be satisfied then, and again today. It is distinctly possible that the site of both Walnut Tree House and Erith Council Offices may soon once again come up for some form of redevelopment. As I have recently written, it is thought that Bexley Council are negotiating a break point in their contract with Capita, the commercial outsourcing company that run the Council Tax collection operations and the housing and council tax benefits functions on behalf of the council. The word is that Bexley are looking to terminate the contract at a break point this year, and to instead merge their Council Tax operations with Bromley Council on a single site. This should substantially reduce the overhead costs of the operation for both boroughs, due to economies of scale. Capita are the only operation currently undertaken in Erith Town Hall, as most other functions have been centralised to Bexleyheath, again in a bid to save money. I have concerns about the fate of Erith Town Hall; it is located in a prime position for being sold off to be redeveloped, possibly as up - market apartments - and we all know Bexley Council's appalling record for selling off the family silver - just look at the situation with Belvedere Splash Park. If one thinks about it, the Town Hall site is located within two minutes walk of Erith Station, it is also very close to Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and overlooks Erith Riverside Gardens. I get the feeling that developers may be already looking at the site with envious eyes. As Crossrail comes to Abbey Wood, and will almost certainly be extended down to the forthcoming Paramount London Theme Park on the Swanscombe Peninsula. This will make Erith even more attractive to property developers, and to people looking to move into the area because of the employment opportunities that the Theme Park and allied businesses will bring into the region as a whole.

This week marks the 30th birthday of a distinctly low technology, unglamorous, yet hugely important and influential computer which most people who were around at the time will have forgotten about. The Amstrad PCW 8256 - in eighteen months it did for the typewriter what the car took thirty years to do for the pony and trap. Amstrad boss Alan Sugar’s specification was simple – “A word processor so simple Joyce could use it”. Joyce Caley was his formidable personal assistant, and "Joyce" became the codename for the project – and the product name in Germany. The PCW 8256 rode on the coat-tails of the previous Amstrad computers, which had been huge successes: The CPC 464 and 664 computers that I have written about in the past - two excellently engineered and very good value machines in themselves. While the PCW 8256 is often derided as being a low-tech device – Z80-based, running CP/M when not word-processing and with a monochrome display – it’s key to being cheap lay in using a single chip which controlled the CPU, display and, crucially, the printer. What customers thought was a separate external printer was in fact just a printing mechanism with the electronics mounted inside the main unit. The PCW 8256 predated the widespread use of graphical interfaces and the computer mouse. Macs existed, but only in rarefied circles and its Motorola 68000 processor cost more than a whole PCW. Just being able to highlight text you wanted to cut and paste was revolutionary when most PC programs wanted a combination of control, secondary and tertiary keys for each step to mark the start of a block, the end of the block and the copy or cut. The PCW 8256 operating system / word processing program called LocoScript reduced nine key presses to three and made the whole process a lot more obvious. Whilst it could also play games - and indeed many Sinclair ZX Spectrum titles were ported onto the PCW 8256, word processing and spreadsheets were what it really did best. It was actually a superb bit of kit that was well engineered (down to a price) and very well thought out. Most of all, the long lasting effect of the PCW 8256 was to get people writing. If everyone back then had a book in them, it was often the PCW 8256 which got it out. Significant businesses can trace their roots back to early work on the machine. Many writers got their first books published after typing it out on a PCW 8256. Back in 1985, only a small, intrepid minority of writers used word processors. The pioneers tended to be sci-fi writers such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, who were perhaps naturally disposed to new technology, and authors of densely plotted thrillers and historical fiction who needed to incorporate lots of research and move material around without having to hold everything in their short-term memories. The Amstrad changed all this, for the simple reason that it cost £399, word-processing program and dot-matrix printer included, while an Apple Mac or IBM system cost four times as much or more. The PCW 8256 price lured in those writers who were beginning to realise that, on their Smith Coronas and Olivetti typewriters, they were spending as much time retyping as typing. A critical mass formed. any single piece of hardware can have been said to have introduced a computer to an audience it might well otherwise have bypassed, the Amstrad PCW 8256 is the machine - in the thirteen years it was in production in various guises, it sold a staggering eight million units. I suspect that in attics and the backs of cupboards all over the UK, some of these ground breaking computers still exist. Let's hope that they get preserved. 

For over a year I have been hearing all sort of rumours about the large Morrison's supermarket in Erith, which provides jobs for over five hundred local people - one of the largest employers in the town, though relatively small when compared to ADM Oils, who operate the largest edible oils and fats processing plant in Europe from their facility in Church Manorway, Erith, where they employ around four thousand people, and process one million tonnes of rapeseed each year. The plant crushes the seeds and refines the crude oil into about 385,000 tonnes of refined oil that is used in a variety of food ingredients and in biofuels throughout Europe. The meal from these crushing operations is used as feed by livestock producers in the U.K., France and Ireland. I digress. Whilst not the largest local employer, Morrison's are an exceedingly significant one, and any loss of jobs from the shop would have significant social and economic impact on the area. The current Managing Director of Morrison's is a guy called David Potts, who is slashing nine hundred jobs from eleven stores across the country, while warning that the impending national living wage could hit the company for tens of millions of pounds. It means the new boss of the struggling supermarket has shown the door to nearly four thousand staff in just six months, with seven hundred gone at head office and two thousand three hundred from its convenience-store M Local business, which was sold yesterday, although the jobs will be saved by the new owners. A further four hundred Morrisons jobs went in January when another ten stores were closed under Potts’s predecessor, Dalton Philips. Potts refused to rule out more store closures, explaining he is still reviewing the company’s portfolio of five hundred stores, although there are currently no plans to shut more. Some time ago I had contact with a regular reader, and occasional Maggot Sandwich contributor who had been asking questions about the future for Erith Morrisons. They were told in unequivocal terms that the store was not shutting, and it most certainly  not being taken over by Aldi, despite some persistent rumours that had been circulating. Whilst Erith Morrisons has taken a bit of a hit from the competition in the form of Asda at Lower Belvedere, it is still an important store to the company, and to the town. I will be keeping my ear to the ground for any news which contradicts the official company line. If you hear anything, can you please let me know by Emailing

Earlier in the week, I received the following Email from a local chap called Tony Fairburn:- "I support what you say about river ferries, the Thames is an underused resource that should be developed as in Sydney, Venice, Amsterdam and on the River Rhine. A couple of events that may offer some hope: The Campaign for Better Transport is hosting an event at the Abbey Wood Community Hall on Tuesday 15 September at 18.30. I am sure the subject of ferries will come up. Just turn up on the night. I am working with a group of like minded people to draw attention of the problems associated with road crossings; you already know my thoughts on this. We have a new Facebook page (needs sorting out) at Bexley Against Road Crossings, and we are developing a web site which includes a recommendation for the promotion of ferries. We are having a meeting at 19.15 at Bexley Community Library, Bourne Road on Tuesday 29 September. If you or your readers are interested in joining us please get them to contact me".

The following announcement has been made by the team behind Erith Park, the huge housing development that has replaced the notorious and unloved Larner Road Estate. "From Neanderthal communities to philanthropists, our flagship regeneration scheme Erith Park has a rich history to celebrate. Join us on Saturday 26 September for our community event, which will tell the stories of Erith’s communities past and present. The day will include: The geology of Erith Park – learn about the Neanderthal humans, animals and geological wonderment of Erith Park. Walk the Talk tour – find out about Erith Park’s historic roots when we launch our new interactive tour. Our Story premier – attend the first screening of ‘Our Story’, a short film about life at Erith Park told through the eyes of residents. Street naming – we have chosen to name the new streets after families and residents who have given a lot to the local communities and we will be joined by their relatives. Entertainment – guests including cavemen in their Stone Age car and two Victorian characters telling stories about Erith in the past.

Date: Saturday, September 26, 2015

12:30 onwards – Entertainment and film showings
13:00 – Unveiling of the geology board, Walk the Talk and street naming
14:30 – Close

Please feel free to drop-in for as long or as little as you would like. Location: Erith Park, Callender Road, Erith, DA8 3DD. Parking for relatives will be available at our Sales and Marketing Suite car park. To find out more about Erith Park and our plans for phase two in 2015, click here". 

Rail companies around the UK, and especially in London are currently investigating ways to increase passenger capacity. This comes at a time when they are under an increasingly large amount of scrutiny from both the public and politicians. Earlier this week there was meeting called by the rail minister Claire Perry. The summit was attended various MPs and special interest groups, as well as Network Rail, Southeastern and rail user group Passenger Focus at London Bridge. During the meeting, both local MP's Teresa Pearce (Labour) and David Evennett (Conservative) voiced concerns over Southeastern’s rail service, stating there were serious issues the operator needed to address. David Evennett said: “My constituents do not believe rail services have improved with particular problems on peak time trains. Southeastern not are listening to the genuine concerns being expressed by their customers about quality and punctuality. I will continue to hold them to account for their failures, and I shall be making strong representations when the new franchise is put out to tender". David Evennett also raised complaints on behalf of his constituents on issues such as overcrowding, delays and customer satisfaction as well as challenging several statistics presented about the company’s performance. Teresa Pearce said "I am regularly contacted by constituents who have concerns with Southeastern rail services. The improvement works at London Bridge have caused disruption to many commuters across the South East through overcrowding, cancellations and delays". Last year, Southeastern was ranked joint-bottom as the worst train company in Britain in a survey by consumer group Which? The company blamed the result on its customers in comments made to the press, saying it took “people somewhere they don’t want to be with money they don’t want to pay.” The capacity issues with the existing rail infrastructure are also a great worry. There are all sorts of physical restrictions and limitations - the width of the rail track gauge, the height of the station platforms, the height of any bridges and the dimensions of tunnels that the train and accompanying carriages have to pass through. The restrictions that especially apply on the Dartford to Cannon Street via Greenwich line has are mainly dictated by the length of platform at Woolwich Dockyard station, which is bounded by a tunnel at each end of the platform. A maximum length of ten carriages can be accommodated - any more and they would be left in the tunnel at one end or another. In some parts of Europe they have come to a novel and rather clever solution - they use double decker trains. The use of double-decker carriages, where feasible, can resolve capacity problems on a railway, avoiding other options which have an associated infrastructure cost such as longer trains (which require longer station platforms), more trains per hour (which the signalling or safety requirements may not allow) or adding extra tracks besides the existing line. Double decker (sometimes referred to as bilevel) trains are claimed to be more energy efficient, and may have a lower operating cost per passenger. A bilevel car may carry about twice as many as a normal car, without requiring double the weight to pull or material to build. However, a bilevel train may take longer to exchange passengers at each station, since more people will enter and exit from each car, and they are accordingly most popular on long-distance routes which make few stops (and may be popular with passengers for offering a better view). It may surprise you to know that double decker trains actually ran locally for quite some time - between November 1949 and October 1971 on the Dartford via Bexleyheath to Cannon Street line. Each of the four coach units carried twenty two high level and twenty four low level seats, a total of 508, with additional tip up seats at the ends of the upper level. This was a total of 1,104 seats on the train, normal trains had 772 seats. Access to the upper deck was via a short staircase. Ventilation of the upper deck was by constantly running electric fans, as the windows couldn't be opened. The train was higher than other trains so care had to be taken which routes to use it on. The Dartford routes were ideal and no alteration had to be made to the  track and bridges. Bearing in mind many people smoked on trains back then, the fug on the upper deck must have been terrible, especially in summer. The other problems with the double decker train was that the seats were cramped, hard and uncomfortable, and the time taken to get on and off the double decker carriages was significantly longer than with a conventional train. The double decker train was finally taken out of service on the 1st October 1971, and was scrapped. You can learn more about the Kent double decker train by clicking here.

As some of you will know, I have not been very well this week; my sincere thanks to the many well - wishers who have been in contact with me over the period; suffice to say that I am now on the mend. The story as to what happened will have to wait for another time I am afraid. 

It is somewhat surprising to note that the first birthday of the Bexley Brewery is upon us. Here is a note from husband and wife team Cliff and Jane on the events of the last year. "Bexley Brewery - It all began with those seven words… “I think we should start a brewery…” Bexley Brewery came about partly from a need to change careers but also from a desire to start a family business from something that was a very successful hobby. Cliff was a software designer and I was a Bexley Primary school teacher, so the brewing industry was a big departure from both of our comfort zones. We looked all over Bexley for possible premises, even drifting in Dartford and other surrounding areas.  That was actually the hardest part, finding premises and we quickly discovered a shortage of smaller industrial units within the borough. However, good fortune was not far away, and we eventually found our current location through a contact at our rugby club (Dartfordians) and could immediately see the potential for a brewery site. After the usual speedy work was completed by solicitors, we got the keys on May 29th and immediately started work preparing the unit. Brewing vessels were ordered, a conditioning room was built and the essential drainage put in place. The necessary permits were applied for and everything was planned to be ready for the first brew by the beginning of August. However, the weather cannot be predicted and our container was delayed somewhere in the Pacific. This did give us an opportunity to brew final test batches and settle on our first beers – BOB and Redhouse. Our first brew was a Redhouse. Everything went well thanks to the help the assistance from the master brewer in the installation team. The second brew was another matter - we were on our own. We needn’t have worried too much as the beer got brewed ok, but there was plenty of pressure, in particular what to do if things went wrong and things have gone wrong at different times. Initial casks were ready for sale around the end of September and our first customers included the Robin and Hood and Little John, The Penny Farthing, Lamorbey Wines and Darfordians Rugby Club, all of whom are still customers and great supporters of their local brewery. As well as cask ales we also wanted to produce bottled conditioned ales. ‘Bottle conditioned’ means that the beer is still alive and still fermenting in the bottle, just like cask beer. This does mean that there is sediment at the bottom of the bottles, which can put people off buying our beer. Most supermarket beers are filtered, pasteurised and carbonated, and so will appear crystal clear. They will also taste exactly the same from the moment of bottling to the time of drinking; whereas our beers’ flavour continues to develop and mature, so the taste from bottling to drinking will change (for the better). Our logo is the red necked parakeet. So “why the parakeet” is a question we often get asked. We’ve discovered that the ring necked parakeet, seen much around the borough, is either loved or loathed! We’ve even been heckled at farmers markets by people who genuinely dislike the bird… We always come to their defence, they are survivors and after all that’s what nature is about. They brighten up the skies and can be very comical, although not when they are eating the apples on our tree in the garden! Our particular bird is also happy to dress up for special occasions as can bee seen on our Facebook and Twitter pages. With costumes and disguises including a knight, a Jedi, a penny farthing cyclist and even sporting a moustache. Although our main business is brewing for pubs, clubs and bottle shops, it is important for us to keep in contact with the people actually drinking our ales. So in November last year we opened the brewery shop for the first time and people could come and buy directly from us and have a peek at the brewery as well. The brewery team also grows on shop/event days as we have Lisa & Vanessa, who help out behind the counter. We’ve opened monthly since then and have just started to open every Friday afternoon. We also run a tour & tasting bi-monthly, which is a chance for people to meet the brewer, learn more about the brewing process and try some of our beers as well.  These are very popular and we always get great positive feedback from them. Farmers Markets are also a great way to sell our produce as well as meet people and tell them about the local brewery. Currently we attend three farmers markets, on three consecutive weekends at Hall Place Bexley, Spadework in Offham & Chislehurst. We really enjoy these markets, meeting people and making friends with other stallholders. People often ask if Cliff the brewer is in fact BOB. We run the business as a team, which when you’re also married can and does spread into our lives outside the brewery. With evenings often spent making our tea lights – those of you who buy directly from us should have quite a collection by now, as well as working out new recipe ideas, at times it’s 24/7". Excellent stuff; I am a great fan of the Bexley Brewery. I am fortunate in living very close to their facility, though thus far I have yet to persuade them to run a hose pipe from the brewery into Pewty Acres so that I could have a pint by pint beer meter fitted in the kitchen. Oh well...

The end video this week shows the Caterham Seven 620R super lightweight sports car. This is the fastest and most powerful vehicle produced in the Caterham factory, which is located in Kennet Road, Crayford, not far from the Thames Road Recycling Centre. It is amazing that a vehicle that can beat many Ferraris and Lamborghinis on a race track is actually built in a giant shed near the the local council tip! I occasionally see a Caterham being road tested locally; if you keep your eyes open they are sometimes to be seen, but they are very low and small, and move astonishingly quickly. Jeremy Clarkson once described a Caterham as "An Exocet powered shopping trolley". Quite. 

1 comment:

  1. I used to travel on the double decker train on the sidcup line. It was very comfortable and strange though it might sound, quite spacious. I always sat on the upper deck.