Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Erith Vigilante.

The photo above shows something that is currently an extremely common sight around the local area at the weekend; a rail replacement bus service. In this case the bus is seen travelling North, along Walnut Tree Road, and past the new Bexley College campus. The spire of Christ Church Erith can be seen in the background. The buses run on weekends when the train service is disrupted due to work on Crossrail between Abbey Wood and Plumstead, and also work at London Bridge to construct the new station there. This Christmas things are going to get worse for commuters. London Bridge station will be completely closed to Southeastern customers over a 10-day period. Those planning to travel to London between Christmas and New Year will also be blighted by station closures at Waterloo East, Charing Cross and Cannon Street. The four major stations are all shut between 6pm on Christmas Eve and 4am on Monday, January 4th. Local MP Teresa Pearce has had words about the situation to the News Shopper, which you can read here. All this is over and above the continuing Crossrail work previously mentioned. I am fortunate in that due to the nature of my job, I can work from home quite easily (and indeed do on a regular basis), but I know that many fellow commuters are not as fortunate as I. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

A very popular and much commented on story has appeared on the News Shopper website this week; it concerns the activities of what the paper calls the "Erith Vigilante". A young chap based in the town has contacted the paper, who have run with the story, which at the time of writing is one of the most read stories on the papers' website. There seems to be a degree of journalistic licence in the story - here is a quotation:- "An Erith vigilante is roaming the streets of south east London's estates, to help fight crime. 23-year-old Billy Andrews patrols Crayford, Dartford, Bexleyheath and Welling, as well as his own home town, collecting proof of illegal activities. Now, a-year-and-a-half on from beginning his courageous mission, the Lincoln Close resident is looking to recruit other fearless crime fighters. With more courageous citizens on patrol, he hopes to widen his remit and start snapping photos, videos, and reporting hotspots for drug dealing and other activities to the police". The piece is complete with multiple photos of the aforementioned Billy Andrews, along with details of where he lives. All very convenient for the local thugs and lawbreakers to find him I feel. The article goes on to say that Billy has applied to become a PCSO; I get the personal impression that he has contacted the News Shopper to try and enhance his chances of getting accepted as a PCSO. I don't think Billy can be aware that there is a very good chance that the whole PCSO role may be removed from the Metropolitan Police in their December financial review in order to save money. I have a friend who is a PCSO and know how hard this will affect the force if it does happen. 

Do you recall the Vidor brand of batteries? They used to be sold all over the place, especially in shops such as Woolworths. They were cheaper than Ever Ready or Duracell, and very popular, if not so long lasting. The brand Vidor was based in Erith, and they produced a range of consumer electronics in the years after the war; their battery production facilities were located in South Shields and Dundee, whilst their television and radio factory was in St Fidelis Road, off West Street, Erith. In 1934 T. N. Cole, managing director of the Lissen battery company, left that company sometime after it had been taken over by Ever-Ready; he purchased the Burndept radio company and set up the Vidor battery company, in direct competition with Lissen/Ever-Ready. Vidor's name came from the initials of Thomas's two daughters, Valerie and Denise, and his wife Rebecca. As a concession to Ever Ready and his agreement with the company, he did not run Burndept and Vidor himself, but employed Mr. R.P. Richardson as Managing Director. In 1935 Thomas brought an action appealing against the agreement with Ever Ready. An out of court settlement was made and from that time on, relations between Ever Ready and Vidor were strained, not helped by popularity of Vidor batteries with radio dealers because of their competitive prices, which were around twenty five percent cheaper than their rivals. In 1939 a Vidor portable radio shown at National Radio Exhibition. After World War II, between 1947 - 1958 Various models of radio were manufactured - you can see a video featuring the Vidor "My Lady Margaret" valve portable set by clicking here. The company appears to have been absorbed into several others in the late 60's / early 70's, and the battery making part of the business was sold to an Argentinian company, who as far as I can ascertain, still own the brand. 

Whilst carrying out some historical research on the Vidor article above for this edition of the Maggot Sandwich, I came across a story that sounded so over the top and outrageous that it had to be fiction; further investigation proved that in fact it was all completely true. The following account is a precis of the official account which was released by the CIA historical research team recently. Some details are still redacted, even though the events took place almost exactly fifty five years ago. On January 2, 1959, the Soviet Union kicked off its Luna programme, sometimes called Lunik by the Western media, with the launch of Luna 1. This first spacecraft missed the Moon, but the next hit the target and became the first spacecraft to impact the lunar surface in September of that year. A month later on October 7, Luna 3 returned history's first ever pictures of the Moon’s far side. It was a stunning year for the Soviets on the Moon, one in which the United States only racked up a handful of failed lunar missions. The effect, aside from a blow to U.S national morale, was a devastating effect on the American psyche. However exciting these missions were to space fans, they brought with them the terrifying reality that the enemy had bigger boosters and more advanced technology. The disparity between American technology and the perceived Soviet power led to an intelligence programme run by the CIA. By studying Soviet spacecraft and space missions, the agency hoped to not only anticipate launches and their impact on the public but also to adjust American launch schedules to better keep pace with the enemy. Even educated guesses about Soviets plans would help the United States know where to concentrate its efforts to hopefully overtake the Soviet Union in space. It would be useful for the US armed forces to have a handle on Soviet hardware to know what might give way to an offensive military spinoff. And this intelligence would also help American leaders be better prepared to respond to a new Soviet threat should one arise. Sometime between the end of 1959 and 1960, the Soviet Union toured several countries with an exhibit of its industrial and economic achievements. Among the artifacts were a Sputnik and a Lunik upper stage that contained the payload, the latter freshly painted with viewing windows cut into the nose. At first, many in the CIA assumed the touring Lunik was just a model, but some analysts suspected that the Soviets might be sufficiently proud of the spacecraft to bring a real one on the tour. These suspicions were confirmed when CIA intelligence agents managed to gain unrestricted access to the spacecraft one night after the exhibit closed. They realised it wasn’t a model. It was a real production article. The agents gleaned what they could in 24 hours but desperately wanted a better look. They wanted to get inside the Lunik.  This was easier said than done. The Lunik was heavily guarded, usually with a constant garrison so examining it before or after the exhibit closed was ruled out. But the Lunik did move around, which meant that it could be "borrowed" during the transport chain if there was a weak link. And there was. The spacecraft, as well as every other piece of the exhibit, was transported in a crate by a truck to a rail yard where it was loaded onto a train and moved to the next city. At the rail yard, a guard took note of each incoming crate. What this guard didn't have was a list of cargo and and expected delivery time for each crate. The CIA hatched a plan to steal the Lunik for a night and get it to the train station by morning for its journey to the next city. Finally the night came when the team of CIA agents put their plan into action. They arranged for the Lunik to be the last truckload carried out of the exhibit hall. It did, and trailing it were the CIA agents in plain clothes, disguised as locals looking out for an expected Soviet escort. But more Soviet guards never materialised. With the coast clear, the CIA stopped the truck at the last turn off before the train station, escorted the driver to a hotel, covered the truck with a tarpaulin, then drove it to a nearby salvage yard that was selected for the night because of its surrounding ten-foot tall walls. At the rail yard, the guard took stock of the incoming crates and left to go home when he assumed the last had arrived. More CIA agents tailed him for the night to make sure he didn’t go back to work early. Back at the salvage yard, the CIA team backed the truck into a narrow alley, closed a gate, then froze. They waited anxiously for a full half hour to be sure they hadn't been followed. Confident they hadn't been seen, they finally turned their attention to their charge. They had studied the crate and knew the sides were bolted together from the inside making the roof their only access point. Two men set to work removing the roof without leaving any marks on the wooden planks -- luckily the crate had been opened so many times the planks were already a little worse for wear -- while the other two prepared the photographic equipment. With the roof removed, the men saw that the Lunik took up almost the full space of the crate; they wouldn’t be able to walk from one end to the other. So they divided and conquered, two men working on the nose and two on the tail end. They descended in socks by rope ladders and started dismantling the Lunik by torchlight. They took a full roll of film of the marks on the spacecraft’s antenna and sent it out for processing the make sure the cameras were working. Happily, word came back the pictures were perfectly clear. The men at the tail end removed the base cap to study the engine area. Though the engine was gone, the mounting brackets, fuel tank, and oxidiser tank were still in place, giving the experts a sense of how big and powerful the engine was. At the nose end, the men discovered that a rod ran though the spacecraft to support the centrally loaded payload fixed in place at the front by a four-way electrical outlet acting as a nut screwed into the rod. This was covered by a piece of plastic with a Soviet seal. It was their only way in, but if the seal was missing the Soviet guards would know someone had tampered with the spacecraft. Refusing to be stymied by a piece of plastic, they checked with CIA personnel offsite that the seal could be duplicated in time to replace it. Their offsite colleagues said yes, giving them clearance to cut it off. The seal was sent out for duplication while the men began exploring Lunik’s insides. The small team worked through the night. As sunrise approached they began putting the Lunik back together, careful to leave no traces of tampering. They affixed the fake seal, put the cover back on the crate, and loaded the whole thing back onto the truck. The original driver was back at the helm by 5 o’clock in the morning and the truck was waiting at the rail yard for the guard when he came back to work at 7 o’clock in the morning. He unquestioningly added it to his list, and the Lunik went onto its next city with the rest of the exhibit. The CIA’s intimate look into the Lunik’s construction ultimately played a fairly important role. Knowing Lunik's dry weight and true size allowed experts to determine its wet weight, which was invaluable for the agents who tracking subsequent launches. With this major variable known, experts could extrapolate the true power of the booster that launched this spacecraft. And this in turn allowed Americans experts to work backwards to determine the Soviets’ true capability with their existing hardware, and more importantly determine the payload limits of their existing technology. Kidnapping the Lunik helped the United States determine what the Soviets couldn't do without a massive technological breakthrough, information that helped the national leadership and heads at NASA set goals and shape timelines that would help the Americans match and ultimately overtake the Soviet Union in space. Definitely a story of its time; I am just astounded that the Soviets did not realise that their prized spacecraft had been kidnapped. A definite case of truth proving to be far stranger than any fiction. 

The video above was shot last year, in and around Thamesmead and Lower Belvedere. it shows a large number of the infamous Bike Life TV UK gang undertaking all sorts of criminal activity on public roads. It staggers me that they are arrogant enough to publish evidence of their continued wrongdoing online for anyone to see. If you watch the video, you will see that most of the bikes and quads do not have number plates, and the riders wear bandannas or full face balaclava helmets to disguise their identities - it is patently obvious that the perpetrators are fully aware of what they are doing is wrong. Thamesmead, Lower Belvedere and parts of both Erith and Slade Green have suffered with periodic visits from these yobs for a while now. The Police and Neighbourhood Watch are heavily involved in cracking down on these people - many of whom already have long criminal records for offences ranging from car and bike theft to drug prosecutions. I know some locals will say "oh well, they are just having fun and not hurting anyone" - WRONG. Two members of Bike Life TV UK have already been killed in accidents caused by high speed illegal riding, and unless they are stopped, it is only a matter of time before an innocent member of the public is similarly killed. Besides which, why should these crooks be allowed to get away with it? Many of the bikes they ride are stolen from law abiding bikers (whose good reputation is sullied by the bad behaviour of the gang), most have not got tax, insurance or registration documents, let alone a bike licence, and many of them don't wear helmets - a blatant breach of the law. Hopefully the current crackdown will ease the situation - the more of these illegal bikes that are confiscated, crushed and turned into the next generation of baked bean cans the better. The recent Police report on the North End Safer Neighbourhoods cluster included the following observations:- "In September we have been targeting a troublesome family which are suspected of being involved in a lot of theft offences on the ward. This has led to an eviction process which we hope will be completed In November. This example of partnership working will show to the community that we will take any action against those who make the borough unsafe. We continue to work on our ward promise of tackling off road bikes. We have patrolled both in plain clothes and in uniform to tackle the issue. As previously stated Operation Spittle continues and over 21 warnings have been given to riders. We continue to work with the council and landowners to stop this.  We continue to patrol our open spaces and our streets to prevent criminal damage. We have seen a decrease in criminal damage from 7 offences in July to 3 in September. We will continue this work to prevent as much of this crime as we can. We have been working with the LFB to patrol for fires, the number of these incidents have reduced as a result". Comments below, or Email me at

It is fairly well known that late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis had close local links with Erith. Denis owned the Atlas Paint and Chemical (formerly Atlas Preservative co.) works that used to be on the site of the retail park in Fraser Road until the early 1980's. What is not so well known is that Margaret (then in her maiden name of Roberts) made an early speech to the Erith Conservative Women's group located in the Carlton Hall, Northumberland Heath in June 1949. The speech was documented by the Erith Chronicle newspaper (which was later incorporated into the Kentish Independent). I have come across the article, dated the 17th June 1949, and here are a few excerpts:- "DARTFORD'S WOMAN CANDIDATE MEETS THE LADIES. Miss Margaret Roberts, prospective Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Dartford constituency (of which Erith is a part) has had little chance since she was adopted to meet her supporters, because she has been working as a research chemist at Manningtree, and living at Colchester. She has now taken a new job in London, and will live at Dartford. This will vastly reduce travelling, and will enable her to attend more evening meetings, as she will be near her home. Between her two jobs Miss Roberts has had a short holiday, and has been able to meet Tory women at afternoon meetings. On Thursday, last week, she received an enthusiastic reception when she addressed as women's rally at the Carlton Hall, Erith, organized by the Women's Advisory Council of Kent Conservative Association (Dartford Division). In the chair was Mrs. D. M. Fletcher (chairman, Advisory Council), Mrs. A. C. Garrett and Mrs. A. Jenns (both vice-chairmen of the Council) and Mrs. Young (chairman, North Heath Women's Branch). More than 250 women were present. Women's inherent knowledge of human relationships was one of the subjects of Miss Roberts' talk. "Women have a special bent as technicians in human relationships," she said, "and we have come to understand the human aspect of our problems. The problems we face today are not only ones of raw materials and money, but problems concerning human beings in our factories—problems of how to fit people in the jobs they want to do, so they can give their best." She continued: "Perhaps one of the greatest problems women face today is the difficulty of getting enough food (Cries of "hear, hear.") There is a whispering—in fact, a shouting campaign in operation—that if the Tories get back they will take off all the controls, but this is untrue. It was the Tories who introduced the finest food rationing system during the war. The only difference was that we got more food then. Meat, a question in the minds of all housewives at the moment, was another topic which was dealt with by Miss Roberts. Industrial production, she said, would be much greater if the workers could get more meat. She complained of the low production of home-produced beef, and sharply criticized the Government's delay in importing cattle feeding stuffs. "Pig production during 1948 was only half that of 1945. I cannot think that that would have happened if we had a competent Minister of Food," she said. "The Dominions are very loyally coming to our rescue. Australia is planning to increase her meat production; South Africa is embarking on large development schemes, but those schemes all take some time for fruition. Canada has got a large production of things we need, but the Canadians say that instead of trading with them Britain is trading with Russia and countries behind the ‘iron curtain.’ We (the Conservatives) think our first duty is to stand behind the Empire. In 1948 pig production was not only lower than before the war, but was indeed 55 per cent. lower than in 1945, declared Miss Roberts. It had, then, fallen by almost half in three years. Development schemes and other methods to increase the meat supplies to this country were being explored in the Dominions. The Dominions had stood by the Mother Country during the war, and were coming to Britain's aid again. Questions on women's problems were answered by Miss Roberts who was thanked by Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Jenns. An invitation to women to join the association was given by Mrs. Fletcher". Definitely a speech which was designed to appeal to a female audience - at that time most women were homemakers once married, which then was very much the norm. I get the impression that she had probably given the same address to other groups who were somewhat more rurally - based, judging by the strong farming content, but I may be wrong.

Word reaches the Maggot Sandwich that finally the owners of the former White Hart pub / Potion Bar are submitting a planning application to return the front of the currently boarded up building to a semblance of its former self. An achitects drawing was created back in 2011 (see above - click on it for a larger view) when Bexley Council Planning Department took the then owners of Potion Bar to court for illegally removing the historic green salt glazed tiles and acid etched Victorian glass frontage of the Grade II listed building and replacing it with a hideous and anachronistic plate glass frontage so that the early Victorian building looked like a car showroom. Whilst the perpetrators were prosecuted and fined, to the best of my knowledge they did not pay up, and instead wound up the business and disappeared. The building has been empty and boarded up since. There have been plenty of (thus far unsubstantiated) rumours about the future of the building, but the source of the story of the replica frontage installation application is extremely reliable and reputable. Watch this space for more news as it comes in. 

Bexley has been named one of the ‘least prosperous’ areas of Britain in a new report released last Tuesday. The report - called the ‘Geography of Prosperity’ was created by international think tank the Legatum Institute. The Bexley Times writes that the London based organisation used data drawn from the Office of National Statistics to come up with the table of the most, and least prosperous areas in the UK. Bexley was in the bottom 10 of the table which examined 170 different areas of Britain. The results were based on measuring the average income per person alongside how ‘happy’ they feel. Bexley sank to 162 in the country out of the total 170 places looked at. Disappointing to say the least.

The end video this week is a brand new film released by the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain). It is designed to explain and promote the technical hobby of Amateur Radio to potential new members, and specifically the young. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. As with the Lunik episode, spying can be very low tech but effective. One story was Russian acquisition of jet engine secrets from the UK in the late 1940's. At that time the UK was in advance of the rest of the world, and it was thought the USSR, despite having export licenses and captured WW2 german jet aircraft was nowhere near knowing the trade secrets of the steels needed for high temperature jet operation.

    Until, that is, a USSR Trade Delegation at a Rolls Royce plant gathered close to a lathe machining a jet engine shaft and fan blades. As they did, stamping on the floor, they "captured" on the soles of their shoes, a lot of high quality "swarf" steel shavings from the machining process. A Drive back to their hotel, their shoes then removed, a lot of samples of high temperature steels was soon on the way back to labs in Moscow, courtesy of a diplomatic bag...........................