Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Homeleigh hoax.

The photos above show both sides of a promotional postcard from the multi award - winning Bexley Brewery, which is based on the Manford Industrial Estate in Manor Road, Erith, just at the foot of the Erith Wind Turbine. As many longer term readers will already know, I am keen to encourage and promote independent local businesses.  The Bexley Brewery is run by husband and wife team Cliff and Jane Murphy; they brew a range of very high quality, easy - drinking real ales, which they sell all over London and the South East. You can see exactly where their beer is available on this fully interactive map by clicking here. I have been contacted on several occasions by Google (who own Blogger - the blogging platform the Maggot Sandwich uses) to try and persuade me to take commercial advertising, but I refuse; it would make me lose my independence, and would make me beholden to the advertisers. The only companies that I promote are those with strong local links, and I promote them completely for free.

An interesting, albeit slightly disturbing case developed last week; a Maggot Sandwich reader contacted me out of the blue, to ask if I had heard anything about the former Homeleigh care home in Avenue Road, Erith. You may recall that I wrote about the Homeleigh care home back in May, when the story of how Bexley Council were planning on converting the building into a hostel for homeless people first broke. Since the Spring the story had gone quiet, and I must admit that I had thought very little more about it. The reader who contacted me told me that rumours were circulating locally that Bexley Council were planning on moving fifty families of Syrian refugees into the former care home, and did I know anything about it? This immediately sounded suspicious to me; the Homeleigh building is just not large enough to accommodate that number of people, and I had a gut feeling that the story was quite likely to be a malicious hoax. I contacted a few people who were in a position to know about such things, and I soon discovered that the story was indeed a hoax - that had apparently been started by extreme right wing group the English Defence League (EDL) on their Facebook site and that the Police were now involved. Thanks to fellow local blogger and investigator Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers for getting the hoax confirmed. It strikes me as somewhat of a coincidence that only last week I wrote about how some people will believe almost anything that is posted on social media, and an insight into the psychology of why this is the case. Not everything you see on the Internet in general or social media in particular is gospel truth. Sometimes interesting or gratifying or controversial facts, posts and memes are complete fabrications. The fact that tens of thousands of people have ‘Liked’ an article doesn’t prove that it’s true. (Though it doesn’t prove that it isn’t, either). The fact that one or more of your very intelligent and well-informed friends posted it isn’t conclusive proof that it’s accurate, either. Sometimes, very bright people fall for bogus messages because they want to believe them: for instance, because they fit with their political views, or offer some exciting gift, or refer to some threat that they don’t have the technical knowledge to recognise as improbable. Intelligence and omniscience are not synonyms. Sometimes, people just don’t care: they like the story the message tells too much to check it for factual accuracy.  The late scientist and philosopher Professor Carl Sagan produced what he called his “baloney detection kit” – a series of rules to employ when encountering any potential guile or manipulation. “1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” 2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. 3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts. 4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy. 5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will. 6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging. 7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them. 8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler. 9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate sceptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result." Certainly some very thought provoking principles. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at

News stories published in both the Times and the London Evening Standard this week report that there is a distinct chance that recently closed power stations may have to be brought back online to cater for the increased demand for electricity. Several major power plants were recently decommissioned due to their not meeting new and very strict environmental pollution standards. One of the power stations that may be affected is Littlebrook D in Dartford. Littlebrook D Power Station was closed down in March 2015. Littlebrook was actually a series of four separate power stations adjacent to each other, located on the south bank of the River Thames, next to the Queen Elizabeth 2 Bridge and the Dartford Tunnel. The first power station on the site – Littlebrook A, was the coal-fired Littlebrook A Power Station, built by the Kent Electric Power Company in the early 1930s. It was opened in 1939. Coal was initially brought to the station by rail, until a riverside pier was completed. The station was later converted to burn supplementary oil over coal, and remained in use until it closed in 1973.  The construction of Littlebrook B Power Station was delayed by the Second World War, and came into use between 1949 and 1950. Like the A Station, it originally burned coal, but was later converted to burn oil instead. It had a capacity of 120 MW and remained in use until 1975. Littlebrook C Power Station was opened between 1952 and 1956 by the Central Electricity Board, and had a total generating capacity output of 240 MW. Like the two earlier plants, it was originally coal-fired, but was converted burn fuel oil by 1958. The station continued operating until it was replaced by the D Station in 1981. This 'Station was built in response to a rapid demand for electricity as the Country emerged from austerity of the post war years.  The most recent station, Littlebrook D was an oil-fired power station and was built by the nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board. The station was built by the Cleveland Bridge Company with construction starting in 1976.  The first unit commissioning underway by 1981. The 1980s still saw a potential threat from the Cold War, and as such the CEGB designed Littlebrook D as a robust station with high plant redundancy, meaning that the station would form a pivotal role should disaster have struck the city of London. At this time, London was still dependent on several smaller generating stations within the city itself. Littlebrook D was one of a number of stations throughout the UK with black-start capabilities, meaning that it was able to start generating without an external power supply - the station would be one of the first to start generating should the UK experience a partial or complete blackout. Littlebrook D played a vital role in restoring power supplies to the South East of England in the days following the storm force winds of October 1987. As well as providing a black-start power supply to the country, the fact that they could synchronise and ramp up to full load in under five minutes means they were used to generate at the request of the National Grid Company (who operated the UK electricity grid system) to deal with short-term peaks in demand. Such peaks typically arise during the winter months, where evening demand is higher due to lighting and heating requirements. A modification was made to one of the boiler units which allowed for alternative fuel trials. Several were trialled at the Littlebrook D site as part of ongoing research into generating energy from more sustainable fuel sources. One of the main alternative fuels tested was wood chippings, but the energy density these supplied was far lower than fuel oil, so a far larger bulk of chippings was required to create a similar output of electricity. This was deemed to be unacceptable, and the trial was a failure. The station was finally owned by RWE nPower which is owned by the German utility company, RWE. They decided that Littlebrook would "opt-out" under the Large Combustion Plant Directive, an EU law aiming to deal with air pollutants created by the combustion of fossil fuels. This essentially meant that Littlebrook D would have to cease to generate after 2015 in its final configuration. The station ceased operating on 31 March 2015. Now the demand for peak power is such that there is a distinct possibility that Littlebrook D may be brought back on line to satisfy the increased demand. How many of the former staff could be brought back is debatable; many took early retirement, or have taken jobs in other industries by now. If one looks Eastwards along the River Thames towards Dartford, at night you can clearly see the red warning lights that outline the power station's chimneys has a warning against low flying aircraft. Whether we actually see smoke from the chimneys in the future is something that at present still remains undecided. What has been decided, however is that the power station site will be used as the location for a very large disaster recovery exercise in the New Year. The power station will provide the set for a significant building collapse involving a train station and mass casualties, after a deal between the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and Littlebrook owners RWE. The Exercise Unified Response, which has been a year in the planning, will take place at the disused building between February 29th and March 3rd  next year. No doubt more details will become available closer to the time.

One relatively new occupant of the high street is very much a Kentish invention; this year marks the tenth birthday of the Micro Pub. The very first Micro Pub – the Butcher’s Arms, was opened back in 2005 in Herne Bay; since then over two hundred Micro Pubs have opened – many in Kent and South East London, as well as plenty all over the country. Locally we have three – the Broken Drum in Westwood Lane, Blackfen, the Door Hinge in Welling High Street, and the Penny Farthing at Waterside in Crayford, conveniently situated right next door to The Crayford Tandoori - a match made in heaven if ever there was one. The massive popularity of Micro Pubs does pose the question, just what exactly is a Micro Pub? The definition of a Micropub is difficult. It is a set of ethics rather than a set of rules A 'Micropub' according to the Micropub Association is defined as follows: 'A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks' There may be differences between the pubs; they may or may not have a bar, they might serve beer straight from the cask or through hand pumps. But they are united in one philosophy. A simple pub with the focus on cask beer and conversation for entertainment. The basic premise is KIS, KIS – Keep It Small, Keep It Simple. The landlord of the Butcher’s Arms, and the person credited with creating the entire concept, Martyn Hillier said “The Micropub Association will be a place where like-minded real ale lovers can share their Micropub experiences. The Micropub Association will also be a platform for the new Micro Pubs to tell the beer drinking community about themselves. A successful Micropub is based upon good ale and lively banter and I want this to come across through the Micropub Association. Ultimately I’d like to think that we could become a useful lobby group to support the likes of CAMRA and SIBA, promoting the real ale experience”.

The photo above shows part of the river front factory in Erith High Street once used by electronics manufacturer Burndept. This looks to have been taken shortly before the building was demolished; the former Erith Riverside Swimming Baths can be seen in the foreground. Burndept once had another, larger manufacturing facility located in the former Vickers-Maxim munitions factory in St Fidelis’ Road, off West Street and close to the railway line and where Bronze Age Way now runs through. Burndept built all sorts of electrical and electronic devices, and did a lot of sub – contracting work for other companies. During the war Burndept produced military communication equipment until April 1941, when the Erith factory was almost completely destroyed by a German incendiary raid, forcing the company to relocate production to a former jute mill in Dundee. However, after the war, Burndept returned to Erith, where they set up business in Erith High Street and St Fidelis Road. During the 1960s, the company manufactured the SARBE lifejacket beacon for the RAF and a number of Commonwealth and foreign air forces. The beacon sent an automatic and continuous transmission of a homing signal as soon as the life jacket entered the water. They also built mobile two way radios for industrial and commercial use. The St. Fidelis Road factory shared premises with Vox musical instruments, maker of the world famous Vox AC-30 guitar amplifier, as used by pretty much every major band in the 60’s and 70’s. in fact, Burndept made the chassis and cases for many Vox organs and amplifiers. By 1965 Vox and Burndept (who by this stage were largely owned by the same parent company) were pretty much different departments within the same umbrella organisation. Later, the Vox brand was sold off to Japanese musical instrument maker Korg, and it is now no more than a label. Burndept struggled on into the late 1970’s, until finally becoming part of the Ever – Ready group. All operations in Erith ceased, and the final Erith High Street factory was demolished shortly after the photo above was taken.

The following article was sent to me by a regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional contributor who chooses to remain anonymous. He’s of the opinion that the issue may well become contentious, and I have to say that I am bound to agree.  Here is what he brought to my attention:- “The future of the Skylark as a breeding bird in Bexley, and the survival of the Corn Bunting both here and in London as a whole – both of which species are red-listed due to major declines – will be in the hands of Bexley Council over the next couple of months as planning applications threaten key habitat both at Crossness on Erith Marshes, and on Crayford Marshes. At Crayford Marshes, a renewed planning application for a huge ‘logistics hub’ was due to be submitted to Bexley Council this month. If approved this will destroy a substantial part of the southern section, classified in the Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) review as Crayford agricultural and landfill, which is Metropolitan Open Land. Both Bexley and Dartford Councils opposed the original application, which was turned down, but permission was granted on appeal to the Government. The previous owners of the site, Prologis, failed to commence the development within the five years allowed, and have sold up to an outfit called Roxhill which is reheating the proposal. Freight on rail sounds all very nice and ‘sustainable’, but the reality is that this is essentially a speculative scheme that’s about shunting ever more ‘stuff’ around the country and around the globe, is most likely going to result in a net increase of heavy lorry movements in Bexley and has nothing to do with reducing carbon emissions or resource consumption to truly sustainable levels, quite the opposite.  A condition of the original scheme was that monies would be made available for managing what was left of the rest of the marshes, but this is robbing Peter to pay Paul, with the logical outcome of basing conservation policy on such thinking being very little wildlife habitat left in Bexley at all.  The 2013 SINC review document says: ‘The extensive area of the site and its proximity to two Sites of Metropolitan Importance (Crayford Marshes and the River Thames) further increase its value.’ Indeed when taken together with the SINC cited as Crayford Marshes, of which it is geographically and functionally a part, it forms the largest such site in the Borough. Moreover, when taken in conjunction with neighbouring Dartford Marshes, the area delivers an expanse of open space and big skies no longer available anywhere else in Bexley. The 2010 Lawton Review of UK nature conservation policy made it clear that bigger, better-connected sites are required, not more diminution and fragmentation.  The SINC review recognised that this lower part of Crayford Marshes is ‘used as a high-tide roost for gulls, redshank [amber-listed], curlew [amber], lapwing [red] and ringed plover [amber], and supports breeding skylark [red] and corn bunting [red] and large numbers of finches in winter.’  According to Bexley Bird Report compiler Ralph Todd, some 230 Skylarks were counted on the former landfill area in December 2010, but very few birds still breed in Bexley. Indeed Skylarks now hang on as a breeding bird in Bexley only on agricultural land near Chalk Wood (status unknown), as a pair or two at Upper College farm where dogs running off-leash and human disturbance are threats to this ground-nester and at Crayford Marshes and Crossness where access restrictions give them a chance of rearing young successfully. The ‘Birds of London’ (2014) had Corn Bunting down to 20 pairs in the whole of the capital, whilst the 2013 London Bird report recorded it from six sites, down from 11 the year before, and apparently in inexorable decline. Our information is that Corn Bunting is now breeding within the boundary of the proposed ‘development’ area. Furthermore, we understand that Cory Environmental are submitting a planning application, before Christmas, proposing industrial development on the Cory/Borax fields at Crossness Nature Reserve, which lie either side of the Norman Road vehicle access road. These fields are within the gated boundary of what’s left of Erith Marshes, and are a key part of this fantastic habitat as far as the wildlife is concerned.  ‘Development’ here will have devastating consequences for the nature reserve, not least because it simply could not be any closer. The north field will bound the nature reserve on 3 sides, and the field south of the access track will bound it (and water vole-populated ditches) on 2 sides. The proposed development will put the entrance to the nature reserve smack bang in the middle of an unsightly industrial area if, indeed, continued access is permitted. More crucially, these maturing former brownfield areas (now valuable open mosaic habitat) have breeding Ringed Plover and Skylark upon them. Little Ringed Plover have been seen on them also with a chick seen, and photographed, this year. This year the Barn Owls chose to breed in the pole-mounted nest box in the Norman Road Field, perilously close (approx. 200m) to the proposed development areas. The very rare Shrill Carder Bee was discovered at Crossness in 2014. There are only 7 UK populations, of which the Thames Corridor (and thus, Crossness) is one. Given that they are brownfield specialists, the probability of them breeding on the Cory/Borax Fields is incredibly high. Indeed the London Plan has a target for provision of such habitat.  Building on these fields will also add to the increasingly hemmed in feel of what is left of Erith Marshes, which have been repeatedly chipped away at in recent years, with no attempt made to give anything back to nature where older industries have closed down and an opportunity has arisen to rebuild the size this fantastic site.  Cynics will also note that the Crossness (Erith Marshes) and Crayford Marshes planning applications are being submitted shortly before Christmas, and will recall that although Cllr. C. has still not given a precise sign-off date on the SINC review, it looks increasingly likely that it will be after these applications are considered. The review recommends Crayford agricultural and landfill for promotion from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 site". It will be interesting to see what actually happens; I feel that the pull of relatively cheap land in close proximity to London will be strong for developers and the rapacious Bexley Council alike. 

The short film below compares the very earliest colour footage shot in London, back in 1927, with some contemporary footage that has been filmed shot for shot in the same location, only eighty six years later. It makes for fascinating viewing. Let me know what you think - either leave a comment below, or Email me at

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