Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mobo Toys.

The recent freezing and very windy weather does not appear to have deterred the people who regularly fish off Erith Pier, as you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view. Some nights you can see small tents camped on the dogleg part of the structure, where the tent owners are night fishing. It takes a particularly dedicated and hardy person to camp out on the pier in freezing conditions, as the wind coming up the river from the coast has come directly from Siberia. Personally I would rather be inside the warmth of Pewty Acres, with a mug of something hot, but I suppose that it takes all types - good luck to them. If you want to find out precisely what the local weather is like, there is an excellent interactive website belonging to local resident Bob Hewitt. He has a web enabled weather station which gives 24/7 weather readings. I view it several times a day, and it is more reliable and accurate than the BBC or Met Office websites. Give it a try and see what you think.

Major changes were made to Abbey Wood Station this week; the London – bound platform has been relocated to a new track specially laid for the purpose. Travellers now get onto the train from the right, rather than the left hand side in the direction of travel. I must admit that the change rather startled me when I passed through on my way to Greenwich, then on to Canary Wharf on Monday morning; I knew the works were to take place, but not exactly when. The Dartford bound track remains as before. The reason for the track and platform changes are to enable further construction work on the new Crossrail (now officially named the Elizabeth Line) / North Kent Line station and interchange to be undertaken. The very nature of Abbey Wood around the station is changing – what was a fairly comfortable, if a little worn around the edges area is getting  a pretty impressive makeover. I get the feeling the property developers are going to be targeting the Plumstead / Abbey Wood / Thamesmead area in order to tempt Londoners from less affordable parts of the capital to relocate to an area that is going to be at the heart of a major new transport hub. I feel that the days of our little part of South East London / North Kent being a bastion of (relatively) affordable housing are shortly to come to an end. Not so bad if you have a house already, but for those trying got get on the property ladder, it will be a nightmare. I know that I could not afford to buy Pewty Acres today, as it has gone up in value by roughly six times since I bought the place twenty years ago. What may happen in the future as Crossrail opens is up for speculation, but I get the distinct feeling the whole area could well suffer a mini property boom. 

Bexley Council have, as was widely anticipated, rubber – stamped the permanent closure of Belvedere Splash Park. You can read a detailed account of the events that took place on Monday evening at the council meeting that was convened to make the closure proclamation here on Bexley is Bonkers. Councillors did announce that the recreation park on the opposite side of Woolwich Road would not be sold off for development, as had been widely feared, and I have previously reported. That may be for now. But personally I would not trust the planning committee to speak my weight, let alone stick to a promise not to sell off the valuable triangle of open space in a prime location, which would be worth a considerable fortune, both in direct land sales, and in revenue from council tax once flats had been built on the site. Mark my words – this one is going to rear its ugly head again in the future. Just because they say now they are not selling it off, does not mean that it is permanently off the cards.  It is my opinion that Bexley Council would sell the gold from their parents teeth if they thought they could get away with it.

Many regular readers will be aware of my personal antipathy towards mobile phones. I don’t have one, and don’t find it to be a problem. Apart from the privacy and security concerns I have with mobile phone technology, I also have long been of the opinion that they are hazardous to health. Some years ago, a dear friend of mine died of maxillofacial cancer which spread to his spine. He was a very heavy mobile phone user, and his specialist was of the opinion that microwave radiation from his mobile phone was a key contributory factor to the cancer. Now a study has been published which finds a definite link to mobile phone usage and male fertility. Men who keep their mobile phones in their trouser pockets or on bedside tables at night may be damaging their chances of having children. The results of the academic study found that sperm levels and fertility fell in men who kept a mobile phone in their pockets during the day, or in close proximity at night. It seems that the mobile phone signal “cooks” the sperm in certain circumstances. The Times reported earlier this week that Gedis Grudzinskas, a fertility consultant at St. George’s Hospital, London said “Men need to think about their wellbeing and try to stop being addicted to their mobile phones. If you wear a suit to work, put the mobile in your chest pocket instead of close to your testes. It will reduce the risk of your sperm count dropping, or dropping so much. Do you need to keep the phone right next to you on the bedside table? Some men keep their shorts or pyjamas in bed – is that really necessary?” The study, which was carried out in Israel suggested that talking regularly on a mobile phone for more than an hour a day, and talking on the phone whilst it was being charged (the power lead acts like a leaky feeder and re – radiates the signal) effectively doubled the chances of lower sperm concentration. It also indicated that sperm concentration decreased to an abnormal level in men who carried their mobile phone less than 50 centimetres (20 inches) from the groin. An abnormal level of sperm concentration was found in 47.1 percent of men who carried their phones at a close distance, compared with 11.1 percent in the general male population. This is thought to be caused by a heating of the sperm from the phone’s electromagnetic activity. The study is published in the prestigious journal “Reproductive Biomedicine” and will no doubt fuel fears that a link between declining rates of fertility in men and the prevalent use of mobile phones because of the radio frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices. This finding backs up a study undertaken by the University of Exeter in 2014 which also found that using mobile phones reduced men’s sperm numbers and activity when mobile phones were kept in trouser pockets. That study also advised that nobody, male or female should use a mobile phone whilst it was being charged, as the exposure to microwave RF fields was greatly increased as the charger lead acted as an antenna. I would imagine that this will soon make the mainstream press – though I somehow doubt that it will drastically alter the behaviour of many mobile phone users. It took decades of campaigning to persuade many of the general public of the dangers of smoking. I feel that we may have a similar uphill battle to inform and educate people in respect of mobile phone usage. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The former Homeleigh Care Home is about to become a hostel for homeless people, as I have covered in the past. The rumours that circulated on social media that the home was to become a refuge for fifty Syrian families were simply untrue, and started by Neo Nazis. Personally, if someone had genuinely fled war - torn Syria with their family to find refuge in the UK, I would have no problem with this whatsoever. Syria is a strife torn hell - hole that I would find intolerable if I was unfortunate enough to be stuck there myself. The fact remains the former care home is going to be used to house indigenous homeless people. I think this is a pretty pragmatic use for the building in the short to medium term. Let's see how things pan out over the next couple of years. 

The News Shopper have been featuring a story which is the product of a typical public relations company. As I have previously mentioned, I receive almost daily emails from PR companies promoting all sorts of products and services, many of which really don’t deserve to see the light of day. Not that most PR companies care – as long as the client pays their fees, they will cheerfully plug all sorts of tat to Joe Public, via bloggers and social media pundits. I merely stay on various Email lists as very occasionally I will receive something that might be of interest to my readers. This week a PR company has made an announcement that Erith is one of the best towns to live in when one needs to commute into London. I thought this statement was interesting, but deserved some scrutiny. The press release states “Totally Money's new property ladder calculation tool helps those looking to move out of the City find their perfect home - by comparing travel time, the cost of commuting, the most desirable towns, and house prices.  The Bexley town ranked an impressive seventh in the list - with the lowest average house price of £238,459.  Erith commuters tend to pay £1,912 for their season tickets into London, spend 44 minutes travelling to work, and have an average disposable income of £21,539 per head per year.  Head of brand and communications at Joe Gardiner said: Living a short commute outside of London has always been a popular choice for many working in the capital, both for financial and lifestyle reasons.  "Finally there is a useful tool to help simplify the decision process.". The facts regarding the story seem mostly consistent, with the notable exception of the figure of £21, 539 as the average disposable income. This seems exceedingly on the high side. I get the feeling that they may have taken the average local complete income, rather than the level of disposable income; I earn comfortably over the national average income, but my disposable income is certainly not the kind of figure they mention. PR companies quite often don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. I would agree that if, like me, you need to commute into central London, there are a lot worse places to live than Erith. It is (for the time being) relatively affordable – with the caveat I mentioned earlier.

The Police carried out an anti-weapons sweep in Erith last Saturday; Unsurprisingly they found a large knife with a serrated blade, which had been left in the piece of scrubland behind Erith Health Centre. The small patch of land is more commonly used by impatient individuals as an al fresco toilet. The knife has been sent for forensic examination to determine whether it has been used in any crime.

Recently I have had a couple of conversations relating to Mobo Toys, and their part in the history of Erith. The following history has been compiled from a number of sources. The company had a very strong manufacturing presence in the town for many years. David Sebel had emigrated from Russia circa 1912 and set up in partnership as a Wheelwright in East London in 1921. In 1928 he moved the Company to Lant Street in Borough, London S.E.1 with the takeover of a firm, Hazeldine and Norton, of Wheelwright’s and Motor Body and Van Builders. Interestingly the house next to the premises had been the residence of Charles Dickens when his parents were in the Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison. In the 1930’s they expanded into Architectural metalwork and other engineering projects. Also producing street cleaning carts, milk churns and fronts for Cinemas. In 1931 Harry Sebel, David’s son, joined the firm starting from the bottom up. During the Second World War the Company turned over to war work and several local premises were used for their production of aircraft and tank components, bunks for air raid shelters, bailey bridge components and even a tower for an experimental radar station. In the early 1940’s Harry was looking to the future, and realised that there would be a need to expand the company and find work for the existing workforce and those which had been called up. After much research it was decided to go into metal furniture, under the Trade name Stak-a-Bye, and also into the toy business. But what to make which would be different from anyone else. Harry had the idea of a Rocking Horse which the rider could propel along themselves. Basic plans were drawn up and a full size horse mockup was made using bicycle gears. To get an idea of what the finished product would look like a Taxidermist in Piccadilly was approached for a horse hide, the only thing he had was from a Zebra so that was used. The prototype Zebra was still around at the Erith factory for several years. A Patent was taken out in 1942 for the basic mechanism. Later Charles Morewood, RA was commissioned to sculpt the clay body of what became the Mobo Bronco. The steel furniture business was set up in 1946 from the Weller Street side of the premises, a name which was used at the Erith factory to denote the furniture production building. The Lant Street premises were not going to be big enough for the toy and furniture business envisaged and so the ex Vickers Gun Works at 177, West Street, Erith were purchased in February, 1947. As the intention was to produce everything in-house from the arrival of the raw material to the finished product, the full kitting out of the factory with large presses, dip tanks, spray booths, etc. took a while. Toy production did not start at Erith until September, 1947. However, some toys had been assembled at Lant Street SE1, produced by outside contractors, to enable a display at the British Industries Fair in May, 1947. The other toys on show were Merry Go Round, Rocker Swing, Chair Desk and Roll-a-Bye Skates. The name ‘Mobo’ came from a brainstorming session when ‘Mobile Toys’ had been rejected. The clown on the decal was due to an interest in the Circus by the David Sebel. The Circus theme was used in a lot of their Exhibition Stands and advertising. A tin clown was designed but never went into production. It would have been very similar to an early Action Man! Later advertising and instruction sheets used the Mobo title as two characters ‘Mr Mo’ and ‘Miss Bo’. The most well known toy is the Bronco, the ride-on horse. It works by the rider sitting on the horse and pushing down on the stirrups, then releasing them and then the horse moves along. From 1947 to 1950 the Bronco could only be steered in a straight line, but in February, 1950 Magic Steering was introduced. This enabled the rider by pushing on either stirrup to move the horse in that direction. The Bronco was so popular that it stayed in production until 1971. The body pressings were also used for a series of other toys; the Spring Horse, Night Rider (nothing to do with the David Hasselhoff TV show from the 1980's), Prairie Prancer, Range Rider - two different types produced, Rocking Horse, and the Bronco Merry Go Round. The toy colours came from ‘market research’ with the local school children at West Street School – yellow and red being the favourite. These children were also used for photo shoots for advertising and testing the toys, as was famously covered by a 1952 Pathe Newsreel which you can see by clicking hereIn 1949, the Walking Snail was introduced at the New York Toy Fair, also at the same fair the ‘Pony’ was first shown. The ‘Pony’ pressings went on to be used on several different toys. 1948 also saw the introduction of the first small remote control walking toy – the Toy - Toise. This was a great success not just for children, but also adults, as they were used for Toy-Toise races at many parties. The American Market was an amazing success for the Mobo Company. In 1948 they exported to the USA half of the total toy exports of all British Toy Companies. At this time Britain was recovering from the Second World War, and steel was rationed according to the amount of goods exported. Mobo never had any trouble obtaining supplies because of their excellent export record. A New York office had been opened in 1948 at the Breslin Building, Broadway, New York and an American subsidiary formed Sebel Products Inc. Other major markets were Australia and South Africa. A Showroom and Office had been opened at 39/41 New Oxford Street, London W.C.1 in September, 1945. Other toys produced included Prams, Bicycles, Desks, Wheelbarrows, Rockers, Swings, Scooters and, from 1956, Pedal Cars. In 1951 Harry and David emigrated to Australia and set up a factory at Bankstown, Sydney. Here they produced both Toys and Furniture. The components were shipped from Erith and assembled and painted at Bankstown. The Australian company decided in 1957 to concentrate on the furniture business and so toy production was stopped. The furniture business still goes on today as part of the GWA International Group, and they have recently opened a branch in the United Kingdom. In 1955 the Toy Boat business of Harold Flory Ltd., of Bromley, Kent was taken over. They produced the Snipe, and Swift  Motor Boats, the Sprite Yacht, and the Snort Submarine, also Toy Cars. The boats were continued in production by Mobo. Jetex, the Model Aircraft Engine business, was purchased in 1956. Besides a range of Jet propelled engines they also produced model kits for aircraft and a plastic boats and cars for the Jetex engine. The mid 1960’s saw an introduction of toys made from injection moulded plastic and the importation of a range of plastic Pedal cars from Pines of Italy. These included a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Pedal Car. A range of bicycles was also imported from Italy. By the late 1960s the British toy industry was having a difficult time due to cheap imports from the Far East. When John Bentley of Barclay Securities made an offer to purchase the Company in 1970 it was taken up. The Barclay Toy Group was formed to which Chad Valley, Charles Methuen and Tri-ang were added in 1971. Unfortunately the overheads of the Group meant that losses were still being made and a major reorganisation took place in 1972 with the Erith Works being closed and all production of all Mobo Toys ceasing. The site is now a large housing estate. Mobo toys now change hands for serious money on online auction sites like Ebay. There is also a dedicated Mobo toy sales and exchange website that you can visit by clicking here. If you have any memories that you would like to share about Mobo toys, or possibly having worked at the factory, do either leave a comment below, or Email me at

The photo above shows Erith railway station in the Spring of 1969, with a train waiting at the Dartford bound platform. What strikes me about the historic photo is how much more industrialised Erith was back then. A photograph taken from the same location now would show a far more residential environment in the background. A fascinating glimpse of the not so distant past. 

Criminals across London could be made to wear "sobriety tags" when they are convicted of alcohol-fuelled offences. The Ministry of Justice said it is extending the scheme throughout the capital after a pilot. It targets those whose drinking played a part in crimes. Courts can ban offenders from consuming alcohol and fit them with an ankle bracelet which monitors their sweat. If alcohol is detected, the individual can be returned to court to face further sanctions. The trouble with these tags is that they are very easily evaded or fooled, making the whole scheme a nonsense. The Ministry of Justice said that in the pilot scheme, there was a ninety two percent compliance scheme. What this actually means is that eight percent of offenders fitted with the sobriety tags were too thick to figure out how to circumvent it. A piece of plastic bag, or a cut - up rubber glove slid between the sensor on the tag and the offender's skin stops the sensor from detecting alcohol in the blood without triggering the sensor to think it has been removed (a drop in body temperature measured by the sensor). This is all very basic stuff - but it seems to have completely bypassed the Ministry of Justice in their ivory towers, eager to believe anything the private firm who will be running the project and supplying the sobriety tags tell them. What do you think? Drop me a comment below, or Email me at

The ending video this week features the Transport for London Lost Property Office. It makes for very interesting viewing indeed - I had no idea quite how much stuff people lose when travelling in and around London on public transport - see what you think?

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