Sunday, March 27, 2016

HMS Menestheus.

Erith is growing at a rapid pace; Erith Park phase one is open, and phase two is well on the way; Tower Hill (the former Bexley College campus in Tower Road) is partially open, with more houses to come. The former Riverside Swimming Baths site in Erith High Street now has planning permission for a mix of town houses and apartments, and the giant Erith Quarry site is being cleared in advance of construction work getting under way. All in all, the area is witnessing a level of construction and expansion not seen since the old Erith Town Centre was demolished in 1966 (a move many, if not all regard as being an extremely bad thing). With all this influx of accommodation into the area, along with the new residents it will bring will mean a lot for the town – more customers for the shops in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and for the DIY outlets in the Fraser Road trading estate, and more consumers for local services such as plumbers and decorators. The worry is in my mind down to the basic infrastructure – the drains in and around Sandcliff Road have notoriously backed up on numerous occasions in the last few years whenever heavy rain was encountered. Other areas have experienced similar problems with foul water drainage. The problem would appear to be down to the original mainly Victorian infrastructure being overwhelmed. Any future housing developments will need to ensure that basic infrastructure is upgraded to cope with the large increase in demand. If the basic waste drainage, water, gas, electricity and internet access services have to be upgraded due to increased demand through new incomers to the local area, then it stands to reason that other services will also need to be increased pro rata. One would anticipate that the level of policing, ambulance and fire service provision would increase to protect the increasing local headcount. In fact, the level of fire coverage has already been effectively cut by fifty percent. The News Shopper have reported that one of the two fire engines based at Erith Fire Station is to be permanently removed from service, after having been suspended for the last two and a half years. One would have thought that an increase in the fire service provision would have been the order of the day, with the large increase in local population, but others think otherwise. Whilst it has been said that emergency response times have not suffered as a result, I find this hard to believe. I had cause to use the emergency services last year, and the response time for an ambulance was over ninety minutes, on what was judged a high priority case. I just hope that this reduction does not have serious repercussions in the long run.

The Slade Green Community Forum have launched the following appeal for information:- "St Augustine's Church Hall in Slade Green was a 'British Restaurant' during World War 2 (sometimes called a Community Restaurant).  It produced nutritious meals at low prices, for locals and workers, without the need for ration coupons, and also supplied meals to the local munitions factories and Slade Green School. Local people were employed to prepare the meals.  Among them were-
Chief cook - Mrs R.M. Lucas of 48 Ashburnham Road, Belvedere.
Assistant cook - Mrs A. Butler of 18 Mill Place Crayford.
Kitchen Assistant - Mrs F P Whitmore of 11 Hazel Drive, Slade Green.
Washer up - Mrs L.M. Taylor of 89 Whitehall Lane, Slade Green.
Assistant Cook Mrs Yates of Barnes Cray Road, Crayford.
Kitchen Assistant, Mrs Burnby of Hurst Road Northumberland Heath.
Greengrocery for the restaurant was provided by R. Shove of Howbury Farm, and the local vicar at the time was Reverend Richard Agg, who after the war became the vicar of Holy Trinity, Lamorbey (near Sidcup). There are no surviving details or photographs of the restaurant (noting that St Augustine’s Church lost a lot both when hit by a bomb in 1944 and in a fire in 1991). Do you have memories of the staff, or photographs to share? Were any of the above members of your family or people known to your family? We’d love to hear from you. Email or leave us a message on 07968 288212."

Every so often, I have to endure the Northern Line tube and the London Midland overland rail line when I journey to my employers office in Watford. The journey from Erith to Watford normally takes around two and a half hours, door to door. When in the lift at the office, I have for a long time noticed a very distinctive odour. For ages I have thought little of it, but last week it finally struck me – the small was that of Johnson’s Baby Lotion. Mystified as to why the lifts would smell of baby lotion, I asked the Soft Services Manager what the reason for the smell was – and the answer really surprised me. It turns out that baby lotion is the ideal cleaning material for stainless steel. It removes smudges and fingerprints and does not leave marks or smears. It is cheaper that proprietary stainless steel cleaners, and generally produces better results. I know that there are many unconventional uses for household products, but this was one that genuinely surprised me. If you have heard of any unusual uses for household consumables, do let me know -

I must admit that I was quite surprised when I discovered that the latest Jason Bourne thriller is being filmed on location in Woolwich. I know that some years ago the science fiction film “Children of Men” was largely filmed in Woolwich – but, bearing in mind that film was set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the choice of Woolwich was pretty much ideal; not much need for set dressing, as prior to the massive Tesco development, much of the area around Powis Street was very run down and scruffy. Things are somewhat improved nowadays – a lot of money was spent on the town just prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. Now Woolwich Arsenal Station has been re – dressed to represent Athens railway Station. Quite why a high budget thriller’s producers would want to use Woolwich, rather than flying the cast and crew to Greece to film on location is beyond me. Still, if the movie brings some money and outside attention into Woolwich, then that is all to the good.

A giant new warehouse, and a large number of much need jobs are heading to Erith in the not too distant future. The Bexley Times have reported that Ocado and Morrison’s are working on a joint venture to build a giant new warehouse and distribution centre.  The (cringingly named) Customer Fulfilment Centre will be the biggest facility of its type in the world when it opens next year, and will bring £185m of investment and 3,500 jobs to Erith. It is anticipated recruitment for roles including operational managers, warehouse operatives, LGV and delivery drivers, engineers and support staff will start this year at the centre which will handle around 200,000 orders per week. I understand that the jobs will be advertised in the local press, and via both the Job Centre and Resources Plus.  I am not sure how this will play with the deal that Morrison’s have recently signed with Amazon to deliver groceries and other goods directly to the home. It would seem to me that a degree of duplication may be the result. Erith makes an ideal location for a distribution centre; at present industrial land is relatively cheap, and Erith is located in close proximity to the South Circular via Bronze Age Way, is near the A2 and M25, and generally has excellent road communication links with other parts of the country. Siting a distribution centre on the outskirts of the town makes good business sense – as well as providing much needed jobs to the area. Good news all round, and a welcome addition to the town. 

A group of IT security researchers has proved that it is possible to break the encryption used by many mobile phone payment apps by simply measuring and analysing the electromagnetic radiation emanating from smartphones. “We show that modern cryptographic software on mobile phones, implementing the ECDSA digital signature algorithm, may inadvertently expose its secret keys through physical side channels: electromagnetic radiation and power consumption which fluctuate in a way that depends on secret information during the cryptographic computation. An attacker can non-invasively measure these physical effects using a $2 magnetic probe held in proximity to the device, or an improvised USB adapter connected to the phone’s USB cable, and a USB sound card. Using such measurements, we were able to fully extract secret signing keys from OpenSSL and CoreBitcoin running on iOS devices. We also showed partial key leakage from OpenSSL running on Android and from iOS’s CommonCrypto.” The attack can be performed easily and cheaply, the researchers noted. An encryption technique known as ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm) is used in many popular apps such as Bitcoin wallets and Apple Pay, and that’s why the researchers wanted to see if such an attack was possible. The challenge they took on was particularly hard, as ECDSA signatures are randomised. As mentioned before, the attack can be performed cheaply as it doesn’t require any pricey and difficult-to-get equipment – quite the opposite, in fact. Small loops of wire acting as electromagnetic probes can be easily concealed inside various objects that come in proximity with mobile devices, such as phone cases. The phone’s power consumption can be easily monitored by augmenting an aftermarket charger, external battery or battery case with the requisite equipment. You can read a full account of how the exploit works by clicking here.  Be warned, it is somewhat technical! This kind of hack may be unusual and uncommon at present, but as with many of these kind of exploits, it is never long until the crooks find ways to make it easier, cheaper and quicker to undertake. You have been warned. 

After my coverage of the Bexley Brewery serving their excellent BOB ale in the Strangers Bar in the Houses of Parliament last week, it prompted me to do a little historical research. A few years ago I visited the Chatham Royal Dockyard Museum, and I recalled seeing mention of a rather unusual wartime ship. I did some research online, where I discovered the World’s first floating brewery, which was constructed in World War II. The story of the ship was told in the Beer Drinker’s Companion, published back in 1993:- “Towards the end of the Second World War, the supply lines to the Far East were dangerously stretched. For the forces engaged in the fighting against the Japanese, certain supplies, such as beer were a rare luxury. In order to maintain morale, and at the instigation of Winston Churchill himself, in late 1944 the Board of the Admiralty decided to convert two mine-laying vessels into Amenity Ships, to include cinemas, dance-halls, shops, bars, and on board breweries. These ships — the HMS Menetheus and HMS Agamemnon — were sent to Vancouver in early 1945 to be refitted. Distilled seawater was to be used for brewing purposes, and malt extract and hop concentrate would be shipped from the U.K. to bases in the Far East where the vessels would call. A 55-barrel capacity brewing copper was to be installed in the forward hold of the ships and heated by steam coils from the ship's boilers. Six glass-lined fermenting vessels were also installed, and the capacity was an estimated 250 barrels per week. Only one beer was to be produced, a chilled and carbonated 3.8 percent ABV Mild Ale, which at the time was sold at 9d per pint".  Besides being sold in the ships’ bars, this was also be made available in 5 gallon stainless steel kegs Some of the brewing equipment was lost on the way to Canada so only HMS Menestheus ended up brewing, the first test batch made on the last day of 1945. Although the war in the Far East was over troops remained. The ship visited Yokohama, Kure, Shanghai and Hong Kong (“with the latter proving a conspicuous success”). Brewing took place at sea between ports of call. The head brewer was a naval officer -  Lieutenant Commander George Brown RNVR. The brewery staff were largely locally recruited Chinese labourers. After service in the Far East, the ship was returned to its pre – war owners, the Blue Funnel Line in 1946 and she resumed service as a passenger liner. 

The local Police have been busy recently. The News Shopper are reporting that two youths have been arrested and charged in relation to 28 offences over the theft of motorbikes across Plumstead, Erith, Abbey Wood and Dartford. Billy Amos, 19, and Connor Money, 18, who are both from Erith, were arrested on Wednesday March 16th by officers from Metropolitan Police. Billy Amos is charged with 12 offences - four counts of theft of motorbikes, one count of burglary, one count of attempted burglary, two counts of driving without a licence, two counts of driving without insurance, and two counts of riding a bike without protective headgear. Connor Money is charged with 16 offences - five counts of theft of a motorbike, one count of burglary, one count of attempted burglary, two counts of driving without a licence, two counts of driving without insurance, two counts of riding a bike without protective headgear and three counts of breaching a criminal behaviour order. This is merely the tip of an iceberg - the problem of illegal riders in the area is a big one; I have personal experience in this respect which I am unable to recount at present, but suffice to say that it is one of the most pressing issues relating to local law and order.  What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at The arrests followed an investigation by Bexley Police into bike theft in Kent and south-east London. The local Safer Neighbourhood Police teams have also been busy recently; here are some excerpts from their most recent report:- "Erith SNT - Throughout February the team have been conducting late night motor vehicle crime patrols across the ward to combat the increase in reported offences. This is having a positive impact as offences have dropped significantly over the past few weeks. One male has been issued with a harassment warning letter and a banning order preventing him from attending the Riverside Shopping Centre after he had been found harassing staff members. He has since been arrested for returning in breach of this warning letter. A second male who regularly frequents Erith town centre has been arrested inside the Erith food bank for racially aggravated public order. He was charged and sent to court. A male was also arrested for being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle after being stopped and found over the legal limit. Northumberland Heath SNT - The team continues with its focus on Anti-Social Behaviour on the Ward targeting the areas around Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground and the shops around Parsonage Manorway. The team are working with local residents and business owners to identify those involved. They are also working in conjunction with neighbouring Safer Neighbourhoods Teams and schools in the area to provide a presence at the peak times when Anti-Social Behaviour is being reported. A new CCTV camera is being installed in Lawrence Road to catch offenders, also in Steele Walk (and the associated garage area) and the entrance to Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground. The team have also been creating closer links with Erith Rugby Club. A pair of prolific shoplifters who were committing offences in the area have been identified from CCTV footage and their whereabouts are now being sought across South East London for arrest. The team had received a number of reports about a female begging on Bexley Road. She has been spoken to by Police and action taken. If you have further complaints about this issue please contact the team. Colyers SNT - Throughout February the team has continued to focus on the ward promises of Anti-Social Behaviour of nuisance bikes, theft from motor vehicles and speeding in Colyers Lane. There has been a significant reduction in nuisance bikes with only one report in the last three months. If you see any nuisance bikes please contact the team of call 101. There was one theft from motor vehicle in February where tools were stolen from a van and this seems to be a trend across various parts of Bexley. We have raised awareness at every opportunity by speaking to van owners. We have embarked on a crime prevention campaign on all aspects of vehicle crime sending out advice via our Neighbourhood Link Messaging Service. We continue our speed gun operations to tackle the reported speeding issues in Colyers Lane and the surrounding roads. In response to the issues, Bexley Council has upgraded the road markings and a ‘Smiley Face’ warning sign in Colyers Lane.  In other news on the ward there were five thefts of motor vehicles in February, three vans and two motorbikes at different locations. Three of the motor vehicles were recovered and have been restored to their owners. Northend SNT - During February the team has continued to focus on their ward promises which are Traffic Issues, block patrols and general patrols across the ward.  In response to a rise in motor vehicle crime which is a ward promise, a traffic operation was executed. This proved to be a great success with 3 vehicles being stopped and seized for no insurance and one male arrested for Possession of drugs, failing to stop for police and Theft of motor vehicle. Further operations are to be continued in the future. Thamesmead & Lesnes Abbey SNT - Your team continues to work hard to deal with crime across both wards. Several search warrants have recently been executed with some excellent results. Of note, a warrant was executed in Mangold Way and a large amount of Class A drugs, a sophisticated cannabis factory and a loaded firearm were found. A Male was arrested for those offences and the incident is currently under investigation. There has also been a substantial amount of work carried out to tackle the issues of the motor cycle related Anti-Social Behaviour in Bazalgette Way (formally known as Belvedere Road). An operation was carried out on 28th February utilising approximately 40 officers from various specialist units across the Metropolitan Police Service. This included officers from the Roads and Transport Policing Command, the Territorial Support Group and local officers from Bexley.  A group of 20 motor cycles were identified early by unmarked Police vehicles travelling to the area. The group were stopped dealt with by Police resulting in a large number of vehicle seizures for offences such as no insurance and no MOT. A large number of fixed penalty notices were also issued and several riders were reported and summonsed for court for various traffic offences. 4 arrests were also made for offences such as Burglary, Possession of drugs and driving under the influence of drugs.  Of note one of the main organisers of the activity, who was disqualified from driving, had been identified as being involved in activity the previous week on Sunday 21st February. He was arrested early on the Sunday morning and later charged and remanded to court the next morning. He appeared at Bexley Magistrates Court on Monday 29th February and received a 12 week custodial sentence. Police have continued with the same plans for the past two weeks deploying large numbers of officers to the area. We are pleased to report that there have been no incidents involving motor cycle related Anti-Social behaviour for three weeks running. The tactics will continue moving forward and robust action taken against anyone found engaging in such activity in the future. In other news the team were called to an address on Kale Road where a male, in a state of drug induced paranoia, called the police in the mistaken belief that somebody was in his property. When Police spoke to the male they found that he had a wrap of heroin in his mouth. The male was arrested, charged and sent to court where he was subsequently given a 6 week custodial sentence".

I remember, not very long after I first moved to Erith back in 1996, I attended a lecture at the old Carnegie gifted Erith Library in Walnut Tree Road. The lecture was on the history and traditions of the Thames Watermen, which was given by a retired Thames Waterman, whose name now escapes me. In the past, many Watermen lived and worked in and around Erith, which was an important Thames port until relatively recently. All Watermen underwent an apprenticeship, until 2007 when a new EU licensing regime came into effect, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen now run a five-year Thames specific apprenticeship programme. Now the ancient company manages training schemes in conjunction with the National Maritime Training Centre at Gravesend, with bespoke modules for the River Thames. The skilled crews have a deep-rooted understanding of the vagaries of the Thames, its bridges, its currents, its reaches, its tide, which can vary the height by 7m. They navigate using technology and rule of thumb, for instance four steps showing above the waterline on the bank at Wandsworth suggests the tide is low enough to pass under the fourth arch of the Battersea road bridge. In recent years, there has been a growth in freight as well as a concerted effort to get more people using the river for leisure and commuting, which has given a waterway quiet, since the death of the docks, a new lease of life. The PLA (Port of London Authority) wants to train a new generation of workers equipped to work on the river, driven by the demands of the Thames Tideway project, a multi-billion-pound tunnel to protect the river from sewer pollution. Historically the job of a Thames Waterman was a specifically male career; things have now changed, and the role is open to all. Do watch the short video below, which shows how even children can have picked up opinions on gender roles from a very young age, and how these assumptions can be successfully challenged. See what you think and leave a comment below, or Email me at

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