Sunday, April 03, 2016

Erith versus the Australians.


Bank Holiday Monday certainly brought the strongest storm winds to Erith that I can recall for several years. Many local residents lost garden fence panels and many trees were damaged; I noticed that the green panted security shuttering around the entrance to Morrison’s was buckled and seriously damaged by the high winds. The proximity of the wide open expanse of the River Thames right next to the supermarket means that the wind is effectively funnelled – amplifying the potential damage that very strong gusts can cause. There were also several calls made for the assistance of the RNLI. Gravesend's inshore rescue team were called to Erith Pier at 10.20pm on Saturday night (March 26th), and assisted shore-side police with their search for the person. No one appeared to be in need of help, and the lifeboat was stood down and returned to station. I am pretty sure I know the reason for this call – and of several recent “false alarms” to the RNLI over the last few months. Regular readers will have seen the aerial drone footage of Grey Seals basking on the muddy river foreshore by the Slade Green Marshes. The seals swim in the River Thames and often into the River Darent; they often float in  the water with their heads above the surface in and around Anchor Bay, and well-meaning passers by on the shore mistake the Seals for swimmers who appear to be in trouble in the water. Indeed, the average survival time for a person in the water is estimated to be eleven minutes, due to the extreme currents and undertow in the river in and around Erith Pier. Obviously the situation is somewhat different for Seals – the water is their natural habitat, to which they are perfectly evolved. There was a genuine additional incident involving a human this week - Gravesend's RNLI crew were called at 9.55am on March 30th to reports of a "person in distress" on Erith Pier, and concerns about the person's safety. The Met Police were also called, and the person was rescued and taken into the care of shore-side officers away from the River Thames. As I have mentioned before, the RNLI had to travel all the way from their base in Gravesend, which even at top speed must have taken quite some time. The nearest other RNLI station is at London Bridge, meaning that Erith is about equidistant between the two, and thus the furthest point from an RNLI boat and crew.  With the level of river activity increasing, and the number of incidents revolving around Erith Pier, it again strikes me that we could really do with an RNLI substation in the area. The number and seriousness of incidents should surely justify this? As I have previously mentioned, the former Port of London Authority office next to the wooden jetty and Erith Riverside Gardens would seem to be an ideal location (click on the photo above for a larger version) – it has electricity, running water and a loo / wash basin, and sufficient space for three or four volunteers to stay whilst on call. The adjacent wooden jetty would also provide an ideal place to launch an inshore rescue boat. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above shows Christ Church Erith, which forms one of the most noticeable landmarks in the town. It is actually quite a modern construction – the cornerstone was laid back in 1872; the land the church is built on was donated by Colonel Wheatley – initially church services had been held in a temporary building made of corrugated iron. The consecration service took place on the 6th June 1874 by Archbishop Tait of Canterbury. The church is built mainly of brick, in the Early English style that many Victorian architects favoured. The building cost around £8,000 – a sizable fortune at the time. A few years later the interior of the church was “Beautified” with a series of frescoes being added; representations of the resurrection, Christ with Angels, four historic Bishops of Rochester, and scenes from English history. These painted wall panels make the church interior look Medieval – certainly far older than it actually is, and make the interior one of the most stunning of any church in the area. I would strongly recommend that you pay the place a visit – the place may look fairly unremarkable from the outside, but the interior is something else altogether. The church bell tower and spire was added forty years after the main building was completed; the first stone on the 13th of June 1914, and was completed and dedicated on the 5th June 1915.

The News Shopper have reported that Bexley is the only London borough where property is on the market for less than £100,000, and buyers need to be looking for an Erith studio flat. The one-room apartments are selling for £94,995 in Frobisher Road, and £95,000 in St Johns Road, with Able Estates in Northumberland Heath. Online estate agent HouseSimple has ranked London’s 32 boroughs by the cheapest one-bed or studio flat available. The next cheapest to Bexley are the boroughs of Newham where studios are priced from £100,000, Lambeth where buyers can bag a flat for £105,000, and Croydon where residents can get on the property ladder for just £119,950.

Historically, Erith has made quite a large contribution to the world of sport. Did you know that Erith was once one of the centres of English cricketing excellence? What is now The Europa Industrial Estate was once a cricket pitch and recreation ground? On Saturday 20th September 1884 a local team of sixteen played an eleven raised By a Mr. H.H Hyslop - a local businessman, from the Australian touring side of that year. Hyslop's Australian team won. A similar match took place between another scratch Australian team again put together by Mr. Hyslop on the 3rd May 1890. The Erith local team was composed of eighteen local men, pitted against a visitors team which included nine members of the Australian test side. This match resulted in a draw. Hopes for a rematch were dashed when the cricket ground was sold and a heavy engineering factory built on the site. Nevertheless, local historians refer to the matches as "when Erith took on the Australians". As many of you know, I am not a sports fan, but it is fascinating to discover, as I have done during my research for this week's entry, that Erith and the surrounding have been pivotal in the development of several now major sports. Football had much of its' origins in Erith in the early 1880's. Prior to 1885-1886, only Rugby Union was played in Erith - there were three clubs in the area; Star Rovers RFC played on Lessness Heath, near the Eardley Arms pub. Erith Raven RFC played on the recreation ground adjacent to the aforementioned cricket ground, and lastly, Erith Anglo - Normans RFC played on Faulkner's Meadow. This club had to be disbanded when the meadow was purchased, and the Nordenfeldt gun works was built on the site; no suitable alternative playing ground could be found for the club and it was wound up. In April 1885 Association Football was introduced to Erith by a gentleman called Bernard Beard, who came to Easton and Anderson's engineering works as manager of the boiler shop. A club was formed, called Erith F.C which played on an area then called Hartley's Meadow - which was located on the banks of the River Thames, just of what is now Lower Road. As a result of a personal dispute between club members, a rival club was established called Erith Avenue F.C. At first, as they had no ground, they were forced to play all of their games away, but they later were successful in securing a ground in what is now Avenue Road. Meanwhile, Erith F.C relocated from Hartley's Meadow to Lower Belvedere. Several members of the team subsequently played for Woolwich Arsenal F.C, what was later to become the current Premier League Arsenal club. The present Erith and Belvedere football club was founded in 1922 and had its' ground adjacent to Belvedere railway station for many years, until arsonists destroyed their main clubhouse and Park View stand in 1997. The club soldiered on for two years, using portakabins on the site, until they entered into a ground sharing arrangement with Welling United in 1999, which is still in place to this day.

The Co-Operative Society also has strong roots in the Erith area. A co-operative shop was opened in Erith in 1868 by Sir William Anderson of Easton and Anderson engineering. The shop unfortunately soon failed, as it refused to give credit, and was patronised mainly by the emerging middle classes, for whom it was not intended.  1868 also saw a much more successful launch of the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society at Woolwich. By 1881 they had extended the delivery of bread and groceries into Erith. On the 30th March 1882, a co-op branch store, costing £1,225 was opened on the corner of Manor Road and what is now James Watt Way. A reading room was provided on the first floor by the society's education committee, and supplied newspapers and periodicals for public use. In 1887 this was extended to form a purpose built district library, with a budget of a whole £30 to purchase books. Over the years the trade increased with the surge in growth of the local population, to the point came where the building was not large enough, and new premises were constructed in 1893. It was not very long until this co-operative library fell into disuse, when the Andrew Carnegie sponsored public library in Walnut Tree Road opened in 1906. Records show that the co-operative library had some strange rules in respect of their employees. The first manager of the Manor Road based library was a Mr. James Hall, who had left school at the age of eleven. He was soon promoted to General Manager on the condition that he got married within three months of the appointment! He eventually got spliced four months after his appointment, but this was deemed to be near enough for his employers. Hall eventually rose to become General Manager of the RACS from 1902 until his retirement in 1918.


A new kind of fraud has been uncovered in the USA, and there are indications that UK based criminals are now copying the practice. As is often the case, what starts in America, soon gets exported elsewhere. This week the U.S Federal Courts warned of swindles involving people posing as federal court officials and U.S. Marshals targeting citizens, threatening them with arrest unless they pay some fake fine for failing to show up for jury duty. In an interview with Network World magazine, Melissa Muir, Director of Administrative Services for the U.S. District Court of Western Washington said in a statement “This year’s scams are more aggressive and sophisticated than we’ve seen in years past; Scammers are setting up call centres, establishing call-back protocols and using specific names and designated court hearing times. The bottom line is this: A federal court will never threaten an individual or demand the immediate payment —either over the telephone or money wire service— for fines or for not responding to a jury summons.” The court has warned in the past of e-mails scams from people claiming they have been selected for jury service and demanding that they return a form with such information as Social Security and driver’s licence numbers, date of birth, mobile phone number, and mother’s maiden name. According to the e-mail, anyone who failed to provide the information would be ordered to court to explain their failure, and could face fines and jail time. The e-mail also falsely claimed that it was affiliated with eJuror, an online registration programme. The email is fraudulent and has no connection to either the federal courts or to eJuror, the court system said in a statement. The Administrative Office noted that eJuror never requests that personal identification information be sent directly in an email response. Requests by courts to complete a qualification questionnaire would be initiated by formal written correspondence. Such letters tell jury participants how to access an authenticated, secure online connection. The court has also in the past warned of scammers using the threat of arrest unless of course you pay them off. Specifically the US Court statement said: "You've received a warrant by fax or email saying a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government wants to arrest you. Charges may be for money laundering or bank fraud, or missed jury duty. To avoid arrest, the warrant says, send money. Again, it’s a scam. Be warned – it is very likely this practice has already made it across the Atlantic, and pretty much all of what applies in the USA will hold true over here.


The photo above was sent to me by fellow local blogger, Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers. It shows London Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith visiting the first session of the reinvented Erith Market on Wednesday. I was unable to make the event, as I was at work. I am sure that many other locals were in a similar position; I am extremely happy that the market has been revitalised, for a trial run at least. I would like to see it to also take place on Saturdays when more people could potentially attend - holding it midweek excludes a lot of potential customers, which is to nobody's advantage.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Heseltine, now Lord Heseltine could be spending much of his time in and around North Kent over the next few years. He has been appointed to lead and establish a commission for growth in the Thames Estuary and surrounding areas. The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission is expected to bring new infrastructure to help develop housing in areas of North Kent, South Essex and East London. Areas he will be responsible for include the forthcoming London Paramount Theme Park, the North Kent innovation zone and Ebbsfleet Garden City. In an interview with the Bexley Times, the acting chair of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, George Kieffer said: “There is nobody better qualified in the context of both the Thames Gateway and regeneration than Lord Heseltine. The economy of the Thames estuary is integral to the long-term prosperity of the UK, thanks to its ports and trade links to mainland Europe. The timing of the commission’s announcement sends a positive message to everybody in the area that the government is committed to ensuring communities east of London realise their full economic and social potential.” On top of this, the Thames Gateway Partnership said “In the north Kent part of the gateway alone we estimate there is scope to deliver an additional 58,000 homes and 59,000 jobs. But for those new homes and jobs to be provided we need to find ways of securing new investment, especially in transport infrastructure. As the commission is established, it will report back at Autumn Statement 2017 with an outline for planned developments”.



This week I have a guest writer, who is a Maggot Sandwich reader of long standing, but has not made a contribution until now. My confidential informant has put together the following very well - written and informative piece regarding a local landmark, and their concerns about its future.

Redevelopment of the Leather Bottle Pub on Heron Hill

The Leather Bottle has closed a few times over the past few years but new owners have always come in and it always opened back up again. It became obvious it had closed for good when over a weekend last year a JCB excavator arrived and started to flatten the site. Everything including trees and shrubs were removed and tons of soil taken away, as the site is at the bottom of the hill its neighbouring house’s foundations were looking precarious, the owners of the Leather Bottle site obviously thought so too as they hastily piled soil back to shore up the danger, tamping it down with the bucket of the JCB. My neighbours opposite started to notice things happening when previously their houses looked out on to trees, and greenery, these were now gone and the privacy that they enjoyed disappeared as well, now they felt exposed, they were now overlooked by the flats in Hattersfield Close. A quick search of the councils planning portal revealed no planning had been applied for, and people start calling the council panicking that they were going to start construction of buildings that would look directly into their properties. The council arrived in their own time at the site, they explained that the owners of the Leather Bottle were within their rights to clear the site but they were not within their rights to block the right of way / footpath that runs across what used to be the car park and garden area, the council also discovered that they'd cleared into council land (the woods). The owners of the site informed to council that they intended to build flats on the site and that in due course they would apply for planning permission. Everything went quiet for months at the Leather Bottle apart from the comings and goings of people now living in the pub. Fast forward until the Easter weekend just gone, another JCB turns up and starts to excavate tons more soils, the fence to the neighbouring house has fallen down and its replaced by plastic sheeting in an attempt at safety, its curious that these works seem to happen over a weekend and this latest major works happened over a the long Easter weekend when the council enforcement officers are not around. Tuesday morning came and I opened the children’s bedroom blinds to be greeted with the sight of a huge mobile crane, then what seems like an influx of building machinery and equipment starts to arrive. We are then treated to days of noise of sheet piling being installed. The Leather Bottle had appeared to have become a full on construction site with contractors turning up constantly.  Another check of the Councils planning portal reveals still no planning permission on the site. My neighbours and I are furiously trying to contact the council by phone and email, the former being pointless because there’s nobody available to take your call. Finally after three emails I get a response from the council which curiously is exactly the same as the one received by my neighbour. I am informed that ‘The current works are to stabilise the grounds’, well, I'm sure this wasn't helped by the removal of tons more soil over the Easter weekend, I'm told building control will visit the site once the installation of the pilings is complete to ‘check the integrity of the boundary fence and if necessary get this fully replaced’. They have received an application for the ‘pub itself to used as accommodation until they are in a position to submit an application for the redevelopment of the entire site’, its been used as accommodation since the cleared the site last year. Apparently planning has been submitted but currently there is a backlog on the planning portal. For a site that has no planning permission in place or the guarantee of it ever being so (unless they know something we don’t) they are spending thousands and thousands of pounds readying this site for major construction. House prices in the area have taken a leap in the last couple of years with the arrival of Crossrail, in my road alone we've seen increases in the region of 187 percent, ridiculous levels some may say. Major investment in the area has taken place with the building of the new Sainsbury’s by Abbey Wood station, the lottery funded redevelopment of the Lesnes Abbey area, and the council sinking money into the children's park with the addition of parkour and BMX/skateboard facilities. Are the council onboard with the development of the Leather Bottle site? You have to wonder, they've not been too perturbed by the level of work that been happening there and the would-be developers seem at ease pouring money into ground works for a site with no planning. I know that Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers shares my guest writers concerns; it will be instructive to see what comes of the case. If you have similar concerns, or some insight into what is going on with the former Leather Bottle and what was the garden area, please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Earlier I mentioned candidate for London Mayor Zac Goldsmith did a meet and greet at Erith Market on Wednesday (there are other Mayoral candidates - your mileage may vary) one of the biggest challenges to whichever person wins the race to be the next Mayor of London will be dealing with the massive housing crisis which London and the entire South East of the UK is suffering. A short explanatory video is shown below.

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