Sunday, July 03, 2016

A burglary.

You may recall that last week I wrote about a break in at the Cross Keys Centre in Erith High Street. The former pub building is being restored and converted into a mixed office space and community hub, which when finished will be open to the public. Since my last edition, I have received high definition CCTV images of the burglary, which happened on the evening of the 16th June. If you are familiar with the Cross Keys Centre - and after all it is one of the most striking pieces of architecture in the town, you will know that it clearly displays a number of CCTV warning signs on the exterior of the structure. I can only surmise that the youths did not care that they might be filmed whilst trespassing, breaking and entering and burgling the building whilst it was unoccupied on a Thursday evening. In the image above, you can see a group of youths at the back of the building, loitering on the first floor balcony, where one of the group is forcing off the shuttering covering the back door, and smashing the door glass to illegally gain entry to the multimedia presentation suite / conference room.

The second still image was taken twenty minutes later, when the group of youths exited the building. As they made their way down the metal staircase, they were clearly unaware that they were being filmed. The youth at the back of the group can be seen holding a Bose bluetooth wireless speaker in his right hand - he had just stolen this from the Cross Keys Centre.  

The third still photo was taken from slightly earlier in the chain of unfortunate events. It shows the same group as they climbed on the roof of one of the outbuildings to the rear of the Cross Keys Centre. It gives a pretty clear view of the faces of the group who were about to break and enter the building. If any reader knows the identity of any of the youths, please Email me at, and I will pass the information on to the relevant authorities. As Julian Hilton, co - owner of the Cross Keys Centre said last week:- "The Cross Keys is an important building for the regeneration of Erith town centre, and we want to keep the doors open, not turn it into a fortress. Through Neighbourhood Watch we would like everyone's help in making sure young people don't vandalise and steal like this. This is the first incident of its kind in a long time and we hope it's the last".

The KFC drive through restaurant in Manor Road, Erith is currently partially closed for refurbishment. The “sit down” part of the fried chicken outlet is closed to the public, and only the drive through part is still functioning. The reason for this is that the fast food store is being refurbished and rebranded with the new KFC corporate look and feel. The red and white plastic look is being replaced with brick-effect walls and timber tables, designed to replicate a "kitchen as the heart of the home" image. A new feature being added to the restaurant is a semi-open plan kitchen that will allow diners to see their food being prepared. Its design should also allow service to be much faster. Commissioned artists will provide illustrations and photographs to adorn the walls - and the space will be brightly lit by low hanging copper lighting. This refurbishment is the latest battle in the all – out war that KFC Erith has with the large McDonald’s drive through that is located directly opposite it in James Watt Way.  The KFC has had a rocky history; back in February 2014 the Erith franchise applied to open 24/7, and a large local campaign was started to prevent this from happening. Fortunately common sense prevailed, and the franchise owners voluntarily withdrew the application when they saw the extent of local opposition. The Erith KFC franchise has also had problems with supply in the recent past; last summer I received several reports of certain menu items being unavailable when requested, and I also heard a couple of unsubstantiated rumours that the store was suffering cash flow problems. It would seem from the investment being made into the store now, that these rumours were either incorrect, or have now been successfully resolved. The new KFC store look is being rolled out all around the country, and the Erith store is merely the latest in the long line of outlets being thus rebranded. One problem the rebranding will not solve is the thorny issue of car queuing for the drive – through. Service at the drive through (and reportedly, the main store as well) is very slow; at busy times the cars queuing for the occupants to place orders get lined up all the way around the car park and out onto Manor Road. Though a busy main road, Manor Road is not very wide, and when queuing cars line up in the road itself, this causes terrible traffic hold – ups, as cars wishing to pass the KFC queue find it difficult to pass, as oncoming traffic can prevent overtaking manoeuvres. This problem has been reported to the local Police, but I am not aware of any solution being put in place. Perhaps the KFC refurbishment may lead to some traffic routing solution? Time will tell.

I was pleasantly surprised on Wednesday morning when I received an email from Bexley council telling me that the Regeneration team are planning two “consult the public” events, the first of which took place yesterday in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and the second takes place on Wednesday the 6th July on the triangle of land opposite the bottom of the shopping centre escalators. The Council announcement said:- “The London Borough of Bexley has been successful in securing funds for a number of projects aimed at regenerating Erith Town Centre. These projects aim to improve the town by providing new high quality housing and shops. They will improve the quality of key public space areas and see the launch of a number of projects aimed at revitalising the town centre”. This is all good news, and follows on from the announcement back in January when Councillor Linda Bailey, Cabinet member for Regeneration and Growth said "Erith has huge potential and our aim is to ensure it is developed in a sustainable way, with well-designed improvements that deliver the results local people need. We have also made complementary bids to two further funds managed by the Mayor of London and hope to be able to say more on that in the next few weeks." It would seem that a substantial cash fund of nearly £3.9 million has indeed been secured to develop and improve Erith Town Centre. I understand that the main focus of the regeneration will be the area between the old Erith Town Hall and the Post Office. I understand that the old town hall is currently almost totally unused, as the outsourced council tax and benefits functions carried out there have now been outsourced to Bromley Council in a cost saving bid. I have said before that I would be surprised if Bexley Council did not sell off the building and surrounding plot of land to developers. My concern is that they might try to package up the council office site with the old Carnegie gifted Library building next door to make a huge piece of real estate that they could sell for building flats on. The former Riverside Swimming Baths site at the lower end of Walnut Tree Road is already earmarked for redevelopment as town houses and apartments – the rapacious council would not surprise me if they tried to once again “sell the family silver” and flog off the rest of the land on the Eastern side of Walnut Tree Road. All the more reason I, and many other local residents would like to see J.D Wetherspoon’s take up the old Library building and sensitively conserve and convert it into a pub / restaurant. Wetherspoon’s have the deep pockets and cunning lawyers to challenge any underhand activities of Bexley Council – and are also very familiar with working with listed buildings – the library has Grade II listed status. What do you think the council should do with the regeneration money it has been awarded? What would you like to see in the town that is currently missing? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Some good news was pointed out by Malcolm Knight of “Bexley is Bonkers” that Bexley Council is about to launch a crackdown on Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO’s). Bexley Council published the following statement “The council is working to implement a range of new controls to take firm control of the issue. It wants to ensure that smaller properties that are converted to HMOs provide suitable accommodation and reduce the risk that they create problems for other residents. This is something which has only recently started to cause concern and we are taking steps to ensure we have the powers we need to protect the occupiers of the properties and their neighbours. London is growing fast and the demand for housing far exceeds the supply. It's important to remember that these properties help meet people's genuine need for housing. If they are properly managed, they do not generally cause problems." The council says it has been looking at a package of measures which may include a selective licensing scheme for parts of the borough, securing powers to licence small two-storey HMOs, and the adoption of an Article 4 directive which would remove planning permitted development rights for smaller HMOs. All this is good news, though how far Bexley Council will go in practice is not clear at this point. We will have to wait and see what actually happens. 

Local resident and Maggot Sandwich reader Raymond Ratcliffe sent me the the following piece, and some relevant photos, which you can also see below. "Ye Olde Leather Bottle – Heron Hill- Belvedere 1643 – 2016:-  This is what happens when Builders / Property Developers get hold of a building and a large area of land. First a little bit of history the core of the present building is said to date from 1643. In 1783, when this was acquired by Taskers of Dartford, it was described as the leather Bottle at Chalk-Stile. There is evidence for the building back to 1751 and the licences are recorded for the pub of this name back to 1726. The Leather Bottle was also a name given to a pub on the riverside. 

This happens when Builders / Property Developers get hold of empty properties. They do not care about any local history. By the way the public footpath through the property has all types of rubbish i.e. plastic bottles, papers and at the other end of the footpath is impassable due to loose ballast from the site and a shopping trolley blocking the way". Despite the age and history associated with the Leather Bottle, it was not a listed building - quite why I have no idea. The developers of the site have misled and outright lied to local residents - they said that they were merely clearing the car park and a small patch of land next to the historical pub - and their builders have been extremely rude, aggressive and abusive to anyone taking photographs of the demolition work, as Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers has reported previously. Our local history is being wiped from the map - this was possibly the oldest building in Upper Belvedere, and it has been destroyed. If this had happened somewhere else, there would have been public uproar. I am appalled.

Long time Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional contributor Dana Whiffen writes:- "45 years since Led Zeppelin played locally. Formed from The Yardbirds and even called The New Yardbirds for a short while in 1968 before changing their name to Led Zeppelin. They joined a host of other live bands that were working hard to make a name for themselves between 1968-1970. Then this music was known to rock music fans as “Underground Music” mainly because there was no national commercial media outlet for this music at the time. With pirate radio stations, music clubs and the many local live venues the only way to get recognition at the time. Many of these bands worked constantly playing live to a growing number of fans throughout the UK, while their albums at the time received moderate sales and made little impact on the album charts and they rarely released singles, knowing that they would not get played. Between 1968-1971 there were also numerous clubs that played their albums or tracks from them to fans of the music, I remember a local venue that was hot and sweaty and packed with dancing fans who wanted to hear tracks played loudly from bands such as Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie, Johnny Winter, Humble Pie, The Groundhogs, Wishbone Ash (who are to play the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford in October 2016) and local bands like Stray. On March 12th 1971 Led Zeppelin played the University of Kent, tickets sold out on the day they went on sale for 60p each (12 shillings in old money). This year was a significant year as many of these bands began to break America and the UK and to attract the attention of the major record labels. While in early 1971 BBC Radio playlists included Carole King “It’s Too Late”, David Bowie “The Man Who Sold the World” and Janis Joplin “Mercedes Benz”. The same year, the already established Rolling Stones released “Brown Sugar” in May 1971 and in June The Who released “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, while The Beatles had already imploded and were making solo music. Led Zeppelin (whose bassist / keyboard player John Paul Jones comes from Sidcup) between 1968-1970 had completed 4 US & 4 UK tours their debut album Led Zeppelin was released in January 1969 making the top 10 in both the USA & the UK for a short period, but the release of Led Zeppelin 2 later that year together with their constant touring was to propel them towards the big time with Led Zep-2 making a big impact on UK & USA album charts and this even saw their first album return to the charts at the same time. In the USA their record company released an edited version of “Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin 2 and it sold 1 million copies and received wide-spread airplay, but it was not released in the UK. Between 1971-1975 they became one of the biggest rock bands in the World and by November 1971 they had released their 4th Album. It went on to sell 37 million copies worldwide and is listed as one of the best selling albums of all time. In 1974 they launched their own record label SWANSONG and went on to sign bands such as Bad Company, The Pretty Things and Maggie Bell (from Stone the Crows). From 1975 to the later part of 1977 they took a break from touring resuming at the end of 1977 with a North American Tour where they set an audience record of 76,229. In 1980 after the death of their drummer John Bonham the band split and they were brief reunions in 1985, 1988, 1995 and 2007 with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums. Fans had hoped for a full tour and new album but despite rumours and large cash offers Robert Plant has said no".

Every so often I feature an old and log forgotten technology that did not really take off. You may recall that I recounted the story of the Capacitance Electronic Disk video format a while ago. Now marks the fortieth anniversary of another media format that should have made it big, but due to a number of factors, it ended up being consigned to the parts bin of history. Back before all-digital music, back before the Digital Compact Cassette, back before even the Digital Audio Tape existed, there was a strange audio device that, briefly, captured the imagination of Hi-Fi enthusiasts across the world. The Elcaset, as it was called, was an enlarged cassette that started in Japan, wove its hidden, spinning spools round the world and then finished, appropriately enough, in Finland. The humble Compact Cassette was already more than a decade old in 1976, and its pros and cons had by then become fairly clear to most listeners. It wasn’t a huge reel-to-reel deck as used by pro studios, and was thus portable by the standards of the day—even though Sony's cassette Walkman was still a few years away. The sound was generally acceptable for a generation raised on crackly mono Dansette record players. But the small tape size—two sets of stereo tracks squeezed onto a strip of tape just 3.81mm wide—and the slow playback speed of 4.76cm (1⅞ inches) per second rendered the device incapable of really capturing and playing anything near the full sonic range that music ultimately requires. What's more, there was often plenty of hiss that couldn’t easily be masked. So 40 years ago, a trio of rising Japanese electronics giants decided to inject some quality into the game, something that they hoped would hit the Hi-Fi market as well as aspiring consumers and indie studios. Thus Panasonic, Sony, and Teac came up with the Elcaset, a larger small format. It was virtually twice the size of the old cassette—more like a paperback book in size, at a hefty 15cm wide, 10cm tall and 2cm deep. It contained quarter-inch tape running at double the speed of regular cassettes, which naturally gave the format greater frequency response and a wider dynamic range, as well as much less hiss. It also had six tracks, despite still playing back in stereo—the third track on each side was for a cue function that was designed as an additional facility that studios could use, but never fully implemented. The other big difference was that the Elcaset’s tape was gently pulled away from the body shell when it was played, so that even the most scuffed—or crudely-made—frame wouldn’t effect the audio signal. To put it in technical terms, the cassette had a high-frequency bandwidth that hardly got over 16,000Hz, whereas Elcaset exceeded 25,000Hz, and had a fine mid-band (the region in which most vocals and guitars live). It made a better noise, basically. The best Elcaset decks had three motors, three heads for playback, recording, and erasure, closed-loop dual capstan, VU meters, and remote control. All-in-all, they sounded pretty damn good. Sony, Teac, and Panasonic had their own top-of-the-range versions as well as more reasonably priced decks, and there was even a hand-bag sized "portable" version, the EL-D8, which looked like, and essentially was, a piece of mobile pro-audio kit. With a "big four" PR launch—input from Panasonic, Sony, Teac, and then Hitachi—for their "revolutionary Elcaset system," the format should have become a big seller. There were some good reviews, and certain pundits still claim today that Elcaset's overall performance was virtually as good as leading mid-range reel-to-reels at the time, such as the Revox B77. So with the cassette already battling the newish 8-track cartridge, the manufacturers believed Elcaset would apply the killer blow to the older format, leaving it to struggle with the 8-track for market supremacy. Unfortunately, Elcaset's arrival in 1976 coincided with the year that sales of several other innovations took off. One of these was the chromium oxide (CrO2) cassette which, while not quite matching the finesse of the Elcaset, did greatly improve cassette sound and could crucially be used in any existing cassette player. The CrO2 cassette cost 40 percent more than a normal tape, but for the audiophile or the discerning pop fan, there was now a premium recording-cassette that didn’t require a whole new deck. The leading tape manufacturer Sansui eventually started to make Elcaset tapes after Sony belatedly brought out a chrome tape of its own for the new decks. But this was already too late. For the compact cassette player there was also Dolby B, which looked and sound fairly fresh on the scene. Dolby B (which funnily enough followed after Dolby A) took out the hiss, reducing noise without overly affecting the sound, again adding value to the existing, cheaper, format. Another innovation, aimed purely at the Hi-Fi market, was a superb range of cassette players from Japanese firm Nakamichi, which had been making them since the autumn of 1973. These slowly gained a great reputation as they squeezed every last drop of sound from a compact tape and, when used with a chrome cassette, almost gave vinyl a run for its money. Decent examples of the legendary Nakamichi Dragon player still command three and four-figure sums today. And, speaking of money, one minus point amid a splash of mainly good reviews was the Elcaset’s exorbitant initial price—coming in at over £1,200 in today’s money. So when indie sound studios realised that the sound was going to be, in some cases, a little worse than a cheaper, used, reel-to-reel deck, that market started to shy away. The convenience of Elcaset would have saved a little studio time, but not enough to warrant the outlay. On top of this, reel-to-reel was comparatively easy to splice—to edit with, literally, razor blades - a technique I was taught back in the late 1980's when I was an intern at what was then BBC Radio London. Elcaset on the other hand could only be dubbed, and recording drop-ins could never be as accurate even if the cue system were ever completed. As for domestic sales, Hi-Fi was costlier back then anyway, but such a price was a big leap for all but the most dedicated audiophile. No way was the average person going to spend such an amount on what many just saw as a glorified cassette. The last straw, domestically speaking, was the failure of Sony and the others to provide pre-recorded tapes. Many people, even Hi-Fi enthusiasts, didn’t always want to have to record their own material. Some just wanted to buy Top 40 albums off the shelf of their nearest music store—but they couldn’t with Elcaset. This would prove to be an error that Sony barely noticed, and repeated with the Betamax video format—their last such content mistake; subsequently they bought up CBS Records as well as shares in various film companies. Elcaset tech was undoubtedly ahead of its time though, and the extra-shell tape handling that it featured would go on to dominate the video market for the following 25 years with VHS and S-VHS. The people behind the "biggest, bestest" cassette just hadn’t considered the public’s price limits, their love of prerecorded material, or even the possibility that existing rival formats could still develop their own innovations. In 1980 the Elcaset itself officially died, the last few thousand unsold players auctioned off at a fraction of their worth to the highest bidder. Incredibly, there were virtually no serious bids from the US, Japan, or even Western Europe, and the highest bid actually came from a Scandinavian distributor. So the last Elcaset players ended up in bargain basements in Finland, blasting out at the snowy forests while the rest of the music world began to forget about their beloved cassette’s short-lived big brother. There’s also no denying that these machines were built for the ages; there’s many a tale of Elcaset players being found in attics this century, after 25 or 35 years in storage, and still playing perfectly. Analogue audio fans still swap "elcassy" tips on sites such as, and if you ever need to lube your belt and two spools—and you probably will with the older Sony tapes—this is definitely the place to find out how. There is now a niche but steady market in secondhand Elcaset players and unused Elcaset tapes, not just on eBay, but in Finland, the UK, US, and Poland. Bexleyheath hifi dealer Whomes used to sell Elcaset machines - especially the very high end models - I recall visiting the shop with my Dad and being given a demonstration - though Dad was never going to buy a machine - but a free look was something else altogether.

As if any local traveller did not already know it, Southern and Southeastern trains have been jointly ranked as the UK’s worst rail services. Passenger satisfaction dropped for both rail services since autumn 2015 in terms of both value for money and reliability of services, according to the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS). Punctuality ratings for Southeastern were an appalling fifty six percent. The rail company had one of the lowest levels of satisfaction when customers were asked how they felt about trains running on time. A third of people described the service’s punctuality and reliability as ‘poor’, with a 17 per cent drop in customers claiming they were satisfied. Nearly 40 per cent of those surveys also criticised how both companies handled delays. No surprises there then!

The widely reported experiment Bexley Council made in Welling to switch off street lights between 1am and 5.30am had thankfully been dropped. In a press release published on Friday, the following announcement was made:- "After considering the feedback from its recent, part-night lighting trial‟ in Welling and trials of LED lighting, the Council has decided to implement alternative energy efficient lighting technology, rather than turning street lights off between 1am and 5:30am. The street lighting trials took place as part of the borough's wider savings proposals to balance the Council's budget in the face of cuts in government grant and the rising cost of key services. They involved switching off street lights during the early hours of the morning. At the end of the trial feedback from residents was collected and other data reviewed, such as any changes in the level of crime or accidents. During the trial period, the Council also looked at alternative options for converting lighting to LED for reducing costs. After considering the feedback from residents, a programme to install LED lighting in Bexley's streets wherever possible will start later this year. We've listened to what our residents told us," said Cllr Alex Sawyer, Bexley's Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transport. "The consultation following the trial told us that they would prefer to have their lights on for as long as possible. We were also looking into different methods and found that improvements in LED lighting make it a viable and cost effective alternative. "I thank all of the residents who gave us their feedback after and during the trial period. Our newly elected colleague, Cllr Ray Sams, had the opportunity to discuss the issue with many local residents during the St Michael's Ward by-election campaign and they were pleased we had listened to their concerns.” LED lights are approximately 40% more energy efficient than traditional sodium lighting. They also require less maintenance. Overall the change in lighting methods is expected to achieve an annual saving of more than £300,000. The works are expected to start in Autumn 2016 and will be completed during 2018". I could have told them this from the outset! LED lighting quite plainly is the way forward - it strikes me that Bexley Council have carried out a divisive and expensive "pilot" scheme that was entirely without merit.

The ending video this week is a look around the exterior of St. John the Baptist Church - far and away the oldest church in Erith, which predates The Magna Carta by at least a couple of hundred years. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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