Sunday, February 05, 2017

New life for The White Hart.

The photo above shows a rather unusual view of Erith Post Office and the adjacent HQ for local company WDS Signs - who make signs for display in public places. The building was originally built as a stables and tack store, but has been in its' current use since well before World War II. In case you were wondering, the photograph was not taken from a drone, rather it was taken from one of the windows in the Cross Keys Centre, which is diagonally opposite, in the Erith High Street Conservation Zone. More on what is going on in the conservation zone later. 

I saw in the news earlier in the week that  former Morrison’s supermarket chairman Sir Ken Morrison had died You can read his obituary in The Guardian here. I had not realised that he was ill. He was aged 85. I met him once, though I did not know who he was until I was told. When Morrison’s opened in Erith back in 1999, I went along for a look on the first day of trading. The place was extremely crowded – I think most of the inhabitants of Erith, Slade Green and Northumberland Heath had come along to check out the mysterious new supermarket that had up to this point been based solely in the North of England, and the Erith store was one of their first forays into the South. I queued up at one of the tills (none of the hated automated, self-service checkouts back then) and paid for my goods. An older man stood at the end of the checkout, and kindly packed my bag for me, I thanked him politely and made to leave the store. I noticed that a number of managerial looking types had been hovering near the chap packing the shopping bags; one of them approached me and asked me if I knew who the bag packers was. I replied that I had no idea, but that the man was pretty good – by this time I had twigged that he was not just a humble bag packer, so was not overly surprised when the person told me that it was Sir Ken Morrison, the billionaire top boss of the supermarket chain, who was visiting on the day of the launch of their flagship Erith store. Small world I suppose, so I was saddened to hear of his demise, albeit at a pretty ripe old age.

A new mini crime wave is hitting the local area; restaurants and takeaways are finding that their containers of waste cooking oil are being stolen. Many food outlets use large quantities of cooking oil, which is usually vegetable based. When it has become contaminated, they store it for collection by specialist cooking oil companies, who pay good money to get hold of the oil. Where’s the money on old cooking oil? I hear you ask; well, it makes excellent bio diesel. There is a general perception that cooking oil needs to be specially treated before it can be used in diesel engines. This is actually not true. You can empty a bottle of Mazola or whatever oil you fancy straight into the fuel tank of your diesel vehicle and it will work a treat. The only thing you need to do with old oil is filter out any particles or bits of food – as these can clog up the fuel injectors of the engine. Old fish frying oil actually smells of the chip shop when you burn it in a diesel engine. Some years ago Mercedes Benz commercial vehicle division did some tests on the use of vegetable oil versus conventional diesel in long term use as a fuel. They found that engines run on vegetable oil actually suffered significantly less wear and tear than those run on conventional diesel – this is not much of a surprise, as Vegetable oil is a lubricant, and diesel is a solvent. Vegetable oil also has far Lower levels of harmful particulates than Diesel, a factor of increasing importance nowadays. Vegetable oil has a lower energy density than diesel, so your miles per gallon does drop a bit, but the cost savings are so big that it makes it worthwhile. It is not illegal to power a road vehicle on chip oil, as long as you have declared it to HM Revenue and Customs, filled in the relevant paperwork and paid the excise duty. Obviously the crooks that are currently nicking cooking oil for use as fuel have no intention of doing that – so if you see some shady looking characters in a van smelling of plaice and chips going past, be very suspicious...

The local press, including the News Shopper and the Bexley Times are reporting something that should not really be very much of a surprise. The are saying that house prices in areas close to the Crossrail development have increased rapidly in price, and cite the example of Abbey Wood, where average house prices have increased by roughly £100,000 in the last ten years. The 73-mile line which will link south east London to Berkshire and Buckinghamshire via central London is expected to open in December 2018. In 2007, the average price of a house in Abbey Wood was £179,482. Now the average price £289,468, a rise 61.28 per cent. The rise is above the average for other houses along what will be called the Elizabeth Line when it opens, and well above the national average increase of 25 per cent.

An announcement was made last week that a couple of new ships are being built to replace the current, fifty three year old Woolwich Ferries. Transport for London (TfL) has signed a contract with Polish shipyard Rementowa Shipyard to build the next-gen vessels following a design by Norwegian firm LMG Marin, working with Hampshire firm Keel Marine Ltd. Two ships (the upper of the two photos above shows a marine architect's impression of the new ferry design - click on the image for a larger version) will replace the three which currently work in rotation. The efficiency and reliability of the new ferries will account for the reduction while the design team have been commissioned to strengthen the service’s “green” credentials, with lower emissions when they come into service next year. The move has been put into place as the current ferries are old and pretty much worn out - there was no ferry service last weekend due to a series of mechanical breakdowns, due mainly to the age and difficulty in obtaining spares for machinery which has not been in production for many years. The new vessels, which will be substantially larger than the current ferries, at 60 metres long, with a capacity of 150 passengers and about 45 vehicles, will be designed with a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system. The lithium-ion battery pack will optimise the fuel consumption by allowing one engine to charge the batteries when not powering the propulsion. The new ferries will engage an automatic mooring system at the end of each short journey meaning the fuel-heavy thruster units will be practically redundant while specialist catalytic reduction systems, use of ultra low sulphur diesel and LED lights will help boost the ferries’ green credentials. Erith is home to one of the world's premiere marine engineering companies - Kort Propulsion. They are supplying the custom designed propellers for the two new ferries, which are of a LMG Marin 60-DEH design, each one equipped with a set of four Hydromaster Azimuth thrusters rated at 300 kW, driven by vertical mounted permanent magnet motors from a DC grid system. Hydromaster are also a local company, being based in Thurrock, just across the River Thames in Essex. In 2015 Kort were one of the main organisations involved in the construction of The London Titan (the lower of the two images above - click on it for a larger version) - a 36 metre long vessel for the Port of London Authority. The London Titan is designed as a mooring maintenance vessel. Titan is doing much more than just maintain moorings.  She is equipped to: 1) lay and recover navigation buoys; 2) haul wreckage from the bottom of the river; 3) support diving operations; and 4) to undertake small scale plough dredging operations. On a river that is getting busier with passengers and freight, that capability is essential. Already there are over eight million passenger trips on the Thames every year – the Mayor wants to increase that to 12 million by 2020.  A multi-function vessel, London Titan is much better equipped than the nearly 50-year old vessel she replaces. She has been specially designed for the Thames by UK-based naval architects MacDuff Ship Design, working in close collaboration with PLA marine engineers, masters and crews. The Titan is a vessel able to work along virtually all of the PLA’s 95 miles of the tidal Thames for which the PLA is responsible. She is squat and shallow enough to negotiate bridges as far upriver as Richmond, and robust enough to operate in the outer estuary. A sizable chunk of the £7 million cost of the custom – designed ship will have been in the propulsion and steering work that Kort Propulsion undertook. Great news to see that a specialist local firm is not only contributing to the safety of navigation on the River Thames, but is bringing much needed money into the local economy. It just strikes me as appropriate that two very significant components of the new Woolwich ferries are being manufactured locally. Engines from Thurrock and propellers from Erith's own Kort Propulsion

I had quite a response to my piece last week about the freight train derailment at Lewisham, and the deleterious effect that this had on overland trains locally, which in any case have been deteriorating from an already low point over the last year or so. One regular reader called Stephen wrote to me with the following observations:- "I was particularly interested in reading about the derailment at Lewisham, and that you now take the 99 bus and DLR to work. The reason for my email is I also find myself in the same situation as yourself. I personally work in Southwark and to get to work I normally take the 0544hrs B12 bus to Bexleyheath Station and then the 0600 train from there to Waterloo East. I use Bexleyheath station as it costs less being in a different zone.I currently hold a Gold annual season ticket. My gold card expires next week. I have been appalled by the reliability of South Eastern trains over the last 12 month, delays, cancellations, signal failures, broken down trains, derailment at Lewisham and then the train fire at Kidbrooke last week. This year has been the final straw for me with the trains. I have held a Gold Card for 13 years and I will no longer be renewing my season ticket with South Eastern. I know I am not the only person that feels this way! I have also changed to a different mode of transport from next week. I tried last week a different way, which worked well. I will catch the 0525 route 422 bus to North Greenwich and then the Jubilee Line to Southwark. I was really surprised the journey to work is actually quicker by bus and tube. Plus it saves me money overall!! I am only a minority that may be changing travel plans, I just wish many more would do the same and show South Eastern how we have had enough. Sorry to rant on and on, but this has been annoying me for a while". I think that many commuters have been spurred to look for other means of travelling to and from London, and Stephen is far from alone in this respect. I have also heard from a confidential source that the cause of the freight train derailment is pretty much already known, though it cannot be officially published until a full report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch is completed. My source writes:- "It should be worth noting, that after investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) a number of recent freight train derailments have been caused by poor maintenance of rail wagons. It will take a while to get a full report of why this accident took place, indeed it appears that repairs had taken place at this junction only recently".  Interesting stuff indeed. If it does come to light that the derailment was caused by a lack of preventative maintenance on the freight wagons, this would tend to concur with my own casual observations; on many occasions I have been on a passenger train whilst a freight train passed by; it has not been uncommon for one or more of the freight wagons to have wheels that emit an ear - splitting screech of metal on metal - it sounds as if the wheel bearings are often completely lacking in grease, although we will have to wait until the full and complete RAIB report is published for the accident before we will be in possession of the complete facts.

The second series of BBC TV's "Top Gear" made without Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May is scheduled to start transmission in the next few weeks, though at present the BBC have not yet published a commencement date. After replacement lead presenter Chris Evans left the show after one season of utterly woeful ratings where they started the season on the low side, then promptly went into freefall thereafter, it will be instructive to see how the show will fare now that The Grand Tour has now aired on Amazon Prime. The Grand Tour is basically Top Gear under a new name and with a massively increased budget, and presented by the original "Three Amigos" on web based broadcaster Amazon Prime. I get the feeling that the BBC will have a real challenge to make anything of old Top Gear, now that The Grand Tour has absolutely ridden over it so completely. I think that they have two choices - either re - imagine Top Gear as a completely different car show - perhaps going down the route of making it a serious factual programme about cars, or they admit defeat and cancel it completely. I understand that after the ratings collapse during Chris Evans' tenure, the commercial rate at which the BBC has been able to sell Top Gear to foreign broadcasters has drastically reduced, meaning that they may well be stuck in a vicious circle - lower ratings mean less income, which means less money to spend on a show which at best has around a tenth of the budget of The Grand Tour, and also lacks the charismatic original three presenters. Personally I think the Beeb should pull the plug on Top Gear and walk away with a few shreds of dignity still intact.

I am pleased to say that Erith is currently being converted from the old and energy inefficient sodium incandescent street lights to much more economical and efficient LED lighting. Chief among the advantages of LEDs is that they have extremely long lives -- they don't have filaments that can quickly burn out -- and they don't contain toxic chemicals like mercury, unlike traditional high-pressure sodium lamps or mercury-vapour lamps. An LED light can last 100,000 hours. These lights also have reduced maintenance costs because of their long lives, and they give off less heat than other bulbs. Because they last so long, LEDs are suitable for places where replacing light bulbs is expensive, inconvenient or otherwise difficult. LEDs are highly energy efficient. While compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) recently have been touted as the standard in green lighting, LEDs actually have double their energy efficiency. They use 15 percent of the energy of an incandescent bulb while generating more light per watt. LEDs produce 80 lumens per watt; traditional streetlights can only muster 58 lumens per watt. Another less well publicised benefit is that LED lights have a clean white light that does not distort colour; one side effect of the old sodium lighting was that it gave an orange / yellow cast to objects that they lit; this had an effect of making the judgement of distance between cars more difficult. LED lighting may actually make for safer roads, as well as saving a huge amount in running costs. The down side of LED street lighting is that it can cause an increase in light pollution, as the light output per Watt of energy is so much higher than with older technologies, but it is generally felt that the benefits far outweigh the down sides. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Information has finally come to light regarding the redevelopment / refurbishment of the old White Hart / Potion Bar – a subject that has been vexing many locals for a very long time. On Thursday I received a couple of very informative Emails from a lady called Sharon who had uncovered some documents on the Bexley Council Planning website – something that had eluded me for some reason. It turns out that the building is now owned by The Wellington Pub Company – a pub co that specialises in turning around “challenging” pubs in areas that other companies avoid. The official description of the works to be carried out is as follows:- "Conversion of upper floors of Potion Bar into 1 x 2 and 1 x 3 bed flats and the erection of a two storey building plus basement comprising 4 x 1 bed and 2 x 2 bed apartments and 1 x 3 bed duplex with associated parking and amenity space". As you can see above, the plans for a replica frontage to replace the hideous plate glass frontage illegally installed (see the upper photo) against planning laws by the owners of Potion have now been finalised, and are far more detailed and complete than the drawing I published a couple of years ago. The new frontage closely resembles the original (see the lower of the two images above - click on it for a larger version), and will be a massive improvement to the appearance of the historic building. Work on removing the illegal plate glass frontage and installing the replica of the original Victorian design began on Friday, and will continue into next week and most likely beyond. It is about time that the old building got some sympathetic attention, as it has been unloved and ignored for far too long. I can clearly recall the horror I felt when back in 2009 I was standing outside of the corner by Matalan, looking across the road to the White Hart as the criminals from Potion talked to the borough planning officer about the work that they were undertaking. I clearly heard the council official tell the crooks that they were to leave the existing period White Hart pub sign in place, as it had historical and aesthetic significance. Literally moments after the planning officer drove off, one of the Potion workers got out a large angle grinder and cut down the protected sign and threw it into a nearby skip. From this point I knew Erith was in for trouble; sadly I was not wrong. After several years of drug dealing, fights, public drunkenness – and even a visit by Peter Andre, the venue closed after a series of enforcement notices by both Bexley Council and the Metropolitan Police. It was also convenient for the operators of Potion to declare themselves bankrupt, as it absolved them from having to restore the historic building frontage, as per two court orders that they successfully ignored. Strangely no mention is made in the newly available redevelopment documentation of what is planned for the existing bar area - the documents only cover the upper floors and development in what is now the (currently unused) garden of the pub. What the plans for the ground floor bar are, I really don't know. Suggestions were made around eighteen months ago that the ground floor could be converted into an Indian Restaurant, but that turned out to be a dead end - perhaps wishful thinking on someone's part? More recently I have heard rumours that an ice cream / smoothie chain were looking at the ground floor space. I could see this working - after all, you do not need to install lots of expensive and complex fume extraction equipment if you are only serving cool or frozen food. Whilst it would not exactly be to my taste, I could see an ice cream restaurant being popular locally. If you have any additional information, please drop me a line to

Morrison’s in Erith have been in the local press for all of the wrong reasons last week; As has been widely reported in the News Shopper, a three year old boy was seriously injured in the store after slipping on a transparent vegetable bag which was on the floor. The little boy had extensive injuries, including a badly broken femur. Morrison’s deny responsibility, saying that they check the floor for loose bags and other objects every thirty minutes, as the health and safety legislation requires, and that the bag must have been dropped on the floor between the half hourly checks. To be honest, the bags, which are usually found in the fresh fruit and vegetable area are often dropped on the floor by customers. It is a difficult case – you can read all of the details on the News Shopper website here. I do find that once again, some of the comments left by readers on the story are reprehensible – there are a number of trolls deliberately posting inflammatory stories in the hope of eliciting responses. Quite what motivates people to do this, goodness only knows.

The ending video this week features several layouts at the 2017 Erith Model Railway Society Exhibition, which was held in the main hall at Longfield Academy. See what you think and either leave a comment below, or Email me at


  1. Nice to see SR double-deck stock represented in model form!

  2. Show me a house in Abbey wood for £289,000! Good Luck. More like £389,000!