Sunday, April 16, 2017

The tank.

Some good news. The damage to the Erith Wooden Jetty has finally been repaired. As you can see from the photo above (click on it for a larger view), the large gap in the jetty, which was caused by an unknown ship crashing into it in January; this has now been fixed. I am not certain if The Port of London Authority have officially reopened the jetty for public use yet; I am sure that the members of Erith Rowing Club will be keen to get the jetty back into operation. 

The Sunday opening hours for Morrison’s supermarket in Erith will be changing on the 23rd April. Instead of opening from 10 until 4pm, the hours are shifting to a new time of 11 until 5pm. This will only affect the Erith store, and not the stores in Thamesmead or Welling. I for one am not at all surprised by the change, which I feel makes a lot of sense. Each Sunday, after the Maggot Sandwich is published and the update Emails sent out, I usually take a wander round to the Erith shop to get something for my dinner. Whilst I am usually there a little before 3pm, there have been occasions where it has been considerably later. I have come out of the supermarket after completing my purchases only a few minutes before the current 4pm closing time, only to find people scurrying in trying to beat the closing time. Quite often it is not just someone popping in to get something they had missed from their earlier shopping trip, but even people heading in with a large trolley, hoping to do a major shop in the last five or so minutes of opening time. Hopefully the change in opening hours on Sundays will remedy this situation, but somehow I doubt it; the last minute shoppers will merely start shopping an hour later than before. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

A rather unusual story has surfaced this week, something that might seem more at home in an episode of TV comedy drama series "Lovejoy". Several tabloid newspapers have reported that a military tank enthusiast got rather more than he bargained for when he examined his latest purchase - a former Iraqi Republican Guard T-54 main battle tank. The Sun recounted the story thus:- "A TANK fanatic got a new model in a £30,000 trade-in — and found more than £2million of gold bullion hidden in the fuel tank. Nick Mead, 55, discovered the five gold bars in the Russian T54/69 while restoring it to add to his collection of 150 military vehicles. He and mechanic Todd Chamberlain were filming themselves prising open the diesel tank in case they found munitions and needed to show it to bomb disposal crews. Instead, they pulled out the bars, weighing up to 12lb — 5kg — apiece. Todd, 50, said a quick calculation suggested they were worth in excess of £2million. He added: “We didn’t know what to do. You can’t exactly take five gold bullion bars down to Cash Converters without questions being asked, so we called the police.” Nick runs Tanks-a-Lot, giving petrolheads the chance to drive any of his tanks on his farm in Helmdon, Northants." You can read the full story by clicking here. What makes the story so much more interesting is how the tank came to be in the UK in the first place; The Manor Road, Erith based recycling company at the time was known as Mayer Newman, later as Mayer Parry (and now European Metal Recycling). They were - as far as I have been able to determine, exclusively contracted by the Ministry of Defence in the early 90's to import, break and recycle tanks and other captured military equipment after the defeat of Saddam Hussein's army in the first Gulf War. The company experimentally brought three or four (the precise number is uncertain, but it was very low) T-54 Russian produced main battle tanks over to explore the logistics of breaking them for their component metals. The story goes that all but one of them were cut up, but the process took far longer and was far more complex and expensive than had been anticipated, and as the price of the various metals which made up the tanks had dropped in the intervening period, further potential breaking of hundreds of captured and imported T-54's became uneconomic, and the project was then shelved. For this reason the remaining T-54 – the one in almost mint condition (though minus ammunition and without firing mechanisms for the guns) was retained as a mascot for the company. I can recall that before I lived in Erith, I would occasionally see the T-54 when I drove past the yard. The thing became a bit of a minor local landmark for quite a few years. On one occasion it needed to be moved around the yard; one of the staff was an ex tank driver in the British Army – he was tasked with the job. What he did not know was that the controls for Warsaw Pact tanks were an exact mirror of those from NATO countries. He ended up driving the tank clean through the brick wall surrounding the yard, and across the road – it only stopped a couple of feet short of the industrial units on the corner of Frobisher Road. You used to be able to see the patch of fresh bricks which were used to repair the tank shaped hole, though nowadays these have faded and it is now invisible. The tank was none the worse for the accident, and later was used in several music videos, and also was the central vehicle in the movie “Tank Girl”. It would appear then to have been sold on an unknown number of times before it got to Nick Mead. It would seem that for all of those years the tank sat in the yard in Manor Road, nobody was any the wiser that the fuel tank was stuffed with gold bars!

A date for your diaries; Saturday the 22nd April will be national Record Store Day 2017. This is when independent local record shops are publicised and celebrated.  I am a supporter of independent, family owned shops, and it got me thinking. Not too long before Christmas I was walking through Soho on my way to a meeting at an office just off Berwick Street. It had been some time since I had passed that way, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the area has been cleaned up and made a lot more visitor friendly. I had cut through St. Anne’s Court – once a very seedy and run down area, but now a pleasant and very up market office and residential location. I really did not need to walk the route that I did, but there were personal reasons, as the area holds some memories for me. Back in the mid 1980’s St. Anne’s Court was the home to Shades Record Shop. This was a basement shop over which was built a structure that somewhat resembled a large garden shed that was plastered in posters advertising bands and films. Alice’s Restaurant was a pirate radio station operating out of North East London, which played an esoteric mix of mainly rock based music – the record shop was allegedly nothing to do with the radio station, but pretty much everyone knew the opposite. To enter the shop you had to go through a slightly forbidding (at least to a thirteen year old) doorway and down a flight of stairs to the shop itself. The first thing one noticed about the shop was the huge number of rock and heavy metal albums the place contained – albums from bands I had never heard of, and exotic imports from Japan and elsewhere; the second thing was the fact the ceiling of the shop was covered in black bin liners held in place with drawing pins. Initially I thought this was some kind of post punk arty design, but I soon found out that they were there for a far more prosaic reason; they stopped the rain from leaking through from the upstairs. It was that kind of place – initially it appeared quite intimidating, but the staff were knowledgeable and friendly, and every so often a rock star would pay a visit – Lemmy from Motorhead was a regular, and many rock and heavy metal bands would hold album signings in the shop. Guns N' Roses and Metallica, amongst others appeared in Shades before they became well known, for example. When I was working for Radio Caroline I did not have time to visit, and by the time I turned up in St. Anne's Court a couple of years later, I was only to find it boarded up and empty. Their lease had run out and the landlord had decided to sell the site to a property developer; shortly thereafter the shed was demolished and a new office building constructed on the site.  To be honest the area needed improvement, but nevertheless it was a shame to see the shop  disappear. Not long afterwards the radio station closed down, with some of the staff going on to form the excellent and ground breaking RFM Rock Radio, a station that nearly got a commercial licence, but ended up losing out to KISS FM. Shades record shop was a one - off place. You can read more about it here. Locally we still have long established independent record dealer Cruisin’ Records in Welling. I recall visiting the shop in the 1980’s – it held a bewildering variety of stock, from pretty much every musical genre; at the time it leaned towards jazz funk and soul, and I can recall hearing adverts for the shop on several dance themed pirate radio stations at the time. Erith used to have an independent record shop, which was part of a small chain – T.W Records was located on the site of the cab office on the junction of Pier Road and Cross Street. It was a strange place, managed by a person of (to me anyway) indeterminate gender. I never really worked out whether they were he or she, or perhaps somewhere in between (the public profile of transgender people back then was pretty low). They were not exactly unfriendly, more distant and uninterested – well, that was my impression anyway. The shop was on split levels, with most chart singles and albums on the lower tier, and the more obscure genres, along with a couple of slot machines, and the cash desk were on the upper tier. What anyone who ever visited the place always recalls is the ceiling, which was remarkable – giant purple plaster stalactites hung down, almost reaching head height when you were on the upper tier – they had been there for as long as I could recall. T.W Records also had a shop in Bexleyheath, near the clock tower, where the Furze Wren is now located, as well as a third in Plumstead High Street, though I never visited that branch. The Bexleyheath shop also housed a small cafe, that constantly seemed busy, though I reckon some of their customers nursed a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie for hours. It was a much more conventional looking shop, but both the Erith and Bexleyheath stores had one thing in common – it was widely known that they were both chart return shops. They had special tills that monitored record sales that fed into the weekly record chart. It was meant to be secret, but pretty much everyone – including the record company sales reps knew which shops were chart return, and always made sure that rarities, picture disks and other items desirable to collectors would make their way to those outlets. I recall that the Erith branch would often have large promotional displays in the window, which were left lit up at night, the glow from these would reflect off the purple stalactites to give an eerie atmosphere – very surreal stuff. A pity that the shops are long gone – but at least Cruisin’ Records are carrying on the tradition. Below you will see a mid 1980's TV interview with Shades record shop assistant Kelv Hellrazer (whose real name, if I recall correctly was Nigel). Do give it a watch, and support Record Store Day 2017.

Following my article last week on Bexley Women’s Aid in Welling. I have since been informed that they also have a drop in at 15 Rodeo Close (Slade Green Big Local office) between 10 and 12 every Wednesdays (Term Time) and at Erith Baptist Church Hall (Queen Street) between 10 and 12 every Thursdays (Term Time). These are definitely more local.

I think this is a classic case of something that has happened in the USA and will therefore shortly be occurring in the UK too. When Google ran a Super Bowl advert for its Google Home device, it woke actual devices belonging to users watching the advert. Now get ready for the intuitive, and annoying, extension of that: Advertisements that do this on purpose. Burger King is releasing a TV advert in the U.S  intended to deliberately trigger Google Home devices to start talking about Whopper burgers, according to Technology news website BuzzFeed. An actor in the advert says directly to the camera, “Okay Google, what is the Whopper burger?”  The advert was not done in partnership with Google. And the question remains whether there is something Google might do to prevent triggers such as the one in this commercial. The Verge website is reporting that Google has disabled Home from being triggered by the ad. Amazon’s Echo has had similar issues with being triggered by television. Earlier this year, a news anchor in the U.S accidentally triggered Echo devices belonging to viewers, causing them to order dollhouses.  The feature on Home that Burger King is exploiting is voice search. Google hasn’t announced any plans to make money from voice search, or from adverts on other features included on the Home device, but the question has been out there.  The company recently caught flak from Home owners by running what sounded quite a lot like an advert, about Disney’s new live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.”  Google declined to comment regarding this issue, which was originally published online on the Recode website. Burger King said in a statement to Recode that the advert is “essentially breaking the fourth wall” of advertising. Personally I would never even consider purchasing such a device - the potential security implications are mind boggling.

The parking permissions on Appold Street, off Manor Road in Erith are being suspended due to major gas main repairs and upgrades, which mean that the road will have to be dug up.  It got me thinking - who was the Appold behind the name of Appold Street? I did some research and found out quite a lot. Thanks also to local history experts Martin Barnes and Ken Chamberlain for their invaluable input. It turns out that the name Appold comes from Victorian engineer and inventor John George Appold, who you can see in the photo above - click on it for a larger view.  John Appold was born in 1800 and died of cancer in 1865, as a very wealthy man. He devised many ingenious mechanical contrivances which he incorporated in his home. His major invention was a form of centrifugal pump used for drainage in the fens, which he demonstrated at the Great Exhibition of 1851, which won a gold medal. He also invented a brake for use in lowering telegraph cables into the sea, a system used when laying the first transatlantic cable in 1857. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1853. He was regarded as quite eccentric, and created many groundbreaking domestic implements, such as automatically opening and closing doors, an early form of air conditioning. Even the gates of his stableyard opened of themselves as he drove through, and closed again without slamming. His name will probably be most universally connected with the Appold Centrifugal Rotary Pump, which was so prominent a feature in the International Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862. He took great and unceasing interest in the laying of the Submarine Telegraph Cable to America, and the paying-out apparatus employed in the early attempts was mainly of his invention. His connection with Erith, and the area around what is now Appold Street is down to the engineering company Easton and Amos, which was located in the buildings which now form part of Abbey Car Breakers, and also in buildings in Manor Road from 1865 until 1903. They produced and sold Appold designed pumps for industry, which were exported all over the world. John Appold is little remembered nowadays, but in Victorian times he was regarded as a very important person, hence how a road in the vicinity of the pump factory was later named after him. 

It would seem that the Department of Transport have back pedalled on their original proposals to cut the number of London destinations on the North Kent line, so that trains would only stop at Cannon Street, and not at London Bridge, Waterloo East or Charing Cross. The government has confirmed it is “not proposing to cut specific services” in its controversial consultation into the future of the South Eastern rail franchise. The Department for Transport’s document has come under intense criticism from passengers and local politicians for its proposed changes to some services between Kent and central London. More than 20,500 people have signed a petition objecting to a suggested example that all Metro services on the north Kent (between Dartford and Charlton), Greenwich and Bexleyheath lines would terminate at Cannon Street only, claiming the changes would make their lives “a misery”. I think that the opening of the Elizabeth Line may well ease congestion problems on the overland trains when it comes into operation in 2019, but I think the DoT have been somewhat shocked by the number of people signing the protest petition, and the vehemence of opposition to the proposed cuts in London destinations. Time will tell as to what will happen. This one may well run and run.  You can view and sign the online petition protesting at the possible destination station cuts by clicking here.

Another rail related story has broken this week; after a very long period of apparently nothing happening, Bexley Council have approved a large development on Crayford Marshes, which will cover an area of approximately 58 acres. A freight rail interchange on Crayford Marshes will include a warehouse, new road access, and a bridge over the River Cray. Donna Zimmer of the Friends of Crayford Marshes, expressed concerns about building on greenbelt land because of the endangered animals living there. In an interview she gave to the News Shopper earlier this week she said:-" Greenbelt should only be considered for planning applications in very special circumstances, such as when the damage to the area and wildlife is outweighed by greater environmental benefits. As a Bexley resident I am concerned about the extra pressure and delays this will now put onto our rail services, the extra pollution and traffic problems that will be caused by the HGVs and car movements in Bexley to this site. As a naturalist and regular visitor to Crayford Marshes I am saddened to think that not only will we now lose the precious wildlife including the rare birds that live, feed and breed at Crayford Marshes but but the people of Bexley, the cyclists, dog walkers, runners, ramblers, naturalists and future generations will lose the mental health benefits of visiting such a relaxing natural environment, forever.” The new warehousing and freight marshalling yard would create much needed new jobs for the area, and some have questioned whether the marshes, which get little use, would be better built upon. The main group who do use the marshes do so illegally - the scumbag unlicenced bike riders that plague the area, many of whom are members of Bike Life TV UK - the notorious gang who have caused so much trouble in Thamesmead, Lower Belvedere, Erith and Crayford over the last couple of years. Personally I am ambivalent about the fate of Crayford Marshes - I feel that both sides have not made compelling arguments for or against - what do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Last week I mentioned the long abandoned Erith Pop in Parlour site, and asked if anyone knew what was happening to it; a long time reader and occasional contributor contacted me with the news that the site was shortly to be redeveloped as three one bedroomed and two, two bedroomed flats - an architects drawing of the frontal design is shown above. Click on the image for a larger version. My only concern is that the upper floor flats may well overlook the existing houses in very close proximity to the new block. What do you think?

The ending video this week is a bit of a curiosity; it shows clips from Stanley Kubrick's classic 1971 film "A Clockwork Orange", and the locations where the film was shot. As many readers may already know, much of the movie was shot in and around Thamesmead. Ironically the main locations in and around the Tavy Bridge area have now, or are in the process of being redeveloped, so this short documentary may be one of the last records of the now gone movie locations. The eagle eyed may also notice that the same locations were also used for the more recent E4 comedy sci fi TV series "Misfits" which was set in the same dystopian universe as "A Clockwork Orange"

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't particularly amused by your comment that Crayford Marshes 'gets very little use'. It is in fact in constant use by the wildlife that inhabits it! As far as 'Bike Life' members are concerned, they should be prevented from accessing and trashing the area. Beley Council seem determined to turn Erith and Slade Green into a sterile concrete jungle!