Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Exchange.

After a somewhat quiet period, things seem to be getting under way with the new organisation that have taken over the old Carnegie Library site in Walnut Tree Road. The group, called The Exchange have a number of ambitious plans for Erith and the surrounding area. They recently made the following announcement:-“The Exchange invite proposals from practitioners with ideas to transform London’s longest pier into a piece of art for the period of the Totally Thames Festival 2017. An opportunity for artists, designers, architects, performers, curators, and creatives to submit proposals for London's newest and most unique public art space. We are inviting proposals for a site-specific work based on Erith Pier throughout a three-week period in September 2017 that will coincide with the Totally Thames Festival and the Lighthouse Project. This is a unique opportunity for practitioners to have a significant new work programmed during a world-renowned festival. The commissioned practitioner will be awarded a budget of £8,000 to fully realise their idea for the pier.  The budget is to include all artistic, operational, installation and logistical costs of the work. There will be a workshop for practitioners interested in applying for the inaugural Pier Commission at Bexleyheath Archives on Thursday 6th July 5pm to 7pm, where Bexley Local Studies and Archives Manager Simon McKeon will talk through the history of Erith including the pier, Erith's industrial and pleasure resort history using a variety of visual and documentary material from the archives.  The workshop is free to attend, and artists will have an opportunity to look through the archives close at hand, booking prior to the event is essential". You can apply for a free place at the event by clicking here. I will be meeting with the people behind The Exchange shortly, and I hope to work with them on some of their community oriented projects in the future. It is apparent that investment is coming to the area after a long period of the area being relatively underfunded and ignored.

I have noticed something rather strange recently; in several locations in the local area I have encountered large streams of analogue magnetic recording tape in the road and on the pavement. The tape blows around in the wind and makes a hell of a mess. When I investigated, I found that the tape originated from fly tipped VHS video cassettes that had been broken open by persons unknown, allowing the tape inside to escape. What mystified me further was that this happened in more than one location, seemingly at around the same time. I witnessed it in James Watt Way Erith, Bexley Road in Northumberland Heath and in Avenue Road in Bexleyheath. It would seem that someone is dumping large quantities of old video cassettes in the roads of the area. This is somewhat mystifying, especially as the cassettes I saw dumped in Avenue Road were of the rarer Betamax variety. I had thought that most video cassettes of both VHS and Betamax technologies had long since disappeared – as far as I am aware, even the charity shops stopped taking analogue video cassettes some years ago. I am surprised that there were any left to be dumped.  I doubt that the kids that had broken open the tape cassettes had any idea of the history of the two video formats, or indeed of the format war which raged for several years. Something that might quite surprise you is that the price of old Betamax video recorders is currently going through the roof; a couple of years ago you could not give one away if you tried. Suddenly they are turning up on eBay and the bidding competition is fierce. Prices of £250 and upwards have been noted. What is the reason for this? Well, it does not seem to be down to any love for the outdated video format (which whilst it failed in the domestic home market, it was the cornerstone of many TV news and outside broadcast units for many years). It would appear that people are coming across family videos recorded on Betamax cassettes and wish to digitise them. Most professional video transfer services can handle VHS and the common broadcast formats, but very few are capable of doing anything with a Betamax format cassette. People with old recordings of weddings and family events realise that if they wish to be able to see them again, they will need to locate a device capable of playing the tape format - hence the sudden upsurge of interest. The ironic thing is, it is pretty likely that the tapes will be unwatchable even when a suitable player is used. Both Betamax and VHS cassettes deteriorate over time, even when stored in ideal conditions. A thirty year old video tape will have demagnetised and printed through so much that it will almost certainly show on screen as a mess of flickering static with a few undersaturated, ghostly images of what remains of the original recording now.  I recently have read quite a lot about the format wars between VHS and Betamax back in the early 1980's. From all that I have read, it became apparent that Sony, the creators of the Beta format were pretty much to blame for the demise of what initially was a far technically superior video format than the relatively pedestrian VHS system. The main determining factor between Betamax and VHS was the cost of the recorders and length of recording time. Betamax was, in theory, a superior recording format over VHS due to resolution (250 lines vs. 240 lines), slightly superior sound, and a more stable image; Betamax recorders were also of higher quality construction. But these differences were negligible to consumers, and thus did not justify either the extra cost of a Betamax VCR (which was often significantly more expensive than a VHS equivalent) or Betamax's shorter recording time. JVC, which designed the VHS technology, licensed it to any manufacturer that was interested. The manufacturers then competed against each other for sales, resulting in lower prices to the consumer. Sony was the only manufacturer of Betamax initially and so was not pressured to reduce prices. Only in the early 1980s did Sony decide to licence Betamax technology to other manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Sanyo. What Sony did not take into account was what consumers wanted. While Betamax was believed to be the superior format in the minds of the public and press (due to excellent marketing by Sony), consumers wanted an affordable video recorder (a VHS machine was often around a hundred pounds less than an equivalent Betamax one); Sony believed that having better quality recordings was the key to success, and that consumers would be willing to pay a higher retail price for this, whereas it soon became clear that consumer desire was focused more intently on longer recording time, lower retail price, and compatibility with other machines for cassette sharing (as VHS was becoming the format in the majority of homes). The real Betamax killer was that for the first few years, the maximum length of recording was limited to one hour on Betamax, whereas VHS could stretch to four hours with reduced image quality, critically long enough to record an entire American football game - the lucrative mass American market both systems were looking to crack. Sony had the attitude of "We know best" as to what the market wanted, and ignored requests for features that quickly became standard with their competitors. Consequently Betamax is now considered alongside the 8 - Track cartridge as a dodo technology. You can read about the history of the video format war by clicking here. If you are of the opinion that Betamax is far too mainstream, well known and commonplace, do yourself a favour by visiting the Philips V2000 web site here. You can also read more about other format wars by clicking here.

If there is one things that can symbolise the difference between Bexley Council and neighbouring Greenwich Council it is the way in which they look after their parks and open spaces. This can be exemplified if one takes a ride on the 99 bus along Woolwich Road. First you pass by the Upper Belvedere Recreation Ground, which earlier this week looked like a jungle – weeds were rife and it was apparent that the grass had not been mowed for at least several months. When one continues on to Bostall Heath, over the border in Greenwich. This is immaculately mowed and evidently very well looked after. I don’t think very much more needs to be said on the subject.

Word reaches me that the Bexley Growth consultation event held in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre last Saturday was as predicted, little more than a “box ticking exercise”. The event was designed to let locals offer their opinions on the proposed growth strategy for the London Borough of Bexley over the next three decades. The consultation roadshow has been located in public areas around the borough over the last few weeks, and the appearance in Erith had been scheduled to be open from 12 until 4pm on Saturday June the 10th. My informant tells me that the stand was being taken down at 1.30pm, only ninety minutes after the event had started, and two and a half hours before it was due to end. I cannot say that I am very surprised by this – I had intended to visit the roadshow after my return from a shopping trip to Bexleyheath, but when I arrived back in Erith, of the consultation stall and staff there was no sign. It seems obvious to me and others that Bexley Council were making a charade of the whole public consultation – they are not interested in what local residents want; they already have their minds made up as to what we are going to get. Having said that, some of the idea put forward do seem like a very good idea – the proposal to extend the River Thames walkway to run all of the way from the Isle of Grain to Woolwich uninterrupted is an example of one improvement scheme that I for one would wholeheartedly support. The basic premise of the Bexley Growth Strategy is defined thus:- “A new neighbourhood will be created in Belvedere growing out from a potential new Crossrail station, accommodating more than 8,000 homes focussed on a public transport interchange and a new town centre that will include a luxury outlet shopping destination, with the area generating up to 3,500 new jobs. Erith will provide the opportunity to deliver an exciting and well-connected urban riverfront destination of at least 6,000 new homes, with the area supporting over 2,000 new jobs through a shift to new engineering and manufacturing activities associated with the Maker Movement. Situated next to one of London’s remaining marshlands along the River Thames, Slade Green will be transformed into a high quality, neighbourhood with a new local town centre set around a potential new Crossrail station and access to outstanding recreational spaces, delivering 8,000 new homes and 1,000 new jobs.   Thamesmead will provide more than 4,000 new homes and 5,000 new jobs, triggered by the Housing Zone and a new Crossrail station and supported by local transport improvements, a new local centre at Abbey Wood station and with better access to green and digital infrastructure. Crayford will provide the opportunity to consolidate and redefine the town centre, opening up the north of the area to more than 1,000 new high quality homes with increased access to a more naturalised River Cray. Employment will remain important to Crayford, with uses consolidated to the east, delivering 1,000 additional jobs. The borough’s strategic transport links (both road and rail) are generally east-west, based on connections with central London.  North-south movement is difficult as major roads and rail connections tend to form barriers to cross/orbital movement.  Transport investment in east London and north Kent has often left Bexley behind.  Bexley is one of just two London boroughs with no Tube, Overground or tram services at all.  Basing growth on the existing network alone is not going to deliver what Bexley needs.  Bexley’s transport picture comprises high reliance on the car, a lack of choice of good public transport, congestion, poor air quality and excessive travel times.  These factors mean Bexley has been a less attractive place to live”. All very laudable intentions; having said that, you may recall that two weeks ago I reported that I had heard a rumour that the Eastern part of the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, Erith was to be sold off to a property developer. I still have not had a confirmation or rebuttal of the rumour, but I have, whilst researching this piece on the Bexley Growth Strategy, come across what may well be a “smoking gun”. The report states:- “Parts of the Belvedere, Fraser Road, Manor Road and Crayford industrial areas will be released for other uses; however, the retained areas will be intensified and promoted as strategically important employment locations. Transport improvements, such as bus service enhancements as well as a possible Belvedere - Rainham river crossing (this has now been cast into severe doubt that this will happen), digital connectivity enhancements, including the use of dark fibre networks, and modernised business premises, such as the introduction of shared working spaces and environmental enhancements, will aid these areas.  In this way, the areas will become increasingly attractive for new industries including those displaced from elsewhere within the opportunity areas”. My interpretation of this is that several of the current industrial areas in the borough – including part of the Europa Industrial Estate will be sold off for housing, if not straight away, then within a few years. It seems to myself and others that Bexley Council is gambling on Crossrail being extended from Abbey Wood and onto Erith, Slade Green, Dartford and beyond to Ebbsfleet to connect with other rail services there, and to additionally create a transport link from central London into the forthcoming Paramount London theme park. No Government decision has yet been made in respect of an extension, although the Bexley Growth Strategy, which I featured last week seems to take it for granted. Many of the plans the council have published, such as a new town centre for Lower Belvedere, as well as additional new housing seem to take the Crossrail extension for granted. Personally I think the extension is more likely to happen than not, as a far higher percentage of the line would be above ground, and thus both easier and cheaper to build than the original Crossrail project. The only real engineering challenge would occur at the Higham and Strood Tunnel, which would need extensive widening. It seems to me that Bexley Council will have more than egg on their faces if the extension project does not get off the ground.

I was standing on the Kent bound platform at Greenwich station in the week, waiting for a train to take me back to Erith, when I had a bit of a reminisce; I can dimly recall the days of the old blue and yellow slam door trains that used to run on the Dartford via Greenwich line in the days before the Networker trains arrived. The lower of the two illustrative photos above is used with the kind permission of transport photographer Tom Burnham. Click on either image for a larger view. After a bit of Googling, I was able to discover that these old trains were called the 415 class. Regular reader and occasional contributor Justin Bailey, who is an authority on UK trains, having written a book on the subject in the past, has some recollections on these historic commuter trains:- "In the 1950s and 1960s British Rails’ Southern Region operated a wide range of EMUs (Electric Multiple Units) with a bewildering array of identifying designations. However, the readers of ‘The Maggot Sandwich’ will probably be most familiar with the type that worked the North Kent Lines for more than 40 years, the Class 415 4-EPB and the later 416 2-EPB. These trains plied the Woolwich, Bexleyheath and Sidcup lines for more than four decades carrying commuters into London Termini such as Victoria, London Bridge, Charing Cross, Blackfriars and Cannon Street. The first batch of the Class 415 were designed by the Southern Region and were functional more than fancy to say the least. Little more than flat faced carriages on wheels with an electric motor under the floors, they operated in sets of 4 coaches or 2 for the later Class 416. The EPB designation came from the type of braking they used, being Electro Pneumatically Braked. The Class 415 was introduced in 1951 but it wasn’t long before it became clear that more would be needed so a second batch was built. This time however it was designed by the British Rail design team and based on an existing BR Carriage type. The BR designed 415 was introduced in 1960 and at first glance looked the same as the SR designed units. However subtle differences existed at the front and sides which were even flatter and mundane than before! The internal layout of a mix of ‘open’ (2+3 rows of seats back to back through half a carriage length) and individual partitioned compartments (2 rows of seats seating 6 people opposite each other) evolved over time as well. The almost identical looking BR designed 2 carriage 416 was introduced in 1953 so trains could be made up to 10 coach lengths as platforms across suburban London and Kent were lengthened. A second batch of this type was also built but in contrast to how the 415 evolved this second batch was actually based on the earlier SR Design! By the late 70s it was clear that no new design was on the horizon for the Southern, so having to make do and reuse as the Southern so often did, it was decided to refurbish many of the 415s with the 416s following suit in the mid 80s. By now the units had gone through three different liveries and were into their fourth. Firstly BR green, then BR blue followed by BR blue and grey and lastly the colours of ‘Network Southeast’. By this time the individual compartments were being phased out after a series of attacks on women and even a murder in 1988. Compartment fitted stock was not allowed to run after 8.00pm. Then in the mid 1990s as the new Class 465/466 ‘Networkers’ were being introduced, the 415s and 416s were taken out of service for good having served the Kent lines of the Southern for 45 years. It was the end of an era not just in railway design but for commuting as well. They might have been cold and draughty in the winter from the iconic sounding slam doors and the ride might not have been as smooth, but with them went proper sprung seats, the guards van (and guard!) and windows that opened all the way!"

One thing that does concern me is that the ambitious plans to relaunch Erith Market seem to have to all purposes fallen by the wayside. Regular readers may recall that the market was restarted last year, but it lasted less than six weeks. The photo above was taken at the relaunch event of the market, and shows the then Conservative London Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith with leader of Bexley Council Teresa O'Neill talking to a stall holder - interestingly that was the only time that particular stall came to the market. Click on the photo for a larger version. When the market was restarted in the Spring of last year, many readers who contacted me at the time were very keen for the newly relaunched market to succeed, but they felt that it was being “set up to fail”. The fact that the market was only being held on a Wednesday, and not also on Saturdays was raised as a major restriction on how successful it could be. One concerned reader wrote at the time:-“ I hear are giving Erith Market a trial go. When they know it will fail before they start. They only seem to be catering for the unemployed and the elderly. Because they are the only ones that can go to the market. The market should have been bigger and on Wednesdays and Saturdays like it used to be. Saturdays for the people that go to work all week”.  I think the sentiment is to be applauded – the market needs to be accessible to as many people as possible – not just those who are able to attend on what for many people is a working day. Opening on Saturdays would be a bonus for all parties in my opinion, and would also benefit the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, as shoppers attracted to the market from Morrison’s would quite likely also visit the shopping centre. There was what initially appeared to be some good news on the horizon though; I understood that Bexley council had submitted a planning application to expand the size of the market up to thirty two stalls. This would return the market to the kind of size it was in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s when it was located on the Pier Road car park, and held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It was always a very well attended event. Since this application was submitted, things have gone very quiet, and if my suspicions are correct, the plans for a relaunch may well have been quietly shelved. If any reader has information regarding this issue, please contact me in confidence by Emailing me at

Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association have published the following warning of another phone scam that is currently aimed at vulnerable people in the local area:- “We have received many reports of telephone calls supposedly from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. HMRC NEVER telephone! The caller claims that you have unpaid taxes and that unless you speak to a case worker and clear the debt, you will face arrest and a law suit. The caller has an aggressive tone and is threatening. The call comes from 0203 322 7241 but can also be made from similar numbers. Please warn everyone you know, especially the elderly or vulnerable.” There have also been several reports of anti-social and threatening behaviour from masked youths riding bikes. Police in Barnehurst report that youths on off road bikes in Martens Grove Park  have been identified and issued with a section 59 warning, which means if he is seen to ride again in an antisocial manner then the bike will be seized and possibly destroyed. Other illegal biker, quite likely members of the Bike Life TV UK gang, who are illegally riding motor and quad bikes on Norman Road, Lower Belvedere near to the recycling centre. Groups are turning up in the early evenings and using the area as a racing ground. This is causing issues for the staff at the centre, who are being intimidated by the group. If anyone has any information about anyone they know who uses this area as a race track then please get in contact with the police.

Nationwide supermarket chain Morrison's are in hot water this week; they have just been subject to a heavy fine from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for spamming customers with unsolicited marketing Emails, after the customers had specifically asked to be unsubscribed. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the company had broken the law when it deliberately sent more than 200,000 emails to people who had previously opted out of receiving such emails. The emails, sent between October 24 and November 25 2016, were titled "Your account details" and went out to Morrisons More loyalty cardholders that had opted out of Morrisons More card marketing. According to the ICO, the message told cardholders that they had opted out of such emails – then asked them to change their preferences to start receiving coupons and points. It also helpfully "provided directions on the steps to follow to opt back in to receive marketing". The email was sent out to 236,651 people, but only 130,671 emails were successfully received. In an unsurprising twist, one of the recipients was irritated that they received the email despite having unsubscribed from Morrisons' direct marketing – and reported the chain to the ICO. The ICO's investigation found that the email in question "would be in itself sent for the purposes of direct marketing, and so is subject to the same rules as other marketing emails". In deliberately sending the emails, the ICO said, Morrisons had deliberately contravened the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, and issued it with the fine, to be paid by July 13th. In an interview with The Register website,  Deputy Information Commissioner Simon Entwistle said: "It is vital that the public can trust companies to respect their wishes when it comes to how their personal information is used for marketing. These customers had explicitly told Morrisons they didn't want marketing emails about their More card. Morrisons ignored their decision and for that we've taken action."

The end video this week is of a historic local structure that very few people are actually aware of. Howbury Moat in Slade Green - Ancient Monument - Grade II Listed Tithe Barn. Between Slade Green and Crayford Marshes is Howbury Moat, a moated site dating from around 900 AD that originally surrounded Howbury Manor House. Past Lords of the Manor included Bishop Odo of Bayeux, brother of William the Conqueror, who was given land for the part he played in the Battle of Hastings. This was formerly the manor of Howbury, recorded simply as Hov in Domesday Book, from the Old English hōh, a heel of land. Slade Green was first mentioned in the 16th century, but the name is probably of earlier origin. A ‘slade’ was “a little dell or valley; or a flat piece of low, moist ground” and it was certainly the latter meaning that applied here. The ruins and moat of the house called Howbury constitute a scheduled ancient monument, and a Jacobean tithe barn survives, but in deteri­orating condition. The structures are on private land and are not generally accessible to the public but can be seen from a nearby footpath. Give the video a watch and please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

1 comment:

  1. I like the little bit on the vcr, I would add that the role of the porn industry cannot be underestimated in the take up of VHS . The point about Bexley council being very poor with their duties regarding green spaces is very well founded,I live in Salford close and our terraced gardens are close to derelict,I sit in there most days to read and despair at the state they are in.