Sunday, March 15, 2020


I took the upper photo above last week; in case you were wondering what a bar in Fitzrovia, just around the corner from the landmark BT Tower is doing on a Blog about events in and around the North part of the London Borough of Bexley, read on, and I will explain. Regular and long term readers will recall that I wrote extensively about Potion Bar in Erith High Street (historical photo shown in the lower of the two photos above) - the notorious drug den and hive of scum and villainy, which was eventually closed down back in 2014. The lower photo of Erith Potion was taken back in 2011. The building in the upper of the two photos above - click on it for a larger view - was the other branch of Potion, though in fact it was a far more upmarket wine and cocktail bar in a very nice part of the West End of London. The two branches were owned by a couple of nefarious businessmen, of whom I have heard some worrying stories. The two Potion bars were only in existence for a handful of years. The Erith branch caused much concern to local residents. As I have previously written, the erstwhile owners of Potion were in deep trouble with both Bexley Council and the Police, even before the place opened to the paying public. The building had previously been a pub called the White Hart, and not only was it fitted with a green, salt glazed tile exterior (the green tiles were made locally – the green colouring was a characteristic of Erith tiles) and ornate, acid etched windows, both dating from Victorian times, but it also had a pretty pub sign hanging from a bracket. When Potion took over, these features were all ripped out and destroyed, even though the Council specifically prohibited them from doing so. Not only was the White Hart a grade II listed building, but it was located in a conservation area. The new owners then installed a hideously inappropriate plate glass frontage which looked completely out of place. Bexley Council did go to great lengths to prosecute the owners of Potion. Initially they issued an enforcement order, which instructed Potion to install a replica of the original Victorian pub frontage -  Potion was then given a period of six months to comply with the order, which ended on the 8th April 2010. They did not undertake any work to restore the appearance of the building, and in the first hearing at Bexley Magistrates Court on the 16th July 2012, neither defendant appeared. Arrest warrants were then issued by the court for the owners. A new trial was set on the 18th December 2012 at Bromley Magistrates Court. The owners of Potion pleaded guilty to all charges, to which they were fined a paltry £350, plus £500 in court costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge. Bexley Council Legal Services were then authorised to commence injunction proceedings against Potion, and the ownership of Potion was subsequently taken over by the freeholders of the building. It was then closed down some months later. The Fitzrovia branch closed shortly thereafter, and the current owners subsequently refurbished the bar and opened it as Simmons music and cocktail bar. The Erith Potion is now the White Hart African Restaurant, and the hideous plate glass frontage was removed, and a close replica of the original Victorian frontage was installed a couple of years ago. Feedback and comments to

One of my favoured sources of accurate and up to date information on IT and technical related issues is the excellent website – The Register. Stories that get into the general press usually break on The Register at least a day earlier, and in greater detail. The site is very tongue in cheek, and often finds a humorous angle on technology issues. It broke a story a while ago, that caught my attention; an employment agency are looking for programmers who have skills in writing and maintaining software for the DEC PDP-11 series of mini computers. What is so unusual about that? I hear some of you ask. Well, the PDP 11 computer range was first introduced in 1970, and went out of general production in 1990. They are absolute antiques nowadays. The machines were large – even a relatively small installation would be the equivalent of three or four full height fridge freezers, plus a terminal the size of a small school desk. By any modern standards they are museum pieces – indeed, The National Museum of Computing does have some examples of PDP hardware in its collection. When they were first offered for sale, they offered a relatively cheap and reliable entry into business and industrial computing; indeed many PDP 11’s were used to control machine tools in factories – some of the early car welding robots were controlled in this way. Other key users were (and in some cases still are) large banks and insurance companies, who require reliability and very high up time over performance and the latest features. Quite often the old computers such as the PDP 11 range are still employed on the “back end” systems that the customers (and indeed many of the staff) never see. Many of such organisations are exceptionally risk averse, and would rather support an ancient technology than take a chance on upgrading to a modern alternative that may have new and undocumented bugs, possibly causing loss of earnings and damage to reputation. I know that there are a small handful of independent contractors who earn a very good living continuing to support these old clunkers – because the knowledge required to maintain and repair the hardware and software is so specialised, they are able to charge pretty much what they like for their services, as they have their clients “over a barrel” – nice work if you can get it. My first foray into the world of “serious” computers was back in the early 1980’s, when I had a Saturday job as an assistant in Silica Shop in Sidcup. During the 1980’s, Silica Shop were the largest privately owned, independent computer retailers in the UK. They specialised in the early 8 – bit home computers, especially the range made by Atari – for whom they were the European dealers. Silica Shop had its’ HQ in Hatherley Road, Sidcup, where there was a large retail unit on the lower floor of the two storey building, and on the upstairs was a warehouse, an office, and an air conditioned computer room, which housed a large DEC PDP 11- 44 mini  computer - almost identical to the one in the photograph above. As well as working in the shop on Saturdays, I was also able to work during school holidays; during this time I would sometimes be called out of the shop to help the computer system administrator, who for a while made me his unofficial assistant. I learned lots about working with large scale business computers, and all of the basics of system administration – adding and removing users, changing security settings, creating files, running batch processes and the like. Even back then, the 11-44 was quite an elderly piece of kit – the company having purchased the machine second hand, as new they were well over two hundred thousand pounds, depending on the specification and peripherals required. One quirk of the 11-44 operating system was that you could not reformat the large 8 inch floppy disks it used (earlier versions of the machine used reels of magnetic tape). In order to re – use the expensive floppy disks, you first had to manually wipe them of data using a degaussing machine – which was basically a large electromagnet. I think everyone was scared of the degausser – it hummed and buzzed, occasionally emitting a crackle of electricity, accompanied by a faint smell of ozone. I think even by the lax health and safety standards of the time, the machine should have been condemned! What I did to avoid the dreaded machine was looking back, pretty imaginative. The computer room had several old – style telephones with rotary dials. I would place a small pile of disks underneath a phone, then ring it from another extension. The bell ringer built into the phone was an electromagnet, and in ringing it would wipe the disks! Silica Shop wrote their own customer database; what would nowadays be called a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. Whenever someone came into the shop and bought something, a sales docket would be completed by the shop assistant. It included the buyer's name, address and what they bought, along with an itemised total. Each item of stock was allocated a unique part number, which staff could look up on VT100 computer terminals in the shop, which would also record how many of that particular item were left in stock; the real old hands would know most, if not all of the popular stock item codes off the top of their heads. When the stock level got down to a certain point, the system would automatically place a re – order, and debit the company account accordingly. The system would also target postal advertising at customers according to what they had already purchased – there was no point in sending a leaflet on Atari 800XL software to a customer who had bought a Commodore 64 for example. All this is targetted advertising is routine nowadays, but back in 1983 it was unique, and debatably the most sophisticated customer database used anywhere in the United Kingdom. My own thoughts are that if Silica Shop had taken this ground breaking business software and ported it onto the then new IBM PC, they would have had a huge business in selling and supporting enterprise level CRM applications now. Instead they continued to shift boxes of home computers, and eventually went out of business in the mid 1990’s. If the management had employed a more creative vision, Silica Shop could have been a global software name like Oracle now. I have to say that I learned more about computing in my few years working at Silica Shop than I have learned anywhere else. My entire career in IT has been built on stuff I picked up in a quiet side street in Sidcup. 

The world's first female motorist was an Erith based lady called Kate Gildersleeves; she was the wife of engineer and inventor Edward Butler. They can be seen in the upper of the two photographs above, along with their niece. Edward Butler invented the motor car before Karl Benz in Germany, who is popularly thought to be the inventor. this three-wheel fore-car had an elegant 650cc twin-cylinder, four-stroke, water-cooled engine with electric spark ignition. Years ahead of DeDion and Boulton, the Petrol-Cycle made Gottleib Daimler’s “Reitwagen” look like something from the Medieval Period. Butler designed his “Velocycle” while working for an engineering company and filed for a provisional patent in 1884 under the title “A petroleum motor tricycle or small automobile carriage since it is not provided with auxiliary pedalling [sic] gear and was fitted with a comfortable seat and footboard.” That year he exhibited drawings of the vehicle at Stanley Cycle Show in London and in 1885 at the Inventions Exhibition, but neither produced financial backing. Unknown to the English inventor, in Germany Karl Benz was developing his own gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, as was Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. In 1887 he filed for a limited patent and began actual work on the Velocycle, now renamed “Petrol-Cycle” (this is the first known use of the word “petrol”) in the machine shop of F.B. Shuttleworth—an engineer, designer of torpedo boats, and boiler builder—and it was fabricated by the Merryweather Fire Engine Company in Greenwich. The Petro-cycle originally had a two-stroke engine with a magneto ignition when it was test ridden in 1888 at the Invicta Works in East London. Between 1888 and 1890, Butler converted the engine to four-stroke, replaced the magneto ignition with a battery and coil, and invented a spray carburettor he called the “Inspirator.” (Wilhelm Maybach would not invent his spray carburettor until 1893.) In Edward Butler's patent application in 1884, he described the Butler Petrol Cycle thus:- "In this machine one gallon of petroleum or benzolene is designed to furnish sufficient power to accomplish a run of forty miles, at a speed of from three to ten miles per hour. At each side is a motor cylinder whose pistons operate in the four-stroke cycle . . . The pistons operate a crank shaft carried by the rear or driving wheel bearings, the hub of this wheel at one side inclosing a specially devised epicyclic [sic] gear by which the motion of he shaft is communicated to the driving wheel axle in the ratio of six to on. The shaft also carries a flywheel, mounted to be as close as possible to the spokes of the driving wheel. The motor cylinders are each controlled by a balanced rotating valve, and both cylinders are supplied with explosive mixture by drawing air through an inspirator situated over an oil reservoir contain a supply of benzolene, or a similar petroleum product. A valve regulates the oil feed, and the mixture of air and oil spray formed in the atomizer is volatilized before distribution to the cylinders. The compressed charges are alternately ignited by an induced current of electricity passing across terminals fixed in the cylinder covers, the current being generated by a small single-fluid battery under the seat. Stopping and starting is effected by raising and lowering the driving wheel from the ground by a foot lever, the weight of this portion of the machine being then thrown upon small caster wheels. . . . the crank shaft is set in motion by a handle before the driver mounts to his seat. The speed of the motor is regulated by a throttle valve lever, shown at one side, and over-heating is prevented by water circulating through a radiating tank over the driving wheel. The tank is of 3½ gallons capacity, but with a very large proportionate surface. Steering is effected by a pair of rocking handles actuating the front wheels, which move on separate pivots, and the brake is applied to both of these wheels by a foot lever. The diameter of the wheels is 32 inches, and the whole of the framing and the engine rods are made of oval steel tubing". Butler used to run his vehicle on local roads, most notably he used the long and relatively straight Manor Road as his main area for testing; thus Manor Road in Erith is the world's first automotive test track. Butler's wife Kate, commonly known as Kitty used to drive the car on a regular basis, though as far as I can tell, there are only photos of her as a passenger, not as the driver. Kitty thus became the world's first female driver. As if this was not enough, Edward Butler coined the term "Petrol". Unfortunately Edward and Kitty faced a real problem - British law at the time. The Locomotives On Highways Act of 1865 limited all self-propelled vehicles to a speed limit of 2 mph in towns and 4 mph in rural areas. In addition, it required three people to attend to the vehicle, one of which had to walk in advance of the vehicle waving a red flag to warn people of its approach. In the 1890 issue of The English Mechanic, he wrote, “The authorities do not countenance its use on the roads, and I have abandoned in consequence any further development of it.” He sold his patents to Harry Lawson. Upon the repeal of the Red Flag Act in 1896, Butler and his wife took at least one last ride in the Petrol-Cycle on the roads of Erith—his diaries allege reaching a speed of 12 mph - before selling it as 163 pounds of scrap metal. (The weight of the machine was 280 pounds so it seems plausible that the “very compact motor” was salvaged.) Henry John “Harry” Lawson was a bicycle designer of note who clearly saw the future of the internal combustion engine. He acquired exclusive English rights to manufacture the De Dion-Bouton and Bollée vehicles and, in 1896 after acquiring English patent rights from Gottlieb Daimler, formed the Daimler Motor Company Ltd. and the British Motor Syndicate. Ironically, it was Lawson’s successful lobbying that resulted in the repeal of The Red Flag Act in November of 1896, the major obstacle Butler faced in obtaining financial backing to manufacture his vehicle. Despite the failure of this venture, Edward Butler did not immediately fade into obscurity - he published papers on internal combustion engines and carburettors until at least 1920 - yet, his place in automotive history has been eclipsed by that of Diamler, Benz, Maybach, De Dion-Boulton, Duyrea, and a host of others. It is unknown if any aspects of his inventions were incorporated into later ventures such as Daimler cars, but there is one thing he created that has endured to the present day: the word “petrol.” 

The photo above is a part of the history of Erith. It shows the now long gone interior of the old Manor Fish Bar, which used to be in Manor Road, on the corner of Crescent Road. When I first moved to Erith in 1996 the fish bar was run by an Iranian couple who had recently purchased the shop. They were excellent – the fish was immaculately cooked, reasonably priced, very tasty and served in large portions. On occasion I would go into the shop not long before it was due to close; rather than giving me a piece of fish from the warming cabinet, they would always insist on cooking it for me from fresh. The wife spoke very little English, but when I saw her in the street, or shopping in Morrison’s, she would always smile and say “hello”. They were by far the best proprietors of the shop in my experience. The photo below was taken during their tenure – it shows the 1950’s vintage marble effect Formica that lined the shop. It was kept immaculately clean and tidy. I had a gut feeling that if I did not take the photo when I did (September 2005) it would not be around for much longer. I was correct; only a couple of months later, the Iranian couple sold up and moved on. Over the next few years the shop changed hands a number of times, and it got progressively worse with each new owner. Eventually back in 2014 the place was gutted, and the historic Formica interior was destroyed to make way for the King of the Grill kebab shop, which has been there ever since. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Over the past week Barnehurst have had no reported burglaries however there was an attempted burglary in Brasted Road on Saturday 7/03/2020 at 00:45 hours. The victim heard someone attempting the rear door handle. This was followed by the victim's dog barking. On looking out a white male was seen making off over the garden fence. In Swallow Close two males were seen vandalising a parked vehicle. Both males fled when they realised they were being watched. Police attended and found the vehicle had been stolen, the vehicle has since been recovered and the owner aware. In Parkside Avenue on Tuesday 10/03/2020 at 07:00am victim found registration plates LV61HTT had been removed from a vehicle in Parkside Avenue.   On Wednesday 18/03/2020 at 11.00am we will be holding our community contact session at Barnehurst Golf Club. We look forward to seeing you". Belvedere ward:- "The team assisted our colleagues in Thamesmead Moorings with two warrants toward the end of last week. Both took place after information given to Police by members of the public relating to suspected drug misuse. Over last weekend there were two reported attempted burglaries in Picardy Road and Elstree Gardens. There were also two reported residential burglaries in Bunkers Hill and Heathdene Drive. There were no signs of forced entry at either location and both addresses were broken into whilst residents were asleep (through the night). At the incident in Heathdene Drive two cars were stolen form the driveway after car keys were taken from the house – one of these vehicles has now been recovered. We have also completed a warrant at an address in Lower Belvedere this week after information relating to suspected drug dealing from the property. This investigation is ongoing at this stage". Bexleyheath ward:- "03/03/20 Other Theft Mobile phone stolen after being put down in Metro Bank, Bexleyheath Broadway 02/03/20 1800 – 03/03/20 1400 Theft From Motor Vehicle Rochester Drive no signs of forced entry to car but items from within stolen 04/03/20 1825 Attempted Burglary Rochester Drive Back Patio Door – Glass Smashed No Entry gained Nothing Taken, believed to have been disturbed by homeowner returning 04/03/20 1600 – 05/03/20 0800 Theft from Motor Vehicle Latham Road Tools stolen from van which was left locked and secured 03/03/20 1600 Theft iPod left at Creams, Broadway Bexleyheath when returned items have been stolen 05/03/20 1945 Criminal Damage Garden Avenue – Brick thrown at window 06/03/20 1400 Theft Kings Arms, Broadway, Bexleyheath - Oil stolen from location 07/03/20 1330 – 2300 Burglary Other Theft Marriott Hotel; Items stolen from within hotel room Please revisit home security and ensure that you have deterrents in place to prevent crime, lights on timers, alarms, security lights outside, and ensure side/back gates are locked". Crayford ward:- "Another week of mainly vehicle related crime but unfortunately there have also been some burglaries. On Wednesday 4th March it was reported that two Males pushed their way in to an address in Iron Mill Lane demanding watches and cash, they appeared to know the victims, they left with nothing. On approx. Wednesday 26th February it was noted that a bank card and £500 cash was missing from an address in Cray Close, not known by what means it was taken. Overnight between Thursday 5th and Friday 6th March a shed was broken in to in Dale Road, entry made by moving bins to gain access to side gate, a motorcycle was stolen with the registration plate of GK18VJU. A white Transit van was stolen from Thames Road between 19.00 on Thursday 5th March and 7.55 on 6th March, registration number DN08ORU, this van is distinctive. A Hermes delivery driver had his vehicle, a silver Mazda, registration YR05MPF stolen from Iron Mill Lane on 6th March at approx. 19.56 hours. Keys, wallet, phone and parcels were also taken at this time. A catalytic converter was stolen from a red Honda Civic between Monday 2nd and Sunday 8th March from Old Road. Number plates LY16KVA were stolen from a black Nissan Note between 12.20 and 12.25 Saturday 7th March at Tower Retail Park. The rear number plate GU12 JZE was stolen off a silver Peugeot whilst parked at Heatherbank Close on Saturday 7th March. Front and rear number plates F11KHP were stolen from a grey Ford Fusion whilst parked at Chapel Hill on Tuesday 10th March between 10.00-10.40. We completed some Met Trace visits at Woolbrook Road on Saturday 7th March, this will be an ongoing project over the coming weeks. Officers from our team assisted with a knife arch initiative at Barnehurst BR Station. They have also recovered some stolen vehicles. Our next community contact session will be on Friday 20th March at Crayford Library between 10.00-11.00, please come along for a chat if you are in the area". 

Fire crews from the three stations in the borough (Sidcup, Bexleyheath and Erith) recently attended a training exercise at the Coca-Cola factory in Sidcup. This was done in partnership with Coca-Cola and allowed the crews to practice carrying out search and rescue of workers following a simulated chemical spill. The exercise went well, with all three ‘missing' workers being located and rescued.

Erith ward:- "An incident occurred on Thursday 27th February at Erith Leisure Centre in the Swimming Pool changing rooms at approximately 15:55pm. 3 lockers were broken into and items including bank cards were taken. Car keys, and house keys, were also taken and a car was stolen from the car park disabled bay with badges in window. This week the PCs on the team have been carrying out plain clothes patrols in hotspot areas, which include stop and searches, We have been doing daily weapon sweeps across the ward as part of a Bexley wide operation. No burglaries this last week in Erith but theft from and of motor vehicles is still on the increase. High street patrols in Erith at school closing times". Northumberland Heath ward:- "Good News no Burglaries reported this week. The team having been completing weapon sweeps on Northumberland Heath Recreation , Horsa road and Northumberland Park. Nothing found. The wall has been removed in Northumberland Park preventing youths congregating and smoking drugs. A new secure fence has been put up to prevent youths from damaging the centre. Theft of motor vehicle from Ightham Road and theft from motor vehicle on Colindale Ave. The team have also seized a dangerous dog and the investigation is still ongoing". Slade Green and Northend ward:-"No crime trends happening over the last week which is good news. PC's Mark and James have completed patrols over the whole ward in the last week culminating in 6 stop-and-searches with 3 positive results. Operation Sceptre is run in relation to knife related crime and we have completed weapon sweeps in Rainbow Road, Frobisher Road and in and around Orchard House, no weapons found. PCSO Mark has twice visited Little Daydreams Nursery at Orchard House this week, spending time with the young children and partaking in story time as well as their other activities. He has also made a visit to Peareswood Primary School on World Book Day last week and popped in every class to say hello to all the pupils. Our next Community Contact Session is on Saturday 21/03/2020 from 9am at the Forest Road Café". Thamesmead East ward:-"No Burglaries this week. If you have a video doorbell such as a Ring device and you get alerted to someone up to no good, please report this. We can often identify suspects who are blissfully unaware of the doorbell camera. Even when having hoods up we often get good facial images which are useful in identifying individuals. If this happens, please report online at This will then come through to us so we can arrange to collect the footage. We will come to your property with a USB memory stick to copy it to. Motor Vehicle Crime - Southmere Drive Saturday 7/3/20 10:30am victim informed by member of public that suspects were seen trying to break into victim's van. Victim reports x3 drill holes were seen in the passenger slide door. Entry not gained, nothing taken. Fairway Drive Monday 9/3/20 4am – 4:37pm Front number plate removed from Nissan Leaf. St John Fisher Road Tuesday 10/3/20 9:15am – Wednesday 11/3/20 7am Victim reports vehicle broken into, nothing reported as stolen at time of reporting. St Brides Close Tuesday 10/3/20 4pm – Wed 11/3/20 9:10 Victim reports front passenger widow smashed, nothing taken. Wolvercote Road Tuesday 10/3/20 7:30pm – Wednesday 11/3/20 9am Victim reports driver's side window smashed, nothing taken. Kale Road Wednesday 11/3/20 6am 6:15am victim reports Theft from motor vehicle. The team were working in partnership with Police Scotland conducting arrest enquiries which proved successful after a male was arrested at New Eltham Station. The team recovered a Suzuki Jeep which had been stolen since October 2019 in Hartslock Drive". West Heath ward:-"We have had one burglary reported to us this week in Brixham Road. The burglary took place between Friday March 6th t 12.00 – Sunday 08/03/20 at 13.35 when the victim returned and discovered the incident after a short break. Entry was gained by smashing the window on the back door and conducting an untidy search of the property. A quantity of cash and jewellery was stolen. Theft of a BMW from Woolwich Road between Friday 06/03/20 - Saturday 07/03.20. Last week I reported that two Skodas that were stolen by means of a burglary in Chessington Avenue had both been recovered, sadly this was not the case and just one was found which had sustained damage. The team have been extremely busy as usual and have had some good results over the past week. A number of stop and searches were made across the ward which resulted in two suspects found in possession of drugs being dealt with by an out of court disposal. Two arrests were also made for outstanding suspects who were wanted on warrants".

The end video this week features a time lapse film of traffic on the River Thames adjacent to Erith Pier. Do give it a watch and Email any comments to

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