Sunday, May 31, 2020

Death trap.

I took the photos above (click on either to see a larger version) on Monday afternoon; the great weather at the time made the view over Erith Riverside Gardens and the River Thames look particularly attractive. The small number of people using the gardens were socially distancing themselves in a responsible manner. 

The Co-Operative Society has strong roots in the Erith area. A co-operative shop was opened in Erith in 1868 by Sir William Anderson of Easton and Anderson engineering. The shop unfortunately soon failed, as it refused to give credit, and was patronised mainly by the emerging middle classes, for whom it was not intended.  1868 also saw a much more successful launch of the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society at Woolwich. By 1881 they had extended the delivery of bread and groceries into Erith. On the 30th March 1882, a co-op branch store, costing £1,225 was opened on the corner of Manor Road and what is now James Watt Way. A reading room was provided on the first floor by the society's education committee, and supplied newspapers and periodicals for public use. In 1887 this was extended to form a purpose built district library, with a budget of a whole £30 to purchase books. Over the years the trade increased with the surge in growth of the local population, to the point came where the building was not large enough, and new premises were constructed in 1893. It was not very long until this co-operative library fell into disuse, when the Andrew Carnegie sponsored public library in Walnut Tree Road opened in 1906. Records show that the co-operative library had some strange rules in respect of their employees. The first manager of the Manor Road based library was a Mr. James Hall, who had left school at the age of eleven. He was soon promoted to General Manager on the condition that he got married within three months of the appointment! He eventually got spliced four months after his appointment, but this was deemed to be near enough for his employers. Hall eventually rose to become General Manager of the RACS from 1902 until his retirement in 1918.

I came across the advert above in an old map of Erith that I have had for absolutely ages. It was old when I was given it. Hedley Mitchell was the largest and by far the most important shop in the old Victorian Erith town centre. It was the towns' department store, and as large and grand as Hides in Bexleyheath. Many older local residents recall Hedley Mitchell with great affection. The store had a very high reputation for formal service. It was the first building to be demolished when work began to create the new (and subsequently much hated) brutalist concrete shopping centre in 1966. In fact the first act of demolition was carried out by the then Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mrs M Barron, ceremoniously smashed the window of Hedley Mitchell's store to mark the commencement of the demolition of Erith Town Centre to make way for redevelopment. As a consequence, all the existing Victorian buildings were lost. With hindsight, this was a terrible mistake - the existing town centre should have been sympathetically restored. I gather that this was considered, but would have cost too much money; instead they built a relatively cheap but undeniably ugly replacement out of bare concrete. I don't know anyone who had a good word to say about it. Consequently a lot of businesses upped sticks and moved to Bexleyheath or Northumberland Heath, and it is only now, over fifty years later that much of the social and economic damage is being put right. The current Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is actually a very clever redesign of the much hated sixties structure, rather than a ground up new build, but it has been done with taste and sensitivity - something entirely missing in the original, which was a smelly and soulless concrete monstrosity, detested by all.

Following my article last week about the number of traffic accidents happening in and around the junction of Danson Road and Park View Road, directly outside of the main entrance to Danson Park, I have been contacted by the same local resident, with a photo of a further accident. The correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes:- "Well, I couldn't believe when on the 24th at about 10.30pm, I heard an almighty, 'boom!' - looking outside was the smoking wreckage of a car that appeared to have been unaware of the interchange and smashed into the central reservation, then into the pavement.  This, only 2 days since the last accident.  Both incidents seemed to involve youngsters.  I wonder if alcohol was involved as there appeared to be friends of the involved coming out of the park? I think you will agree that this accident looks worse than the last one. I hope that no one was waiting to cross the road at the central reservation at the time". Have you had any experiences regarding this very dangerous road junction that some local residents are now referring to as a death trap? Email me with your details to in confidence. 

Pac-Man, the biggest arcade game of all time, turned 40 years old last week. Released by the Japanese company Namco on May the 22nd, 1980, Pac-Man was like nothing else at the time. At a time when Space Invaders and Asteroids and other games with abstracted, monochrome graphics ruled the arcade, Pac-Man offered a striking, cartoonish design with an appealing central character. It revolved around eating, not shooting; and it was designed to appeal to young women and couples, not spotty nerks in anoraks (although they all played it too). The colourful design and unique collect-the-dots maze gameplay—plus the wonderful tension of running away from those ghosts, then scrambling to eat them once you got a power pellet—made Pac-Man almost instantly addictive, eating ten pence pieces as rapaciously as its protagonist swallowed pixels. By one count, Namco sold 400,000 Pac-Man machines, head and shoulders above anything that had come before, or since. And it is still highly playable and popular in a way its contemporaries are not—few people are paying for Asteroids or Space Invaders updates today, but Namco Bandai still makes and sells variations on Pac-Man on every platform imaginable. Pac-Man’s ubiquity was our first indication that games were about to become the dominant entertainment medium of the information age. (It also arguably marked the beginning of Japan’s impending pop-cultural invasion of the rest of the world, even if players at the time didn't know where it came from.)

Here is an account, which was written back in 1983, of how local man Bob Shrimpton spent much of World War II:- "During the war, being employed in what was known as a ‘reserved occupation’, I enlisted (a euphemism – I had no choice) in the 56th Battalion Home Guard disrespectfully known as Dads’ Army. I became a private first class in No. 1 Platoon A Company. Platoon HQ was in a tin hut at the rear of the Belvedere Social Club in Nuxley Road and Company H.Q. was in a villa, long since demolished, which stood on the corner of Woolwich Road and Essenden Road. At the time I joined full kit and weapons were available. Most of the platoon rode bicycles to parades with full kit including army boots, a greatcoat in winter and a .303 rifle slung across the shoulders. It took a lot of practise to mount and dismount. If one ran with the bike and cocked ones leg over the saddle too hurriedly, the weight of all this equipment could hurl one flat on the ground. As in Dads’ Army we had our characters who could obtain anything for you - at a price. There was a slit trench in the front garden at Essenden Road and a sentry was supposed to jump into this when an air-raid was in progress. One night it poured with rain nearly all night. A raid was on and the duty sentry was trying to keep dry in the trench whilst some of us were in the house porch watching the raid. Suddenly there was a great agonising howl of rage. The rainwater had burst through the sand bags around the top of the trench and poured straight down the back of the sentry’s trousers! Once a month we did sentry duty at Battalion H.Q. in the mansion that once stood at the corner of Bexley Road and Park Crescent. ( The original Battalion Commanding Officer was Lt. Col. Briggs and later LT. Col. Tobin. Military exercises were held from time to time with other platoons. Our platoon Commander was Lt. Butler and his second in command was Lt. Shirras, who was the manager of Reeson’s Chemist in the Erith High Street. I remember one summer’s evening Lt. Shirras leading his section stealthily down Clive Road towards the enemy, with his revolver at the ready, when a hoard of youngsters burst upon us whooping and urging us on with shouts of ‘Go it Mr. Get ‘em’. etc. The Lieutenant’s blackened face turned a shade blacker as he shouted ‘-----off you b------ kids.’ He really was an officer and a gentleman though. We held manoeuvres on Belvedere Marshes taking us right through the gypsy encampment. I remember lying in delicious terror by the side of the line near Belvedere railway station with my bayonet a few inches from the live rail whilst trains sped by. One weekend was spent on night manoeuvres at Mount Mascal in North Cray, under the care of the Scots Guards. The night was so dark that it seemed superfluous to blacken one’s face. In fact, because of lack of visibility, our officer lost his platoon! I had been appointed runner, which meant I had to stick to the officer in case he wanted me to take a message – where to, goodness only knows! The officer walked along North Cray Road looking for his platoon when he sensed, rather than saw, a blackened face peering from a hedge, whereupon the following short conversation took place. Officer: ‘Is that No. 1 platoon?’ Blackened Face: ‘Sorry Sir. No, we are the enemy.’ We fired .303 rifles and Lewis guns on a range in the sand-pits right next to Birch Walk. The recruits were always the best shots. One of our platoon worked in the Woolwich Arsenal. He wangled a Sunday morning visit to the small arms proof ranges. There we were, large as life, marching in full kit inside the grounds. It was a different world inside – haystacks, cows grazing etc. We shot at 500 yard range (not at the cows) and we took it in turns to don little waist-coats and mark the shots at the targets. One was supposed to check on the field telephone that the men firing had ceased firing. Something went amiss and as we walked to the targets a bullet sped over our heads fortunately not hitting anyone". Comments to me at

It never ceases to amaze me how concepts and technology originally created as plot devices in science fiction soon become reality. In my opinion, the biggest contributor to this phenomenon has got to be the original 1960's series of Star Trek. Mobile phones, tablet computers, and the 3.5” floppy disk are all devices inspired directly from the original classic TV show. Scientists are now saying that warp drive is theoretically possible, even if we are a huge way off being able to build a starship using warp technology. In essence, a warp drive will exploit a loophole in the law of the speed of light (nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum). Instead of trying to move the ship ever faster, requiring greater and greater input of energy, the warp drive turn the problem on its’ head. Instead of trying to go faster, the warp drive distorts space/time around the starship; in effect the ship remains stationary whilst the  space in front of the ship is contracted, and the space behind the ship is expanded – basically the universe moves around the ship. The concept for a real life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by a Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations revealed that his design would consume prohibitive amounts of energy. Recently physicists have re – examined the calculations, and have discovered a method of redesigning the warp generator to run on significantly less energy, and bringing it back from science fiction and into the realm of (theoretical) science. An Alcubierre warp drive would involve an American football shaped spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn't being warped at all. Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light.  The really amazing  thing is space-time, the actual fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light, and can be warped. With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit. This is all very well in theory, but some absolutely staggering advances in engineering and materials technology will need to be made before this ever approaches practicality. Having said that, it is very cool indeed.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Barnehurst Ward has suffered on non-residential burglary at Parkside Parade, Northend Road. The Incident occurred on Thursday 21/05/2020 and was targeted twice in one day. The first time was at approximately 1700 hours and the second time was sometime after midnight. A dark blue Ford transit Connect is believed to be involved on both occasions. Entry was gained via the rear of the property. Goods from the shop were taken on both occasions. CCTV footage has been obtained therefore investigations are ongoing. The team have been responding to calls in relation to residents not adhering to Government's guidelines. Please do not have family and friends round and stick to the guidelines". Belvedere ward:- "During these days of continued testing times the Belvedere Safer Neighbourhood Team continue to patrol the ward both in plain clothes and High visibility form in order to keep residents of the ward safe and any potential criminals away. On Sunday 24th May and in conjunction with other teams on the borough we were able to apprehend and arrest an offender who had been wanted by Police for over 3 years. After complex intel and research this male was traced to an address on the Belvedere ward and was finally apprehended after a dawn raid. He has now been safely returned to her Majesty's pleasure where he will complete his original prison sentence for the next 4 months. With the hot weather now approaching and almost at touching distance a gentle reminder please to continue observing the social distance guidelines. It can become very easy to get carried away with the moment but please do remember about gathering in large groups in parks and open spaces. The guidance states that you can sit in a park but it must only be with persons in your household or at most one person from a different household". Bexleyheath ward:-"Between Thursday 21/05/20 and Friday 22/05/20 – Lidl Bexleyheath – vehicle broken into, work tools stolen. Saturday 23/05/20 - WJ King Bexleyheath – Theft of petrol. Monday 25/05/20 – Lidl Bexleyheath – Public Order offence. We have a very low crime rate again this week which is great news". Crayford ward:- "We have good news to report that there has been no reported burglaries or attempted burglaries, which I believe was the same from last week. Lets hope this continues to stay this way. A theft from motor vehicle was reported on the Wednesday 20/05/2020 along Perry Street at about 13:30 hrs, tools were taken from the back of a van. On the Wednesday 20/05/20 a trailer was stolen from the rear driveway of a shop along Crayford Way. Tools were used to cut the trailer free, incident had occurred at about 19:40hrs. There was report of a criminal damage at Hall Place Bourne Road. Gates had been damaged and there was signs of nitrous oxide canisters also used at the location. This incident had taken place over night from the Tuesday 19/05/20 from about 9 pm until 7:30 am the following day. Just wanted to say Thank You to everyone who continually follow the government guidelines and also for people to continue to help and support one other". Erith ward:-"This week the team has been out on the bikes covering some patrols around Thamesmead, Northumberland Heath as well as Erith. All open spaces patrolled as well as shops in Erith. You can check out our daily bike mapping patrols on out twitter. Crimes of note from the last week. Theft from Motor Vehicle – Erith Park. Theft from Motor Vehicle – Compton Place. No other crimes of note, no burglaries and while there was still 2 Theft from MVs this is down from the 5+ last week. A number of weapon sweeps across Erith have taken place, nothing found. Due to staff numbers this week we have been doing some extra patrols around Northumberland and Northend. Plain clothing patrols across Erith have also been carried out".

Northumberland Heath ward:- "Two drug warrants were executed simultaneously on Wednesday 20/05/20 within Northumberland Heath and Slade Green. A small quantity of cannabis was found which resulted in a community resolution. Weapons were also found in the inside the second property. The team have been working hard with Bexley ASB Team and have been able to install a CCTV camera on Streamway, Erith. Residents have also provided police pictures of local youths causing anti-social behaviour and drug dealing. The team have identified these suspects and have been completing home visits on the individuals. Work is also being completed on serving CPNWs. Six positive stop and searches completed on Steamway, Erith this week with help from neighbouring wards. Officers completed a foot chase in the Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground park on Thursday 21/05/20 which resulted in a male being transported to Bexleyheath Police Station for a strip search and was found to be in possession of cannabis. Also last week there was a fight in the park involving a large group of youths. Response Officers attended the incident and the suspect was identified by the victim and was arrested. There has been reports of youths congregating in the Alleyways of Belmont Road and youths causing ASB and vandalising parked vehicles on Brook Street. These reports are not being reported correctly and victims of crimes need to be contacting 101 to make the local policing team aware . Officers will complete patrols around these hotspot areas. Also great news the team will be getting a new DWO Constable on the 1st June". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "A vehicle was stolen by means of burglary overnight on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 May in Cedar Road. The victim had not locked their UPVC Door by lifting the handle and turning the key, they just shit the door and put the chain on showing how easy it is for someone to gain entry. Also, a passport, mobile phone and cash were all left in the car when it was stolen. Please always ensure your doors are locked correctly and no valuables are left in your vehicle at any time. Please continue to follow government guidelines in regards where we are with lockdown restrictions etc. The team are patrolling as and where we can, when we can so thanks to everyone who is following the guidelines". Thamesmead East ward:- "No Burglaries this week. Vehicle Crime. Maran Way Sunday 17/5/20 between 4pm – 2:20 pm Thurs 21/5/20 Suspect/s have removed both front and rear number plates and replaced with plates from another vehicle. Leatherbottle Green Wednesday 20/5/20 9:50 am Victim stated while at their home address a loud grinding noise was emanating from the front of the property. Looking out from the first floor window victim could see a suspect standing by the front nearside of their vehicle and another suspect underneath. Victim called out from the window and both suspects made off with catalytic converter.. Kale Road. Thursday 21/5/20 between 3pm – 12 noon Fri 22/5/20 Victim states rear number plate stolen by suspect/s unknown". West Heath ward:- "Two motor vehicle crimes of note this week: Theft of a purse containing credit cards and cash in Berkeley Avenue between Sunday 17/05/20 16.00 – Thursday 21/05/2020. Theft of a grey transit van in Glenview on Tuesday 26/05/20 at approximately 14.40pm. One arrest for theft of goods".

The end video this week features some excellent drone footage shot over the River Thames, showing Erith Pier and the surrounding areas. I must apologise on behalf of the content creator; despite some excellent visuals, the videographer has chosen to add some extremely irritating and completely unnecessary music to the piece. I would suggest that you watch the video with the sound muted.

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