Sunday, May 03, 2020

The R101.

I too the photograph above (click on it for a larger view) on Monday evening; it shows illegally fly tipped rubbish at the recycling centre just off James Watt Way in Erith, just behind the large Morrisons supermarket. The rate of fly tipping seems to be back on the increase, after somewhat of a lull. I reported the incident to Bexley Council, and the mess was soon cleaned up. There is CCTV coverage of the recycling site, so hopefully the perpetrators will be identified and prosecuted.

The long suspected end of The News Shopper looks like it is now in sight. The paper has been struggling for several years, and recently it has been discovered that the corporate owners of The News Shopper - a company called Newsquest, are about to put the papers website behind a pay wall.  Readers will be given the option to pay £4.99 per month or £52 per year for unlimited access to articles, with up to 80 per cent less adverts and the ability to leave comments and sign up to email newsletters. The scheme has been launched as Newsquest faces a decline in both advertising revenues and sales figures due to the coronavirus pandemic – a picture seen across the wider news industry. The problem that seems to be specific to The News Shopper website is that each page contains far more advertising and invisible trackers than most other news websites. All of this additional data which is loaded every time you visit the site makes the pages slow to load and "jitter" when you try and scroll down the page, as data is still being loaded. I have spoken to one leading News Shopper journalist - who has since left the company - and he confirmed that staff were acutely aware that the excessive junk being loaded by the website was driving away visitors. As well as this, recent updates to Google's Chrome web browser - now the most widely used web browser in the world - now has advert blocking functionality built in, and switched on by default. Many visitors to The News Shopper website who use Chrome do not see any adverts, or experience page loading problems due to the blocking actions - which many users are totally unaware of. Other web browsers such as Firefox are following suit. Advertisers are seeing a massive drop in click through advert revenue because of this. Putting up a paywall will further exacerbate this situation. Famously some years ago, the Sun website put themselves behind a paywall - and promptly saw their readership figures drop off a cliff. Before long they were forced to remove the paywall due to pressure from advertisers and their readership; from my understanding they have never returned to the reader levels that they had before. 

I had some very nice reader feedback after my obituary piece on pioneering radio figurehead Ronan O'Rahilly, founder of Radio Caroline last week. I had one long time reader ask if I would write a piece on another 1960's offshore radio station that in many ways was the diametric opposite of Radio Caroline - it was the smallest offshore radio station, but it had a very interesting - if brief - history. The Station was called Radio Essex.  It had a staff of about 12 and broadcast 24 hours a day. Everyone on this station did more than one job, the teamwork involved would probably have impressed the military that had been the sea forts original occupier. The tower had originally been an offshore gun emplacement and radar installation, but had been abandoned by the War Department during the middle 50s. Transmissions commenced from Radio Essex on 27 October 1965 on 222m, 1349kHz, with a middle of the road format during the day and pop music at night. The supplies came during favourable weather conditions aboard a small fishing boat called Kestrel. All supplies and even individuals were unceremoniously hauled aboard at the end of a badly frayed rope. The original ladders had been removed by Radio Essex personnel to reduce the possibility of uninvited guests getting aboard the platform. The forts original diesel generators had been fully restored by senior DJ/Fort Captain Richard Palmer, the diesel for which arrived in dozens of five gallon containers. These had to be hauled aboard and painstakingly poured into a former aircraft fuel tank situated on the main deck, where a plastic tube took the diesel to the generator room below.  The staff canteen and recreational area had originally been the officers mess and a store room became the stations studio. This contained two Garrard 401 turntables with Decca pick-ups,one turntable, a Vortexion tape recorder and a Reslo ribbon microphone.  The mixer was built by station engineers which fed a 50W RSC audio amplifier which was linked to the transmitter in the room next door. The transmitter was probably capable of 500W, however, due to the end fed long wire antenna and the rising and falling of the tide, which had the effect of moving the ground plane, the e.r.p. was probably only 200W. Staff worked about three weeks on and one week off, the station was run by Roy Bates and his family from their home in Southend-on-Sea. Towards the end of 1966, Radio Essex relaunched as BBMS 'Britain's Better Music Station' in effort to attract advertising from Kent as well as Essex. This was Britain's first local radio station and unbelievably, was the first British station to go 24 hours a day. It was very popular with night shift workers and had a clear frequency after midnight when co - channel stations closed down. The fort also allegedly had its own ghost or poltergeist. At one point, the entire structure was searched as the DJs were convinced an unknown person was aboard, nobody was found. On the 30th November 1966 BBMS was charged with contravening Section One the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949, making unlicensed broadcasts. The station was found guilty and fined £100, but continued broadcasting. It finally closed at Christmas, when similar court action was being taken against the other fort based stations. The legacy of Radio Essex still exists in a minor way, all BBC local Stations identify themselves as BBC Radio whatever, except one....BBC Essex, where the word Radio is still excluded. It seems inconceivable that offshore radio stations could openly operate from the sea forts, some for a period of almost two years. Yet neither the armed forces, Home Office, the police nor H.M. Coastguard knew, even roughly, where British territorial waters commenced. The Post Office's prosecution involved measuring the territorial limit from any coastal sandbank that became visible at low tide.

Now for a second radio related story, but one that is bang up to date. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, a radio station that was set up in 1989 / 1990 which was specifically given the operating frequency of 558 Khz by what was then the DTI, have recently been wound up by the official receiver. Central London based Spectrum Radio has been issued with a Winding Up Order by the High Court of Justice. Spectrum is one of London’s oldest commercial radio stations, having launched in 1989 to provide multiethnic, foreign language programmes originally on 558AM. The frequency was allocated to the station in 1990 with the specific purpose of jamming Radio Caroline, who had been using the frequency for some years. Today the Spectrum Radio Network offers broadcast services from its premises in Southwark Street and has recently been advertising space available on DAB, and on 1584 Khz AM, which is currently used by Love Sport. Ofcom rules state that a company which has been wound-up cannot own a broadcasting licence, In a recent press interview, an Ofcom spokesperson said: “We will be getting in touch with the liquidators of Spectrum Radio to discuss the future of the licence.” Creditors were contacted earlier this month with details of the Insolvency Practitioners.

The photo above shows Bexley Road, Erith, back in 1910. A row of shops called Station Parade was later built on the site of the tram shelter shown above - it is now the site of the De Luci fish roundabout and the dual carriageway of Bronze Age Way. It is fascinating to see how the local area has changed over the years, not always for the better.  It is interesting to see that the shelter at the tram stop has open sides; knowing how the wind whistles along Bexley Road nowadays, it cannot have been any fun to stand at the tram stop in the winter, as I doubt it would offer very much protection from the weather. The boy in the photo seems to be staring at the photographer. I would imagine he was saying something along the lines of “Mister – wot are you doin?”. A fascinating snapshot of times gone by. If you have any old photographs of the local area which you would like to see featured on the Maggot Sandwich, please drop me a line to

Another historic local photograph, sent to me courtesy of long time Maggot Sandwich reader and occasional contributor who goes my the pseudonym of "The reV". He writes:- "The R101 airship taken possibly 14th October 1929 at the junction of Colman Rd and Gilbert Road in Lower Belvedere, Fords Motor works across the river in the background. The R101 was one of a pair of British rigid airships completed in 1929 as part of a British government programme to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes within the British Empire. It was designed and built by an Air Ministry-appointed team and was effectively in competition with the government-funded but privately designed and built R100. When built, it was the world's largest flying craft at 731 ft (223 m) in length, and it was not surpassed by another hydrogen-filled rigid airship until the Hindenburg flew seven years later. The R101 departed from England on the evening of 4 October 1930 for its intended destination of Karachi (then part of British India) via a refuelling stop in Egypt but sadly crashed in Northern France. Forty-six of the 54 passengers and crew were killed immediately. The inquiry came to the conclusion that a tear had probably developed in the forward cover, this in turn causing one or more of the forward gasbags to fail. Evidence showed that this would cause the R101 to become too nose-heavy for the elevators to correct. She hit the ground at just 13 mph. The cause of the fire was not established. Several hydrogen airships had crashed in similar circumstances without catching fire. The inquiry thought that it was most probable that a spark from the airship's electrics had ignited escaping hydrogen, causing an explosion. Other suggestions put forward included the ignition of the calcium flares carried in the control car on contact with water, electrostatic discharge or a fire in one of the engine cars, which carried petrol for the starter engines. All that is certain is that it caught fire almost at once and burned fiercely. In the extreme heat, the fuel oil from the wreck soaked into the ground and caught fire; it was still burning when the first party of officials arrived by air the next day".

Two former pub sites are now up for redevelopment; one of the two sites is mired in controversy; the developer was subsequently prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. The London Borough of Bexley has commenced statutory consultation on planning applications affecting the future of two significant sites within the ward in question. The first of the two sites is The Belvedere Hotel, at the bottom end of Picardy Road. The three Belvedere councillors met with the owners of the site in April 2019 and made clear their aspirations for the site. This included that any proposed development should maintain the locally listed building and a pub or restaurant use on the ground floor of the current building. The planning application includes proposals to convert the existing building including the ground floor and to extend it to provide 6 flats (2 x 1 bed, 3 x 2 bed and 1 x 3 bed) with the provision of a further three 3-bedroom houses on the site. How a developer will manage to squeeze all of this on the tiny site is beyond me - especially if the requirement to keep the main pub building is met. The car park space could in no way accommodate three houses. The second planning application is for the very controversial site of the former Ye Olde Leather Bottle pub, located at 131 Heron Hill. The three Belvedere councillors have continually raised their concerns about this site over the last five years and the gross breach of health and safety regulations committed by the site owner. The site owner was successfully prosecuted following a Health and Safety Executive investigation initiated by complaints submitted by Cllr Daniel Francis, to which both he and Cllr Hinkley were interviewed and submitted statements. All three councillors are due to hold a virtual meeting with the site owner and members of his development team in early May and will raise the need to ensure due consideration is finally given to neighbours of the site, that the public right of way that runs through the site is maintained, that appropriate boundary treatments are installed to the boundary with Lesnes Abbey woods and whether the development will provide any contribution to affordable housing or local infrastructure. The planning application includes proposals to erect a building of up to four stories containing a 70 bed care home with associated care facilities, staff accommodation, landscaped gardens and undercroft parking. Once again I cannot see how a 70 bed care home with associated facilities could be built on the site - there is just not nearly enough space. What do you think of these proposed developments? Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Once again another week goes by with no burglaries or vehicle crime to report. On Barnehurst Golf Course LFB were called to a fire that had been set alight deliberately. It appears unknown person/s are also chopping trees down in the vicinity of the golf course. Members of the public continue to play golf although the course is closed. The team have advised a number of golfers and all have left the course immediately without any further problems. The team issued two Section 59 warning notices to the drivers who were driving around dangerously in the vicinity of Parkside Avenue and I am pleased to say we have had no further complaints with regards dangerous driving. There appears to be more traffic on the roads over the last few days, lets remind ourselves that the Government's Guidelines still stand so bear in mind social distancing and only travel on public transport if absolutely necessary". Belvedere ward:- "We had a burglary on Tuesday 21/04/2020 in Coleman Road whereby a car was stolen in the early hours of the morning. The car subsequently crashed in Sidcup and the car was recovered. Wilton Road possibly still contains a brothel. We have visited the address in the last couple of months but cannot prove anything at present. If anyone has information about a brothel please let us know. If you are a patron it will be kept in confidence…We have recently been seeing more graffiti regarding the 5G and Covid conspiracy nonsense. There is some on the Thames Path, some on the footbridge over the train tracks on Mitchell Close and now some seen in Franks Park. If anyone is seen causing graffiti please call Police on 999 immediately. We have also had a report that a group of teenagers are congregating on Streamway on the grass area near to the allotments. We have no particular times or days so if anyone knows when they gather please let us know. We have been receiving more and more calls regarding neighbour disputes. In this unprecedented time, everyone (almost) being shut away indoors for the majority of the day, your neighbours will get on your nerves as everyone is stressed out and worried about the future. Please try to get along. Unfortunately we (as a society) have lost the ability to talk to each other, which causes more problems. If your neighbour is doing something to annoy then chat to them, talk it out, don't result to idle threats and name calling as this just leads to at least one party calling the Police and wasting our time. Think before acting. Please pass this message on. Thank you". Bexleyheath ward:- "Thursday 23/04/2020 2330-0030 Arson to vehicle Long Lane. Sunday 26/04/2020 1240-1310 Robbery Commercial cigarettes and alcohol stolen by threats to staff Erith Road. Sunday 26/04/2020 0100-1300 Theft of Motor Vehicle Tudor Walk. Whilst our crimes do remain low at the moment there are still criminals about, please do ensure that doors are double locked with keys and do not keep valuables in your vehicles. Stay Safe and Stay Home please also ensure all members of the household are staying home too, as we are finding many youths out and about. Good news a few groups stopped, searched and dealt with for cannabis Braeside Garage area. Known hotspot for ASB". Crayford ward:- "I am so please to say that there has only been one crime of note this week. Between Friday 17th and Saturday 25th April two vehicles parked outside an address in Samas Way were broken into; the victim saw her car door was unlocked and then her husband found his car door ajar, It was not recorded if anything was stolen. The team have been out and about patrolling open spaces to remind people of the COVID-19 lockdown rules, please abide by the rules. #stayhomestaysafe". Erith ward:-"This last week we been: Patrolling open spaces/parks across Erith and North Heath. Daily visiting all open shops in and around Erith town centre. These are carried out on foot, bike and car Weapon sweeps daily in areas that have come to our notice via the overnight crimes. Crime wise across Erith there has been no burglaries reported or motor crime. We are still under lockdown so remember to stick by the rules set out by the government". Northumberland Heath ward:-" Crime reports are low. Unfortunately we have a few Domestic incidents reported to us during this difficult time .The team have advertised Domestic Violence advice onto our twitter page @NorthumberlandHeath. There has been theft of petrol from Gulf Petrol station on Belmont Road ,Erith which is currently being investigated. Information regarding drug supply on Swanton Road and Northumberland Park also Frinstead Road. Increased patrols will be completed when Officers are available .Northumberland Heath SNT have been working with the ASB Team to see if a camera could be placed in Streamway regarding increased reports of drug activity and youths congregating in the area. If you would like to tell us about a breach of coronavirus please report online met.police.tua/tell-us-about/c19 the please see our twitter page for further information". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "A group of males broke in to the new development site at Egerton Place (Slade Green Road) at 6pm Sunday 26/04 and ran off when challenged but they did take some copper piping. CCTV is being checked. No other crimes of note. PC James found a knife by some garages in Manor Road on Sunday. No evidence to suggest it was used in a crime but it has been disposed of via the correct channels. Patrols have been ongoing in our parks and open spaces and for the most part there has been very little seen in the way of gatherings. Mark and James try and get everywhere as much as they can, when they can. If you do see groups regularly gathering, please report online or via 101". Thamesmead East ward:- "Between 4:30 pm on Wednesday 22/04/20 and 8:00pm on Saturday 25/04/20 a vehicle parked in Wolvercote Road had the rear window smashed. On Thursday 23/04/20 at 04:22 am the LFB attended a vehicle alight in the car park behind Muscovy House Kale Road, a second vehicle parked next the alight vehicle was damaged. Monday 27/04/20 a vehicle parked in Redbourne Drive had the front and rear number plates stolen.this happened after 06:30 am. There has been an increase in theft of vehicle number plates. Consider purchasing a set of Anti - Theft screws or bolts for number plates. Good news - PC Pruden issued a Community Resolution to a female who was in possession of cannabis. A Community Resolution is an alternative way of dealing with less serious crimes, allowing officers to use their professional judgement when dealing with offenders. It can be used for offences such as low level public order, criminal damage, theft, and minor assaults". West Heath ward:-"One attempted burglary in Langley Road this week. This incident took place on Monday 27/04/20 at 11.20pm. A male tried to put his hand through a small broken pane of glass in the front door. Entry was not gained. No reports of motor vehicle crime over the last week. The team are continuing to patrol anti-social hotspots and move people on if necessary with regard to the Covid19 regulations".

The end video this week is from the friars of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic monastery in Northumberland Heath; they describe themselves thus:-"We are a Capuchin Franciscan fraternity serving the parish of Our Lady of the Angels in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, UK. We are a great international community of followers of Jesus, living the Gospel and rebuilding the Church in the UK. Hope you enjoy our services and reflections". The message below is for their congregation, with some information about the pandemic lock down.

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