Sunday, June 07, 2020

The fire.

The photo above - click on it for a larger view - shows two Thames Water vehicles parked at the end of Appold Street with the junction of James Watt Way in Erith. The vehicles have been a familiar sight to local residents for an exceedingly long time. The drains located at the road junction get blocked approximately once a week on average. The Thames Water drainage trucks are such frequent visitors that for many local residents, they have become part of the scenery. It is ironic that at the other end of Appold Street, adjacent to the old road bridge, there is a Thames Water pumping station, which hardly ever seems to get any official attention. It just goes to show that however much things change, they can also stay the same. I originally wrote about the drainage system that leads from Morrison's supermarket and into James Watt Way back in January 2012 I wrote: - "For the last couple of weeks, any shopper unfortunate to walk past the exterior of Erith Morrison's on the side of the building that has the windows into the restaurant area, and that contains the cash machines facing the car park cannot have missed one thing - the awesomely terrible pong.  It was hard to describe in mere words; in the way that garlic is a highly concentrated onion, the stench was like that of an unflushed loo the morning after a night supping pints of Guinness, followed by an extra hot Brussels Sprout and Stilton Vindaloo. My nose hairs shrivelled at the overpowering smell. Anyway, the facilities team at Morrison's got a specialist drain company onto the problem. After sending remote controlled mobile "mole" cameras down the drains, they soon realised the problems were extensive. On Monday evening I saw the drainage engineers lowering a mole camera down a manhole in Wheatley Terrace Road; they spent several hours hunched over the monitors in their van, watching the small device inching its' way along, back towards the supermarket. The next day they were back, with a small fleet of vehicles parked adjacent to the cash machines in Morrison's car park. I asked one of the workers what was going on, and he said that the drainage pipe was blocked pretty much for its' entire length - which stretched from the main supermarket building all of the way to Wheatley Terrace Road - that's around a hundred yards of poo. No wonder it stank! All seems fine now, so the drainage engineers have obviously conquered the aromatic problem. Not a career I would choose, but as the old adage goes - where there's muck, there's brass". It would seem that in the intervening eight years, very little has actually changed. If you have any insight into this situation, please drop me a line to

The photo above - click on it for a larger version - was taken by me on Thursday evening. The householder in one of the three storey town houses in Manor Road, Erith decided to light a large bonfire. He then apparently went indoors to watch TV. The fire got out of control, burned down the neighbours fences on both sides, then spread onto the small patch of wasteland beyond. The Fire Brigade were quickly on the scene - they were concerned that had the fire spread any further, it could have affected the garages of Edwardian Motor Services, behind the plot of waste land. I was told that the garages have Oxy - Acetylene equipment, including gas bottles in them - so it could have been nasty. The fire was put out in a couple of minutes - I have informed my contacts in the Slade Green and Northend Safer Neighbourhood team about the incident - apparently the house holder has had several nuisance bonfires in the past, but this is the first one to really get out of hand. The Police may want to have words with him about fire safety. 

A while ago, I read an excellent book on the recent history of Kent by historian Bob Ogley which recounted an event that I had never even heard about, that happened quite locally back in 1968. In those days Chatham dockyard was still being operated by the Royal Navy as an active base. It employed hundreds of local civilian workers, as well as military personnel. As a side note, the location of the dockyard at Chatham is one of the main reasons the North Kent rail line was built as early as it was; whilst it did serve the then new phenomenon of commuters from South East London and North Kent into central London, the main impetus behind the creation of the rail line so soon after the invention of the steam engine was clear – it was to connect the dockyard with both The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and the Admiralty buildings in central London. The whole of the military operation of Victorian Britain (and thus the Empire) was dependent on the North Kent railway line – something few people nowadays are aware of; I digress – back on August the 17th 1968, a fire broke out on HMS Valiant – (shown in the photo above - click on it for a larger version) a Royal Navy submarine that was in dry dock undergoing a refit. The specialised submarine dock had only been opened in June 1968, and the Valiant was its’ first customer. The submarine dock was constructed between numbers six and seven docks, and was designed for the refit and refuelling of the non-Polaris class nuclear attack submarines employed by the Royal Navy. The base had a huge cantilever crane for the removal of nuclear reactors, an office block, underground workshops and a health centre. The Valiant-class was the first fully British nuclear fleet submarine (the first British nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought, used an American nuclear reactor). There were only two boats of the class, HMS Valiant commissioned in 1966 and Warspite the following year. Both were built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, and based at Faslane during the sixties and seventies.. The class was based on Dreadnought but twenty feet longer and nine hundred tons greater submerged displacement (4900 tons). They also had a Paxman diesel-electric generator for emergencies. In 1967, Valiant set a then Royal Navy record of sailing 12,000 miles (19,312 km) submerged in twenty-eight days, from Singapore to the UK. Whilst in refit, a fire broke out aboard the Valiant, and extensive damage was caused. Both the dockyard fire department, and the civilian Chatham Fire Brigade attended the blaze; there were immediate concerns that a release of radiation could be resultant of the blaze, and nuclear contamination crews were summoned with protective clothing, respirators and Geiger counters. No release of radiation was found, despite intense speculation on the part of both local and national press at the time. The Valiant was successfully repaired, and later returned to active service. Valiant re-commissioned at Chatham in May 1972, later returning for a second refit in 1977. By 1975, Chatham Dockyard was the only Dockyard in Britain to undertake the refitting work of two nuclear submarines - Churchill and Dreadnought - at the same time. This was known as 'dual streaming'. In October 1975, the Dockyard even entered into 'triple streaming'; Churchill awaited re-commissioning at the end of the month; Dreadnought remained in refit and Conqueror entered refit for the first time at Chatham. The older nuclear-powered submarines of the Valiant / Churchill classes were prematurely withdrawn from service as a result of serious cracking in the primary cooling circuits of their nuclear reactors. The Swiftsure class had similar power plants and experienced the same problems. One, HMS Swiftsure, was decommissioned for this reason – if the components affected happen to be located in areas where high radioactivity is present, it is often too dangerous to make a repair - instead that have to be scrapped. HMS Valiant was finally paid off from naval service in 1994. Nowadays HMS Valiant has been decommissioned from the Royal Navy and is stored afloat at Devonport. The defuel (removal of the reactor and all radioactive materials) of HMS Valiant, which was docked in 14 Dock for Dock Down and Lay-up Preparations, was successfully completed and the submarine left 14 Dock on the 6 March 2003. It had been moored in 3 Basin along with other de-fuelled submarines. The problems encountered with the engineering works on the Valiant and other early nuclear submarines was not the one expected – no radiation was released, and no radioactive materials lost. The problem was far more prosaic, but arguably just as deadly. All of the submarines, and pretty much all of the surface vessels refitted at Chatham in the 1960’s and 1970’s used large quantities of Asbestos, both as pipe insulation, and for fire – proofing. Many of the civilian and military personnel were exposed to Asbestos dust during engineering works. As is now well known, exposure to Asbestos particles over time can cause Asbestosis, as well as several types of cancer. Nationwide there are nearly five thousand asbestos-related deaths a year (about half of which are from mesothelioma). The Medway area, which includes Chatham dockyard, is in the UK’s top four for asbestos related deaths. A total of 104 people died from mesothelioma in Medway between 2006 and 2010. This is way above the number one would expect from such as geographically small area. I understand that several legal cases have been lodged by former Chatham Dockyard workers with the Ministry of Defence over Asbestos related illnesses allegedly caused to people working there in the past.  I ought to make it abundantly clear that the dockyard (now a popular museum and film location – it is regularly used by the producers of “Call the Midwife” to stand in for 1950’s / 1960's Poplar, and the producers of films including Sherlock Holmes – a Game of Shadows, Les Miserables, Children of Men, and The World is Not Enough have used the place as a location) is absolutely not now an asbestos or radiation risk. The dockyard makes for a fine family day out, with plenty to see and do for all ages, once lockdown is finally over. It even has an excellent pub / restaurant in The Ship and Trades, run by Shepherd Neame. You can read about the Chatham Historic Dockyard Museum here.

Both fast food drive throughs in Erith - KFC and McDonalds have re-opened after the Covid-19 lockdown, but with very strict rules for both the staff and customers. Unfortunately there have been a number of incidents showing the law of unintended consequences as a result, as one local resident, who wishes to remain anonymous writes:- "It has been mayhem for the residents along this end of Manor Road. KFC were first to open, the first evening was awful, cars tooting their horns and parking everywhere.Since that first day they have taken to closing their car park, causing all customers to park on Britannia Close.Not only that, there ordering from there cars while parked and waiting for Just Eat and Deliveroo to bring it to them. Eating it on the Close and then throwing there rubbish on the Close.Now this week McDonalds have reopened,you wouldn’t believe the traffic. There’s no social distancing between car occupants and delivery drivers. Surely Erith residents aren’t that desperate for a piece of chicken or burger? We have been shielding for nine weeks and have now have to sit inside while they park outside with their engines running. McDonalds seems to be trying to manage this, but KFC doesn’t seem bothered as long as they take money. I’ve been talking to Trading Standards but they are not interested. We are the over spill car park for KFC". What do you think about the recent reopening of these two large and popular fast food outlets? Email me at

Several readers have asked me to write in more detail about Edward Butler, the true inventor of the modern motor car, who I have written about in the past. He was the first modern motorist, he invented several automotive components that are still in common use today, and his wife Kitty, also known as Kate Gildersleeves – is thought to be the World’s first lady motorist. When Edward Butler was developing his petrol cycle (photo above - click on it for a larger view), he used Manor Road in Erith for testing purposes. The reason for this was (unlike today) the road was relatively quiet with little traffic; it also benefited by being a very long road and mostly straight. It can therefore be said that Manor Road in Erith was the World’s very first car test track. It still gets used by would – be boy racers nowadays, despite a twenty miles per hour speed limit on the residential stretch of the road. The Butler Petrol Cycle is accepted by many automotive historians as the very first British motor car, although as it never went into production. Although Karl Benz is recognised as the inventor of the modern motor car, the aforementioned Edward Butler was said to have exhibited plans for a 3-wheeled vehicle two years earlier than Benz in 1884 at the Stanley Cycle Show, London, and it was also the first design shown at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition, London. Butler however did not patent his vehicle until 1887 due to British laws on experiments.  On the vehicle the patent read “Butlers Petrol-Cycle Syndicate Limited Patent”.  It also referred to “F.B. Shuttleworth, Erith, London.” as Butler built the Petrol Cycle in the engineering works of F.B. Shuttleworth who was an engineer who built naval torpedo ships and civilian yachts, and additionally was a steam boiler manufacturer.  In 1890 Butler finished his design which was a vehicle powered by an engine that combusted mineral hydrocarbons. The respected publication Scientific American published an article on the Butler Petrol Cycle in the February 14th 1891 edition of the magazine. This stated that one gallon of petroleum or benzolene was enough to “furnish sufficient power” to achieve a journey of forty miles at a speed ranging from 3 - 10 mph. Edward Butler is credited with first using the word “Petrol” and inventing the spark plug, magneto, coil ignition and spray jet carburettor.  The speed of the vehicle was regulated by a throttle valve lever  whilst over heating was prevented by water circulating through a radiator over the rear driving wheel. Butler was continually frustrated in his automotive experiments by the law. The Red Flag Act of 1885 was a major source of exasperation; the act restricted automotive vehicles to a maximum speed of 2 mph in the city and 4 mph in the countryside.  In addition each vehicle had to be attended by three people, of which one had to walk in front of the vehicle waving a red flag (The 1865 Red Flag Act) to warn other road users and help control horses. This act had originally appeared as a result of the growing number of steam powered vehicles in the UK. The restrictive nature of the Red Flag Act meant that inventors and engineers could only test their creations on private land, something which proved instrumental in holding back British car development, and allowing Karl Benz in Germany not only to gain a technological lead in car development, but more importantly to register a whole series of patents under his name. Butler became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned; In 1900 Butler penned a letter to “The Autocar” magazine of which they published on April 7th 1900. The letter read:- “Now that public attention is being drawn to the early attempts of the two German pioneers, Benz and Daimler, I trust that you may find space in your journal for an illustration of a small petrol vehicle, which I believe was absolutely the first made in this country, and if I could have interested any one to finance it when the drawings were exhibited at the Stanley Show in 1884, and the following year at the Inventions Exhibition, I should have been contemporaneous, if not earlier than either of them. Although I cannot claim to have done very much in the light of the present enormous development of the automotor trade, it may have been forgotten that I carried out a series of experiments in the perfecting of a motor vehicle at a time when progress was much hindered by the prejudice and want of interest - the motor part of which has been since used in many types of engines for industrial purposes.” By this time Edward Butler had already give up further work on his Petrol Cycle, realising that due to the restrictive traffic laws of the time, he was never going to win the race to build the World’s first commercially available motor car. He wrote “..the authorities do not countenance its use on the roads, and I have abandoned in consequence any further development of it.” Butler broke his Petrol Cycle up for scrap in 1896 where upon the patent rights were sold to H.J. Lawson and the engine continued to be produced for motor boats.  Shortly afterwards the Locomotive on Highways Act of 1896 was passed that allowed speeds of up to 14 mph and opened up the highways to motor vehicles, but this was too late for Edward Butler. He died in 1940, largely unrecognised for his pioneering work in automotive design. If things had turned out differently, instead of driving around in Mercedes Benzes, we could have been driving a Butler motor car.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Barnehurst has had one non-residential burglary in Parkside Parade, Northend Road. This is the second time within a few days that the premises has been targeted. On this occasion Wednesday 27/05/2020 in the very early hours around 01.00am suspects have climbed over two walls then onto a roof to loosen screws to gain access to a stock room. Goods have then been passed out to another suspect on the roof. The same vehicle a blue Transit Ford Connect registration number LX03ZBZ involved in the previous burglary made off just before Police arrived. Other news on the ward… Officers gave chase to two males in Colyers Lane on Tuesday 2/06/2020. Both males were stopped and searched for drugs. In Birling Road Officers have paid attention to the area due to reports of males involved in drug dealing. Two males fitting descriptions given were stopped and searched for suspected drug dealing. Regular patrols have been carried in and around Parkside Avenue due to vehicles driving in an anti-social manner. This matter had improved however we have received a complaint of a vehicle driving dangerously round the corner of Parkside Avenue into Old Manor Way. If this continues we will be taking further steps to put a stop to this behaviour. Another area that has come to light recently is the old garaged area off Hurstwood Avenue. It's been reported that youths are climbing over walls to get into the construction site. Vehicles are also seen to park up in this area believed to be drugs dealing. Barnehurst Golf Club remains closed. I believe they have a problem with a water tank therefore until this is repaired the golf club will remain closed. Regular patrols to the area continue". 

Belvedere ward:- "From a Neighbourhood Watch member - I though you may be interested in this knife I found yesterday (2/6/20) in the alleyway at the rear of my house. I rang the police and they came and collected right away. It was about 9 inches overall in length. Along with Erith and Northumberland Heath SNT officers we have continued our patrols of the Streamway area in relation to groups loitering and suspected drug use in and around the location. There appears to have been fewer calls to this area over recent days and we will continue to focus on this area in the coming weeks. Having been alerted by a local resident on Wednesday 3rd June, PC Holmes and PCSO Worrall discovered two vehicles that were found to have been stolen in Manorside Close – both were recovered. There have been reports of a certain female living in Abbey Crescent dealing drugs. This is unconfirmed but if anyone knows of this and has information please pass onto the team. We have also been made aware of apparent drug use and dealing taking place in Clive Road, toward the lower end of the road – with several cars and mopeds arriving at all times of the day and stairwells being used to smoke cannabis. We will continue to patrol this area also". Bexleyheath ward:- "Wednesday 27/05/2020 2200 Theft of Motor vehicle Nursery Road. Between Friday 1st and Sunday 31st May Theft from Motor Vehicle Francis Avenue Catalytic Converter Stolen whilst parked on driveway. Sunday 31/05/2020 0035 Burglary Commercial Bexleyheath Broadway. Male arrested as broken window to a couple of shops. From Member of the Public - in Church Road - Myself and my daughter were walking down Church Road and saw a van being broken into. Two white males were attempting to break into a BT van. When I approached the house to knock on their door, they ran down to a silver car which was parked on the edge of Mayfield, where another person was waiting for them. The car then turned left towards the Broadway". Crayford ward:- "Thankfully, no burglaries this week. On Sunday 31st May at 17.30 a resident left a bicycle outside Premier Mart with a Deliveroo type rucksack type bag and a brown and white container with it while he went in to the shop. As he came out he saw two youths on pushbikes take the brown and white container and ride away with it. Within the box were personal items including a Polish Identity card. The crimes this week have been vehicle related. On Friday 29th May, the number plate GJ07FZA was stolen from a white Suzuki whilst parked in the rear garden of a property in Crayford Road, a fence panel was damaged to get to the bike. A male was seen in Maiden Lane looking under a black Mercedes on Sunday 31st May at 3.23am, he was chased off. A similar incident had occurred at B&Q the week before to this vehicle. Number plates SJ55TSY were stolen from a silver Toyota Avensis between 19.00 on Friday 29th May and 08.00 on Monday 1st June in Alcock Crescent. On Monday 1st June between 10.30 and 12.30 a catalytic convertor was stolen from a Honda Jazz whilst parked at Hall Place car park, it had clearly been cut off. Security screws are available to secure number plates, they work by screwing the number plate securely but cannot be unscrewed, it is very much recommended to use these to prevent the theft of number plates, they are inexpensive and easy to fit. The team have been busy patrolling around the ward, we are seeing an increase in anti-social behaviour and life is slowly returning to the new “normal.” Please stay alert, stay safe". Erith ward:- "Theft from Motor Vehicle x2 Tower Road – Male trying car doors in the area gained access to 2 cars various items were taken. Male was seen on ring doorbell cameras trying a number of vehicle doors gaining entry to 2 of them". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "No crimes of note in the last week. Local Police Teams have charged two males in relation to an incident of Public Order on the Frobisher Road Estate. 12 Stop & Searches over the past week in Dale View & North End Road with various drugs found. We are appealing to residents to be very tolerant of each other as this difficult time as we have seen a large increase in neighbour related disputes across the ward in recent days/weeks which limits time local officers can spend deterring/preventing crime". Thamesmead East ward:- "Wednesday 27/05/20 between the hours of 10:30am and 10:40am, a van parked in Mangold Way was broken into and power tools taken. Between the hours of 04:00pm on Wednesday 27/05/20 and 06:09am on Thursday 28/05/20 a vehicle parked near Tilehurst Point had the drivers off side window smashed, an untidy search occurred nothing taken. On Sunday 01/06/20 after 05:00 am a vehicle parked in Holstein Way had the catalytic converter stolen from a Toyota prius. Criminal Damage - Wednesday 27/05/20 the passenger window of a vehicle parked in Troon Close was smashed, the incident happened between the hours of 2:30pm and 2:50pm. Good News - PC's Pruden and Quarshie-Awuah joined colleagues from Belvedere SNT attended an address in Belvedere, where they were met by hostile family members , a male whom despite numerous previous attempts was finally arrested". West Heath ward, from a Neighbourhood Watch member:- "A friend had a phone call this morning from a person claiming to be from the NHS Test and Trace service, to advise that a person known to my friend had tested positive. The caller asked for postal address, so that a test kit could be sent. Then my friend was asked for credit card details for payment of £500 to be taken. My friend challenged this and was told that the trace and test is not free on the NHS and a one-off payment is required. At this point my friend hung up". From the ward ream:- "No burglaries reported to us this week. A motorbike was stolen from Pinewood Road between Friday 29/05/20 0100 – Saturday 01/06/20 08.30. The bike was chained to the ground by an anchor but this had been cut off. Thankfully, the bike was later located in Thamesmead later that day due to a post which was put on Facebook. It is not known if the motorbike sustained any damage. Theft of a Sat Nav from a vehicle parked in Shakespeare Road between Tuesday 2/6/2020 21.30 – Wednesday 3/06/20 02.40. Access to the vehicle was gained via smashing the passenger window". 

The end video this week is a short documentary on the making of Stanley Kubrick's once controversial film "A Clockwork Orange". The documentary mainly focuses on the films use of locations - indeed, much of the film was shot in and around Thamesmead. Give it a watch, and leave a comment by Emailing me at

No comments:

Post a Comment