Sunday, August 02, 2020

Red Kite.


I took the photo above (click on it for a larger version) last week whilst walking on Erith Pier one evening. It shows the sun setting looking West towards London. Once again it demonstrates the Erith "Big Sky" that I have described on several occasions in the past. I think the patterns in the low tide river mud in the photo are equally as interesting as the late evening cloud patterns in the sky. What do you think? Please feel free to Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

There are rumours circulating in parts of London's public transport fraternity that the long established Oyster card may be reaching the end of its' life. The rumours seem to indicate that Oyster will be replaced by an alternative system at some point in the future. The main motivator behind this is that TFL feel that the Oyster system is too expensive to operate, and they are thinking of the long term – where payments will go in the future, in a post – Oyster environment. There are a number of issues with NFC (Near Field Communication) payment systems. Whilst it is possible to store encrypted details of a number of debit and credit cards on a smart phone employing NFC, it is not always a good idea to do so. The Near Field Communication technical standard does not make any allowances for the  prevention of eavesdropping, and it is possible to record an NFC signal up to ten metres away from a smart phone, with suitable equipment and software – which is all available online already. Gangs who previously have been engaged in illegal “card skimming” activities at cash points are now known to be working on NFC snooping. The problem with the NFC protocol is that once contact has been made and verified between the smart phone and the computer at the far end of the connection, the far end computer will accept almost any data sent over the connection; only the most basic of parity checking is undertaken. This leaves NFC open to all sorts of trickery. I am sure that in a majority of cases NFC smart phones will work splendidly with the TFL electronic ticketing system. The problem comes when something does go wrong – be it due to malicious interference, or a plain old fashioned mistake. The onus is on the device owner to prove innocence, not the other way around, as is already the case with chip and PIN debit cards. NFC may be acceptable (due to convenience) for many regular public transport users, but it does not help occasional travellers such as elderly people and tourists. Some form of manual ticketing system is going to also need to be put in place – even if it is a single use passive NFC ticket, as is already deployed in the public transport systems in places as diverse as Singapore and Canada. What is clear is that Oyster is regarded as old, nearing end of life technology, and a cheaper replacement is needed soon.


The photo above (click on it for a larger view) was taken back in 1880 of a very grand property which was called Walnut Tree House. It was owned by the Parish family, who by the looks of it were not short of a bob or two – the place looks lovely. The patriarch, John Parish owned the ballast wharf in West Street, and the ballast pit in what is now the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road. The very fine quality loam dug from the pit was taken to the wharf to be loaded onto freighter ships for transportation up to the great iron and steel forges on Tyneside, where it was used to make moulds for metal castings. Unfortunately Walnut Tree House does not exist today; it was demolished to make way for Erith Council Offices in the early 1930’s. I don't know what the Parish family would have made of the location nowadays, with 24 hour motor traffic using the fish sculpture roundabout, it would definitely be very different from when the house was occupied. Still, the needs of the council had to be satisfied then, and again today. 

Regular Maggot Sandwich reader, and occasional guest contributor Dana Wiffen has written the following piece on some welcome new local wildlife:- "Red Kites fly again! Bird of prey makes 'triumphant comeback' to Britain's skies. Their distinctive silhouettes and forked tails were hailed by Shakespeare – and red kites can once again be spotted in Britain’s skies after making a ‘triumphant comeback’ from near-extinction. The almost-vanished bird of prey is soaring over the countryside, gardens and towns across swathes of England after a three-decade scheme to reintroduce the species.  You will have read my reports of Harlow’s Red Kites, which regularly treat residents to a majestic display.Apparently, thirteen young red kites were brought from Spain and released into the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in what was described as a ‘radical’ scheme in 1990.Following further reintroductions in England and Scotland, at least 37 pairs were breeding in southern England by 1996. Since then, the species has grown to more than 10,000, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Apparently 20 were spotted in June flying over Bexleyheath....." Excellent news indeed. Comments should be sent to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com


Some years ago i wrote at some length about the potential threat made by a sunken WWII vintage freighter to the Thames Estuary and beyond. Now plans are being made to try and make the situation better by removing part of the source of the danger, as currently over time the threat is actually increasing. The threat is posed to the lower Thames and estuary by the abandoned wreck of the wartime cargo ship the SS Richard Montgomery. As some long term readers may recall, back in the day I almost had a too close encounter with the infamous shipwreck – more on this later. In case you are not aware, the remains of the SS Richard Montgomery are one of the most contentious and controversial ship wrecks in the World. The American Liberty Ship, loaded with bombs and ammunition, sank in a storm in 1944, and broke in half in the Thames Estuary, between Sheerness on the Kent side of the river, and Southend on the Essex side. Contemporary accounts say that  on 20th August 1944, she started dragging her anchor, and despite warning sirens from surrounding ships ran aground on a sandbank around 270 yards from the main Medway Approach Channel, in a depth of 33 feet of water. Normally a Liberty Ship has an average draught of 28ft but the Montgomery, at this time, actually drew 31ft. Her overloaded, shoddily built and early welded construction made her vulnerable to the severe stress of grounding, and several serious cracks appeared in her hull, she eventually broke her back on the sand banks near the Isle of Sheppey about 1.5 miles from Sheerness and 5 miles from Southend. As the tide ebbed the ships plates snapped with a sharp crack heard over a mile away and the crew, mindful of its hazardous cargo, abandoned ship at 0300hrs using floats and lifeboats. A Rochester-based Master Stevedore T.P.Adams of Watson and Gill, was given the urgent and highly hazardous job of removing the cargo, which began on 23rd August 1944 at 1000hrs, using the ship's own cargo handling equipment, driven by a venerable, old (and expendable) steam ship the “Empire Nutfield” moored alongside. By the next day, the ship's hull had cracked open further, causing several cargo holds at the bow end to flood. The salvage operation continued until 25th September, when due to a severe gale they were forced to finally abandon the ship before all the cargo had been recovered. Subsequently, the ship broke into two separate parts, roughly at the midsection. During the enquiry following the shipwreck it was revealed that several ships moored nearby had noticed the Montgomery drifting towards the sandbank. They had attempted to signal an alert by sounding their sirens but without response, as Captain Willkie of the Montgomery was asleep. The ship's chief officer was unable to explain why he had not alerted the captain or carry out any remedial action. A Board of Inquiry held aboard the ship during the initial unloading, concluded that the ship’s crew had acted in accordance with their instructions and that the anchorage the harbour master assigned had possibly placed the ship in jeopardy, and returned the Montgomery's captain to full duty. The salvage of the SS Richard Montgomery was abandoned shortly thereafter, and the vessel was declared a hazard to shipping and marked by several warning buoys. It has stayed in position ever since. According to a 2008 survey, the wreck is at a depth of 49ft, on average, and leaning to starboard. At all states of the tide, its three masts are visible above the water. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency nevertheless still believe that the risk of a major explosion is remote. The UK government's Receiver of Wrecks commissioned a risk assessment in 1999, but this risk assessment has never been published. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency convened with local and port authorities to discuss the report in 2001 and concluded that "doing nothing was not an option for much longer." The New Scientist magazine carried out an investigation concluded in 2004, based partly on government documents released in that year, that the cargo was still deadly, and could be detonated by a collision, an attack, or even the shifting of the cargo in the tide. The bad condition of many of the bombs is such that they could explode spontaneously. Documents declassified shortly before, revealed that the wreck was not dealt with immediately after it happened, or in the intervening 60 years, due solely to the expense. According to a survey conducted in 2000 by the United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency, it was confirmed the wreck still held munitions totalling approximately 1,400 tons. This is thought to consist of:- "13,064 general purpose 250lb bombs, 9,022 cases of fragmenting bombs (these would produce massive amounts of shrapnel.), 7,739 semi-armour piercing bombs, 1,522 cases of fuses, 1,429 cases of phosphorous bombs, 1,427 cases of 100lb demolition bombs, and 817 cases of small arms ammunition". However, because the emergency unloading was carried out in great haste and under less than ideal conditions, no check or tally was made of exactly what was unloaded. Due to this, estimates of explosives remaining in the holds vary between the official figures of approx. 1400 tons and 3600 tons which was the unofficial estimate made by the stevedores and confirmed by the SS Richard Montgomery’s First Officer back in 1944 when the abortive salvage attempt was made. Although the published breakdown of cargo carried appears to be comprehensive, a ship's manifest exists which indicates, that in addition, she was carrying 240 Mustard Gas bombs and other unidentified munitions. Although chemical weapons were not used by either the Allies or Axis powers during WWII, both sides did stockpile such weapons for potential use. A BBC news report in 1970, speculated that if the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery exploded, it would throw a 1,000-foot-wide column of water and debris nearly 10,000 feet into the air and generate a wave 16 feet high. Almost every window in Sheerness (population 37,852 (2011 census)) would be broken and buildings would be structurally damaged by the blast. This, however, is a very conservative view based on 1400 tons of explosive detonating in a chain explosion rather than one single detonation. The opinion was sought in October 1964 of retired Royal Engineer Major A. B. Hartley, MBE, GM., Britain's then most famous bomb disposal expert. His initial analysis said that "Some sixteen different basic combinations of explosives were used in American fragmentation bombs during the war. Those that were filled with TNT might remain comparatively safe for a long time provided, of course, the TNT hadn't crystallized (crystalline TNT is so unstable that the tip of a penknife blade scraped across its surface may cause it to detonate). And provided that the TNT was pure to begin with. But the production standards of all explosives made by the warring nations Allied and Axis became less rigid toward the end of the war. And by 1944 manufacturers were required only to produce explosive fillings with sufficient 'shelf life' to get them through the war. Those bombs inside your ship have existed long past their intended shelf life." His conservative forecast would be for windows to be shattered in Southend-on-Sea, Westcliff-on-Sea, Leigh-on-Sea, Shoeburyness, all some 6.5 miles away in Essex, and a number of smaller communities with a population totalling at least 375,000. In addition all these places might also suffer a heavy fall of shrapnel. The ship and cargo are closer still to the town of Sheerness, Kent and it is estimated that that damage and casualties might well be severe. A tidal wave would inevitably follow the huge explosion, which could  wash away sea walls and flood defences. The bombs also happen to lie alongside the Thames main fairway used by thousands of the world's merchant ships including LPG Gas tankers feeding a huge gas terminal and storage, also seriously at risk and countless amateur yachtsmen at various marinas. There is no doubt that any ships, however large or small, in the vicinity of the explosion would go down. A tidal wave could sweep up the River Medway to cause havoc in Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and a dozen or more outlying places in Kent. If Mustard Gas bombs are indeed also on board as has been claimed, the results of any detonation could potentially involve widespread chemical contamination on top of any blast and tidal wave damage. In the late 1980’s when I was working for Radio Caroline, we would often make tender runs from Strood on the River Medway, out into the Southern North Sea, and the South Falls Head, where the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge was moored, outside British territorial waters, and thus outside of the law. These trips were invariably made at the dead of night, navigating by radar and from navigational buoy to navigational buoy using good old fashioned charts and a compass. You can see some photos of my time on Radio Caroline by clicking here. I digress:- On one occasion I was at the wheel of the thirty foot fishing cruiser we were using as a covert supply vessel; we had to time our trips precisely; at that time, the Olau Line ferry company operated a couple of very large passenger ferries out of Sheerness. The skipper of the Olau Britannia was a great friend to Radio Caroline, and would often go out of his way to help us. One way he gave us practical help was by allowing us to exit the Thames Estuary in the huge vessels’ radar shadow, thus hiding our activities from the authorities. I was concentrating on staying in formation with the giant car ferry, when I suddenly noticed a series of warning buoys dead ahead – I was steering the vessel straight into the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery! Needless to say, I came around hard to Starboard, to the consternation of the skipper and the rest of the crew, who were thrown around by my sudden course changes, and we narrowly avoided a collision. I reckon if we had have hit the wreck, we would probably have been the first fishing cruiser in orbit! Now plans are being made to kick off a project in September, to remove the masts from the SS Richard Montgomery, in an attempt to reduce the strain on the sunken wreck, and thus reduce the risk of an explosion. The project is currently out to tender, and is thought to be worth in the region of £5 million. 


Now for the weekly local safety and security news from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "We are pleased to report once again no burglaries on Barnehurst Ward. There have also been no reports of vehicle crime on Barnehurst Ward which is more good news. We have had an Incident involving two vehicles, one being a stolen red pick-up truck with clear white signage on the side doors, the other a silver SUV type vehicle. Both vehicles, driving at speed were travelling though Barnehurst Road turning right into Mayplace Road East in the direction of Bexleyheath. Police have conducted local enquiries to residents of Barnehurst Road and Mayplace Road East, in particular those with CCTV cameras. If you have any information please contact us. The investigation into this incident is ongoing". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - "Wednesday 22/7/20 0820 – 0830 Attempted Burglary Co–Op Long Lane 2 x males have unsuccessfully tried to take lottery tickets from secure area. Thursday 23/07/20 1900 Theft of Motor Vehicle Long Lane. Thursday 23/07/20 2230 – 2240 Theft of BBQ from Garden Church Road. Thursday 23/07/20 1000 – 1015 Theft of Phone Primark Broadway - phone left unattended on counter in store. Friday 24/07/20 1200 – 1210 Theft of bag Iceland Broadway - bag put on floor for a little while and taken during this time. Friday 24/07/20 1045 – 1245 Theft From Motor vehicle Catalytic Converter Stolen Broom Mead. From Member of the Public - in Rochester Drive. I would like to report that there are young people riding off road motorbikes across the A2 footbridge in Rochester Drive. The bikes have no silencers and have no licence plates. They ride around the woods behind Rochester Drive and the grounds on the other side of the foot bridge". Crayford ward:- "[Due to annual leave, this update runs up to Sunday 26th July. Any other crimes will be updated on the next return.] On Thursday 23rd July between 11.00 and 11.45 a female suspect approached the victim in a wheelchair who was by the ramp between Sainsbury's and Crayford Library. She asked for change and “assisted” him by taking change from his bag. She also took a £10 note and a lottery ticket. She was white, aged between 30-35 years and appeared to be with a male who was seen nearby. She walked off with the male towards Town Hall Square. On Friday 24th July a male was reported to be exposing himself at Shenstone Park. He was arrested and is not local. Please call 999 if you see such activity. Whilst on patrol on Friday 24th July we were flagged down by a member of the public at Bourne Road holding a two year old child who had been found wandering in the road. We established where the child lived and returned him to his parents, words of advice were given about ensuring his future safety". Erith ward:-"3909820/20 TFMV Thanet Road, on the Wednesday 22/7/20 at 13.00 hrs Wallet and phone was taken from vehicle while driver was making a delivery. 3910026/20 Criminal Damage to a Motor Vehicle Sunday 26/7/20 at 23.00 in Avenue Road. 3910165/20 Theft of Catalytic converter stolen from a vehicle in Chandlers Drive Erith at 12.00 on the Tuesday 28/07/20. 3910165/20 Burglary Mcdonalds, James Watt Way. At 0320 hrs on the Monday 27/07/20. Please make sure all your window are closed on your vehicle before you leave it and DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING VALUABLE IN YOUR VEHICLE even if you are just popping into a shop. Erith officers have been out patrolling the ward a number of persons have been stopped for drug offences while officers have been out". Northumberland Heath ward:-"This week we have reports of males congregating on Limewood / Hurst road and the alleyways behind the rear of the shops . We have been able to gather Vehicle registration numbers of possible drug dealers within the local areas. PC SUAT has been attending the registered keepers addresses and has been giving strong words of advice and completing further intelligence reports . Extra patrols are also being conducted. Local informants are also contacted regularly. Unfortunately a local resident on Frinstead Road had their vehicle window smashed . Nothing valuable was been stolen .Please be cautious leaving tools and valuables on show. Great news no burglaries or further reports of ASB on Streamway . Now the council have placed a CCTV camera in the area and more patrols have been completed seems like it has helped the local residents .The residents have even set up their own Neighbourhood Watch which is great and helpful for the community to work together" . Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward:- "No burglaries this week, however continue to remain vigilant at all times, close and lock windows and doors. Motor Vehicle Crimes Between the hours of 7:00pm on Thursday 23/07/20 and 5:00am Friday 24/07/20 a lorry parked in the industrial area of Hailey Road, a pallet of unknown goods was stolen. Three (3) vehicles parked in Howden Close had their tyres slashed between the hours of 00:30 and 00:35 on Sunday 26/07/20. A theft from a vehicle parked in Kencot Way which occurred between the hours of 07:15am and 3:40pm on Monday 20/07/20 but reported on Sunday 26/07/20 had various tools and equipment stolen valued at £2.500. A further two reports of catalytic converters stolen from vehicles, one parked in Glimpsing Green and the other in Haldane Road both thefts occurred overnight of Sunday 26/07/20 and Monday 27/07/20. Between the hours of 11:00pm on Saturday 25/07/20 and Sunday 26/07/20 a vehicle parked outside of a property in Surlingham Close was stolen". 


West Heath ward:- "Do you know this milk thief? On Wednesday 29th June at 06.11am he was caught on camera taking milk from the doorstep of a house in Lodge Hill. One attempted burglary in Bayley walk on Tuesday 21/07/2020. The victim was watching television when they heard a loud bang at 21.15pm. Nothing was taken from the porch. One attempted burglary at the co-operative store in Brampton Road at 03.10am on Wednesday 29/07/2020. The suspect managed to force the shutter and hit the window with a hammer breaking the window before making off. Entry was not gained to the premises. No motor vehicle crime to report this week. The team are continuing to carry out proactive patrols and stop and searches across the ward".

The end video this week shows the original "Ferry Cross the Mersey" from the song of the same name. The ferry is now a hulk that is currently moored on the River Thames at Woolwich. Several plans to restore and repurpose the former Mersey ferry have been made, but none have come to fruition. Please feel free to contact me by Emailing me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

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