Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Medway Queen.

Bexley Council seem to be somewhat indecisive in relation to their property strategy; on one hand, they have recently granted locally listed status to Erith Post Office, which is located within the Erith High Street conservation area, shown in the photograph above - click on it for a larger view. On the other hand,  it is now four years since Bexley Council announced plans to build housing on the piece of waste land adjacent to London South East College Bexley, but to date nothing seems to have happened. The site, which originally formed part of Erith Tram Depot until it was demolished in the late 1970’s was originally proposed to be the site for the new Bexley Council offices, prior to the closure and demolition of the old council office site, and the move into the refurbished former Woolwich Equitable offices. As has been very well covered by Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers in the past – but this was an idea that was never likely to have taken off. The councillors would not have wanted to commute to Erith – which many of them regard as a remote and undesirable half – forgotten corner of the borough which they would rather not think about. Instead the parcel of land is to be some form of housing, though at this point plans are very much in the early stage. The site will be a prime one – close to the town centre, bus stops and the station, views of the River Thames and close to the A2, M25 and the South Circular. The only major downside of the location is the flanking dual carriageway of Bronze Age Way, and the 24/7 traffic that it carries. I wonder if the construction of another residential area in the centre of Erith will finally galvanise Network Rail to install a lift at Erith Station – after all, Bexleyheath Station has a lift, yet it has no real need for one, as there is an existing step – free road bridge at each end of the platform. Former local MP Teresa Pearce campaigned for several years to get step free access at Erith Station but thus far to no avail. Hopefully this issue can be revisited as part of the further redevelopment and expansion of the riverside town. Send any comments and feedback to me at

Some sad news this week; Bexleyheath based NYNE bar and nightclub has closed for good. Normally such things would not really be of interest to me, or indeed I suspect many of my readers. NYNE was an exception in this regard, as the club held regular monthly nights specifically for people with learning difficulties and their carers. It was unique in the UK in that respect. The BBC News website ran an article on NYNE last year, that you can see by clicking here. So many organisations talk a good talk about diversity and inclusion, but actually do little in practice; it was good to see a local company really "putting their money where their mouth is" and actually taking positive action. It is just unfortunate that it now is no more. 

Following my article last week on local group The Pretty Things, I have had feedback from a number of readers on the subject.  Regular reader Jane said of her husband:- "Ted enjoyed it particularly because he met The Pretty Things once. Ted was a student at Folkestone Tech for a year 1966-67 resitting his A levels, and he was on a train coming back from Folkestone to Ashford. Second class was full, and so spilled over into First class and he found himself in a carriage with The Pretty Things 'and an entourage of young ladies'. He had a short chat with the drummer who in Ted's view, definitely wasn't pretty! He reckons they all had longer hair than in your picture, which must be earlier. Apparently they talked about money, with the drummer saying that he didn't earn enough! Ted says he didn't know about the link to The Stones". Another reader, Jeff commented:- "Thanks for the article on The Pretty Things (one of the few reasons for a teenager to be proud of Erith in the '60s),  It was rumoured that Phil May (had) lived in Crescent Road. I seem to remember walking along the road once to try to find where it might be - I don't know what I expected to find - neon lights?. I was a little surprised there was no mention of Bern Elliott and the Fenmen (real one hit wonders), who provided The Pretty Things with two members (Jon Povey and Wally Waller - I had to look them up) for S.F. Sorrow". In a coincidence, the band that were the contemporaries of The Pretty Things - if somewhat more commercially successful, were The Rolling Stones, from Dartford. The band have just announced that they are about to open their first store in London's Carnaby Street.  The store, which will be called 'RS No 9' will enable fans to shop an extensive range of official merchandise along with new clothing and accessories including exclusive designer collaborations and one-of-a-kind pieces. A spokesperson from the band said:- “Soho has always encapsulated Rock ’n’ Roll so Carnaby Street was the perfect spot for our own store," the band says of the launch. We are confident this exciting project will be an unrivalled experience for everyone to come to London and enjoy.”

It is not very well known that Erith was the birthplace of a man who could well have gone on to be a Formula One world racing champion, had he not met an untimely end in a plane crash. Tony Brise was born in Erith in March 1952, and was a promising racing driver, who took part in ten Formula One Grand Prix events in 1975, before dying in a plane crash with Graham Hill. Tony Brise was born in Erith, the son of John Brise, a pig farmer and racing driver, who won the World Stock Car Championship on three occasions. Both Tony and his brother Tim showed an interest in go-karting at a young age, and John Brise gave up his hobby to support them fully. Tony Brise won his first UK championship in 1969, and switched to single-seater racing the next year, driving an Elden MK8 Formula Ford. In 1971 he placed second in the BOC British FF1600 Championship. While completing his degree in this period, a BA in Business Administration, he chose to continue with motor racing, joining Formula 3 in 1972 driving a Brabham BT28, the team run by Bernie Ecclestone. After switching to a GRD 372, his performance increased until he was one of the top drivers in the formula. He won two of the three British Formula 3 Championships in 1973, sharing one (the Lombard North Central championship) with Richard Robarts, as well as winning the John Player Trophy. At the end of the season he won a Grovewood Award for the second time, shared with Tom Pryce. Brise wished to move up to Formula 2 for the 1974 seasons, but was unable to due to financial limitations. Instead he bought a second-hand March 733 car, fitting it with a Holby-tuned Ford engine, and entering the MCD Formula Atlantic series. He won the first round of the British Championship unexpectedly, but subsequently wrote the car off in a crash at Snetterton. However, his performance had brought him to the attention of Teddy Savory of Modus, who offered him a work drive in the series. Although the car was another modified F3 chassis, he drove well enough to earn a drive in a purpose-built car in 1975. He also drove a Modus M1 F3 in the Monaco Grand Prix F3 support race, finishing second behind Tom Pryce in a March 743. Brise excelled in the new car in 1975, winning six consecutive races, at Snetterton, Oulton Park, and twice each at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, enough to win him the MCD International Formula Atlantic Championship. As a result of these achievements, he was contacted by Frank Williams in April, to make his Formula One debut standing in for Jacques Laffite. Brise made his Grand Prix debut on the 27th April 1975 for Williams at the Spanish Grand Prix in Montjuic Park near Barcelona, a controversial race marred by strikes over safety issues, a high number of crashes, and the deaths of four spectators. Brise finished seventh in this race, two laps behind the leaders, his race affected by a collision with Tom Pryce. Laffite returned for the subsequent Monaco Grand Prix, relegating Brise once again to Formula Atlantic, though former world champion Graham Hill's retirement at that race, due to a failure to qualify, brought Brise straight back into the top division driving for Embassy Hill, intended to be for the rest of the season. Over the next few races Brise showed a lot of promise, recording some very fast qualifying times and frequently outperforming his team-mate, Alan Jones. However, a combination of technical difficulties and bad luck prevented him from ever finishing in high leader-board positions, and he took just one championship point. Nonetheless, by consensus he was considered a bright hope and one to watch for the future, with a successful season anticipated in 1976. On the 19th November 1975, Graham Hill and Brise, along with Andy Smallman, the team's designer, and three team mechanics, were returning to London from southern France, where they were testing a new race car, the GH2. The Embassy Hill plane, a twin-engine six-seat Piper Aztec piloted by Hill, was attempting to land at Elstree Airfield at night in thick fog when it crashed and burned at Arkley golf course, killing all six aboard. Tony Brise was just 23 years old, and was survived by his wife Janet, daughter of triallist Reg Allen. Formula One experts think that had he lived, Tony Brise could well have been a future world champion.

The fatal stabbing of a man in Heron Hill, Belvedere on Friday morning has received many column inches on various local social media sites. There has been much speculation as to the circumstances of the unfortunate incident. I am not about to add to the debate; The true story will no doubt emerge in due course.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Great news yet again another week with no burglaries on the ward however we have had two reported Incidents of vehicle crime. Both Incidents occurred in Hillingdon Road. The first incident occurred on Tuesday 11/08/2020 overnight. A keyless theft whereby a white Mercedes estate registration number KW68 FHO was stolen. The second incident occurred on the Wednesday 12/08/2020 at 08.46 am whereby an attempt was made to get into a BMW. We urge our residents to consider additional security to your vehicles. Steering locks, Key pouches and bollards may prevent your vehicle from being stolen. We have also been made aware of drug dealing in Hillingdon Road where vehicles are seen pulling up and exchanges made. The team will be paying particular attention to Hillingdon Road when out on patrol. If anyone has any concerns about what's going on in your road please call us and we will be happy to discuss your issues". Belvedere ward:-"During the continued hot spell Belvedere LPT have been out and about patrolling the ward as usual on foot but more notably focusing on open spaces on the ward. We have spent a fair amount of time in and around Franks Park and Lessness Abbey Ruins, as these have been focal points of anti-social behaviour over recent summers. Complaints received about these areas range from drug misuse to off road motorbikes. I am pleased to say we have encountered neither over the past week and will continue to patrol these areas in order to deter such activity and to allow residents to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that these open spaces provide. There have been no burglaries reported over this past week which again is excellent news and something we sincerely hope continues. Just to touch back on open spaces, please do remember we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and to remember when using these open spaces to continue to observe social distancing guidelines. When the sun comes out and fun ensues it can be all too easy to slip back to our old ways and in turn put ourselves, loved ones and other residents at potential risk. Thanks for taking time to read this and please enjoy the remainder of this sweltering summer. Always remember in an emergency dial 999 but for anything less pressing its 101 or alternatively you can contact the Belvedere Local Policing team on 0208 7212050". Bexleyheath ward:-"There was a report if a theft of motor vehicle along Long Lane. Vehicle was stolen from the victims driveway overnight on the Monday 17th August. On the Friday 14th August, there was a report of a theft of wallet. Victim was on the bus and when he arrived at Bexleyheath he had realised his wallet was stolen. On the Sunday 16th August, victim, had reported damage to their vehicle whilst it was parked in the Cineworld car park. Judging by the damage it seems they had tried to gain access and to maybe try and steal the vehicle. On the Friday 14th August there was a report of a smashed front door window on a residential property along Belvedere Road Bexleyheath. On Wednesday 12th August there was a report of an interference of a motor vehicle along Rydal Drive Bexleyheath. It seems suspect had tried to gain access to the vehicle to steal it". Crayford ward:- "After such a good few weeks without any burglaries we are sorry to say there was a burglary at Crayford Road overnight on Sunday 16th August. The suspect broke in by damaging a cat flap to then “fish” for the keys in the lock of the back door and using them to let himself in. A mobile phone, purse containing cash and cards, alcohol and several other items including Ariel tablets and Lenor were stolen and removed from the property in the victim's own shopping trolley and shopping bag. Please let this be a timely reminder to not leave keys in the lock and keep them somewhere safe out of sight of would be intruders. A white Transit van with the number plate SN16 YBC was stolen from outside the Bear and Ragged Staff between Thursday 13th and Saturday 15th August. The catalytic converter was stolen from a silver BMW on Thursday 13th August between 5.06 am and 14.55 in the car park at Crayford BR Station. Between 8.10 and 16.45 on Wednesday 5th August the catalytic converter was stolen from a Toyota RAV whilst parked at Sainsburys staff car park. The catalytic converter was stolen from a Toyota Prius between 10.00 and 11.30 on Tuesday 18th August whilst parked at Bourne Road Industrial Park. A successful warrant was completed at a property in Heath Road on Friday 14th August, this matter is still under investigation. There have been several calls about anti-social behaviour/drugs/alcohol in the Crayford town centre and Waterside Gardens area. We have been patrolling these locations and there have been successful stop and searches for drugs, words of advice have also been given and this will be followed up by further action if it continues". Erith ward:-"Crimes of note for Erith - Monday 17/08/2020 - Theft of M/V from Rutland Gate. Saturday 15/08/2020 – Theft of M/V from St Fidelis Road.  Saturday 12/08/2020 - Theft of M/V from Rutland Gate. No burglaries, but as you can see around the Rutland Gate area vehicle crimes is quite high". Northumberland Heath ward:- "Unfortunately there has been a theft from a motor vehicle on Bedonwell Road. The front passenger side window had been smashed and a Sat Nav stolen from the vehicle. There has been an attempted Burglary on Avenue Road. CCTV shows two transits vans parked onto the driveway . The suspects then start looking through the windows and enter the property through the front doors. The staff then approached the suspects and asked what they were doing. The suspects then made off and got back into their vehicles which did not have number plates attached. The investigation is still ongoing . Lucky there is good CCTV images to obtain. There has been a another attempted burglary this week on Hurst Road . The victim was sleeping on his sofa in living room when he noticed a young male trying to climb through the small window. The suspect made off running down Hurst Road. Forensics team have lifted a finger print from the window. Awaiting results. There has been reports of ASB on Wheelock Close and Byron Drive. Officers have been completing more patrols with help from neighbouring wards". Slade Green and Northend ward:-"No crimes of note and no burglaries in the last week. The team have carried out a door to door knocking exercise in regards a property involved in ongoing ASB issues and are working closely with Bexley Council and Housing Association in regards a possible eviction". Thamesmead East ward:-"Burglaries On Sunday 16/08/20 an attempted burglary occurred between the hours of 4:00am and 10:52 in a block of flats in Hartslock Drive. No entry gained. Burglary Prevention - Continue to remain vigilant at all times, close and lock windows and doors. Motor Vehicle Crimes Between the hours of 7:00pm on Sunday 16/08/20 and 10:20 am on Monday 17/08/20, a vehicle parked locked and secure in Aspen Green had the side wall on all 4 tyres slashed and 2 deep lines keyed from the front to the rear door". West Heath ward:- "One reported burglary between 12/08/20 to 17/08/20. There are no reported motor vehicle crimes during the same period. A victim in Ranleigh Gardens reported a burglary at the home address on Friday 14/08/20 at 0830 hours. The victim stated two males knocked on her front door on 14/08/20 between 1300 hours and 1420 hours purporting to be from Crayford Clinic The victim genuinely believed they were medical practitioners, but they showed no ID. The victim was asked to provide a sample by one of the males. The two males were left downstairs whilst she went upstairs to get her sample. The victim handed her sample to the two males who left the address. The victim discovered on Saturday 15/08/20 that her cheque book and door keys were missing. The victim believes that the two males took the items".

The end video this week should be of interest to many; it features a tour around the historic paddle steamer, The Medway Queen. The PS Medway Queen is a paddle driven steamship, the only mobile estuary paddle steamer left in the United Kingdom. She was one of the "little ships of Dunkirk", making a record seven trips and rescuing 7000 men in the evacuation of Dunkirk. She was the subject of a £1.8 million National Lottery Heritage Memorial Fund grant to restore her hull. By 2014, her hull had been reconstructed and she is berthed at Gillingham Pier on the River Medway as of 2020. PS Medway Queen was built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company at Troon, Scotland, in 1924 for service on the River Medway and in the Thames Estuary. Trialled on the River Clyde, she was delivered to be part of the "Queen Line" fleet of the New Medway Steam Packet Company based at Rochester, Kent. She steamed on routes from Strood and Chatham, to Sheerness, Herne Bay and Margate in Kent, and to Clacton and Southend in Essex. Requisitioned by the Royal Navy on 9 September 1939, her first task was evacuating Kent children from Gravesend to East Anglia. She was refitted at the shipyard of the General Steam Navigation Company in Deptford Creek as a minesweeper, her stern being modified to take sweeping gear, and allocated pennant number J 48 (N 48). She served for the duration of World War II in the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla, patrolling the Strait of Dover and the English Channel. In May 1940 Operation Dynamo was launched to rescue the retreating British Army soldiers from Dunkirk in northern France. HMS Medway Queen became part of the flotilla of little ships. Medway Queen was fitted with a 12-pounder gun and two machine guns. She left with paddle steamers Sandown, Thames Queen, Gracie Fields, Queen of Thanet, Princess Elizabeth, Laguna Belle and Brighton Belle. She made seven crossings. She gained four awards for gallantry, having shot down three enemy aircraft, made seven crossings and rescued 7000 men. In view of this remarkable achievement in rescuing so many Allied troops from France, she earned the title of "The Heroine of Dunkirk". In 1942 she was converted to a minesweeping training ship, served out the war in this capacity, and was returned to her owners in January 1946. Rebuilt by Thornycrofts of Southampton in 1946, she returned to civilian service with New Medway Steam Packet Company for the 1947 season. When Elizabeth II was crowned, The Medway Queen attended the 1953 Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead. She made her last sailing on 8 September 1963, and was scheduled to be scrapped in Belgium. The Belgian ship-breaker, upon discovering that the vessel he was expecting to break up was none other than "The Heroine of Dunkirk", declined to continue (it is reported that he felt that no one should dare to destroy such a gallant and important little ship). The Daily Mail newspaper campaigned to save her. Having been saved from scrapping, The Medway Queen was eventually sold for use as a nightclub and marina clubhouse, and was moored at the Medway Queen Marina (now known as the Island Harbour Marina) on the Isle of Wight. The club opened in 1966. In 1970, a larger ship, PS Ryde, renamed as Ryde Queen, joined The Medway Queen at the marina site, also operating as a nightclub. The two premises operated alongside one another for a period, until the The Medway Queen was eventually closed and fell into disrepair. In 1987 she was moved to Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth on the Hoo Peninsula, but the trust lacked funds to bring her back to service, and struggled to preserve the structure. After a series of near disasters, in 2006 the National Lottery Heritage Memorial Fund agreed a £1.8 million funding package to restore her structure, subject to the society raising £225,000. Having completed the fund raising, the trust was disappointed that neither the insurance company or marine engineers were confident that her hull was seaworthy and able of sustaining lifting on to a pontoon. In October 2006, the Trust agreed to the deconstruction of the hull, and salvageable pieces were moved to Gillingham Pier (and a National Lottery funded warehouse) in Chatham Dockyard, in preparation of the hull being professionally restored to seaworthy condition. In October 2008, the society signed a contract with David Abels Shipbuilders to restore the hull at the Albion Dry Dock in Bristol. This to be done using plate riveting by a team of 10, and was envisaged to take two years. Work began in April 2009 and was due to be completed in the summer of 2010. On 27 July 2013 the ship was rededicated. Plans were to float her out of the Albion Dock during the summer of 2013 and tow her back to Gillingham for a reception on 2 November.  The ship is now moored on Gillingham Pier, where further restoration work is now under way. You can read more about the historic ship on The Medway Queen website by clicking here

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