Sunday, October 04, 2020


I took the photo above on Wednesday afternoon; it shows the progress on the apartment block that is currently being constructed on the site of the former Belvedere Police Station, on the corner of Nuxley Road and Woolwich Road. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, work on site now seems to be progressing, and I do not think it will be too long before the roof will be ready to install. Remarkably for such a restricted site, the disruption to local residents and businesses has been fairly minimal. I do wonder, when the residential block is completed, and the residents move in, how they will cope with car parking? The site will have minimal parking facilities, and parking in either Nuxley Road or Woolwich Road will be impossible. I do sense a potential opportunity for the operators of The Priory Social Club, directly opposite the new development. They have a large and usually fairly empty car park in front of the main club house building; it would not at all surprise me if they offered car parking spaces to the residents of the new apartment block for a suitable monthly fee. It would seem to me to be a "win / win" for both parties - after all, the new residents would gain a place to park their vehicles, and the social club would get a new revenue stream. What do you think? Email me at

As mentioned in last week's update, work on phase two of the refurbishment work on the former Carnegie Library in Walnut Tree Road, Erith is now well under way. This is part of a joint project between Bexley Council and The Exchange - the charitable community benefit society which operates the historic building. Whilst undertaking some research earlier this week, I discovered something about Andrew Carnegie - the billionaire philanthropist who gifted nearly 2,500 libraries to communities around the world in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.  Apart from his charitable works, Andrew Carnegie had another legacy, that very few people are aware of. In Victorian times, a number of prominent authors on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean - including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Charles Darwin were pressing for reform of the spelling system used in the English language. They complained that the spelling was inefficient, confusing and inconsistent, and that action needed to be taken to simplify things for the benefit of all. Despite the number of illustrious and famous people behind the campaign, nothing really became of it for many years. Eventually spelling change groups sprang up in both the USA and United Kingdom, the most prominent of these was The Spelling Reform Association, which was formed with branches on both the USA in 1876, and in the UK three years later. In 1906, Andrew Carnegie donated the sum of $250,000 to the association - a huge sum equivalent to around $30 million today. The Spelling Reform Association campaign gained a lot of traction in the USA, and many British English words were simplified indeed, then American president Theodore Roosevelt was so taken with these easier spellings that he ordered the US government printing office to adopt the simplified spellings in all federal documents. For some reason the same thing did not happen in the UK, where spelling stayed as it had been for a couple of centuries. This is the reason why US and British English have many words which mean the same thing, but are spelled differently from each other. The main sponsor of this was the same person who funded the Old Library in Erith. A small world indeed. 

The upper photo was taken by Pier Road based professional photographer George Gilbert early in the morning of Sunday the 17th of July 1966. It shows what Erith High Street looked like fifty four years ago, including L.B Stevens the Butcher. The only buildings still in existence in the photo are The Cross Keys, which can just be seen to the extreme right of the photograph. Slightly to the left of it you can just see Erith Post Office, which is still open as well. It was only a very short time later that the whole of the centre of Erith was demolished to make way for a horrendous brutalist concrete shopping centre, which was universally loathed (and as a child, my main recollection of which was a strong smell of stale wee and Jeyes Fluid). I don't know a single person old enough to recall the old town centre who would not have it back if it was possible. The lower photo shows the last day of trade for L.B Stevens - Master Butcher, photographed on Saturday the 27th May 1967, just before the shop was shut for good and demolished. By the look of things, the immaculate shop, with Len Stevens in his bow tie, spotless apron and straw boater hat was a real credit to the area. If the redevelopment vandals had not come in and demolished things, I do wonder if Stevens the Butcher would still be running today? With the increase in popularity of traditional suppliers, Erith could have become a haven for foodies. I have heard it said that if the original, historic Erith town centre had been preserved, then Erith could now be Whitstable on the Thames. How things might have been different if wiser heads had been in control?

On Friday morning, a press release was published by The Environment Agency; it has special relevance to local residents. The press release reads:- "Fourteen sites raided on the Darent Industrial estate in Multi-Agency day of action. Waste sites on the Darent Industrial Estate in Erith got a surprise early morning visit from Environment Agency officers working with the Met Police, HSE, London Borough Of Bexley, British Transport Police, BT Openreach, London Fire Brigade and the Joint Unit For Waste Crime. The raid is part of a number of multi-agency days of action targeting poor performing businesses in the Kent and South London area. The raids led to the discovery of a suspected stolen vehicle and recovering stolen metal and cables. Officers also found someone illegally living on a site, which raised concerns about their safety due to fire risk. The Environment Agency uncovered a number of incidents of poor compliance with waste permits. Investigations will now follow and appropriate action will be taken to improve compliance and the state of the sites, which could include enforcement action. Everyone involved in the raid made sure the raid was conducted with social distancing rules in place with correct PPE to make sure everyone involved was safe. Matt Higginson, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “It’s our job to protect people and nature even in these uncertain times, which is why our regulatory and enforcement work continues while we adhere to the government’s guidelines around coronavirus. “This should serve as a warning to those who would flout the law that we and our partners are still fighting to put a stop to waste crime and we won’t hesitate to take action”. To help avoid your waste ending up at an illegal waste site, we encourage you to ask for your waste collector’s waste carrier’s registration number and ask to see their waste transfer note. Joint investigations will continue with the Environment Agency and if convicted as a result of legal action, those responsible could face extensive fines and even prison sentences. Anyone who suspects illegal waste activity is reminded to report it to our 24-hour hotline by calling 0800 80 70 60, or anonymously contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. You can check your waste collectors waste carriers registration at or call 03708 506 506. Earlier this year the Environment Agency and partners launched the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, aiming to stop serious and organised crime in the UK Waste Industry. You can find out more about the initiative on our website." This is great news; it has long been rumoured that there were serious problems with some of the companies based on the Darenth Industrial Estate, and this would seem to confirm them. 

Every so often I feature an old and long forgotten technology that did not really take off. You may recall that I recounted the story of the digital, Mini Disk format a few weeks ago. Now marks the forty fifth anniversary of another media format that should have made it big, but due to a number of factors, it ended up being consigned to the parts bin of history. Back before all-digital music, back before the Digital Compact Cassette, back before even the Digital Audio Tape existed, there was a strange audio device that, briefly, captured the imagination of Hi-Fi enthusiasts across the world. The Elcaset, as it was called, was an enlarged cassette that started in Japan, wove its hidden, spinning spools round the world and then finished, appropriately enough, in Finland. The humble Compact Cassette was already more than a decade old in 1975, and its pros and cons had by then become fairly clear to most listeners. It wasn’t a huge reel-to-reel deck as used by pro studios, and was thus portable by the standards of the day—even though Sony's cassette Walkman was still a few years away. The sound was generally acceptable for a generation raised on crackly mono Dansette record players. But the small tape size—two sets of stereo tracks squeezed onto a strip of tape just 3.81mm wide—and the slow playback speed of 4.76cm (1⅞ inches) per second rendered the device incapable of really capturing and playing anything near the full sonic range that music ultimately requires. What's more, there was often plenty of hiss that couldn’t easily be masked. So 45 years ago, a trio of rising Japanese electronics giants decided to inject some quality into the game, something that they hoped would hit the Hi-Fi market as well as aspiring consumers and indie studios. Thus Panasonic, Sony, and Teac came up with the Elcaset, a larger small format. It was virtually twice the size of the old cassette—more like a paperback book in size, at a hefty 15cm wide, 10cm tall and 2cm deep. It contained quarter-inch tape running at double the speed of regular cassettes, which naturally gave the format greater frequency response and a wider dynamic range, as well as much less hiss. It also had six tracks, despite still playing back in stereo—the third track on each side was for a cue function that was designed as an additional facility that studios could use, but never fully implemented. The other big difference was that the Elcaset’s tape was gently pulled away from the body shell when it was played, so that even the most scuffed—or crudely-made—frame wouldn’t effect the audio signal. To put it in technical terms, the cassette had a high-frequency bandwidth that hardly got over 16,000Hz, whereas Elcaset exceeded 25,000Hz, and had a fine mid-band (the region in which most vocals and guitars live). It made a better noise, basically. The best Elcaset decks had three motors, three heads for playback, recording, and erasure, closed-loop dual capstan, VU meters, and remote control. All-in-all, they sounded pretty damn good. Sony, Teac, and Panasonic had their own top-of-the-range versions as well as more reasonably priced decks, and there was even a hand-bag sized "portable" version, the EL-D8, which looked like, and essentially was, a piece of mobile pro-audio kit. With a "big four" PR launch—input from Panasonic, Sony, Teac, and then Hitachi—for their "revolutionary Elcaset system," the format should have become a big seller. There were some good reviews, and certain pundits still claim today that Elcaset's overall performance was virtually as good as leading mid-range reel-to-reels at the time, such as the Revox B77. So with the cassette already battling the newish 8-track cartridge, the manufacturers believed Elcaset would apply the killer blow to the older format, leaving it to struggle with the 8-track for market supremacy. Unfortunately, Elcaset's arrival in 1975 (though it did not reach the UK until the following year) coincided with the year that sales of several other innovations took off. One of these was the Chromium Oxide (CrO2) cassette which, while not quite matching the finesse of the Elcaset, did greatly improve cassette sound and could crucially be used in any existing cassette player. The CrO2 cassette cost 40 percent more than a normal tape, but for the audiophile or the discerning pop fan, there was now a premium recording-cassette that didn’t require a whole new deck. The leading tape manufacturer Sansui eventually started to make Elcaset tapes after Sony belatedly brought out a chrome tape of its own for the new decks. But this was already too late. For the compact cassette player there was also Dolby B, which looked and sound fairly fresh on the scene. Dolby B (which funnily enough followed after Dolby A) took out the hiss, reducing noise without overly affecting the sound, again adding value to the existing, cheaper, format. Another innovation, aimed purely at the Hi-Fi market, was a superb range of cassette players from Japanese firm Nakamichi, which had been making them since the autumn of 1973. These slowly gained a great reputation as they squeezed every last drop of sound from a compact tape and, when used with a chrome cassette, almost gave vinyl a run for its money. Decent examples of the legendary Nakamichi Dragon player still command three and four-figure sums today. And, speaking of money, one minus point amid a splash of mainly good reviews was the Elcaset’s exorbitant initial price—coming in at over £1,200 in today’s money. So when indie sound studios realised that the sound was going to be, in some cases, a little worse than a cheaper, used, reel-to-reel deck, that market started to shy away. The convenience of Elcaset would have saved a little studio time, but not enough to warrant the outlay. On top of this, reel-to-reel was comparatively easy to splice—to edit with, literally, razor blades - a technique I was taught back in the late 1980's when I was an intern at what was then BBC Radio London. Elcaset on the other hand could only be dubbed, and recording drop-ins could never be as accurate even if the cue system were ever completed. As for domestic sales, Hi-Fi was costlier back then anyway, but such a price was a big leap for all but the most dedicated audiophile. No way was the average person going to spend such an amount on what many just saw as a glorified cassette. The last straw, domestically speaking, was the failure of Sony and the others to provide pre-recorded tapes. Many people, even Hi-Fi enthusiasts, didn’t always want to have to record their own material. Some just wanted to buy Top 40 albums off the shelf of their nearest music store—but they couldn’t with Elcaset. This would prove to be an error that Sony barely noticed, and repeated with the Betamax video format—their last such content mistake; subsequently they bought up CBS Records as well as shares in various film companies. Elcaset tech was undoubtedly ahead of its time though, and the extra-shell tape handling that it featured would go on to dominate the video market for the following 25 years with VHS and S-VHS. The people behind the "biggest, bestest" cassette just hadn’t considered the public’s price limits, their love of prerecorded material, or even the possibility that existing rival formats could still develop their own innovations. In 1980 the Elcaset itself officially died, the last few thousand unsold players auctioned off at a fraction of their worth to the highest bidder. Incredibly, there were virtually no serious bids from the US, Japan, or even Western Europe, and the highest bid actually came from a Scandinavian distributor. So the last Elcaset players ended up in bargain basements in Finland, blasting out at the snowy forests while the rest of the music world began to forget about their beloved cassette’s short-lived big brother. There’s also no denying that these machines were built for the ages; there’s many a tale of Elcaset players being found in attics this century, after 25 or 35 years in storage, and still playing perfectly. Analogue audio fans still swap "elcassy" tips on sites such as, and if you ever need to lube your belt and two spools—and you probably will with the older Sony tapes—this is definitely the place to find out how. There is now a niche but steady market in secondhand Elcaset players and unused Elcaset tapes, not just on eBay, but in Finland, the UK, US, and Poland. Former Bexleyheath hifi dealer Whomes used to sell Elcaset machines - especially the very high end models - I recall visiting the shop with my late Dad and being given a demonstration - though Dad was never going to buy a machine - but a free look was something else altogether.


It seems highly likely that the Cineworld cinema in Bexleyheath will be closing for good very soon, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Britain’s biggest cinema chain, Cineworld, is to shut all its UK venues, putting up to 5,500 jobs at risk, after the latest James Bond movie was delayed into next year. Cineworld, which owns the Regal cinema and Picturehouse chains, is understood to be preparing to announce plans to close all its theatres in the UK as soon as this Monday, affecting nearly 130 sites. It is also closing its 536 Regal cinemas in the US. This will be a blow both to the staff working in the Bexleyheath cinema, and also to those who have enjoyed seeing films there in the past. Cineworld’s theatres reopened in July following the coronavirus lockdown, but it flagged doubts over its ability to survive a second lockdown in September when it reported a £1.3bn loss for the first half of the year. Hopefully a rescue deal for the chain can be put in place. Another victim of the terrible pandemic. Do you work at Bexleyheath Cineworld? Are you affected by the potential closure? Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Barnehurst Ward have had no reported burglaries over the past week. There have been no incidents of vehicle crime either so a good week all round. Patrols to Hillingdon Road, Fairford Avenue and Barnehurst Golf Club have been carried out daily when on shift. We received a call from a resident who saw a Transit Van driving slowly up and down Fairford Avenue on Saturday 26/09/2020 at 12.53 hours. There was a motorcycle driving slowly behind the van and on two occasions both drivers stopped for brief conversations. The driver of the van appeared to be holding up a mobile phone, believed to be possibly taking photos. They left the scene as they may have noticed they were being watched. Please remain vigilant, dark evenings are here ! Try and make your home look occupied whilst you are out. Consider crime prevention devices such as lights on timers or TV simulators which give the appearance of a TV being on. Ensure any outside lights are in working order and double lock your front doors". Belvedere ward:- "On Tuesday 29/09/2020 there was a theft of motorbike from outside Exmoor House, Clydesdale Way in the car park. It was a red and white Yamaha. Three suspects were seen to take the bike. We have also recently seen an increase of school kids using the electric scooters, most notably around the park on Albert Road / Woolwich Road. The kids drive like idiots and cause a nuisance to the park users. This is not only annoying but illegal. They are not to be ridden on the road, pavement or other public space. We are trying to catch them but, obviously, they don't stop when told. We are aware that some of the kids may be part of Trinity School. There has also been issues with a male on Albert Road arguing with groups of teenagers. The male is normally drunk but it seems that the teenagers are partly to blame in this issue. One to be aware of. There was a burglary on Ripley Road on the Monday 21/09/2020. A PS4, sound bar and a black Mercedes were stolen. A tool was used to gain access through the front door at around 03:15. The team arrested a suspect burglar on Picardy Road. He was wanted by Kent Police for a distraction burglary in December. The team will be holding a Street briefing on the Wednesday 7/10/2020 from 19:00 in the Albert Road Estate. Officers will be near the grass area/road in the middle of the estate for about half an hour. Come and have a chat if you fancy it". Bexleyheath ward:- "There was a report of an attempted burglary at Gravel Hill Close on the Wednesday 23rd September between 8.10 pm & 8.15 pm. A male was seen walking away from the side of the house and getting into a vehicle that was waiting for them. They were noticed from the security lights and a dog was barking. There has been two recent reports of bikes going missing this week. One was along Freta Road Bexleyheath. A garage was broken into and three bikes stolen from within as well as some tools, entry was via the rear garden. This incident overnight from the Sunday 27th into the Monday 28th September. The other report was at Oakland's Road Bexleyheath on the same night between 11 pm and 7 am. Bike was stolen from within the shed. On the Friday 25th September there was a report of someone trying to gain entry to a vehicle parked at the Albion Rd car park. Victim had left the vehicle there from about 8 am until 5 pm and returned to find damaged caused from the suspect. A bag with electrical items was reported stolen from Royal Oak Rd Bexleyheath when victim was loading up a vehicle. This was on the Saturday 26th September between 7.30 am and 10 am. Also on the Friday 25th September victim had reported his wallet stolen in the ASDA from about 3.25 pm onwards". Crayford ward:- "There has been a report of an attempted burglary at Crayford Road Dartford. On the 27th September at about 5am victims had heard several forceful bangs on the front door and then two/three times on the kitchen window. No entry was gained but incident has happened before. There has been two reports of catalytic converters being stolen from vehicles this week, details are below: Saturday 26th September at Sainsbury's Car Park at Stadium Way at about 1050 am. Tuesday 22nd September at the Aldi Store Roman Way Dartford between 1025 am and 1105 am. On the Saturday 26th September there was a report of a bike stolen from Woolbrook Road Dartford between 1.20 pm and 3.50 pm, bike lock was cut to steal bike". Erith ward:- "No burglaries again this week which is good news. We have been out on the ward this week patrolling all areas, plain clothes patrols have also been carried out in crime hot spot areas. We have also visited a few residents who are breaking the restriction rules. Wearing facemasks in shops comes down to the stores to reinforce however when we are in any stores we will question anyone not in a mask. Vehicle crime is slightly on the up this week, below is some advice. Most vehicle crime is preventable. It can take as little as 10 seconds for a thief to steal something from your car. The best way to protect your belongings is to lock your car whenever you leave it. Other things you can do include: •Removing everything from the car; don't even leave a jacket where it can be seen. •Closing the sunroof along with the windows when you leave. •Not storing things in the boot; take them with you. •Storing car ownership information in your home, not your car. •Having a routine to ensure you always take the keys out of the ignition. •Taking removable stereos and sat nav equipment with you. •In addition, using secure (theft resistant) number plates can make your plates less attractive to thieves". Northumberland Heath ward:- "We have seen a considerable drop in ASB since PC Suat along with the street duties team have been conducting active high visibility patrols. The team have been spending a lot of time dealing with a number of continuous neighbour disputes. Please be aware that any noise complaints should first be reported to Bexley council Environmental Heath Officer, noise complaints will not be dealt with by police, however we will assist the local authority in gaining evidence for extreme instances of repeated complaints. We are pleased to say that there have been no burglaries on the ward this week. There has been a theft of a black range rover vehicle from Eastry Road, no keys were stolen, this happened overnight on the Friday 25/ Saturday 26th September. The team are pleased to announce that whilst PC Gashi is on maternity leave, we now have a new PC who will be with us for at least the next 6 months. We welcome PC Leah Pezzato to the team". Slade Green and Northend ward:-"A delivery driver left his engine running while making a delivery Saturday afternoon in Hollywood Way and it was stolen. Please do not leave your engines running at anytime. Tools were taken from a van overnight Sun/Mon in Lincoln Close. Our team along with all other SNT's were involved in a borough wide operation last Thursday aimed at tackling violent crime and offenders. Several arrests were made throughout the day and a lot of other enforcement activities took place". Thamesmead East ward:-"No Burglaries this week. Vehicle Crime. Wolvercote Road - Sunday 27/9/20 2 am – 10 am Passenger window smashed dash cam and sunglasses taken by suspects unknown". West Heath ward:- "There are no reported burglaries from Tuesday 22/09/20 to Tuesday 29/09/20. There is one reported theft of motor vehicle for the same period. On Tuesday 29/ 09/20 at 2100 hours the informant's white Ford transit pickup truck index LL65 ZDJ was stolen from Stapleton Road, Bexleyheath".

The end video this week is very short - regular readers may recall that two weeks ago, I featured a story and a rather dramatic photograph of a fire that destroyed two Ford Transit vans which were parked outside of Electricity House in Erith. I now have come across some video footage of the incident, with the Fire Brigade rapidly extinguishing the blaze. Please send any comments to

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