Sunday, December 27, 2020

The mobile library.

It seems that we have been suffering from exceptionally dark and dreary weather conditions - more so than it would seem usual even in the middle of winter. There have been several days in the last couple of weeks when it has not even got properly light, and I have had to use artificial illumination indoors throughout the day. The lack of daylight can affect people with conditions such as Vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the autumn and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. It is a very common ailment. What, you might wonder does this have in common with the photograph above? Well, whilst it might look that the photo was taken in the height of summer, it was actually taken by me less than two weeks ago during a single, atypical nice day. It shows the wooden jetty adjacent to Erith Riverside Gardens, and the River Thames at high tide. I was lucky to take the photo on a windless afternoon, and the river was at slack tide, giving the water a glassy appearance. Click on the photo above to see a larger view. Please send any comments to me at

Britain has so far been the only major European country that has not legislated for the permission to use electrically powered scooters, even though they can be seen whizzing illegally about the capital. This follows safety concerns raised after the death of television presenter and YouTube star Emily Hartridge, who was the first person to die in Britain in an e-scooter crash after being hit by a bin lorry at a Battersea roundabout last July. Hired electric scooters limited to 15.5mph will be legal on the capital’s roads and cycle lanes in a year-long trial starting yesterday, but not on pavements, as a new socially-distanced way of getting around. Privately-owned scooters remain illegal on public roads. Disability campaigners are also worried ditched e-scooters will add more obstacles cluttering London’s pavements, as happened with pay-as-you-ride electric bikes. There are also concerns that riders of electric scooters often fail to realise that the use of such vehicles, whilst currently illegal in the UK, also has insurance implications. In a recent article in The London Evening Standard,  Laurenz Gerger, policy advisor at The Association of British Insurers, said scooter renters should be aware of the “right of recovery” against them in event of an accident while breaking the law by drinking and scooting, the same as drivers. He said: “If you drink-drive your car and you injure someone, and the insurer pays out to a third party, then the insurer might make a recovery against you because you shouldn’t have been drinking and driving. My understanding is that the same drink-drive limits would apply as for cars.The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety said: “Experience has shown that e-scooters may attract users who have consumed alcohol or drugs. This has been a problem with clubbers in Berlin.” It added: "There has been a high incidence of first-time users suffering falls, sometimes with serious injury.” Despite being banned on roads, e-scooters have become more of a common sight mixing with bicycles and vehicles in the capital. Electric scooters are certainly a problem in the local area;  What do you think? Let me know. 

If you watched the episode of "Worzel Gummmidge" on Christmas Eve, you may be interested that the star of the show has strong local connections. Actor Mackenzie Crook is from Dartford. Paul James Crook (born 29 September 1971), known professionally as Mackenzie Crook, is an actor, director, comedian and BAFTA-winning writer. He is known for playing Gareth Keenan in The Office, Ragetti in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Orell in the HBO series Game of Thrones, and the title role of Worzel Gummidge. He is also the creator and star of BBC Four's Detectorists. Crook was born in Maidstone, and grew up in Dartford. Crook's first jobs including working at the Dartford Pizza Hut restaurant and also at Halfords where he felt he was "waiting for real life to start". He now lives with his wife and children in Muswell Hill.

The photo above was taken from a scan of a period postcard by regular reader and occasional contributor Jeff, who kindly sent it, and a couple of other local historical images to me recently. Thanks Jeff - your contribution is greatly appreciated. Erith was heavily dependent on trams for local transport for thirty years at the start of the 20th century. The main line between Erith and Abbey Wood was heavily used; Walnut Tree Road was constructed to allow trams to go from West Street up towards Northumberland Heath; a branch line went from Pier Road all the way up to North End. Strangely trams never ran from Erith to Upper Belvedere, as the residents of Upper Belvedere were strongly opposed to the idea. I would hazard a guess that as a good number of wealthy and influential people (including some of the owners of the factories in Lower Belvedere)  lived in the big houses at the top of Picardy Road and in Eardley Road, they probably did not want the great unwashed flocking onto their doorsteps from working class Erith. There were also technical issues with the proposed route up Picardy Road, which for the most part is a one in ten, or steeper hill. A conventional tram would have difficulty in climbing such a steep incline.  A copy of the brochure commemorating the inauguration of the service is held in the records of Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre. The brochure says that the opening of the tram service "marks an important step in the progress of locomotion in the South Eastern district of London" and then went on to envisage the prospect of being able to travel from Erith to far flung places such as Maidenhead and Watford, purely by tram. Of course, this never came to pass; Erith Tramway was never a major financial success, as it was so small and limited in its' scope to generate income. It consisted on only fourteen tramcars in total. The coming of the trams meant that the small power station in Walnut Tree Road needed to be doubled in size (it was located where the old Erith Swimming Baths once stood, and is now private, riverside apartments).  The tram shed was built on the opposite side of the road, on the college campus site. The existing level crossing over the railway at Lower Road was replaced with a bridge (locally still know as “the new bridge”) and a set of gates were constructed adjacent to the Ballast Wharf Siding in West Street, which is now called Chichester Wharf. Another tram siding at the bottom of Walnut Tree Road was protected by what was the longest level crossing gate in Britain. The rails, which weighed a total of 1,480 tons, were laid into a bed of six inches  of concrete, lined with granite blocks, except outside of churches, schools and Erith Cottage Hospital, where quieter wood blocks were laid instead. When the tram service began on the 26th August 1905, there were a total of fourteen double decker trams servicing the Abbey Wood – Erith – Northumberland Heath line. Of these, only half had covered upper decks, which could not have been much fun if you were stuck on an open upper deck in the middle of winter. The trams were pretty impressive and grand looking, with maple lined interiors and gold coloured curtains. The original exterior paint livery was regarded as being initially a bit showy and garish – bright green and canary yellow. This was soon replaced with brown and cream, which was regarded as a more sober look. Financially Erith Tramway was not a great success. The only period where the tram company made any substantial profits was during the First World War. At that time the area had a great influx of workers to the munitions factories at the Vickers and Maxim gun works; after that time, the service began a slow decline. To make the complete journey from Abbey Wood to Northumberland Heath cost 3d. The drivers wage, for a minimum sixty hour week was 6d an hour. By 1933 Erith Tramway had 4.1 miles of track and a total of fourteen tram cars. At this point, the service was losing money, and the London Passenger Transport Board converted all local tram routes to the newer trolley bus technology. The last tram ran through Erith on the 9th of November 1935.

I thought this week I would highlight a radio phenomenon that is particularly prominent during the Christmas and New Year holiday period – the weekend hobby radio pirates. These stations come on air sporadically for a few hours, usually on a Saturday night or Sunday morning during most of the year, but also over the festive holiday season, almost certainly broadcast from the operators’ spare bedroom or garden shed. They usually broadcast on Shortwave, and probably only have audiences numbering in the couple of dozen. Nevertheless there are a number of people who have made it their hobby to monitor and record when these stations come on air, and what content they broadcast. The transmitters these pirates use are usually either home – made, or modified amateur radio equipment, re tuned to work on the Shortwave broadcast radio bands, rather than the legally allocated amateur radio spectrum. These pirates operate pretty much with impunity nowadays – back in the 1980’s at the height of land based pirate radio activity, enforcement was a lot more rigorous, when the likes of the infamous Eric Gotts of the DTI Radio Investigation Service would be chasing round the country, eager to feel a few collars and confiscate an illicit transmitter. Nowadays things are a lot less strict; the Radio Investigation Service is no more – it was subsumed into OFCOM some years ago. Nowadays unless an unlicensed transmission is causing interference with a licensed service, or someone complains, there is a very slim chance that OFCOM would take any action. In other European countries, the situation is different – in the Netherlands for example, penalties for unlicensed broadcasting are pretty strict, with fines and the confiscation of equipment being normal upon conviction.  Whatever the penalties, the number of such stations has remained pretty constant for years. You can read more about them, and what radio frequencies you can find them on, and when here. Additionally, You can see a daily updated log of stations here. Have a look and let me know what you think. Incidentally, you do not actually need to own a Shortwave radio receiver to listen to the Shortwave pirates. There are a number of online, internet based radios that you can use. One that I personally find to be good is run by The University of Twente in The Netherlands. It is what is known as a Software Defined Radio (SDR). You can use the radio completely for free at any time - just click on this link to access the system. The web based radio receiver can handle up to 500 concurrent users - the number of users is displayed on the screen. If the number of users exceeds the 500 limit, performance of the system is affected. Normally there are around 350 users at any one time, but during the holiday period, things can get busy, so if there are more than 500 people logged in, I would recommend that you click away, and try again later.

In another radio related story, history was made on Christmas Day. For the first time in its 56 year history, Radio Caroline was able to broadcast the Queen's Christmas speech. In a press release the station wrote:- "On 1st December 1964, David Block, Caroline's former publicity officer, contacted the BBC to request a copy of the Queen’s Christmas message. He was told that, despite Caroline having more than 12 million listeners, his request could not be taken seriously because Caroline was a pirate radio station, and to come back ‘if and when’ he could provide ‘evidence of credentials as representative of an authorised broadcaster’. Radio Caroline has been an authorised broadcaster since 22nd December 2017, when we took over and returned to use the abandoned BBC World Service transmission facilities at Orfordness on the Suffolk coast. We again applied for permission to broadcast the Queen’s Christmas message this year – and this time approval was granted. "Fifty-six years is a long wait, but we are very pleased to now be able to transmit the Queen's Christmas Message." said station manager Peter Moore. "This will be heard on 648 AM in the South East, on DAB in various towns and cities and globally via the Internet, where we have time shifted the message for East and West Coast US."

Very occasionally I will come across a story whilst I am doing my research into the articles for inclusion in the Maggot Sandwich which makes me stop and smile. This week I had such a moment. Whilst reading through “A History of Erith” by John A. Pritchard (the seminal historical text on the town), I discovered that Erith was the first town in the UK to have a dedicated mobile library van. Whilst the much larger and better funded city of Manchester had converted an old truck into a mobile library before, Erith was the first town to have a purpose built, dedicated vehicle, staff and remit. The Travelling Library Service was started on the 24th April 1935. The idea was widely copied both at home and abroad, and the mobile library concept is still in use today – back then it visited Northumberland Heath, Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere, Barnehurst and Bexleyheath, in addition to its’ home territory in Erith. The Travelling Library Service was commandeered in the autumn of 1938 as a way to distribute gas masks to the civilian population prior to the widely expected war. At the end of the conflict, the vehicle was used as a travelling war damage compensation enquiry bureau. There is little record of what happened to the van after this, as the records appear to have been lost. If you have any information, 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 has suffered a number of vehicle crime offences mainly theft of number plates. Cumbrian Avenue, Beechcroft Avenue and Edendale Avenue were all targeted overnight between Tuesday 15/12/2020 and Wednesday 16/12/2020. Number plates were removed from the vehicles and in Heath Way a rear window was smashed by unknown persons. CCTV shows a vehicle possibly with either a different coloured roof or a soft-top driving along Heath Way before smashing the window of a parked vehicle. This type of crime appears to be reoccurring on the Borough for unknown reasons. In Grasmere Road on Thursday 17/12/2020, a Catalytic Convertor and an exhaust pipe was stolen from a Honda. In Chipstead Close a black and silver motorbike VRM LY18 UPK was stolen from outside an address on Tuesday 22/12/2020 between 17:15 and 18:08. Following the spate of vehicle crime the team have given out a large number of anti-theft number plate screws to residents. If you wish to receive some of these to deliver in your road please contact the team. The team have been made aware of a trial bike being ridden around Cotswold Close in the early hours of the morning causing a disturbance to local residents. To finish on a good note there has been no burglaries on the ward". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward:- "Sadly we have a burglary to report.  On Tuesday 15th December between 16:30 and 21:00 a flat was broken in to in Green Place.  Entry was made via a rear door which was damaged to gain entry.  There was a messy search and £100 cash and jewellery was stolen.  On Friday 18th December between 11:30 and 11:35, cash, medication, credit cards and bank cards were stolen from a vehicle whilst parked at Bookers, entry was made by smashing a window. On Friday 18th December between 10:45 and 11:20, keys, currency, cigarettes, a bag containing vehicle and house keys as well as a bank statement which indicates the home address were stolen from a white Sprinter van whilst parked at Crayford Industrial Estate. Number plates were stolen from a vehicle whilst parked at Old Road between 18:00 on Saturday 19th December and 18:00 on Sunday 20th December.  Number plates LD60 ZFX should be on a black Lexus RX450H. A bicycle and lock were stolen from Sainsburys on Saturday 19th December between 01:45 and 07:5, it had been chained to the bike rack, no further description of the bike is on the report. As ever, please make sure your home looks/sounds occupied, especially on these dark nights and refrain from leaving anything of value in your vehicle.  Criminals don’t stop stealing just because it’s Christmas and will most certainly take advantage if they can". Erith ward:- "This week we had our Virtual ward panel meeting, But this didn’t quite go as planned as it would seem some of the invites didn’t seem to work and there were a few technical issues, We are hoping to redo this meeting in January. Crime wise - 3 theft from motor vehicles. No burglaries. This time of year just be extra mindful of leaving empty boxes outside to be collected after Christmas, This shows everyone what new items you have in your house. Let’s hope 2021 treats us all better". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "One crime of note this week. A vehicle in Maynard Close was broken into between Wednesday 16th and Friday 18th of December. Christmas hampers, a laptop and other items were stolen. Please leave no items in your vehicles at any time. On behalf of our team, we would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe one too. Thanks for all your efforts over the last year. Please keep an eye out for any neighbours that may be vulnerable and lonely over the coming days. Overnight on Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th December, a car was broken into and items stolen in Sayers Way (a new development in Slade Green).  The driver of a car had been seen earlier on in the evening acting suspiciously outside the small terrace of 7 houses". Thamesmead East ward - no report this week. West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported to us over the last week. One attempted theft of catalytic converter from Heath Avenue on Saturday 19/12/20 23:15. Theft of a blue Suzuki Bandit motorbike in Milford Close between Monday 21/12/20 21:00 and Tuesday 22/12/20 at 09:45. This Christmas is not the one we all hoped for, but on behalf of the West Heath Safer Neighbourhood Team, we wish you all a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas".

The end video this week is a reminder of a rather more pleasant, pre - Covid time. It features local Jazz combo The Tom Fleming Trio, playing a piece called "Angel Eyes". 

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