Sunday, March 21, 2021

Bank closure.

I took the photo above on Thursday morning (click on it for a larger view), only two days after the Lloyds Bank branch in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere closed for good. As you can see, all signs identifying the building as a bank have already been removed, as has the ATM from the front wall of the structure. This is exactly what happened to the Barclays Bank branch in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre last month. The Nuxley Road Lloyds was one of the first in a series of 56 closures of local bank branches that the company plans for 2021. In addition to this, TSB plans to close 164 branches this year, and banking experts fear that other banks may follow suit in announcing branch closures. Natwest, formerly RBS, has made by far the most cuts so far, getting rid of 1,084 branches. Lloyds has previously shut down 624 sites. As branch closures have accelerated, so has the disappearance of cash machines – down 6,127 last year to 54,422. In a recent interview, Kevin Hollinrake, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking, said: 'Branch networks will still be used for years and banks have a responsibility to provide a solution for customers who rely on them.' Lenders have justified their closures on the increasing use of online banking, claiming customers do not need as many branches. The Financial Conduct Authority has held working groups with major banks to determine how they will maintain access to cash for customers. But a decision has not been reached on what this will entail. How businesses that handle cash will deal with this situation seems to have been overlooked. It would seem that the high street bank is very much endangered. Britain has lost 53 percent of its bank branches since 1989, leaving 1,500 communities with no bank, and another 840 with only one bank remaining. More than 600 branch closures have occurred in the last year alone, and the Swiss bank UBS has predicted that the UK is set to lose another 50 percent of its total branch network in the next ten years. Britain’s major banks would have you believe that this is due to a precipitous collapse in demand for bank branches, and the rise of online and mobile channels for people to access their money. Digital services have undeniably changed the way we engage with our bank, but all the available evidence suggests that not only is there clear and consistent demand for branches declared by the British public, but also that this preference is also born out by people’s actual behaviour too. Studying these industry-focused reports is instructive, because they suggest that far from responding to demand pressures, the major UK banks are simply closing branches in poorer areas and opening or retaining them in more affluent areas – often regardless of demand, or of the impact that a branch closure would have on that area or its population. It occurs to me (and your opinion would be welcomed) that where banks are owned by the public (either wholly, majority or partially), those banks have an explicit moral and financial duty to serve the public interest, which includes ensuring continued banking provision for vulnerable and under served communities. In a report published by the independent think tank, the Social Market Foundation, they outline that whilst a substantial number of bank customers are happy to use online and mobile services for routine transactions and simple issues; By contrast, the researchers found an overwhelming preference to use branches for more complex transactions or big financial decisions – a preference that was matched by people’s behaviour. It has also been alleged that the banks manipulate user statistics to make the branches they want to close look far less well used than in fact they are. Other accusations have also been levelled at banks. One campaigner in Wales whose spouse worked in a branch due for closure recounted the story that the branch staff had been instructed not to process cheques that had been handed in, but instead to post them to the next nearest branch for processing there. The next nearest branch, several miles away and in a more prosperous and wealthy area, was cited by the bank as being more busy than the branch due for closure, despite being in a smaller catchment area and featuring fewer facilities than the branch due for closure. In other words, the bank was intentionally and wilfully manipulating the usage figures in order to justify its predetermined decision to close the branch. I am certainly not implying that any of these underhand tactics were used in the closure plans for either Lloyds in Upper Belvedere, or Barclays in Erith, as I have absolutely no information about the details, but it would appear that the bigger picture does contain some questionable behaviour at the least. What do you think? Email me at

Whilst I was undertaking some research for the Blog, I was very surprised to discover that the remains of the original open air  Erith Swimming Baths had been unearthed during the works to create the foundations for the London South East Colleges Bexley back in 2013 / 2014; I was aware of the original baths, but erroneously thought that they were located on the opposite side of Walnut Tree Road, adjacent to the Carnegie gifted library building, currently being refurbished and repurposed by charitable community benefit society The Exchange. Actually the baths were sited in Stonewood Road, which back in the day was known as Station Road. If you click on the vintage photo above, which dates back to 1908 you can see that the baths were little more than a tin shack with an open roof, right next door to the old Erith tram shed; from the original ordnance survey plans, one can see that the baths were opposite a large coal yard, and very close to cattle pens that at the time existed outside of Erith Station. There was also an electricity generating station where the current substation exists, next to the old library, and the smoke from the boilers would have added to the whiff. The place must have reeked – and I would have thought it would be used more by the working people  than by the local gentry. The photo shows some kind of special event, possibly involving a game of Water Polo, which was then becoming popular, after the sport made its first Olympic appearance in 1900. I think the aristocratic looking lady and gentleman standing on the poolside to the centre left of the picture are John Parish and his wife. Parish was a wealthy local businessman who owned several enterprises in the local area, including Erith Ballast pit and the accompanying riverside wharf. 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. What is tragic about the photograph is that many of the young men featured in the picture would not have survived the First World War, which took place only six years later.

I had a couple of Emails from local resident and semi regular Maggot Sandwich contributor Miles recently. He was most alarmed by the recent fire that broke out close to the Erith Park development last Monday. Miles writes:- "As you're probably aware there was a serious fire at a block of flats near Erith Park on Monday, a significant number of residents had been evacuated whilst a small army of firefighters brought the fire under control. The London Fire Brigade shared this photograph of what I believe to be a Xiaomi M365, an electric scooter. This particular scooter is hugely popular, more or less the go to, low cost "PLEV" in Europe. As with most of these types of vehicles are mass produced at scale with 18650 Lipo or LiFePO4 batteries. As we saw with the hover board scandal these vehicles can be incredibly dangerous if manufactured, charged or treated in an improper manner. I have seen these batteries go supernova, it's quite a sight - the major issue with Lithium Ion once they catch fire, it quickly spreads through the remaining cells and is near impossible to extinguish! Unfortunately the general public seem to be unaware of the dangers of these products, each cell has a significant energy density, and the scooter I mentioned has 40 of them. When they go, they are incredibly dangerous. Monday's events began by someone charging the vehicle in a communal walkway which subsequently caught fire whilst unattended. I believe the result was a significant number of residents were evacuated and a small army of firefighters were called in to bring the fire under control. I presume the building, which was recently built I believe, was equipped with fire suppression equipment alongside fire doors - I don't imagine the average family home is as well equipped. Where these scooters differ from say your laptop is they use unprotected cells, your laptop cells have an inbuilt circuit that monitors temperature, voltage and current draw which will automatically cut off if any the manufacturer's defined thresholds are breached - ie, temperature gets too high or low. These scooters on the other hand offload that responsibility to a main board (usually the ESC or UBEC) - so if even one cell falls outside of those parameters, it's game over. Funnily enough, as you are probably aware, even WITH those protections in your phone/laptop it can all go horribly wrong. Anecdotally whilst working on a battery pack, a short occured. I very quickly grabbed the pack and threw it outside and grabbed a bag of sharp sand and an extinguisher - thankfully outside of some melted plastic and some broken cables, nothing happened. Having built battery packs in the past I really do not enjoy working with Lipo batteries given how quickly and furiously they can burn. I think there's a few things at play, the push to drive costs as low as possible meaning the components just aren't fit for purpose, ever increasing energy densities leading to lower and lower tolerances and finally over confidence and relaxed attitude towards these products. Sort of reminds of a child's cavalier attitude towards fire, right up until they get burnt. Unless you see how dangerous they can be, you don't appreciate what may happen. With all this in mind, I keep all my unprotected cells and anything powered by them away from the house, and with a CO2 fire extinguisher close at hand. So to some this up, whilst these gadgets shouldn't be feared they do need to be treated with respect". An interesting and somewhat worrying article from technology specialist Miles. Have you had any experiences with Lithium based power cells? Email me at  

Regular readers may recall that I have shown that Erith has over the years been a pioneer in the fields of science and engineering. The first working motor car was built and tested in Erith (in Manor Road, to be precise); the first practical fully automatic machine gun was invented and manufactured in Erith, and the world’ s first heavier than air flying vehicle was invented in Erith, and test flown in Crayford. The first ever submarine to successfully fire a torpedo whilst submerged was also designed in Erith, but built in Sweden. The photo above shows Vickers factory which used to be located in Nordenfeldt Road, off West Street in or about 1916; The factory had several owners over its life; after Vickers no longer had need of it, the place was sold to a company called Elizabethan Electronics, who made radios and record players primarily for domestic use; when the company relocated to a new factory in Romford in the early 1960’s the place was sold on to Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), a company that was soon to be better known by the name of their best known products – the Vox range of guitar amplifiers. Founder Thomas Walter Jennings started the business in Dartford in 1958, when he took a prototype guitar amplifier which had been demonstrated to him by big band guitarist and Belvedere resident Dick Denney two years earlier, and turned it into a working, commercial product – the Vox AC-15. The AC-15 was almost immediately purchased by Hank Marvin, and the unique sound of the Shadows was down primarily to the use of Vox amplification. Soon after, the “British Invasion” of the early 60’s was under way, powered almost exclusively by Vox amplifiers. Keeping it local, Dartford’s own Rolling Stones used Vox, as did The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and in what was one of the very earliest pieces of celebrity product placement, Vox amplifiers were promoted and exclusively used by the Beatles, after manager Brian Epstein negotiated a deal – one which greatly benefitted JMI, who were pretty much called Vox by this point. As the audiences for gig got bigger, and the venue sizes increased, the need for more powerful amplification became evident – the 15 Watt AC-15 was not powerful enough; JMI effectively nailed two AC-15 amps together to create their all time classic Vox AC-30 amplifier – a model still in production to this day. Contemporary musicians who employ the AC-30 include Brian May of Queen, who was the first person to create a “wall” of AC-30’s to create his unique and totally distinctive sound; Tom Petty, Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore, Mark Knopfler, Paul Weller, and the Edge of U2 – pretty much all of rock royalty use or have used Vox amplification.  JMI also manufactured guitars, many of which were technically ground breaking – including active pickups, and built in sound effects – the down side of this was that they tended to be heavy and ugly, and did not pick up many celebrity users. JMI / Vox also invented the Wah Wah pedal – most famously used by Jimi Hendrix, and the fuzztone distortion pedal used by Jimmy Page, then of the Yardbirds, and soon to be of Led Zeppelin. Vox / JMI also created the very first wireless microphone system, early models of which gained a reputation from picking up interference from nearby mini cab radios. Another very successful and influential product made by JMI / Vox at Erith was the Vox Continental electronic organ, which most famously featured on “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, and “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors (actually, pretty much any Doors track heavily features the Vox Continental – it was integral to their sound). Famously the Doors did not have a bass guitarist, so the organ was key to the rhythm as well as the melody in their songs. John Lennon used the Vox Continental when playing live, both with the Beatles, and later when performing solo. JMI sold production rights to the Vox Continental to an Italian company in 1967; the build quality of the Continental markedly declined from then on, and users soon switched to other keyboards. Consequently, early, Erith built Continentals now attract premium prices on the collectors market. I understand that the Erith Vox factory received regular visits from the musicians who used their products; I have heard a report that Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones made at least one appearance on the factory floor. I wonder if any reader has any knowledge of this, or even a contemporary photograph? If so, please drop me a line to – you would receive a full credit for any information you could provide. JMI / Vox became victims of their own success; they grew vastly in size and turnover over a period of around five years; in order to raise working capital, Thomas Jennings sold his controlling interest in the business to the Royston Group – an early venture capital organisation; after disagreements with the direction the company was going – mainly in respect of cost cutting moves to increase profitability (using cheaper materials in the manufacture of the AC-30 amplifier, which adversely affected performance and reliability), Jennings left JMI / Vox in 1967. The company battled on for several more years, changing hands a number of times. Vox had a major new competitor in the amplifier market  - Marshall, who by the early 1970’s had overtaken Vox as the biggest makers of guitar amplifiers. Nowadays you think of a live rock gig and you automatically think of rows of Marshall stack amplifiers (of course, all turned up to 11, but that is another story). Few know the real story of how Vox conquered the musical world in a few short years, and changed popular music for ever. All from a dusty old former machine gun factory off West Street in Erith.

The photo above was sent to me a couple of years ago by Erith businessman and property developer Manjinder. It shows some very picturesque aircraft contrails reflecting the rising sun over Manor Road. It also illustrates one of the more bizarre conspiracy theories that persist despite much evidence to the contrary. For some reason the theory has grown considerably during the Covid-19 lockdown - presumably as those that follow such rubbish have more time on their hands. You may have heard of the Chemtrail Conspiracy? If not, I will explain. The chemtrail conspiracy theory is the unproven belief that long-lasting trails, so-called "chemtrails", are left in the sky by high-flying aircraft and that they consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. The main UK based group of Chemtrail conspiracists have their website here - click to view. Believers in the theory argue that normal aircraft contrails dissipate relatively quickly and that contrails that do not dissipate must contain additional substances. These arguments have been dismissed by the scientific community: such trails are normal water-based contrails (condensation trails) that are routinely left by high-flying aircraft under certain atmospheric conditions. Although proponents have attempted to prove that the claimed chemical spraying does take place, their analyses have been flawed or based on misconceptions. Because of the persistence of the conspiracy theory and questions about government involvement, scientists and government agencies around the world have repeatedly explained that supposed chemtrails are in fact normal contrails. Contrails, or condensation trails, are "streaks of condensed water vapour created in the air by an airplane or rocket at high altitudes". They are the result of normal emissions of water vapour from piston and jet engines at high altitudes in which the water vapour condenses into visible clouds. They are formed when hot humid air from the engines (when Kerosene jet fuel burns, one of the results of combustion is water vapour) mixes with the colder surrounding air. The rate at which contrails dissipate is entirely dependent on weather conditions and altitude. If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for some time. Conversely, if the atmosphere is dry, the contrail will dissipate quickly. The conspiracy theorists will have none of this, however. A 2014 research paper presented results of reviewing 20 chemtrail websites found that believers appeal to science in some of their arguments, but don't believe what academic or government-employed scientists say; scientists and federal agencies have consistently denied that chemtrails exist, explaining the sky tracks are simply persistent contrails. The 2014 paper also found that chemtrail believers generally hold that chemtrails are evidence of a global conspiracy; people who believe in the conspiracy allege various goals which include profit (for example, manipulating futures prices or making people sick to benefit drug companies), population control, or weapons testing (use of weather as a weapon, or testing bio weapons). One of these ideas, is that clouds are being seeded with electrically conductive materials as part of a massive electromagnetic superweapons programme based around the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). Those who believe in the conspiracy say the chemtrails are toxic; the 2014 review found that chemtrail believers generally hold that every person is under attack and found that believers often express fear, anxiety, sadness and anger about this. Experts on atmospheric phenomena say chemtrails do not exist, and that the characteristics attributed to them are simply features of contrails responding differently in diverse conditions in terms of the sunlight, temperature, horizontal and vertical wind shear, and humidity levels present at the aircraft's altitude. In the US, the grid like nature of the National Airspace System's flight lanes tends to cause crosshatched contrails, and in general it is hard to discern from the ground whether overlapping contrails are at similar altitudes or not. The jointly published fact sheet produced by NASA, the EPA, the FAA, and NOAA in 2000 in response to alarms over chemtrails details the science of contrail formation, and outlines both the known and potential impacts contrails have on temperature and climate. The USAF produced a fact sheet as well that described these contrail phenomena as observed and analyzed since at least 1953. It also rebutted chemtrail theories more directly by identifying the theories as a hoax and disproving the existence of chemtrails. Patrick Minnis, an atmospheric scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is quoted in USA Today and online, as saying that logic does not dissuade most chemtrail proponents: "If you try to pin these people down and refute things, it's, 'Well, you're just part of the conspiracy'," What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

As mentioned in last weeks update, currently the way in which the various Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams around the borough record their weekly activities is currently under review; for this reason the format of the Neighbourhood Watch report will be temporarily changing with this in mind. Grant Murrell, the Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association Chairman wrote the following piece in his weekly report:- "As anticipated many of you have been missing the Police reports in recent weeks and as such have been asking about them. I can inform you there certainly have been many discussions around this subject and naturally, we have been in contact with Police regarding this matter. The Police have indicated that some solution has been found and it is anticipated that we will receive a report next week. We will of course keep you informed of any developments".  There has also been a warning about the currently increased risk of vehicle catalytic converter thefts from Dana Wiffen:- "Do you own one of these vehicles below? 
Honda Jazz 
Honda CR-V 
Toyota Prius 
Toyota Auris 
Toyota Yaris 
Lexus RX 
They are the vehicles most often targeted for Catalytic Converter Theft. Analysis of official Police figures over the last 12 months shows that these makes of vehicle have seen the highest number of Catalytic Converter thefts in the Metropolitan Police District. Catalytic Converters form part of the exhaust system and are stolen for the precious metals contained within them. The price of these metals recently reached an all-time high. If you do own one of these vehicles above or have recently been the victim of a Catalytic converter theft, please email your local Safer Neighbourhoods Team for a FREE Catalytic Converter marking kit. Catalytic Crime prevention measures:- Contact your vehicle dealership about fitting an aftermarket product, approved by the vehicle manufacturer, to prevent your converter from being removed.  If possible park your car in a locked garage. If you have a driveway, think about installing CCTV and dusk till dawn lighting covering the area or even a Secured by design (SBD) driveway alarm / sensors.  Know the position of the Cat converter on your vehicle and try to park defensively making it awkward to access. Consider parking alongside other cars or tight to walls rather than the end bay, facing the bonnet towards the wall etc). If you see anyone acting suspiciously under a vehicle report it immediately to Police.

In the Slade Green and Northend ward, the motor scooter above was stolen from outside the owner's residence front garden on Monday 15th March between 12:30 and 6 am.

The end video this week features some aerial drone footage of the Erith Quarry development, and especially the construction of the new primary school on the site. Whilst the video footage was shot a few months ago, little has changed in the meantime; most of the construction activity on site has been seriously limited by the Covid-19 lockdown. The unusual, circular design of the 21-classroom primary school for 630 students can clearly be seen in the short video. Comments / feedback and requests should be sent to me at

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