Yet another technology anniversary has arrived. A company that until this point thirty seven years ago which was known for producing cheap (and pretty nasty) home all – in – one stereo (not really hifi) systems decided that they wanted a slice of the home computing pie that was being dominated by Sinclair (the ZX Spectrum) Commodore (The C64) and Acorn (the BBC Micro). The company was Amstrad, who at the time had no history in making computers. Chairman Alan Sugar (way before Sir Alan, and even further from Lord) had noticed what a commercial success affordable computers were having in both the UK and beyond, and with his business head firmly on, he told his design team that they needed to create a computer that had the following properties:- 1) It had to be an “all – in – one” unit, with a cassette deck or floppy drive, and a monitor included (Sugar cleverly realised that many of the computers would get used in a bedroom. Back in the day, not very many children had their own TV, and a machine that would have to be connected to the family TV in the lounge might not get much use, as Mum and Dad would want to watch Coronation Street, and not have a home computer taking up their precious telly). 2) It had to be made from cheap, easily sourced components, to keep the price down. 3) There had to be a large quantity of high quality, affordable software available for the computer on the day of public launch. Unusually for a computer of the period, the design of the case was finalised before the internal architecture had even been decided. Alan Sugar made sure that a large number of functional prototypes were given to software development houses, so that they could get cracking with writing software for the machine prior to the launch date. The actual electronic design of the computer was outsourced to a number of contractors, many of which were based in the Cambridge area. There was a false start when one supplier had a nervous breakdown and handed back their advance fee for writing the computers firmware. Another company was found, and the Amstrad CPC 464 (cassette deck) and 664 (floppy drive) models were launched on time, with a pile of good quality software available on day one, just has Alan Sugar had promised. The prices were keen too. A CPC 464 could be had with a green screen monitor for £249, or with a full colour screen for £359 – a bargain when you consider that a colour monitor alone could cost around £200 in 1984 prices. The 664 model with the unusual 3” Hitachi floppy disk drive, accompanied by an 80 column green screen monitor became a very popular first computer for many small businesses. Accounting, purchase ledger, spreadsheet and word processing software was produced for the machine, and much of it was of exceedingly high quality for the period and the relative limitations of the Z80 eight bit processor architecture. The CPC range sold very well indeed; in fact in the late 1980’s the Amstrad brand was one of the few computer companies to survive the great computer crash. Even former giants like Sinclair were forced to go cap in hand to Amstrad; Alan Sugar bought all of Sinclair’s intellectual property and assets for a bargain price of £5 million. Three years earlier, Sinclair had been valued at in excess of £200 million. Amstrad expanded their range of computers to include the dedicated word processor and printer bundle called the PCW 8256, which was incredibly successful, shipping eight million units worldwide from 1985 to 1989. The print quality from its’ dot matrix printer was not very good, but the word processing “LocoScript” software was excellent – very easy to use, and quite powerful considering the rock bottom price. Many former, self confessed “technophobes” were introduced to computing by the PCW 8256, and the machines were in popular use for many years after they went out of production.
Whenever I write about the history of Erith and the surrounding areas, one thing comes up time and time again. People have strong memories of the Hedley Mitchell department store in Erith High Street. From what I can gather, it specialised in drapery, soft furnishings and clothing, including bespoke tailoring. I have had conversations with people who recall that the shop had an upmarket image, and was generally regarded as a premium place to shop – a bit like John Lewis and Waitrose are today. I wonder if any readers have any specific memories, or indeed period photographs of the store that they would wish to share with others? Maybe you worked there, had friends or relatives that worked in the shop, or maybe you were just a regular customer with fond recollections of the place? If so, please feel free to drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. Any stories that I publish will get a full credit for the author; I know a lot of people are interested in the history of the shop, and regret the fact that it was demolished when the hideous concrete shopping centre and multi story car park was built in its’ place. In fact most people I have quizzed on the subject question the need for the old Erith to have been demolished in the first place. The general opinion seems to be that with a fairly extensive refurbishment, it would have been preferable to have kept the old town; by now, if suitably looked after, it would have been quite a tourist attraction. Obviously it was not to be, but it is nevertheless interesting to speculate as to what could have happened had things not been demolished in the late 1960’s. I am a little too young to remember the old shops myself, but I am pretty certain quite a few readers will have recollections that they would like to share.
If you ask a number of retired people who have lived locally for any length of time about Beasley’s Beer, you will get a number of responses – not all of them good. Beasley’s Brewery was located in Plumstead, in Brewery Road, off Lakedale Road. Before the Second World War, it was owned by Harry Geoffrey Beasley, who had inherited the brewery. The income from this made him wealthy, and enabled him to spend much of his life engaged in his passion for anthropology; he travelled the world studying various tribes and peoples, and wrote many academic papers on the subject. He was considered to be a leader in his field of study, and in 1932 he became president of the Royal Anthropological Institute, a post he held until 1937, when ill – health in the form of Diabetes meant he had to stand down from the office. For most of his married life he lived in Cranmore House in Chislehurst, where he set up the Cranmore Ethnographical Museum, which housed six thousand exhibits that Beasley had collected during his travels. He died in 1939, when his collection was moved to the British Museum – just in time, as the house was destroyed during the Blitz. From the records I have read, Harry Beasley had a pretty hands – off relationship with the brewery from which he derived his not inconsiderable income. Some years ago, local resident Roger Jewiss recalled the following story about day to day life for the average working man in Beasley’s Brewery: "My Grandfather was a blacksmith and during the depression found work a bit hard to find. He was pleased to get two days work to do a repair in the brewery. All employees were given two brass tokens a day which they could exchange for a pint of beer. My grandfather, very hot at his temporary forge, had used his tokens and was indeed very pleased when a brewery worker called down to him, “ Fancy a pint blacky?” “ Not 'arf,” replied my grandfather. Soon after, a copper vessel came slowly down from the vat above, on a long wire, and my grandfather gratefully quenched his thirst. “ Thanks”, he shouted back to his new friend, “that certainly was a long pint.” “PINT!” came the reply, “that vessel held a gallon!”. The account was originally published on the Plumstead Stories website that you can see here. My Grandfather on my Mum’s side (and indeed my Mum) called the output of the brewery “Beasley’s beastly beer” as they both heartily loathed it. Apparently this was a not uncommon opinion at the time, thought for a period I understand that their beers had a royal warrant – if anyone has any details, I would love to hear from them. Beasley’s Brewery was taken over by the much larger Courage in 1963; not much later it was closed down. You can see a collection of Beasley Brewery photographs and beer mats which have been framed and hung on the wall of the excellent Robin Hood and Little John pub in Lion Road, Bexleyheath, once we are out of lock down.
The graphic above - click on it to see a larger version, shows the proposed frequency of trains on the Crossrail / Elizabeth Line when it eventually opens - over three years late. The latest estimate is that the line will partially open to passenger traffic in the first half of 2022. The six month window does not give much confidence in my opinion. I expect further delays.