Last week the local area experienced a serious industrial fire; it took place in the industrial estate in Viking Way in Erith. The official Fire Brigade report reads as follows:- “Fifteen fire engines and around 100 firefighters were called to a fire at a warehouse on Viking Way, off Bronze Age Way in Erith. Firefighters tackled a fire at a single-storey warehouse, which contained a number of business units. Crews removed a number of gas cylinders from the building and cooled them down as some cylinders can explode when exposed to heat. The Brigade's Control Office took 22 calls about the fire, there were no injuries reported. Firefighters will remain at the scene throughout the night to dampen down the area. Residents and businesses in the area are advised to continue to keep their windows and doors shut due to the smoke. The Brigade was called at 1815 and the fire was under control at 2332. Fire crews from Erith, Bexley, Plumstead, East Greenwich, Sidcup and other surrounding fire stations attended the scene. The cause of the fire will be investigated by the Brigade". A report on the serious incident from Jim Morford, Borough Commander for Bexley, London Fire Brigade:- "It has been a busy seven days for the Boroughs Firefighters. On Sunday firefighters from all three of our stations attended a fifteen pump fire on an industrial estate in Erith. We attended following a large number of calls that were made to our control room. The smoke plume from the fire could be seen from quite a distance away, whilst mobile to the incident I observed this myself making it obvious we were dealing with a large fire. I have written before about the planning that our firefighters undertake when they are not attending incidents. This planning proved very useful as did prior experience in attending fires in this geographical area, we were able to implement pre-arranged on arrival tactics to tackle the fire. Even with this planning, the fire spread very quickly due to the nature of the building contents, the fire spread and eventually involved 2 warehouses. Firefighters worked very hard to contain the fire and stop the spread to a third which would have meant another business being disrupted. In addition, we worked very hard to ensure any environmental damage was reduced as much as possible. Firefighters and officers from neighbouring boroughs supported us in bringing the fire under control, two ariel appliances were used as were our fire rescue unit which helped us gain access with specialist cutting equipment. We also had support from colleagues in Kent FRS who assisted in supplying a good water supply. Thankfully there were no injuries but there is a significant disruption to the business affected. This fire proved particularly difficult to extinguish, we had fire crews still in attendance 48 hours later extinguishing hot spots ensuring the fire did not reignite". This recent fire reminds me of a historical conflagration which was probably the biggest and most destructive blaze in the local area since World War II. First, a little background to the story. Erith Pier is the longest pier on the entire length of the River Thames (Southend Pier does not count, as it is judged to be in the Estuary, rather than on the Thames itself). The pier is of a rather unusual design, being of a “Dog – Leg” arrangement, with the longest part of the pier running parallel with the shore. The reason for this was that historically the pier was used for industrial purposes when the area now occupied by the large Morrison’s supermarket was a large deep water shipping wharf. One of the main products handled by the pier and the wharf was the unloading and trans-shipment of giant rolls of newsprint paper from the paper mills in Sweden to a warehouse on the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, before finally being taken by lorry up to what was then the giant newspaper print presses in Holborn and Fleet Street. I recall, back in the early 1980’s, not very long before the deep water wharf finally closed down that the warehouse that stored the giant rolls of newsprint in Fraser Road caught fire. Once the paper was alight, it proved impossible for the fire brigade to put out. Fraser Road was blocked for nearly two weeks, as the emergency services contained the blaze, but left it to burn itself out. I can recall standing in the back garden of my parents’ house in Upper Belvedere on a bright and sunny day, and being amazed by what appeared to be snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky. The flakes were actually specks of ash from the raging paper warehouse blaze a couple of miles away. The smell of burning pervaded the area for nearly a month, well after the fire burned itself out naturally – and left the warehouse building a burned out shell. From my recollections of the fire, nobody was seriously hurt, and there was a substantial insurance settlement to the owners of the Europa Industrial Estate.
Some years ago, local Historian Ken Chamberlain sent me the aerial photograph that you can see above – click on it for a larger view. It shows the devastation left once the fire burned itself out. I am guessing that the photo may well have been commissioned on behalf of the loss adjusters working for the insurance company that insured the warehouses. The site is so large that an aerial photo would be the only way to really assess the extent of the damage. Nowadays it could be done far more quickly and cheaply by an aerial drone, but back in the day it would have had to be done by a helicopter. Maggot Sandwich reader and retired firefighter Alan Magin was one of the team who tackled the blaze. Back in 2016 he wrote to me about the fire:- "My recollection was that we made up the attendance from Greenwich, as we had the 100' turntable ladders. It was impossible trying to put it out, as the corrugated metal roof covered the combustible materials. I remember a plastics factory was also involved, melting its produce into the drains, so they needed replacing in the rebuild. What was handy though was the floating pontoon at the Erith Deep Water site. It was a case of relay pumping, from an appliance on the pontoon, as in effect we always had water! A senior officers decision no doubt, a good one if you ask me. Rather than use fresh water from the hydrants. I think the damping down operation lasted a week. It was interesting to hear you say the fire started in a paper warehouse with perhaps reeled paper? for newsprint maybe? If these reels got anywhere near damp they started to expand/unwind creating heat, hence the spontaneous combustion. I attended a slightly larger fire at one of Mr Murdoch's warehouses in Grove St, Deptford, that one was started deliberately. I think he might have upset a few people! Incidentally, I was shot up again on our 100' turntable ladder, (I must have been a glutton for punishment) only to be told by the operator to come down immediately. After my descent (walking down) the operator in his excitement had forgotten to put out the manual jacks to stabilise the appliance!!! I still think what might have happened if he had tried to manoeuvre the ladder? I might not have been here writing to you!" There was an inquiry into the cause of the blaze. The warehouse stored giant rolls of newsprint that had come from paper mills in Sweden (via Erith Deep Water Wharf and the Pier - when it was still in industrial use). The paper was stored prior to being transported to Fleet Street for the newspapers. It was determined that several giant rolls of paper had been left on the pier during a heavy rainstorm, and water had soaked into the rolls. They were put into the warehouse whilst still damp - and as can happen when organic material gets damp in certain circumstances, the paper heated up and spontaneously combusted, taking several million pounds of stock, and a very expensive warehouse with it. Subsequent to the insurance pay out, the burned out warehouses were demolished and replaced with some new warehouse buildings, which are on site to this day. What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following my article last week on African restaurants and them not really catering for a wider customer base, in the way that “Indian” (actually mainly Bangladeshi and some Pakistani) restaurants have done in the UK over the post WWII period – with amazing success. I thought that I would expand on exactly how the humble British curry house operates, and why they have become so massively successful. There were six 'Indian' restaurants in the whole of Britain in 1939 - three in London (one of which, the Halal in St Mark Street E1, is a former haunt of mine), and one each in Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester. In 2015 there were roughly 8,500. The current figure is unclear, as some are thought to have closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Eighty five percent of UK curry houses are Bangladeshi-owned and with mainly Bangladeshi personnel. They had (pre pandemic) an annual market turnover of £2.5 billion, representing a little over ten percent of all restaurant business in UK. There is direct employment (pre - Covid-19) at the curry restaurant of over 100,000 personnel. with an indirect additional employment in supply and related industries for a further 50,000 plus. The Bangladeshi run “Indian” restaurant has become a well – loved feature of many British high street - they offer their diners a large and comprehensive range of curries, many of which are of Indian origin, if somewhat modified over time, and engineered to suit local tastes. You will find a number of ‘restaurant favourites’ such as Samosas, Onion Bhaji, Kebabs, Chicken Tikka and its popular derivative Chicken Tikka Masala curry. Other famous curries included Korma, Bhuna, Pasanda, Jalfrezi, Biriani and Pilaf. The have developed a rapid production method for serving their food. The authentic curries and accompaniments of Bangladesh have much in common with those of Bengal, and indeed the whole of India, the spicing is distinctive and subtle. Beef is the prevalent meat, and duck is popular. Tropical fish and exotic vegetables (now available in the UK from many supermarkets, as well as specialist stores) form an indispensable part of the Bengali / Bangladeshi diet. They use mustard and poppy seed extensively. Their important five spice mixture, Panch Phoron, has differences as subtle as their spelling. For example, in Calcutta, Bengal’s capital, it will include white cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard or celery seed and wild onion. In Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, celery seed would not be used, but black cumin and aniseed would replace wild onion and fennel. Bangladeshi Garam Masala will, like as not, contain chilli. Surprisingly perhaps, Bangladeshis adore the chilli, and it appears in many forms, in many recipes, not so as to swamp the delicacy of the spicing - rather to punctuate it. Some curries may use as little as three of four spices, and the effect is remarkable. Coriander, turmeric and cassia , for example, are all that is needed to produce the Bangladeshi version of that old favourite, Bhuna, whilst their versions of Korma are creamy and mild. Yet the results are neither tame or bland. Bangladesh has a unique range of curry cooking. Nowhere else on the subcontinent has such an array of tastes - sour, bitter, sweet, hot, savoury, mild, pungent and fragrant. Bangladeshis adore all of these tastes, which they achieve by using tamarind and sour fruits, bitter vegetables, molasses, chillies and uniquely subtle blends of spices. Creamy curries, contrast with dry stir-fries, fluffy rice, with chewy breads. Sometimes cooked with nothing more than garlic with, a sprinkling of whole spice seeds and chilli, these recipes achieve great culinary heights, and are ideal for the health-conscious cook. Many British 'Indian' restaurants operate to a formula which was pioneered in the late 1940s. In those early restaurants, a way had to be found to deliver a variety of curries, without an unreasonable delay, from order to table. Since all authentic Indian recipes require hours of cooking in individual pots, there was no guarantee that they would even be ordered. So cubed meat, chicken or potatoes, dhal and some vegetables were lightly curried and chilled, and a large pot of thick curry gravy, a kind of master stock, was brewed to medium-heat strength. To this day, portion by portion, on demand, these ingredients are reheated by pan-frying them with further spices and flavourings. At its simplest, a Medium Chicken Curry, that benchmark of middle ground, is still on many menus, though sometimes disguised as Masala, and requires no more than a reheat of some gravy with some chicken. For instance, take a typical mixed order for a couple at a table for two. She wants Chicken Korma (fry a little turmeric, coriander and cumin, add six pieces of chicken, add a ladleful of curry gravy, plenty of creamed coconut, almonds maybe and a little cream – result, the additions make it mild and creamy-golden in colour), and with it she'll have Vegetable Dhansak (fry some cumin seeds, dry methi leaves, chopped onions, tomato, red and green bell pepper with the gravy, add dhal and some cooked veg – result, colourful, and still medium-strength). He wants Lamb Korma (as for the chicken recipe, instead using pre – cooked Lamb), and he wants Prawn Vindaloo (fry spices and chilli powder, add the gravy which at once goes red and piquant, then cooked peeled prawns, fresh tomato and potato, simmer and serve). Maybe they will also take a Sag Paneer (fry cumin seeds, some thawed creamed spinach and pre-made crumbled paneer together, add fresh coriander – and that is it). One cook can knock all these up, simultaneously, in five pans, within minutes. Rice is precooked, breads and tandoori items made to order by a different, usually junior chef. The order is thus successfully completed. Thus the menu can be very long, with an almost unlimited variety of dishes, sometimes numbered, sometimes heat-graded, mild, medium and hot, hottest, and any dish is available in lamb, chicken, prawn, king prawn, and most vegetables, too. That is the formula, and its perpetrator is the standard curry house. Just because this is not authentic as you would find in an Indian or Bangladeshi household does not make it bad. It can be, and variously is, done well. If you consult YouTube you will find dozens of videos showing you how to prepare both authentic Indian curries, and also BIR (British Indian Restaurant) curries. Personally I prefer cooking my curries from scratch, using individual spices – I certainly don’t use any pre – prepared, shop bought cooking sauces, as making it the authentic way is not just a lot tastier, it is also far cheaper too.
Now for a bit of fun - no prizes. Can you identify where this parade of rather pleasant cottages is located? It is within the local area, although not in a road that gets much passing traffic. Answers on a postcard please, or better still, Email me at email@example.com.
As mentioned in previous updates, the way that Bexley Police record and publish the activities of each ward Safer Neighbourhood Team has changed. We will no longer get the weekly ward specific updates on incidents and issues as has been the case until relatively recently. Instead there will be an aggregated monthly set of anonymised statistics - as you can see in the graph above. I, and many others consider this to be a massively retrograde move. I know that Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association are pressing Bexley Police hard for restoration of the previous reporting format, which gave far more detail, and also gave local residents information as to what the various Safer Neighbourhood Teams were actually working on in their ward areas each week. The only ward report submitted at all this week is for Thamesmead East ward:- "Thamesmead East Police are appealing for information after a woman was seriously sexually assaulted by a masked man with "bandy legs" in Thamesmead. The incident took place as the victim was walking along Thames Path at around 3 pm on Tuesday 15th of June. The suspect is described as black, medium build, approximately 5 ft 8 ins, with very dark eyes and bandy legs. He was wearing a black hooded zip jacket, with the hood over his head, black baggy shorts, and socks with flip flops. He was also wearing a black face mask. Officers are keen to hear from anyone who was at the location at the time and may have witnessed the incident or have any information that could assist the police with the investigation. Anyone with information should contact police on 020 8721 2630 and quote CAD 6340/15Jun21".
The local area is not really much of a target for show business. Many TV and film makers are based in Soho or West London, and consequently do not usually think of using this small area of South East London / North Kent as a possible location for filming activity. This has not always been the case; we have had Thamesmead and the old Bexley College tower (now demolished to make way for a housing estate) used as locations for the cult E4 TV show “Misfits”, but to my knowledge the last time the area was used for a major feature film was back in September 1970 to April 1971, when Stanley Kubrick used Tavy Bridge in Thamesmead as the main location for much of “A Clockwork Orange”. Since then, the last major use of the local area for a movie was back in 2015 when a film starring Academy Award winner Olivia Coleman was shot on location in Lower and Upper Belvedere. “London Road” used locations in Lower Belvedere, Thamesmead and Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere as locations for the film musical based on the 2006 Ipswich prostitute murders. “London Road” used verbatim testimony from residents to show how they came together to rebuild their world after five women were killed in the Suffolk town in 2006. It is based on the award-winning stage production at the National Theatre. The film stars actress Olivia Colman – before she became an Oscar winner (who I have seen on stage playing “Minka”, the psychopathic Polish secretary in a recording session for the excellent BBC Radio 4 sitcom “Hut 33”). Colman said of the film: “It’s actually about a group of people who heal themselves. I think people have a preconception that the musical is about death and murder but that’s not what it is about. It’s about a community who have got the world’s press looking at them and decide to make themselves better. Learning the verbatim script — including all the “ums” and “ers” of conversation — was much harder than a normal one. But having been fearful of it and close to tears at times, I'd say it was one of the most enjoyable and ful filling jobs I've ever had. It also means the words audiences hear are what people genuinely said and were not “twisted”. These are real people, with no filter, being terribly honest”. She also had to sing in the film, which was not something that she had done before: “I used to sing at school. I can hold a tune, but I’m not under any impression I’m a proper singer. It was really scary, but lovely. It’s a fascinating story that most of us remember from the news.” Colman said it was a weird project compared with “shoot-em-up” movies or rom-coms, but added: “I think film-lovers will love this film. It is absolutely original.” You can see a trailer for the film below. The sequence in the church hall was filmed in All Saint’s Church Hall in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (NOT “Nuxley Village” as some call it – there is no such place – the erroneous name is the result of lazy estate agents who made up the name, and do not live in the area, or know the long history of it), and “London Road” itself was replicated by using Sutherland Road in Lower Belvedere, not far from Belvedere Railway Station. Film critic Mark Kermode reviews the film here - and he loved it. The iconic gas holders at the end of Sutherland Road, that played an important part in the film are quite likely not going to be around for very much longer. The 2021 plans by Bexley Council include demolition of the gas holders as part of the regeneration of Lower Belvedere.