The end video this week was suggested to me by regular reader and occasional contributor Miles; it features the giant, automated Ocado warehouse in Erith, which is currently the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the world. YouTube giant Tom Scott recently visited the place; here is what he found...
Sunday, July 11, 2021
In what is becoming something of a depressingly regular occurrence, another local bank branch has now closed for good. After Barclays Bank in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, and Lloyd's Bank in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere, now the popular HSBC branch in Bexleyheath Broadway has permanently closed. As has been the custom when the other branches closed, within hours of the doors shutting for the last time, all identifying features such as the sign and any references to the HSBC brand were removed. This seems to be a consistent pattern amongst all of the major high street banks when they close down a branch. It reminds me of Stalin era Soviet propaganda photographs, where senior Communist officials would be airbrushed out of photos when they fell out of favour with the dictator, and he had them shot.
You may not be aware that the local bin collection service is about to be suspended for two weeks; Serco, the company that Bexley Council employs for domestic and commercial waste collection is currently in serious dispute with many of its employees in the borough, who have voted to go on strike for two weeks from the 12th of July. Here is the wording of the official announcement of the impending strike:- "Bexley will be hit with a ‘summer stink’ when Serco refuse and cleansing workers strike over low pay and poor treatment, Unite, the UK’s leading union, said. Around 140 Unite members will take part in two weeks of strike action – from 12 July until 25 July – over a ‘pathetic’ 1.5 per cent pay offer, disparities in pay for workers doing the same jobs, the removal of industrial sickness benefits and Serco’s refusal to handover years of back pay owed to nearly 50 staff. Outsourcing giant Serco, which runs the contract on behalf of Bexley Council, has failed for half a decade to include refuse and cleansing staff on a stipulated pay progression scale. The situation has led to instances of refuse truck drivers being on the same pay scale as street sweepers, with some staff being owed thousands in back wages. Unite members are also angry at the company’s 2021 pay offer of 1.5 per cent. Unite members have worked throughout successive national lock downs to keep the service running, risking their own safety as well as their families. Refuse staff in Bexley earn much less than their counterparts in other areas of the capital. For example, in neighbouring Greenwich refuse staff earn a minimum of £13 an hour, compared to £10.25 paid by Serco in Bexley, which is below the London Living Wage. Unite has also accused of Serco of victimising union members through the unfair policing of its substance misuse policy. As the dispute has grown in severity, Serco has increased random workplace drug and alcohol tests, while providing no help or advice for those who may need it. Unite believes the increase in drug testing has been used to target workers for standing up for themselves, as the tests were not linked to any reported safety issues". Whatever the pros and cons of the industrial action, one impact of a suspension of the local refuse collection service will almost certainly be an increase in illegal fly - tipping. Fly tipping is a particular problem in the local area, and is one of the biggest headaches for borough councils all around Greater London. Figures reported in the Evening Standard this week show that fly tipping is costing London council taxpayers in excess of £25 million every year to clear away illegally fly tipped waste. I understand that Bexley Council pays a contractor around £300 a load to take away illegally tipped waste. Some other London councils are making moves to increase fines for fly tippers. Currently the fine is £80, which is often cheaper than the cost of a small business paying a disposal fee at a licenced waste disposal tip. Newham council across the river spent £3.5 million last year cleaning up fly tipped rubbish, and their records show that their operatives cleaned up an average of nearly two hundred fly tips a day. Even the councils for affluent areas such as Kensington and Chelsea suffer from the problem. Last year they spent £219,000 prosecuting fly tippers, but only made back £505 in fines. The problem for councils is that catching and successfully prosecuting fly tippers is notoriously difficult. The burden of proof is exceptionally high – may fly tippers are businesses, and even if a number plate of a vehicle used in tipping is recorded by a witness, the company will often say that they don’t know who was driving the vehicle that day. I have previously been involved in case which not only ended up with a prosecution, fine and confiscation of the vehicle involved, but also a custodial sentence of eight months for the guilty party. Unfortunately that was the exception, rather than the rule in such cases. What do you think? Email me at email@example.com.
The local area has produced some outstanding engineers over the years. Yet one name that should be famous seems have been almost forgotten, and today if one thinks of local engineers, the mind goes to his rival Sir Hiram Maxim (Knighted in 1901) generally known for his machine gun and his experiments with heavier than air flight in Bexley, or to Richard Trevithick, who died at Dartford in poverty in 1833 after a lifetime spent developing the steam engine. The name of Sir William Anderson is largely unknown today, despite his achievements, and his strong local connections. One of Sir William Anderson’s biggest claims to fame was that he was instrumental in the invention of the smokeless explosive Cordite, which is used in shell casings as the propellant. His early life was remarkable - He was the fourth son of John Anderson, a member of the firm of Matthews, Anderson, and Co., bankers and merchants of St. Petersburg, by his wife Frances, daughter of Dr. Simpson. He was educated at the St. Petersburg high commercial school, of which he became head. He carried off the silver medal, and although an English subject received the freedom of the city in consideration of his attainments. When he left Russia in 1849 he was proficient in English, Russian, German, and French. In 1849, he became a student in the Applied Sciences department at King's College, London, and on leaving became an associate. He next served a pupilage at the works of Sir William Fairbairn in Manchester, where he remained three years. In 1855 he joined the firm of Courtney, Stephens, and Co., of the Blackhall Place Ironworks, Dublin. There he did much general engineering work. He also designed several cranes, and was the first to adopt the braced web in bent cranes. In 1863 he became president of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland. In 1864 he joined the firm of Easton and Amos of the Grove, Southwark, and went to live at Erith, where the firm had decided to erect new works. He became a partner, and eventually head, of the firm which at a later date was styled Easton and Anderson - as per the advertisement shown above - click on it for a larger version. At Erith he had the chief responsibility in designing and laying out the works. Part of the business of the firm at that time was the construction of pumping machinery. Anderson materially improved the pattern of centrifugal pump devised by John George Appold. In 1870 he proceeded to Egypt to erect three sugar mills for the Khedive Ismail, which he had assisted to design. In 1872 he presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers an account of the sugar factory at Aba-el-Wakf, for which he received a Watt medal and a Telford premium. Anderson next turned his attention to gun mountings of the Moncrieff type, and designed several for the British government, which were made at the Erith works. In 1876 he designed twin Moncrieff turret mountings for 40-ton guns for the Russian admiralty, which were made at Erith and proved highly successful. Later he designed similar mountings for 50-ton guns for the same country, and about 1888 he designed the mountings for the battleship HMS Rupert. About 1878–82 he was occupied with large contracts which his firm had obtained for the waterworks of Antwerp and Seville. To render the waters of the river Nethe, which was little better than a sewer, available for drinking purposes, he invented, in conjunction with Sir Frederick Augustus Abel, a revolving iron purifier, which proved perfectly effectual. He contributed a paper on the Antwerp Waterworks to the Institution of Civil Engineers, for which he received a Telford medal and a premium. About 1888 Anderson was asked by the explosives committee of the War Office to design the machinery for the manufacture of the new smokeless explosive, Cordite. He had hardly commenced this task when, on 11 August 1889, he was appointed director-general of the ordnance factories. The duties of this post prevented him from continuing his work in relation to the cordite machinery, which was committed to his eldest son. Anderson made many improvements in the details of the management of the arsenal, and introduced greater economy into its administration. His improvements at the arsenal included the introduction of the eight hour day for his 17,000 workers and demonstrating that output did not suffer from the reduction of hours from 54 to 48 per week. Sir William Anderson lived in Erith for thirty four years, commuting by rail to his office in The Woolwich Royal Arsenal. He was also very involved with the Church – he served as Superintendent of the Sunday Schools of Christ Church Erith for twenty five years, and was also a licensed lay reader, who conducted services at a mission chapel supported by Christ Church. In his spare time Sir William Anderson was a keen maker – he would construct toys and gifts out of wood and metal that were made with exquisite attention to detail and workmanship. Contemporary reports say that Sir William Anderson was a rather serene, laid back man. An article in the Institute of Civil Engineering Journal in 1899 said “His character was a beautiful one, he was filled with a love of all things, and everyone that really knew him loved him also. He had no love of money and worked for work’s sake and because it was a sacred duty, rather than for gain, and he freely spent that which he had for the benefit of others, and but little on himself. He always had a serene and calm mind. No one ever angry, or heard a hasty or unkind word proceed from his lips. Those in difficulty or trouble naturally came to him assured in advance of any help or advice, and no genuine case of distress was disappointed”. Sir William Anderson suffered from heart problems for many years, and eventually this led to his death on the 11th December 1898. A plaque dedicated to him can be seen on the wall of the North Aisle in Christ Church Erith. It reads “To the Glory of God, and in memory of Sir William Anderson KCB, FRS, DCL. For many years the earnest and devoted Superintendent of the Sunday Schools for this parish. He entered rest on December 11th 1898. Erected by subscription from the teachers, children and friends of the Sunday School”.
On Thursday afternoon, I was walking along Bexleyheath Broadway - where I took the earlier photo of the newly permanently closed HSBC bank branch. Whilst in the Broadway, I paused outside of the Bell Amore bridal shop, which you can see in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version. Many years ago the shop was the location of what many considered to be the best home electronics store in the area - Whomes - a retailer that had been in business for many years. Edmund Whomes came from a family of church organists, and he started his piano shop in the Broadway in 1871 when he was appointed organist of Christ Church Bexleyheath, a post he held until 1925. His son and grandson continued the shop, and it evolved from selling musical instruments to records and gramophones, later to televisions, washing machines and fridges. In the 1980's the store concentrated on high quality hifi and TV equipment. It survived until 1989 when it could no longer compete with the large chain stores, and it closed down after 118 years of trading.
The photo above was taken on Tuesday afternoon, after a building located on the corner of Wickham Street and Central Avenue in Welling collapsed whilst it was in the process of being demolished. The building had been empty and unused for over a decade, prior to which it had been the home of a motor spares retailer, and before that it was a greengrocers shop. My source on the ground tells me that several demolition workers were on site when the collapse occurred, and that at least one person received injuries, and was hospitalised as a result. It has been alleged that the collapse was caused by local high winds. I would anticipate that the incident would need to be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive. The official Fire Brigade report into the building collapse reads as follows:- "Amongst the various calls attended by the Boroughs firefighters this week was a call to a collapsed building in Welling. On arrival crews established the building was actually in the process of being demolished and the collapse was actually the scaffolding surrounding the building. Thankfully no one was close enough to be injured however this could have been a very different incident if people were walking or driving close by when the collapse happened. Our control dispatched an Urban search and rescue adviser who attended to develop tactics and determine whether specialist resources would be required. Our Urban search and rescue teams attend incidents such as gas explosions, terrorist attacks, large scale flooding and building collapses such as the apartment block in Miami you may have seen on the news. These specialist resources are prepared to stay on scene for hours sometimes days to ensure the safety of emergency service responders carrying out rescues". Comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A report published in the New York Times poses serious questions about the long held belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It turns out that the idea is the result of spin over the years by breakfast cereal companies and others. skipping breakfast can allegedly lead to weight gain, a sluggish metabolism, or stress. According to a new piece in The New York Times however, our beliefs about breakfast are all based on "misinterpreted research and biased studies"–propaganda, basically. Author Aaron E. Carroll notes that almost all breakfast studies suffer from a "publication bias." There are flaws in reporting of studies that skew findings to link skipping breakfast with causing obesity. Carroll writes: "The reports improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited other's results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others' results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad. Additionally, there are usually conflicts of interest behind the studies, considering most of them are funded by the food industry. The Quaker Oats Centre of Excellence, for instance, paid for a trial that concluded eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol. People are conditioned from a young age to believe that breakfast is essential to performance. It turns out that's because most of the research geared toward kids is meant to evaluate the impact of school breakfast programmes. They don't take into consideration that 15 million children in the U.S. go hungry at home–of course they would do better in school if they eat. That isn't the same, though, as testing whether children who are already well nourished and don't want breakfast should be forced to eat it," Overall, you should just go with your gut. If you're hungry in the morning, eat. If you're not, don't think you're sinning by skipping it. Finally, approach all studies sceptically – Carroll put it best: "Breakfast has no mystical powers."
The following incident was reported to me by two separate eye witnesses. The events took place in the very early morning of Saturday the 26th of June in Pier Road Erith, and in the P2 Events Centre on the upper floor of the old Electricity House building - in what was the old Erith Snooker Centre, but can only now be publicly released. One witness, who wishes to remain anonymous writes:- "In the early hours Saturday morning. At least 17 Metropolitan Police Officers were in attendance at the above address in response to reporting on yet another large gathering taking place at the venue. 01.00hrs onwards A noticeable influx of vehicles in Pier Rd car park and the vicinity, transpired into what soon became a major source of much anti-social noise and disturbance outside. This continued throughout the night as even more people were arriving. Most attendees were youths. Description of appearance - Suitably dressed for going out nightclubbing. Although music was heard intermittently, volume remained low - Police shared details of internal findings-revealing that headphones had been observed in use at this "Silent Rave" Police asked Questions RE: licensable activity provision/consumption of alcohol + planning restrictions etc. Answer- No permission sought or granted whatsoever by Authorities? From amount of cars it was estimated for 150 people inside, However, upon closer inspection Police reckoned actual figures were considerably more - In excess of 400 people. Police expressed grave concerns - How so many people could possibly escape from the building safely in the event of a fire? Public Safety risks must be ascertained urgently. Officers were insistent "The venue should not be operational" stating that " It is up to The Local Council - They have got full powers to shut the premises down immediately."
No ward reports from the various Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams this week - as previously mentioned, the level of reporting from the Police has unfortunately reduced to almost nil. Something I know that Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association are unhappy about.