Sunday, September 05, 2021

Erith Made.

Last weekend was the "Erith Made" festival, organised my members of The Exchange. The three day festival was held over the long Bank Holiday weekend. There were events held in The Old Library, in The Running Horses pub, in Erith Riverside Gardens, and at St John's Church in West Street, where members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who have formed The Carnegie Ensemble played a classical concert to a packed house. Other events included a tutored wine tasting, outside games for children in the Riverside Gardens, A talent contest, a "no car" boot sale; a jazz concert, a blues and folk evening, an art show of portraits of local people, a waste free market, and a gig by local rapper Romzy, amongst many others. The festival was an outstanding success, attracting around 4,000 people, both from the local area and further afield. More on this at the end of this weeks' Blog update.

According to sources, there are currently approximately 2 billion fossil fuelled vehicles in active use on the world’s roads. Britain has undertaken to cease the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 - which some pundits think is a very ambitious target. Also, if many of the current fossil fuelled vehicles were scrapped because of their emissions, this in itself would be a grave environmental problem, as the raw materials used to make them would need to be recycled, which again uses a great deal of energy. This is somewhat of a conundrum. Some engineers and environmentalists have thought of an alternative way to keep existing and historic vehicles on the road, but to remove their polluting aspects. The problem with a lot of classic cars, however, is not just the fact that most of them will have been produced before emissions standards were even conceived, let alone become as strict as they are now. They can also be extremely unreliable. The service interval on a classic Ferrari 308 was just 6,250 miles even when new. If you own one now, the chances are it will sit in the garage most of the time, unused, and when you do take it out, you probably wouldn’t want to drive it on a long and important journey in case it breaks down. Electric vehicles, in contrast, are much more reliable than fossil fuel cars. Yes, there have been some software issues with new models like the Volkswagen ID.3 and ID.4. But mature EVs like those made by Hyundai, Kia, and Nissan need barely any attention at all. They are perfect everyday drivers for short trips around town and commuting because they just work. However, while there’s enjoyment in the modernity of the latest EVs, particularly Tesla’s radical approach with the minimal interior of the Model 3, the fact they have usually been designed using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnels usually means EVs are quite bland to look at. Very few have the characterful appearance of a classic Ferrari, Rolls Royce, or Porsche. Unfortunately, designing for best airflow tends to lead to similar shapes, whereas the quirks of a classic design are often what makes them less efficient in this respect. Electrifying a classic car provides the best of both worlds. You get most of the character of the original design (minus the engine noise and gearchanges), but with the reliability and everyday usage possibility of an EV. For example, UK company Electrogenic recently converted a Triumph Stag to electric power. The Stag is a beautiful design,. but even when new it had some serious reliability problems. Classic car enthusiasts love the Stag, but they never drove them very much because you couldn’t be sure they would ever start, or if they did start, would they then leave you waiting at the roadside for a rescue service?  They suffered especially badly if you did not regularly change the antifreeze in the cooling system. If neglected, the cooling system quickly silted up and the car overheated, often causing head gasket failure. Classic cars are also not very fast by today’s standards. Go back a few decades and anything reaching 60 mph in under 10 seconds would be considered sporty. Now virtually every family car can achieve this. Swapping an old internal combustion engine for a new electric one almost always results in more power and a lot more torque. The principle of converting a classic car to run on electricity sees the engine and drivetrain replaced with a motor (or motors) and a battery pack, although approaches to how this is achieved vary. Some firms commission bespoke powertrains and ensure any conversion is fully reversible, allowing the engine and associated drivetrain to be reinstated if this is desired. Converting a classic car to run on electricity is no simple task, however. Even a conventional engine swap is an involved process, and installing a completely different drivetrain takes this to another level. Motor mounts will need to be fabricated, strengthening materials will be required so the chassis can take the extra weight of the batteries, while suspension and other components need to be changed to take into account the altered handling characteristics brought about by the shift in weight that removing an engine and installing a battery pack causes. Brakes, meanwhile, are likely to require uprating to facilitate regenerative braking and cope with the extra power and torque; auxiliary features such as lights, heating, air-conditioning and power steering, meanwhile, also need to be adapted so they draw power from the batteries, rather than the engine. And all this work needs to be carried out by someone who is confident in dealing with both involved engineering, and high-voltage electrical systems. Other issues do need to be considered; Internal combustion engines using conventional fuel are tried-and-tested. They have been around since the 1890s – a 130-year history. With the average car taking less than five minutes to fuel and with petrol stations never that far away, swapping to electric-only can cause range anxiety. A driver of a conventionally fueled car does not have the worry that owners of pure electric vehicles (and conversions) have, which is that they might run out of power before they reach their destination. Another worry for many EV drivers is the battery capacity and lifespan. Currently an electric drivetrain doesn’t last as long as an internal combustion engine. Of course, the game is constantly changing with this technology and if you have decided to go electric you might well be in danger of putting a ‘VHS’ in your car not fully appreciating that ‘streaming’ is only around the corner. Quite a few Volkswagen Beetles have been turned into speed demons via electrification. In fact, that is almost the perfect platform for conversion, because original Beetles are quite cheap to buy and hardly rare, with 21.5 million produced. In the shift towards greener transportation, we do run the risk of throwing away a lot of automotive history. It would be a real shame to see roads entirely filled with bland new cars entirely designed for efficiency rather than aesthetic flair. Electrifying classic cars, rather than ruining the past, can make it more visible by ensuring more of these vehicles are kept actively on the road rather than rotting in garages. This is something that can bring the vehicles of the past back into everyday use, preserving their memory rather than burying it.

The aerial photo above was taken back in 1938; it shows what Erith looked like just prior to World War 2. The only readily recognisable building that is still in existence today is Erith Town Hall, in the bottom left of the photograph, which apart from having a third storey fitted to the building in the 1990's, looks remarkably unchanged. The building to the right of the Town Hall is the original Erith Fire Station, which was destroyed on the night of 21st/22nd January 1944. Local historian Ken Chamberlain wrote about it some years ago, saying: "the Bexley Road station suffered a direct hit by a delayed action bomb. Several years ago I spoke to a survivor of the incident and he recounted how they were in the engine room when they heard a loud crash and debris started falling about them. They ran out to see where the bomb had fallen. This action undoubtedly saved their lives as at that moment the bomb exploded. He claimed not to have heard a bang, but was stone deaf for six weeks afterwards. He did however suffer injuries. He was taken to Erith Hospital, treated and was back on duty in two hours. There were no fatalities. The 1907 building was demolished and a temporary structure was put in its place. The wartime control room remains as does a part of the entrance doorway. The temporary station remained until 12th July 1961 when it was replaced by the station that is now located in Erith Road, Belvedere".

As regular readers will be aware, I am very keen to champion local businesses. The following story features a local pub which I have been visiting for many years, and which has been one of my very firm favourites - in fact it has been second only to the amazing Robin Hood & Little John in Lion Road, Bexleyheath in my favourite pubs in the area. Unfortunately this has now changed. After lunch at The Malt Shovel in Darenth Road, Dartford, on Friday of last week, I wrote the following Google review with a very heavy heart. "I have been going to the Malt Shovel for well over twenty years, and until recently I have loved the place, but my recent experiences have changed this. Last time I visited with a friend for lunch, we were told that the kitchen was closed, without prior warning. Today I have just got home after a visit to the Malt Shovel with my Mother and sister. We had pre booked a table for lunch. We placed our food order at 12.25, but we were not served until 1.15, despite the pub being almost empty on a Friday lunch time. The vegetables accompanying my Mother and sisters meals were soggy and overcooked when they eventually arrived, and the bread for my sandwich was extremely stale. We complained to the waiter and he said the reason our order had taken so long was that we were the first order of the day. This was unacceptable. The pub used to be seriously busy on a Friday lunchtime, but today was almost empty when we eventually left at around 2pm. I suspect that customers may well be staying away if they experienced the very slow service and poor food. I am extremely disappointed". What do you think? Email me at

As some readers will be aware, I was a volunteer at the Erith Made three day festival over the last Bank Holiday long weekend. At one of the events held in Erith Riverside Gardens, I was talking to a couple of people, and during our conversation, the subject of brewery ships somehow came up.  A few years ago I visited the Chatham Royal Dockyard Museum, and I recalled seeing mention of a rather unusual wartime ship. I did some research online, where I discovered the World’s first floating brewery, which was constructed in World War II. The story of the ship was told in the ``Beer Drinker’s Companion”, published back in 1993:- “Towards the end of the Second World War, the supply lines to the Far East were dangerously stretched. For the forces engaged in the fighting against the Japanese, certain supplies, such as beer were a rare luxury. In order to maintain morale, and at the instigation of Winston Churchill himself, in late 1944 the Board of the Admiralty decided to convert two mine-laying vessels into Amenity Ships, to include cinemas, dance-halls, shops, bars, and on board breweries. These ships — the HMS Menetheus and HMS Agamemnon — were sent to Vancouver in early 1945 to be refitted. Distilled seawater was to be used for brewing purposes, and malt extract and hop concentrate would be shipped from the U.K. to bases in the Far East where the vessels would call. A 55-barrel capacity brewing copper was to be installed in the forward hold of the ships and heated by steam coils from the ship's boilers. Six glass-lined fermenting vessels were also installed, and the capacity was an estimated 250 barrels per week. Only one beer was to be produced, a chilled and carbonated 3.8 percent ABV Mild Ale, which at the time was sold at 9d per pint".  Besides being sold in the ships’ bars, this was also made available in 5 gallon stainless steel kegs Some of the brewing equipment was lost on the way to Canada so only HMS Menestheus ended up brewing, the first test batch made on the last day of 1945. Although the war in the Far East was over troops remained. The ship visited Yokohama, Kure, Shanghai and Hong Kong (“with the latter proving a conspicuous success”). Brewing took place at sea between ports of call. The head brewer was a naval officer -  Lieutenant Commander George Brown RNVR. The brewery staff were largely locally recruited Chinese labourers. After service in the Far East, the ship was returned to its pre – war owners, the Blue Funnel Line in 1946 and she resumed service as a passenger liner.

The Erith Stink is back. Way back in October 2012 I wrote extensively about what I termed “The Erith Stink” - an intermittent foul and sickly smell that had been plaguing Erith and the surrounding areas for a number of  weeks. After consulting some local environmental experts, I reported that the cause of the foul smell had been solved.  It turned out the smells were coming from ADM Oils, the vegetable oil processing plant In Church Manor Way, Erith (see the photo above - click for a larger view). The processing of various seeds and organic matter into cooking oil produces some pretty horrible smells; it turned out that you need a special licence from DEFRA to carry out the processing at all. ADM have a special smell filtering and odour mitigation system in operation, In 2012 the system was replaced, and for several weeks during the replacement work, no smell filtering was in place – hence the terrible pong. Now, some years later the smell seems to be slowly returning. The company originally started up in 1908, when it was known as Erith Oil Works – the business then was similar to now; they crush and process all kinds of seeds, to extract their natural oils, which are used in foodstuffs, cooking oils and animal feeds. The seeds, then as now, are brought upriver in large bulk freighter ships. The distinctive huge concrete silos that are still present on the ADM Oil site were constructed in 1916, where they were some of the earliest surviving examples of reinforced concrete construction in the UK. They were constructed by Danish structural engineering company Christiani and Nielsen, who invented reinforced concrete construction techniques. ADM oils have in the past been guilty of causing the terrible smells that we have experienced in the local area. The reason for this was that the filters on the oil seed boiler chimneys used to not be changed as often as they were supposed to be. Last Saturday evening I was in the garden at The Exchange, as the distinctive, sickly aroma could clearly be detected – albeit not as strongly as when the problem was at its height back in the autumn of 2012. I will be contacting the environmental health team at Bexley Council to find out if they are aware of the return of the stink, and if they have contacted ADM Oils over the  issue. I am sure that nobody in the area would want to see a return to the horrible situation in the past. What do you think? Have you experienced the smell? Do you work at ADM Oils, or know someone that does? Contact me in complete confidence at

Considering the critical mauling Bexley Council has received from residents over its apparent mishandling of the recent Serco bin strike, one would have assumed that they would be keen to improve their current rather battered image to the general public. As the old saying goes - “when you are in a hole, stop digging” - but unfortunately this does not currently appear to be the case. Local press have covered complaints from Bexley residents over the way the council seem to be using traffic calming measures as a way to generate revenue. On Wednesday afternoon I received the following missive from a regular reader and occasional contributor, who, for reasons which will soon become abundantly clear, chooses to remain anonymous.  “Not sure if you have been made aware, and I know that you do not drive (actually, this is incorrect - I do have a full, clean driving licence, I just currently have no personal use for a car), however I am very amused by the PCN attached to this message (redacted for privacy). I passed my Driving Test on the 13th August 1965 so have been driving in and around Erith Road / Chieveley Road for about fifty-six years and well know the right turn into Cheiveley from Erith Road. I did notice over the weekend  that Bexley have put a yellow box in Erith Road for what I thought was an assistance to those turning into Chieveley, however in the post this morning I received the attached PCN. I now realise that this is one of Bexley's 'brain waves' for raising cash and probably full marks to the Officer that pinpointed that junction. Whilst I noticed the box on Bank Holiday Monday I am now thinking that I will get another PCN as I am sure I was either slow or stopped on the same spot then!! I intend to make a representation as this is  tantamount to putting Dick Turpin on Patrol in the area!” This contentious  issue is currently causing problems with many Bexley residents. The News Shopper has reported that multiple readers have reported that a yellow box located at the A207 near the Danson Lane junction when approaching Welling High Street has been used by the council to fine drivers. According to the local paper, “They are finding their cars stuck in the box due to traffic stopping suddenly or because other vehicles are pulling out from junctions, and subsequently being sent fines through the post. Many drivers fined have said their punishment is unfair, but despite complaints, Bexley Council insists that the 15-year-old yellow box “plays a key role in keeping traffic flowing through Welling”. A Bexley Council spokesperson said: “This yellow box has been in this location for over 15 years and has been enforced for many years. “It plays a key role in keeping traffic flowing through Welling. “Anyone who feels they have received a penalty notice which they don’t agree with can lodge an appeal.” In all of the cases mentioned in the article, and by my reader, the car driver is forced to stop in the yellow box by other cars that pull out in front of them, and due to the very stop / start nature of the traffic in the vicinity of the box. In essence, the yellow boxes that are apparently designed to smooth traffic flow are in reality doing the polar opposite. There is no motivation for Bexley Council to remedy this situation, as they are benefitting by the collection of fines. The feedback I have had over this issue is most interesting. Those I have been in contact with have overall said that they plan to punish the current incumbents in local government in the next election. This could prove to be particularly instructive. What do you think? Email me at

Anyone looking into the gutters and footpaths in the local area will be familiar with the small silver coloured metal bottles which will have contained Nitrous Oxide, better known as laughing gas. The gas has legitimate uses in the catering industry, but nowadays its major use is as a narcotic amongst illegal drug users. Possession of Nitrous Oxide, one of the most popular drugs among 16- to 24-year-olds, could be criminalised after the home secretary ordered experts to review its effects. Priti Patel said she was ready to “take tough action” on the widespread use of laughing gas, which is taken mostly through balloons filled from small metal cylinders often seen littering areas around nightclubs and music festivals, and in the footpaths and gutters of the local area. More than half a million 16- to 24-year-olds – almost one in 10 – reported taking the drug in 2019-20 and Patel has asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review its harms. Only last July the government said it had no plans to criminalise possession of the gas, which is widely available online to produce whipped cream. Supply of Nitrous Oxide for its psychoactive effects is already illegal under 2016 legislation to crack down on legal highs, but if possession were to be criminalised it would probably bracket the substance with cannabis and other illegal narcotics. Online catering suppliers currently warn customers it is illegal to use Nitrous Oxide for its psychoactive properties by inhaling the gas. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, local councillors and community activists have raised concerns that recreational use of the drug has spiked during lockdown, and that sales of the gas (which is legal if you’re whipping cream with it, but as soon as your intention changes to breathing it in very quickly, suddenly gets covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016) were too lax.

One of my personal favourite parts of the "Erith Made" festival was the performance of a group of acrobats and entertainers at the wasteless market in Pier Road, on the final day of the event. The group, who are keeping alive in the UK a tradition of street entertainment made popular in Ghana, now perform around London. I made the following short video, which you may find of interest. The juggler to the left of the picture plays "The Fool" - his tricks appear to go wrong in a comedic fashion; in fact he is actually very skilled - in a similar way to how Les Dawson needed to be an extremely good piano player in order to pay it as badly as he did for comic effect. Let me know what you think. Email me at

No comments:

Post a Comment