Sunday, October 31, 2021

Black Widow.

Work continues to extend and expand the Farmfoods frozen food supermarket in Pier Road, Erith. The discount food store has been rather more successful than some observers had predicted - myself included. There had been some mystery as to who was to occupy the adjacent site that had been vacated by the Metropolitan Police, who for very nearly ten years had operated Erith Police Office - a great loss when it closed down. It is now clear that Farmfoods have taken the vacant office space and are using it to extend their store. 

The Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford is thirty years old this month. The bridge, which connects Kent and Essex, is a major road crossing of the River Thames in England, carrying the A282 road between Dartford in Kent in the south and Thurrock in Essex in the north. Having started out with just one tunnel (built in 1963), a second tunnel was constructed in 1980 before the bridge was completed 30 years ago this month. It was the first bridge over the Thames to be constructed outside of central London since Tower Bridge was erected in 1894. Following two years of hard work, the Queen herself opened the bridge on the 30th October 1991, with the reported cost of construction being £150 million - or £278 million today. The crossing was built for 135,000 vehicles to use each day. In 2017, it was reported that 180,000 vehicles used it on some days. The western tunnel is 50 years old. It can take three to five hours for the roads to clear after an incident. 50 million crossings a year take place in the tunnels and on the bridge. More than 2,000 HGVs have to be escorted across every month, if escorted a lane is closed for 90 seconds. Between September 2015 and August 2016 there were more than 1,500 incidents during weekday hours that resulted in a single or multi-lane closure causing delays.. According to the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988, the toll charges for the Crossing were only to last a 20 year period, but could be removed sooner than this if the toll revenue had recouped the cost of building the bridge. In 2003 this happened, and the structure was completely paid for. As anyone from the area around each side of the bridge and tunnels will be fully aware, as soon as the subject of the Dartford River Crossing comes up in conversation, the fact that the tunnel and bridge were meant to be free once they had been paid for is almost always the first thing that is mentioned; there is a great deal of ill - will and resentment over the way local residents feel that they have been hoodwinked. The toll system is broken, but it is in the government's interest for it to remain that way - it is a cash cow that unfairly penalises users both local and from far away. On top of this, the increase in charges will also lead to an even further rise in number plate theft - a major local problem. Local criminals are stealing legitimate plates from parked motor vehicles in order to circumvent the automatic number plate recognition system used to charge drivers for using the Dartford Crossing. Vehicle number plate theft is now endemic in the local area. Three or four years ago it was a relatively minor issue, but now it is one of the major problems for the Police and local residents. Just how many vehicles are driving around on illegal registration plates I do not know, but I suspect that the number is far higher than many realise. What do you think? Email me at

Last week I had occasion to visit Strood, on the River Medway. The town has a very unusual resident, more of which shortly. I am conscious that amongst my many diverse readers I have a number of distinct groups - there are those who are very keen on technology, others that have an interest in local history, and a large number of readers who have an interest in various forms of transport. As you can see in the photos above - click on either for a larger view - Strood has a very unconventional form of transport - a large submarine, which is currently moored on Strood Pier - two minutes walk from Strood railway station. The Soviet era Foxtrot class diesel electric submarine, known as U-475 - The Black Widow, is in private ownership. Built at Sudomekh shipyard in Leningrad and commissioned in 1967, the Black Widow served with the Soviet Baltic Fleet before being used as a training vessel for crews from overseas, until it was decommissioned in 1994 and sold. After passing into private hands it was moored near the Thames Barrier in Woolwich and opened as a museum ship, until it was moved in 1998 to Folkestone, where it was again opened to the public, before it was moved to Strood in 2004. These days though, it remains in a somewhat dilapidated state, awaiting a brighter future. The owner, John Sutton is hopeful the submarine can be restored and reopened as a tourist attraction, but it would almost certainly need to be moved to another location. In an interview with Kent Online, he said:- “We are in the process of renovating it and looking for somewhere to put it," he said. "That's the problem. We thought maybe we could run people out to it from Rochester Pier but the pier is condemned and the council haven't got money to repair it. It's terrible because you think Rochester was built on the River Medway and the piers are disappearing. If it was operational we could ferry people around and do tours." The U-475 Black Widow has appeared in a number of TV shows, and even was a location for a film called Black Sea, which starred Jude Law. Former Cabinet Minister, current TV presenter and author Michael Portillo wrote about the submarine in his 2018 book “Portillo’s History of Britain” Portillo wrote:- “The submarine is moored on a loop of the Medway at Strood, with the Norman-era Rochester Castle looming on the east bank of the river beyond the road-and-railway bridge. The castle was built to protect against foreign invasion in an age of rudimentary wooden ships propelled by wind and oars, crewed by men armed with swords. The Foxtrot-class sub had ten torpedo tubes, could dive to a depth of nearly 1,000 feet and was capable of remaining submerged for up to ten days at a time. The one I was about to explore had seen better days. As I approached on a river launch and it materialized through the mist, the phrase that came to mind was ‘rusting hulk’. Scaffolding covered the conning tower and its vast, bulbous-nosed bulk had the air of a mortally wounded beast. But what a beast it had evidently been. Even in a state of dilapidation this old bruiser of the Cold War exuded menace and defiance." I look forward to seeing the restoration of the historic submarine, once it has found a new home. It strikes me that relocating the U-475 to Erith Pier might be an interesting move. It would be far more accessible for engineering and restoration crew members, it would be a new tourist attraction for the town, and would give some publicity to the somewhat under used pier. What do you think? Email me at

Last Monday afternoon there was a serious fire at an electricity substation in Lower Belvedere, as you can see in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version. The fire, which occurred in the substation / transformer unit adjacent to the Starbucks and Lidl stores caused a power cut which affected many properties and businesses in the DA17 postcode area. For most residents, the power outage lasted approximately one hour - it would appear that the electricity supplier was able to reroute power away from the affected unit and restore service to local people. Thanks once again to regular Maggot Sandwich contributor and long time reader Miles for bringing the story to my attention, and for supplying the photo above. 

The photograph above is around 160 years old, and thus well out of copyright. I have digitally restored it, as the original was very yellowed and covered in dark spots. The photo, which you can see above, is what may well be the earliest surviving photograph taken in Erith. It depicts a structure that was apparently known as the Round House. There has been much discussion as to the location of the Round House, but a report from the Kentish Times, 1925 states that “Prior to the establishment of Messrs Easton and Anderson’s Engineering Works on the river bank at the bottom of what is now known as Manor Road, Erith, what was known as the Round House stood on the site”. Can you see the lady sitting on the steps? The man with the what looks like an outsized musket can be clearly seen in the foreground - the weapon is actually what is known as a punt, or duck gun. It is a muzzle loading flintlock weapon that was designed operate in a similar way to a modern 12 bore shotgun - firing a cloud of lead pellets at the intended target. The punt or duck gun was designed to be fired from the prone position, as if you were standing, the ducks and geese would see you and fly away, and also they had a fearsome recoil, likely to knock you off your feet. The usual way of operating such a weapon was to use a small boat (punt), lay down lengthwise in it, and to float out into the river or pond and then to wait until a flock of game birds landed nearby, then give the unwitting flock a broadside. Not very sporting, but that did not count for much when you were trying to bag some food for the table. 

A garden area at Flaxman Court, Belvedere – an Orbit Independent Living Scheme recognised in the Britain in Bloom awards. Orbit issued the following press release on Thursday. It reads:- "Orbit housing schemes for older people in Bexley are celebrating after scooping awards in national and local horticultural competitions. Buckles Court and Flaxman Court in Belvedere, Sherwood House and Lambert Court in Erith, and Bushey Court and Marler House in Slade Green, which all offer purpose-built accommodation exclusively for older people, have all been awarded certificates in the Royal Horticultural Society’s national gardening competition – Britain in Bloom. The Community Garden Awards recognise smaller community groups, such as those based at independent living schemes, who have nurtured their outdoor spaces for the benefit of fellow residents and the wider local area. Buckles Court was awarded with a level one certificate, Sherwood House received a level two certificate, whilst Flaxman Court, Bushey Court, Lambert Court and Marler House all received a level five – the highest certificate available. The schemes were also entered into the local Ruxley in Bloom competition run by Ruxley Garden Centre, where Marler House was awarded third place in the Best Communal Garden category and Lambert Court received two Silver Gilt awards for both the Best Front Garden and Best Rear Garden. Hayley Case, Estate Team Manager for Orbit, said: “We’re so very proud of these awards and of all our residents, employees and contractors who have worked really hard together to brighten up our outdoor spaces. As a result of the pandemic, we’re all valuing our outdoor spaces more than ever and we’re determined to build on the success of these awards and continue to work with our residents to create brighter, greener spaces for the community.”

Thanks again to correspondent Miles - the photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the new Electric Vehicle charging station at the BP garage in Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath, which has recently opened after a considerable period of construction. The work to install and configure EV charging points in the car park of Erith Morrison's, which I featured a few weeks ago seems to have stalled; at present all that is visible on the Erith site are a couple of metal poles and an EV charging graphic which has been painted on the tarmac adjacent to the unfinished facility. I will keep and eye on the (slow) progress, and advise accordingly. If you have any information, contact me at

The following announcement was released last week by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association:- "A borough-wide Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) has come into force from Monday 25 October following a recent consultation with Bexley residents and businesses and will be in place for three years and subject to future reviews. The aim of the PSPO is to help reduce the community impact of drug and alcohol misuse, specifically the health impact of nitrous oxide along with problematic street drinking and associated anti-social behaviour, including litter.  The consultation that ran from 6 to 20 October followed a request from Bexley Police to introduce the PSPO. 1663 responses were received with 97% of residents supporting a boroughwide PSPO to address the misuse of nitrous oxide canisters, and 85% of residents in support of a boroughwide PSPO for street drinking. Prohibited behaviour within the PSPO area will include – committing or being likely to commit, alcohol-related anti-social behaviour  - being in possession of (without a lawful or reasonable excuse) nitrous oxide canisters - consuming, inhaling, injecting or smoking any substance capable of stimulating or depressing the central nervous system (eg nitrous oxide) - behaving in an anti-social manner within any public car park or any park - behaving in an anti-social manner in any other public space, whether on your own, or with any other person(s).  Anyone found to be in breach of any of these by an authorised person - including a delegated officer of the London Borough of Bexley, a police constable or a police community support officer - will be issued with a brief intervention card offering access to substance misuse helplines; as well as being asked to surrender any psychoactive substances (e.g. nitrous oxide) and dispose of any alcohol in their possession. If over 18 they will also be subject to a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of £100 with an early pay reduction to £60.00. Information on the local support available for drug or alcohol addiction will also be shared with anyone in breach of the rules who may need it.  Inhaling nitrous oxide gas can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, collapse and consequent injury. Taking it can lead to a range of health problems, such as burns, a dangerously increased heart rate, swelling on the brain, nerve damage and anaemia, as well as serious psychological problems. Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr Sue Gower MBE said: “It isn’t just the anti-social or the litter side to this issue that concerns us – more important there are the very real health implications for anyone inhaling nitrous oxide. We are hoping that this order will deter people from risking their lives in this way.  I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to take part in this consultation. It was clear from the responses that our residents feel that this is the best way to tackle this kind of behaviour. We shall be monitoring the PSPO to see how successful it is over the next few months.  We are keen to also hear from residents on any other local crime and disorder issues that may concern them. The Bexley Crime survey is currently live online. The results of this survey will help the Community Safety Partnership decide its priorities for 2022/23.” The Bexley Crime survey runs until 31 December and is available online at A paper version of the Bexley Crime Survey can be requested from the Community Safety Team by calling 020 8303 7777 or writing to the Community Safety Team at Civic Offices, 2 Watling Street, Bexleyheath DA6 7AT. Once complete, please return your paper survey by post to the same address. All information, conditions and future updates in relation to the new PSPO will be available at For further Community Safety information including PSPO updates, please sign up to our BCSP e newsletter".

Thanks to the many readers who contacted me to suggest this weeks ending video, which features veteran YouTuber John Rogers, and his recent trip to Erith. Like many of his videos, this one is quite long at 22 minutes, but it is well worth a watch. 

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