Word reaches me from a reliable source - a long term reader and occasional contributor who chooses to remain anonymous. They have told me that after many years of indecision, Bexley Council are finally taking action on redeveloping the wasteland site in Walnut Tree Road, adjacent to Bexley College and opposite the Old Carnegie Library. The site was for most of the early part of the last century the home of Erith Tram Depot, but since that was demolished in 1977, it has been a patch of wasteland, and home to a large colony of rats. On the 3rd of December, the Council published a document, which at the time of writing is still in draft form, which you can see by clicking here. The report proposes selling the council owned site to Bexleyco. BexleyCo is the development and regeneration company incorporated by the Council in June 2017. It is a company limited by shares with the Council as sole shareholder. On 20 May 2021, Leader’s Briefing agreed the Initial Funding Business case for the Walnut Tree Depot Site and a subsequent decision report dated 2 July 2021 approved the funding to BexleyCo Limited of £0.542 million to enable planning consent to be obtained. This new activity follows a very long period where nothing appeared to be happening with the site. Back in January of 2018, it was announced that architects Ash Sakula had been contracted to design housing to be built on the site, but for reasons unknown this never actually came to pass. You can read the historic announcement of the deal by clicking here. Prior to this failed venture, there was talk of a hotel being built on the site, but again the plans came to nothing. Another planning and development story follows shortly.
As I have written in the past, Erith and Crayford were the historic home of Vickers Sons and Maxim Limited, who had factories in both locations which made a whole range of armaments and ammunition, principally the Vickers Machine Gun – which was an easier to produce, lighter and cheaper version of the original Maxim Gun, invented by Sir Hiram Maxim - the most famous local resident. What is less well known is that Vickers Vimy heavy bombers were also constructed on a limited basis. It is thought that the aeroplane which transported Alcock and Brown on the historic very first flight across the Atlantic was one of those produced locally. In the present the fact that both Erith and Crayford were major arms manufacturing towns is unknown to many residents; indeed the only relic of the Vickers Sons and Maxim factory in Erith is that the area of shops and houses located at the bend where Woolwich Road becomes Fraser Road is still known by older locals as “The Pom Pom” – due to the sound of guns being tested in the dedicated shooting range that was adjacent to the factory for many years. I think it sad that many people still call the area by the informal name, but very few seem to know the actual reason for it. Nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the changes that have happened over the years that arms manufacturing was no longer something that no longer happened locally. In matter of fact nothing could be further from the truth. Slade Green is home to FN Herstal Group - formerly known as Manroy Engineering, a company that specialises in the manufacture and refurbishment of machine guns and light cannon for the military. They also make all sorts of weapon mounts, gun turrets for armoured vehicles and assorted other military hardware such as specialised sniper rifles and vehicle armour packages. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, but they are actually located on the Power Works site on Slade Green Road. It is amazing what a little bit of searching on Google Street view can find! Anyway, the Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) calibre machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft. The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in the book Weapons and War Machines, describes an action that took place in August 1916, during which the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure. "It was this absolute fool proof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one.” The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun of the late 19th century. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and substituting components made with high strength alloys. A muzzle break was also added. The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their existing Maxims. There were still great shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914. Vickers was, in fact, threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the exorbitant price it was demanding for each gun. As a result, the price was slashed. As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army's primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps (when heavier 0.5 in/12.7 mm calibre machine guns appeared, the tripod-mounted, rifle-calibre machine guns like the Vickers became medium machine guns). After the First World War, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was disbanded and the Vickers returned to infantry units. Before the Second World War, there were plans to replace the Vickers gun. However, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Hundreds of thousands of these guns were manufactured in Erith and Crayford over several decades, and during both World Wars, this meant that the towns were legitimate wartime bombing targets. During both World Wars, the area economically benefited – for example in 1914, the number of trams run in Crayford and Erith was increased to transport the large number of munitions workers many of whom worked for Vickers making ammunition for use on the Western Front. With most of the young men volunteering for military service (conscription was yet to begin) many women entered paid employment for the first time, something that directly led to the start of female emancipation with the Representation of the People Act 1918.
A controversial redevelopment proposal has sparked the ire of several local residents, one of whom has been prompted to write the following piece as a Maggot Sandwich guest contributor. The person chooses to remain anonymous, but refers to themselves as “Erith and Belvedere History Buff". They write:- "After the 350 year old and oldest pub in Bexley, Belvedere’s Ye Olde Leather Bottle, was completely destroyed by a developer in 2016, there has been much concern about the preservation of other historical buildings in Erith and Belvedere. This includes those which are locally listed by the council. In all but name, another locally listed building (only locally listed in 2018) is under threat by the owner and developers – and will effectively disappear. Over the past decade* the owner has applied for planning permission to demolish 106 Bexley Road, the lovely old Victorian House in Erith which was known as the “Hastings Villa”. The Council’s planning committee regularly turned him down. However, in 2019, the developer tried again to get planning permission but this time it was to build inside and onto the property a total of 13 apartments (4 x 1 bed and 9 x 2 bed units). After toing and froing about the amount of affordable housing, the planning committee eventually gave planning permission for this in June 2020. This was opposed by Bexley’s Civic Society. Now he has put in another application (21/03064/FULM) to build another three units so there will now be 16 units (7 x 1 bed and 8 x 2 bed and 1 x 3 bed units). The development company’s planning statement goes into more detail and states that the changes to the aesthetics will include: “Most of the external walls and chimneys of the existing building will be retained, including the front elevation which will remain visible to preserve the historic value of the site. The side walls and part of the rear wall will also be retained but will largely be internalised by the new extensions. Some internal doorways will be inserted into these existing walls and part of the rear wall will be removed to create a staircase.” The designs can be seen on this page and a very dismissive heritage statement was produced by the Heritage Advisory (paid for by the owner) which states that despite the age and aesthetics “It is not of particularly significant interest however.” Of course, if Erith was endowed with lots of these housings that could be argued, but the fact this is unique in that area is conveniently “overlooked”. It is clearly is of significant interest. There are four sad points about these proposals. Firstly, that another one of our local area’s wonderful heritage assets will be lost forever. No matter what the spin that has been given by the owners and developers about protecting the asset, once it is subsumed into an apartment block, it is gone. Over the years, it will unrecognisable (drive past the Nordenfelt pub development at the bottom of Erith / Fraser Road to seen an example). Secondly, the Council’s planning committee approved the building of 13 apartments and therefore approved the erasure of this property. This was despite opposition from Bexley’s Civic Society. Thirdly, would this be allowed to happen on Danson Road, Bexley Village or Sidcup? Unlikely. Lastly, it is always about the money. Our history and heritage are irrelevant. One property valuation site says the property and land is worth over £1 million. Why couldn’t the owner just sell the property onto someone who wants to maintain it and live there? That way our area would keep this wonderful house and the owner would earn a decent profit. But of course by creating 16 homes, this will mean even more money – and that is all that matters these days. *To find out more and make your views known (by 29 December), you may have to register on the council’s planning portal to find some documents and register your views (type in the address or use the reference: 21/03064/FULM)". A fascinating and extremely well argued piece, in my opinion. What do you think? Email me in confidence to email@example.com.
As one looks out across the River Thames towards Rainham from Erith, there is currently not a great deal to see, although this may soon change. The area of Rainham on the North bank of the river are due a bit of a makeover, should a current planning application be approved by Havering Council. Plans to improve the riverside in Rainham with a viewing platform, courtyard and landscaping have been submitted. A planning application has been submitted by London Riverside Business Improvement District to improve and utilise public space in Rainham Riverside. The report says the public area, which is surrounded by industrial development, is currently “underutilised and neglected”. Suggested improvements include a riverside viewing structure, a courtyard named the Museum of Garden Escapes, additional access paths and soft landscaping including trees. The riverside structure is proposed to be one storey tall and six meters high, and would be made from in-situ concrete or recycled brick walling with corten weathering steel elements. It would provide seating, shelter and would work with existing topography to provide views over the Thames towards Erith and Lower Belvedere. Meanwhile, the Museum of Garden Escapes courtyard would stand one storey high at three meters. The report states the proposed changes aim to “improve access to Rainham riverside while protecting its ecological significance”. If approved, work is suggested to begin in March 2022 and end in September. Throughout the research and design process the community have been consulted, the report says, with an initial questionnaire being circulated through the BID to local businesses, workers and other site visitors. Community groups and schools have also been involved in a temporary garden project on part of the site. Havering Council is due to make a written decision by February the 15th.
Another piece of little known local history; you may be aware that one of the roads in the (relatively) new Erith Park development is named Downton Road - well, it is not named after the television series, but after a chap called John Downton. He was an English artist, philosopher, musician, and poet. Born in Erith on the 27th of March 1906 to Albert Victor Downton (1873 - 1925; an engineer) and Flora Edith (1875 - 1962; née Mitchell) both of Wiltshire, Downton drew well from an early age. He was educated at Erith Convent, followed by Erith Grammar School. At the age of fifteen he won the youth silver medal of the Royal Drawing Society. He was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge (1925–1928), first in English and then in Art History, and then trained as a painter at the Slade. Downton played the violin all his life, was often invited to give performances, and always participated in the fortnight-long Grittleton Summer School of Music in Malvern, Worcestershire. He also wrote books, such as The Death of Art (1937) and Craftsmanship, Art and Criticism (1993). But it is his paintings for which he is now chiefly remembered. He travelled regularly around Europe, and was particularly happy in northern Italy. His main subject was young girlhood, rendered in the manner of the Italian old masters and with the tempera technique that had been revived by the Birmingham Group. Both his subject matter and his techniques were deeply unfashionable during most of his adult life, and he ceased to exhibit after the start of the Second World War, during which he was a conscientious objector, working on the land in Shropshire and Pitlochry, Scotland. He had two sisters: Hilda (1901 - 2006) and Mary (1903 - 1989). Hilda, who lived to 104, was a talented artist. Her painting of Ightham Mote is owned by the National Trust, and it was she who established the John Downton Award in 2000. Her legacy also provided for a specialist music room at Walthamstow Hall School in her brother's name. John Downton's portrait of Hilda was gifted to the Hull Museum Collection He never married, and lived mostly in Cambridge. On his death in 1991, all his work passed to The Downton Trust. A major retrospective exhibition and catalogue was produced in 1996, and the exhibition toured the UK. His three main masterpieces are: The Battle (1935, now in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery); Portrait of a Girl (1938, now in The Tate); Nora Russell (1935, which was gifted to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, in 1998). There is an annual John Downton Award for Young Artists, given to those attending secondary schools in the county of Kent.
You may have seen a recent Email as shown above, which purports to be from financial expert and broadcaster Martin Lewis. Of course it is a blatant scam; a fraudulent attempt to use his name and reputation in order to extort money from innocent people. Many scams use images and names of famous people in order to try and convince their victims to take part in the fraud. Martin Lewis said of this in a recent press interview:- "Now there are a couple of things that need to be said on the start of this. First of all, you need to be incredibly careful when you see adverts online or you get emails about Bitcoin, many of those adverts and many of those emails will have my face on them. You can report scam ads on Facebook but they're everywhere else too these scam adverts, and not just with me in, with other people in as well. So most of those Bitcoin traded those Bitcoin type things which have famous faces or others in them, those ads are scams they are nothing to do with Bitcoin, they are scams, scams is theft, people are trying to steal your money, it destroys life." He went on to say about Bitcoin, and crypto currency in general:- "One of the interesting issues that's happened and I'm no great Bitcoin expert so we'll just keep this loose, is Bitcoin's price has gone up so much in recent years that it's become speculative. People aren't spending Bitcoin because they keep hold of it, in the hopes that it will keep going up in value. So the people who have Bitcoin often have it as a store of value as an investment for it to go up, rather than it actually being used out there, they're thinking I'm going to hold on to it because the price should go up but there is no guarantee that the price will continue to go up, you may hope it will do, you may believe it will do, but the most important thing is first of all, never invest in anything that you don't understand. Do not put money in any speculative investment that you cannot afford to lose. If you can't afford to lose it, you should not be speculating with it. If you can afford to lose it if you can put your hand on your heart to say 'Yeah, you know, I'm going to put this £500 and I'm going to cross my fingers, and if the worst comes to the worst except it's a bit of a gamble' then so be it, cross your fingers and you may do very well. We may be sitting here in three years, and everybody who put money in it is going 'sweet, I have made three times what I put in' and we may be sitting in here and go 'God Bitcoin, how on earth did I fall for that? The drop in price, I lost virtually everything'. Nobody actually knows, and some people get angry with that and say 'yeah we do know the price is going to go up, there's been a fundamental change in the dynamic' well we've heard that before in different balloons and bubbles. It may well be [a bubble], it may not be, but it certainly could be, so you need to understand the risks".
More problems at the troubled junction of Park View Road and Danson Road in Welling - outside the main entrance to Danson Park. The junction has a long history of serious traffic accidents, the most recent of which can be seen in the photos above - click on either one for a larger view. If you have any information, you can contact me in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The end video this week features some vintage amateur cine film; it was shot back in 1969, and shows the demolition of the historic Erith old town centre, to be replaced with a brutalist concrete development, which was universally detested.