Sunday, January 09, 2022

Baroness Amos.


Erith  Playhouse has reopened for the first time, since being closed on the 17th of March 2020 due to the covid pandemic. They have reopened with the pantomime Cinderella. Erith Playhouse is the largest theatre in the London Borough of Bexley. It is run entirely by unpaid volunteers. The production of the pantomime Cinderella is currently being performed. Many people who have to use Erith food bank may have never had the chance for them or their children to go to a pantomime. Some very generous donors have given money to purchase tickets for these people who would otherwise be unable to go to a traditional pantomime. The theatre is scheduled to start open auditions for new cast members, technical volunteers and anyone who is interested in getting involved on the 6th of February 2022 from 2:00 p.m. You can just turn up on the day.

Last Sunday morning residents of Manor Road and. Frobisher road in Erith were woken at just after 8:00 a.m. by the sound of the London Air Ambulance hovering overhead. It turns out that the 15-year-old boy had been the victim of a stabbing incident on the Frobisher Road Estate. Apparently he had a cut on his arm and an injury on his hand and he was taken to hospital. The police were called and it would appear that the incident was related to some kind of drug deal. Although specifics are not known at this point, unfortunately the Frobisher Road Estate has a rather poor reputation when it comes to antisocial behaviour and drug dealing. Most of the residents of the estate are decent law abiding people, but there's a small group of very unsavoury criminals that use the estate as a base for their activities. Historically, the housing estate was originally built as a commercial enterprise in the very early 1990s, but this coincided with a recession and a drop in the housing market. Many of the properties could not be sold and therefore ended up being purchased by a housing association.  As a result of this, a small minority of the people allocated by the housing association to the new estate were not exactly what you would want as your next door neighbour. Whilst some local people incorrectly term the Frobisher Road Estate as a dumping ground for problem families, this is not really the case. A small number of bad people give the estate its poor reputation. The estate, as I have written in the past was the location of a farm and was the place three American airmen died during World War II. I feel that a memorial to those fallen airman would be entirely appropriate. You can read more about the story in my posting from May of last year by clicking here

In a surprise move, the Town Pier at Gravesend (photo above - click on it for a larger view) has been sold by Gravesham Council to Thames Clippers, operators of the Uber River Bus service. In an interview with website Kent online:- "Town Pier, the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world, is a Borough landmark and we have been looking at ways to secure its future in a way that benefits the whole community for some time,” said Councillor John Burden (Labour), leader of Gravesham council. "The sale to Thames Clippers safeguards this important community asset for future generations to admire and enjoy, while opening up new opportunities for strengthening Gravesend’s links to the River Thames. We have long-held aspirations to support river transportation from the town and while this sale does not guarantee rapid river links to London, it certainly makes their introduction more likely. We know Thames Clippers will be worthy and conscientious custodians of this important piece of Gravesend’s history.” The pier is Grade–II listed and is the oldest remaining cast iron pier of its kind in the world, which was built in 1834 in order to board steamers travelling to and from London. It is estimated that more than three million passengers were transported between Gravesend and the capital from the jetty. Of course the use of Gravesend pier leads to the elephant in the room. If the ferry company has purchased Gravesend Town Pier, then it stands to reason that they're going to be running services from Gravesend into Central London and back. One can only assume that they would also want to use Erith Pier in their commuter service. As I have outlined several times before, the use of Erith Pier is not without its complications but a river commuter service from Erith  into Central London would be a great benefit to many people, although as we know the number of people now commuting is greatly reduced as so many people now work permanently from home. Nevertheless, a river service to and from London would be a great asset to the local area and the people that live there. There are technical hurdles, including the fact that a floating pontoon would need to be added to the fixed concrete pier to allow vessels to dock whatever the state of the tide. Technically there are many challenges but none are unsurmountable. It would all depend on the level of dedication and financial investment into improving the peer to make it suitable for community use. Currently the pier is used for leisure purposes for fishing and for the River police to dock there vessels on occasion. An expansion to become part of the commuter infrastructure for greater London would be a challenge. Nevertheless, if it was to come to pass, it would elevate Erith to be a far more important and vital commuter town within greater London and North Kent. I have contacted several local politicians to ask for their opinion on the subject, but at the time of writing I have not had any responses. As soon as I do I will let you know. Erith  pier is little known outside the local area and somewhat  under used, but this may well change if the ferry comes to the local area. What do you think? Please let me know. I think this could be a great opportunity to expand and enhance the offering to residents. there are considerable barriers to setting up a Thames Clipper / Uber ferry terminal on Erith Pier; the problems can be divided into two specific types. Firstly there are the engineering and physical challenges to enabling a ferry to dock at the pier. A free floating pontoon extension to the existing pier structure would be needed; this would project out into the deep water channel closer to the middle of the river. This would, however create problems of its own. Whilst the floating pontoon would enable ferries to dock at the the pier whatever the state of the tide was, it would also create a hazard to other shipping that uses the river. Commercial vessels, including cargo ships and bulk freighters use the deep water channel, and if a jetty was protruding into the channel, this might create a hazard to navigation, especially at night and at times of reduced visibility. There are several ways to manage this, the most obvious one being to make the floating jetty movable - to swing it out into the deep water channel only when a ferry was approaching the pier. Unfortunately this would add complexity, and therefore cost to the design, and for safety reasons would almost certainly require a supervising operator to be located on site. The jetty, whether movable or fixed, would require hazard warning lights, a fog horn, and a radar reflector. The pier itself would also require some shelters for waiting commuters to occupy in inclement weather - the wind coming off the Thames at Erith in winter can be absolutely bitter, not to mention the freezing rain. Who would foot the bill for all of the alterations and upgrades is uncertain - at this point it has not been debated. The second barrier to using Erith Pier as a landing place for Thames Clipper / Uber Ferries is actually by far the more difficult one - the bureaucracy and vested interests of the likes of The Port of London Authority, Morrison's Supermarket (who currently own the pier) and Bexley Council. I know from personal experience that dealing with these organisations, when any mention of Erith Pier is made, it tends to provoke the response of "The answer is no, now what is the question?" Long term readers may recall that I had a small involvement some years ago with an abortive project to bring the Ross Revenge - the Radio Caroline ship to Erith Pier to open it as a public attraction for the Summer season. The objections and bureaucratic barriers that were put up to block the temporary project were simply staggering, and even the involvement of Teresa Pearce, then MP for Erith and Thamesmead was not enough to get the project the green light, and it ended up being abandoned. The transformation of Erith Pier into a ferry terminal is of a completely different scale, as it would require permanent changes to the pier structure and thus its functionality, which has since it was refurbished and repurposed in 1999 been exclusively for leisure use. What do you think? Email me in confidence at

Did you know that this January marks the 20th anniversary of the RNLI operating on the River Thames? RNLI lifeboats have been operating on the River Thames since the 2nd of January 2002 from their lifeboat stations at the Chiswick, Gravesend teddington and tower. They were the first lifeboat stations to specifically cover a river rather than esturial  waters or the sea. The decision for a permanent lifeboat service on the River Thames followed the tragedy of the Marchioness sinking on the 20th of August 1989 when the party boat Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank resulting in the loss of 51 lives. The rivers cold temperature rapid currents and changing tides make it incredibly dangerous. Speed is of the utmost importance and anyone in the water must be reached within minutes, especially given the constant heavy traffic from passing watercraft of every kind. That is why at Tower, Chiswick and Gravesend a crew is always on duty 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. If there is an emergency on the river, they have to launch within 90 seconds of the coast guards. The Tower lifeboat crew are the busiest in the UK and Ireland with the highest number of launches each year closely followed by Chiswick. The specialised craft they use is the Mark 2 E-Class which can comfortably reach top speeds of 40 knots making it the fastest lifeboat in the fleet water jets make the lifeboat easier and quicker to manoeuvre in the fast flowing water.

Readers who have been using mobile devices for many years will have no doubt at some point used a BlackBerry device. BlackBerry at one stage was the premier mobile phone and messaging device. Beloved of business people and influencers. Prior to the invention of the iPhone, the BlackBerry was the status symbol of mobile devices. Last week, BlackBerry announced that they were ending support for all of their hardware devices, mobile phones and tablets. In a press statement the company made the following, not unexpected announcement:- “As another milestone in the BlackBerry journey, we will be taking steps to decommission the legacy services for BlackBerry 7.1 OS and earlier, BlackBerry 10 software, BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.1 and earlier versions, with an end of life or termination date of January 4, 2022. As of this date, devices running these legacy services and software through either carrier or Wi-Fi connections will no longer reliably function, including for data, phone calls, SMS and 999 functionality. We have chosen to extend our service until then as an expression of thanks to our loyal partners and customers”. How did such a formerly popular and successful brand fail so badly? The answer as always is quite complex, but it falls into several categories. Back in September of 2018, BlackBerry announced that they would stop making phones, which was going to mark the end of an iconic product within the internet era. There was a time when almost all business people had a BlackBerry and BlackBerry's messaging service. BBM was the equivalent of WhatsApp today. Nowadays this has been taken over by the likes of Apple and Samsung leaving BlackBerry with less than 0.3% of the smartphone market.. one of the principal areas of BlackBerry failure was their lack of having a on-screen keyboard and instead keeping a QWERTY physical keyboard. When the likes of Apple and Samsung provided touchscreen capabilities. Today smartphones are virtual and augmented reality tools. They are for taking and sharing photos, video chatting, playing games and so much more. Even within text boxes where you have emojis, stickers, voice typing gifts and many other things that cannot do with three rows of hardware QWERTY keys. BlackBerry as a company were always very conservative, and were resistant to change. This this meant that many customers moved away from BlackBerry devices to alternatives, which were more modern and technologically innovative. The BBM messaging system helped to capture the younger teenage audience with its faster approach to messaging, and made a texting appear boring features such as status updates pinging a user and groups were really interesting features. BBM use peaked at a time when instant messaging was very limited, and the company was under the impression that they had cornered the market. They thought that BBM messenger would save them rather than let BBM be installed on other devices. They continued to make BBM BlackBerry exclusive rather than allow the software to be used on other platforms - as the like of WhatsApp and Signal do nowadays. When they eventually changed this decision. It was far too late. Other applications were already dominating the market. Smartphones became very popular mainly because of the ability to install any kind of app the user wanted, and transform the phone into something specific, instantly from games to productivity apps. The app store provides a plethora of options to users, but with BlackBerry OS, users could not do this, and even today, as the system goes offline, there is only a small selection of apps. Available apps like Facebook and Twitter on the BlackBerry were also difficult to use, and the user only got half a screen to view the content due to the physical keyboard. BlackBerry covered two main core markets within its prime:- teenagers who used BBM messenger and corporate professionals who used the phone for business use. The firm dominated the corporate market at a time when the ability to actually do meaningful work on a mobile device first became imperative. It also boasted the highly secure platform. The BlackBerry device content was always encrypted and practically uncrackable. When smartphones were new and the market was untested. BlackBerry were able to use the fact they had very high security and encryption built into the hardware as a very powerful selling point. As other smartphones got more intelligent, and the technology improved, the encryption that BlackBerry did in hardware could now be done using software, and the advantage that BlackBerry had was now gone. They got left behind due to their resistance to any form of change. All BlackBerry hardware and the operating systems are now end of life and unsupported. They became another victim to the rise of the smartphone along with fellow former mobile giant Nokia. What do you think? Email me at

There has been much press coverage in the last week over the award of the Order of the Garter to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of it, as it has no local relevance and the mainstream press are making a good job of covering it. Anyway. What may be interesting to local people is another recipient of the Order of the Garter and that is Baroness Amos. Baroness Valerie Amos, 67, a Labour member of the House of Lords, was also the first black person to become a cabinet member. According to the Palace she will now be the first black person appointed Lady Companion of the Order, the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry. She was a former pupil of Bexley Technical High School for Girls now Townley Grammar School in Bexleyheath. Her late father Michael Amos taught economics at Picardy School in Erith Road, now known as Trinity School. A statement from Buckingham Palace said:- “The Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint The Right Honourable Valerie Ann, Baroness Amos C.H. to be a Lady Companion.” Guyana-born Valerie Amos moved to Great Britain with her family in 1963 and built a career working for equal opportunities. As a member of the House of Lords, she served as the government spokeswoman for social security, international development, women’s issues, and foreign and Commonwealth affairs. Between 1989 and 1994 she was chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission. She was a co-founder and director of Amos Fraser Bernard, advising the South African government on public service reform, human rights and employment equity. Baroness Amos became Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council in late 2003. Appointments to the Garter are in the Queen’s gift and made without prime ministerial advice. They are for life unless a Knight or Lady Companion offends against certain “points of reproach”. Founded in 1348 by Edward III, the Garter is awarded by the sovereign for outstanding public service and achievement and are said to have been inspired by events at a ball in northern France.The appointment, which can only be made by the Queen

For those readers with an interest in radio - the BBC Amateur Radio Group recently made the following announcement:- "BBC Radio 4 announcer / newsreader, Jim Lee, launched the special event amateur radio station GB100BBC, from the BBC's Broadcasting House, in London, at midday on Saturday 1st January 2022. Within minutes amateur radio stations around the UK and throughout Europe were clamouring to contact the special BBC station and secure a prized entry in the logbook. The London BBC Radio Group was granted an extended special event radio licence by the regulator OFCOM, to operate the station throughout 2022. This amateur radio activity is one of many events organised to celebrate 100 years of the BBC, which began broadcasting from Savoy Hill in 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company, moving to the iconic Broadcasting House in 1932, gaining a Royal Charter as the British Broadcasting Corporation".

Last week I had a fascinating Email from reader Chris, who wrote:- "Hi Hugh – I saw your recent blog that featured a film of the demolition of Erith in the 60s – I wonder if your readers might be interested in this video I made of the demolition of the last of the Larner Road Estate blocks to make way for Orbit’s new Erith Park development, which I filmed from my flat. With Corhaven House gone, I gained a much better view over towards Wrotham – I can now see the radio mast. I lost the sunset in the other direction - but that’s only from my kitchen – so a winner really, despite the 18 months of noise and dust! Though there was a cut in the number of ‘affordable’ homes, the new layout of smaller blocks and terraces makes for a far more friendly neighbourhood feel I think". Thanks to Chis - his time lapse film of the demolition work makes for fascinating viewing. Do give the short film a watch, and let me know what you think. As always, feedback is welcomed to my usual address -

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