I took the upper of the two photographs on Friday evening, not long after the storm blew over the 6 foot high wall that ran around the perimeter of the former Cairngall Medical Centre - now repurposed as the Purple Willows day nursery in Erith Road, Upper Belvedere. The lower of the two photos was taken by me on Saturday morning at the same location, as workers cleared up the broken brickwork. Click on either photo to see a larger version. I spoke to several local people who commented that whilst Friday's winds were bad, they were nothing like those from the 1987 hurricane. That storm hit the London Borough of Bexley particularly hard. Something approaching 20% of the mature trees in the borough were uprooted or seriously damaged by the exceptionally high winds. I recall walking along the Woolwich Road in Upper Belvedere the morning after, and seeing a number of the large trees in recreation park down across the road – the fire brigade were cutting them up with chainsaws requisitioned from the plant hire shop in Nuxley Road. One of the very impressive Georgian houses opposite the Eardley Arms was seriously damaged - the whole third floor and roof were crushed by a mature sycamore tree that had fallen directly onto it. I recall reading in the local paper that the insurance claim to rebuild the historic house was greater than if they had demolished it and built afresh. Just as well the listed building was lovingly rebuilt, as it is one of the nicest residential properties in the whole of Upper Belvedere. My most vivid memory of the Great Storm was looking out of my bedroom window at the fury of the weather outside; some workmen had been laying a new paved pathway directly outside of my parents house. A pile of large concrete paving slabs had been made ready for the workers to continue laying them the next morning – these I saw flying through the air as if they were pieces of paper. Very worrying, as my parents house was right at the highest point in the area, leaving an unrestricted avenue for the hurricane to attack. The garden shed roof ended up in a neighbours’ back garden – very much like one of the opening scenes from “The Wizard of Oz”. What do you think? Email me at email@example.com.
The long awaited upgrade and improvement works to Erith Riverside Gardens is shortly to get underway. The gardens are the only point in the whole of the London Borough of Bexley where the public have access to the River Thames. The official announcement of the works can be read here:- "Planning permission has been granted for works to improve Riverside Gardens, one of Erith’s most important riverside spaces.The improvements have been developed by Erect Architecture in partnership with the local community. Groundwork, who specialise in community engagement, organised a number of public events and feedback from these identified four themes that guide the new design of the Gardens: creating a destination and clear identity connecting the Gardens to the river improving play opportunities, celebrating Erith’s heritage. The improvements will make the Gardens more accessible, with new planting and places to play and rest, and with easier connections to the riverside. Councillor Munur, Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Growth said: "The approved design for Riverside Gardens will make the most of a unique space on the Thames with a rich history. Together with the improvements to Pier Square the proposal will ensure the river plays an important part in the regeneration of Erith” The consented scheme can be viewed on the Planning Portal under the code 21/02449/FULM as part of the planning application. The works are due to begin in early summer and will last for approximately six months. The Thames Path will be kept open for public access for as long as possible during the build and if the path needs to be closed for short periods of time to allow for construction then a diversion would be put in place. A new ramp will make the route between the gardens and the Thames Path accessible for all users, while the reconfiguration of ground levels will make it easier to move around within the gardens and provide better views across the River Thames. A new playground will be created based on a design that relates to the history of the Gardens and the town, and outdoor fitness equipment will be provided on the riverside terrace. New planting, including a dedicated growing space for the Friends of Riverside Gardens, will increase biodiversity and improve drainage in the Gardens and along Erith High Street. The improvements at Riverside Gardens are part of the wider Greater Erith programme. The project is being funded by the London Borough of Bexley and the Greater London Authority through the Good Growth Fund". I will be following this story over the coming months.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a great deal of controversy and disinformation around 5G mobile communications technology, which, along other factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to conspiracy theorists and others to incorrectly conclude that the new technology is somehow harmful. The irony is, most of the anti 5G campaigners do not actually understand what it is.5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connects new industries. 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks. Up to 100 times faster than 4G, 5G is creating never-before-seen opportunities for people and businesses. Faster connectivity speeds, ultra-low latency and greater bandwidth is advancing societies, transforming industries and dramatically enhancing day-to-day experiences. Services that we used to see as futuristic, such as e-health, connected vehicles and traffic systems and advanced mobile cloud gaming have arrived. 5G runs on the same radio frequencies that are currently being used for your smartphone, on Wi-Fi networks and in satellite communications, but it enables technology to go a lot further. Beyond being able to download a full-length HD movie to your phone in seconds (even from a crowded stadium), 5G is really about connecting things everywhere – reliably, without lag – so people can measure, understand and manage things in real time. Some people have been concerned with regard to possible health risks relating to 5G. British communications regulator OFCOM says of these health concerns:- "In the UK, Public Health England (PHE) leads on health matters related to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, or radio waves. It also has a duty to advise the Government on any health effects that may be caused by EMF emissions. On 5G, PHE’s view is that ‘the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health’. We have measured the electromagnetic field emissions from equipment used to transmit mobile signals and other wireless services for a number of years. We have extended this measurement programme to cover the frequencies being used for 5G. We measured 5G sites in various towns and cities across the UK, focusing on areas where mobile use is likely to be highest. At every site, emissions were a small fraction of the levels included in international guidelines, as set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)". A couple of readers have asked me when 5G is coming to the local area. It already has. At least three mobile phone sites in Upper Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green respectively have already been upgraded to the new 5G standard. The Upper Belvedere site is located on top of the BT telephone exchange on the corner of Erith Road and Brook Street; the Erith Site is on the roof of the controversial Electricity House, opposite the De Luci fish roundabout on Queen Street. The Slade Green site is located by the mini roundabout at the junction of Manor Road and Slade Green Road, adjacent to the Manford Industrial Estate. It has to be said that whilst all three sites are operational with 5G, they are not currently operating at full 5G speed. After undertaking some testing, the download speed from each site seems to be capped at 347 Mb/second - still blindingly fast compared with most home broadband speeds. When 5G cellular base stations are running at full speed, they can in ideal conditions offer a download speed in the region of 1 Gigabit per second. This is however dependent on numerous criteria - how busy the cell is, how far away you are from the cell site, even the weather can affect it - rain or fog can reduce speed and range of 5G signals, as they can be attenuated by water and water vapour.
Following my end video last week - a BBC documentary about Vox musical instruments, I have had a number of Emails from readers. One told me that in the 1960's her mother was a neighbour of Vox chief engineer and publicist Dick Denney. Another told me that the location of the Vox musical instrument and amplifier factory in Dartford had been awarded a blue plaque by Dartford Council some years ago. The plaque is located at 119 Dartford Road, between Hair flair and an Ads Business Centre. This was very welcome news, but it struck me that it would have made more sense to award the plaque to the West Street Erith site, which was the location of the largest and most significant Vox factory, as seen in the period photo above (click on it for a larger view), several times larger than the Dartford Road facility. The Vox factory in Erith was formerly the Vickers factory which used to be located in Nordenfeldt Road, off West Street. The factory had several owners over its life; after Vickers no longer had need of it, the place was sold to a company called Elizabethan Electronics, who made radios and record players primarily for domestic use; when the company relocated to a new factory in Romford in the early 1960’s the place was sold on to Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), a company that was soon to be better known by the name of their best known products – the Vox range of guitar amplifiers. Founder Thomas Walter Jennings started the business in Dartford in 1958, when he took a prototype guitar amplifier which had been demonstrated to him by Erith born big band guitarist and Belvedere resident Dick Denney two years earlier, and turned it into a working, commercial product – the Vox AC-15. The AC-15 was almost immediately purchased by Hank Marvin, and the unique sound of the Shadows was down primarily to the use of Vox amplification. Soon after, the “British Invasion” of the early 60’s was under way, powered almost exclusively by Vox amplifiers. Keeping it local, Dartford’s own Rolling Stones used Vox amplification, as did The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and in what was one of the very earliest pieces of celebrity product placement, Vox amplifiers were promoted and exclusively used by The Beatles, after manager Brian Epstein negotiated a deal – one which greatly benefitted JMI, who were pretty much called Vox by this point. As the audiences for gig got bigger, and the venue sizes increased, the need for more powerful amplification became evident – the 15 Watt Vox AC-15 was not powerful enough; JMI effectively nailed two AC-15 amps together to create their all time classic Vox AC-30 amplifier – a model still in production to this day. Contemporary musicians who employ the AC-30 include Brian May of Queen, who was the first person to create a “wall” of AC-30’s to create his unique and totally distinctive sound; Tom Petty, Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore, Mark Knopfler, Paul Weller, and the Edge of U2 – pretty much all of rock royalty use or have used Vox amplification. JMI also manufactured guitars, many of which were technically ground breaking – including active pickups, and built in sound effects – the down side of this was that they tended to be heavy and ugly, and did not pick up many celebrity users. JMI / Vox also invented the Wah Wah pedal – most famously used by Jimi Hendrix, and the fuzztone distortion pedal used by Jimmy Page, then of the Yardbirds, and soon to be of Led Zeppelin. Vox / JMI also created the very first wireless microphone system, early models of which gained a reputation from picking up interference from nearby mini cab radios. Another very successful and influential product made by JMI / Vox at Erith was the Vox Continental electronic organ, which most famously featured on “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, and “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors (actually, pretty much any Doors track heavily features the Vox Continental – it was integral to their sound, as they did not have a bass player). The Vox brand still exists today, although it is no longer owned by JMI, who no longer exist. The brand is now owned by giant Japanese musical instrument maker Korg.
There has been an article in the News Shopper stating that Erith station is the fourth least used railway station in South East London. The figures were compiled during the COVID-19 lockdown, and as such may be somewhat skewed. Very few people were commuting into and out of London during the various lockdowns. Having said this, the usage figures of Erith station have always been somewhat inaccurate; ; The principal reason for this is that a very large number of rail users do not pay for a ticket or swiping or swipe out using an Oyster card. Some time ago I was talking to a revenue protection officer. She told me that in some instances around 30% of passengers on the North Kent line were travelling illegally. Apparently this is most common in the early morning and mid-afternoon. Unlike many other stations on the line, Erith does not have any ticket barriers. Passengers can walk straight in and get on a train with no impediment. I understand that the reason for this is twofold; firstly, it is to do with the historic nature of the building, making the installation of turnstiles difficult. Secondly, it is due to the narrow space available, if the station needed to be evacuated in a hurry in an emergency, it would be very difficult to do so if passenger turnstiles were installed. From what the revenue protection officer told me at the time, which must have been at least four years ago, the stations with the greatest number of people evading fares were Plumstead and Erith. It would appear that these fare dodgers are affecting the usage statistics, and as a direct result, the amount of investment put into the station. As many long-term readers will be aware, I have been keen on promoting Erith station in a step-free manner. The station really needs a lift to take passengers using a wheelchair or a children's buggy from the Kent bound platform to the London bound platform. Our former MP Teresa Pearce campaigned for many years to get a lift installed, but unfortunately she was unsuccessful. Other local train stations have lifts, but Erith does not. Not. I am led to believe that the main reason for this is that it is thought that not enough people use the station to justify the installation of a lift. Personally, I feel that this is incorrect, but the irresponsible and criminal actions of the fare dodgers are skewing the usage figures of the station and adversely affecting law abiding travellers. More on stations later. Comments and feedback - which can be made confidentially should you so wish - to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week I have a cautionary tale from fellow local Blogger - Malcolm Knight of the excellent "Bexley is Bonkers". The following article was first published on his site, but he has given me permission to reproduce it here:- "It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution as such but it was around the turn of the year that I decided that I was spending far too much time at the keyboard or doing much the same on the smart phone and I should try to behave more like a normal human being. I contemplated buying a TV licence but paying the BBC seemed to be a step too far, (Malcolm does not watch the BBC or use BBC iPlayer, and thus has no need of a TV licence), instead I started ordering DVDs and wasting my time watching films. It started with the new James Bond which I enjoyed and before long more films arrived from Amazon, HMV and Zavvi. Not many from HMV because I really can’t get on with their website but on 19th January I made my third order from Zavvi. A neighbour, no not that one, told me that Zavvi were bad news; unreliable and useless if something went wrong but all my discs arrived in perfect condition and in good time but while acknowledging that third order they linked me to a page to say that I qualified for a special offer. I looked at it and instantly decided it was not for me; something about joining a discount club. I don’t even have a store card; can’t be bothered. I simply closed the web page and forgot about it. At 06:27 on 7th February I received an email from a company called Complete Savings which told me that on the 13th of every month they were going to debit my credit card with £15 as a member of their club. I knew the source was Zavvi because with my first order I set up a unique email address for them only, email@example.com. Complete Scammings had used that email address. Complete Savings is a Swiss company. Swizz company As invited above I responded at 07:58 the same day to tell them where they could go. On 13th February my credit card was debited, fraudulently in my opinion, and I phoned the credit card company, MBNA, expecting the worst. I was wrong. Once I had identified myself and their lady was able to look at my account she guessed what I was going to complain about. Complete Savings is well known at MBNA for wrongly helping itself to their customers’ money. It was all very easy, especially as I had refused Complete Savings’s offer within 90 minutes of them making it, and I can expect a refund within two or three days. The MBNA lady was kind enough to give me the full contact details for the Swiss scammers and recommended I phone them to reinforce my email message. That did not go well. I was asked for my membership number and as I had never joined I didn’t have one. How I was supposed to take advantage of the discount offer without the number I have no idea. So there you are, it’s a wicked world out there. Zavvi get no more orders, the unique email address is now cancelled, Complete Savings is exposed as an unprincipled foreign company but MBNA as Credit Card provider come up smelling of roses".
The end video this week features a historic documentary on London Bridge Station from back in 1975, when when improvement works were being undertaken on what is London's oldest railway station. The station was subsequently rebuilt again from 2012, finishing in 2018. Do give the film a watch, and send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.