Sunday, June 05, 2022


The photos above were taken eleven years apart - click on either for a larger view. The upper photo was taken back in 2011. The lower photo was taken by me last week. They show the site of the former Erith pop in parlour. The building was boarded up, and I believe was sold to a developer in 2011. It had actually been closed to the public for around two years prior to this, although the precise dates are somewhat unclear. Mystery surrounds the building. It was meant to have been redeveloped and a small block of flats built on the site, but for reasons unknown nothing whatsoever has happened to the building in the intervening decade and a bit. It is not the first time that I have written about the structure. You can see below an excerpt from an article I wrote on a blog posting in 2011 just when the building was due to be sold. It reads:- "The former Age UK single-storey building "Pop - in Parlour" opposite the Baptist Church in Queen Street, Erith, owned by Bexley Council, is due to go for auction on the 12th December. The auctioneers are estimating the guide price for the building to be in the range of £35,000 to £45,000. Not a lot of cash for the size of plot. The current building is in a poor state of repair, as you can see from my photo above. The building conceivably could be refurbished and re-opened for the areas pensioners to use as before, but somehow I don't see an appetite for this. I just hope that the plot does not get demolished for yet another block of flats - like the area needs more of them. Without a detailed structural survey and search into what the building could legally be used for, the whole thing is a bit of an enigma. It would make an interesting bungalow for a private dwelling, though in such close proximity to Queen's Road, with its' 24 hour traffic, it would need some substantial sound proofing to make living in it a viable concept; still, it is surrounded by private houses and their owners don't seem to mind. I wonder who will put in a bid for it, and what it will become? Answers on a postcard after the 12th December". Since then - nothing whatsoever seems to have happened to this seemingly abandoned and derelict building. If you have any information behind the mystery, then please contact me at

In another, somewhat related subject, the way many local councils around the country deal with public land such as parks and other publicly accessible open spaces may soon be subject to change. A group of residents in Shrewsbury are taking their local council to the Supreme Court over the council's actions in respect of a public open space called Greenfields Recreation Ground. In 2017, a section of the park was sold by Shrewsbury town council to a developer for high-end housing, but without consulting the community or even advertising the proposed sale, despite there being a legal requirement to do so. You can read the full story by clicking here. It would appear that the result of the Supreme Court case could have widespread influence on how other local council's treat public open spaces. The implications of the outcome of the case - due to be held in December, may well set a precedent. Time will tell. 

I have spoken to a couple of people in the past, who have expressed a perverse pride in one local statistic. This has been borne out again, as this week, Belvedere and Erith have once again been named as the top two worst places to learn to drive in the UK.The study compiled data from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency between April and December 2021. The data was calculated by using four factors which are pass rate percentage and first-time pass rate percentage, the number of cancelled tests, and the wait time for a driving test. This was then used to create a total driving test score for all test centres. It showed that out of 3,307 tests conducted in Belvedere had a 30.99 per cent pass rate and a 33.89 per cent first-time pass rate. The centre, in Woolwich Road, had 518 cancellations during the time period. No driving tests were available at the time of looking. The data also showed that out of 3,484 tests taken in Erith scored a low 28.30 per cent pass rate and a 30.25 per cent first-time pass rate. The test centre also had 300 cancellations, according to the data. Belvedere and Erith were the only two towns named in the list from south east London. The study also revealed that the average wait time for a test was over 19 weeks, with 48 per cent of test centres having no tests available at the time of looking.

Following my feature last week on actor Karl Howman, it occurred to me that the local area has been the home for quite a number of famous people. For some reason musicians seem to feature prominently – we have Kate Bush (Upper Wickham Lane, Welling), Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (Dartford), John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (Sidcup) and David Bowie (Beckenham / Bromley). Other famous local residents have in the past included Bernie Ecclestone (Bexleyheath), Lennox Lewis (Danson), Nevil Shute (Hatherley Road, Sidcup), Delia Smith (Bexleyheath) Linda Smith (Erith), Michael Crawford (Bexleyheath), Roald Dahl, (Hurst Road, Bexley), Sheila Hancock (Erith), Boy George (Shooter's Hill), and Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley), and Steve Davis (Danson) All of these well – known and illustrious people have contributed to both the local and the national well-being in one way or another. Led Zeppelin bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. Real name John Richard Baldwin, the rocker was born in Sidcup on January 3 1946. At just six years old he began playing the piano, having learnt from his father Joe Baldwin, who was a pianist and arranger for jazz orchestras during the 1940s. His mother was involved in the music industry, meaning that the family would often perform together, touring across England as a vaudeville comedy act. It was because his parents often toured that John was sent to a boarding school at a young age, having been a student at Christ’s College in Blackheath, located between Greenwich and Lewisham. Here he began studying music formally, becoming a choirmaster and organist for a local church at the age of 14 and in the same year, purchased his first ever bass guitar, a Dallas Tuxedo solid body electric. At the age of 15, John joined his first band, The Deltas, before playing bass for a Jazz-rock London group named Jett Blacks that also featured legendary jazz-fusion musician, John McLaughlin. His first break would then come at the age of 16 when he joined Jet Harris and Tony Meehan for a two year stint in the successful group, The Shadows. He then went on to enjoy several years of studio session work between 1964 and 1968, playing on hundreds of recording sessions and working with legends like The Rolling Stones. It was during his years as a session musician that he developed his stage name, John Paul Jones, which had been suggested to him by a friend who had seen a poster for the 1959 film John Paul Jones in France. Having met guitarist Jimmy Page during his time as a session musician, the two created the foundations of what would become Led Zeppelin in 1968 when the pair met vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Led Zeppelin stands as one of the defining bands of Britain's rock sound in this era, with hits such as Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love and Immigrant Song just some of their incredible catalogue that cemented the group as rock icons for years to come. With eight highly regarded studio albums under their belt, and tours that dazzled all who came and saw, it’s no surprise the band’s legacy is still very much alive today. Sadly however, the group disbanded in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham at 32 years old. It has been recorded that Bonham had died of an accidental death, as an inquest revealed he had consumed over 1lite of 40% Vodka within 24 hours, after which he vomited and choked. While Led Zeppelin may have disbanded, that hasn’t stopped John from performing. In 2007, a Led Zeppelin reunion was held, which saw the surviving members come together to perform for the first time since 1980. Baldwin was also part of the super-group Them Crooked Vultures, which included Dave Grohl and Josh Homme. He has also collaborated with a number of other iconic names in music such as R.E.M, Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz and Foo Fighters.

I often feature stories about the rich history of the local area; it is not very often that a much more recent historic event comes to be mentioned, but this event surely is worth airing - something that might seem more at home in an episode of vintage TV comedy drama series "Lovejoy". Several tabloid newspapers reported back in 2017 that a military tank enthusiast got rather more than he bargained for when he examined his latest purchase - a former Iraqi Republican Guard T-54 main battle tank. Five years ago, the Sun recounted the story  thus:- "A TANK fanatic got a new model in a £30,000 trade-in — and found more than £2million of gold bullion hidden in the fuel tank. Nick Mead, 55, discovered the five gold bars in the Russian T54/69 while restoring it to add to his collection of 150 military vehicles. He and mechanic Todd Chamberlain were filming themselves prising open the diesel tank in case they found munitions and needed to show it to bomb disposal crews. Instead, they pulled out the bars, weighing up to 12lb — 5kg — apiece. Todd, 50, said a quick calculation suggested they were worth in excess of £2 million. He added: “We didn’t know what to do. You can’t exactly take five gold bullion bars down to Cash Converters without questions being asked, so we called the police.” Nick runs Tanks-a-Lot, giving petrolheads the chance to drive any of his tanks on his farm in Helmdon, Northants." You can read the full story by clicking here. What made the story so much more interesting was how the tank came to be in the UK in the first place; The Manor Road, Erith based recycling company at the time was known as Mayer Newman, later as Mayer Parry (and now European Metal Recycling). They were - as far as I have been able to determine, exclusively contracted by the Ministry of Defence in the early 90's to import, break and recycle tanks and other captured military equipment after the defeat of Saddam Hussein's army in the first Gulf War. The company experimentally brought three or four (the precise number is uncertain, but it was very low) T-54 Russian produced main battle tanks over to explore the logistics of breaking them for their component metals. The story goes that all but one of them were cut up, but the process took far longer and was far more complex and expensive than had been anticipated, and as the price of the various metals which made up the tanks had dropped in the intervening period, further potential breaking of hundreds of captured and imported T-54's became uneconomic, and the project was then shelved. For this reason the remaining T-54 – the one in almost mint condition (though minus ammunition and without firing mechanisms for the guns) was retained as a mascot for the company. I can recall that before I lived in Erith, I would occasionally see the T-54 when I drove past the yard. The thing became a bit of a minor local landmark for quite a few years. On one occasion it needed to be moved around the yard; one of the staff was an ex tank driver in the British Army – he was tasked with the job. What he did not know was that the controls for Warsaw Pact tanks were an exact mirror of those from NATO countries. He ended up driving the tank clean through the brick wall surrounding the yard, and across the road – it only stopped a couple of feet short of the industrial units on the corner of Frobisher Road. You used to be able to see the patch of fresh bricks which were used to repair the tank shaped hole, though nowadays these have faded and it is now invisible. The tank was none the worse for the accident, and later was used in several music videos, and also was the central vehicle in the movie “Tank Girl”. It would appear then to have been sold on an unknown number of times before it got to Nick Mead. It would seem that for all of those years the tank sat in the yard in Manor Road, nobody was any the wiser that the fuel tank was stuffed with gold bars!

Thirty years ago, on May 29, 1992, Apple announced its most groundbreaking and revolutionary product yet, the Newton MessagePad. It was released to great fanfare a year later, but as a product, it could only be described as a flop. Widely mocked in popular culture at the time, the Newton became a poster child for expensive but useless high-tech gadgets. Even though the device improved dramatically over time, it failed to gain market share, and it was discontinued in 1997. Yet while the Newton was a failure, it galvanized Apple engineers to create something better—and in some ways led to the creation of the iPad and the iPhone. Apple described their plans for Newton as being “the smartest piece of paper you ever wrote on.” The idea was that you could draw anything on the tablet in free-form but that the system would be smart enough to translate your sketches into both data and commands. Handwriting recognition was a key part of the plan. Apple found help with this software in an unusual place. An unconfirmed story says that Apple marketing VP Al Eisenstat was visiting Moscow when he heard a knock on his hotel door. A nervous Russian engineer handed him a floppy disk and ran off. The disk contained a demo of handwriting recognition software. In any case, Apple inked a deal with the creator, Stepan Pachikov, who had formed a company called ParaGraph International. The Newton was demonstrated to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show on May 29th, 1992, although the product was still far from shipping. John Sculley referred to the Newton as a “personal digital assistant,” or PDA, a term he coined at his announcement speech. While the Newton was not the first compact digital organizer to be released, it would end up being the first PDA, simply because the name stuck. The product demonstration excited the crowd, and the press went into full hype mode. Some of the features shown at CES, like the ability to draw rough shapes that turned into solid ones that could be dragged around and deleted by scribbling over them, showcased Capps’ vision of being the “smartest piece of paper." But the demo was carefully staged to only show the parts of Newton that worked and to avoid the features that had massive bugs and would cause crashes. The pressure to deliver the Newton reached a boiling point, and Apple engineers were routinely working 15- to 20-hour days. One engineer, 30-year-old Ko Isono, died by suicide on December 1992. Apple instituted mental health checks and support programmes for its employees after the incident. Finally, after a long and painful development process, Apple announced that the Newton was officially shipping on August 2, 1993. To interact with the device, you used the included plastic stylus to write on the non-backlit, black-and-white LCD screen. The display was approximately 4.5 inches by 3.5 inches and had a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels. The primary feature of the device, the handwriting recognition, did not work well out of the box. It had to be trained on a user’s unique writing, and it failed to recognize many words. This flaw led to a massive backlash in public opinion, and the Newton became the go-to reference for expensive but flawed high-tech gadgets.The handwriting problems wouldn’t have been fatal by themselves, but the rest of the product failed to live up to the massive media hype and public expectations. With the original Newton, you could take notes, use the calculator, run some simple formulas, update and search contacts in an address book, and keep track of appointments in a calendar. And that was about it. Some features were ahead of their time. For example, the Newton came with support for reading ebooks a full fourteen years before the launch of Amazon’s Kindle store. Other features would have been amazing, if only the wireless infrastructure had existed to use them. The first 802.11 WiFi standard for computers would not appear until 1997, and cellular phones were still using analogue signals. (An optional accessory card did allow messages to be sent via pager.) The Newton came with an infrared port, like those in remote controls, that you could use to “beam” messages and other information from one Newton to another, assuming both owners were in the same room. The primary way to sync your data with your computer was using a wired cable. The Newton ran its own custom operating system, Newton OS, which was written in C++. It also had its own custom development language, NewtonScript, which allowed third-party developers to create their own applications. These apps didn’t need to be “installed” but could just be copied or beamed onto the Newton, and they would work instantly. Third-party software added many new features to the Newton. There were word processors, spreadsheets, billing software, email applications, validated form entry applications, music composition apps, and games. Over a decade before the iPhone, Apple had a portable device with its own application ecosystem. The best-selling software on the Newton was Graffiti, a simplified handwriting system written by the company Palm, which would go on to make its own PDAs. Today, the Newton is barely remembered. It is considered a failed project, as it only lasted a few years before being shut down. But the truth isn't so simple. Many people who worked on the Newton went on to become key players on the iPhone team; Mike Culbert, Greg Christie, and even Briton Sir Jony Ive worked on Newton. Many of the ideas that originated in the Newton made their way into the iPhone and iPad. Some of these are minor, like the “puff of smoke” animation when you delete something, which eventually found its way to the MacOS dock, or the live-updating clock icon that Steve Capps challenged the iPhone team to recreate. Other influences went far deeper. The Newton had an “intelligent assistant” feature that let you perform tasks using natural language. This showed up again in the form of Siri and Google’s voice assistant. It had a universal search across all data and applications, which was recreated in Spotlight and Google’s own device-searching features. It pioneered the use of validated form-based input, which ended up becoming a huge part of websites and web-based applications. 

The end video this week is a history of the former World War II heavy anti aircraft battery, located in Slade Green. Comments and feedback to me at

No comments:

Post a Comment