Back in May 2015, I wrote the following article about how Bexley Council planned to use the then empty and unused Homeleigh Residential Care Home, located in Avenue Road, Erith as a temporary hostel for homeless people. It was inferred at the time that the duration of the temporary status would be around eighteen months to two years:-"Bexley Council have proposed that the old and currently unused Homeleigh nursing home in Avenue Road, Erith which was closed some time ago as no longer being suitable for purpose may be re – opened to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people. Bearing in mind that Avenue Road and the adjacent Park Crescent are the two roads in the town with the best addresses,, I have already heard some concern from residents about the plan. Worries regarding possible criminal activity and drug taking / dealing have been the principle concerns. My personal view is that nobody chooses to be homeless, and a vast majority of those likely to be housed in the former nursing home will be “nice” people who are down on their luck. Being homeless does not make you a criminal. The fact that Bexley Council are (uncharacteristically in my opinion) acting in a pragmatic and practical way to address the serious problem of a local lack of affordable housing by recycling a currently empty building seems eminently sensible and, dare I say it, a very good idea. As with anything of this nature, the devil is in the detail; if the Homeleigh centre was used as a halfway house for a large number of people with dependency problems, then I could see a good deal of reason for local concern. I can also appreciate worries about the effect such a centre could have on house prices (for non - local readers, Avenue Road and Park Crescent are the two “upmarket” roads in Erith, with some lovely 1930’s era detached and semi-detached houses in quiet, tree – lined surroundings, making a very desirable and quite expensive environment). If the homeless centre gets the green light, it will need to be sensitively managed. I think it could turn into a “win / win” if it is handled correctly. “Ah”, I guess some readers are going to say “but you don't have to live there!” Which I don't – I live about as far on the opposite side of town as you can get. Where I live there are a number of “problem” families in fairly close proximity, but in reality the level of disturbance is fairly low, as long as you get used to the flashing blue lights of the emergency services at least a couple of times an average evening – they have learned not to use their sirens, as this disturbs local residents". Now, almost exactly seven years on, Bexley Council have sent letters to residents in Avenue Road, saying that they wish to make the temporary hostel a permanent one. The letters include the following announcement:-"TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING ACTS - Homeleigh Residential Care Home Avenue Road Erith. Proposal under Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for the removal of condition 1 (temporary use) to allow the permanent use as residential accommodation for the homeless (Sui Generis) approved under planning permission reference 20/01144/FUL dated 29/10/2020 relating to the renewal of temporary permission for continuation of use for 2 years from residential nursing home (Class C2) to residential accommodation for the homeless (Sui Generis) The planning application for this development is going to the next Planning Committee meeting The meeting will be held on Thursday 23rd June 2022 in the Council Chamber at the Civic Offices, 2 Watling Street, Bexleyheath, starting at 7pm". Local resident, regular reader and occasional contributor Miles has the following observations on the situation:-"The recent history of Homeleigh Residents' Home has been mixed, no longer suitable for retirees, deemed not fit for purpose. The large home was idle for some time until a stop gap measure came to mind, housing for those who had hit a hardship, whether that be psychological, addiction issues or those who had dependents and were subject to a place of last resort. Before I go much further, I'll add a caveat; Central government has drastically defunded most councils around the UK, consequently they have been forced into deficit or operating at the absolute bare minimum - this is no departure for Bexley. We've seen this across the board in Bexley, major reduction in services, selling off of green spaces and increasing sign off of high density flats to private companies in communities not used to such construction. The housing crisis in Bexley was far from good when the decision was made to keep the vacant care home as a sort of halfway house for the vulnerable. On paper it read quite well, using very large property with many rooms to house those who are in need. Of course nothing but an observation, this seems rather convenient for their true intentions. Homeleigh per their very justification was closed down due to unsuitability and poor state of repair, that was some years ago - it has become an increasing eyesore for the neighbourhood and not fit for modern accommodation. When planning permission was circulated, the neighbourhood was assured the property would be appropriately monitored, crime rates would not increase, residents would not be disruptive and life would continue as normal. This was a clear pipe dream. The very first few weeks involved residents playing loud music, standing on the roof of the property. An immediate increase in police presence was and continues to be evident. Local residents were told this would only be a temporary arrangement, but apparently that couldn't be further from the truth. If I were a betting man I believe Bexley Council are awaiting a suitable developer to extend the new builds that were given the go-ahead behind Homeleigh permission to continue through to Avenue Road. If you look at the plans that are well under construction there is a road that oddly simply 'ends' in a fashion that would lead directly to Avenue Road if only a old, not fit for purpose build wasn't in the way. The property from a superficial perspective looks poorly maintained. The fences are broken, part of the entrances have been blocked using poorly constructed blockade. Outside there's beer cans and general refuse - hardly an attractive welcome to what has historically been a high profile road. Is this how we welcome investment to what will be increasingly more valuable than the south of the borough? Personally I would like to hear the long term plans for the large estate. If the true intention is to sell it to private developers, please give residents a timeline. If it is to continue to remain as a residence of last resort (mine terminology not theirs), how are they going to make the grounds acceptable to local residents and those of the care home". Some very interesting and salient points raised by Miles - what do you think? Email me at the usual address - email@example.com.
Sunday, June 19, 2022
The photo above was sent to me by reader and local resident; it shows the newsagent that used to be located in Watling Street, Bexleyheath on what is now the site of the new Bexley Council offices, which were originally constructed for the Woolwich Equitable Building Society. The photo was taken in 1977, shortly before the buildings in the photo were demolished to make way for the construction of the office building. One can clearly see an advertising board with an advert for the then new Renault 14 car. The Renault 14 was released in 1976, and became available in the UK in 1977. Unfortunately whilst the 14 was technically innovative, with a very large amount of internal space, due to it being fitted with a transverse engine powering the front wheels, in the same way as the original Mini, the Renault 14 was a substantially larger car, more in the mould of a Ford Escort; in fact Ford launched a new, front wheel drive version of the Escort only a year later as a direct response to the innovation that the Renault 14 brought. Things got off to a bad start when the Renault 14 was launched, with a disastrous advertising campaign that compared the 14 to the shape of a pear. A preview at the Pompidou Centre in Paris as a bare body shell did little to win it customers. The car would later gain a reputation for premature body corrosion which saw the 14 being dubbed as the "rotten pear" by the motoring press. In France, "La poire"' (literally "the pear", but also slang for "gullible") still refers to the 14. However, the best-selling Renault 5 also had a reputation for premature body corrosion, but a far more effective advertising campaign for the Renault 5 helped boost its sales and resulted in it being a commercial success. The Renault 14 (click here for a photo view) also had a reputation for being difficult to start in damp conditions, due to easy water ingress into the ignition coil, which was poorly placed and not well sealed against damp. The placement of the temperature gauge on the transmission tunnel behind the gear-lever, rather than on the instrument panel where it was directly in the driver's field of view, led to incidents of engine damage if the engine overheated and the driver failed to notice. It also had a nasty habit of jumping out of reverse gear unless the driver physically held the gear stick in place when reversing. Bearing in mind many driving schools in the UK used Renault 14’s in the early 1980’s this did not endear it to either instructors or pupils, despite it being easy to manoeuvre, and having both good all - round visibility and very comfortable seats. I must admit that despite being a classic car enthusiast, I have never seen a restored and running Renault 14; the model was never a massive hit, and with somewhat fragile mechanics, perilously dodgy electrics and very poor rust protection, they don't offer much reward for even the most ardent collector.
John Downton (27 March 1906 – 1991) was an English artist, philosopher, musician, and poet. He is one of the lesser known people to have a road named after himself - Downton Mews in Erith Park. Born in Erith on the 27th 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.
I took the two photos above, click on either for a larger view – last Wednesday when I had occasion to travel to London using the Elizabeth line, I know that it is now been open for several weeks, and many people have commented on the new service, but I felt that I should add my opinion. The trains are clean, modern and very smooth. The air conditioning is just about right and all in all I think they are excellent. The service runs every 5 minutes and Sims in the to be quite efficient. So no surprises there; I suppose considering the cost and time overruns, one should expect a really good service, and that is what appears now to be delivered. It is ironic that much of the southeast and further will be disrupted by extensive train strikes over the next week or so. I feel that this may well mean that more services get automated in a similar fashion to the Docklands Light Railway. I'm led to believe that the biggest single cause of train crashes is driver error. If one eliminates the driver then surely this would eliminate the single biggest problem with rail safety.
I have not meant to feature a second prominent local resident this week, but events have dictated otherwise. As some may already be aware, former Welling resident Kate Bush has just achieved a number one hit single - thirty seven years after it was first released. "Running Up That Hill" has just topped the charts. In my opinion, Kate Bush is arguably the single most creative, and influential musician to have local roots. Kate Bush is somewhat of an anomaly. She began writing songs at 11-years-old and was signed to EMI by the time she was 15. Her later life has been extensively covered online and in print, but her formative years living in Welling, and later in Lewisham have had little coverage, so I will attempt to remedy this here. On 30 July 1958 Kate Bush was born as Catherine Bush in Bexleyheath Maternity Hospital, South East London, as the third child of Robert John Bush (a doctor) and Hannah Bush (a nurse). She has two brothers: John Carder (Jay), born in 1944, and Patrick (Paddy), born in 1952. She had an ordinary childhood growing up in East Wickham Farm in Welling, Around 1964, when Kate was around six years old, her family moved to New Zealand and Australia. Initially her parents planned to stay there, but after a few months they returned to England. In September 1969 Kate started at St. Joseph's Senior School Woolwich Road. She was obliged to take up the violin, as all pupils had to learn an instrument. She played well, but did not enjoy it. She taught herself to play the piano and at about this time she began to set her poems to her own chord formulations. By 1971 embryonic versions of songs such as The Man With the Child in His Eyes and Saxophone Song begin to emerge. Kate followed her elder brother John and begins to develop her poetry. Her piano playing is an outlet for her frustration. She is heavily influenced by an interest in Greek mythology. At the suggestion of Kate's family, Ricky Hopper, a friend with music business connections, tries to place "demo tapes" of Kate's songs with a record company, with a publishing deal in mind. This was in the year 1972. At this stage Kate considered herself more of a writer than a singer. These original tapes have over thirty songs on each. All the major companies are approached. None accepts. Kate's songs were described as "morbid", "boring" and "uncommercial". Kate felt that she could not pursue a career in music and considered the alternatives: psychiatry or social work. Unable to help further, Ricky Hopper makes contact with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, whom he knew at Cambridge University. Gilmour, who at this time is spotting for talent that he can assist, is persuaded to listen to the demos and then to hear Kate perform. He is impressed, and agreed to help. With no progress in her musical ambitions, Kate seriously considered a career in psychiatry. In 1974 she takes her O Level examinations and obtains ten "Pass" grades, with best results in English, Music and Latin. One year later, in 1975, Gilmour decides that the only way to interest the record companies in Kate's talent is to make a short three-song demo to full professional standards. He puts up the money. Kate goes into Air Studios in London's West End, with Gilmour as producer, Andrew Powell as arranger, Geoff Emerick as engineer. The three songs recorded are Saxophone Song (also known at this stage as Berlin), The Man With the Child in His Eyes, and a song which fans refer to as Maybe. In July 1975 Kate took her mock A Level examinations. While Pink Floyd were at Abbey Road Studios recording Wish You Were Here, Gilmour played the three-track demo to Bob Mercer, then General Manager of EMI's pop division. Mercer is impressed and negotiations are opened. The deal takes some time to conclude. It is much discussed at meetings between Kate, her family, Gilmour and EMI. In 1976 Kate gets a small inheritance, and decides to leave school to concentrate on preparing herself for a career in music. She bought an old honky-tonk piano for £200, and began screeching into existence her unmistakable voice. The EMI deal begins to take shape. A publishing contract is settled first. The new demos are again circulated to record companies with no result. At this time, Kate begins playing gigs locally with a band made up of her two brothers and a couple of other local musicians; they famously play covers and a few of Kate's early compositions at the "We Anchor In Hope" pub on Shooter's Hill. She moved to a small flat in Lewisham at about this time. EMI were content for Kate to take time to write songs, sharpen her lyrics, train her voice and generally have time to "grow up". Kate pursued her dancing, first at the Elephant and Castle. But after seeing Lindsay Kemp perform in Flowers, she attended his classes at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden. After Kemp went to Australia, Kate trained with Arlene Phillips, choreographer of Hot Gossip. In August 1977 Kate was finally called in to record material for an album. Though the songs recorded are all Kate's own material, her role is confined to vocals, some piano-playing and some simple piano arrangements. It is decided to use eleven songs from this session and two from the 1975 Gilmour demo on the album. In September EMI wanted to release James and the Cold Gun as the first single. Kate wanted Wuthering Heights, and she got her way. On 4 November the original release date for Wuthering Heights. Christmas had approached and EMI were unwilling to launch their new artist into the pre-Christmas maelstrom. The release date is put back until the new year. Many promotional copies of the single had already been sent out to radio producers. EMI tried to retrieve them to prevent premature airplay. Eddie Puma, producer of London commercial station Capital Radio's Late Show, and Tony Myatt, the presenter, admire the record so much that they decided to play it, and continue to play it throughout November and December. Other radio stations follow. Wuthering Heights is an airplay hit two months before release. On 20 January 1978 Wuthering Heights is finally released. Kate does her first live radio interview on Tony Myatt's Late Show. On 7 February the song enters the "official" BMRB chart at number 42. Two days later Kate made her first-ever television appearance in a disused tram depot in West Germany, for the famous Bio's Bahnhof on WDR-TV. She sang Kite live, backed effectively by the KT Bush Band, and Wuthering Heights to a backing tape. Following her performance the host, Dr. Alfred Biolek, carries on an entirely one-sided onstage conversation with Kate--in German. On the 14th February 1978 the single had moved up to number 27. Having cracked the magic "top forty", the gates opened and Kate appears on Top of the Pops. She performs in high heels and slacks. Kate said later, "It was like watching myself die...a bloody awful performance." On the 17th of February Kate's first album, The Kick Inside, is released, and a huge promotional campaign was unleashed. The first major interviews appeared in the music press, and Kate was the subject of intense media attention. Kate is said to be the most photographed woman in the U.K. On 7 March 1978 Wuthering Heights reached the number 1 position on the British singles chart, displacing Abba. Kate celebrated by buying a £7,000 Steinway piano. The single celebrates by going silver in the U.K. (250,000 sales) and remained at number 1 for four weeks. In April The Kick Inside reaches its chart peak at number 3. A month later Wuthering Heights goes gold in the U.K. (500,000 sales). EMI allowed Kate to have her way over the choice of the follow-up single in the U.K. It is to be The Man With the Child in His Eyes, which Kate had always wanted to be a single, as she felt it showcased her real songwriting talent. It is less of a novelty, and more of a standard. In Japan, the U.S. and elsewhere the follow-up later in the year was EMI's first choice, Them Heavy People. In June Kate went to Japan to participate in the 7th Tokyo Song Festival. Also during her visit to Japan she made her only television advertisement, and her only endorsement for a commercial product--a spot for Seiko watches. On her return to Britain Kate was under four weeks to get material together for her second album. She did not like being under such pressure. In the time available, three new songs were written, and a number of old ones were revamped. These songs, making up the basic material for Lionheart, are demoed in a studio designed by Paddy Bush and built out of the royalties from Wuthering Heights. By then Kate had become the best selling female albums artist in the U.K. for the first quarter of 1978. Wuthering Heights had been number 1 in the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand (five weeks), and Australia; and "top-ten" in Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. On the 4th of July 1978 The Man With the Child in His Eyes reached its chart peak in the U.K. at number 6. The Kick Inside was re-released in the U.S.A. on a new label--EMI-America. Wuthering Heights was finally released as a single in the U.S. There were some good notices, but Kate was considered by radio programmers to be "too bizarre" for the American market. On the 10th of November Kate's second album, Lionheart, is released internationally. A month later the Kate Bush Club, the official fan club, was formed. From then on, until today, her career has been carried out under the public gaze, and has been extremely well documented. Her early years, where she lived and worked in the local area has been somewhat less well publicised. What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The end video is a classic track from Kate Bush from 1986; interestingly the video was shot on location in the then empty Brook Hospital on Shooter's Hill, prior to it being redeveloped as luxury flats. The former hospital was only around two miles from the Bush family residence in Welling.