Sunday, January 08, 2023


Questions have been raised over the ongoing viability of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre following the apparent closure of yet more retail units. In addition to the already closed Shoe Zone and. Wilkinsons store and the loss at this time last year of Argos, it would seem at the time of writing that now both Mambocino and the Erith Fish and Steak restaurant appear to have closed, or be on the verge of closing. As can be seen in the photos above - click on any to see a larger version - the Mambocino coffee shop / cafe has had all of the chairs and some tables removed, and the doors locked with no staff visible on site. The Fish and Steak restaurant has been closed for most of last week - although it was open for Thursday and Friday lunch service. I suspect that they may be trying to use up stock ingredients, though I do not know this for certain - if anyone has any information, please email me in confidence to Both the aforementioned Mambocino and the Fish and Steak restaurant are owned by the same person. His name is Gurhan Mustafa, whom I have contacted by email for his feedback - at the time of going to press, I have not received a response. It has been thought for almost as long as it has been open that the Fish and Steak restaurant had been seriously under performing. The place was almost always nearly empty though some people did get takeaways, but the main thrust of the business was meant to be eat in dining. Personally I ate there a couple of times and the food was good, but for some reason people did not warm to the place - its' website is currently down as well; it has to be said the opposite was true of Mambocino which before the COVID-19 pandemic was extremely busy. What had started out as a coffee shop soon transformed into an all day cafeteria which also offered roast lunches on Sunday. From several people I've spoken to, it would appear that the under performing Fish and Steak restaurant was heavily subsidised by the profits from Mambocino. This in the long term was financially unsustainable, also the number of visitors to Mambocino dropped off considerably even once the COVID-19 pandemic lock down had passed. If the two businesses are indeed closing, it will greatly affect the viability of the whole of the shopping centre. Now nearly all of the large retail units are standing empty with the exception of Matalan which is still trading for the time being, although I have heard (currently unverified) rumours that they too may be moving out in the not too distant future. If this does happen, I think that the financial viability of the rest of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre could be called into question. It has to be said that Mambocino and Gurhan Mustafa have courted controversy in the recent past. Back in May 2022, it was announced in both the local and the national press that Gurhan Mustafa, the owner and operator of both Mambocino and the Erith Riverside Fish & Steak Restaurant in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre had been found liable for several offences in respect of employment law, including not paying staff the national minimum wage, not allowing paid holiday, and racially harassing one specific member of staff. I have to say that at the time I was shocked by this. You can read the details of the summary judgement by clicking here. *Update* - Since I took the photos above on Wednesday of last week, there have been further developments in respect of Mambocino. As you can see below, the shop has now been almost completely cleared of furniture, and I saw a worker apparently disconnecting and removing a cooker from the kitchen to the rear of the unit yesterday. I have still had no response to the email I sent Gurhan Mustafa requesting clarification as to what is going on. 

The recent history of night time hospitality in Erith is not great. The town has had a reputation for many years as being what is known as a dormitory town. That is one that people use in the daytime but not in the evening. In my experience people who wish to go out for a meal or a drink tend to travel to Bexleyheath, Dartford or Bluewater rather than going out locally. There have been attempts to change this behaviour, and in some instances they have been successful, such as with The Bookstore Cafe at The Exchange in Walnut Tree Road. Road. Unfortunately, this is an isolated success story, in most cases. Erith and Slade Green residents prefer to go elsewhere in their leisure time. If any reader has an insight into this and would like to be a guest author on next week's blog update, then please contact me and we can discuss it further. It is ironic when one considers the rich cultural resources in Erith. We have the largest theatre in the London Borough of Bexley. We have the longest pier on the River Thames, and the only Riverside Gardens in the whole of the borough. It would seem that the most successful restaurants in the town are the two African food outlets, One in Pier Road, and the other in Erith High Street. It strikes me that whilst these seem well patronised other outlets struggle. What do you think? Email me at

Will Hay - a name largely forgotten today, but a comic actor and scholar whose best work influenced the likes of The Goon Show, and Monty Python's Flying Circus, and his most famous film "Oh, Mister Porter!" which I featured as the end video last week, was a direct influence on "Dad's Army". I have to declare a family connection with Will Hay; my late, Great Uncle Horace was a very close friend of Will Hay for many years. Born in Stockton in 1888, Hay’s family moved him south to Suffolk before his first birthday. As his father became a jobbing engineer so the family’s mobility quickly increased – moving next to Hemel Hempstead then to London and finally to Manchester where Hay Senior established his own firm. Wanting independence, Will refused to join the family company and started instead as an apprentice engineer for Westinghouse. Yet Hay was no typical engineer and his humour hid by the fact that, by the age of 19, he had learnt German, French and Italian to such a high level that he was able to leave engineering and became an interpreter - later in life he also became fluent in Latin, Afrikaans and Norwegian. His nineteenth year also saw him married to fellow teenager Gladys Perkins and when his daughter Gladys Elspeth was born some eighteen months later Hay decided he could make a better living for his new family in the pre-Great War music halls. Stealing some of his sister Eppie’s staff room reminiscences – she was a full time teacher – Hay began to develop his pompous, bumbling schoolmaster act. After working for over three years with the Fred Karno troupe, where Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin had developed their craft, Hay swiftly found himself the talk of the town: selling out Britain’s biggest music halls, playing sets for the Prince of Wales and successfully touring America, South Africa and Canada. Then came Boys Will Be Boys (1935) his first starring film role with a screenplay written by Hay himself. The story wasn't overly deep – a prison teacher cons his way into a boarding school job and helps stop a diamond theft – but it did have its moments. And it was the perfect frame for Hay’s idiot teacher routines. Then, in 1937, Graham Moffat joined Moore Marriott as Hay’s two sidekicks in the finest comic film any of them would ever be involved with, Oh, Mr Porter! wherein Hay discovers the (Northern) Irish railway station he’s been sent to run, Buggleskelly, is actually a run-down mess. Gun-runners, ghosts, secret windmills and missing trains – Hay and his two stooges come out on top in a film that is, even now, genuinely funny, at times hilarious. Oh, Mister Porter! (1937) was a deserved box office smash in its day, taking some £500,000 in British cinemas alone – the equivalent now would be over £15 million. The film was based on a stage play called The Ghost Train - which was written by Arnold Ridley - who went on to play Private Godfrey in "Dad's Army". Creator of Dad's Army Jimmy Perry based the characters of Captain Mainwaring on William Porter - Will Hay's character, and Private Pike on Albert - Graham Moffat's character, and Private Godfrey is based on the character of the old man Harbottle - played by Moore Marriott. In the immediate pre - war years, Will Hay was the second highest paid entertainer in Britain, earning a reputed £800 per week - equivalent to roughly £600,000 a week nowadays - narrowly pipped in the earnings stakes by George Formby. Outside of show business, Will Hay was a successful middleweight amateur boxer, and sports observers at the time said that he was good enough to have turned professional; he was also a gifted pilot owning his own aircraft, and being friends with the aviation pioneer Amy Johnson. Hay also kept an active interest in engineering, making working scale model steam engines, and repairing watches and clocks as a hobby - something he shared with his close friend my Great Uncle Horace, who by profession was a senior post office telephone engineer. Will Hay was also a dedicated and respected amateur astronomer. He constructed a personal observatory in his garden in Mill Hill and built a glider in 1909. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1932 and is noted for having discovered a Great White Spot on the planet Saturn in 1933. The spot lasted for a few months and then faded away. He also measured the positions of comets with a micrometer he built himself, and designed and built a blink comparator. He wrote the book Through My Telescope in 1935, which had a foreword by Sir Richard Gregory, formerly Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Queen's College, London. During the Second World War, Will Hay was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, and taught astro navigation to trainee naval navigators. He was not able to go into active service due to a combination of his age, and some chronic medical conditions that he suffered from for much of his life. When Hay died, a few items of his equipment were bequeathed to the British Astronomical Association. Some years ago I came across a long out of print book on the life of Will Hay, and it had some photos taken of his garden and his private observatory; in one of the early shots, the construction of his observatory is shown; several people are helping with the digging. One chap is seen stripped to his string vest and leaning on a shovel - it was my late Great Uncle Horace on what must have been a very hot day for manual labour. I wish I had a copy of the book, which has been out of print for decades. In 1947, Will Hay suffered a stroke which left him physically disabled. He died, aged just sixty at his flat in Chelsea, London after a further stroke in 1949, and is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London SW16.

The historic photo above dates back to 1920; it shows shrimp fishermen employed by William Gilder, the fishmonger who had a shop in Erith High Street for many years between the two World Wars. The distinguished chap in the Fedora hat the helm of the vessel is Mr. Gilder himself; I am not sure if he regularly went out on shrimping trips, or if this was a special occasion that merited a commemorative photograph. I was surprised when I came across the photo; I knew that the River Thames off Erith was a rich source of Lemon Sole, Dabs and Eels, but I did not know that it had been a historic source of shrimps. What is somewhat troubling is that back then, raw sewage was pumped into the Thames from Crossness Sewage Works. Shrimps and Prawns get their nutrients from filtering the water they swim in, and any noxious substances tend to get concentrated in their bodies as a consequence.  This would have made eating Erith caught shrimps a bit of a lottery regarding whether they would give you food poisoning or not; I guess that people’s constitutions were a bit more hardy back then; personally I would have avoided local shellfish just to be on the safe side.

The expansion of the inner London ULEZ scheme to cover all of the outer London boroughs is a contentious issue; unlike central London, many of the outer boroughs do not have such an extensive network of public transport - for example, the London Borough of Bexley does not have tube, DLR or tram facilities, and for this reasons many of its residents are far more reliant on the use of a car than those in inner London. The borough also has a number of very steep hills which make cycling unattractive to many. Here is an excerpt from a recent article from the My London news website on the situation:- "The expansion of London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to 99 per cent of the capital's roads in order to tackle congestion and pollution could backfire if a disagreement breaks out between Transport for London (TfL) and Outer London boroughs opposed to the measure. Although TfL is the city's public transport authority, it only owns around five per cent of London's road network. The majority of the capital's roads are owned by each of the 32 borough councils and the City of London, who have the ultimate say on what appears on each of them. In order for TfL's ULEZ expansion plans to work, it intends to put 2750 extra ANPR cameras around the expanded ULEZ boundary, but as so many of the roads the cameras are planned to go on are actually run by borough councils, it relies on their permission and goodwill to install them. The Conservative-run Outer London boroughs of Bexley, Croydon, Harrow and Hillingdon formally issued a joint statement in November confirming their opposition to the plans. In the borough of Harrow, TfL owns zero roads. Harrow Council leader Cllr Paul Osborn said: "Mayor Khan has ignored London's residents and businesses and pushed ahead with his vanity project. This is the wrong solution at the wrong time" There is no evidence that it will improve air quality but it will hit the poorest households most. This scheme will involve placing hundreds of cameras in Harrow and thousands across London, costing hundreds of millions of pounds. Harrow residents were overwhelmingly against this idea. We will join with other councils across London to make sure our residents' wishes are listened to and acted upon."This leaves TfL and City Hall a tough challenge of convincing the opposed boroughs to let them install the cameras anyway. They have one trick up their sleeves though - as commissioner Andy Lord pointed out, any borough which refuses to let the cameras being installed, potentially Harrow for example, risks non-compliant vehicles rat-running through them to avoid the cameras elsewhere in the capital. This could then actually increase congestion and pollution in those boroughs, whilst decreasing in the boroughs who accepted. Mr Lord explained: "We're confident that we can hit that date [August 29] and we don't see any significant risk to that at the moment." Deputy mayor for transport Seb Dance agreed, but warned: "The discussions we're having at the moment are based on what we think boroughs are prepared to do at the moment, and what we might need to do in the event that boroughs don't want to cooperate. I mean there are powers that we have but we don't want to use them. Ultimately, it's better for everyone if boroughs cooperate with us, as the vast majority are." TfL's team is assessing the details of what legal powers can be specifically used under the Local Government Act and Greater London Authority Act. The cost of the implementation of the ULEZ expansion (communications and infrastructure) is expected to be £160million as TfL has budgeted for. TfL has also put aside money for 'bad debt' in the event that non-compliant vehicles don't pay the fine, even though the majority of offenders do pay. The ULEZ expansion, which does not generate long-term revenue for TfL as the more people who adhere to it, the less fines are issued, should stop generating money in 2027 according to TfL's budget estimations".

In a similar, motoring theme, Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association have released the following announcement and advice, which was originally published by the RAC:- "Freedom of information (FOI) requests to the police have revealed that 100,000 catalitic converters were stolen in the last 3 years, and only 1% of all cases get resolved. Catalytic converters are fitted to a vehicle’s exhaust system to reduce the amount of emissions and pollutants produced by the vehicle. They contain expensive metals that have shot up in price in recent years. Hybrid vehicles are often targeted, as the precious metals within them are usually less corroded. Thousands are taken every year, but data from 20 police forces in England and Wales between 2017 and 2021 indicated that only 548 suspects were charged. The Freedom of Information (FOI) request put in by the Liberal Democrats found that 50,223 thefts were reported during the five year period, but did not include some of the countries largest police areas. The problem is likely far worse than reported, as illustrated by a second, more comprehensive FOI from OPAL and Sky News which puts the 3 year figure at almost 100,000. London had the highest number of thefts – with 36,658. Only 544 crimes were solved. Police across the UK have reported that they can easily be removed in under a minute, and are often stolen from vehicles in car parks. They are then sold to scrapyards, online or shipped abroad.RAC Insurance spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Catalytic converters contain a mixture of precious metals which, as this data shows, is something that criminals are increasingly exploiting. It’s concerning to see just how unlikely it is for perpetrators to be brought to justice and reinforces why drivers need to do everything they can to avoid becoming victims in the first place. When at home, anyone with a lockable garage should park their car in it. But how a driver parks their car can also make a difference to how likely they are to have the catalytic converter stolen. The key is making it difficult for someone to get around and under a vehicle, so parking close to a wall or fence – with the exhaust nearest it – can make it harder for a car to be jacked up. In a public car park, parking alongside other vehicles is also a good idea, as is pointing the bonnet towards a wall if there is one. Drivers might also want to consider investing in a ‘catloc’ or ‘cage clamp’ which locks around the catalytic converter and makes it harder to remove. If the worst does happen, it’s vital to be covered by a good and fully comprehensive insurance policy. Drivers can also contact their car’s manufacturer to see if they offer a free catalytic converter marking service, which can help the police if they’re able to recover the part.” The police haven't disclosed why so few of these crimes are resolved. However, enforcement is difficult due to the speed at which a catalytic converter can be stolen as well as a lack of traceability. Since many catalytic converters are shipped abroad soon after the crime, tracing them and stopping the thieves is very challenging. Scrapyard regulation in these cases is also ineffective since the criminals bypass them entirely in most cases. Police forces around the UK have launched campaigns to increase the traceability of these parts. These include adding a SmartWater solution to the vehicle or getting catalytic converters serialised to make them easier to track after a robbery".

The end video this week is some rare, colour archive footage of the 698 trolley bus service from Woolwich to Bexleyheath via Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Lower Belvedere, Erith, and Barnehurst from back in 1959. The film is silent, but of excellent quality considering its age. Please give it a watch, and feel free to send any comments to me at

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