Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Odeon.


Next Sunday the annual Erith river clean up will take place, organised by environmental charity Thames 21 and the Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith (FORGE) with help from several local volunteer organisations. I will be attending with my camera to get some photos of the invaluable work that will be undertaken. I wonder how many shopping trolleys will be removed from the River Thames this year? Details of the event in the photo above - click on the image to see a larger version. 

Moments before this Blog update went to press, I received a press release from local not for profit group The Exchange:- "The Old Library in Erith, an impressive local architectural spectacle, sits at the gateway to the town reminding visitors and residents of Erith’s proud history as thriving port town and industrial centre. Built in 1906 using funds granted by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the Library represents what communities can achieve by working together – local architect William Egerton designed a building incorporating bricks made locally, and utilising the skills of local craftspeople including builders, carpenters, plasterers and Sidcup’s Crittall window factory. It then served the community as a library, and later as the town’s museum, until 2009 when it was closed owing to major building dilapidations and lack of funds to deal with them. 10 years later, and the Old Library has reopened as ‘The Exchange’ – a not-for-profit social enterprise that deliver a community-led programme of events and activities that aim to encourage better cohesion and provision of opportunity for Erith. For the past 3 years, The Exchange has been working in partnership with Bexley Council, who own the building, to bring the disused and dilapidated historic space back to life. The Exchange programme started five weeks ago, bringing the historic bookstore back into use as a new cafĂ© and bar run by a talented local chef, and providing access to other beautiful spaces that have not been used for years. Members of the community are defining what happens in these spaces, including exhibitions, pilates workshops, performing arts classes for young people, film and photography shoots for emerging local artists and makers, and an upcoming market supporting local producers. “Local people are choosing how this building should be used in the future, and the variety and the quality of resident’s aspirations is exciting.” Says Sarah Batten, Co-Director of The Exchange. The Exchange was set up by two Erith residents keen to reopen the Old Library, and maintain it for public use and community benefit. For the past three years, The Exchange has been delivering activities in the town – at Erith Lighthouse, Erith Fun Day and the Christmas Tree Festival – asking people what changes or additions they would like to see in Erith. These conversations and relationships that developed are now informing what happens next at The Old Library. But there is a lot more to do to secure the building’s future: the recent redevelopment project, costing approximately £1.8m, has ensured that the building is now watertight so no further damage is being done, and has brought the lower-ground floor back into full use. However, the ground and upper floors still need a lot of work - there is no heating or proper lighting, walls and floors require repair, and the building needs a lift to make it fully accessible. The Exchange and Bexley Council have been successful with an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will be submitting a second-round application later in the year. If successful, this will secure a further £1.2m towards the building works. However, The Exchange needs to raise £300,000 as match towards this figure, and is responsible for how this building is fitted out and used. “Ultimately, it will be the community that save this building. If we as local residents can make it busy, and vibrant with activity, ideas and opportunities, we will get the support we need from funders to make the building’s future viable.” Says Co-Director Peter Nutley. If you are interested in finding out about The Exchange or in getting involved with the programme, please visit or contact The Exchange through their website: www.theexchangeerith.com". 

Some readers may be aware that last Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web. This was created by British Scientist and engineer Tim Berners - Lee.  He called it the World Wide Web, and he was given a NeXT workstation (a sort - of precursor to the Apple iMac) develop his system. Berners-Lee – now Sir Tim – built a very basic website that had further details about his World Wide Web project plus some software for accessing it. The site is still hosted publicly here.  To call the website basic is an understatement, but it did spread the word about the WWW's protocols. Crucially, the project's designs were published openly along with the source code for servers and browsers, allowing anyone to set up on the web without having to pay a penny in royalties or licenses. It is probable that this was the biggest boost to mankind's ability to share information since the invention of moveable type. I actually encountered Sir Tim almost by accident seven years ago. I attended a meeting at The Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace, London. As I came out from the meeting room and headed into the reception area, I noticed a tall figure waiting close to the main entrance; he was wearing a long and rather impressive drover style coat. I recognised him, but could not recall his name. I then realised that there was a life - sized portrait of the same person on the wall, right next to where he was standing in real life. The penny then dropped. I must admit that I was tempted to go up to him and say hello, but fearing I would only make myself look like an idiot, I thought better of it and left the great man alone. 

I have been aware for some considerable time that Nick Hair, landlord and owner of the Kentish Belle micro pub in Pickford Lane Bexleyheath, very close to Bexleyheath Station has had plans in place to upgrade and improve his already impressive facility. He has recently announced that the micro pub will be closing on the 24th March and reopening on the 4th April to allow for a mild refurbishment of the bar area and the replacement of the beer chiller system with an upgraded version; I also am led to believe that Nick will be altering the fascia of the pub to include an awning and some outside seating for the milder weather to come. In order to run down the stock prior to the commencement of the building works, The Kentish Belle will be holding a "bin end" sale from Wednesday the 20th March, so some beery bargains may well be on the cards. Nick told me:- "Everybody is welcome to attempt to ‘drink us dry’ from Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th as we will be putting on yet another vast array of beers when we reopen". The Kentish Belle celebrates its first birthday this weekend. Congratulations to Nick and his team. 


The upper photo was taken in May 1985, and shows the old Art Deco Erith Odeon cinema, which by that time had been converted into a Mecca Bingo hall. Built for the Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd. The Odeon Cinema was opened on 26th February 1938 with Barbara Stanwyck in "Stella Dallas". Located on the corner of High Street and James Watt Way, the huge frontage was entirely covered in glazed tiles, broken only by long narrow window, just above the canopy. To the left of the facade was an impressive sweptback 65 feet high fin-tower, which became a landmark in the town centre. Inside the striking Art Deco style auditorium, seating was provided for 826 in the stalls and 420 in the circle. On each side of the proscenium were panels with horizontal bands, that were back-lit. There were a series of decorative plaster bands along the ceiling towards the proscenium, which were broken only by a daylight fitting in the centre of the ceiling. The Odeon was taken over by the Independent Classic Cinemas Ltd. chain on 10th December 1967, and was re-named Classic Cinema. The Classic Cinema was twinned from 16th September 1973, with a 1,000 seat Mecca Bingo Club operating in the former stalls area, and a 400 seat cinema in the former circle, which opened with Glenda Jackson in "A Touch of Class". Classic Cinemas leased the entire building to Mecca Ltd. from 3rd January 1974, and the cinema was re-named Mecca Cinema. The Mecca Cinema was closed on 25th September 1976 with Robin Askwith in "Confessions of a Driving Instructor" and Anthony Sharp in "House of Mortal Sin". The building was de-twinned and the Mecca Bingo Club took over the stalls and circle levels from November 1976. In 1995, it was taken over by the independent Jasmine Bingo Club chain, and was closed on 4th February 1996. The building was boarded-up and lay unused until late 2002, when it was demolished. A block of retail / office units and flats was built on the site in 2005, which you can see in the lower photograph. It was a great pity that the original cinema building could not have been retained; Oscar Deutsch’s cinemas were the most exotic architecture in many British towns and cities. Oscar Deutsch was the Birmingham-born son of a Jewish scrap metal worker who had emigrated from Hungary. By the time he died from cancer at just 48 years old, he had opened a total of 258 cinemas across the UK. the name of the cinema chain came from “Odeon”. It was an ancient Greek word meaning “singing place” – and Deutsch and his team decided it wasn’t too exotic to risk alienating the British cinema going public. Additionally, it started with Oscar Deutsch’s initials, and was used to spell out “Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation” in advertising campaigns. In 1940, the year before Deutsch’s death, Odeon cinemas sold 100 million tickets, but this level of popularity would eventually wane, as home television and then video rentals took over. In 1984, the entire British cinema industry sold 54 million tickets. As the silver screen fell out of fashion, Deutsch’s cinemas were at risk of coming down as quickly as they went up. Rank came up against similar opposition in 1981 when it tried to demolish the Woolwich Odeon. “We would love to take over the place and run the place … as we feel it should be run,” an impassioned Tom Myatt, a projectionist at the cinema, told BBC Newsnight in a contemporary interview. Today the old Woolwich Odeon is Grade II-listed but is now known as Gateway House, and is run by the New Wine Church. Seventeen of the surviving 173 Odeons are listed, with 10 of those now used as churches or bingo halls, or standing empty. The Erith Odeon is now little more than a distant memory for many locals, and the block which took its place on the site offers little than a vague similarity to what stood there before. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com


Bearing in mind Erith is very much a maritime town, the River Thames does not really get the exposure or use one would expect. Historically Erith was an important port outside of London. Many ships which were too large to make it into the Port of London were unloaded at Erith, with their cargoes being taken further up river by Thames sailing barges similar to the one in the photograph above - click on it to see a larger version. This was before the river was fully dredged and managed as it is nowadays. Today one can watch huge container and bulk carrier ships passing Erith river front on a daily basis; the best time to see ship movements is at or around the changing of the tide. As previously mentioned, some of the small and medium sized vessels can often be seen moored on Erith Pier as well. Until 2013 there was an annual Thames Barge race, but for reasons unknown it has not been run since. The origin of this historic competition is well documented. It was the brainchild of a man who was nick named “The Golden Dustman”. His real name was Henry Dodd. He was born in 1801 into a very poor family; his first job was as a plough boy in arable fields that were within view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which he did until he was in his early thirties, when he found employment as a “scavenger” – a sort of prototype recycling consultant. He soon discovered that the big money was in transporting waste, rather than actually sorting it. London was rapidly growing in size, and the population was booming. As the number of people in the capital increased, the amount of rubbish they generated went up. Dodd saw this as a very lucrative business opportunity, so instead of using slow and somewhat unreliable horses and carts to haul rubbish, he first hired, then purchased a fleet of sailing barges, which could transport far greater cargoes at a higher speed than any contemporary road solution. Most of the waste material Dodd was transporting was burned outside the capital, and the resulting ash was a vital ingredient in making bricks, which in turn were used to build the expansion of London. Never one to overlook a business opening, Dodd invested in several brickworks, including a very large site on what is now Manor Road in Erith. Nowadays, this kind of end to end ownership of all stages in a manufacturing process is known as “vertical integration” and Henry Dodd was a pioneer of it. All this made Dodd incredibly wealthy; he was one of the richest commoners in England, right at the start of the then new middle class. Dodd’s money bought him a degree of respectability in Victorian society (though I am sure there were whispers behind his back – though after having been brought up in the environment he had, I somewhat doubt if this bothered him). Dodd became a very enthusiastic patron of the theatre, and through this mutual interest he became very good friends with Charles Dickens. Dickens scholars believe that Dodd was the inspiration for the character of Mr. Boffin, the millionaire dustman who appears in the novel “Our Mutual Friend”. Dodd invested a large amount of money in sailing barges, and soon discovered that there was an intense rivalry between barge skippers. Never one to miss a main chance, he decided that in 1863 he would stage a sailing barge race – for entertainment, but also as a means to improve the business. The first race was only for his own sailing barges, and was run from Erith to Canvey Island and back, with the first barge and skipper to make the round trip being awarded a generous cash purse, which was awarded under the auspices of the Prince of Wales Yacht Club. Many in society assumed that the event had Royal patronage (something that Dodd did little to discourage), but in fact it was named after an Erith pub! In 1864 the race was opened to all comers, and after a while it became such a big event the running of it was passed over to a committee of barge owners. Within ten years, specially built racing barges were being constructed purely to try and win the race. Passenger steamers would be chartered to follow the racing barges on their course, and records show that over 10,000 people watched the race from on board these steamers. Henry Dodd, the “Golden Dustman” died in 1881; he left a fund to sustain the match – an eye watering sum of £100,000, which today is equivalent to tens of millions of pounds. In the latter years of the 19th century, the event was covered by Charles’ Dickens son (who confusingly was also called Charles) in his annual gazetteer. For the Centenary Match raced in 1963, the two principal rivals in Britain’s coasting trade, F T Everard and The London and The Rochester Trading Co. lavished money on their fastest barges in an attempt to ensure success for craft which were, by that time, an anachronism in transportation terms. The 48 mile course was from Mucking to the Mouse Lightship, and then back up to Gravesend. F T Everard’s Veronica was the winner, leaving the rest far behind in her wake. Not only was this spectacle thought to be the second oldest sailing contest in the world after the America’s Cup, unlike the America’s Cup of 1851, it was still sailed in craft virtually unchanged since those times until 2013, and as such is in itself was an especially important part of this nation’s maritime heritage.


Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly a report from Barnehurst ward:- "Another good week crime - wise across the ward with only one crime of note reported (please note we do not include domestic related crimes in this report) Overnight from 5pm on Sunday 10th March in Colyers Lane a Ford transit van was broken into by unknown suspects forcing the door locks. Please make sure that anything of value is removed from vehicles when left unattended especially work tools. Please see https://www.met.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/theft-of-a-vehicle for the latest up to date crime prevention advice. A member of the team will be at Barnehurst Golf Course on Tuesday 19th March at 11am. Please pop along for a chat about any local issues that may be of concern. As always, please follow the team on twitter @MPSBarnehurst and Face Book - Barnehurst police to find out what the team are up to and the latest crime prevention advice". Belvedere ward:- "Good news to start - the team have now been joined by PC Marc Smith which puts us back at full strength. PC Smith has worked in Belvedere previously so is aware of the areas and issues that arise throughout the ward. Our most recent ward panel has taken place, and it was decided that the team will focus on burglary, road safety/ motor vehicle crime , and also anti – social behaviour in the coming months. We have also continued our Street a Week initiative with a successful visit to Alfred Road recently, where we were able to speak to many residents about a wide range of topics. This gives the team opportunity to consider various issues when patrolling the area, and has made us aware of what we need to be looking out for. Street a Week will continue on the ward, look out for the team in your street soon. After a recent call from a concerned resident, PCSO Worrall attended the Gordon Road / Parkside Road area to discover various documents and several passports had been dumped at the location. These were collected and moved to a safer place for checks to be completed. It transpired that these items had been taken from a burglary in the Sidcup area and as such, they have been returned to their owners. During patrols of the Picardy Manorway underpass last week, a small amount of drugs (namely cannabis) was discovered near to the public walkway area. Unfortunately, there were no people in the area for the team to question in relation to this. Our patrols will continue. Our next Community Contact Session is due to take place on 18th March at Belvedere library In Woolwich Road". Bexleyheath ward:- "On Saturday 9th March there was a burglary in Arbuthnot Lane between 2005 and 2030 where a laptop was stolen and an untidy search of the property was conducted; There was an arson attack on a car in Chapel Road on Saturday 9/3/19 around 0340 hours, fire brigade attended along with police and it was contained. Between Saturday 9/3/19 and Monday 11/3/19 there was a van broken into in Grace Avenue, small box of electrical items taken and alarm tampered with; Monday 11/3/19 1645 – 1650 Mobile phone left on side at till area and whilst busy with their child the phone has been taken and switched off; Sunday 10/3/19 – Male detained under mental health act following incident at Jolly Millers Public House; Friday 8/3/19 Whilst parked in The Mall multi storey car park between 1145 and 1545 a car had its catalytic convertor stolen from underneath the car; Distraction theft on Thursday 7/3 at Asda Bexleyheath 1130, victim took money from cash machine whilst distracted suspect has taken cash as it came out of machine. Police were nearby location and staff at Asda had located the suspect who was still in the store. Suspect was apprehended and detained at the time; Friday 8/3/19 Theft of purse from The Mall shopping centre between 1200 and 1500; Friday 8/3/19 Theft of items from inside an office of a shop on The Broadway between 1230 and 1700 nothing of value taken; Tuesday 5/3/19 Theft of child's micro scooter from footpath in Martens Avenue between 0930 and 1440 hours. The team are continuing to patrol the ward and support the smart water initiative being rolled out around the ward. Patrols are carried out around all the local known areas for anti-social behaviour. If you do wish to pass on information to the Police then please contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111. Please do not hesitate to contact us via Twitter, Facebook, email and the ward phone. Remember in an emergency please dial 999 or 101 for non-urgent reporting. Keep phones and purses safe whilst out and about, be vigilant and stay safe". Crayford ward:- "Not a bad week crime wise for Crayford with two burglaries to report. There was a residential burglary on the 8th March in Green Walk however it appears this property was targeted as it was currently undergoing refurbishment and was empty. Several tools were taken from the property. There was also a burglary of a commercial premises in Crayford High Street on the 11th march with a hand tool being taken. A vehicle in Iron Mill Lane had both number plates taken overnight of the 7th March. Shoplifting in the Retail Park continues with Boots being hit for baby milk on the 11th March. Crayford SNT are working closely with the shops in an effort to identify suspects from CCTV images. Enquiries are ongoing. Officers from Crayford SNT are being pro active in an effort to reduce anti social driving in and around the car park at Hall Place in Bourne Road with perpetrators being identified and given warnings for their unacceptable driving. These warning last for 12 months and if either the driver or vehicle concerned are involved in a similar incident it will result in the vehicle being seized. Also anti social behaviour and drug use / dealing in Town Hall square is being dealt with by increasing patrols in the area, this has resulted in several youths being stopped and searched. Although knife crime is not a major problem for Crayford at the moment, officers are still taking the threat seriously and under the banner of the MET's Operation Sceptre they have conducted weapons sweeps of several open spaces and built up areas in Crayford but these searches have thankfully proved negative thus far". Erith ward:- "We have been out this week on daily weapon sweeps in a lot of areas across Erith. This involves searching bushes and other areas for hidden weapons, and this is a national operation at the moment. Burg Res 08/03/2019 Riverdale Road – window broken items taken. Burglary Residential Monday 04/03/2019 Riverdale Road – door opened items taken; Theft from Motor Vehicle Saturday 09/03/19 Lowry Close; Theft from Motor Vehicle Sunday 10/03/2019, Erith Road; Burglary Residential Monday 11/03/2019 Rutland Gate – nothing taken window opened and entered; Attempted Burglary Residential Tuesday 12/03/2019 Hampton House Erith Road; Wednesday 13/03/19 Theft from Motor Vehicle Thwaite Close. Regular drug dealing in the vicinity of Rutland Gate and use of drugs in stairwells of one of the blocks and adjacent areas outside. Resident will report to Orbit as it appears there could be improvements put in place to help prevent the issues. Is also contacting the SNT team direct. NW office have passed on basic info to SNT and are putting her in contact with NW Coordinator to help support". Northumberland Heath ward:- "This week the team have been conducting weapon sweeps across the ward as part of Op sceptre, with the aim of reducing knife crime. It's good news to report that no weapons have been found thus far on Northumberland Heath. The team have continued target area patrols, and have had 2 x positive stop searches, a quantity of cannabis has been found, the subjects have been dealt with accordingly. Unfortunately we do have a few crimes of note this week - On Friday 8th March between the hours of 6am - 8.30pm a motor vehicle was stolen from Parsonage Manor Way; On Sunday 10th / Monday 11th March overnight, the front and rear number plates were stolen from a vehicle on Frinstead Road. On Sunday 10th March we had an overnight non-residential burglary on Parsonage Manor Way". 


Bexley Fire Brigade report:- "On Wednesday 6th we attended another fire on the Darent Industrial Park in Landau Way Slade Green and Northend ward. This was at 23:18 hrs. with just one call being received by our mobilising control. Twelve pumping appliances, 2 hose layers and an aerial attended this fire which occurred within the yard of a metals recycling plant. The yard was approximately 160 metres by 95 metres in size and was sited at the end of a long access road on an industrial area adjacent to the River Thames. On arrival of the fire crews they found a developing fire within a 10 metre high pile of scrap metal which was 15 metres by 15 metres. They used a number of water jets and breathing apparatus to fight the fire, with assistance from on site staff who used grabber cranes to pull apart the pile of scrap metal. This allowed deep seated pockets of fire to be accessed. Crews remained at the scene throughout the night and into the following morning". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "Unfortunately we have three burglary type incidents to report this week. In the early hours of Friday 8th March a suspect was seen looking into the window of a flat at Old Church Court (Bridge Road). At this exact time fortunately response team officers were driving past, arrested the male and he was found to have drugs on him too so a double result. There was nothing taken from the address. In the evening time on the same date a resident in Alexandra Road was disturbed by noise in his back garden and as he went to investigate 2 suspects ran away across the garden after smashing his back door to try and gain access. PC Mark Brookes - Smith was the first to attend and the investigation continues. Finally, at 3am on Sunday March 10th an unknown suspect gained entry to Bushey Court Sheltered Scheme in Hazel Road by using a fire drop key and tried to take items from the padlocked communal fridge. CCTV has no clear image of the suspect but evening patrols will be made at the scheme. There have been seven stop and searches carried out by our team in the last week with one suspect given a fine for cannabis possession. The team assisted Belvedere SNT in executing a warrant on their ward last Saturday with suspected drugs seized at the location that have been sent for analysis". Thamesmead East ward:- "Stop and Search: Wednesday 6/3/19 Midnight Male stopped and searched found in possession of x2 bags of cannabis. Arrest: Wednesday 13/3/19 Male was charged and remanded after being forensically linked to Theft from Motor vehicle x2. Child Abduction Warning Notice: (CAWN) Saturday 09/3/19 As part of the fight against county lines and violent crime a male was served with a child abduction warning notice to safeguard some of our vulnerable youngsters on the ward. Theft of Motor Vehicle Manordeane Road Thursday 7/03/19 1:15am unknown person attempted to steal vehicle, pushed down road and unknown person made off. Kale Road Sunday 10/03/19 2:30am Vehicle interference by a group of males in an old shaped Ford Focus in blue or grey - who tried to steal victims van - the lock was drilled and the wires were pulled out. Bazalgette Way Wednesday 13/3/19 9:16 am Theft from motor vehicle. Victim left personal items on view inside the vehicle unknown suspect has smashed window and removed items". West Heath ward:- "We are very happy to report that there have been no burglaries or motor vehicle crimes reported over the past week. Even so the team have been busily patrolling the ward in both uniform and plain clothes. We stopped and searched a male and his vehicle for drugs in Sandgate Road but no drugs were found. On the way back to our ward from that stop we stopped and checked on the welfare of an elderly male showing signs of distress. He was okay but as he resided in a neighbouring borough we helped with transport home. Yesterday, we stopped and searched a male delivering charity bags door to door in Madison Crescent. Several weapon sweeps have been done in Stevens Park and West Heath Recreation Ground and we assisted with a knife arch operation in McDonald's in Welling High Street as part of Operation Sceptre aimed at reducing violence crime. Despite the inclement weather several residents attended our street briefing which was held in Bedonwell Road on the corner of Elmhurst on Sunday 10th March. We were joined by Councillor Philip Read and the main topics discussed were inconsiderate parking at school times, speeding and dog fouling which Councillor Read will look into. The team will increase patrols at school times and request Parking Enforcement. Our next Street briefing will be on Friday 15th March at 8pm in Milford Close at the junction with Westergate Road. The team had a meeting with our Councillors during the week in which we discussed residents' concerns raised at the last street briefing by Bostall Community Library around speeding in King Harold's Way. It was confirmed the Speed indicator device (SIDS) and the speed camera by Bedonwell School do work".

The end video this week is a bit of a curiosity; it features a bus journey from Woolwich to Bexleyheath on the 99 route. It has been speeded up somewhat, as to carry out the full journey at normal speed would take a little over an hour. Apologies for the dreadful music - I have no idea what the person was thinking of when dubbing the video - at least you can mute it if so desired. Please leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.