Last week I featured a postcard of Erith from back in 1970; I had a number of readers contact me as a result of this. One of the images on the postcard was of Pembroke Road, Erith. The historic upper of the two photos above (click on it to see a larger version) shows the old Pembroke Road Railway Level Crossing back in 1970, along with a London - bound train which has just passed over the level crossing on its way to Belvedere Station. I can recall walking over this crossing with my Mum when I was very small, and remember looking into the gate operators little hut, to see him drinking tea. The level crossing was replaced with a metal footbridge back in the late 70's / early 80's. The road in the background has not changed very much, though the building on the left of the photograph is now a private house. I think back then it was a women's hair dressers, though I am not certain. A regular reader and occasional contributor Les wrote to me with his family connection to the level crossing. Les writes:- "There is always something that attracts my attention, and the Erith Postcard is the item this week. I too have the postcard somewhere in my collection. You may not know, however we were local. Newsagents, originally buying 3 Midfield Parade Barnehurst from the estate of George Cowell and then buying 152 Long Lane Bexleyheath from Henry Cowell [George's brother]. My only reason for linking this is the fact the two brothers were very much 'local newsagents' and they ran a series of Postcards of the area and the Erith one is I believe part of the series and I am guessing other than these 'landmarks' there was very little else to publish? The other reason it took my attention was the Level Crossing at Pembroke Road, which always has had a fascination to me as My Great, Great, Grandfather, William Holttum, (Holttum was my mother's maiden name])was killed by a Steam Locomotive on 21st December 1864 at the Pembroke Road, Level Crossing. I have attached the copy from our Family Tree on my Mother's side (image above - click on it for a larger view) and you can see that he was vicariously, a butcher at Margate, Railway Porter at Margate and then at Chilham, finally becoming the Gate Keeper at Pembroke Road Level Crossing. I have always wanted to find out more about the accident but not sure how to find out. I was informed when my Mum's Cousins arrived out of the blue with the Family Tree back in the sixties, that all those with name Holttum or Holtum (one t) stem from the same source of ancestor. We originally came to England with William of Orange, however some time after 1688 as we only have documents back to 1713. It needs some updating, however is most interesting knowing how and why my family on my Mother's side ended up in Plumstead and Woolwich, having followed the Railway from the Sturry, presumably looking for work".
A fitness instructor who murdered a vulnerable disabled man from Upper Belvedere is shortly to be eligible for parole, after serving 17 years in prison for the crime. Back in February 2006 Khorram Azim used a choke hold to immobilise Kevin Beckingham (photos above) and then stabbed him in the neck five times, killing him. Kevin Beckingham, who was partially-sighted, epileptic and had a bone disorder, was killed in his sheltered home in Nithdale Road, Woolwich; His body was not discovered by one of the his carers until March 7, 2006. Mr Beckingham grew up in Upper Belvedere, and had not been living in his independent living flat for many months. Detectives found martial arts videos about how to do choke holds at Azim's home in Wood Place, Sidcup. He was also forensically linked to the murder of the 35-year-old disabled man by mobile phones found there. The 34-year-old denied murder but was found guilty by a jury after a trial at the Old Bailey in 2007. He had pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice. Azim was given a life sentence for the murder, with a recommendation he should serve at least 17 years. He was also given a 30-month sentence for perverting the course of justice, to run concurrently. A statement issued by Mr Beckingham's family after Azim was sentenced said: "Azim has devastated our family and ruined our lives. We will never forgive him for murdering our son, Kevin. No sentence will be long enough to justify what he has done." Investigating officer Detective Inspector Alan Moore, of the Met Police's homicide and serious crime command, said at the time:- "Azim is a manipulative and controlling individual who surrounded himself with vulnerable people. He instilled fear in them in order to wield power over them and indulge his delusions. He claimed, among other things, to be a martial arts expert and a government agent. He targeted and murdered Kevin, a vulnerable man, to add to his delusional facade and, having done so, went to great lengths in his attempts to cover his tracks and implicate others around him. In the process he attempted to maliciously damage Mr Beckingham's reputation without any foundation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the witnesses for their bravery in coming forward and assisting the investigating team to convict this man. My thoughts today are with the family of Kevin, whose son was the innocent victim of a man who was motivated purely to kill." Seventeen years later, Khorram Azim is now becoming eligible for parole. Comments and feedback to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday of last week, The Exchange issued the following press release:- "Mentsen, together with The Exchange – an Erith-based community group – has taken out the top prize in the ‘Production’ category of the Wood Awards with their project ‘The Exchange table and chairs’. In a true achievement of sustainable, skilful community-led design and production, these collapsible and stackable oak tables and chairs were made by local volunteers and staff at The Exchange, with the guiding hand of Mentsen – a two-time winner in the Production category for the Wood Awards. The Exchange is a community-owned organisation that uses the heritage of Erith’s beautiful old Carnegie Library - a space that was designed and built by local people - to inspire new community-led programmes and activities, including volunteer craft workshops, classes, concerts and performances, history tours, and more. As the items were to be made at The Exchange workshop by local people, the design consideration responded to the capability of the equipment and space to hand. With the space used for workshops and events during the day, they also had to be collapsible to be able to be stored away. After an intensive four days of skill sharing, the wood workshop team went on to produce twenty-six tables and over a hundred oak frame chairs with linen webbing seats. This brilliant and brave approach addresses true sustainable practice: giving people the skills to make beautiful furniture using quality materials and be able to fix it when broken. Mentsen is a London-based design practice established in 2011 by two Japanese designers, Yasuyuki Sakurai and Risa Sano. They offer product design and art direction for businesses and cultural organisations. In 2022, they won top prize at the Wood Awards for their project Furniture For 2 Bessborough Street. Lead judge of Furniture and Product Design for the Wood Awards, Corrine Julius said: “This project is an exciting demonstration of how working with wood can build community as well as physical products. Producing over 100 chairs with only 4-days of skill sharing, this community action process sets an inspiring example. We were especially impressed by the finish and rationalism of the two variations of the chairs, which are light-weight and comfortable.” The Wood Awards furniture and product panel is led by design critic, curator and journalist Corinne Julius. The panel includes Oliver Stratford, editor of Disegno magazine; Sculptor in Wood, Eleanor Lakelin, Sebastian Cox RDI, and Yael Mer, founder of Raw Edges. The Exchange Table and Chairs were selected from more than 200 entries, before being assessed in person at the Wood Awards exhibition at the OXO Gallery during London Design Festival. The furniture and product design pieces that won in other categories were Serenade from John Makepeace OBE who was awarded in the Bespoke category, and Rocaille Morphosis from Joanne Grogan of City & Guilds of London Art School, who won the student prize. This year’s best new timber building was announced as New Temple Complex, designed by James Gorst Architects. You can find out more information about the 2023 winners by visiting the www.woodawards.com. The handmade tables and chairs can be pre-ordered at www.tex-craft.co.uk".
Following my article last week on how both BBC Radio 4 Long Wave and BBC Radio 5 Live have cut the power of their radio transmissions by half, I received an email from regular reader Russell, who writes:- "Greetings from Ireland! I borrowed my brother’s car here and tried tuning into Radio Five Live on AM. The reception was bad and full of crackle which I put down to the car having a poor radio or useless aerial. I now know from your blog the reason is low powered transmissions on 909 and 693 by the BBC and not the car. So much for national BBC broadcasting. The north west of N. Ireland is probably too far away and I imagine the signal in Scotland is also bad! They obviously want people switching to DAB or internet streaming but older cars such as the 2009 Ford I am using do not have these type of radios. The BBC would also point to the regional stations like Radio Ulster as an alternative but they don’t have premier league soccer commentary! It is also worth noting that DAB was switched off by RTE so people in border areas do not buy or cannot buy DAB radios!"
In another BBC related story, it is not yet as widely known as I feel it should be that the BBC is shortly to make some dramatic changes to a number of its popular TV channels. The BBC is to discontinue its standard definition (SD) TV channels on satellite and cable platforms from January 2024, though at present they will remain on Freeview terrestrial services. The corporation says the move is necessary to free up spectrum for new services, such as high definition (HD) and ultra high definition (UHD) channels. SD channels have a resolution of 720 x 576 pixels, while HD channels have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. This means that HD channels have a sharper and more detailed picture. In addition, HD channels offer a wider range of colours and a higher frame rate. This means that HD channels can provide a more immersive and realistic viewing experience. The BBC began broadcasting HD channels in 2004. However, SD channels have remained available until now. The BBC is now discontinuing SD channels because the majority of viewers now have HD TVs. In fact, over 90% of UK households have an HD TV. The BBC has been broadcasting in SD since 1964, but the technology is now considered to be outdated. HD channels offer a much clearer picture, and UHD channels offer even better picture quality. The BBC says that it will provide support to viewers who are affected by the switch-off. The corporation will be offering advice on how to upgrade to HD equipment, and it will also be working with broadcasters and retailers to make sure that HD equipment is widely available. The BBC's decision to discontinue its SD channels is part of a wider trend of broadcasters switching to HD. In the UK, all of the major broadcasters have already switched off their SD channels. The move is being driven by the increasing popularity of HD TVs, and the falling cost of HD equipment. The BBC's switch-off is likely to have a significant impact on some viewers, particularly those who are older or low-income. However, the corporation says that it is committed to providing support to those who are affected, and it believes that the move to HD will ultimately benefit all viewers. What do you think? Comments to me at the usual address - email@example.com.
As I have written in the past, during The Great War, a large number of women took over jobs previously done by men. Many of these jobs were in heavy engineering and weapons manufacture in factories located in both Erith and Crayford. I had always assumed that the women were exclusively working class people from the local area, but research has uncovered a different story, which may well surprise many readers. In a contemporary magazine article, an unknown journalist wrote:- "The first contingent of Titled Society ladies who volunteered to work for Messrs. Vickers, Sons and Maxim as shell makers. In this group are Lady Gertrude Crawford, sister of the Earl of Sefton; Lady Gatacre, Lady Colebrooke, Mrs Pearson, Mrs Greig and other well-known ladies. The caption details that 'delicacy of manipulation is a feminine instinct' and therefore the work is certainly not 'unsuitable'! In August 1915, Eve in The Tatler was also listing some of the new workers at the Vickers’ factory: "Erith is the latest craze. Here, at Messrs. Vickers’, a gallant band of women are really doing it. Not just playing about, you know, but living at a hostel and taking the regular rate of pay – I think it’s not quite enough to pay for two stalls at the newest revue each week. Lady Gertrude Crawford and Lady Colebrooke are among the toilers, and Lady Gatacre too … Lady Scott, Captain Scott’s widow, is also working at this particular factory, but hers is skilled electrical work. (*Kathleen Bruce, Lady Scott, spent much of 1917 manufacturing electrical coils at the factory. She also devoted time establishing an ambulance service in France, working at the Ministry of Pensions and, in 1918, put her talent as a sculptor to use helping to reconstruct the faces of wounded soldiers). Vickers are willing to take a lot more women to train during the week-ends so as to have them ready for work at the new munition factories, for there won’t be enough men to go round, I’m told." Lady Gertrude Eleanor Molyneux was referred to as GEM by her close friends and family. The lower of the two photographs above his is of her, which taken September 2nd, 1890. GEM became the first Chief Superintendent of the Women’s Royal Air Force – otherwise known as "the penguins". Article from inaugural edition ‘RAF Spirit of the Air’, 1st April 1918). She did not remain in this position long, feeling that she was little more than a ‘figurehead’ in the organisation. Shirley Grey - In 1901 Lady Gertrude was living in 3 Willow Place, Knightsbridge with 6 servants. Her brother Richard was a Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards, living in Hyde Park Barracks. Before the war Gertrude practised ornamental turning, like her father and grandfather. Ivory was turned at Croxteth Hall on a lathe. Gertrude continued this hobby after she was married to Captain John Halkett Crawford and she was awarded prizes at the Worshipful Company of Turners. Members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) worked in the air stations of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The RFC and RNAS were to merge to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), however to ensure the specialised female workforce remained a separate service, the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was formed on 1 April 1918. In 1918 Gertrude became the 1st Chief Commandant for the (WRAF). This organisation aimed to provide female mechanics to free up men, who were needed to fight on the front. Large numbers of women enrolled for various occupations, such as drivers and mechanics. Gertrude would have worked on a base in Britain. In May 1918 Violet Douglas-Pennant became the second Commandant for the WRAF. The WRAF was disbanded in 1920.
Following my article last week on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the original Dartford Tunnel, this week I have some archive video footage uncovered from the National Highways archives showing the construction of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge between 1988 and 1991. To this day, it is still the only bridge across the Thames east of London since Tower Bridge opened in 1894. Comments and feedback to me as always at firstname.lastname@example.org.