Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Jetty.


The photo above (click on it to see a larger version) was actually taken by me on an unseasonably warm and sunny day last December. It shows the wooden jetty on the river front by Erith Riverside Gardens. The current jetty dates back to the 1980's, but it was repaired after a ship crashed though it in November of 2016, causing extensive damage. The jetty is used by Erith Rowing Club and emergency services such as the RNLI. It suffers from a number of problems, one of which is the extensive growth of algae and weed on the wooden structure of the jetty, which means that using it can be a slippery and dangerous experience. The structure is also sometimes known as the Pilgrim's Jetty, as a previous incarnation of the jetty was used by the historic Erith to Rainham passenger ferry. The ferry service was first put into action way back in the year 1199, when Erith was a small fishing port. There is a brass plaque on a wall adjacent to the current jetty, which commemorates the 800th anniversary of the ferry service, which was installed back in 1999. There has been an announcement by the Port of London Authority that reads as follows:- "The public causeway at Erith, stretching over 170 metres into the river, is a vital access point for the emergency services and is widely used for recreation and commerce. Recent surveys we undertook show signs of deterioration of the structure. As the owners, we are preparing to install a replacement, retaining the alignment and profile of the existing causeway. Work is expected to start later this year and ahead of this we are interested to hear from causeway users and the local community, on how the project can be best implemented. To comment on this project please email us on ErithCauseway2021@pla.co.uk. This consultation ends on 23rd of April 2021". It will be interesting to see what design the replacement jetty has, and whether any additional features will be added. Time will tell. I have written to the Port of London Authority for additional information, but at the time of going to press, I have not yet had a response. 

As regular readers will be aware, I rarely if ever comment on stories in the national news - this is for several reasons; firstly the story will have been covered in detail by "proper" journalists, leaving me with little to add. Secondly, unless the story has a local connection, it is outside of my main remit - which is reporting on issues and events in the Northern part of the London Borough of Bexley. Anyway, a fellow local Blogger - Richard of the excellent "The Thamesmead Grump" has written a highly entertaining and pertinent article on when he met the now late Duke of Edinburgh, which you can read by clicking here


The image above shows a postcard from Erith from back in the summer of 1970. Strange that a postcard should exist from a town that had not been a holiday destination since around 1865, as I wrote last week. The card shows the old Erith Riverside swimming baths, which were demolished a few years ago - why such a bad looking concrete monstrosity of a structure would be commemorated on a local postcard escapes me. The second photo is of the old railway crossing at Pembroke Road, which has long been replaced with a footbridge. I dimly recall the crossing as a small child, though I cannot recall the crossing operators' house - that must have been a very noisy place to live! The third photo is probably the most recognisable today - it shows Erith High Street looking East. The Police station (now converted into fairly shoddy apartments) is still there, as is the Cross Keys pub (the tall building in the centre of the photo, has been restored and converted into office space for the Aleff Group - an international management consultancy). To the right of the Cross Keys are a couple of buildings which are now gone and replaced with the Erith Playhouse Theatre. To the far right is the White Hart pub, which in recent history was defaced by having its' Victorian frontage ripped out and replaced with hideous plate glass, even though the building is both in a conservation area. This was done by the crooks who ran the Potion bar - a short lived emporium which sold tasteless, gassy lager and class A recreational pharmaceuticals; fortunately it was permanently closed down. It now houses the White Hart African Restaurant, and the plate glass frontage has been replaced with a replica of the original Victorian design. The final photo in the bottom right corner of the postcard shows Erith Pier as it was when it was a working entity as part of the deep water wharf. The giant cranes are now long gone, the wharf is now rebuilt as a large Morrison's supermarket; the pier is now a public space, and is a very pleasant place to walk when the weather is nice (or if you are an angler, it is a good place to fish, year round, day or night).


Some time ago I wrote an article about the unusual double deck buses that ran for a brief time through the Dartford Tunnel, to allow cyclists to travel under the river. The photo above shows a rather unusual , if not unique model of bus that was seen for a brief few years in the late 1960’s and very early 1970’s in the local area - click on the photo to see a larger version. It was used to ferry cyclists through the Dartford Tunnel; cycling through the tunnel has always been prohibited, but in the early days of the then new river crossing, the tunnel operators made provision for people using bicycles. They had some standard Ford Thames Trader model double decker buses. They were built new for the purpose and as with most buses and coaches had a separate chassis and body. The chassis was to all intents and purposes a standard Thames Trader (quite common on coaches as well as lorries at the time), but the body was unique to these 5 vehicles with the lower deck built from new for 23 bicycles and with a rear compartment for tandems. The upper deck was conventionally laid out with 33 seats for passengers, although the staircase had to be substantially steeper than on a standard bus.  The Dartford Tunnel buses operated out of the Dartford Bus Garage, but the service was stopped in the early 1970’s, as few cyclists availed  themselves of the service, and it was deemed to be uneconomic. At the time I wrote that "The buses were judged to be too costly to reconvert for conventional use and appear to have been scrapped, though one derelict model was photographed in the yard of the Ensign Bus Company in Dagenham back in July 1993. No further information on these unique and striking looking machines is currently available". I have subsequently been informed that by the time the vehicle appeared at Dagenham Dock it was actually a Capital Citybus operation. The depot opened following the acquisition of Ensign’s London bus operations and the right to use the Ensign name was part of the deal, so for a while vehicles carried the Ensign Citybus moniker. However the operation was Hong Kong owned and soon transformed into Capital Citybus. The original Ensign Bus Company along with associated sales, engineering and sightseeing operations continued to trade from Purfleet and later Rainham and now back at Purfleet again. I recently contacted public transport expert John Burch, who works for the UK bus and coach trade association (CPT), about the fate of the unusual buses. He has kindly written the following, very detailed article:- "The Dartford Tunnel cycle buses were indeed unique in that they were the only double deck Ford buses ever built. The 5 TT class buses were based at the old Dartford bus garage. They were intended to operate the service through the tunnel. Because of the peculiar nature of their Strachans bodywork construction Ford struggled to get them through their tilt test. They also had to be fitted with special strengthened side wall tyres for operation through the tunnel. For this purpose they were sent to the old Poplar garage which operated buses through both the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels and had a stock of the appropriate tyres. TT3 was the first to be delivered in October 1963. The other 4 arrived the following month in time for the tunnel opening date on 18th November 1963. The planned service was far to ambitious and it wasn’t long before it became clear that the number of bicycles wanting to use the tunnel was far less than expected. The service was reduced to a one vehicle operation in April 1964 and the TT operated service itself was finally abandoned in 1965. The service was replaced with land rovers towing a cycle carrying trailer. The TTs were all stored either at Dartford or Northfleet garages before being sold in March 1966 to Don Everall, the well-known coach operator and Ford main dealership in Wolverhampton. TT1 was sold for use in Scotland by Trucks and Pallets (Scotland) Limited as a test bed for experimental use for testing of what was described as a pedestrian controlled hydraulic bus transporter. Their facility was adjacent to the Central SMT East Kilbridge bus depot and workshops so it is assumed the project was being developed in conjunction with them. Although there were some observations reported Scotland it is assumed the project came to nothing and TT1 was subsequently scrapped. TT2 and 5 are presumed to have been scrapped when no takers could be found for them. TT3 was used by Don Everall as a mobile publicity vehicle for a while in 1968 to campaign against bus nationalisation. It too is presumed to have been scrapped thereafter. TT4 meanwhile was sold to Shrewsbury Corporation who intended to convert it to a mobile works vehicle. There are no known sightings of the vehicle in this form, but when discovered later it bore Shrewsbury coat of arms so presumably did get some use by Shrewsbury. It was discovered by accident in a scrap yard in Westwood Quarry near Much Wenlock in Shropshire. A group of enthusiasts were visiting the area. The scrap yard in the quarry was known for housing former military vehicles including old land rovers. One of the group was looking for spare parts for an old land rover and were astonished to find TT4 in the quarry parked close to the quarry cliff face. It had been turned into a mess room for the quarry workers and a telephone extension from the quarry office had been wired to the upper deck. A telegraph pole supporting the wire was installed behind the bus effectively preventing it from moving from the location. The bus was missing a front axle and the cycle racking, but otherwise was complete. A return visit to the quarry took place in 1985 and this time I was one of the group. The bus was still there in the same form having been partially protected from the elements by the cliff face. Initial discussions with the scrapyard owner about a possible purchase resulted in a price that was way too high. One of the group was Leon Daniels. Contact details were exchanged should the scrapyard owner change his mind and decide to make a more reasonable deal. In the meantime I was asked to act as archivist for the group and made contact with Ford Motor Company as well as others in connection with the project. I built a file on the vehicles and the services they operated. The deal was eventually done between Leon and the scrap yard owner in the early 1990s when the quarry was being cleared. The vehicle was rescued by a group of enthusiasts who went armed with a suitable front axle. The bus was towed away during the hours of darkness. It was moved to a farm in Coulsdon in Surrey to join a collection of other vehicles until finances would allow the work to be undertaken. Some rudimentary panelling work was undertaken on the vehicle, but eventually it had to be moved as space was needed at Coulsdon. As a member of the consortium that rescued the vehicle, Leon found space for it at Capital Citybus. It first moved to the original Capital Citybus depot at Dagenham Dock. It was subsequently moved to the Hackney depot. No work was undertaken on the vehicle during this period of storage, and in 1998 I supervised the move out of Hackney depot back to Coulsdon where it has lain ever since. I have video footage of the recovery of the vehicle and it being towed away from Hackney. The years following this were busy for Leon Daniels as he moved from his role as MD of Capital Citybus to become MD of the UK Bus Division of First Group. He subsequently took over from Sir Peter Hendy as Transport Commissioner for London. He finally retired from TfL at the end of 2017. The collection at Coulsdon is due to be moved to the old MOD site at Bicester shortly. It is not clear whether the TT is also moving to Bicester or whether it may find a new home. Leon Daniels is now the Vice Chairman of the London Bus Preservation Group at Brooklands, so it is to be hoped that he may find the time and the finance to start work on the vehicle in the not too distant future. I returned to the quarry for the first time in 35 years last September. It has been cleared and is now a Aquatic Habitat restoration and creations project part funded by the European Regional Developments fund. The location where the TT was hidden for the best part of a dozen years or so is still recognisable. There’s even the remains of an old axle dumped there – perhaps the original TT axle, who knows?". John followed up his history of the Dartford Tunnel cycle buses with some information that I was certainly not aware of. John writes:- "You may be interested to know that they were not the only ‘cycle’ buses. There have been several such projects. Indeed when I first moved to Devon in 1999 I inherited responsibility for the Devon bike bus operation with two Leyland Nationals especially converted to carry bikes internally (in the rear of the passenger compartment). This service came to an end in 2001 when the Leyland Nationals became too expensive to keep going. For a while we subsequently equipped a number of buses with rear bike carriers, but these were never very popular with staff and were eventually removed. I was later involved with a surf and bike bus service operated with two converted Volvo Olympian double deckers. The lower deck was converted to carry surf boards, body boards and bikes. It survived a couple of years, but grant funding then ran out. The idea had originally been to support a new ferry service between Swansea and Ilfracombe. Unfortunately funding for that was not forthcoming and it was still born which also resulted in the ending of the surf and bike bus. There have been and still are services that allow the carriage of bikes elsewhere in the UK. In my opinion this is a missed opportunity – especially in the current climate and I think that more thought should be given to further such schemes".So it would seem that one of the old Dartford Tunnel cyclist buses does still exist. Also, contrary to popular opinion, it was not the only bus service in the UK dedicated to cyclists. Comments and questions to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

 
Early last week I was chatting to someone who has made a very successful career in electronic engineering. She mentioned in passing that her interest in science and engineering came from a very early age; she even recalled exactly when it began. It was at her 11th birthday, when her Grandad gave her a Radio Shack 65 in One electronic project kit. This struck a note with me. I too used to own a Radio Shack kit as a child, but mine was the top of the range 150 in One kit, as shown in the photograph above - click on it for a larger version. It was one of the best Christmas presents I ever received from Mum and Dad; I spent endless hours wiring up the various projects, and I have to say that most of them worked very well indeed. The kits, along with an amazing array of electronic equipment were sold by Tandy (the British arm of then U.S giant Radio Shack). The nearest local branch used to be located in Embassy Court in Welling - on the site of what is now the giant Tesco superstore. Incidentally Tandy / Radio Shack were famous for their amazing catalogues published once a year - I used to get each one and spend hours reading through it, though at the time I did not have much of a clue as to what some of the devices and electronic components were actually for. Someone has digitised virtually every catalogue the company ever published, and has made them available online. Click here for a look.

Prior to the customary weekly reports from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association, I need to recount a story of an experience I had on Friday morning. I was working away in my home office (I am fortunate to have a dedicated office in my house, rather than having to use the dining table to work on, as so many people have been compelled to do during the latest lock  down).  The phone rang at about 10.30; when I answered it I was greeted with a computerised voice, who told me that the call was coming from the National Crime Agency, saying that I was to be arrested, and my National Insurance number suspended due to fraudulent activity. I was told to stay on the line to speak to an operator. I immediately realised that this was a scam - a fraudulent phone call. I closed the call. For more information on this particular fraud, you can read more on the BBNWA Blog here. It would seem that following the reorganisation of the ward Police, and their weekly reporting, things seem to be taking rather longer than anticipated to return to normal. There are still quite a few missing reports this week, as you will see. The reports that have been released this week read as follows. Barnehurst ward:- "Unfortunately, Barnehurst Golf Club has suffered extensive criminal damage over the last week to the area of the driving range. On the first occasion, fires were found to three driving bays and light bulbs were also smashed. Most recently between Saturday 3/04/2021 and Tuesday 6/04/2021, structural damage had been caused whereby plasterboard walls had been kicked through. Further damage includes damage to a door lock, door handle, a broken fence panel and damage to the netting surrounding the driving range. In Cheviot Close items were taken from within a vehicle. A warrant was carried out on the ward. Cannabis was found in the address and two dogs were seized. This investigation is ongoing. The team stopped and searched two males on the ward. They were found in possession of Cannabis. A resident was spoken to with regards to driving dangerously in a residential area after Officers viewed CCTV footage. The matter was dealt with as a priority. We will be paying attention to Barnehurst Golf Course due to recent events here". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward - no report this week. Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward - no report this week. Thamesmead East ward - no report this week. West Heath ward:- "Unfortunately, we had had one attempted shed burglary in Lodge Hill on Wednesday 7/04/2021 between 04.51 and 04.59. At this stage, it is not known if anything was stolen. There was a garage burglary in Seaton Road between Tuesday 6/04/2021 21.00 and Wednesday 07/04/2021 06.30. No motor vehicle crimes have been reported this week".

The end video this week is a short film explaining "101 things you need to know about Southeastern" - Some interesting facts and figures, along with some history of the local train operating company. Email me with comments and suggestions to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.