Sunday, November 08, 2015

Erith and the Gunpowder Plot.

The photo above shows a somewhat unusual view of the (in)famous hideous Erith fish statue roundabout, which at least brings the benefit of making the arrival of a visitor to the town a memorable event - you are hardly likely to forget the garish monstrosity after all!

It would seem that the problem with the illegal bike gang Bike Life TV UK - otherwise known as "Chavs on Mopeds" is somewhat wider than I had originally realised; last week I reported about criminal acts that the gang have been seen carrying out in Slade Green, Erith, Lower Belvedere and principally Thamesmead. I was then under the impression that this was the extent of the area terrorised by the group. It would seem that they have now expanded to cover a far greater geographical area. At Halloween, At least two hundred riders were seen on streets from Lambeth to Bromley, allegedly jumping red lights, mounting pavements and provoking a number of complaints to the police at around the same time as an illegal rave near Vauxhall turned violent.  Sightings were posted on social media, with witnesses saying that a large group of riders had splintered into smaller gangs that set off fireworks near to main roads. Reports came from Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Croydon and Bromley. At its peak, there are said to have been over two hundred riders in one large body, who brought a high level of disruption to traffic in Brixton and Streatham. A Facebook page aimed at London bikers, UK Raise It Up, had called on supporters to join the Halloween ride at the end of last month. On Saturday morning they wrote a post under the heading “Halloween Ride Out” asking riders to send private messages to get information about the plans for the evening. Shortly before the riders were first seen amassing in south London, a video was uploaded of a man wearing a balaclava, who said: “When we get to the linkup spot, I want to make sure that everyone turns their lights off, everyone turns their bikes off. Make sure you have petrol before you leave, because I don’t want to stop.”  I don’t really think that I need to add any personal comment to this, as it speaks pretty much for itself. There was a leading article in the London Evening Standard on Monday about the gang, which you can read here.  You can also see video footage of the gang stealing petrol, snacks and drinks from a petrol station whilst violently intimidating staff here. I know that both the Police and Neighbourhood Watch are treating the problem of illegal bikers as a local priority; some concrete action has already come of this; here is an excerpt from the current North End Safer Neighbourhood Police Team newsletter:- "For several months we have been patrolling Erith marshes to prevent and deter people using off road bikes in this area. These patrols have continued throughout October. To date we have stopped and issued over 30 warnings to people explaining that despite a common belief, no one has permission to ride motorbikes on the marshes. The warnings stipulate that if they are stopped again within 12 months in similar circumstances their bikes will be seized by Police. Bexley Council have now authorised works to be completed to replace the pinch gates near to the yacht club which will prevent access for motorbikes onto the marshes".  

Some people are either woefully lacking in self – awareness, or are just outright stupid. This week an Australian woman reported that she had won a bet at the recent Melbourne Cup horse race; she then posted a photo of herself with her winning ticket on Facebook with the caption  "Winner winner chicken dinner!!" Quite. Shortly thereafter, the woman told a local radio station that she went to cash in the ticket, only to find out it had already been claimed by someone else from an automated pay-out kiosk. It seems someone on Facebook saw the image, complete with the ticket's details, and used the photo to claim the AU$900 (£420) in winnings from an automated cash machine by scanning the code from the snapshot. The woman said she did not know who the culprit was that swiped her winnings, but said the photo was limited to Facebook friends. She is, understandably, considering a major cull of her friend list on the social networking site. She also told the radio station that police were investigating the theft.  I have to say that I am not surprised – so many people publish intimate details of their private lives on social networking sites, with seemingly little or no thoughts of the potential consequences. Not very long ago, the investigative journalist Gerard Tubb contacted me about a story I had published on the Maggot Sandwich – he commented that I was exceedingly hard to profile, as apart from the Blog and an Email address, there was almost no personal information available about me online. He was impressed at how small my online profile was, considering I have been blogging for over nine and a half years. I explained that I am acutely aware of personal privacy and consequently I don’t use social media. The Maggot Sandwich is my sole front on the digital world.

In what is becoming a sad habit, the Gravesend RNLI lifeboat has been called out yet again to Erith after reports of a person apparently about to throw themselves into the River Thames. I am unclear as to whether these reports, which are now coming in on an almost weekly basis are involving numerous different people, or just one deeply troubled individual who has tried suicide on multiple occasions. I think that this really does underline the need for an RNLI lifeboat substation in Erith, possibly located in the old Port of London Authority building adjacent to Erith Jetty, as I have highlighted before. What do you think?

Erith has cropped up a few times in the course of the greater history of the United Kingdom, most famously as the place where Alexander Selkirk – the real life “Robinson Crusoe” came ashore after being shipwrecked and living on a desert island. Something that until now has been less known is that Erith is thought by some historians from Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre to have played a pivotal role in The Gunpowder Plot; they indicated that their research showed that in the summer of 1605, Erith Manor House, which was located on what is now Erith High Street, was rented under a pseudonym by Anne Vaux, the daughter of Lord William Vaux, the head of one of the wealthiest and most prominent Catholic families in the country at the time. Anne Vaux was known to arrange for safe houses to be made available for Catholic priests to hide up and hold underground church services – Catholics were widely persecuted in England at the time. Erith Manor House was considered an ideal location for Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and the other plotters against the King to hide up, as it had, according to Catesby “a secluded but convenient location” on the banks of the Thames, which had the added benefit of offering an easy escape route by boat, should the situation arise. What the plotters did not realise was that the intelligence service of the time was aware of them – spymaster Sir Anthony Standen, first assistant to Sir Francis Walsingham, who was then head of the English Secret Service, working directly for King James I, had broken up a plot (The Bye Plot – click here for more details) eighteen months before hand, and was now acutely aware that other Catholic activists had designs on the life of the Protestant monarch. Sir Anthony had informants all over the place, and soon became aware of the small group of men who were acting very suspiciously in and around Erith. Several of the plotters had also been seen in a number of taverns in Southwark, and it is possible that they were followed back to Erith, where their safe house was then discovered. When agents subsequently raided the house, the conspirators had already made their escape, and the place was deserted. Some of this is extrapolation from verified facts – it is certain that Anne Vaux did indeed rent Erith Manor House using the cover name Mrs Perkins, though it is not certain the Gunpowder Plotters did use it as their primary base of operations – there may well have been an underground church in the house, which in itself would have aroused suspicion. Unfortunately there is no opportunity for Erith Manor House to become a tourist attraction, as it was demolished in the 19th century after falling into a state of disrepair. Personally I find it unlikely that the Gunpowder Plotters would have used Erith as a main base of operations; Nobility and the wealthy would stand out like a sore thumb in the Erith of 1605, which, much like now was inhabited by working people who back then were mainly involved in trade on the River Thames and fishing. If the plotters wanted to keep a low profile, expensively dressed strangers appearing in Erith would not be a very intelligent idea, as they would not have fitted in with the locals. Tying up a purebred, high quality horse outside an inn in Erith back then would have been the equivalent of parking a Ferrari 488 GTB outside of the Running Horses nowadays - people would most definitely notice, and tongues would wag.

Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association have made the following announcement about metal thefts in the borough: "The London Borough of Bexley is asking Neighbourhood Watch members to please remain vigilant against metal thieves who have been known to callously target the borough's war memorials. Fortunately, last year was problem free in the run up to Remembrance Day, but in previous years there have been thefts of bronze plaques from Sidcup Place Memorial and Oaklands Road Memorial, Bexleyheath. Any memorial in the borough could be a potential target. The Council is asking Neighbourhood Watch members to report anyone they see working on the borough's war memorials, even if they look like bona fide workmen. Reports can be made to the Council's Cemeteries Office weekdays between 9am and 5pm or by telephoning 020 3045 3691. Outside these hours, residents can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111".

The last week has seen another technology birthday, and I am very surprised that nothing seems to have appeared in the popular press about it, especially when one considers how very important the development has been. This week marked the 125th anniversary the beginning of the London Tube system. The City and South London Railway (C. and S. L. Railway) was the first deep-level underground "tube" railway in the world, and the first major railway in the world to use electric traction. Originally intended for cable-hauled trains, the collapse of the cable contractor while the railway was under construction forced a change to electric traction before the line opened – an experimental technology at the time. In November 1883, notice was given that a private bill was to be presented to Parliament for the construction of the City of London and Southwark Subway. The promoter of the bill and engineer of the proposed railway was James Henry Greathead who had, in 1869–1870, constructed the Tower Subway using the same tunnelling shield/segmented cast iron tube method proposed for the CL and SS. The railway was to run north from Elephant and Castle, in Southwark, south London, under the River Thames to King William Street in the City of London. The tracks were to be placed in twin tunnels 10ft 2in in diameter. The CL and SS was originally intended to be operated by cable haulage with a static engine pulling the cable through the tunnels at a steady speed. Trains were to be attached to the cable with clamps. These would be opened and closed at stations allowing the carriages to disconnect and reconnect without needing to stop the cable or interfere with the progress of other trains sharing the cable. The additional lengths of tunnels permitted by the supplementary acts challenged the practicality of a cable-hauled system and before a solution could be found the cable contractor went out of business. Given the small dimension of the tunnels, steam power, used on London's other underground railways, was not feasible for a deep tube railway and had been prohibited by the enabling Act. The solution adopted was electrical power provided via a third rail beneath the train. Although the use of electricity to power trains had been experimented with in the previous decade and small-scale operations had been implemented, the C and SLR was the first major railway in the world to adopt it as a means of motive power. The system operated using electric locomotives built by Mather and Platt collecting a current at 500 volts from the third rail and pulling several carriages. A depot and generating station were constructed at Stockwell. The limited capacity of the generators meant that the stations were originally illuminated by gas. The depot was on the surface and trains requiring maintenance were initially hauled to the surface via a ramp but a lift was soon installed. In practice, most rolling stock and locomotives only went to the surface for major maintenance. The railway was opened officially by Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) on 4 November 1890. It was opened to the public on 18 December 1890. Initially, it had stations at: Stockwell, The Oval, Kennington, Elephant and Castle, Borough and King William Street. The original service was operated by trains composed of an engine and three carriages. Thirty two passengers could be accommodated in each carriage, which was provided with longitudinal bench seating and sliding doors at the ends, leading onto a platform from which they could board and alight. It was reasoned that there was nothing to look at in the tunnels so the only windows were in a narrow band high up in the carriage sides. Gate-men rode on the carriage platforms to operate the lattice gates and announce the station names to the passengers. Due to their claustrophobic interiors, the carriages soon became known as padded cells. Unlike other railways, there were no ticket classes or paper tickets; when the railway began operations, a single flat fare of two pence, collected at a turnstile, was charged for all passengers. Despite the cramped carriages and competition from existing bus and tram services over its route, the railway attracted 5.1 million passengers in 1891, its first year of operation. To alleviate overcrowding, the fleet of rolling stock was enlarged. In 1933, the line, and the rest of the Underground Group was taken into public ownership. Today, its tunnels and stations form the Bank branch and Kennington to Morden section of the London Underground's Northern Line.

The video clip above shows Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who visited Crossrail’s Canary Wharf, Woolwich and Abbey Wood stations to view progress on Europe’s biggest infrastructure project and to see first-hand the regeneration taking hold across southeast London. It just goes to show how much work has already been completed on this largest engineering project in Europe. This is very much the modern version of the original City and South london Railway of Victorian times.

I received the following Email earlier this week, which I thought may well strike a chord with many readers:- "I was reading your blog as I normally every week. I was reading this week’s entry about the Christmas closures for South Eastern Trains. I am working up until 1900 on Christmas eve and then from 27th until 31st December. I am livid by this as I am a Gold Card season ticket holder, and I cannot get into work over the festive period. I have to be in work at Southwark right next to Southwark Station, at 0630 and I finish at 1830. I cannot drive in either due to active parking restrictions. I cannot get into work on time over Christmas. I have contacted South Eastern via Twitter (rare for me as I don't normally use it), I contacted them as I am working all over Christmas. When I contacted them, they tried to assist, but I felt I was getting fobbed off with every conversation. They said I can get into Victoria then change on to 2 tubes. What is more concerning for me is Christmas Eve. I finish at 1830 then I have no trains as they finish at 1800, so I will have to try and get home to Erith by other means, which will be a nightmare, so will be late home to spend time with my wife and kids. I feel sorry for the Christmas revellers trying to get home after partying on Christmas Eve having no trains! I understand the works need to be carried out, even a rail bus between New Cross and London Bridge would be more acceptable than nothing. This has now convinced me even more, that when my season ticket runs out in January, I will not be renewing it. Unreliable trains, dirty trains, cancellations all the time, no service, what more can I say. I will be returning to the motorbike option to commute, and will return when TfL take over the South Eastern franchise and turn it into London Over ground. Sorry to rant on, but these works are the last straw for me!" Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

I had the following message from Caroline Field of Orbit Housing Association. Caroline runs the Erith Park development, the replacement for the late and not very lamented Larner Road Estate. Phase one of the new Erith Park is now open and in full use, and phase two is well under way. Caroline is keen to have some thoughts and input from Maggot Sandwich readers, as she writes here:- “Could I recruit you and your readers to help us with suggestions for the new roads and apartment blocks in Phase 2 of Erith Park?.  As you know, for Phase 1 we found names from Erith’s history – local companies, famous people born in Erith and local philanthropists.  I t was great that people from the Starkey, Gunning and Downton families all joined us for a recent celebration. We’re keen to repeat the theme on Phase 2 and all suggestions of names with a local resonance are welcome.  All the personal names on Phase 1 are of men and it would be nice to balance that with some women. ( I did find out, after the sign was printed, that Kitty Butler, wife of Edward Butler can be considered the first female motorist, so  missed that opportunity).  It’s not usual to name places after living individuals – I’ve always assumed that this is in case they disgrace themselves later in life!  I don’t want to sound too snobbish but names also have to ‘work’ as an aspirational street or block name – I have to get them approved by our marketing team”. Do you have any thoughts and suggestions that you can provide? If you do, please send them to my usual Email address and I will forward them to Caroline for her consideration. You can follow Caroline on Twitter here.

Some Maggot Sandwich readers may well have seen the disturbing story published recently in the News Shopper. It featured a resident from the Gallion's View Nursing Home in Thamesmead. Magdaline Aza had been receiving palliative care at Gallions View nursing home for just over a month when she was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital by paramedics on March 4th.  The Bupa-run facility, in Pier Way, was given "requires improvement" status after its last CQC inspection on March 19. When she was admitted to hospital with multiple bed sores - the worst of which was a grade four - Mrs Aza was "dirty and unkempt and her hair was matted", according to a safeguarding investigation carried out by Greenwich Council. The report concluded the pressures sores she was admitted to hospital with "must have occurred whilst Mrs Aza was resident at Gallions View Nursing Home", despite Bupa saying she left the home with only two grade two sores. I have a historical stake in this story; my late Dad was a resident at Gallion's View for six and  half years until his death in 2011. I always found the place to be well - run, the residents to be well looked after, and the place to be a happy one. The only exception to this was one of the care assistants, who turned out to have been a long term criminal - a lady called Michelle Roberts got sent down for three and a half years for a range of thefts, including from her own relatives at her Uncle’s funeral in Southend in 2011, and from other friends and well wishers when she fraudulently claimed that her son had cancer so that she could obtain money for his treatment. You can read the story here. Many readers think she only got six months in prison, but the judge sentenced her to six months for each offence, which are to run concurrently. Knowing the Gallions View team up to 2011 as a whole, I am sure that they would have been horrified at the news that a former employee could turn out to be such a nasty and dishonest piece of work. I know that a lot can change in four years, and that historically the senior management of Gallion's View had been weak - in the time Dad was in there, the place had countless bosses, one of whom lasted less than six months. The staff "on the ground" were overall excellent. The problems for care homes are rooted in the gap between the costs of care and the amounts local authorities are paying for residents. There are staggering variations in fees across the country, ranging from £350 a week to as high as £750, according to consumer watchdog Which? The Local Government Association itself estimates that there will be a £2.9 billion annual funding gap in social care by the end of the decade. This gap will widen with the introduction of the national living wage next April, which will add another £1bn to the costs of care homes between now and 2020. The shortfall is a big problem for the industry, because the majority of residents in care homes are at least partly financed by the state. According to the benchmark LaingBuisson Care of Older People market report, 37 percent of care home residents have their places wholly paid for by local authorities. Another 12 percent pay extra on top of their local authority funding, and 10 percent are funded by the NHS. An estimated 41 percent are private residents who pay for themselves. There are more than 430,000 elderly people living in care homes in the UK, and the sector employs 1.4 million people. However, between October 2014 and March 2015, the number of care home places in the UK fell for the first time. A total of 3,000 beds were lost as closures exceeded new openings A number of groups – Barchester and Care UK among them – are increasingly focusing on private residents who pay their own fees rather than using state backing. At Care UK, for example, the number of self-funding residents has risen from 26 to 32 percent in a year. These private homes are more profitable and account for most of the new investment, leaving state-funded residents in homes whose owners may not be able to afford refurbishments.The charity Age UK claims there are examples of care homes being refurbished specifically so they can target private rather than local authority patients, while some are charging private residents more to make up for the shortfall with state-backed residents. The fees paid by local authorities are estimated to have fallen by more than 5 percent in real terms over the past five years.The perilous state of care homes is of particular concern for Britain because of its ageing population. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people aged over 65 will rise by more than 40 percent in the next 17 years. By 2040 almost one in four people will be over 65. 

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first regular transmissions from an offshore radio station called Radio Essex. This small, relatively short – lived, but extremely influential station broadcast from the abandoned ex – military Knock John anti – aircraft fortress in the Thames Estuary. Test transmissions started on the 27th October 1965 on 1365 kHz Medium Wave, and regular broadcasts started on the frequency of 1353 kHz on the 7th of November 1965. The station was the first to broadcast around the clock, with no overnight shut down. The station used a modified Royal Navy ship’s transmitter, with a reported output power of 1,000 Watts. The actual radiated power was certainly quite lot less than that – indeed some sources say that the transmitter actually only had an output power of between 25 and 35 Watts. Nevertheless the station was able to cover large swathes of Essex and North Kent, and soon built up a dedicated listenership thought to be around 30,000 strong. The station had an unusual format; they played middle of the road, easy listening music in the daytime, and a top forty pop format overnight. There is an excellent account of the full story of Radio Essex, and its rise and eventual fall on the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame website here.

As I have written before, I am not looking forward to the relaunch of BBC's motoring show "Top Gear" with a new lineup of presenters headed by Chris Evans. Personally I dislike Evans and will switch over, or switch off anything I see or hear him appear in. I predict the new "Top Gear" will last two seasons before being quietly dropped, whereas the new Amazon Prime based car show presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will be highly successful, and will actually cause many viewers to purchase an Amazon Prime subscription specifically to watch the show. This is all somewhat academic, as the real broadcasting revolution is not happening in traditional television, but online. An example can be seen below. Three young chaps who each have a very successful motoring based YouTube channel have got together to produce a series of videos which they have posted online. Here you can see them on holiday in a borrowed house in Monaco; they have a challenge - is it quicker to drive down the road to the local supermarket to purchase ingredients to then make a pizza at home, or would a pizza bought from a takeaway restaurant in nearby Italy take less time? The first team to get their pizza on the dining table wins. See what you think.


  1. The new Clarkson/Hammond/May show is on Amazon Prime, not Netflix.

  2. Appreciating the hard work you put into your blog and in depth information you offer.
    It's awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the
    same old rehashed material. Fantastic read! I've saved your
    site and I'm adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.