Sunday, January 03, 2021

WWW at thirty.

The upper of the two photos above shows the excavated site which used to form the garden to the rear of the White Hart pub in Erith High Street. The site has been empty and unused (apart from several tons of illegally fly - tipped rubbish) for over five years. Work is apparently to start on site shortly for a new block of low - rise apartments. Many thanks to reader Desiree for the lower of the two images - which show a revised look to the development, which replaces the original design which I published two weeks ago -  I rely on reader input for many of my articles. The new design would initially appear to be somewhat larger than that outlined in the originally submitted plans. What do you think? Email me at with your thoughts and comments. 

There have been rumours circulating for several months concerning Barnehurst Golf Course - with some people saying that it is to be sold off and have a housing estate built on the site. Whilst I understand that this is incorrect, there is a small nub of truth to part of the story. The company that operates Barnehurst Golf Course are terminating their lease with the Bexley Council at the end of March. They are citing poor business conditions during the lock down. The golf course operating company, Mytime Active - who have operated the golf course since 2009, are exercising  their lease break option, which will come into effect on the 31st March this year. There is currently little information as to what will happen subsequently, though I do understand that the plan is to retain the facility as a golf course, albeit with a new operator. If you have any inside knowledge, please contact me in complete confidence at my usual Email address -

Did you know that the World Wide Web was thirty years old in December? On December 20, 1990, a Fellow at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee, had been noodling around with ideas for getting hypertext documents onto public networks so that researchers around the planet could share information. He called it the World Wide Web, and he was given a NeXT workstation to 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. (Although the website was built around Christmas 1990, Sir Tim didn’t hook the server up to a public network until 1991.) 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's probable that this was the biggest boost to mankind's ability to share information since the invention of moveable type. Now there are websites for everything and anything. Sir Tim freely admits that he did not get everything right at the start; Sir Tim was also focused on text; the initial proposal states: "Where facilities already exist, we aim to allow graphics interchange, but in this project, we concentrate on the universal readership for text, rather than on graphics." Marc Andreessen told The Register website that Sir Tim called him while Andreessen was developing the Mosaic web browser, and castigated him for supporting images in the program – saying that adding more than words at this stage was pointless. Security, or rather the lack of it in the original HTTP standard, is another area that Sir Tim admits to getting wrong. Now he'd like to see all web traffic and email encrypted, although he acknowledges that there are times when investigators legitimately need access to encrypted data for criminal prosecutions. Sir Tim has been steering the development of the web since its inception, and has drawn flak from all sides for some of his views. He supports the adding of anti-piracy mechanisms, aka DRM (Digital Rights Management), to HTML5, saying it is needed for high-value content, and some companies wish he would stop defending net neutrality so vociferously. I actually encountered Sir Tim almost by accident nine 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. 

Last week I published a piece on the Erith Travelling Library - the first dedicated mobile library in the UK. I little expected the number of readers who contacted me about the story. One of the readers has kindly written a very informative guest piece about the mobile library, its history, and his personal memories of it. Many thanks to Allan Bedford for writing the following article:-"The Fordson ‘BB’ Mobile Library Van, Erith U.D.C. 1933. The origins of a travelling library concept, supplying books to isolated communities was first conceived in 1817, in Southern Scotland, by Samuel Brown the Provost of Haddington. Local communities would be supplied with boxes of books on a rotational system. By the beginning of the twentieth century, across North America, the horsedrawn and soon motorised ‘book trucks’ became familiar in many communities. In the UK with the enactment of the Public Libraries Act of 1919 these services began to reach rural areas. Local carriers and bus men were engaged to deliver boxes of books on an exchange basis. Kent County Council were one of the pioneer authorities to introduce a dedicated travelling van. This was based on a Southport built Vulcan 30 cwt in December 1924. The van was fitted with two separate compartments each side, enclosed with doors and proved a success. A big step forward came in July 1931 when Manchester Public Libraries unveiled the first ‘branch library on wheels’. However this was built around an old AEC ‘S’ type bus with solid tyres, with internal measurements of 20’ x 6’ giving 84 square feet of space and a capacity of 1,300 books. The forward thinking Erith Libraries Committee were concerned that with the rapid growth of suburban housing in the district, it would be some years before new branches could be established to augment the Central Library in Walnut Tree Road. The Chairman, Councillor C Davies visited Manchester to witness their vehicle in service conditions and on his return tenders were soon prepared to vehicle suppliers and coach builders to select a suitable candidate. The lowest quote of £685 was received from the local works of W.G. Hampton in Erith Town Centre, who had made the successful transition from the days of buildings horse drawn wagons and handcarts.The bodywork frame was constructed from ash, oak, and mahogany and built on a Fordson ‘BB’, two ton chassis built across the river at Dagenham. The four wheel chassis was then despatched to Old Trafford, Manchester to the Muir-Hill Company (better known for their diggers and earth moving equipment). Their conversion included extending the chassis, adding a trailing axle and building a cab structure over the engine bay to achieve a forward control layout in place of the conventional bonnet arrangement. These conversions of lightweight lorries were popular at the time and a cheap option enabling bulky but light loads to be carried. However with only a four cylinder 24 hp engine and a weight without the addition of fifteen hundred books, petrol and the driver/librarians, it still weighed in at four tons and Picardy Hill was to be avoided! With internal measurements of 19’ 8” x 7’ x 6’ 9” high, as built the vehicle relied on battery power for internal lighting and an oil stove for the winter months. Later an electric heater was fitted and provision made for power to be taken from conveniently placed lamp standards! The shelves were built with a ten degree tilt which ensured a safe load. In its first year the 1,658 new members joined the library service and 58,798 volumes were issued from the five sites visited. During the fifties new branch libraries were opened at various locations, however, one area where the vehicle remained a familiar sight was in New Road, Abbey Wood close to the Woolwich Borough Boundary. I have a clear recollection of seeing it there from the top of the 698 trolley bus passing along Lower Road. By 1957 1.4 million books had been issued with the vehicle finally being decommissioned around 1963. A group of pioneer vehicle collectors lead by Devonian Colin Shears, purchased the vehicle and drove it to Devon. Speaking to Colin years later he recalled that with its small engine, dreadful steering and continuous stops for punctures the journey to Winkleigh Aerodrome took nearly a week. The vehicle became part of his vast collection and shared a leaky giant WW2 hangar surrounded by old buses. By the 1980s the Science Museum, realising its historical significance had acquired the vehicle and moved it to their collection inside another former hangar at Wroughton, near Swindon". A fascinating historical piece from Allan Bedford, who also kindly supplied the photos above the article. Please send your feedback and comments to me at

Many readers may be able to take part or all of the Christmas and New Year as a holiday break. Following my article last week on Shortwave radio hobby pirates, I had one reader drop me a line, knowing my interest in radio, asking about something different for her to listen to, as she was bored of listening to BBC Radio 2. Initially I recommended my old station, Radio Caroline, who broadcast 24/7 online - you can listen to them by clicking here. They also broadcast on 648 kHz Medium Wave, and on DAB in many parts of the country. I have had a number of readers ask me some quite specific questions about the station, thinking that I am still closely involved with Caroline. This is not actually the case; I am a regular listener, and do occasionally contact the station management, but other than that I have little involvement nowadays. Caroline in the present is a far different organisation to the one I worked for back in the late 80’s and very early 90’s. To be honest it is a lot stronger and better organised nowadays; back in the day when I was involved, it was a very amateur affair for the most part, something that is far from the situation nowadays, I am very glad to report. Another station I personally spend a lot of my free time listening to is Radio Seagull - a radio station that was started back in the 1970's as Caroline's album - based overnight service. Nowadays Radio Seagull broadcasts live via DAB+ in the Netherlands, and worldwide online from a converted light ship - the Jenni Baynton which is (legally) moored in Harlingham Harbour in the Netherlands. The station is run by volunteers, and plays a lot of music that you simply don't hear on other radio stations. The Daily Telegraph said of the station "As if to prove that the spirit of Sixties-style pirate broadcasting never really died, this charming music station broadcasts from a ship moored in Harlingen Harbour in the Netherlands. Prog rock is the predominant flavour, with plenty of Genesis, Pink Floyd and the like; but genres as diverse as UK blues, world music and jazz also get a look in." You can visit the Radio Seagull website here. If you want a radio station that is a bit closer to home, then I can heartily recommend the excellent Time 107.5 FM from Romford; their unique selling point is their very high level of listener participation in their programmes, and their very strong community involvement. 

Another piece of local industrial and engineering history that you may not be aware of; the invention of the car exhaust silencer and the firearms sound suppressor (often incorrectly referred to a silencer) were developed and manufactured locally. In 1902, the first successful, commercially available suppressor was invented by Hiram Percy Maxim. Maxim was an American inventor, graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and son of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim - inventor of the first portable, fully automatic machine gun: The Maxim Gun, which as I have previously written, was produced in Fraser Road, Erith, and later in Crayford. Hiram Maxim senior was born in the USA, but became a naturalised Briton, and worked in the local area for much of his life. Whilst the initial work by his son on the silencer was carried out in the Maxim companies Hartford, Connecticut design studios, much of the manufacturing was carried out in the Erith factory - mainly as Maxim Senior felt that the products could be marketed to various European defence agencies - always a man with his eye on maximising a profit. The Maxim Silencer, patented in 1909, was a tubular device attached to the barrel of a firearm which significantly reduced noise and muzzle flash when fired. It was regularly advertised in sporting goods catalogues where it was available for mail order, both in the USA and here at the time. The Maxim Silencer was marketed to all sportsmen and intended to enhance the shooting experience by reducing the risk of hearing damage and noise pollution. At the same time, silencers and mufflers for internal combustion engines were being created using the same noise reduction techniques. Maxim Junior took advantage of this and founded his own company, Maxim Silencers, Inc. in 1912. While the Maxim Silencer began Maxim’s success, his company still remains, over 100 years later, as a leader in motor vehicle exhaust, heat recovery, and emissions control silencers. It now no longer has any local connections, and operates exclusively out of the USA.

As some readers will be aware, I have a long term interest in psychology - learning "what makes people tick". Over the last year or so, the mainstream press have been giving a considerable amount of coverage to subjects that could only realistically be termed conspiracy theories. Psychologists have been undertaking research into this; a very recent report from a study carried out in the USA has found some interesting results. Whilst the study was USA based, the results in other parts of the world - including the UK, are thought to be broadly similar, if not absolutely identical. The following article was originally published in The New York Times; it reads:- "More than 1 in 3 Americans believe that the Chinese government engineered the coronavirus as a weapon, and another third are convinced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has exaggerated the threat of Covid-19 to undermine President Trump. The numbers, from a survey released on Sept. 21 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, may or may not taper off as communities begin to contain the virus. But they underscore a moment when a particular brand of conspiracy theory is emerging in the mainstream: A belief that the “official story” is in fact a Big Lie, being told by powerful, shadowy interests. At its extremes, these theories include cannibals and satanic pedophiles, (courtesy of the so-called QAnon theory, circulating online); lizard-people, disguised as corporate leaders and celebrities (rooted in alien abduction stories and science fiction); and, in this year of the plague, evil scientists and governments, all conspiring to use Covid-19 for their own dark purposes. Estimates of how many Americans firmly believe at least one discredited conspiracy theory hover around 50 percent, but that may be low. (To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker: If you don’t think someone is plotting against you, you’re not paying attention.) Still, psychologists do not have a good handle on the types of people who are prone to buy into Big Lie theories, especially the horror-film versions. In the most comprehensive analysis to date of people who are prone to conspiracy beliefs, a research team in Atlanta sketched out several personality profiles that appear to be distinct. One is familiar: the injustice collector, impulsive and overconfident, who is eager to expose naïveté in everyone but him - or herself. Another is less so: a more solitary, anxious figure, moody and detached, perhaps including many who are older and living alone. The analysis also found, at the extremes, an element of real pathology — of a “personality disorder,” in the jargon of psychiatry. “With all changes happening in politics, the polarization and lack of respect, conspiracy theories are playing a bigger role in people’s thinking and behavior possibly than ever,” said Shauna Bowes, a research psychologist at Emory University who led the study team. “And there was no consensus on the psychological bases of conspiracy beliefs. In this work, we tried to address that.” To add to this, other research indicates that:- "As well as their purely epistemic purposes, causal explanations serve the need for people to feel safe and secure in their environment and to exert control over the environment as autonomous individuals and as members of collectives. Several early theories of conspiracy belief suggested that people turn to conspiracy theories for compensatory satisfaction when these needs are threatened. For example, people who lack instrumental control may be afforded some compensatory sense of control by conspiracy theories, because they offer them the opportunity to reject official narratives and feel that they possess an alternative account that more closely fits with their established beliefs". 

Unfortunately the Christmas and New Year holidays have led to an upswing in the level of illegal fly tipping in the local area; I took the photo above a few days ago at the recycling centre at the rear of Morrison's in Erith - a council contractor had just arrived on site to clear up the mess left by the fly tippers - you can see the van in the image above - click on it to see a larger version. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association; firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Good news, no burglaries or vehicle crime to report this week. We will be looking to continue with Smart Water in the new year and hopefully, things will get back to normal.  We wish you all a very happy new year". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward - no report this week. Crayford ward:- "Thankfully we are able to report that there were no burglaries reported on Crayford ward. Unfortunately, though we did have a robbery. A young man was walking up Iron Mill Lane wearing headphones on Thursday 24th December at approx. 00:45 tp 00:53 when he became aware of three males behind him. He was told he would be beaten up if he didn’t hand over his white iPhone 11 and he saw a knife. The three suspects aged about 20 years of age headed off toward Perry Street and the victim returned to his mother’s address. One of the males was on a “Boris” bike. Between Friday 18th and Wednesday 23rd, December tyres were deliberately punctured whilst parked outside Castleview Tyres in Rochester Way. (Dartford Heath). Always remember that 999 is our emergency number, 101 for other calls. There is a wealth of information available at We are just a phone call or email away too but please bear in mind we work on different days and times each week. So the close of 2020 is now with us.  On behalf of our team, we wish you happiness and good health for 2021". 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:- "After you have opened your Christmas gifts. Burglars and robbers know that many households have new and often expensive, items in their homes following the December holidays especially items such as new tech such as tablets or laptops, mobile phones, music systems, televisions, cameras and other electronic equipment. In many cases, residents make it easy for burglars to figure out which homes to target by putting boxes that identify their new gifts in plain view with their other rubbish. Avoid becoming an easy target for post-holiday burglars/robbers by not leaving boxes for new electronics and other items outside your wheelie bin. Break down any boxes you are throwing out and put them in rubbish bags and place them inside the wheelie bin. With computer equipment, you might consider keeping the boxes for safe storage, shipping or moving in the future. Would they be useful as storage boxes? Think about keeping broken-down boxes inside in a garage or loft. Register your property securely and free of charge on the national property marking database Motor Vehicle Crimes - On Thursday 24/12/20 AT 9:15 pm a vehicle parked in Sydney Road had the passenger side window smashed. Between the hours of 8:00 pm on Tuesday 22/12/20 and 12:00 pm on Monday 28/12/20, a vehicle left in Bazalgette Way to be recovered by the owner or insurance company following a road traffic collision had gone. Enquiries ongoing". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries have been reported to us over the last week. One theft of number plates which took place in Hollingbourne Avenue between Tuesday 22/12/20 18:00 and Wednesday 23/12/2020 12:00. On behalf of the team, we wish you all a happy new year".

The end video this week features a chap who is walking the entirety of The Thames Path, starting at Erith. He describes his task thus:- "I’m starting the walk of the whole length of the Thames Path, further out east than the official National Trail start. Beginning in Erith in Kent walking 6 miles to Woolwich Arsenal. Join me and Pastor Steve walking through heavy industries and the smelly sewerage plant. Every city has to have these areas to service big populations. Not the most scenic stretch but interesting none the less. We also met a litter picking group cleaning up the River Thames which was started during lock down. Great to see grassroots action bringing practical solution not just whinging about them. If you are in the area check out Woolwich Arsenal 5K Cleanup on Instagram. Some good things are coming out of this difficult time if you look hard. This is my 50th video on  YouTube and I want to thank all subscribers". Feedback and comments to me at

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