Sunday, March 26, 2023


I took the photograph above - click on it for a larger view - last night at the "Here Comes The Sun" music and craft festival held at The Exchange. The event started on Friday and continues until Sunday evening. On the Saturday evening the festival was extremely well attended. Visitors saw a number of live bands perform; there was a pop - up bar run by the excellent Bexley Brewery, and the Bookstore Cafe was extremely busy with diners. You can read more about the event, and other activities at The Exchange by clicking here

Following the article I wrote last week about Morrison's and their dire financial situation since the supermarket chain was bought US firm Clayton, Dubilier and Rice (CD&R). The beleaguered Bradford-based grocer racked up £1.5 billion of losses in the year since the purchase by the giant private equity firm, which has saddled it with debt, and now appears to be running it into the ground. I received a number of emails from readers, and one in particular I am publishing - though the reader asked to be anonymous:- "Having just read this week's blog about Morrisons I felt I needed to reply. As a family we always used to use the Erith Morrisons, this was until about 2-3 years ago. One main reason was the self-service tills, they were always a pain to use, you scan an item, put it in the bag, then always came up 'unexpected item in bagging area'. Then sometimes it would take the 1 checkout supervisor about 5 mins to come to assist, this was because they had so many tills to supervise. On one shopping trip, they took so long, we just left the shopping on the till and left and went to another supermarket. Then last week I said to the wife, let's try Morrisons again as it's been a while. Off we went hoping things may be better, and to see the prices. All I can say is I won't be rushing there again! The prices they charge compared to competitors is outrageous, some items so more expensive, even compared to M&S! The food range for things like bakery is now very poor, and there is never any staff to assist on the shop floor. The shelves were well stocked, but that's probably as the store was a ghost town, on a Friday evening. We left the empty store empty handed due to the prices of the things we needed, and went to ASDA at Belvedere. There the store was busy. So, it seems it's not just us that are not shopping at Morrisons, seems others are avoiding it too. Such a shame, as when it opened it was a great supermarket. To be honest, if they continue operating the company like this, it won't be long before the shutters are kept closed in Erith". What do you think? Email me at

A fascinating article was published last week in the Daily Telegraph; the story has a particular historical relevance to the local area:- "Ukrainian troops are using a machine gun first deployed in the 19th century as they fight back “human waves” of Russian troops on the front lines of Bakhmut. Soldiers in bunkers are firing Maxim machine guns, more usually associated with the colonial era and the First World War, amid shortages of modern weaponry. The Maxim has “120 years of history killing Russians,” a soldier manning a firing position told the BBC, adding: “It’s a weapon from the First World War being used in the Third World War.” The Maxim, a recoil-operated machine gun, was invented in 1884 by Hiram Stevens Maxim. It is credited as being the first fully automatic machine gun in the world. Firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute, it has to be water-cooled, adding considerable weight. It is, however, able to sustain its rate of fire far longer than air-cooled guns. Vladislav, 27, told The Telegraph: “I have seen Maxim machine guns in stationary positions many times.  Despite their age, it is a rather formidable weapon, the main thing is not to forget to add some water. “The only drawback is its weight, but it shows itself stoically in constant firing. The Maxim is a fairly effective weapon in capable hands. It needs care so that it does not wedge, and works as smoothly as a clock.” From what I have been able to ascertain, Ukrainian forces are actually using a mixture of both the earlier Maxim heavy machine guns, which were manufactured in the Maxim factory in Fraser Road, Erith, and the slightly later Vickers heavy machine guns, manufactured in Crayford. As I have written in the past, Erith and Crayford were the historic home of Vickers Sons and Maxim Limited, who had factories in both locations which made a whole range of armaments and ammunition, principally the Vickers Machine Gun – which was an easier to produce, lighter and cheaper version of the original Maxim Gun, invented by Sir Hiram Maxim - the most famous local resident. What is less well known is that Vickers Vimy heavy bombers were also constructed on a limited basis. It is thought that the aeroplane which transported Alcock and Brown on the historic very first flight across the Atlantic was one of those produced locally. In the present the fact that both Erith and Crayford were major arms manufacturing towns is unknown to many residents; indeed the only relic of the Vickers Sons and Maxim factory in Erith is that the area of shops and houses located at the bend where Woolwich Road becomes Fraser Road is still known by older locals as “The Pom Pom” – due to the sound of guns being tested in the dedicated shooting range that was adjacent to the factory for many years. I think it sad that many people still call the area by the informal name, but very few seem to know the actual reason for it. Nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the changes that have happened over the years that arms manufacturing was no longer something that no longer happened locally. In matter of fact nothing could be further from the truth. Slade Green is home to a company, which until 2014 was known as Manroy Engineering, and is now called FN Herstal - a company that specialises in the manufacture and refurbishment of machine guns and light cannon for the military and law enforcement. They also make all sorts of weapon mounts, gun turrets for armoured vehicles and assorted other military hardware such as specialised sniper rifles and vehicle armour packages. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, but they are actually located on the Power Works site on Slade Green Road, opposite  St. Augustine's church. It is amazing what a little bit of searching on Google Street view can find! Anyway, the Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) calibre machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft. The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in the book Weapons and War Machines, describes an action that took place in August 1916, during which the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure. "It was this absolute fool proof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one.” The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun of the late 19th century. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and substituting components made with high strength alloys. A muzzle break was also added. The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their existing Maxims. There were still great shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914. Vickers was, in fact, threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the exorbitant price it was demanding for each gun. As a result, the price was slashed. As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army's primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps (when heavier 0.5 in/12.7 mm calibre machine guns appeared, the tripod-mounted, rifle-calibre machine guns like the Vickers became medium machine guns). After the First World War, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was disbanded and the Vickers returned to infantry units. Before the Second World War, there were plans to replace the Vickers gun. However, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Hundreds of thousands of these guns were manufactured in Erith and Crayford over several decades, and during both World Wars, this meant that the towns were legitimate wartime bombing targets. During both World Wars, the area economically benefited – for example in 1914, the number of trams run in Crayford and Erith was increased to transport the large number of munitions workers many of whom worked for Vickers making ammunition for use on the Western Front. With most of the young men volunteering for military service (conscription was yet to begin) many women entered paid employment for the first time, something that directly led to the start of female emancipation with the Representation of the People Act 1918. I have written at some length about inventor and businessman Hiram Maxim in the past; Maxim was American born but later naturalised British. He invented the sprung mouse trap, the first practical machine gun, the incandescent light bulb (though he famously failed to get the patent registered before Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan) and  the first heavier than air aircraft. After moving to England in 1881, Maxim began his aerial experiments at Baldwyns Park near Bexley Village, in the late 1880's, leading to the construction in 1893 of his enormous biplane Test-Rig, which weighed about three and a half tons. The machine's two steam engines each produced 180 horsepower. and turned two pusher propellers each 17-1/2 feet in diameter. Since the device was intended to be a test vehicle it was held to a track, preventing it from rising more than a couple of feet. On the Maxim Biplane Test-Rig's third test run, on July 31, 1894, with Maxim and a crew of three aboard, it lifted with such force that it broke the reinforced restraining track and careened for some two hundred yards, at times reaching an altitude of two or three feet above the damaged track. It was believed that a lifting force of some four and a half tons had been generated. After this, Maxim allowed his assistants to demonstrate the flying machine on a number of additional occasions, but he took no further part in the development – he rightly realised that the machine was a design “dead end” as it lacked practical flight controls. It was not until 1903 that the Wright Brothers worked out their system of ailerons and rudders that made flying practical and controllable. 

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous brought the following story to my attention. You may be aware that the influential building company Erith Construction Group has its head office in the former Job Centre in Queen Street, Erith, and its operations base in Manor Road in Erith. The company, which until recently has had a very good reputation, has seemingly blotted its copy book. In a story reported by both The Guardian and London Evening Standard newspapers, Erith Group have been found guilty of colluding to fix construction contracts with a number of other building companies, and have been fined £17.5 million as a result. You can read the full Guardian story by clicking here. Additionally, you can read the coverage in the London Evening Standard here.

The following message was sent last week to Neighbourhood Watch groups in and around Greater London:- "As you will have seen, Baroness Louise Casey of Blackstock has released her final report of her review of the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police. The findings of the review are serious, and we are committed to addressing them. It represents a powerful and persuasive call for urgent, deep rooted and long-lasting change in the Met and wider policing. The Met commissioned Baroness Casey’s review after the grave levels of public concern following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer and other deeply troubling incidents. We are under no illusions about the significance of this moment. We welcome this report and its findings. As Baroness Casey has requested, we will take time to carefully consider its recommendations. We will use this report as a catalyst for reform. We have let people down and repeat the apology the Commissioner gave to Londoners and our own people in the Met. The appalling examples of discrimination, the letting down of communities and victims and the strain faced by the front line are unacceptable. We are sorry for that. As professionals who care about policing, this report sparks feelings of shame and anger, but it also increases our resolve to deliver change. We are proud of those people - our officers and staff - whose passion for policing and determination to reform moved them to share their experiences with the Casey Review team with such honesty. This is, in many ways, their report. All of us who have served and are serving must reflect on why we haven’t delivered the scale of the change needed. Our Turnaround Plan is already building momentum across the Met. We are reassured that a number of issues highlighted by Baroness Casey – our service to victims, rebuilding neighbourhood policing and how we protect the most vulnerable – are priorities we too had identified. The plan is a shared mission with our good officers and staff. We know the challenge isn’t simple. Baroness Casey’s insights, alongside feedback from the public, will greatly influence the next version. If you haven’t yet provided your feedback on the turnaround plan – your views would be greatly appreciated. There are external factors – funding, governance, growing demand, and resource pressures that shouldn’t sit with policing – that the report has identified. Baroness Casey is right to identify the impact these have had on our ability to police London, but there can be no excuses for us. The core of the problems are for policing to determinedly confront. The report needs to lead to meaningful change. If it only leads to pillory and blame of the exceptional majority of officers then only criminals will benefit. This report will galvanise the dedicated police majority within the Met. And we also need it to galvanise Londoners, communities and politicians to coalesce to help us reform and renew policing by consent for the 21st century. Thank you to each of you who continue to support us as we seek to transform. This is a difficult and important moment for the Metropolitan Police and our city as a whole. I know you want actions and real change, not just words. Your views are important and as a leader in the Met I am committed to listening, working with you and our communities and doing everything I can  to make the changes to our police service that delivers more trust for all our communities, a better local policing service where our officers and staff are supported to deliver less crime, with predatory offenders targeted so women and girls are properly protected, and get rapidly to the point where we have high standards across our officers who have the honour to serve you, our communities". Thought provoking stuff, Comments to me as always at

In a move which did not surprise me at all, the proposed theme park which was to be constructed on the Swanscombe Peninsula has been declared bankrupt. The company behind The London Resort have reportedly run up debts of £100 million in a project with a £2.5 billion price tag. But now the London Resort Company, which is hoping to develop the site, has appointed Antony Batty & Company to restructure its finances, as has been published in the press. The company was formed 12 years ago to build a world-class resort on the Swanscombe Peninsula. At one point, the project even had the backing of Hollywood studios Paramount. The site was set to be double the size of Britain's largest theme park Alton Towers.The theme park would have been the size of 136 Wembley Stadia, and potentially could have employed around 15,000 people. Last April the proposed site of the park was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England. Their opposition to the park development centred around a critically endangered jumping spider only found in one other place in the UK. The Distinguished Jumping Spider is incredibly rare. The species is a conservation priority, and has been placed on the UK list of Biodiversity Action Plan species. In the UK, the spider's only other habitat is the West Thurrock Marshes in Essex. The amusement park was initially called Paramount London and was originally scheduled to open by 2018. Now the project is reportedly close to collapsing due to repeated delays, in part as a result of environmental concerns and local opposition.

The end video this week is some historic cine footage shot back in 1987 of the old Woolwich ferries and river traffic on the Thames. What I find interesting is that the footage appears to have been shot on Super 8 cine film, not on VHS video, which by 1987 had almost completely taken over from film in amateur use. Comments and other feedback to me at

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