Sunday, May 26, 2024


The photo above shows Christ Church in Victoria Road, Erith, which forms one of the most noticeable landmarks in the town. This June marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the historic building, which looks quite a lot older than it actually is. The church is actually a relatively modern construction – the cornerstone was laid back in 1872; the land the church is built on was donated by local land owner and philanthropist Colonel Wheatley – initially church services had been held in a temporary building made of corrugated iron. The consecration service took place on the 6th June 1874 by Archbishop Tait of Canterbury. The church is built mainly of brick, in the Early English style that many Victorian architects favoured. The building cost around £8,000 – a sizable fortune at the time. A few years later the interior of the church was “Beautified” with a series of frescoes being added; representations of the resurrection, Christ with Angels, four historic Bishops of Rochester, and scenes from English history. These painted wall panels make the church interior look Medieval – certainly far older than it actually is, and make the interior one of the most stunning of any church in the area. I would strongly recommend that you pay the place a visit – the place may look fairly unremarkable from the outside, but the interior is something else altogether. The church bell tower and spire was added forty years after the main building was completed; the first stone on the 13th of June 1914, and was completed and dedicated on the 5th June 1915. Colonel Wheatley was generous in his donation of money towards local public buildings. The weekend of the anniversary has a full schedule of celebratory events, as you can see on the promotional banner above - click on the image to see a larger version. Comments and feedback to me at

Last Friday - the 24th May marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of an innovative, controversial and highly influential, if short lived radio station. Laser 558, the offshore radio station that for a brief period between 1984 and 1986 became the most popular music radio station in the UK. Laser was known for its fast paced format “you are never more than a minute away from music”, and exclusively employed American DJ’s, including some, like Charlie Wolf, who went on to become household names. It all sounded very glamorous, and nothing like any rather more staid British radio station of the period. Most listeners believed the story that the station was crewed and operated exclusively by Americans, and supplied from mainland Europe, and therefore operating completely legally. The reality was that whilst the broadcasters were nearly all US citizens, the station and the supplies all came covertly from the UK – the main supply point was at Herne Bay. The Laser ship was called the M.V Communicator – it was a converted Lowestoft hydrographic survey vessel originally named the Gardline Seeker. The work to convert the ship to a marine broadcasting station was carried out in Port Everglades in Florida – if you ever see a rerun of the Miami Vice episode “Phil the Shill” (the one that guest starred Phil Collins) there is a long aerial tracking shot of Crockett and Tubbs driving through Port Everglades – and the M.V Communicator can clearly be seen whilst it was being converted into a radio ship. When Laser 558 first came on air from the North Sea, the station tried using a novel wire antenna suspended from a helium balloon. Whoever thought of this idea clearly had no concept of the atrocious weather frequently experienced in the area. The strong, gusty and changeable winds soon destroyed the balloon antenna, and a conventional tower array was built to replace it. Laser quickly picked up a massive following in both the UK and Europe. Certainly, Laser's signal - and their following - reached into Holland, Belgium, and other Continental European countries. Laser 558's ship, the MV Communicator was anchored in the Knock Deep area of the Thames Estuary of the North Sea. The anchorage was approximately 3 miles off the Essex coast, not far from Harwich. It had a strong, loud signal on Medium Wave, it played far more music that BBC Radio One, and operated a format of top 40 pop and familiar oldies, played back to back. The sound was slick and very professional, and soon listeners started to defect from commercial local radio and BBC national stations to Laser. At this point the government became worried – they could not let this upstart pirate take all of their precious listeners from the BBC and ILR stations. Laser 558 claimed an audience of some 8,000,000 listeners and was seriously threatening the long established duopoly of the BBC and the IBA. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) started to take action against the station, firstly by advertising in specialist magazines to warn boat owners of the penalties of supplying "pirate" broadcasting ships. Notices began appearing around the British coastline warning not to supply the radio ships, though this was widely flouted. A ship called the Dioptric Surveyor was dispatched by the Department of Trade and Industry Radio Investigation Service to monitor both Laser 558 and Radio Caroline, in what became known as the “Eurosiege”. It was soon apparent that Laser, rather than Caroline was the real target. This was mainly due to the constant on air jibes and arch comments made by Laser DJ’s – most notably by Charlie Wolf, the station motor mouth, and at that time a serious rival in popularity to Radio 1's Steve Wright. Soon a spoof record was released called ”I Spy for the DTI” by the Moronic Surveyors (actually the Laser DJ’s) which got heavy play on Laser, and got into the lower reaches of the charts. In contrast, Radio Caroline continued in their policy of not annoying the authorities, and they carried on pretty much unmolested. Eventually a mixture of running low on supplies, bad weather (the M.V Communicator was not an ideal ship for the North Sea and its heavy swell – it rolled terribly due to its very high free board - the height of the hull out of the sea - unlike the Radio Caroline ship the M.V Ross Revenge – a massive, former ice breaking trawler (which was solid as a rock in rough seas), and a lack of advertising revenue caused the Laser crew to bring the ship in to port, under escort from the DTI. The other reason for the failure of Laser 558 was its management, which was pretty financially incompetent, and also a few suppliers that managed to con a large amount of cash out of the station for very little in return. The whole project lasted only around eighteen months, but it did massively shake up UK radio, which up until that time was legally restricted as to the amount of music it was allowed to play. The “needle time” rules dictated that fifty percent of broadcasting time had to be dedicated to speech; this was later relaxed when it was found that the audiences for Laser 558 were primarily attracted by the stations policy of “never more than a minute from music”. In contrast Radio Caroline continued at sea for another six years, which was when my own involvement with the station happened. Back when Laser and Caroline were both broadcasting to Northern Europe, I was still at school – I recall many occasions when there would be scuffles in the 6th form common room when some pupils wanted to listen to Laser 558 on the ancient valve radiogram we had, whilst I wanted to listen to Radio Caroline. Strangely I cannot recall anyone wanting to listen to BBC Radio One at the time. I think that just about says it all.

Last Wednesday I was sent the following request:- "URGENT HELP REQUIRED. The Bexley Historical Society will cease to exist in February 2025 if nobody comes forward to take on the running of the Society. Current Chairperson is stepping down after 20 years in the post and 2 of the other 3 committee members are also stepping down. This will leave only one person on the committee. At the A.G.M. in February 2024 one years notice was given to the Society that without volunteers to take over the running of the Society then we will wind up the Society at the next A.G.M. on the 18th of February 2025. The Bexley Historical Society has been running for over 70 years and it would cease to exist after all these years.  Please feel free to share this among all your friends and groups". You can read more about the society here.

I recently wrote a story abut the bus company Arriva have recently lost the contracts for Routes 99, 269 and 401, and the new operator which I believe is Go Ahead will have brand new electric buses from January 2025. It had been thought by some commentators that the new service might have been run using repurposed "Boris Buses" from central London, prior to the announcement that the new services would be all electric, but that has not proved to be the case. In fact, ‘Boris Buses’ may have only hit London’s roads 12 years ago, but newly re-elected Mayor Sadiq Khan has already ordered for them to be taken off the streets. Introduced when Boris Johnson was the London Mayor, the New Bus For London (NB4L), AKA the ‘Boris Bus’ was launched as a new version of the iconic Routemaster in 2012, costing the city £350 million. Sadiq wants to get the gas guzzlers off the roads, hoping to have to have all of London’s 8,600 buses powered by batteries or hydrogen by 2030. ‘By 2030, all the buses in London will be zero emission,’ Sadiq Khan said in an interview in The London Evening Standard. ‘Some may need to be retro-fitted but I think all will be new buses by 2030. It means any bus that is not zero emission will be off our streets by 2030.’ When the first NB4L arrived, Johnson called it ‘the cleanest, greenest bus on the streets of London by miles’. The fleet was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who was also the designer behind the London 2012 Olympic cauldron. But the buses soon faced criticism after passengers complained of unbearable heat onboard during the summer. Boris Buses then had to be retrofitted with opening windows. They are being replaced with new, all electric double decker buses. The Mayor just approved a deal between Go-Ahead Group (a UK transport company) and Chinese automaker BYD to build over 100 electric double-decker buses for London’s streets. Each of the buses will apparently cost around £400,000, which is supposedly around £100,000 cheaper than what can be offered by UK suppliers. The electric bus, called the BD11 has a total battery capacity of up to 532 kWh - the largest of any electric commercial vehicle currently available in the UK.  Usable capacity is pegged at 457 kWh, and although BYD has yet to confirm a range, it said the bus will travel more than 0.9 miles per kWh, suggesting a usable range of more than 400 miles. But as with its other electric buses, the BD11 will use a modular battery system so operators can alter it to fit the use profile of the vehicle. Most London buses travel between 100 and 200 miles a day. BYD touts the proven safety and durability credentials of its trademark Blade battery technology (as also deployed in its electric cars) as a key factor in the BD11's appeal, suggesting it can remain in operation for between 12 and 20 years. The fact that the company produces its batteries entirely in-house means that refurbishing the driveline of the BD11 will be much cheaper and more viable than if it had used a pack from a third-party supplier. The battery is a structural component of BYD's new e-Platform 3.0 commercial vehicle platform, which has positive implications for ride comfort and rigidity, BYD said. Other highlights of the platform include in-wheel motors – which maximise cabin space and help to facilitate an 8.0-metre turning radius – and standard-fit active suspension. Charging is possible at up to 500kW via a pantograph (overhead) connection - as already used at Bexleyheath bus garage, but conventional ports are fitted for conventional rapid charging in depots and at public stations - with the possibility to connect more than one charger at a time to boost speed. The deal is not without its controversy. According to newspaper City AM, back in 2021 the United Nations wrote to BYD stating it had ‘received information’ that the company’s supply chain involved ‘alleged forced labour, arbitrary detention and trafficking of Uyghur Muslims and other minority workers’. In response to that, TfL’s head of bus business development Tom Cunnington said: ‘We have been assured by the manufacturer that no unethical practices have taken place and would act immediately if provided with evidence to the contrary'.

In a report published online last week, researchers have discovered that electric vehicles are more likely to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian than a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have highlighted a worrying side effect of the electric vehicle revolution. As a pedestrian, you are twice as likely to be injured by an electric or hybrid car than by one with an internal combustion engine, according to a paper published in the BMJ Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, and three times more likely in cities and towns. The paper says this is "consistent with the theory that electric / hybrid vehicles are less audible to pedestrians in urban areas where background ambient noise levels are higher." The conclusion that "electric / hybrid cars pose greater risk to pedestrians than petrol / diesel cars in urban environments" was reached based on analysis of 32 billion miles of battery-powered car travel and 3 trillion miles of petrol and diesel car journeys in Britain between 2013 and 2017.  The reason generally seems to be that electric vehicles are too stealthy. Pedestrians, accustomed to the growl of a traditional engine, are often blissfully unaware of the near-silent approach of an electric car. Comments to me at

Last week I was contacted by a campaigner working to try and Save Crossness Nature Reserve. The campaign objectives are described thus:- "Crossness Nature Reserve is a 25.5-hectare reserve, part of the Erith Marshes and is a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. The site has been owned and managed by Thames Water since 1994, but if the scheme is approved Cory could compulsory purchase the land. Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve has over 600 members and many regulars visit its combination of dykes, reedbeds, fields and scrubland, people travel far to enjoy one of the best sites for wildlife in London Cory Energy who run the large waste incinerator next to Crossness Nature Reserve are currently constructing a second incinerator complex called Riverside Energy Park on their land immediately to the north of the reserve, with construction until at least 2026. They are now proposing to build a decarbonisation facility, a Carbon Capture Scheme (CCS) on the reserve itself with construction until at least 2030. The CCS seeks to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the waste incinerators, liquify it and then export it to a subterranean reservoir under the North Sea. There are alternative locations adjoining the site such as industrial storage areas nearby but they have chosen the nature reserve land. This development threatens waterways where Water Voles (Britain’s fastest declining mammal) live and where one of Britain’s rarest bees, the Shrill Carder Bee, is doing well, it is also where passage migrant birds Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat are frequently seen. The horses there are crucial for this grazing habitat, so building on the established stable paddocks damages the integrity of the marshes. These stables were built with public money, Crossness Nature Reserve also received substantial government funding via the Managing the Marshes project. The new development will also be abutting the West Paddock where there are breeding Lapwing, an overnight winter Dunlin roost, and the very rare Frog Rush plant. Cory is being misleading in suggesting they will increase the reserve habitat through mitigation / bio-offsetting. Regarding the claim that an ‘extended’ nature reserve will be provided, the reality is that Cory simply plan to make habitat enhancements to land that already exists for nature – the Peabody-owned Norman Road Field, already in place as mitigation for development impacts on the nearby Veridion Business Park. This area is already a haven for wildlife and does not need the removal of nature reserve land nearby for improvements to be made. A bird would only be experiencing a loss of habitat, not that these adjacent fields are now part of a reserve when they fly there!" You can discover more about the situation on the Save Crossness Nature Reserve website here

Last week I wrote an article on the sudden closure of the the 96 year old Erith Rugby Club. A few days after the piece was published, I received the following message from a long time Blog reader and occasional contributor named Alan, who wrote:- "Saddened to hear though, that Erith Rugby Club has folded, although I stopped playing/drinking there years ago. The fond memories I do have from my eleven seasons playing there, were that there was such a diverse cross section of the community, from General Managers at The Woolwich Equitable (5 in the country at that time), to Dustmen and all sorts in between, all with the same goal of winning and of course the after match festivities, especially if we won! Just before I joined it was called Old Erithians, and you had to have attended the grammar school to play at the club. That stuffy old school tie scenario rule still exists to this day, ask Genge & Sinckler who made it into the England set up. During my first season at Erith in 1977 at the ripe old age of 25 I went from the fourth team to the first team winning most improved player that year. I got the only thing I’d ever won in my life a pewter mug saying “most improved player” with my name spelt wrong. That was down to the fixture secretary, who didn’t agree with the selection of me going in the first team. I’ve held that against him ever since! During my time there 1977 to 1987 inclusive it was of course the amateur game, & you saw the same guys at other clubs year in, year out, still enjoying what was a great game. When rugby at that level turned professional, it was the start of the rot. Personally I threw the towel in aged 35, it was getting increasingly harder to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, not through drink I might add, (well maybe once or twice) but the position I played (second row) involved pushing the front row around the park for 80 minutes, and my back didn’t like it. Besides I was halfway through my fire brigade career and I wanted to see that pension, so something had to give. Yes lots of happy memories and friendships. Being local I still see some of the old and younger players. The guy I used to play second row with who now runs the Brewers in Brook Street (Les French) has inherited some of the furniture from the club for the pub, and I’ve heard there’s going to be a couple of free barrels of beer with a little bash for old players. I might just make myself available?"

The end video this week is a short aerial drone film of the exterior of the historic local stately home - Hall Place. Comments to me at

No comments:

Post a Comment