Dartford Waitrose closure

Dartford may well thrive again but a walk through the historic market town leaves the distinct impression that the decline is terminal. Arriving by train one of the first sights is the abandoned Waitrose supermarket, continue through the Orchard shopping centre where there appears to be more vacant than occupied shop units. It’s a ghost town with little footfall to boost sales for those shops still clinging on.

Orchard Shopping Mall Dartford

Lowfield Street is awaiting demolition. Notices on the hoardings all along the street proclaim to residents and visitors that “it’s been worth the wait” and “not long to wait”.

Lowfield Street Dartford

Well the townspeople of Dartford have been waiting eleven years for this planning scheme to come to fruition. A new Tesco is coming to town bringing jobs and affordable homes. It’s good to know that there will be new jobs for the many retail staff who have recently lost their jobs, but is this a net gain?

Lowfield Street Dartford

Most historic market towns celebrate their heritage and try to preserve their fine buildings. Now, not all market towns can be preserved in aspic like Stamford in Lincolnshire but most find a way of balancing new development with the old. The buddleia growing out of the decorative brickwork of the remaining heritage buildings doesn’t fill you with confidence about their preservation.

Lowfield Street Dartford

Can Tesco regenerate the town? At the turn of the millenium that may have looked like a possiblity but since then Tesco has been losing market share, austerity kicked in and people have changed their shopping habits. Architecturally it will do nothing to make the place worth visiting. Its neighbour upstream at Woolwich has been shortlisted for the carbuncle prize. The former chair of Planning at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Alex Grant, has stated that it’s a flawed project; a blight on the regeneration of the town and he regrets his role in its progeny. Oh dear it doesn’t bode well for Dartford.

Last Trams in Woolwich

Somewhere in Penhall Road Charlton there is a small replica of a London tramcar buried. A sign of remembrance for these much loved vehicles part of the London street scene since 1861. Rather than phasing out trams there was a final date – Last Tram Week 2nd July 1952. Tramway abandonment became a common phrase at the time as one Eltham resident explained to the Kentish Independent:

“In my opinion tramway abandonment is not a good policy, for no other vehicle can really replace a tram.”

He was not alone in this view, The Light Railway Transport League (formed 1939) proposed the retention of the London Tramway System modernising the transit system and better maintenance of the tramlines. The London Transport Executive refused to listen to the proposals and the tramway system was closed in its entirety. South East London would have been a very different place if the League’s proposals were accepted. The No 40 tramway ran from Plumstead Common to The Embankment and the No 46 from General Gordon Square to Cannon Street: commuter heaven. Woolwich would wait another fifty five years before they had a replacement rapid rail transit system.

Tram in Plumstead

Trams were to be replaced by buses which were thought to be more flexible and had the much lauded “internal combustion engine” as in 1952 no one had remotely thought of Peak Oil.
Londoners, were clearly fond of the trams. Thousands of people made sentimental last journeys collecting the last tickets as souvenirs. A crowd of 10-15,000 people waited at New Cross to see the last No 40 arrive at 12.29. A tram from Abbey Wood stopped at the Maybloom Club for a presentation to the driver and the conductor. The club had an extension until midnight and then the band turned out to play on the tram as it made its way to the breakers yard in Charlton. The Pearly Kings, not much seen on the streets of London now, were in on the act as well. They were busy in pubs and cafes across London making a “Farewell to the Trams” collection.

OldLathe

Whilst looking through some archival material about Charlton I came across this strange account of the Husbands’ Hostel in Picture Post December 1940. It did strike me as bizarre, a home for men left alone when their wives and children had been evacuated. It was opened by two sisters Mrs Davie and Nurse Conway who thought of the idea whilst sheltering from an air raid. Men and boys who were in reserve occupations needed practical support. They came up with the idea of providing board and lodgings for them. John West, a docker, was there with his 13 year old son who was a tea boy on the docks. Cyril Chambers a munitions worker at the Royal Arsenal moved into the home when his wife and baby were evacuated to Northampton.

The home catered for 24 men and was in a Large Georgian House 233 Charlton Lane. Close to Woolwich it was ideal for munitions workers and dockers who would walk through the foot tunnel. The house is no longer there.

John Davis, a rigger of heavy tackle on the docks described his journey into the home:

“When my missus went, her father cooked for me. The poor old boy did his best, but it wasn’t like the wife. Now I’ve had him looked after and I came on here.”

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The service included a comfortable bed, hot breakfast, packed lunch plus bread, cheese and cocoa for supper. The cost was 24/6d (twelve pence) per week. It made me think how difficult it would be for lone men working in the docks or the Royal Arsenal. First, they worked very long hours and shift work. There were no take-aways, fridges or microwaves so cooking a meal after a long back breaking shift would be a dismal prospect. Standard shopping hours (9 until 5) would also present a challenge as would the long queues created by rationing. So perhaps not as bizarre as I first thought.

ration_1389072c

The Hostel was supported by the Red Cross and Greenwich Council. Mrs Davie who was much appreciated by the men for her fine needlework skills particularly darning socks had this to say:

“What I can’t understand is why there aren’t more places like this”

This remained the only one in the country and clearly appreciated by the men who lived there.

The cast iron Solomnic columns - St Barnabas Church

The cast iron Solomnic columns – St Barnabas Church

I have a fascination for St Barnabas Church because it has been moved and rebuilt then bombed and rebuilt. It’s such a powerful symbol of resilience. With the decline of the Woolwich Royal Dockyard its Chapel fell into disuse from 1923. The Royal Arsenal workers who lived on the new Garden City Estate (later re-named the Progress Estate) had erected a wooden hut (1917) in Arbroath Road to use for church services. In 1932 it was decided to take the Dockyard Church building down and to re-erect it in a reduced form as the local church for the Progress Estate. It was reconsecrated as the Church of St Barnabas. During a bombing raid, March 1944, it was seriously damaged and only the walls were left standing. The church was repaired and re-dedicated in June 1957.

Restored St Barnabas Church Eltham

Now whilst I’m a fan I’ve been frustrated that the church has been closed when I visited. Well all that changed recently;there was a sandwich board outside the church inviting passers by in. I was greeted by Rev Steve Cook who on finding out about my interest in the church told me more.

Exposed Skidmore capitals

Exposed Skidmore capitals

The Church was designed by George Gilbert Scot who commissioned Skidmore of Coventry to do the ironwork. The cast iron columns were highly decorative with foliage patterns and topped with gilt edged capitals. Columns with this spiral shaft were known as Solomonic as legend has it that columns like these ornamented the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The St Barnabas columns were damaged in the bombing raid and have since been concealed all that is exposed is the capitals. The angels were a much later addition.

Hans Fiebusch mural

Hans Fiebusch mural

The apse of the church was painted by Hans Fiebusch who fled Jewish Persecution in Nazi Germany 1933 and settled in England. He became a member of the London Group in 1934 and regularly exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy. In 1944 he was commissioned to do a mural for the New Methodist Hall in Colliers Wood and this led to a long association with the Church of England. After the war he was commissioned by the Diocese of Southwark to undertake work in churches that had been damaged. The painting in St Barnabas has a central figure of God which is illuminated in an eerie light which reinforces the apocalyptic aspect of the scene. My visit reinforced my view that St Barnabas is a real Victorian Gothic gem in this part of London.

Abbey Physic Garden Faversham

I thought I knew Faversham quite well so was really surprised when I stumbled across The Abbey Physic Community Garden; and what a delight it was. There is a walled pathway that runs from the Parish Church of St Mary of Charity along the side of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School which I have walked several times before.

Faversham Physic Garden

I had noticed a door in the wall but this time it was open with a sign welcoming visitors into the Abbey Community Gardens. Set in the heart of Faversham it is a large walled garden teeming with people, wildlife, beds of herbs, vegetables and flowers.

Abbey Physic Garden Faversham

King Stephen and his queen Maud founded the abbey of St Saviour, Faversham in C12th and it remained open until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in C16th. Physic Gardens were a useful asset to a monastery infirmary and the monks would grow plants for their medicinal properties. Today, the charity that manage the site emphasise the therapeutic nature of the gardens. It is a Land Learning Centre with the Permaculture Association. Bill Mollison who first used the term permaculture describes it:

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system”.

Faversham Abbey Physic Garden

Looking around the garden you can sense this underlying philosophy. Its mission is to relieve the needs of disadvantaged groups by informal learning, meeting new friends or just enjoying the garden.

Abbey Physic Garden Faversham

The space of the garden is contained within ancient walls but with Tudor rooftops peaking above increasing the sense of a calmer period. This piece of sacred land has endured and is still providing healing to people who enter its walls.

The Autostacker

The Autostacker

The 60s may have been the period of “Peace and Love” but it was also a golden age of economic growth fuelled by advances in science and engineering. Harold Wilson’s White Heat of Technology speech captured the mood of the decade and Woolwich embraced it wholeheartedly. Since the founding of the Royal Academy 1720 and the opening of Woolwich Polytechnic (now Greenwich University) in 1890 the area had a long tradition in science and engineering. As Woolwich Borough Council was preparing to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 1961 what better way than to build an automated car park; the first in the World.

It was designed by J. A. Sterling who was responsible for building the longest Bailey Bridge in the World across the Rhine during the Second World War. He first thought of the automated car park when he was the General Manager of the United Africa Company and had to deal with fifty varieties of timber. It was difficult to get timber from the bottom of a pile so he set about experimenting with a Meccano set how to solve this problem. He used the same approach to designing the Autostacker. In fact, Meccano celebrated the opening of the Autostacker by making a scaled model.

Parking was fully automatic and carried out by remote control from a kiosk on the ground floor. The cars were transported mechanically at the turn of a key and the complete parking or collect cycle was planned to take a mere 50 seconds. There were eight floors each with a capacity for 32 cars. The official opening was 11th May 1961.

Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, accompanied by her husband The Right Honorable Anthony Armstrong Jones, were the guests of honor and there was a grand Civic Ceremony. At 3.50pm Princess Margaret, Councillor R B Shike The Leader of Woolwich Borough Council and other officials proceeded to the AutoStacker in Beresford Street. What a day in Woolwich, the crowds, the anticipation and later the embarrassment.

Princess Margaret was to park a van donated by Dagenham Motors for use in the meals on wheels service. There were 256 keys in the Control Panel each corresponding to a parking bay. With one turn of the key the automated process begins. Well, not in this case the key stuck and the van remained stationary, Princess Margaret was unable to park the car. In fact no-one managed to park a car as the facility was closed to the public until the “snagging problems” were ironed out. They never were and it was one mighty engineering failure. The Autostaker never did open and was demolished in 1965.

Short video of the Autostacker

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01bnyf4

Guest Post BK

The Tolly when it was a serious drinking establishment

The Tolly when it was a serious drinking establishment

My first two postings tracked my gradual disillusionment with the corporatisation of The Tolly. I think much of this can be put down to the transition of Youngs, the owners, from an independent brewer with a small chain of pubs in South London to a subsidiary of Charles Wells. Charles Wells now not only brew Young’s beer but also that of Courage and McEwan’s. However, this feeling is as nothing now that I have seen what is proposed for the future.

The Tolly has been closed for refurbishment since March. Details of what is planned have now been posted here.

The Tolly mood-board

I have studied Mood Boards (urrgh!) 1 & 2 with some difficulty as I have found it impossible to read the script; but essentially I think they propose to merge the public and lounge bars by knocking through the dividing wall at the Royal Hill end. A considerable loss of seating also seems to be involved. The area from the back of the current bar in the lounge to some distance into the garden will be a giant restaurant/conservatory. The whole lot will be kitted out from some central warehouse with all sorts of ersatz French shabby chic fixtures and fittings.

mood-board-2

The size and layout of the front bar, it only has two full size tables, seems to indicate that it isn’t really designed as a serious drinking establishment but is just some sort of holding area for the dining room which is where the real action will be. So, it looks like The Tolly will be a restaurant with a small bar attached.

What sort of a restaurant will it be? Young’s do a corporate menu of the usual pub standards; crab cakes, goats cheese tarts, battered fish and chips; bangers and mash and burgers. The sort of thing you can find anywhere. Perhaps the pub that The Tolly will most resemble would be somewhere like The Dulwich Woodhouse. However, there are two main problems if The Tolly is to make a success of being a successful purveyor of pub grub. First, it has very little passing trade and why should anybody want to make the journey; and second, it is next to impossible to park anywhere near in the day, and still difficult in the evening, again why should anybody make the effort.

Perhaps they hope to turn the old place into a gastropub with its own gourmet menu. The problem with this is that are already two such establishments, The Hill and The Prince Of Greenwich, within fifty yards, and also an artisan craft brewery/restaurant next door. Throw in the nearby North Pole, Davy’s and The Rivington and I reckon that Royal Hill needs another gastropub as much as Blackheath Village needs a new Estate Agent.

So, who will be flocking to dine in this wonderful new conservatory? Perhaps the new residents of the area’s rapidly proliferating luxury apartments will stop drinking their Sauvignon Blanc on their Juliet Balconies; abandon their Waitrose ready meals in their designer kitchens, and flood across Greenwich South Street. But this is unlikely, especially as most of them would find it a bit of a slog from Singapore or Hong Kong.

Is this the end of The Tolly? A corporate gastropub among so many others. What would Harry and John and their pickled eggs have made of it?

And can anybody explain the bicycle?

Previous Posts on The Tolly

http://thamesfacingeast.com/2013/06/01/the-tolly-a-memoir-and-some-history-part-1/

http://thamesfacingeast.com/2013/06/04/the-tolly-a-memoir-and-some-history-part-2/

Slip Cover Chatham Docks

Slip Cover Chatham Docks

There is something awe-inspiring standing in a big cavernous space with shafts of light penetrating from the roof. This isn’t a sacred place or even a royal place it is a place made by craftsmen for craftsmen. The Slip Covers at Chatham Docks are functional buildings of true beauty.

Slip Cover Chatham Dock

It was refreshing to read, earlier this year, that Simon Thurley the Chief Executive of English Heritage had identified the No 6 Slip Cover at Chatham Dockyard in his top ten best historic buildings. In fact, in list almost half of the buildings were from England’s Industrial Heritage.

Slip Cover Chatham Dock

Covers to ship-building dry docks were introduced to the Navy yards in the early C19th to stop the deterioration of wooden ships exposed to the rain and damp. Designed by the Royal Engineers these buildings pushed the boundaries of engineering and these were the first wide spanned structures in the World.

Splayed Scarf Joint

Stop Splayed Scarf Joint

The light pours into the building through roof spaces which allowed longer working days. In 1904 a mezzanine floor was added to create storage space but it does obscure the original lighting effect. From the mezzanine you can begin to get a sense of what it was like when it was a place of work.

Slip Cover Chatham Dock

The wooden structure of No 6 is worth exploring in some detail as many of the joints are so big and so unusual, such as the stop splayed scarf with folding wedges. The workers, who normally built the wooden boats, used their skills to craft this magnificent structure. In fact, the building does look like an upside down ship.

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The slip now houses a collection of heavy plant machines and lifeboats but the building is far more interesting than its contents.

Banks of the Darent

Banks of the Darent

Bank Holiday Monday and I realised that I’d missed the International Dawn Chorus Day. Well, I didn’t even know it existed until I switched on Radio 4 that morning to find out that it is held annually on the first Sunday in May. People are encouraged to rise early to listen to birdsong. Motivated, I planned a walk from Datford to Erith determined to listen more carefully to the birdsong.

Darent Valley Path

Darent Valley Path

The walk was along the Darent to the confluence with the Cray and then following the Cray as it flows into the Thames. My starting point was the railway station at Dartford then picking up the Darent Valley Path close to the Court House. Still in the heart of the town there was a coot’s nest in the river, an omen that this was going to be a good birdsong day. However, I could still hear the constant hum of the ringroad traffic and a distant radio helping the workers at Wickes get through a Bank Holiday shift. Momentarily I shifted focus from the birdsong to the abundance of wildflowers along the banks of the river: Native Geranium; Ragged Robin; Meadow Cranes Bill; Meadow Sweet; Vetch; waves of Cow Parsley interspersed with escaped Oil Seed Rape. Beyond the boundary of the town the sound of birdsong came to the fore again.
A bed of reeds was alive with the sound of birds: Robins, Blue Tits, Wrens, Warblers and the shrill sound of Black Caps.

View of the QE2 Bridge from the Darent Valley

View of the QE2 Bridge from the Darent Valley

In the distance the distinctive QE2 Bridge and the grey outline of massive distribution sheds. Still 160 square feet available for rent, the same as last time I passed this way. The switch to follow the Cray involves negotiating an unpromising stretch of the A206 the only interest being the dog roses on the side of the road. Beyond The Jolly Farmers, now another derelict pub up for sale, is the first section of the London Loop that follows the Cray to the Thames.

River Cray - London Loop

Banks of River Cray – London Loop

The first stretch is a post industrial waste land made more hazardous by the fierce looking and sounding scrap yard dogs. Cranes perched on the top of piles of earth adding to the apocalyptic feel of the place. Ten minutes brisk walk takes you beyond this and on to the estuary flat lands. On the west side of the river is a slight manmade hill of landfill with pipes, to release the methane gas, clearly visible. In the river are shell ducks but the birdsong is drowned out by a loud and constant drone of cross country motor cycles on the other side of the river.

Thames Estuary - R. Cray entering Thames
An interesting walk with lots of birdsong but not for those who want a more pastoral scene.

Guest Post by BK

May Day in Lewisham

May Day in Lewisham

May Day in England is celebrated with any number of customs and festivities. Although there is a great deal of regional difference they usually celebrate the return of spring and summer with the greenery and flowers of the countryside. The usual term for this was ‘going a-Maying’ or ‘bringing in the May’ and initially this involved people going out into the country and returning with flowers and blossom to decorate the home.

Perhaps the grandest example of going a-Maying occurred in 1515 when Henry VIII and Catherine Of Aragon took a trip out from Greenwich Palace to Shooters Hill. In an elaborate charade some of The King’s Archers had disguised themselves as Robin Hood and his Merry Men. After discharging their arrows over the heads of the Royal Party they ‘captured’ the King and Queen and took them to their lair. A bower decorated with flowers. After a feast of venison and wine the couple were returned. On their way back they were met by ladies on floral chariots who sang songs in their praise until they arrived back at Greenwich to be met by cheering crowds and, of course, another feast.

A local custom that is being revived in that of Jack In The Green. Jack appeared in many towns throughout England but was particularly strong in London. He was traditionally a chimney sweep. He was completely covered in a wicker frame from his feet to a point one or two feet over his head and the frame would be fully festooned with flowers and greenery. Jack would often be accompanied by a makeshift band to whose music he would dance around. He also often had a Queen, usually a milkmaid, and various princes and princesses; When the custom started in the late 1700s they would have been child sweeps. As this strangely dressed bunch paraded down the street banging cans and shovels they collected money to tide them over the summer when demand for sweeps slackened.

The custom appears to have survived to about World War One. It is well documented in Lewisham and there are photographs in the Library Archive. A diary entry says:

“May Day, 1894, at Lewisham. In the High Street we saw a Jack with a Queen Of The May, two maidens proper, a man dressed as a woman, and a man with a piano organ. The organ was playing a quick tune and the Queen and the maidens danced around the Jack. The man-woman sometimes danced with the maidens, turned wheels and collected the pence.”

The Jack was a bottle-shaped case covered with ivy leaves and surmounted by a crown of paper roses. The man-woman had a Holland dress, his face was blackened and he had a Zulu hat trimmed with red.

An effort is being made to revive the tradition and on May Day a parade will leave the Dog and Bell in Deptford at noon and arriving at the Ashburnham Arms in Greenwich at 17:00. Further details here:

http://www.deptford-jack.org.uk/

Another local custom was that couples who wished to have good fortune in conceiving a baby would copulate whilst rolling down the hill in Greenwich Park on May Morning. I have not heard of any proposals to reinstate this admirable custom.

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