Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle

The path to Hadleigh Castle is uphill but well worth the slog as the view always take you by surprise and is heart stirring. Without doubt this is the best view on the estuary. The sky is big with the river and marsh land below stretching out along the horizon. The sun’s rays pierce the clouds and gild the river. The marshland still showing evidence of the heavy winter rainfall with swollen ponds. Look carefully and the river’s long history is revealed.

Hadleigh Castle Essex

From this vantage point invaders can be spotted from a long way. The remains of the ancient castle built in C13th a reminder of the strategic importance of high ground along the Thames’ banks. Built on unstable clay the signs of subsidy can still be detected on the ruins.

Danger sign Hadleigh Castle

To the east Southend’s pier extends far into the sea. In the C19th this was a favourite destination for day trippers from London, well for East Enders and became known as “Whitechapel-on-Sea”. The bulk of the excurtionists, according to Dickens (1880), would be children brought by their parson or Sunday school teacher. Their journey would be a steamboat from Fenchurch Street costing two old pence.

Over to the south you can see the North Kent Coast. Not the “Garden of England” landscape you normally associate with Kent but a place of river fogs, atmospheric marshland described so well by Dickens in Great Expectations. It’s also a place with a manufacturing past; gunpowder, cement and paper.

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A large skeletal pagoda dominates the riverscape to the east; LondonThames Gateway the new deep water port. It promises to restore London’s past glory as the centre of World Trade welcoming some of the biggest ships and creating new jobs in this part of Essex. Funded through investment from Dubai the project is set to de-stabalise industry in other parts of the country. The planned logistics park is dependent upon hauliers and distributors shifting their businesses from the Midlands. Felixstowe a deep water port on the East coast is set to lose out as is Thamesport. Readers may scratch their heads trying to remember the name Thamesport but back in the 1990s this was the new port on the block. It’s not visible from Hadleigh but on the Isle of Grain on the Kent side of the Thames. It’s so close it does make you question why another deep water port is needed.

Reference

Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames from Oxford to The Nore, 1880: An unconventional Handbook Issue 2

Royal Sea Bathing Hospital

Royal Sea Bathing Hospital

Margate is still waiting for the Bilbao effect to transform it to its former glory, but here and there are signs that the town is on the up – The Turner Contemporary, the old town and now The Royal Seabathing Hospital. (Previous post on Margate’s regeneration)

Views from the hospital

Views from the hospital

The old buildings which for so long were abandoned have had a face lift and repurposed into luxury seaside apartments.

Margate in the 1950s

Margate in the 1950s

Margate’s climate has much to do with its early success as a seaside town. This is how it was described in Ward Lock’s Illustrated Guide Books(1951):

“First among its natural assets is Margate’s unrivalled air, clear, invigorating and laden with ozone. All the winds except those from the south west blow as sea breezes, while the chalky soil absorbs moisture, so that the air has the same exhilarating effect as that of the Alps, intensified by the flavour of the sea.”

It was this reputation and an unquestionable belief in the curative properties of sea air that led to the foundation of The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital 1791. For two hundred years the hospital treated patients with tuberculosis and other diseases. The hospital closed in 1996 and photographs taken in 2005 can be found on Abandoned Britain.

MT. 233. Sea Bathing Hosp. 1913

The hospital was founded by John Coakley Lettsom a Quaker physician for London’s poor who would benefit from sun, sea and ozone. He was, however, lampooned:

“When my patients call on me,
I physic, bleed, and sweats ‘em;
Then if they choose to die,
Why, what care I, I Lettsom”.

The hospital was quite visionary and from the outset was designed with open arcased and verandas although it would be another century before open-air treatment for pulmonary TB was standard. Initially the hospital was only open during the summer months but in 1858 an indoor bath enabled the wards to be open all year round. Wards were only used for sleeping in during bad weather with beds more usually found on the verandah. Perhaps this is why London’s poor, not used to sleeping in the open air, questioned Dr Lettsom’s motivation.

Garden City for the munitions workers

Garden City for the munitions workers

A few years before the outbreak of World War 1 HG Wells had published his book The War in the Air (1907). For the workers toiling in the munitions factory in Woolwich the threat of an aerial bombardment seemed like a science fiction story rather than a real threat. Yet by 1915 the large looming Silver Fish in the sky, guided by the moonlit gilded Thames would wind their way to London. They knew that if they dropped their bombs before they reached the bulge in the river, Greenwich Peninsula, there was a chance they could hit the Royal Arsenal, so crucial to Britain’s war effort.

Damage from the air raid

Damage from the air raid

Munitions workers who had flocked to Woolwich to take up work in the Royal Arsenal soon had experience of the Zeppelin raids. There was an air attack on 25th August 1916 which damaged property in Dickson Road, Sandby Green and completely demolished a house in Well Hall Road all on the new Garden City Estate that had been built to house workers. Three members of the same family were killed. There was a further raid on September 3rd 1916.

Air raid 1st WW

The people were better prepared for the attack the following week. They were warned late on Saturday evening to leave their houses and move to open space. Crowds gathered on Woolwich Common as the search lights began looking for the incoming Zeppelin. The thin light of a Zepplin became visible and the gunners began their work. The Zepplin turned and was moving off and the guns stopped. The ship then became a mass of white flames. The crowd cheered, hugging one another and began singing Rule Britannia and Men of Harlech.

Woolwich, a military town, had many monuments of past conflicts and had within its community soldiers involved in those wars. However, this war was different as now civilians were the target. The Zeppelin raids were an object of contempt and became known as the “baby-killers”. The accounts of the raids in the local Kentish Independent fuelled this hatred with several mentions of the “Apostles of Kultur”. This is a reference to the belief that German “kultur” would spread to all countries across the globe. Little wonder the crowd found their patriotic voice.

Eifel Tower

Where better for an amateur flaneur to spend a few days than Paris. That little known gateway to the continent, Ebbsfleet International proved to be a real find. Fifteen minutes drive from SE London, easy parking and no queues; a dream start. The sun shone and walking conditions were good. Paris is considered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world characterised by tree lined streets with the majority of buildings being no more than six or seven storeys high.

Pleaching the trees

Pleaching the trees

A mix of art deco, art nouveau buildings with a few Baroque churches here there presents much to please the eye and no tall glazed curtain walls. There are modern buildings but they are sympathetic to their surroundings and don’t extend beyond the obligatory seven storeys. The exception is the Montparnasse Tower built on top of the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Paris Metro station which consists of 59 floors.

Art Nouveau doorway

Art Nouveau doorway

When the tower opened in 1973 it was surrounded with controversy and public outrage at such an ugly building spoiling the Parisian landscape. This resulted in city planners limiting the height of new buildings to 37 metres and banishing skyscrapers to nearby suburbs. Yes the Parisians can still make their voices heard and have an impact. More recent changes to planning regulations allows buildings up to 180 metres still considerably less than the Eifel Tower’s 324 metres. One benefit of the height restrictions is that the iconic sights such as the Eifel Tower and The Sacre Coeur have the same impact as when they were first built still domineering the cityscape.

Montparnasse Tower

Montparnasse Tower

The story of the Montpanasse Tower made be reflect on the high rise developments along the Thames. Public opinion certainly doesn’t seem to be able to stop their development in London not even the decisions by locally elected politicians can. Hertsmere Tower will be higher than Canary Wharf and will create 700 luxury apartments to appeal to the world’s hyper rich. Planning permission was turned down by Tower Hamlets Council in 2009 only be to overturned by Mayor Johnson some months later. Lewisham council turned down Hutchinson Whampoa’s , a Hong Kong based development company, plan to build 3,500 apartments including 3 towers rising to 48 storeys that does little to reflect or maintain the integrity of the historic Royal Deptford Dockyard site. The scheme is now being considered by Mayor Johnson. If I were a betting person I know where I would put my money.

Multi-billionaires and global corporations are investing in these luxury high rise constructions because they generate a high short term return. The schemes have little to do with the development of decent places for ordinary people to live and are destroying the social and physical fabric of London. These super high structures are not only a visible reminder of the increasing inequality gap between the very rich and the poor but between the very rich and everyone else.

Royal Dockyard Chapel Woolwich

Royal Dockyard Chapel Woolwich

Situated on the corner of a busy intersection of the Rochester Way and the South Circular Road in SE London is a remarkable building; St Barnabas Church. Remarkable because it was physically rebuilt brick by brick and then survived serious bomb damage in the Second World War.

2nd World War bomb damage

2nd World War bomb damage

St Barnabas started life as The Royal Woolwich Dockyard Chapel built in 1856-58 in the Early English Gothic style of red brick with black bands. Designed by George Gilbert Scott, who was one of the most prolific Victorian architects, and possibly the most unsung. He later went on to design the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station. So, St Barnabas is a real Victorian Gothic gem in this part of London.

By the 1860 the future of the Royal Dockyard was in doubt as it didn’t have the facilities to build ironclads. The future of the church was also uncertain and it closed for a period. From 1899-1923 it was adapted and used as the Royal Arsenal’s Ordnance Chapel but from 1923 it again fell into disuse.

The Garden City Estate

The Garden City Estate

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. An ingenious piece of recycling. 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.

Detail St Barnabas Church

Detail St Barnabas Church

The church’s current location, so close to the main busy road, makes it difficult to get a good view and a building designed for contemplation can be too easily overlooked. George Gilbert Scott was a devoted follower of that other Victorian architect Pugin and one of his buildings is close by, Sir Peter’s Church in Woolwich. It’s not easy to contemplate this building either as the carbuncle that is the new Tesco over-shadows it.

Frankie Howerd Community Hall

Frankie Howerd Community Hall

Next to St Barnabas is a community hall which is named after the comedian Frankie Howerd who was a former Sunday School Teacher at the Church. It’s said that the hall had a stage where he did his first performance.

Morden College

Morden College

Such was the social sensibilities of the C18th that no matter how wealthy a person was a fortune made in “trade” was frowned upon. This was the time of Jane Austen and the unfavourable position of “trade” in English society feature in many of her novels. In a small corner of Blackheath two important buildings have curious links with “trade”.

Rear view of Morden College

Rear view of Morden College

Tucked away in an incline in the south east corner of Blackheath is Morden College designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Built in 1695-1702 as Almshouses for “decayed Turkey Merchants” nothing to do with Christmas fowl but rather The Levant or Turkey Company. This was a chartered company formed in 1581 to regulate trade with Turkey and the Levant. A member of the Company was known as a Turkey Merchant. In the mid C17th John Morden was residing in Smyrna as a Turkey Merchant. There is an interesting story about the loss and recovery of his fortune which motivated him to build the almshouses.

Cuppola

Cuppola

The family were returning to live in England and Sir John shipped his merchandise on board three of his ships and sent them on a trading voyage after which they would proceed to London. Sir John and his family arrived safely in England to learn that the ships were missing. This loss plunged the family into poverty and Sir John was forced to work alongside a “tradesman”. For someone of his rank this was really demeaning and he was obliged to visit customers to get their orders.

Whilst waiting in the hall of a gentleman’s house he overheard an account of the arrival in the Port of London of three ships thought to have been lost for over ten years. He rushed to the docks to discover they were his ships. With his recovered wealth he commissioned Morden College to provide accommodation for merchants like himself who had fallen on hard times. It continues to provide this service for retired people who have been in a profession or trade. Statues the Founder and his wife, in decorative arches and flanked by scrolls, are above the main entrance.

Sir John Morden Walk is a public path running through the grounds that follows the course of the Upper Kidbrooke long since lost in a culvert. There are three boundary stones still visible demarcating the old parishes of Charlton, Kidbrooke and Blackheath a two dated 1890. Across from the college is The Paragon a significant and visible landmark on the heath.

Boundary between Blackheath & Charlton parishes

Boundary between Blackheath & Charlton parishes

The Paragon is a crescent of 14 semi-detached houses linked by single storey colonades. Built between 1795 and 1806 by John Cator and designed by Michael Searles. The houses were designed to attract wealthy merchants who wanted to leave the dirt and the noise of London behind. The leases were prohibitive and prevented anyone involved in the “art and mystery of trade” from renting them. The exclusion of tradesmen was successful and notable residents included; Quarles Harris the co-founder of The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Sir John Simon first officer for Health in the City of London and McGregor Laird the explorer.

Paragon

Paragon

But fortunes are won and lost and after the 1st World War the Paragon began to deteriorate as they became multiple occupancy, converted to boarding houses or hotels. Looking at these elegant houses it’s difficult to think that they were once thought to be “seedy”. During the 2nd World War they were severely damaged by bombs then later restored by the architect Charles Bernard Brown.

So there you have it two distinctive buildings one designed to house tradesmen and the other designed to keep them out.

Mass Grave Faversham

Mass Grave Faversham

The story of the tragedy of explosives workers of Faversham 1916 never made it into the newspapers of the day. In fact, it was kept a secret. On 2nd April 1916 there was a huge explosion that was heard as far away as Norwich and most of the coastal towns along the estuary. It resulted in 108 fatalities and 172 casualties.

FavershamMassGrave6Apr1916

Such was the extent of the disaster that a mass grave was dug for 69 of the victims in the the cemetery in Love Lane Faversham. Almost a hundred years later a visitor can still be overcome by the scale of the grave. The inscription reads:

“ Sacred to the memory of the men who died in the service of their country 2nd April 1916. Father in thy gracious keeping leave we now thy servants sleeping.”

No mention in the inscription of the accident because the country was plunged in the First World War and this was a military secret. At the time, there were many rumours about how a fire started in the Explosive’s Loading Company. One was that the fire had been started by a German spy. There was an official report of the accident by His Majesty’s Inspector of Explosives which concluded that a fire from a chimney spread to 15 tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate. Sadly, it also concluded that the supply of water hydrants and qualified firemen (they most certainly would have been men at this time) were insufficient. It also cited human error. A poignant reminder of war-time conditions when the country was desperate to increase the out-put of munitions badly needed on the front.

Gatehouse - Uplees Explosives works

The site of the explosion was at Uplees on the River Swale. It’s hard to believe that once, this isolated spot was once the centre of an explosives factory as much of this land has been returned to pasture. One isolated building remains which, according to contemporaneous maps, is likely to have been the gatehouse to the factory.

Oare Gunpowder Works

Oare Gunpowder Works

Close by is the Oare Gunpowder Works which dates back to the late C17th. It became part of the Nobel company in he 1920s later renamed Imperial Chemical Industries. It closed in 1934 and many of the buildings were demolished.

Oare Gunpowder Works

Some of the machinery was moved to Ardeer in Ayrshire in Scotland. Now it is a country park that has a heritage trail that take you around the remains of the buildings.

Anthony Gormley sculpture

Woolwich Royal Arsenal is now is a residential complex with its fare share of luxury apartments with riverside views, anxiously awaiting the opening of Crossrail to boost prices even more. It dates back to the C17th and has a remarkable number of listed industrial buildings. Over 20 Grade 1 and 2 buildings now refurbished into apartments. It’s difficult to imagine that towards the end of the C19th this was one of the world’s largest heavy plants manufacturing arms. During the First World War that it went through a massive expansion.

Munitions workers

Munitions workers

War on an industrial scale required a lot more ammunition. Lloyd George stated that during the fortnight of fighting in and around Neuve Chapelle almost as much ammunition was spent by the artillery as during the whole of the two and half years of the Boer War. The Royal Arsenal needed more workers. By January 2015 there were 30,000 rising to 75,000 in 1917. Of these 28,000 workers were women. The expanding workforce came from all parts of the country and needed somewhere to live. In the Kentish Independent May 1915 a local doctor wrote about the health risks of overcrowding with many families taking up to 8 lodgers in their modest artisan dwellings.

A new Garden City opened in 1916 with an additional 1200 homes but this still didn’t meet the demand. From January 1916 the building works department of the Royal Arsenal began erecting “hutments” in Eltham and along Wickham Lane in Plumstead.

Hutements

Hutments

Work in the Royal Arsenal was hard and dangerous. Men worked up to 96 hours a week. Medical advice to them included taking a bowl of beef broth on arrival home, a sponge down followed by a quiet rest and a smoke!

Women from the Shell shop

Women from the Shell shop

Working class women had always done paid employment but now they had to replace men in heavy industry working twelve hours including night shift. They became known as “munitionettes”. Its a wonder how they had the time to form bands like this one – The Jolly Boys Concert Party.

Jolly Boys Concert Party

Jolly Boys Concert Party

In 1916 Cyril Henry Nursery School was founded as a Day and Night Nursery for children of local munitions workers in the Royal Arsenal. The nursery was funded by Lady Julia Henry, in memory of her only son who was killed in the war. The work of the nursery was depicted in a painting by Sir John Lavery, a Ist World War artist, and is currently on display at Royal Chatham Dockyards. The nursery was merged with Mulgrave Primary school after the Second World War. The original wooden nursery building was demolished.

Geffrye Museum

Geffrye Museum

I have fond memories of Hackney having worked there in the 1990s. Back then it was a place of intrigue, tension and controversy. The place has changed a lot since then but there are still tensions. Recently, a plan to knock down the Marquis of Lansdowne pub to make way for an extension of the Geffrye museum met with community outcry. The former almshouses in Kingsland Road were converted into a museum in 1914 devoted to the history of domestic interiors. Well actually the interiors of the middle classes and now the museum wanted to demolish that symbol of working class culture, the pub. The pub survived.

One of the interiors from Geffrye Museum

One of the interiors from Geffrye Museum

The original fourteen almshouses were built for ironmongers widows in 1715 by Sir Robert Geffrye a former Lord Mayor and Master of the Ironmongers company. Set back from the road by a courtyard with trees it has an almost rural atmosphere. Across the road is the post war Geffrye Estate and around the corner are some very grand Georgian terraces. It’s one of those places that reflect all that’s good in London, a rich mix of the old and new, the have and have nots and the different ethnic groups.

Geffrye Estate

Geffrye Estate

But all is not well; there are so few affordable homes here and in the new developments along the river ordinary Londoners are, in effect, being pushed out. The social fabric is changing and not for the better. It’s London’s modern version of the Highland Clearances.

Arnold Circus

Arnold Circus

A walk down Columbia Road when there isn’t a flower market is a very different experience. It’s the first time I had really noticed the primary school and the noise of children playing. The street made up of artisan terraced dwellings is bordered with Guinness Trust buildings. The trust was formed in 1890 by Sir Edward Guinness to provide housing for the urban poor. This is no longer a place for that group. A two bedroom apartment in this part of town will cost about £500k; flats in the Geffrye Estate are marginally less. Well on to Arnold Circus, the country’s first council estate opened 1896.

Graffiti close to Arnold Circus

The artwork on the walls leading to the estate is a clue that this is now a place for creatives. Tenements radiate from a central elevated circus. A group of very fit people occupied this focal point following instructions from their personal trainer. Even on a grey February day the trees on either side of the streets add a pastoral quality. Specialist unique shops, bars and restaurants add the air of wealth. This East End area is now unaffordable for the majority of Londoners.

Garden City

Garden City

The outbreak of the First World War created a huge demand for labour in the Royal Woolwich Arsenal. One of the great achievements in South East London was that a Garden City, for the new workforce, was built within ten months. Work started on 8th February and was completed in December 1915. Amazing, 1298 homes were built in this short period and there were two strikes to contend with as well. In May two thousand labourers downed tools demanding parity with scaffolders who were paid half penny more per hour. In August three thousand men went on strike because of an unpopular manager. Today, it’s difficult to comprehend such large workforces.

The estate was built on either side of Woolwich Lane which was latter re-named Well Hall Road. Even when the country was facing unprecedented adversity care was given into the design and build of the homes. The “garden city” design meant that open spaces were incorporated into the design and trees retained. Houses and flats were designed in terraces of four or six with gardens; no two houses were designed to be the same.

Communal Village Green

Communal Village Green

On 24th March 1916 Queen Mary visited the Garden City. Her first call was to Mrs Mabb in Broughton Road (re-named Rochester Way) and she told the Queen that she was very happy with her new home but would be much happier when the war was over. The Queen also visited Mr and Mrs Faulkner who lived in Well Hall Road. It was reported in the local newspaper, at the time, that the Queen had “nothing but praise for what she saw” and commented upon the “lovely gardens”. In the afternoon the Queen went on to inspect the canteen at the Royal Arsenal.

DSCN1739

The Great War may have been destructive but one of its local legacies was a well designed and built estate for local workers. It was re-named The Progress Estate in 1925 when the Government sold it to the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. It is now a conservation area with the integrity of the original design maintained. The names of the roads are intesesting as some have names linked to munitions production such as Congreve and Shrapnel. Others named after managers at the Royal Arsenal; Moira, Ross and Downman. Work in munitons was hard graft with very long hours. I’m not sure what the workers thought about the continual reminder of both their work and overseers. The “village greens” are more lyrical named after the painter Paul Sandby who was drawing master at the Royal Academy and C17th poet Richard Lovelace who was born in Woolwich.

Cottage style house on the Progress Estate

Today Cottage style house on the Progress Estate

Last year one of the estate’s historic road signs went missing causing concern with local residents. It was returned a couple of days later in a much improved condition. A resident thought it needed restoring so just got on with the job. Good to know that the design still promotes pride in the environment and a sense of community.

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