Perhaps because of its close proximity to the A102(M) and the fact that if the wind is blowing the wrong way it can get a bit whiffy from the factories near the Blackwall Tunnel, East Greenwich sometimes gets a raw deal in the swank stakes. It doesn’t help that the old hospital – now demolished – was a total eyesore. All that’s left is a pathetic row of funeral parlours, an actually pretty decent florist (left over from the hospital’s glory days) a couple of filthy £1 shops, a cabbie’s and a rather good dry cleaners. Behind it all are blocks of council flats. There is a good “naïve” style mural on one wall venerating Sam Pepys who though he would have walked along this way would certainly never recognise it today. The close proximity to both Charlton and the motorway has also made this a favourite area for tool-hire shops – useful about once a year for those of us with a DIY urge, useless the rest of the time.
On the corner is a pub which mysteriously closed down as The Frog and Radiator then just as mysteriously reopened as the Ship and Billet. It looks rather smart actually – though I’m not convinced the clientele has changed. Only time will tell. The other pub, The Old Friends, very much of the old unreconstituted “boozer” school, always has ‘friendly’ messages chalked on the blackboard outside such as “England – Love it or Leave.” Still – anywhere which advertises the musical skills of ‘Roger Romantic’ can’t be all bad.
I’m not going to discuss the forthcoming lap-dancing club at the moment – except that when the Chinese restaurant at the Plaza closed I remember saying that “anything would be better than an empty shop.” Then we got a bookies and I said it couldn’t get any worse. Ahem…
Continuing along Woolwich Road towards the motorway, the gloom continues. “Glenister Green” – whatever visions of Eden that name implies – turns out to be a grotty bit of grass by some faceless modern houses. It’s been given the old hospital mural which should have improved it but somehow it’s still as grim as ever. Cutting the grass occasionally might help, I suppose, but frankly, I think it’s doomed. The fish shop isn’t bad – friendly, and with nicely greasy fry-ups – but it does feel very lonely perched there all alone.
It’s not helped by the proliferation of “luxury” flats that have sprung up in the last year or so. I mean – who the bloody hell needs a GATED COMMUNITY round here? I HATE gated communities with a vengeance – they closet themselves away from the people who already live there and give nothing to the actual community around them except some extra exhaust from their fancy cars’ fumes. Mind you, the bus stop is situated just outside several of their plate glass living room windows so they can’t FEEL very isolated, tee hee…
The shops get worse as you get further towards the main road – mainly dodgy takeaways or just completely closed down, the dead shop fronts grimy and unloved. What used to be an upmarket lingerie shop has now turned online, leaving the shop itself a mess of half opened brown boxes, piles of papers and grotty old computers – couldn’t they have at least advertised themselves with a little display? A photographer once had a shop along here – but even the dog-eared picture of Judi Dench clutching a cup of coffee has gone now. The Labour Party headquarters livens up once a week when Nick Raynsford has his surgery (though the last time we walked past on surgery night he was alone, with his feet up on the desk looking bored.)
There are plans afoot for this bit of road – which could be good – but only when we find out what is to happen to the old hospital site will we know whether we are to get anything worth having – or whether it will be yet more uninspired ‘luxury’ apartments. Shivas, the little mini-mart, has made an effort recently, and the Post Office looks like it’s getting a spruce up – but this could be such a great little parade if someone was prepared to take a chance and bring some little shops like those at the foot of Royal Hill. Daniel at Theatre of Wine tells me a wet fish shop may be moving in next door to them. I can only hope this will be the start of some REAL shops ariving – a bakers, perhaps, or a greengrocers, butchers – or, dare I say it – a branch of The Cheeseboard? I really think, with all the schools and nurseries around, there would be room for a little café too. Oh well – I can dream.
Thing is, I actually love East Greenwich. Once you get to know it, you start to become really fond of its funny little quirks. East Greenwich Library – a gift in 1906 by the American benefactor Andrew Carnegie is actually a beautiful little art nouveau building – now partially converted into a music college and therefore full of life and vitality. Try standing at the bus stop opposite and looking at the building next to it – an optical illusion makes it look flat like a film set which might amuse you while you wait for the 422. The old fire station behind it, now sadly a hotel of the variety which almost certainly doesn’t have a honeymoon suite, must have been utterly lovely once – and who knows – maybe it could be again, despite the fact that its best view is over the 102(M) flyover.
The streets around the southern part of the road, whilst not up to the grandness of Westcombe Park or West Greenwich, have a charm of their own and are generally well-looked after by people who care (there are a couple of examples of stunning architectural re-invention in Halstow Road – I don’t need to tell you where – you’ll find them.) There is a feeling of community and apart from the thundering skip lorries which use it as a rat run, the area is very quiet despite its proximity to a major road. Some of the roads backing onto the railway are really rather nice – and I’ve seen one or two properties in Annandale which border on the exquisite. Neighbours actually talk to each other and interesting things go on from time to time – not least centered around Halstow Road School, which is one of the best in the area.
Behind Annandale, Chevening and Halstow roads, there is a delightful little park called East Greenwich Pleasaunce. This used to be the overflow from the old Seaman’s cemetery and there are still around 3,000 seamen buried there, complete with graves covered in anchors and other seafaring memorabilia. But it is now a rather sweet park, which is used by the whole community, including children from nearby Halstow Road primary school, dog walkers – and me, once, in an (extremely short-lived) fit of enthusiasm for Keep Fit. There are gates in Chevening Road and at the top of Halstow Road, where a recent Section 106 agreement led to a new entrance.
South of Woolwich Road is Tunnel Avenue. This, I presume, is the old Tunnel approach road, and has some rather sweet, if a little bland, 1930s-style houses running along one side, and 1980s-style the other side. Halfway up Tunnel Avenue is a little walkway leading to a footbridge over the 102(M) to the Peninsula shops, aka Shopping Cart Valhalla – the place where trolleys go to die. There are always half a dozen waiting forlornly for passage into the next world (or Greenwich Peninsula Sainsburys, whichever is the quicker… ) You can get good views from the walkway.
What will ultimately make or break East Greenwich amounts to two things – what is going to happen to the old hospital as mentioned above – and whether the ludicrous plans for “traffic calming” which were revealed to interested citizens at one of those pointless “consultation” sessions we sometimes get ever get implemented. I won’t go into them – but basically I found myself, a generally calm, collected-ish individual wanting to hit the car-hating out-of-towner “expert” who had drawn up the ridiculous plans before not much of the evening was through. I wait with bated breath, and have, by the way, stopped attending ‘consultation’ sessions. That’s precisely what they are – consultation, nothing else. “They” tell us what they want to do, we tell them we don’t want it, they nod sagely with rather pitying looks at our imbecility and lack of understanding, then go ahead anyway.
Despite my rather bleak look at East Greenwich I wouldn’t live anywhere else. It is going to change a LOT in the next few years – but I suspect we will end up being a little haven of quiet between “Old” Greenwich and the Peninsula – and, of course, in pole-position between the two Olympic venues in Greenwich in 2012. So it’s not all gloom. Maybe I’ll get that cheese shop yet…