Archive for November, 2007

The Phantom is Away…

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Folks – I’m not going to be around for a couple of days. Don’t worry – posts will arrive “as if by magic” including where to find the weekend’s live advent windows (do let me know what you think of them) but in the meanwhile – a few things you shouldn’t miss this weekend even if I’m going to…

This afternoon (Friday 30th Nov) Greenwich’s Christmas lights will be lit and festive stuff will be going on all afternoon.

Tomorrow there are open studios at Cockpit Arts and Maze Hill Pottery and on Sunday there are Christmas Carols at East Greenwich Pleasaunce in the afternoon (3.00pm, if memory serves…) Also sees the launch of East Greenwich Traders Association’s website. It’s not up yet but will go live tomorrow with events around East Greenwich from 11.30am.

Right. I’m off. Normal service will resume on Monday, but in the meanwhile, let me know what the lights are like!

The Museum of Mr Cottingham

Friday, November 30th, 2007

The more I delve into dark corners of the Internet, the more peculiar the discoveries become. I can’t actually remember what I was trying to find when I came across an article from The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1851. It went on at length about the way that institutions such as The British Museum tended towards the more exotic artifacts – those of Rome, Egypt and Greece “and even the barbarous sculptures of nations less cultivated so long as they come from a distance” over English medieval sculpture and architecture.

It then went on to praise the private museum of a Mr Cottingham who had collected all kinds of medieval paraphernalia and put it on show to the public in his basement. The Gentleman’s Magazine was particularly upset because, since Cottingham’s demise, the collection wasn’t appealing enough to any ‘proper’ museum and it was to be sold off piecemeal – and probably dispersed.

It took me a fair amount of rootling around to find out who the hell this Mr Cottingham was, and there’s not much out there. But from what I can find, Lewis Nockalls Cottingham was a Regency architect who was responsible for most of the area around Vauxhall/Waterloo (now mainly demolished by Waterloo Station, WWII and sundry arterial roads.) He was fascinated by medieval art – and has been credited with being the herald to the Victorian Gothic Revival. He set up his museum in Waterloo Bridge Road, and it would seem that he was the Sir John Soane of his day – collecting stuff of no real interest to most, but of great importance to the bigger picture. Among his very odd collection featured sculptures, plaster casts and bits of old houses – including an entire Elizabethan ceiling – long before that kind of thing was thought of as worth saving.

So why is this of interest to us? Because, The Gentleman’s Magazine was firmly of the opinion that the collection should not be broken up, but should be moved wholesale to Greenwich Park. It argued that, much like the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, it could be moved to “a suburban locality.” Greenwich, it considered, was the best choice because of the “water access” but they weren’t bothered about the actual venue being particularly beautiful “for it requires no lordly building, but merely such shelter as is afforded by the terminus of a railway station” (mind you they knew how to build those then, too…) and since it was only going to be out of the way of gentlefolk, “a few well-lighted barns” would do.

Sadly Greenwich never got this cornucopia of capitols, canopies, fonts, piscinae etc. This was just before it was acceptable to move cultural things out of the centre of London (though only the following year, the beautiful Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park after The Great Exhibition, down to Sydenham.) The authorities just weren’t interested in saving Mr Cottingham’s Museum and despite public outcry (from what I can tell, it wasn’t just The Gentleman’s Magazine that was outraged) flogged the lot off by auction. One or two bits and bobs ended up in the V&A. The rest – heaven knows.

But this interests me is that it was perhaps the start of Greenwich’s magpie eye for taking other people’s leftovers. We like to collect things that don’t have a home. Only a couple of weeks ago, we had that cannon “back” that the Naval School didn’t need any more. We had The Gipsy Moth (even if we didn’t look after it and it was taken away from us) and The Cutty Sark (hmm – even if we don’t seem to have learned many lessons from looking after the Gipsy Moth…) Over at Ranger’s House, we’re being a bit more circumspect – the magnificent – if extremely weird – Wernher Collection does much the same thing as Cottingham’s, only with gold, silver and diamond knobs on – a collection without a home finally finding a little peace in a house without a collection.

By the way – did anyone ever hear whether we managed to adopt what was left of the Baltic Exchange (?) a couple of years back? It was mouldering in a junk yard and Greenwich Council offered to have it (though I don’t know what they were going to do with it. Perhaps Greenwich Council has a giant garden shed full of things that “might come in useful.”) Then it all went very quiet…

Family Pubs

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Folks – we just can’t get away from pubbery this week!

Tiffany asks:

Are there any proper pubs that don’t mind a quiet baby in the late afternoons/early evenings?

The Phantom replies:

This isn’t really one for me. I really need to hand this over to the parents who will have far more idea of good places…

Flamsteed’s Well

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

John Flamsteed was by all accounts A Grumpy Old Sod. Britain’s first Astronomer Royal might have been a mathematical genius, but stuck away in the Royal Observatory more or less on his own for years on end, being constantly freezing cold, having to stay up all night, being paid bugger-all and having to buy his equipment out of his own money made him generally hard work to be with.

On the other hand it did make him thrifty. And not only that, he was genuinely curious about the night sky and the wonders of the universe. He was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to find out more about the world – and because virtually everything to do with scientific instrumentation was still being invented, he was quite happy to look at everything around him with an improvisatory eye.

The Observatory had been built out of all kinds of bits and bobs – anything that Sir Christopher Wren could lay his hands on – from rubble purloined from the demolition of part of the Tower of London to whatever was left of poor old Duke Humphrey’s Tower (which is pretty much why it’s where it is – building on top of the old stronghold, one of Greenwich’s earliest brownfield sites, meant that there was less lugging heavy dressed stone around…)

Flamsteed realised that the longer he could get a telescope the better he’d be able to see the heavens, but then, as now, money for research was tight. He was very impressed with his mate Robert Hooke’s ingenious way of funding a telescope in the centre of London, by sneaking it into his design for The Monument in the early 1670s – the spiral staircase that winds around the outside meant that they could fit a giant telescope down the middle.

I find it hard to believe that Flamsteed actually went to the expense of digging a 100ft hole round the back of the Observatory for his own version in 1676 – but it would make perfect sense if he used Duke Humphrey’s old well for the job. Flamsteed installed 150 spiral steps all the way down, and put a dear little cupola top on it. He then put his telescope down it, the idea being he would lie on a mattress and peer through the pipe.

Sadly it was never much cop. I’m slowly beginning to understand why Flamsteed was such a miserable git. The telescope was really rather wobbly and even if it could be fixed it could only look at a tiny part of the sky. What’s worse was that lenses were pretty crude in those days too. It was abandoned almost immediately for other designs which presumably worked somewhat better.

The picture here is all that’s left of the well – for years it was covered completely – when A D Webster wrote about it in 1902 there was merely a pole marking its position.

A few years ago there was a small archaeological dig to uncover the well – but they didn’t get very far down through the rubble and detritus that had been used to fill it up before, presumably, the cash ran out for that particular project too. It is possible to at least see the top these days, though I’m not sure if the brick surround is original. I would love to see it uncovered just to a few feet down to give us some idea of what it would have been like, but as it is, it’s filled in with gravel these days.

La Fleur

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Royal Hill, SE10

I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before…

What a delight. I have been meaning to try La Fleur properly for ages – it just looked so lovely from the outside. But I always seemed to have just had a cup of tea (funny that – must be the proxmity of Royal Teas and Buenos Aires) and the most I have got around to was buying plants.

Walking past a few days ago, though, I just couldn’t resist the Christmas display (all white branches and clear sparkles against the pale sagey-green of the paintwork, with wonderful winter flowers – cyclamen, narcissus, holly and ivy) and just had to go in. I’m sure there are more tables and chairs in there since the last time I was there – I could have sworn there were only a couple of tables before. There are now at least four – though of course the tiny space itself hasn’t increased, and the jungle of ferns, palms and even a baby olive tree, its grey-silver leaves looking fabulous against the tasteful cream walls. Also looking great are the ‘gardening tools’ and coloured wellies hung as decoration in the few gaps left by the greenery.

The tables are suitably rustic – French style, which considering the French voices at the till while I was there (aha – those Holmesian deduction skills again) is hardly surprising. The service is incredibly friendly. I was hardly ordering a feast – a coffee and a tea – but the attention to detail to getting my order exactly to my taste was impressive. It’s amazing how much difference really good service makes – I just knew I was going to enjoy it when it arrived.

They do simple snacks too, and I fancied a cake, even though I knew I shouldn’t have one. My willpower is low at the best of times but even I was able to resist that day. Why? Because I can’t resist cakes if I see them, but I can resist description. They didn’t have sweeties on display so I had to ask about them. By the time they’d told me what cakes they had, I had regrouped and was able to say “no thank you I don’t really feel like it.” Almost convincingly. A bunch of antique glass cake stands on the dresser filled with exquisite dainties and covered with cloches would have made a sale out of me without a sweat.

But hey. I love this place and the experience, just with the beverages, was great.

I wanted to test the loos (as I always do) and was directed into the most beautiful, minute, private back yard imaginable. In it were a few more tables, nestling among yet more fernery – utterly delightful (though far too cold and wet at the moment, natch…) The loo (once I found it amongst all that greenery) was splendid – clean and bright.

They’re doing some rather charming Christmas decorations at the moment, which glitter and glimmer darkly in the shop, sparklies mixing with berries – very tasteful. And as for that dresser – there may not be any cakes on glass stands but they do have boxes of posh chocolates in holly-print boxes – very pretty.

The Phantom says check it out – possibly my fave place for afternoon tea – so far. I t could even become a Phantom favourite Haunt…

The Telegraph Inn?

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

We’re having a pub-sort of week here…

Geri asks:

I do genealogical research into my Newell family. I had a long ago relative that owned a place called “The Telegraph Inn” on Maidenstone Hill in Greenwich. Do you know if the building is still around, and/or if there is a pub or Inn there? I come to London every summer, and would go for a pint if it was there.

It’s at 1, Telegraph Place, Maidenstone Hill.

I was working on this “pub” part of my family into the wee hours of the morning, and have discovered there were 3 other pubs, with unknown names,but I have the addresses. Just on the off chance that you know something,I’ll give you the addresses. They are all in Greenwich, and all the pubs were owned by the Hanscomb family.

8 Bath Street
6 Straightsmouth
16 Langdale

The Phantom Replies:

Geri – I found the genealogical reference you did – and it says they were there by 1904 but I don’t know of anything like that there now. I actually went all the way along Maidenstone Hill this morning just in case I was wrong – but I can’t find any pub of any description – and nor can I find a Telegraph Place. There is a very odd bit of road where Maidenstone Hill seems to split into two and both bits seem to be called “Maidenstone Hill” – so maybe one of these was once your Telegraph Place. The nearest Telegraph Place I know of is in the Isle of Dogs.

It’s hardly surprising that the pub’s gone – they seem to be an endangered species nowadays – either being turned into flats or just bulldozed – as in the case of the poor old Penny Black a few months ago.

Even more embarrassing I don’t know of a Bath St in Greenwich, (it could have once been around the Georgian/Regency areas – Bath was very fashionable then) though I did find one pub called The Corner Pin and another called The Ironfounder Arms on Cold Bath St, which also seems to have disappeared.

Of course Langdale Road is still there. Off the top of my head and without taking another peek, I can’t instantly think of a pub on it. Straightsmouth has a lot of work going on at the moment (much redevelopment) but I can’t think of a pub on that road either. I have found in a 1934 listing online, a beer retailer (though whether an actual pub or just an offy isn’t clear) called George William Willis at Number 1 Straightsmouth, but after that my trail (like the beer) runs dry.

But I’m no expert. Does anyone have any extra clues for Geri?

Cosy Pubs

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Following on from yesterday’s discussion, Kelly asks:

Have you got any recommendations for a nice cosy traditional pub in Greenwich? I am looking for one where you can get really settled in for the afternoon/evening with a decent beer. We live in the Ashburnham Triangle and while the nearby pubs are great, they all seem to get modernised and seem to lose a bit of their character. We don’t mind travelling to get there either.

The Phantom replies:

Much as yesterday, I have to confess that I haven’t found a really old fashioned, traditional pub without a few modern tweaks in Greenwich. Many are perfectly cosy – The Ashburnham Arms, for example, near you, but many have been modernised to some extent. I was mildly impressed with The Kings Arms in King William Walk (though the service left something to be desired) and The Vanbrugh – though I have to admit that it took me about four attempts to visit there as it had such a ‘local pub for local people’ feel about it (ditto, actually, the Ashburnham. Neither are really cliquey – just a tiny tad.) The Cutty Sark is quite traditional in feel, as is The Plume of Feathers on Park Row, which, thinking about it, is probably my choice.

I guess part of the problem is the amount of money to be made from slot machines, Sky TV and jukeboxes. Many pubs have now installed squashy armchairs and low lighting – and there are even a few fireplaces being reinstalled – but the residual noise level is not conducive to real cosinesss.

Any more suggestions, folks?

Sunday Roasts

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Rach asks:

Just wondering if you have any recommendations for the best place in Greenwich for a sunday roast?

The Phantom replies:

If I’m absolutely honest I haven’t actually found the “ultimate” Sunday Roast in Greenwich, but opinions differ and I suspect we’ll have quite a few contributions from everyone on this one…

The King William Restaurant ( under The Painted Hall does a traditional Sunday Lunch, but, despite its being run by Leiths, it’s not my favourite. I keep meaning to try it again, as it’s a good venue and I can’t help thinking that it should be better than I have found in the past.

I was in The Vanbrugh yesterday lunchtime (full review to come at some point.) Their roast is quite respectable; the meat (several options) is well-sourced and you get a good plateful. I wasn’t completely wild about the potatoes – I like my spuds really crispy – but the Yorkshire pud was very good. Their Christmas menu looks appealing.

I haven’t actually tested The Guildford’s Sunday Roast but I have had other food from there (again – there’s a review to be had soon – I’m rather behind with posting at the moment) and I’ve been impressed with it.

SE10 ( lists Sunday Roast with all the trimmings, but I hesitate to recommend it as I had a very ho-hum experience last time I went (I haven’t tried the roast though – might actually be quite a triumph. It’s that sort of place.)

I do really like The Yacht ( though once again I haven’t actually tried their roast.

Ditto The Hill (there’s a review in the Eating Out section but even I can’t find it!!)

and The Ashburnham Arms (again – there’s a review in the Eating Out section – you’ll have to scroll down. I really need to sort this site out!!)

If you don’t mind driving, Danson Stables ( very ‘Sunday pub lunch-y’ – combine it with a visit to Danson House

If you’re just looking for Sunday lunch rather than a traditional roast, you could do a lot worse than Inside (

I now await with glee everyone else chipping in with their suggestions…

The Phantom’s Greenwich Christmas Gift Guide

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Good Lord. I just looked at the diary. There are less than five weeks to go before The Big Day and apart from booking panto tickets I’ve done nothing at all about it. Of course that’s not unusual – but I really want to avoid the stress that goes with Christmas Eve shoppery this year.

Despite the lights not being on yet at Greenwich Market (a good thing, natch – you’ll just have to wait until next Friday for that…) everything’s gone Christmas Mad. And as for the chain stores – you can’t go anywhere without acquiring one of those glossy gift supplements from stores with more money than originality, advertising the same old perfumes and tacky office toys.

But I’m now feeling left out. I too want to jump on the bandwagon and produce something bored people can flick through then immediately chuck away. So, in the absence of Old Phantom’s Greenwich Almanack, which, naturally, would have been the season’s best seller had I actually got around to producing it (like so many things on this site I haven’t actually done yet, blush) here’s my Greenwich gift guide.

I’ve tried to keep it as gifts with a local theme rather than just things you can buy here – for that I recommend just visiting Greenwich town centre (take some Prosac first, though, eh, if you’re going at a weekend…)

I haven’t included anything Greenwich-related for children as in my experience they don’t care about themes or provenance for gifts – quantity will always prevail (though if you’re really stuck, the puppet stall on Greenwich Market does delightful fingerbob sets of famous fairy tales including a particularly gruesome one of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. For older kids, I recommend, from Compendia’s current stock, Ticket To Ride (a great family game,) Labyrinth (the boardgame, not the puzzle,) Pueto Rico (for older, more mature kids) and as a stocking filler, Guillotine.) But onto the Greenwich Gifts…

1) Cutty Sark cuff links. In black and white, based on her own photos of the rigging. The same artist, Alison Wiffen, also does Observatory versions and a necklace based on a picture of the Cutty Sark’s prow. Red Door Gallery, Turnpin Lane. Check out Alison’s full range here

2) A limited edition Greenwich print from Greenwich Printmakers in the Market. The local ones tend to be grouped together near the desk.There are some great ones of Lovells Wharf just now – good for people who are just buying in the new developments.

3) Membership of Greenwich Picturehouse. A fab thing where it’s virtually impossible to lose money, but you still feel like you ‘belong…’ With your membership you get a number of ‘free’ tickets, plus invites to free screenings and the odd event.

4) Theatre of Wine own brand wine. They’ve been promising this for ages – if they still aren’t doing it yet, pester. In the absence of that, get some Flute Enchantee to drown your disappointment.

5) Blackheath and Environs, Neil Rhind. Available again after a hiatus of some years, this is one of those books that all local historians need. Highly scholarly, it’s not an ‘easy read’ as such – but very satisfying. I got my copy from Sisters and Daughters, Blackheath

6) Warren King’s superb Greenwich Calendar, in CD case form. Remember those pics of Squeeze I posted recently? They were by Warren King, who has created his own fabulous calendar. He told me he’s launching a website, but I can’t find it just now. However, I’ve seen these really rather splendid calendars in various places, including Red Door Gallery and even, believe it or not, Greenwich Post Office.

7) A Greenwich Clockmakers Clock – old fashioned style – some nicer than others. Personally I think they could have slightly higher production values, but they’re still very nice pieces and would make good, topical presents. Greenwich Market.

8) A Season Ticket for Greenwich Theatre. If last season was anything to go by, a bit of a curate’s egg of a gift – some shows were so great I wanted to go again instantly, others were really rather duff (I left one in the interval, another I would have left if it had had an interval – but that sort of doesn’t matter if you’re overall paying so little for a ticket (works out just over a tenner per show, if memory serves.) With its slightly chequered history, it’s important to support the theatre, even if not everything is to one’s personal taste. But as value for money goes, it’s great, and your recipient will have loads of nights out for a comparatively small outlay on your part…

9) An antique map from Warwick Leadlay Gallery. The real thing if you’re ultra-generous, a good quality print if you’re a little more strapped for cash. Several available from knowledgeable and helpful staff.

10) Greenwich Meantime Beer. Buy it from various outlets including The Cheeseboard. The alternative is a festive keg of whatever’s on ‘special’ from Zero Degrees in Montpelier Row, Blackheath.

11) A Fishmonger Ltd Apron – With a cool design by Paul McPherson in funky colours. From our very own local Fishmonger, of course…

12 A good book. If your recipient likes classics, try The Secret Agent. If they’re into more modern stuff, I enjoyed both Birdman and The Dead of Summer. Reviews of all of these can be found in the Books section.

13 A charitable donation. You could do a lot worse than helping out The Cutty Sark after her annus horribilis. Buy a nice Cutty Sark card from the shop and tell your nearest and dearest that they have adopted a plank. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And don’t forget to visit Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean photo exhibition at the Cutty Sark this week. To make a donation visit

14 Classic Paper Calendar with photographs by Fergus Noone. Traditional calendar with beautiful B&W photos in F.N’s inimitable style. Fergus Noone Gallery

15 Rosa Christopher Marlowe, David Austin roses. The gardener’s choice. A rose named for our local Elizabethan-playwright-who-died-in-suspicious-circumstances.

16 Membership of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society If you’re going to belong to any astronomy society anywhere, then surely Greenwich has to be the place. This active scientific society meets regularly at The Greenwich Observatory, has observation nights and talks by eminent astronomers. If you’re thinking of joining the friends of the NMM – remember that by joining the Flamsteed Astronomical Society you automatically become a friend of the Nmm.

17 DLR line Mug, “Cutty Sark for the Royal Observatory” from the new-look London Transport Museum. In turquoise, it’s part of a selection of mugs from famous parts of the LT network. View it herebut use buying one as an excuse for visiting the splendid new museum.

18 Prime Meridian T Shirt, If you can’t make it into Covent Garden, huff and puff your way up Observatory Hill to the Observatory shop for this most apt of Greenwich gifts instead. Or buy it online and save yourself the effort.

19 A Greenwich Fan, designed by Peter Kent. The Fan Museum shop has two different Greenwich designs on their website, but it’s such a terrible (very pretty, but terrible) page that I can’t work out whether they’re for general sale or not. They say they can do mail order – and then don’t actually tell you what they sell. But hey. Why not visit this jewel of a museum and check out their latest exhibition Winds of Change, or, after Dec 2, Celebrations and visit their delightful little shop at the same time. What they lack in web-savvy they more than make up for in charm…

20 Finally. My personal favourite – but you’ll have to get in there quick – A Private Christmas Cruise on a Greenwich Yacht. This is part of the Friends of East Greenwich Pleasaunce’s Blind Auction. Basically the treasurer of the FoEGP just happens to have a 26′ yacht and will skipper a group for a private trip up the Thames for the highest bidder. The auction will be officially held at the FoEGP Christmas Carol meet next Sunday Dec 2, but if you want to bid before that, email the friends(annoyingly I can’t find any details online…)

One last thing. Christmas cards. Good quality charity ones from St Alfeges Church, nice local versions from Warwick Leadlay, The Cutty Sark and Westcombe and Blackheath Societies.

BTW just out of interest, has anyone acquired any of those “mince pound” things yet? Apparently for every pound you spend in various places in Greenwich town centre you get a mince pound which can be exchanged for a pound off various entertainments in Greenwich. None of the places I’ve spent over ten quid at so far seemed to do them though.

"Carl I Have Your Robert Wyatt Albums…"

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

All, it appears, that is left of the Powder Monkey. A hastily-scribbled note with a hotmail address, sellotaped to the outside…

So. Is the Powder Monkey dead – or just very well closed during the day?