Archive for January, 2008


Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Mark asks:

Have planes been rerouted over Greenwich? I can’t recall so much traffic and noise.

The Phantom replies:

I don’t know about any rerouting of aeroplanes, but a friend of mine who flys helicopters tells me that this area is where they are held in a holding pattern before they’re allowed to fly over Central London, which is why we get so many helicopters, chinooks etc.

There could be a little more traffic due to that crash in Heathrow a week or so ago. One of the bays is, I believe, out of action, which means more circling for waiting aircraft.

Phantom Webmaster, P.I.

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

It was a January afternoon so cold it would knock the scroll out of William IV’s hand. I’d been hanging around the offices of the local beak, hoping to get a tip-off that would pay the rent for the next seven days. It had been a tough week. Georgie the Ice Cream Vendor was looking at 15 years in the cooler. My best stoolie had taken a ride to Belmarsh, Shiny-Boy Stone had taken a ride to Charlton Cemetery and Yours Truly was taking a ride up Deptford Creek without a clue.

I remember the dame as if it were yesterday. I arrived back at the office soaked to the skin and shivering, my battered Homburg wetter than a Greenwich Council lapdancer-club rejection. She was silhouetted against the broken Venetian blind, all sharp suit and peek-a-boo hair. Suddenly it was August. I swallowed.

“Take a seat, Miss, er-”

“No names, Mr Webmaster. It’s safer that way.” Her steady gaze travelled down my kipper tie and fixed itself on the soup stain I’d hoped was hidden by the jazzy pin Johnny Rocket told me was in that season. “Tomato?”

“Mock Turtle,” I brazened.

“How would you like to make it real turtle, Mr Webmaster?”

“Would you be serving it?”

Her look was ice. Back to January again. “I need to find a man, Mr Webmaster.”

I ignored the obvious double entendre and cut to the chase. “Where did you last see him?”

“In a bookshop in Canterbury He wasn’t looking so good.”

“So. You go there, pick him up and cart him to QEH emergency room. I don’t see where I come-”

“He’s dead, Mr Webmaster.”

Things were looking up. I smelled a job. “So you want me to find the hood who did it? I don’t come cheap, I’ll tell you now.”

“Mr Webmaster – I’ve seen your tie. If you came any cheaper you’d be the architect for the Heart of East Greenwich. I need to know when he died. My associate will be pleased to pay the going rate for the information.”

“And who exactly is your associate?”

“Oh Mr Webmaster, I’m sure you understand I can’t reveal such -” she slipped her hand inside her purse, looked me in the eye and purred “-such sensitive information. Maybe this will help you come to a decision…”

My jaded eye scanned the wedge of notes she had pulled from the handbag, lingered momentarily on the M1911 nestled between the scarlet lipstick and powder compact, then travelled back to the cash. Enough dough for a slap-up and a marguerita at The Alamo. With a paper umbrella. And a cherry.

“You’ve got yourself a deal, Lady.”


While The Phantom’s gadding about Greenwich in swirling cape and mask, The Phantom Webmaster is far more likely to be spotted in a dirty mac and gum shoes, talking in pithy, hard-bolied Chandler-esque. All I did was mention I was trying to find John M. Stone, to see if I was ok to reprint his wonderful lecture notes so it would be available again, and wham. Within a couple of hours, the PW had found pretty much everything there was to know about the guy.

Scary stalker/sniffer-dog qualities aside, I’m seriously impressed. And have ascertained, thanks to TPW, that, in copyright-years at least, I’m safe to reprint. I have to do a little more sleuthing to just make sure, but in the meanwhile, both I and TPW are on the case….

The Underground Passages, Caverns &c., of Greenwich and Blackheath could well be available again soon…

The Plume of Feathers

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Park Vista, SE10

This must be one of the oldest pubs in Greenwich. It dates back to 1691 – I’m not sure how much of it is actually from 1691, and how much is from the refit in George III’s time but it certainly looks old, with its green tiled walls and low-lying feel and what’s great is that it’s still a cosy, popular pub, but being set just that little bit off the tourist trail, business tends to be 90% locals despite its being opposite the Park.

Well, ok, maybe not quite opposite the Park. The Dwarf Orchard (for another day…) gets in the way, its tall sycamores (read “weed trees” but don’t get me started on that one) looming over that intriguing Secret Garden wall, and keeping the Plume of Feathers’ country-in-the-city feel.

Not that it always had such a grand name – it was at first, just The Feathers. It only became The Plume of Feathers in the Regency. I haven’t read this anywhere, but it does occur to me that maybe it was in honour of the Prince Regent, who was also Prince of Wales. If it was it would have driven poor Caroline of Brunswick potty – she was a local and by that time very much estranged from Prince George.

The old pub’s dissected by the Meridian Line – a complete coincidence since the ML is a much younger feature. I’ve never noticed the metal strip I hear marks it outside – I’m always too busy crashing my way towards (or from, ahem,) the low, dark door, but I shall definitely (possibly) look out for it in future.

There’s a great history of the place here, so I won’t bore you with any more detail and instead I’ll just move onto what it’s like now…

What I love about the Plume of Feathers is that it’s cosy in winter and fresh in summer. I love sitting outside with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Those straight, no-nonsense benches are perfect for the age and style of the pub – any other kind of seating would be wrong – and though the garden out back’s lovely, I would still choose to sit on the street if there’s a bench available.

Inside is like your gran’s parlour. Actually, I say that, but many grans are quite funky these days. Strike that. Inside is more like one of those pubs you hope to encounter after a day’s hiking on the Yorkshire Moors and that really only occur in am-dram whodunnits. Low-ceilinged, low-lit, low prices. I may be lying about the last one. Squirly, trifle-topping artex walls are covered with pictures of old Greenwich – many of the Plume itself – and strange glass cases filled with olde-worlde nonsense and which are just perfect for the situation.

Little wall-lights with tassel-trimming and thick curtains are just part of the reason I love the pub in winter, The two open fires are another part. But what I really love is the welcome. Everyone is nice (well – I’ve never known anything else.) The staff are friendly and chatty but not overbearing or worse, too chummy, and even if there are things ‘off’ the menu (a regular occurrence – it’s a popular place) the way they tell you is so charming you can’t be frustrated.

And that brings me to the back, restaurant area. Wooden panels and open fire, thick curtains and candlelight – winter is definitely the best time to eat here (unless it’s nice enough to eat in the garden of course.) I’m told they do a mean roast, but I’ve not tried it. The regular menu is very good – basic, no-nonsense pub food – fish & chips, pies and “famous-burgers.” The wine list is not bad, and there is plenty of real ale choice. Don’t miss my favourite picture on the wall – a cartoon of the Plume including, Dionysus, Sappho, Argos, Pan and, ‘customers…’ Oh – and the loos have pictures of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Ahhh….

I read on one website that the Plume of Feathers has a ghost – a friendly old gent who sits in the window and raises his glass to you before disappearing. True? Who can tell. It’s amazing what you see after a few glasses…

Squeaky-Clean Phantom

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Showing off a little here, guys. I’ve been invited to be immortalised by the British Library’s web-archiving scheme – which seems pretty cool to me. It means that they take periodic ‘snapshots’ of the blog to save for the future.

Thing is, I have to sign (well, anonymously-sign, which I am surprised but pleased is allowed) a document to say that I either own copyright or have cleared copyright for stuff I use on the site. Most of this is easy – I write the copy and take the pictures, but I’ve been going through old posts removing images that might even whiff of ‘copyright-iffy’ and checking with odd people whose work I’ve used to make sure they’re ok with being associated with me in the archive (for example ScaredOfChives’s one-off piece about the Arsenal Football Club.) If I’ve missed anything do let me know.

In the meanwhile, in the future, if you send something to me, I will assume I can use it in the blog unless you say it’s just for my eyes, in which case I will, of course respect your wishes.

Sorry for the dull post. It was supposed to be a “Whoo-hoo! I’m going to be in the British Library!” entry and ended up being a really tedious downer about copyright…


Underground Greenwich (5) The Stock Well

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

I am probably disproportionally excited today, folks, as one particular Very Long Search has ended for me. A tiny pamphlet has just arrived by registered mail, from an obscure bookshop in god-knows-where, stiffened by a piece of broken board from some long-dead hardback, and it has quickened my heart.

Perhaps one or two of you will already have this slim volume, but judging from the fun and games I had trying to get hold of a copy, the chances are it won’t be on many people’s bookshelves.

The Underground Passages, Caverns &c., of Greenwich and Blackheath, is the lecture notes from a talk given by John M Stone, MA, before The Greenwich Antiquarian Society on the 26th February 1914.” No prizes for guessing the content.

I’m only a few pages in but already I’m learning fabulous new stuff. Not least that it was more or less a jolly jaunt for people to ramble in and around the various conduits of Crooms Hill, Greenwich Park and pretty much everywhere else in Edwardian times – albeit coupled with an “unpleasant feeling of going down into a grave as you descend through a hole in the grass” where “many ladies visiting the place for the first time have to repress an inclination to scream…”


I’m learning about all kinds of underground places in the area I didn’t even know about but the most pressing so far ( just 7 pages in), given the imminent development in the area, is the old Stock Well. It was, of course, given the name, at the bottom of Crooms Hill, around the end of Nevada St, where it becomes Stockwell St.

This ancient well was already established in Duke Humphrey’s time. Humph had to get a Royal Licence in 1434 to run a conduit from there to his new gaff in the park because it would cross under the King’s Highway and there weren’t any statutory rights for utilities companies to dig up roads whenever they liked in those days.

The well was, by all accounts, the principle source of water for Greenwich – it seems The Point was honeycombed with little springs which filtered down towards the river. The water was helped on its way by a conduit which twists and turns underground – but which, if you lay a plan of it on top of an Ordnance Survey map, makes sense – it follows the ancient road. (It’s not, apparently, the oldest conduit in Greenwich, but I haven’t read that bit properly yet. I’m like a kid in Mr Humbug’s shop right now…)

There exists a rather indistinct map from 1777 that implies the position “within a foot” of a pump which was probably the Stock Well, and what John Stone says next is, I think, quite pertinent to the major development to come. He writes:

“I trust that should opportunity occur it may some day be opened up. Think what archaeological treasures may there be reposing at the bottom of the well, dropped down from the earliest days of Greenwich in the daily and hourly user of the inhabitants through many centuries, and what chapters of local history might be opened up, could they be recovered.”

Now, I don’t know. Nearly 100 years have elapsed since this was written – and it’s possible that this has already been done. If so I haven’t heard of it. Maybe someone can set me right. But if it hasn’t, surely the new building around there that’s just about to come would provide an excellent excuse for a dig? And I’m sure, given the amount of times Thames Water have dug and re dug that bloomin’ road recently, could there be a little extra excavation next time there’s a suitable hole? A Section 106 project for the new developers, perhaps?

Actually, reading on, it’s possible that the pump is underneath the theatre (called The Hippodrome in 1914.) I can’t quite tell. That would make it next to the old Rose & Crown and almost opposite the Spread Eagle, slightly away from where the development is due to take place. But even so, it would be worth the developers being made aware that there is a possible ancient tunnel, maybe paved and walled in brick to look out for. Since this is such an old, old part of Greenwich, perhaps they should be employing an archaeologist on site anyway.

But I digress. I am a giddy Phantom today, hardly able to concentrate for all the goodies to discover in this floppy little pamphlet.

I’m reading on with a greedy eye. Some of this stuff is eye-popping (a comment I made in jest a few weeks ago, enjoying a flippant flight of fancy, seems to be rather nearer the truth than I had originally thought…) More gems from this fantastic new (old) source another day…

More on the Clocktower…

Monday, January 28th, 2008

The latest in my quest to get buildings opened for Open House Day. I’ve had a reply from the guy at the Council who looks after such things, and has sent me the following:

The clock tower of Meridian House does indeed contain a viewing gallery with panoramic views .It was built (by Clifford Culpin & Partners) as part of the old town hall in 1937, seemingly for public access to view the Royal Naval College and the Thames.It must have been quite a sight with all the river traffic that existed then.

Such access ceased when the building was sold after the move by LB Greenwich to Woolwich.I saw the room in 1999 when the Greenwich Development Agency funded the repair of the clock. Following this I looked into the possibility of reviving public access but to no avail. It appeared that the room was on a sub-lease although not actually used. Access internally is an issue(I climbed in from the scaffolding!)

So. It sounds as though it’s going to be a bit of a (literal) uphill struggle. But I’m not done yet. Watch this space.

A Celebration of the Life of Joshua Beasley

Monday, January 28th, 2008

I just got this from Josh’s family – and thought I’d pass it on.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people in the local community who helped in the search for Josh by putting up posters, distributing flyers, appealing for information, talking to friends, family, colleagues and others, or simply wishing us well.

There will be an event to celebrate Joshua’s life on Friday 29th February at Blackheath Halls, between 5pm – 7pm. This event is open to anyone who would like to come along and pay his or her respects and celebrate Joshua’s life.

The flowers we have received for Josh are greatly appreciated, however if you would like to make a lasting contribution to Josh’s memory we have chosen two charities and organised for donations to be collected and given in his name. The charities are, The National Youth Theatre and Missing People. Cheques should be made payable to ‘National Youth Theatre’ and / or ‘Missing People’. And should be sent to:

Co-operative Funeralcare
Donation for Joshua Beasley
172 Well Hall Road
London SE9 6SR

Co-operative Funeralcare will collect and collate all donations for up to four weeks after the funeral.

With best wishes,

Paul, Ruth and Rowan

The Blackheath Tea Hut

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Or, The Phantom Jumps Down Off The Fence

I’ve been meaning to write about the most controversial greasy spoon in Greenwich (well, ok, on the border) for some time, but the catalyst has definitely been Alexandra Moskalenko’s documentary Tea Time, which has just come out on DVD and which will enjoy a screening at the Picturehouse on Feb 3rd.

It’s a charming little docco – made by Moskalenko over four years, but actually covering the life of the hut during the span of one. What makes it such a fascinating subject is that it’s open 24 hours a day, on the most windswept part of the heath, and yet it still attracts customers on a year-round, day-round basis.

And what customers. From the police and emergency services, cabbies and truckers, through bikers and carny-folk, all the way to families and tourists, this place has a little micro-community of its own. It attracts loners and insomniacs, drifters and misfits, businessmen and sharp-suits. All of whom muddle along together in that small, timeless world that a tea break provides from whatever else is going on in one’s life. The film, perhaps wisely, concentrates on the human element of this South London institution, with interviews and long-shots, portraits and closeups, rather than giving us a history lesson. The music, especially, reflects this – from eerie out-of-tune pub-piano to the Ian Dury-esque At The ‘Ut (you get a nice cup ‘a tea…)

Perhaps it is the oddball, edgy quality of the folk who visit this funny little stall that makes ‘ordinary’ people like The Blackheath Society so angry about its existence. Their almost-disproportionate misgivings range from its being an eyesore, a blot on the community and a litter-magnet to being rowdy and environmentally damaging. A pick & mix shopping cart of complaints which perhaps conceal the real problem they have with such a place – that it’s not ‘within’ Society – that it has an ‘outsider’ quality that can never quite be contained. A quality that lingers from the dangerous days of the Greenwich Fair, of Jack Cade’s Cavern, of tumbling, and still hovers, like a slightly bad smell, whenever the circus comes to town.

What I like about this documentary is that it doesn’t shy from these difficult topics. It represents the extraordinary lives of ordinary people – each has a story to tell, not least that of Nick, a regular, who, by sheer dint of personality, manages to become the central character. A damaged, almost lost soul, Nick manages to find a little stability in his world whenever he makes it up to the hut, and despite his tough appearance and sarf-London accent, slowly reveals himself to be a pussycat – an adorable figure who relies on the camaraderie of the motley characters at the tea shack to get him through a life that has seen much pain.

And that’s true of all the regulars interviewed. They nearly all look menacing on the outside – some might even say hard – it’s even implied that there indeed are one or two villains among them – but scratch the surface and they are charming – and articulate, too, in their own individual ways. Moskalenko has taken the time and effort to find the stories here, to imply, not lay-on thick, the personal worlds this funny little place provides a haven for.

Oddly, the hut itself is less of a character than I expected. Whether in the height of summer or under a sprinkling of snow, it’s merely a meeting place for unlikely people to get together. Perhaps this is because the building itself is of a temporary nature – temporary to fit the transitory nature of the people who use it.

What impressed me most was the inclusion of Neil Rhind, of whom I am normally a HUGE fan. I adore his meticulous work, his devotion to Blackheath and its history, his detailed writing, his eloquent speaking. As the president of the Blackheath Society, he agreed to be interviewed for this film. Now this is an intelligent man. He must have known that whatever he said would make him look like a NIMBY – and he did it anyway. I admire him all the more for having the guts to do it.

That’s not that I agree with him. I hear his arguments – he is big enough (and has the integrity as a historian) to admit that there has been a tea-servery (albeit not 24hrs) on the site since the reign of Charles II (indeed Moskaleko interviews an octogenarian who remembers drinking tea there in his youth) but complains that it looks appalling, creates a traffic and noise problem and is environmentally unsound. The Blackheath Society proposes, I understand from the people in this film, to spend £2m on ‘improving’ Blackheath – including a giant ridge of earth to disguise the A2, which would engulf the tea hut. Perhaps it’s even true.

You know, I struggle to see what harm there is in this little shack. In recent years the owner’s made an effort to tidy it up and pick up his litter – you’ll find far more elsewhere on the heath. It’s miles away from anywhere, it doesn’t serve alcohol, and even the police in the film admit there’s virtually no trouble. I’ve enjoyed a fair few cups there myself. Tuesday nights are a good time, when an entire youth club from Rochester make a pilgrimage to the shack. I haven’t ever heard of any trouble from them. And I never leave without a chat with someone.

I find it quite telling that the two sides have never actually met in this dispute. And that Neil Rhind has been the only person brave enough to raise his head above the parapet. At a recent licensing hearing no other bugger turned up, so the licence went through, according to the owner. The BS gets almost apoplectic over this strange little half-world, and yet they don’t actually appear to have really looked at it.

It seems to me that both sides need to move on now; to actually meet. The Blackheath Society has cash to spend, but the heath belongs to all, and that includes the people who use the hut. Surely there must be some way they can live together? Maybe the society could fork out some money to make the hut more attractive, rather than obliterating it? In return, the owners of the hut can make sure that the litter is always cleared up and that people park tidily.

One final thought, not totally disconnected. If there was to be a giant earthen ridge to shield the eye from the A2, would the Highways Agency see this as a good excuse to make it a dual carriageway? Just an idle ponder.

See Tea Time for yourself. You can buy it on DVD at the Pepys Visitor Centre (the best place I know for local history books) or, if you buy it at the ‘ut itself, you get a free nice cup ‘a tea with it…

Oh – and if you want a biscuit to go with it, try

Flying Duck Flying South for the Summer…

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

…well, forever, actually.

Folks, it’s a lovely sunny Saturday. Wrap up and visit James and Carolyn at Flying Duck while you can. To my great misery they’re getting out of Greenwich while they can, and another bit of Greenwich character is leaving us.

I adored Flying Duck; and it’s weird to think it soon won’t be with us, but I can see what’s making them go. That effing-awful Wetherspoons, that tedious, menacing, chain-filled alleyway leading to what has to be one of London’s scruffiest DLR stations – and the attendant morons who think it’s ok to walk around Flying Duck scoffing chips with sauce and vinegar, fingering vintage merchandise with greasy paws and swearing loudly, which is what I encountered last time I was in there. They got chucked out, and I’m not surprised.

“That’s why we’re going,” sighed the assistant, who got an earful of choice language as she asked them to leave – a brave move in my humble…

Everything in stock is going down in price on a daily basis. Go get yourself a memento of this fab store and wish them luck with their enterprises down in Brighton.

They’re going online, too, but I can’t see that it will be the same. What I loved about FDE was being able to wander round, looking at piles of stuff and finding something you didn’t even know existed, let alone that you needed it.

Apparently they own the place and will rent it out only to another independent. Let’s hope they find someone special.

They will be sorely missed.

Greenwich Farmers’ Market

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Yes, you read that right.

Cheryl Cohen of the Blackheath Farmers’ Market has sent me this, asking for your opinions. She writes:

We’ve been approached by the town centre manager in Greenwich to open a weekly Saturday farmers’ market on Cutty Sark Gardens. I would love some feedback on this idea. I’ve suggested a Saturday so as not to clash with Blackheath. The last thing we want is to take business away from Blackheath Village on a Sunday, but I feel sure that there’s room for Greenwich to have its own market to help keep local people shopping in the neighbourhood and in turn, support your local shops. Would people from East Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich or Depford attend? Please feel free to post something about this – I’d love as much feedback as possible. If you know of any community or residents associations/groups to pass this onto please feel free.

The Phantom Replies:

Mmm. A farmers’ market in Greenwich would be well-received, I’m sure. I’m not totally convinced about Cutty Sark Gardens though. You’d certainly get some good custom there, especially on a Saturday when all the tourists are there. But it’s quite windswept on occasion, and sited in right in the middle, puts you directly in competition with The Creaky Shed, Drings, The Fishmonger and The Cheeseboard, not to mention the M&S next door.

Have you considered moving a little further east? If I’m totally honest, I don’t know quite where – the Forum is a bit small – but there must be a good space somewhere. Over the east side, there’s only really the other branch of the Fishmonger to worry about, food-wise. Since the much-lamented demise of the fruit & veg stall last year, it’s been supermarkets or nothing, really (there’s the odd shop that specialises in ethic-y food, but I miss the fruit & veg. There are literally hundreds of new swanky (and otherwise) flats being built on the East side just now, and virtually no food shops to support them. The new East Greenwich Traders Association is doing its best, but Trafalgar Road, apart from the odd glorious exception, is still a sorry sight.

What does everyone else think?