Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew…
Yes, I’ve made it to East Greenwich Fire Station. A building that has definitely seen better times. And yet, somehow, despite its reduced circumstances, it still manages to be a curiously elegant structure, waiting, perhaps for the return of glory days.
Just over 100 years ago, East Greenwich must have been a hive of activity much as the Peninsula has just been. The new school in Halstow Road had just been built, a library was just about to be announced as a gift from the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and a whole bunch of new houses was going up – presumably to the great dismay of local people upset at losing Coombe Farm.
And in the midst of this, a brand new fire station was being built. The first stone was laid, according to the plaque on the front, by one J D Gilbert Esq., chairman of London of the Fire Brigade Committee of London County Council, on 18th July 1901, but apart from that info, I can find virtually nothing more about this building. All I can do is look at the place itself and try to work out how it operated.
It’s a great-looking place – if you view it from Google Earth it’s a curious truncated diamond, the car-park (presumably where the horses were kept) maintaining the shape. It’s one of those places that the more you look at it, the better it gets. Now a frankly dodgy-looking ‘hotel,’ it’s not easy to see that the obscure-windows at the little gabled front must have been where the appliance was stored, though the old cobbles outside remain. The front bit, although it looks connected to the rear, is only, apparently, attached by the walls around the outside. What was in that little roofed area upstairs? I have no idea – offices maybe. There doesn’t seem to be any room for a pole.
I like to imagine the scene – presumably there are photos, though I’ve never seen any. All the jolly firemen, almost certainly made out of foam rubber and walking with a slightly stiff gait, lined up for inspection before being called out to a small blaze at Windy Miller’s mill or Trumpton Town Hall.
Behind the front business-end, what can only have been the crew’s live-in quarters rise in elegant red brick behind. Even these have lovely little touches – crenellated mansards, railings and faux-mullioned windows.
I don’t even know when it stopped operating – unless I’m googling really badly I can’t find anything at all about this place, and no book I own seems to mention it at all. Sadly it seems that Greenwich’s everyday past is often forgotten in favour of her grander buildings. All I know is that in its present form, the Greenwich Hotel, this fabulous building is wasted. The sign outside boasts a bar and conference facilities – I can’t begin to imagine the kind of conferences that would go there at present. It also boasts an 01 telephone number.
What this place needs is a Greenwich equivalent of the Blackheath Preservation Society, which, if I have it right, was formed to bring back lovely old buildings to gloriously restored health and put them to a genuinely loved use. I know this isn’t a Captain’s House or a Tea Caddy Lovely, but it has a beauty of its own – and great potential. You won’t hear me saying this very often but I actually think this place would make great apartments, with a lovely Something (TBD) in the front bit (suggestions for funky alternative uses on a postcard, please…) So it’s a little close to the Blackwall Tunnel Approach and the flyover? Let’s face it, it’s no more so than most of the Peninsula…
I don’t even care if it continues to be used as a ‘hotel,’ with the same inhabitants. Just not as it is – unloved and slowly crumbling to dust. The paint is peeling, the front closed and unwelcoming, the atmosphere around it miserable – when it needn’t be. The slates on the roof are chipped and the bit around the back choked with weeds.
But look again. Greenwich ‘Hotel’ might be jammed up next to a major road intersection, but actually, there is a little patch of grass and trees in front of this once-pretty building – easy to miss just now, but with a little care, a patch that could be made into a tiny oasis before the madness of the roundabout/flyover ensemble. With a spot of investment this place could sparkle again and, surrounded by the newly-spruced Angerstein Hotel (another day, folks) and the Library (ditto) could bring to this forgotten little corner of East Greenwich a touch of renewed Edwardian glamour.
Sorry about the pic, by the way – I took it a long time ago – during one of the many road-up moments of 2007. However, Dazza has just discovered an old picture of when it was first opened. Just take a look at this: