Archive for October, 2008

The Wraith of Westcombe Park

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Kirsty recently arrived 5 mins early for her train at Westcombe Park Station. She tells me that another lady needed the loo,(have you ever never noticed the loos up the Charlton end of the platform? No neither had Kirsty – or, I, for that matter.)

“When she came out, the Southeastern guy asked if she felt she’d been watched,” she tells me “He had a rather loud voice and it was such an odd question I just had to listen in… “

No need to apologise, K, ear-wigging is a time-honoured tradition. If people want something to be secret, they whisper, or at least talk out of earshot of Kirstys and Phantoms…

“Anyway, he went on to say that ‘the chaps in there’ (thumb jerked towards office) reckon that WP station is haunted. Apparently a dark figure drifts through. Supposedly a late Victorian (very late – ‘scuse the pun) stationmaster who just couldn’t let go. Sadly the train drew in so I didn’t have time to ask any more questions.”

Well. I took myself off to Westcombe Park Station, to find these loos for myself. They were locked. No one around, but the ticket machine was vandalised (apparently the local toughs jam-up the credit-card hole so that people are forced to use cash, then jam up the rejected coins slot, so that they think they’ve lost their money. When the train’s been and gone, they un-jam the rejected coins bit and pocket the ill-gotten gains.)

I’ve tried several times, whilst in the guise of ‘buying a ticket’ or ‘asking for a timetable’ to bring the subject round to ghosts, but – well – you know how it is – how do you bring up a delicate subject like that? I mean – you can’t just come out with it – “Is your station haunted?,” can you – they could be offended or traumatised for months, having to walk round a deserted station with nothing but a spectral Victorian gentleman and the local toughs for company…

So. I’ve not been able to get anything on this one but if anyone fancies doing a spot of digging (not literally, unless there’s something really very wrong at Westcombe Park) I’d love to know more about this local ghost for local people.


Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Ok – so she’s not actually from Greenwich – but she lived in Blackheath and then Eltham for 23 years; a mildly scandalous woman for whom I have a lot of time, and of whom virtually nothing remains at her old home…

A few months ago I went for a cup of tea at Well Hall Pleasaunce where I fell in with one of Life’s characters, whom I will call Alf. Alf was determined that I shouldn’t just see the Pleasaunce as a pretty park, but as the ex-home of Edith Nesbit, one of our greatest children’s writers. He virtually frog-marched me round the grounds, pointing out the wiggly wall, heavily buttressed to support its ancient bricks,

the secret pond in the corner,

the formal gardens

…and the fabulous barn itself, but of the actual 18th Century mansion Nesbit lived in between 1899 and 1922, absolutely nothing remains. There’s a picture of it here, which shows it as pretty impressive, but I’m still not entirely sure why it was pulled down in 1931 – the closest I can find out is that it was to make way for the current park. I’m guessing local ‘politics’ – perhaps even a desire by 1930s social climbers to expunge a mildly scandlalous figure from Eltham’s genteel history? Who can tell…

There’s been loads written about Nesbit’s ‘unconventional’ life – her sort-of open marriage to the Fabian Hubert Bland, who apparently ‘could not by any effort of nature leave women alone’ and her bringing up of his various children fathered on herself and, ahem, the assistant secretary of the Society, who also moved in. Gregarious and kind, she threw parties at Eltham for political big-hitters of the day – George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, Eleanor Marx. She was also the epitome of early 20th Century Bohemian Woman – tall and striking, dressed in trailing gowns of peacock blue satin, dripping with pearls and Indian bangles – and chain-smoking cigarettes from a long holder. And when Hubert died, she married, if memory serves, an engineer on the Woolwich Ferry, one Tommy Tucker, whose name sounds like it’s straight out of one of her books.

Doesn’t that put a different slant on The Phoenix and the Carpet or The Railway Children? And don’t you just love her more for it?

But I’m not writing a biography here – there’s plenty about her knocking around. I’m not even writing about the place – I know virtually nothing about Eltham. What I’m writing about today, it being the day before Hallowe’en and all, is the little-known fact that Edith Nesbit was also a horror writer.

I only found this out when I was in New York a few days ago, in Strand Bookshop, looking for something to read on the way home. I was initially drawn to the display because I thought someone had spilled something sticky on it – the imprint of obscure ghost and supernatural writers has a skull marked out in shiny on a matt background. But there, among the Aylmer Vances and the Gertrude Athertons, was The Power of Darkness – Tales of Terror, by Edith Nesbit.

It’s of its time. The golden age, some might argue, of of ghost and horror writing – the Victorian/ Edwardian eras. The stories are at once cosy and really rather disturbing, and not all of them follow classic ‘story’ pattern. Many are more like incidents – statements, even, rather than plots with beginnings, middles and ends. And they are much crueller than I have found other writers to be. The endings are often harsh and dark, though they include the odd practical joke. There’s no let-off for her characters – they make one mistake and are doomed for life. Apparently she was taken to visit the mummified corpses of St Michel in Bordeaux as a small child, and she had a relative who was accidentally put in their coffin ready for burying whilst still alive, something that stayed with her for the rest of her life. Both of these incidents clearly influence her work, as does, I’d guess, Poe.

With the best will in the world, I’d say the collection was patchy. When she’s good, she’s utterly terrifying, but other stories left me a bit bewildered. The most famous, Man-Size In Marble is creepy and atmospheric, something at which she’s very good, and yet it, like all the stories, carries an Edwardian patina of snugness that belies the somewhat sudden and pretty grim ending. The Five Senses is bloomin’ scary and From the Dead is singularly callous, but other stories, like Uncle Abraham’s Romance and the mightily puzzling Power of Darkness left me wondering what to make of them.

Hand on heart, she’s no M. R. James. But if you want a shiver for Hallowe’en you could do a lot worse than checking out Edith Nesbit’s non-kiddie stories. In the meanwhile one thing at least remains of her at Eltham. The suitably satanic-looking bell hanging from the east end wall of the Tudor Barn comes from her house.

Going Postal

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Sorry. Couldn’t resist the dreadful local newspaper-worthy title.

Anonymous is wondering:

” If anyone else has experienced postal problems lately in the Greenwich area?

We’ve had lots and lots of items go astray over the past few weeks (and indeed over the past few years) some of which were rather important.

It’s also difficult to ascertain just how much isn’t being delivered when you’ve not actually posted it. Anyone else have the same problem?”

The Phantom replies:

Join the queue, Anon. My mail over the last six months or so has gone from poor to appalling. I’ve regularly had letters for my next door neighbours (both sides,) letters for my house number in two neighbouring streets, and even totally random mail for different areas of Greenwich. Sometimes it’s entire batches of mail, not just single letters. It’s clearly been happening the other way round, too, as I get people putting my mail through my door, or even knocking, to let me know it’s arrived (and have a moan at the same time.)

I used to have a lovely postie – I knew his name and chatted whenever we met. He gave a great service – to the point where he actually deserved a Christmas box. He got moved because, he told me, that they don’t like postmen to get too friendly with customers. Presumably because they’d get to know where people live and actually deliver to the right house – or, heaven help them, stop to chat and add five minutes to the round. Could it be Health & Safety – if the postie actually knows his clients he might stop to help an old lady up the path, slip himself and get a work-related injury? I have no idea – but I bet it’s something mad like that.

The latest wheeze seems to be writing out the “while you were out…” forms whilst still in the depot and popping them through the letterbox, saving the bother of having to actually carry a parcel to the door. This has happened to me several times when I was actually in – and once when I was right behind the door, so I KNOW the guy didn’t knock, but just walked up and slipped the note through.

Annoyingly, that time, I merely noted that mail had arrived and didn’t see the ‘while you were out” form or I’d have run down the road and called his bluff. I ended up trekking to the sorting office three times in one week – twice being for someone else as they are just never home when the sorting office is actually open.

No, Anon, it’s not just you. It’s a rubbish ‘service.’ And don’t even get me started on the post office in Woolwich Road…


Wood Wharf Studios and Billy Jenkins

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Photo: Simon Thackray
I always find it very illuminating what people seek out on YouTube. I’m guessing that Scared of Chives was not actually looking for “Wharf Studios” when he came across them on a docco about Kate Bush (tee hee, SoC) – but hey – here they are, in misty-moisty, grainy-form, circa – heavens – looking at her in that vid, I’d guess late 70s/early 80s.

Of course I couldn’t leave it like that. I had a great deal of trouble finding anything about “Wharf Studios” – well, you try googling anything with the words ‘wharf’ and ‘studios’ in the title; all you’ll find are microscopic Docklands apartments. But I finally found Wood Wharf Studios, in a Wikipedia article about Billy Jenkins, a name that was clanging enormous bells in my head.

The studios seem to have been at their zenith around 1986, and I found bands such as Mark Knopfler, Iron Maiden and Dire Straits recording there, but as I delved deeper I became more and more interested in their owner, who was variously described as “The Rigsby of Greenwich”(by “Anonymous,” very possibly himself, given his evident sense of humour) and “If Clapton is God then Jenkins is the giant turtle upon whose back the entire universe stands,” by the Sunday Times. Blimey.

Billy Jenkins sounds like my sort of guy. He’s from times when it was possible – and indeed a good thing – to be experimental within music – to move through, in and out of genres to create one’s own sound, without reference to besuited record company execs. (Oh yeah – they were around, just largely ignored, before gaining a horrible iron grip on music in the 80s. Perhaps with the advent of the internet and the flux of an established music biz forced to fall back on back-catalogue and boy-band covers as deals go into meltdown we are in for another of those eras. Discuss.) The 60s and 70s saw huge change in music and it seems that Billy Jenkins was right in the middle of it.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Here’s a sharply-written article that gives an overview of the man…

The weird thing is I’m sure that someone was talking to me about him only a couple of months ago. Rod – was it you? I’ve checked out his excellent website and MySpace – if you do, do listen to the music there. The titles are enough to make you smile – I particularly liked the idea of “Sounds like Bromley” and “Still Sounds like Bromley…”

Take a special listen to “Not Close To You” – a cross between the Carpenters, a light-voiced Tom Waits and Spike Jones. His guitar-playing is clearly superb, but he brings something else with him – a deep humanity and invention. I’m going to be at the next gig he does. Nothing on the date list yet; he seems to be too busy conducting humanist funerals, but fingers crossed…

How wonderful when someone sends you a little YouTube clip, and you end up finding something fantastic. I am a happy Phantom this morning…

East Greenwich Library

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Following on from my post earlier today about the turning of Greenwich into a theme park, I’ve just remembered something chilling that was said to me when I went to the ‘consultation’ for the Heart of East Greenwich development. I asked what was to become of East Greenwich Library, since it’s listed but there’s no way it will ever stay as a library once the new development crashes into being.

Now,before I go any further, I don’t actually think it’s a bad thing to move the library into bigger premises. The one we have is hopelessly inadequate – you try and find anything that isn’t a large-print romance or a board book for the under-fives in the current East Greenwich Library – one that’s larger and better-equiped can only be a good thing IMHO.

I had assumed that the building itself, though, would be kept for community use – it was, after all, a gift to the people of Greenwich from Andrew Carnegie. Maybe morphed into more of what it already is – a music centre for Greenwich Community College, which seems like a good idea to me. But the just-out-of-short-trousers youth who had been assigned to field questions like mine, merely grinned and told me, pretty much as a matter of pride, that only the facade of the building is listed and that they can do what they like with the interior.

I asked him what sort of thing they had in mind, but he just shrugged and grinned some more. Personally, if I had been the people who were putting forward the ‘consultation,’ I’d have told him to be a little less smug and a little more vague, but perhaps that shows the contempt they have for local people and, of course, the little farce called ‘consultation’ the developers have to go through in the name of ‘public involvement.’

Luxury flats, anyone?

Hidden Victim – or Good Riddance

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Today, folks, I bring you some modest little buildings. They’re not the grand stuff of Georgian Greenwich, they’re not fabulous architecture, but I’m arguing that they say just as much about Greenwich’s history as some of the grander places around here.

Something of which we are guilty in this town is that in preserving our pomp, in bigging-up our Royal and nationally-significant history, we overlook what really made Greenwich tick – the ordinary people, the industry and the day-to-day running of the place. In the couple of years I’ve been writing this blog, I have found it far more difficult to find anything out about working or middle class Greenwich – virtually every history book and most of the documents I’ve seen have referred to its glamorous side (with the honorable exception of Mary Mills and the sterling work of the Industrial History Society).

So. Where actually are these buildings? Round the back of the market, slotted in between the 1830s fronts and the hastily-erected 70s nightmares that actually line the business area. I bet you didn’t know it was actually called Durnford Street. They are described as “storage” in the only reference to them in the Greenwich Market Consultation.

“The building to the west of the market will be built further back, into the car park yard beside Durnford Street, which is currently used for storage.”

Now. I’m not arguing that these are gems of architectural history. They’re functional, sturdy (if you ignore the scaffolding, presumably left up because they’re being nixed) and rather pretty – who puts little curly pinnacles and roundy leaded lights with little corbels on a back-building or gives a garage door a little brick arch and curved windows these days? I can hardly stand on a soap box, hand on phantasmagorical heart and say these are either architecturally meritorious or even particularly rare as the country goes. But they are a link with what the market was really about, as opposed to what it will become.

I am sure that the market in its new form will continue to be a draw – and attract thousands of tourists to buy sandals made out of car tyres or rude-shaped candles every weekend. But I somehow mourn the loss (for I am sure that these sweet little outbuildings will be lost, given the plans available and the fact that they’re playing that area down, hoping no one notices, and let’s face it, perhaps no one has…) of harmless buildings that could present a solid link with the Victorian aspect of the market (which will be totally lost – Georgian, and Williamsian (is that how you call it?) yes, Victorian, no) and keep a little of Greenwich’s industrial soul.

More and more in London I see the facades of buildings preserved (because developers are forced to,) painstakingly held up with scaffolding while a modern building is slotted in behind, and I guess it’s a move in the direction towards keeping at least some of our history. I certainly don’t want to live in aspic. But I do wonder whether if that’s exactly what we’re doing with the market – keeping the ‘look’ of the place, with the Georgian facades acting like stage flats but actually chucking out the gritty reality of our past, to be replaced by GreenwichLand Theme Park, forever doomed to play the part of ‘anywhere’ in Hollywood movies?

So – what do you think? Am I being a Sad Old Luddite, clinging onto the past here, spectral nails scraping down the blackboard of change? Or am I not the only one who rather likes this little jumble of Victoriana?

As a PS to this post, Rob has sent me a link to his website, which has a feature by Andrew Gilligan, where he discusses the bloody awful mess that Nelson Road’s turned into recently…

Rhodes Prices

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Margaret says:

“Was shocked and taken aback to find the new Coffee/bread shop, Rhodes, in Greenwich town centre charging an extra 70p to put a slither of butter – which was actually soft margarine – on my 80p scone. On complaining about this,assistant said couldn’t do anything about it, down to the owner!! Told them not a very clever thing to do,especially local residents!! Has anyone else had any bad experiences there??”

The Phantom replies:

I think they’re still playing with their prices. When I went in there in the first couple of days, I had a pleasant chat with the American guy who seems to be in charge of the actual shop, and he asked me what I thought of the ‘then’ prices, saying that they didn’t really know what to charge – I guess because there isn’t a comparable outlet in the area – an actual shop rather than a stall, artisanal baked goods and a small sit-down area, though I was mildly surprised they hadn’t visited other similar places in the capital to check out their prices, which, I’m guessing they have done now.

The thing is, is that this IS a tourist area, and the CAN get that sort of money for a scone and butter (are you sure it was marg?) when people are expecting to pay for a day out. I also suspect that the shop is not a cheap place to rent and the good old fashioned ‘overheads’ are kicking in. It’s probably not just representing the price of the spread, but also the fact that you’ll be sitting down’ to consume it. I’m not sure if there are different tax prices if a scone stops being a ‘raw material’ and becomes in the government’s eyes ‘a sit down meal.’ Maybe someone can enlighten me?

BUT. In the winter months especially, when the tourists aren’t forthcoming and they rely on us locals, especially with the looming recession, 70p for a scrape of butter does seem a bit excessive, even if you’re paying realistic wages to your staff (you are paying realistic wages to your staff, guys, now, aren’t you..?)

Here’s a thought, Rhodes guys. Why not do a residents’ discount – I don’t know – free butter on your bun or something – easy enough created by talking to the GreenwichCard department at the Council. Giving us locals a discount will create a hell of a lot more goodwill than it will cost you in butter, and it will keep us coming through thick and thin.

Or maybe a loyalty card? I have about four of them for Beehive, as I keep forgetting to bring them with me, but I’m determined that one day I’ll bring them all together and get myself a free flat white.

I still love Rhodes. I’m not quite so fond of their brownies as their other stuff – mine was really rather dry and sugary but those raspberry custard tarts, the giant meringues and, yes – those scones – are fab. IMHO it’s a massive contribution to Greenwich Town centre, and not just because it’s a proper bakery where we only had Greggs before. It sends out a signal to other high quality shops that don’t exclusively pander to the tourist trade that Greenwich is ready for nice food, friendly service and attractive surroundings. I’m a regular, so I’d most definitely appreciate a loyalty card system/Greenwichcard Discount/ both.

So what do you think? Is Rhodes losing it’s shine, or do we need to be a little indulgent of a new, high quality business?

Festival New Orleans

Friday, October 24th, 2008

I meant to remind you guys about this, and forgot, but since there’s still a day to go, I’m doing it now.

Festival New Orleans appears to be a bid by the city – and the entire state of Louisiana – to bump up its tourism by letting us know what a cool place it is, as if we needed to be reminded, bless. I’m guessing they organised it before the credit crunch and that it’s hurting a bit now, but that’s no reason not to go along and enjoy it. In fact it’s all the more reason – to let them know we love ‘em.

I went along this evening. I’m not promising anything sparkling in the way of reviews here – aw, c’mon – it’s Friday night and I’ve just got back from a festival for heaven’s sake.

It’s basically a bunch of really rather excellent bands in various locations that aren’t the main arena, Indigo 2 or the very yuckky Bodyworlds. There are apparently cookery demonstrations but I’ve not seen any.

Not to be missed is the fabulous Cajun fiddle player Michael Doucet, who I’ve loved for some time despite (well, actually because of) the fact that he has no voice whatsoever and gives the impression of being out-of-his-head. He still sounds great. Bonjour, Bonne Annee is a classic in the Phantom household around Christmas time. Curiously he didn’t sing it tonight. Can’t think why.

He’s in the very ugly new Matter nightclub – decor courtesy of NCP. I daresay they call it ‘neo-brutalist’ or ‘post industrial’ or something equally up itself (read ‘cheap’) and I guess at least it doesn’t show if beer gets spilled all over it. A quick sloosh down with an industrial car wash and you’re laughing. There’s an enormous plastic lean-to in the middle for the sound man, and the one thing I’ll give it is good acoustics, which is more than I can say for the main ‘Louisiana’ stage.

I’m sure it’s Health & Safety that means that the glaring industrial arc-lamps are left on throughout the performance of even the headliners, but that, combined with the appalling, booming sound, made the ever-fantastic Allen Toussaint sound like he was playing – well – in a great big soulless tent, funnily enough. There were a lot of people there, and he was playing like a demon, but the atmosphere was flat as shortnin’ bread.
The effervescent marching band, and the very strange characters dressed in feathers had the same problem – the atmosphere, and especially the godawful overhead halogen lights that light “Entertainment Avenue” did their best to kill them stone dead. Luckily, the place was heaving – and not just with tinies who had gone to see Finding Nemo on Ice. It’s the people who are playing and the people who visit it that make this festival. The venue itself is a dead fish for this kind of thing.

Go and see it though. The acts are great (Dr John’s on tomorrow) and if you can get into the spirit despite the best efforts of the O2, you’ll have a ball. Get your timings here.

Fat Boy’s Diner

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Continuing in my not-really-in-Greenwich-but well-worth-a try series, Fat Boy’s Diner could actually be in the American Mid-West, the amount of trouble it takes to get to, despite the fact that it’s only a couple of hundred metres from The O2 as the crow flies. As the Phantom trudges, it’s a good three-quarters of an hour, but the kitsch-value alone makes the trip worthwhile.

There’s no information about the history of how this 1940s American diner, complete with aluminium cladding, Formica tables, slightly ageing red vinyl bench seats and twirly bar stools at the counter actually made it over to Blighty, but you know, I’m sure I remember it around Liverpool Street in the late 1980s (Am I mistaken? Or was that a different Fat Boy’s Diner? Maybe they’re all over the place – two-a-penny – and I just haven’t noticed them…)

Maybe it got too pricey to keep a what is essentially a posh caravan selling burgers in the City, but it’s found its spiritual home now, nestled among dead lighthouses, weird installations and container studios of Trinity Buoy Wharf, beloved by the artists who live there and their visitors alike.
How to describe it? Well – just think of practically any Hollywood movie that has pretensions to nostalgia and you’ve got it. Plastic sauce bottles (sadly not in the shape of tomatoes or hot dogs but you can’t have everything) Venetian blinds that make me think of that sinister scene in Goodfellas where Robert de Niro meets Ray Liotta ‘with intent’ (yeah, yeah, that wasn’t a trailer, but it was still damn creepy) black and white tiles and tabletop juke boxes. I once found a job lot of over 70 of those babies for just under thirty quid each, but I couldn’t even lift one of them, let alone get it in my suitcase, chiz.
Outside, they’ve plonked a few tables and some Yuccas. I don’t recommend them just at the moment, but they’re lovely in summer.
I’d say, to be absolutely honest, that the setting and the fabulous, fabulous decor are the real reasons to make a pilgrimage to this place. The food is predictable – burgers, hot dogs, fries (not chips, obviously) with shakes and Cokes, followed by pies and sundaes. And so it should be – it would be just wrong to eat anything else in such a venue. As it goes, it’s well-cooked and cheerfully served. But don’t expect anything more than that. It’s fun food, not gourmet, like most caffs, really.

The joy is in just being able to sit in a backwater in East London and pretend you’re in The Last Picture Show or Back to the Future or American Graffiti (even if their diners aren’t caravans either) Or maybe one of those really terrifying Films Noirs that aren’t set in the night or the city, but which usually involve deranged hitchhikers and escaped criminals kidnapping travelling salesmen in the scorching desert sun. Or maybe Sliding Doors, which was apparently actually filmed there, not that I remember anything about that movie save that the film makers clearly thought it was possible for John Hannah to run from the Albert Bridge to the City, via what looked suspiciously like Battersea, in ten minutes, and that no one would notice that the Waterloo-City Line doesn’t go to Upminster…

OK, so here’s the snag. Getting there. Normally, you’re going to have to either drive round via the Blackwall Tunnel or get a DLR to East India Dock from which it takes about 15 minutes to walk.
Every once in a while, on high days and holidays, Thames Clippers take pity on us and run a free shuttle boat from the 02 to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Keep an eye out for such events here and take advantage of them, because it will mean that everything else is open as well – artists’ studios, installations, etc. And the first weekend of every month, the very-odd-indeed tinging and bonging sound installation Longplayer by Jem Finer gives you the excuse to get inside the historic lighthouse. But that’s for another day…

Cromwell’s Independent Traders and Commonwealth Custard Creams

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

I’ve been trying to find out about Greenwich during Cromwell’s time. I mean, I know that he took over the place and tried to sell it, without much real luck. I know that he and his cronies stripped the old palace of Placentia of all its trimmings and generally bashed it about so much that by the time the Restoration took place it was only fit to be pulled down. But I’ve been having difficulty finding much detail.Perhaps most of the records got lost in the Restoration…

Mostly it seems to have been run over by roundheads, kicking out ‘malignant and disaffected persons’ (read “the king’s hangers-on and servants”)and swiping as much stuff as possible to flog off. They bundled it all up into a yellow Reliant Regal van, and took themselves off to Peckham for the nearest boot sale.

The Kings’s paintings were the first for the chop (after himself, of course…) and the whole of Europe bowled up for the party. Cardinal Mazarin was at the front of the queue, in his sheepskin car coat and slip-on shoes, eager to get his paws on some knocked-off furniture for his Paris gaff. His shopping list included some nice secondhand beds, a couple of carpets and a hanging or two for his walls.

Queen Christina of Sweden was more interested in the jewellery stall. She fancied some jewels and medals, though once she was there, she couldn’t resist a few paintings either. She’d had to elbow the King of Spain out of the way, clearly the type that starts trying to handle the goods before they’re even out of the boot of the hatchback.

“Honest” Archduke Leopold was into buying in bulk and made an offer for a job lot, before getting a white van to cart them off to Belgium and Germany. It’s not clear how some of the paintings ended up in Wilton House in Wiltshire, but I’d put money on the van driver being slipped a few groats…

I’m not sure who would have wanted to be seen by Mr Cromwell buying a giant marble statue of the ex-king, but someone did. Other sculptures of The Headless One had been bundled up into a big cardboard box by accident and sold by mistake. One, which had stood in Covent Garden, was later the subject of an inquiry, where it turned out that the individual, who could only have been called Trotter, who had bought it “to melt down,” had really buried it, to sell later when times got better. “This time in ten years we’ll be milyonnaires…” In the meanwhile he made a tidy sum selling trashy souvenirs supposedly made out of the molten king…

But back to the palace. The innards had been well and truly dispersed, but they didn’t know what to do with the bricks and mortar. Some people suggested that’s exactly what they should be used as – second-hand building materials. The Lord Protector looks as though he had his eye on the place for himself, though, and although they trashed it, they didn’t actually pull it down, temporarily using it for storage instead.

Every so often I find little allusions, always in a single sentence, that the palace was turned into a biscuit factory.

A Biscuit Factory? You can’t just leave it at that. What kind of biscuits? Pink Wafers? Digestive? Rich Tea? Iced Gems, perhaps, to stand for the lost jewels of Placentia?

I’m voting for Jammie Dodgers. After all, Greenwich was one of the last strongholds of Charles I before they cut off his head. Maybe the face-shaped biscuits represent the old king, and the jam his oozing gore. I daresay the flowing locks and the goatee got lost in the baking process during the Victorian times.

The truth is, as boringly-usual, much more prosaic. Ship’s Biscuit, of course, which as every schoolkid knows, made up the protein part of a sailor’s diet in the form of maggots and weevils, the forerunner of today’s Garibaldi. During the Armada, everyone got a pound of biscuits and a gallon of beer a day to live on. I’m surprised that on that diet Sir Francis Drake could actually bowl straight…

Here’s a recipe for Ships Biscuit, though apparently none of the flour you can get now is nearly as rank as the original stuff would have been:


1lb Flour, the roughest you can find. Grind your own out of roots or something.
1/4 oz salt. The nice gritty variety.
Water to bind. Preferably stagnant
Weevils (optional) A generous handful per sailor.


Mix all ingredients together to form a paste and roll into a thick slab. Cut out biscuits. Stars are a nice shape. Bake in a hot oven for half an hour then leave to get really hard.

Best before: 10 years after being cooked.
Use By: no special time.

According to the Royal Naval Museum the MOD still buys ships biscuits to pop in operational packs (lunch boxes to you and me) but doesn’t give them out ‘for general messing.’ Phew.

So. The question for today. If Greenwich had a National Biscuit, what would it be?