Archive for July, 2009

Old Horses Home

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Another from my hideously-large pile of unanswered questions today, from the darkest section of all, labelled ‘Hard Stuff…’

Jo (who admits she may have had one or two when she saw this…) asks:

“I took a cab from Greenwich through Deptford and somewhere along the way (think it was only 5 minutes from Greenwich) the cab drove past a stables which seemed to house shire horses – I assumed an old people’s home equivalent for London’s rag and bone horses where they can see out their final days and avoid the glue factory. Do you know anything about it? Google doesn’t throw anything up but another cab driver did know where it was but I’d had a few too many drinks to remember the answer…. “

This has so far defied any attempts to find an answer, Jo – I tried various places and got nothing in the way of answers. I found this list of horse and donkey sanctuaries, none of which appear to be in South East London.

Then I tried looking for heavy horses that might still be working – perhaps drawing those old-fashioned funeral carriages or wedding coaches – but the closest I could find was in Hampton Court.

I understand that Youngs Brewery still uses shire horses, but again – they’re in Wandsworth. Lewisham Police Station has horses, but that’s one strange journey you would have taken home.

I found an article in the Independent (sadly from 1994) about rag & bone men still using horses, which, being fifteen years old can only be vaguely useful, but is a great read – beautifully and engagingly written. I’m not in the business of reinventing the wheel, so I won’t rehash it here, but in brief it talks about Corky, a Deptford totter, and his horse Sarah, who seem to be based somewhere around Broomill Road, though when I was down there a couple of weeks ago I didn’t see any likely candidates. Another character, ‘the Major’, deals in old cookers round the corner, and Billy and John, got out of the totting trade years ago, but kept the horses on as a hobby.

Sadly I can’t for a moment hope Corky’s still doing the rounds, given the article’s entitled The End of the Road for the Rag & Bone Man…

Is it possible you saw a Traveller site, Jo? They often have horses. There’s a list of Deptford-local Traveller sites here – recognise your journey at all?

But I have to say – Deptford isn’t my manor. Might be worth asking the Dame

A Bicycle Made For Three

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Nicola asks:

“I’m thinking of cycling my little girls over to nursery in September, from Westcombe Park (via Foyle Road) to Blackheath. I’m hoping to get a bike with a trailer. Does anyone else do this or know of anyone else doing this? Has anyone found it a scary journey? Is cycling from Greenwich to Blackheath straightforward and easy enough to avoid the dreaded traffic? “

The Phantom replies:

You’d seriously consider cycling two small children up that hill? I just hope you live at the top end of Foyle Road…

Seriously, I’d try borrowing a bike and a heart monitor and giving it a try before you shell out on serious kit like a trailer.

Personally, the most precious thing I’d want to carry on a bicycle would be a baguette and a morning paper, but I know that many people are confident enough to ferry kiddies around on one.

I don’t know much (read “anything”) about trailers, but I’d guess that it would make you a much wider vehicle (read “target”) on our narrow roads. Now, of course, that can make you ‘safer’ – you’re forced to use the road more like a car driver than a cyclist, but you are low down – and your cargo will be even lower.

Okay safety warnings over (for the moment) let’s get onto the route.

Actually, I’d say that if you are only going via Foyle Road rather than from it, it is probably your path of least resistance. It’s slightly longer (or feels like it anyway) than the others, but it also feels shallower and you get the added enjoyment of the most enjoyable topiary in Greenwich.

For the rest of the Greenwich part of the trip, it might be worth nipping through the park – a bit of a long way round but very pretty (and changes with the seasons) and much safer than the road. There are two problems with this – I can’t find a map of designated cycle paths for the park (no wonder everyone cycles everywhere – we really should be told exactly where we can go) and, more annoyingly, the junction where Maze Hill meets Westcombe Park Rd – the high kerbs, mini roundabout, railings and narrow gate – will make this a bit of what my old driving instructor used to call “an ‘azard.”

From there, it’s Duke Humphrey’s Road (stopping for a cup of tea at the ‘ut, perhaps) and Tranquil Vale – but it will take you a long way round, and since I don’t know where your daughters’ school will be, I could be directing in completely the wrong way across the heath.

So here’s a completely different suggestion. (I’m assuming you want to avoid that nasty roundabout.) Turn left at the top of Foyle Road, then right into Beaconsfield Road. From the end, you can either fiddle your way through the back routes through Vanbrugh Park and and the gorgeous Angerstein Lane (warning – rough, unmade surfaces) or follow Vanbrugh Park all the way round.

Your next obstacle will be the A2 – but of course at most times of the day this is at a standstill anyway. Then you can nip down St German’s Place, where the only hazard will be the 4X4s dropping off kiddie-winks at sundry prep schools.

If you need to go further into Blackheath, South Row and Pond Road will take you a relative back route. Shortest isn’t really an option in this instance, given the payload.

It is, as London rides go, a very pretty trip either way (I would avoid the centre route with the roundabout – it’s just too busy) but are you really sure you want to put two small children onto a pushbike? Personally I wouldn’t dream of it, though I will be very happy to hear from brave parents who regularly cycle trolley-loads of neighbours’ kids across the heath.

I know I’m on a downer here. I am SO not anti-cycling. I love it myself, and I seriously think every car (and especially every lorry) driver should also be a cyclist – just so they know how cyclists think.

But it’s been such a short time since our most recent ghost bike. A white bicycle with a trailer would break my heart…

Dastardly-Do By The Charlton Cad

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Odd, isn’t it, what you end up reading when you’re sick. As I started to get better, I found myself reading a history of Hampstead, mainly because I didn’t have to move off the poorly-sofa to pick up the book. I discovered that the North-South divide of London is nothing new.

Mention the name Maryon Wilson to someone from Charlton and they’ll probably smile as they think of a nice piece of open parkland, available to all to wander and play. Say the same name to anyone from Hampstead and a dastardly villain of the twirling moustache variety pops into their head…

Actually, once I started reading further about London’s first great preservationist war, I began to realise that the good burghers of Charlton didn’t have much to thank the Maryon Wilsons for either, until well after the sandpits there had been exhausted and the family had no further need for the land they so generously gave to the people.

They inherited Charlton House in 1767 through the Maryon side – and the fact that they chose South East London over their other giant chunk of land – er, Hampstead – is somehow satisfying – inexplicably so, of course, given their less than charming nature. They owned all of Hanging Wood (some of which is now Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks) and much of the surrounding land; what they didn’t own they took anyway.

The family, headed by the darkest individual of them all, the eighth baronet Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson (boo, hiss) enclosed the ancient village green in front of their gaff and called it their front garden. The centuries-old Horn Fair was booted out to a field near Fairfield Grove until they finally got rid of it altogether in 1874.

But if the fairgoers of Charlton thought themselves hard done-by, the Hampstead people were spitting tacks. Hampstead Heath, just part of the enormous North London estate he owned as absentee Lord of the Manor, was, in Thomas Maryon Wilson’s avaricious eyes, just another bit of land upon which he could build a whole slew of new housing.

All he needed to do was get himself an Act of Parliament – a mere formality at the time – landowners everywhere were getting Acts granted willy-nilly in the early to mid 19thC.

Where Maryon Wilson went wrong though, was in not doing his homework and working out that several MPs lived within spitting distance of the Heath. They might not have cared about the grazing rights of the peasants but they certainly didn’t want a sink estate on their doorstep. The Heath Protection Committee was formed, and over the years, every single one of Maryon Wilson’s applications was rejected.

The eighth baronet wasn’t going to take that lying down. He decided to go underground (pretty much literally) and use guerilla tactics. He started digging, and selling off ‘Heath Sand’ to anyone who would buy, deliberately undermining its beauty (though now they’ve healed over, the pits make rather pretty ‘dells.’) He tore up all the native gorse bushes and planted ornamental trees ready to line, eventually, his streets of houses (ever wondered where ‘Willow Tree Road’ comes from..?)

A protest meeting was held in 1856, one of the fiercest, apparently, ever. I keep reading that the curses hurled at Maryon Wilson were ‘bloodcurdling’ at the meeting but I can’t find any examples, which is a shame. I’d have enjoyed them hugely. I daresay the words ‘bounder’ and ‘cad’ were two of them but maybe you folks can supply me with some more splendid Victorian insults to savour.

I guess the lesson learned is never to try to take posh people on their own ground. Maryon Wilson perpetually failed in his applications and in 1870, when he died, his son gave in and sold the heath to the Metropolitan Board of works – at full face value, of course.

Of course the board was too mean to rectify the damage done to the heath, their only concession to regeneration was to give the groundsmen gorse seed to scatter as they walked around. The willows are rather loved these days.

His brother, Sir John Maryon Wilson, btw, didn’t have to rely on Acts of Parliament to build on his bit of the estate, which is why Finchley Road looks like it does today.

But back to Charlton.

It seems that later generations of Maryon Wilsons were pretty fed up with the whole landowning business and once one piece of land (the sandpits) was given to the people in 1891, it was only a few decades later that they sold Charlton House itself to the council and gave the rest of Hanging Wood to public parkland.

I have no idea what became of the family. I can find virtually nothing about them anywhere, and certainly no pictures, though just-for-random, here is a rather ugly settee, and here a slightly less ugly table that they once owned.

The really odd thing I discovered about the panto-villainous Sir Thomas is that he is, apparently, the subject of the first poem in English by an Icelander living in Iceland.

The Dream, by one Larus Sigurdsson, is a 170-line, cod-medieval-Gothic fantasy praising, alongside Sir Joseph Banks, the rather less-likely hero-figure of Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson – who, presumably, made some sort of trip to Iceland and impressed the poet with his grandeur.

“The living love him and the dead esteem
Poverty blesses him in every clime
To aid the poor, ’tis business of his mind
That always is to God and virtue join’d
Thus has the nature (to uncertain aim)
But good and noble grace’d with Wilson’s name.

Andrew Wawn, the author of The Vikings and the Victorians, tells us that, at that moment “the narrator wakes from his dream and, perhaps not a moment too soon, the poem comes to an end.”

And so should this post. Nurse, my medication, please…

Dominoes and Drama

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Still mooning around in a vacantly poorly-ish fashion, I have been cheered up by Maggie and an anonymous pal, who have sent me some pics of two of the events I was particularly gutted to miss this weekend.

First, those dominoes. I understand it was an event to mark the Olympics coming to London (what isn’t these days?) which was a giant line of tumbling breeze blocks that snaked its way through the Olympic boroughs, ending up at the Old Royal Naval College on Sunday evening (no – I don’t know how they crossed the river – foot tunnel?)

According to Maggie it was quite an eyeful.

“Words cannot describe the oddity of it all. It involved blocks being built up, taken down, people being bricked in, bricked out, a little nudity, some humour, no words but some wordless singing (a la Philip Glass) and a good end when the bloke who was undergoing a cruel and unusual punishment by having to stand, arms in the air, on top of a brick staircase, holding up an arch, gave a great shout and hurled it all down.”

You think that’s bonkers? According to my anonymous friend, The Visit, at Charlton House, a promenade production that was going on at various times on Sunday, made the domino event look positively sane. Now let’s see if I can get this straight.

From what I can tell from a rather garbled account, there was a naughty prince who was being eyed up by werewolves as lunch, but he wasn’t educated and didn’t eat healthily enough to be tasty.

So the werewolves told him the cautionary tale of a boy who fell off the edge of the world because he couldn’t read French and then put him on a reality TV show to learn how to cook and fight because heroic princes taste better.

Then he went to their den which was full of shoes and he realised they wanted to eat him and a girl from the audience saved the day.

I think you needed to be there.

I’m really fed up I didn’t make these two very strange pieces of art. I’m told they were great fun. But thanks to you both for sending me pics at least…

Faded Greenwich (4)

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Armitage Road SE10

When they took away the hoarding on Armitage Road, this was revealed. I took this a week ago – it may have been covered up by now. Any clues as to what it originally advertised?

Stolen Kit

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Seems I wasn’t the only person suffering last week – though this one’s a bit more debilitating to Warren King’s job in the long run.

Warren’s one of Greenwich’s lovely photographers who sends me amazing shots I couldn’t dream of snapping. You may even have had one of his Greenwich calendars on your desk. Sadly this year’s calendar may be a little more difficult to create. He writes:

“Last Wednesday I had a break in at home in Mycenae Road and all my camera equipment was stolen. It is Nikon professional equipment and obviously, is my working gear. I was hoping you may be able to spread the news in the hope someone comes across it and also to warn people in the Westcombe Park area that this is happening quite a bit.

We have a downstairs flat and access was through a window at the front which is concealed from the road. Through the glaziers and the police I have been informed of two other such break-ins in the last couple of weeks. It is the holiday period and this happened during the day.

I have had police and forensics around but no prints were detected. A theory of a neighbour is that Wescombe Park station is used as a mode of escape as it is so near. I am going to contact Network Rail to see if they can scan their CCTV for the few hours I was gone last Wednesday. I am also in the process of contacting all the local camera shops and Cash Converters with the missing gear and serial numbers.”

The Phantom sympathises, though wishes you luck with Network Rail, Warren. In the past they have been somewhat less than helpful about anything that their users might want to talk to them about – from timetable changes to clearing paths. Allowing a member of the public to look at CCTV images might be construed as going soft on the enemy passengers.

But maybe you folks can keep an eye out for any top-range photographic equipment being offered at cheapo prices. And – keep the other eye on your own gear, will you? It may sound selfish but I can’t take those pics on my own…


Monday, July 27th, 2009

When I said that I wanted to personally test all new local things, the National Pandemic Flu Service wasn’t really what I had in mind.

I’m guessing from the queues in the designated Greenwich Tamiflu pharmacy (in Trafalgar Road, I’m told, though since I obviously didn’t go myself, I don’t know which one) that I’m not the only one who has spent the last week discovering that Radio 4 sitcoms are just as unfunny as ever (though to be fair some of the doccos are great).

My Flu Friend had to visit the chemist twice, since the first time the user-end of the website was working, but the pharmacy-end wasn’t. The second time my lovely FF arrived there was a gaggle of gallant Flupals all waiting for the computer to go live.

In the event I don’t think the Tamiflu did much good, though it might have done if I’d started taking it a couple of days earlier.

After reading the original website where the government insisted that it all kicks off with a fever, I assumed that my sore throat was just an annoying summer cold, and only narrowly decided not to meet up with a two-weeks-to-go pregnant friend (I figured that even if it wasn’t Swine Flu she probably didn’t want to go into labour unable to scream.)

I have since found that loads of cases start with a sodding sore throat; the fever comes along later, just when you’ve probably infected a whole bunch more people. The government really needs to change the website so that ‘sore throat’ is a bit more prominent than seventh in the list of ‘Other Symptoms May Include…’ Folks – if you’ve got even the slightest twinge in your larynx, go to bed now.

Still – I’m on the mend. Huge thanks to everyone who sent me good wishes – I have a LOAD of mail waiting for me (I know – just when I’d started tackling the earlier build-up, too.)

The thing that bugs me most was that this weekend gone was one I most definitely wanted to be around for. All those Create events, for starters. I’m most peeved at missing the dominoes and that strange Charlton House promenade show. If you went to anything good this weekend, I’d love to see pictures…

Piggin’ Cold

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Sorry folks – no blog today. I am living proof that Phantoms are just as susceptible to illness as everyone else. I’ve turned the computer on merely to call in sick and now I’m going back to bed.


Royal Standard

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Ruth asks:

“We are thinking of buying a property close to the Royal Standard pub on Pelton Road. I was wondering if any of your readers could tell me anything about this pub. I can very few reviews of it on the internet and I’d like to find out if it’s a friendly or a rowdy place. I’m also struggling to find out its licensing hours.”

The Phantom replies:

Aha – the Pelton Road Estate – part of Morden College’s portfolio of Greenwich properties, if memory serves. I love those houses – especially the ones on the left as you’re walking towards the river – the sheer size of the windows in comparison to the size of the houses is fab. I also like what people have done with their front gardens along there, though I did get water-bombed by some kids in the block of flats as I walked by a week or so ago. Happily for them, the little buggers missed…

I’ve never visited the Royal Standard, though I have always had my suspicions about the ‘reindeer’ on its balcony (Benedict and I decided that it was actually the Lucky Greenwich Dromedary…) To be honest, it looks like a good old fashioned spit-and-sawdust boozer to me – always seems to have old-codger type drinkers outside whenever I pass. I have no idea if it’s rowdy or not. I guess the best way to find out the opening hours would be just to ask them…

BTW I’ve been hearing good things about the Pelton Arms (up the road from the Standard) food recently, though haven’t been there myself since it changed hands. When I walked past the other day they were unloading a mechanical bull for a rodeo-themed day…

Make Do And Mend

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Okay. World War II’s ended, the bunting’s been taken down, the street parties packed up and the cost is finally being counted.

Top of the list of jobs to do is to build housing for all the people displaced by the Blitz. Thing is, the stuff you have in your warehouses isn’t always quite right for the job…

For example – you’re really short on railings to go round these new homes for heroes. All you’ve got in the stores are thousands of old stretchers hurriedly fashioned from tubular metal and wire mesh as standard issue for ARP wardens. They’d always been bloody uncomfortable if you had the misfortune to have to lie on one, but they did the job – and it seems a shame to throw them away. Waste not, want not…

I first read about Wartime Stretcher Railings in Peter Ashley’s fascinating More London Peculiars (English Heritage, 2007) but he was only talking about them as being around one block of flats – just outside Oval cricket ground. I actually made a pilgrimage to see them – and they are fab.

You honestly wouldn’t know they weren’t actually built as railings if it weren’t for the four little kinks – one in each corner – bent into the supporter bars to keep the stretcher off the ambulance floor, and the weld-marks every six feet or so where the handles have been bonded together.

Thing is – the picture above isn’t from the Oval.

I actually took this picture in Watergate Street in Deptford. I hadn’t noticed the railings – I was too busy looking at the ancient piece of wood embedded in the giant dock wall opposite and they had to be pointed out to me – but there’s no doubt about it – these are wartime stretcher railings.

Which begs the question – how many more are there? I was under the impression that the ones at Oval were unique – it would seem not. South and East London copped most of the bombs – so presumably they also had most stretchers. I’m beginning to think there must be more of these recycled pieces of Home Guardery – anyone know any?

Next time you happen to be walking down Watergate Street (if nothing else, to see the watergate itself, slid in between that poor old Borthwick warehouse that only has its facade left and doesn’t appear to have been touched for years, and the giant dock wall, down a nasty scaffolding passage) take a moment to look at those railings and allow yourself to be transported to the Blitz.

To the rubble and smoke, fires and blood – and the poor sods who were carried to hospital on a set of garden railings…