Archive for August, 2009

A Find…

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I’ve never really had much luck with the ‘antiques’ bit of Greenwich Market. I’m convinced that most of the stuff I see on display was in a job lot at the auction the week before for a fraction of the price, and although I always have a poke about, generally I come to the conclusion that much of it’s just (whispers) tat.

But then I made that one find that negates all the times I’ve come away with nothing, and my interest has been rekindled.

The sweet old gent who sold me The Queen’s London – a massively heavy souvenir book of 434 giant photographic plates, a pictorial record of London life at the time of Victoria’s death, told me he was delighted to be selling something that was actually older than he was, and we spent a good 15 minutes flipping through the pictures together before he’d part with it.

It must have cost a fortune when it came out – every page is a full size photograph. It wasn’t dirt cheap now (fifteen quid) but it will keep me happy for hours. That’s the kind of tragic Phantom I am…

It covers all of London, so most of it’s not Greenwich-y, though there are the obligatory pics of the park, the ORNC and a splendidly robust picture of the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal…

…but I love it all, whether it’s “Luncheon at Ascot,” “Morning Assembly at a Board School,” “Teaching Boys to Swim at Kensington Public Baths” or the rustic charm of Mile End Road.

I particularly like the bits where the photograph didn’t come out very well or there was a boring section, so they just got an artist to pencil-in figures, such as this dapper chap outside the Military Academy at Woolwich:

The picture at the top of this post was taken in May 1897, when the Prince of Wales (“accompanied by his beautiful wife”) arrived at the Northern end of the newly-built Blackwall tunnel, on its official opening day. If you look carefully at the bottom of the photo, the book’s publishers clearly didn’t think the original picture was festive enough, so they’ve got their pet artist to draw some extra bunting and another policeman on horseback for good measure…

Just out of interest, the plate facing this scene in the book is ( off-topic, I know, but you’ve got to see this…) the Field Lane refuge in Clerkenwell, showing a couple of hundred derelicts in flat caps and shaggy beards being doled out mugs of something from a watering can, the poor sods’ only solace being quotes from the Scriptures. The Queen’s London is impressed – “there are no forms of philanthropy more admirable,” it gushes.


So – don’t give up on Greenwich Market’s ‘antique’ days. There are gems to be found. It just takes some dedication – and patience…


Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Holly asks:

“Do you know the names of any celebrities or public figures that were born/grew up or currently live in Greenwich?”

The Phantom replies:

I must start out with the caveat that I am probably the world’s worst Phantom to ask about celebrities. One of my most common faux-pas is greeting ‘old friends’ in the street whilst being hissed at by whoever I’m with that I only know the ‘pal’ in question off the telly.

But back to celebrities. How low do you want to go? I have to say that one of the (many) reasons I love Greenwich is that it’s so unfashionable amongst the sleb-culture that pervades the pages of Heat – random bimbos in long-lens bikini shots either shockingly “too thin” or “too fat” in alternate issues; bum-fluff-chinned teenage boys in bad hats being thrown out of nightclubs having committed acts of mild decadence as though it’s the first time anyone’s thought of being outrageous.

Oliver’s is no Annabel’s (or whatever the latest place to be is) – and long may it continue to be so. Our town attracts quirky individuals rather than desperate fame-seekers or z-list soap stars – and though we do have a lot of meedja-types, they’re nearly all backstage, creative characters rather than Big-Brother wannabes or has-beens. The kind of producers, musicians, writers, animators, film makers and designers that Greenwich garners don’t generally make it to the front pages of the neon-headlined glossies, and they usually have two names, rather than being just referred to as “Flossie” or “George” as though we should know who the bloody hell they are.

Sorry – you’ve stumbled upon a bit of a hobby horse of mine. I’ll move back to your question.

Of course Greenwich used to be the epicentre of Celebrity – when kings and queens were the centre of the gossip pages. And at least the celebrities of olden tymes actually did something for their fame, even if it was only the dissolution of the monasteries.

Nowadays – well, now the ‘big’ names are fewer (as are are the talents you need to possess to become one) but I’ll try to think of as many as possible; I’m sure that other people can add a few more to my paltry list.

Um, well – there’s Jools Holland, of course. His very eccentric studio, a fake railway building complete with crenellations, statues, domes and what looks suspiciously like an entire Victorian street including pub, the Holland Arms, is next door to Westcombe Park Station. Sadly for us, he’s only made the illusion work one-way, so our view is mainly breezeblocks and sloppy cement rather than the full-Portmeirion-monty.

I haven’t read Jools’s memoir yet, but it talks about another famous Greenwich-raised ex-resident, Daniel Day Lewis, who lived with his family, including his poet-laureate dad Cecil, at the foot of Crooms Hill, opposite the theatre. I understand Jools was considered a bit of an oik and was only invited round the once…

His other old Squeeze-mate, Glen Tilbrook, still lives round here, I understand – or if he doesn’t, he’s back often enough to make me believe he does. You can often find him jamming with Los Dawsons at Cattleyas in Charlton of a Sunday night.

I’m sure someone once told me a famous guitarist once lived behind the Gipsy Moth pub, but the brain’s not working so well this morning, ‘fraid. Also in the memory-not-so-clear-these-days section has to be the film maker who won(?) an Oscar who lives in East Greenwich. She may or may not have been an animator. Jeez, I don’t know…

We have a lot of writers, but most tend to be mid-list, save for Blake Morrison and Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, both of whom I believe live in Blackheath. And of course, the one one and only Malcolm Hardee was a Grade A. Greenwich Individual until a couple of years ago.

The closest we get to daytime-TV-style ‘celebrity’ (apart, of course, from our own beloved – and seemingly omnipresent these days – Robert Gray) is Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen who used to live round here (I’m not sure if he still does.)

Blimey, this is doing my head in. I’m sure there are more – including sports stars, about whom I know absolutely nothing at all – but I guess the answer to your “do we have any famous residents” question, Holly is ‘not really’ – and Greenwich is generally the better off for it.

Third Birthday

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I can hardly believe it – ’twas exactly three years ago that I first started my daily Greenwich blog. It was a very different format then, and on Livejournal rather than Blogger – I only reinvented myself as The Phantom in January 2007 – but hey – it still counts, I reckon…

There are still one or two people around who put up with my first tentative efforts – to all of you, but especially to those doughty first-readers, none of whom knew me but read on anyway – I thank you.

Greenwich Market

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Heavens – it’ ALL happening!

Greenwich Council have UNANIMOUSLY REJECTED the plans for Greenwich Market – on a number of grounds – height, overdevelopment, traffic and that all-important, design quality.

I confess I am very surprised – but delighted too. Perhaps GHT can come up with something nice now. A GOOD design could really perk up the market – I am SO not against developing the space SYMPATHETICALLY – perhaps a truly boutique hotel rather than some giant monster, a plan that keeps the historic features, the traders that make the market what it is and the ‘feel’ f the place, just losing the nasty buildings (I know the 50s ones are ‘historic,’ but they’re not of much architectural merit, even the preservationist in me knows that…)

I know a lot of us didn’t have much faith in the council istening to people – but I am very pleased that they actually thought about this considered the views of residents and interested parties. I hope Greenwich Hospital will do the same now.

Climate Camp

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Blimey – it’s all happening up at Blackheath.

Climate activists have been keeping schtum about where this bank holiday’s protest camp will be – but the choice of Blackheath seems somehow sort of fitting – after all, it’s been the site of many a protest before – from Wat Tyler through to Jack Cade through to the Cornish, who I’ve always imagined must have been a bit lost if they ended up here. To be honest, though, apart from Hampstead, I’m not really sure where else they could have gone…

I’ll get up there to take some pics asap, though judging from the BBC report, not without having a few taken of myself by the fuzzies. Better take my special cloak and tricorn of invisibility…

Bella Vista

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Montpelier Vale, Blackheath

I hadn’t been to Bella Vista since the refurb, but, being a cheapskate, thought I’d go for the early evening cheapo deal. Once I got inside, of course, there were things on the a la carte I couldn’t resist so I was back to spending cash again…

The refurb has worked well. I’m pleased to say that they’ve avoided anything so ultra modern that it’s going to date within seconds of the place reopening, but, now it’s done, I guess it was a little tired before, though I can’t say I’d noticed.

Things are always going to be snug in a restaurant that size, so they haven’t even tried to make it look spacious, instead emphasising the cosiness. I like the mirrors, the high cupboards with the nicknacks and the colour scheme, though the cushions, whilst looking sumptuous, get in the way.

The menu is part new, part old. Francesco said that if he tries to change anything his regulars moan, so he has to quietly slide things on and off the menu and hope no one notices. If you see BVC after anything on the menu, it means “Bella Vista Classic” and it’s a dish he doesn’t dare remove.

I had the Apulian ‘burrata’ cheese with smoked aubergine, partially because I can’t resist aubergine and partly because I’d never had Apulian burrata cheese before. It was fab. My companion had the cold cuts. I was so busy chomping my smoked aubergine I forgot to note down what the cold cuts were actually like (I’ll never make a proper restaurant critic…) but the plate was cleared so I’m guessing it was good.

There are some times when only lasagne will do, and for my sturdy companion, this was one of those times. It was perfectly acceptable, but not an exciting dish, only going half-way to satisfying the lasagne-urge. Probably not a recipe that will make it to BVC menu-stardom…

I resisted the urge to have aubergine in a second dish in the same meal and instead tried the cod in ‘guazzetto Livornese’ which is, according to the handy menu translator, a Tuscan fish and tomato sauce – tangy and pungent, and really rather tasty, even if it is a wise idea to brush your teeth immediately afterwards, if you’re going to be within 10 feet of anyone else…
I can’t remember what the hell the wine was – only that I enjoyed it and its label had a comedy picture involving a donkey on it, which we each guessed the story behind, then asked the waiter if he knew what it was about. He didn’t but was happy to supply an alternative unlikely, shaggy-dog-alike yarn. He got his mate over who told a fourth, equally nonsense, tale behind the picture.

Actually, it might not have been our first bottle.

Bella Vista’s been around for over 20 years now. Deservedly.

Faded Greenwich (5)

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Siebert Road, SE3

BoneyBoy and Paul have kindly saved me the slog up Westcombe Hill to capture this piece of Faded Greenwich – being the laziest Phantom in the world I wasn’t much looking forward to it, despite its being one of the best examples of old painted advertising I know of round here.

Shame about the satellite dish – surely it could have been placed a few centimetres higher. Makes it hard to work out the first part of the mural. I spent quite some time trying to figure out the lettering; this is the best I can do:

Plumber & Decorator
Alterations & Repairs
Sanitary Goods of Every Description
Estimates Reg(?)

(Blank) Green 087

Maybe sharper eyes than mine can work out the details…

As usual I know nothing about Mr Holmes and his plumbing and decorating business – any clues will be gratefully received, as will other examples of faded and fading Greenwich.

The Jolly Pauper

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Thomas Creevey, 1768-1838

Had it not been for the efforts of several gentlemen who seriously feared what might be contained within it, the diary of Thomas Creevey might well have been as famous as that of Sam Pepys. Judging from his letters, which didn’t get destroyed, it’s likely that his journal would have been just as candid as Pepys’s – and equally entertaining.

As it was, the very fact that Creevey left the diary in the possession of his mistress, (with whom he lived openly for four years before his death in 1838) and the knowledge that he was one of the most notorious gossips of the Regency period, made several good men sweat.

Lord Brougham was sweating most. ‘Bruff’ had done some really interesting stuff in his life – not least defending Queen Caroline at her trial, as well as ‘discovering’ Cannes and inventing the Brougham Carriage – but he’d also done other ‘interesting’ stuff.

While the Duke of Wellington just said “publish and be damned” to courtesan Harriet Wilson when she tried to blackmail him about their ‘arrangement’, Brougham coughed up the cash. He wasn’t about to let another call-girl do the same thing. Creevey’s pal, Charles Fulke-Greville couldn’t help but snigger at the efforts of Brougham and other notables to suppress the diary, but it doesn’t change the fact that Bruff was ultimately successful.

What survives is a bunch of correspondence that Brougham’s gang didn’t manage to snaffle.

There must be a whole slew of worthy titles that spend their days alternating between charity shops and people’s bookshelves. I found a Penguin edition of Creevey’s papers in a charity shop some years ago, with every intention of reading it ‘some day.’ It was only when clearing my shelves of all the books I’d bought at charity shops to read ‘some day,’ so that they could – well – go back to where they came from so someone else could buy them to read ‘some day,’ that I actually looked at it again and discovered a curious thing.

Phantom’s Law dictates all interesting people end up in Greenwich at some point. Thomas Creevey did just that – end up here.

Creevey is immediately endearing – not least because he was a truly happy soul. He was a dreadful tittle-tattle – he couldn’t help himself – but he meant well.

“…The Duke of York was so tipsy that he fell down and was blooded immediately, and whilst the Queen was delivering her warlike manifesto, the little Pss was making game and turning her back upon her. Poor Courtney has had a paralytic stroke and Nollekens the sculptor…”

After his wife died, the cash ran out. But because of his sunny nature, he was still accepted in Society, even if he didn’t have two farthings to rub together.

Fulkes-Greville noted “old Creevey is a living proof that a man may be perfectly happy and exceedingly poor. I think he is the only man I know in Society who possesses nothing.”

He refused to take the money left to his stepchildren (his wife had been married before) and instead led a nomadic life between friends and family. His step daughter is the one to thank for keeping the correspondence we have left – she and he were close to the end.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a mischievous streak in him. A glance at the nicknames he uses in his diaries for various worthies of the day provides some insight into his naughty-boy humour. Here are a few examples:

Comical Bob – The Duke of Marlborough

The Frog – William of Orange

Niffy-Naffy – Lord Darlington

Prinny and Mrs P – Prince Regent and Princess Caroline

Squire Stiffrump – C. Western

Widow’s Mite – Lord Russell

And Brougham himself? Alternately Wickedshifts and Beelzebub.

Creevey was a Whig, a political advisor to various politicians of the day, but frankly, that’s not what he’s known for. Much like Pepys, he was a relatively minor character in a time of world events – but with an excellent front seat view of things such as the death of Nelson, Princess Caroline’s scandalous life, the amours of Lord Byron and the ascent to the throne of ‘Viccy.’

Although much of his correspondence tends to be more interesting to political historians as he discusses issues of the day, he was also just one of those guys that just happened to be around when the day’s celebrities were doing outrageous things, and he just couldn’t help telling the world about it.

In 1834, Creevey finally found some stability when he was offered the job of Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, with a salary of £600 per year and a nice house – I don’t know where that would have been. The next year his sister’s death ensured his income almost doubled and he decided to find himself a mistress “from the nocturnal pavement.”

Some people couldn’t be seen to be socialising with Creevey once he’d done such a socially unacceptable thing as finding himself a nice Greenwich hooker, but Emma Murray, in a wonderfully anti-stereotypical fashion, doesn’t seem to have latched onto an old man for his cash. She was liked by his step daughters and when he died (in 1838, in Greenwich, from a chill after staying out too late gossiping with Admiral Hardy’s daughters) and she was made sole executrix of his will, she took advice on what to do with the diaries, believed to contain ‘revelations,’ rather than immediately flogging them off to the highest bidder. The diaries did get destroyed – but it doesn’t seem to have been because of any gold-digging on Emma’s part.

“Old Creevey” loved Greenwich “Oh – that you could have seen the beauty of Greenwich Park and everything about it yesterday,” he wrote in 1835. And of the town itself “I have the best victuals London can afford of all kinds within ten yards of me.” He never gave up trying to get his mates over to visit him – “you know as well as I do that my apartments are yours” – though he does admit “I am afraid you will find Greenwich at this season a very inconvenient distance from your dentist.”

His body, as far as I know, still rests in the grounds of Davenport House. Certainly he is listed on the large monument erected when many of the bodies were exhumed for moving to East Greenwich Pleasaunce. But for a true memorial of the man, try his papers. They don’t appear to be in print just now, but they turn up in charity and secondhand shops on a regular basis. Hell – you might even end up with my old copy…

Then and Now (1) Point Hill 1906

Friday, August 21st, 2009

As part of yet another new occasional series, Greenwich then and now, I thought I’d share this strange picture with you – the view from Point Hill in 1906.

I guess the thing that’s most striking about it is that the angle is completely different to what we’d be looking at today. The only things I really recognise are St Alfege’s tower and the domes of the Old Royal Naval College – neither of which are easily viewable from the Point today.

In fact this is the best I could do a few days ago, trying to get that same angle:

The trees have grown up along the north side, which does make the Point more sheltered, but also protects us from realising just what a promontary it is, jutting out from Blackheath, looking out over the whole of London.

It must have been quite a view. I find myself imagining Jack Cade, Wat Tyler and various Cornish rebels (who must have been a bit lost to have come this way round…) standing on this funny little bit of a hill and seeing the whole of London – and a fair amount of Essex – before them.

To try to get anywhere near the same view as the shot taken just over 100 years ago, I had to go down a level, and look out over the tops of the houses – not such a good angle, but at least halfway there.

One more thing about the 1906 picture – does anyone know what the Dutch-gabled building just below the ORNC is? I can’t see it still exists.

Greenwich Ironmongery (1)

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Start of yet another occasional series today, folks. Those funny little bits of ironmongery you see knocking around Greenwich – bits of old shops, pubs or industries – that are the sole reminders of what went on before.

I’m starting with this – the lovely-but-when-you-come-to-think-about-it-darned-odd Ship’s Wheel over Starbucks in Greenwich Church Street.

I know Starbucks only arrived a couple of years ago, but my mind is hazing over. What was this beforehand? It wasn’t the coins & medals shop; that was further up…

No – my mind is a blank. But this fine piece of curly wrought iron must have meant something not so long ago and – whatever – I’m glad it’s still there.

Can anyone help a Phantom out here?