Archive for June, 2010

Lorna And Some Fancy Woolwich Road Ironmongery

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about pub nicknames (from an old book I was reading which mentioned that the King’s Head was known locally as The Bunker.) The very fine Julian Watson and I have been discussing another. He says:

“Barbara Ludlow told me many years ago how puzzled she was when her father used to say he was going to the Lorna. She knew it was a pub but was unable to find it. Much later a friend told her that he went to the Lord Napier which was pronounced locally Lor Napeer or more frequently the Lorna.”

Julian and I found ourselves scratching our heads as to where the Lord Napier actually was. We knew it used to be in Woolwich Road, but the pair of us suffered a collective brain blackout as to where

I found myself wondering whether it could be connected to some fancy ironwork I’d noticed on the East Greenwich Library end. First, and most obvious, was an old sign-fitting jutting out from above the New Hong Kong Garden Chinese Takeaway on the corner of Chevening Road. It seems as though it would have been an obvious place for a pub – opposite the entrance to the Royal Hospital Cemetery, on a corner where there isn’t a pub for – well – at least a couple of streets (the Victorians/Edwardians did love their pubs…)

I can’t tell how old the sign-holder is, but it’s rather lovely. Take a peek next time you’re passing.

My other thought – and this was clutching at straws a bit – was even further east, above the convenience store opposite East Greenwich library:

Smaller, that one, and in the middle of a row – didn’t really feel like somewhere a pub would be – especially given the close proximity to the Angerstein.  Still quite nice, though:

 Neither of my choices really seemed right. Besides, the only reference online says that it’s now a “noddle bar” (sic).

The Woolwich Road carries on beyond the motorway, into Charlton and I began to wonder whether that ex-all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet just after the railway bridge on Aldeburgh St could be the culprit. You know – the one that is currently being converted in the most dodgy way imaginable into what could pass as a dwelling. Again – it didn’t really seem right, but I was completely lost.

It took Charlton expert Darryl from 853 Blog to put me right. I truly do not know how I managed to have a total brainstorm over this one – I guess I just had it in my spectral head that it was in Charlton. He says

“The Lord Napier was at the corner of Calvert Road and Woolwich Road - that noodle bar. The pub shut around 2001 – it got an exterior facelift out of millennium money, but didn’t last for much more than a year afterwards. Never went in there myself, although a pal’s dad was its darts champion.”

So – where the Wing Wah is now. Darryl even manages to clear up what the nasty buffet was…

“The little place at the junction of Aldeburgh Street was Jools Hollands’ favourite caff – Frank’s Cafe, if I remember rightly.  There’s three ex-pubs at the Charlton end of Woolwich Road – the Watermans Arms (demolished, opposite the Antigallican), Horse and Groom (a dump, bottom of Charlton Lane),  and the Victoria (the shell opposite Maryon Park) – but no others on the Greenwich side.”

…and pass on a little snippet of gossip:

“Incidentally, the William IV is due to be turned into a “sports pub” according to a story I heard last night. The furniture has been sold to the guy who runs the Pelton Arms.”

So no real change at the William IV’s clientele, I’m guessing, it’ll just lose some of it’s rather pretty Victorian interior…

Doff of the tricorn to Darryl for reminding me of the bloomin’ obvious.

Any Danger UXB?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Sev asks:

“Do you know whether there are any WW 2 unexploded devices buried  in the Park? Apparently during the tender process one of the equestrian contractors was advised of the ‘possibility’.  I know from the late Betty Sabo that a lot of war debris was buried under Circus Field.”

I guess there’s always the possiblity of  UXBs pretty much anywhere in Greenwich. We got more than our fair share of bombs for several reasons – not least the railway, the docks and the small matter of there being a Naval college here. Oh – and the Luftwaffe offloaded any they had left over onto us too. Generally, they do seem to have been recorded, but as the Stratford Olympic site proves, they didn’t all get dug up. Occasionally there’s a bit of a surprise – like the one at Three Mills last year, but it seems that the big’uns are generally known about. Smaller devices like grenades and mortars are more of a threat, but whether or not there are any among the greenery of the Park, is beyond the knowledge of a mere Phantom.

So I turned to The Phantom Bomb Expert, Stephen from Blitzwalkers (next Greenwich and Blackheath at War Walk is on Sunday 1st August, btw).  He replies:

“This is an interesting question – whether there is any unexploded ordnance still in the Park after 70 years is a matter for conjecture. One would hope not after all this time but there were certainly Delayed Action Bombs (DABs) and UXBs recorded in the Incident Log which I can summarise as follows:

“16.09.40 – Greenwich Park/Maritime Museum Grounds 2 x suspected DABs” (Nothing in the log to say what happened to them)

“21.09.40 – Greenwich Park/Rangers House – 3 x DABs one on Tennis Court, one on Bowling Green, one on Rangers Lodge (Nothing in Log to advise what happened to them)

“22.10.40 – Suspected DAB Greenwich Park near Crooms Hill, 150 yards south of Reservoir Shelter.” (This is the brick built structure still visible today just off the footpath that runs parallel to Crooms Hill. There is no record in the log to say whether it exploded or what happened to it.)

“08.11.40 – UXB Greenwich Park 30 yards rear of house inside King William Walk Gate.” (Again there is no record as to what was done with this bomb.)

These are the only DABs/UXBs reported in the Incident Logs in the actual Park area, although there are plenty of others in Greenwich as you can imagine. What is interesting about all of these is that the Incident Log gives no clues as to the disposal of these bombs. With similar incidents elsewhere in the borough, there is nearly always a footnote to say “Bomb disposed of by Royal Engineers/Royal Navy or that it subsequently exploded at whenever.” There is even a footnote as late as 1960 in the case of a UXB found in Royal Hill/Bushey Street in the old Railway Tunnel!

So perhaps there was some sort of cover up intentional or otherwise with incidents in the Park – we’ll probably never know….”

BTW the picture is a bit of a cheat, really, as I couldn’t find any pictures of Wartime Greenwich Park that I haven’t already shown you, so Stephen sent one of Blackheath taken just after the war – aw, c’mon – the park’s in the top right hand corner, so it’s sort of relevant. Interestingly, Circus Field looks pretty full already…

Anyway, I’ve repeated it below so you don’t need to scroll up, and now I’ll sign off and let Stephen take you through it:
“The gun pits are over on the right hand side in the area where the fun fair today usually set up and the hutments for the gun crews and for the guys that looked after the balloons are on the other side of the heath running along Prince Charles Road. Incidentally, these huts were used after the war temporarily by people who had been bombed out and awaiting rehousing and then I understand briefly used by squatters before they were demolished in the late 40s.”

Oh, and BTW there are some fantastic pictures of the London Blackout in Piccadilly, 1944 on Retronaut this morning.

A Creek Road Shop Front

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of a fan of that wonderful 60s curmudgeon and London lover Geoffrey Fletcher - if you don’t already own The London Nobody Knows – both the book and the film- a true curiosity where James Mason, perfectly portraying Fletcher’s own outrage, stomps around the dodgy underbelly of 1960s London witnessing poverty and filth, drunkenness and despair – the exact opposite of, say, Blow Up - then I urge you to rectify the issue.

Fletcher was one of the very few voices being raised in post-war London furious that modernism was throwing the architectural baby out with the bathwater, and the way he raised his particular voice was in writing about -and drawing – endangered buildings. Most are now distant memories, but a few were saved.

The catalyst for his talking about a double-fronted shop front in Creek Road worthy of Jermyn Street or Spitalfields was an 18th Century doorway from demolished King George Street that Fletcher noticed in one of the many antique shops that used to populate Greenwich. He knew that the wreckers’ ball dangled precariously over Creek Road, and he shouted loudly about the shop in hisPeterborough column in the Daily Telegraph, including a rather lovely drawing of it.

“The drawing shows,” he says, “the superbly proportioned cornice and delicate Adamesque detailing which make it one of the few of this quality left in London. The shop is occupied by a second hand dealer. If we cared enough about these things, steps would be taken at once to ensure the front’s preservation – either in Greenwich or, better still, the Victoria and Albert museum.”

I confess I disagree with him on that last point. If it couldn’t have stayed where it was in Creek Road, a museum in Greenwich should have been the perfect place for it. Greenwich didn’t have a Discover Greenwich centre then, but it does now.

As a collector of Fletcher books, I have the Daily Telegraph’s compilation of some of his best columns, from 1969, Changing London. The editor adds this intriguing postscript:

“This story, however, had a happy ending. The fine double bow window shop front was removed without so much as a single pane of glass being broken. Eventually it will be on display in the new London Museum to be built at London Wall.”

“Great,” I thought. “It must be one of the shops in the Victorian street display in the middle galleries.” Annoyingly for me, when I first read the paragraph above, that part of the museum had just been closed for a couple of years for refurbishment. So I patiently waited for the new galleries to open rather than posting about the shop front when I first read about it. It wasn’t easy.

As soon as the new (brilliant, btw) galleries open, I raced in to see the Victorian street. Thing was, I couldn’t actually see that any of the shops displayed looked like likely candidates for the Greenwich shop front that Geoffrey Fletcher sketched. There were a couple of Georgian examples, but they just didn’t look the same, and Fletcher wouldn’t have been that inaccurate.

So I wrote to the museum curator, Julia Hoffbrand. And I have just had a very nice reply from her. She says

“The shop front you’re enquiring about is in our collection, and was on display until a few years ago when our modern galleries were closed to make way for our new Galleries of Modern London which opened in May. Its museum number is 67.103. It is currently stored at London Wall but I believe that it will soon be moved to our store in Hackney. You will be welcome to visit it there once it’s safely stored. I don’t know when this will be as it depends on the other commitments of our collections care team.”

Cor – now there’s a thought. Sounds as though you can, if you’re interested, actually apply to see specific things in storage – I doubt the invitation extends to just me (I hope not – the sodding anonymity thing would step in yet again…) She goes on to say

“In the meantime, here is the information from our catalogue for the shop front:
67.103: “Twin bow-fronted shop front and door from 176 Creek Road, Greenwich.  The roof has zinc flushings, and the whole shop front is painted white.  The door knocker has been removed [in storage as 80.495/11] as have the door handle and plate [in storage as 83.649/2-3], latch [in storage as 83.649/1] and letter box.  Height of the windows and cornice and iron bar supports is 10 x 0”, the overall width is 14 x 0”.  Two stone steps, circa 1810-20.  Condition good.”

So there you have it. I leave you with one last thought.

I know the Discover Greenwich Centre has only just been ‘finished’ and they probably don’t want to revisit it for ages but just ponder on this:

A beautiful, rare-as-hen’s-teeth Greenwich shop front is to be put back in storage. The entrance to the shop part of the Discover Greenwich gift shop, within the museum, is very dull.

Wouldn’t it be great for the Greenwich Foundation to borrow the old shop front from the Museum of London (they would surely be happy not to have to store it if they knew it would be on display somewhere), and erect it in the opening between the main museum and the shop, and thus use it as a shop front again?

People would be able to walk through the door to a real shop, complete with display of goods in the window, it would stay in good nick as it would be indoors and everyone could enjoy it instead of it being stuck in a store in Hackney with a number on it. I know it would cost a bit, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of Crooms Hill

Friday, June 25th, 2010

No, really. Well, maybe. Well, okay, probably not. But hey – it can’t be less likely than last week when I (highly convincingly, IMHO) argued that the Bayeux Tapestry was actually woven in Greenwich… 

It started when I was reading a dense little book from 1977, The Story of Greenwich, by C M Dawson: 

“Shakespeare was here (his Dark Lady of the Sonnets may have resided in Crooms Hill) and Marlow was killed in a tavern brawl…” 


But yes, he does just leave it at that. No explanation about our own local Dark Lady of the Sonnets, nothing. 

Now, of course the true identity of the Dark Lady has been a mystery for centuries. It’s even possible that – heavens – Shakespeare actually made her up. He was quite well known for doing that. But just for fun, let’s run with her being real. I sniffed A Quest. 

There are, apparently, three front-runners for the position.

 I rather hoped that the black prostitute Luce Morgan might be one of ours – she would fit in with the whole Greenwich Birdimage. But no. Better known as the “Abbess of Clerkenwell”, it wasn’t her. Neither was it Mary Fitton, a maid of honour at court. But the third candidate… 

Emelia Bassano was of Venetian/Jewish/Moroccan origin, but she was English, born after her musician father came over to play at court. To be honest, there’s not much known about her early life (though she used to visit an astrologer, Simon Forman, on a regular basis and its his professional notes that give us what little we have) but she was quite a character – and, considering that she was the first female professional poet in England (her collection of frankly proto-feminist works, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in 1611) it’s slightly depressing to think that she’s better known for having had a long-term affair with the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. 

Seems that despite a minor age difference (he was forty five years older than her) her time was much happier with Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon than at any other. Some might attribute that to the fact that he ‘gave her monie and jewels’ but being a romantic Phantom, I like to think it was true love and companionship. She was no common strumpet – she had learned Latin and been given a humanist education when her father died and she was brought up by a Lady Bertie, who was convinced that girls should have the same level of education as boys – a bit of a radical idea in Elizabethan England. 

Things got a bit embarrassing, though, when she became pregnant by Carey in 1592. Everyone held their collective breath while they tried to work out how to tell the Queen, who, somewhat inconveniently, happened to be Henry’s first cousin. They decided the best thing all round was to marry Emelia off to Hugenot musician Alphonso Lanier, who was the queen’s flautist. 

 Apparently they did pretty well – aquiring a lot of property in East Greenwich (remember in those days, ‘East’ Greenwich was what we would now call Central Greenwich) though I can’t find any record of them living at Crooms Hill. Their main house was said to have had a theatre in it – a precusor to home cinemas, I guess. 

I’ll get onto the Lanier family another day – they warrant a post of their own, and today’s is about the Dark Lady. But despite the outward appearance of gentility between the couple, it doesn’t sound as though it was all sweetness and light. When Henry Carey died, a rather telling note by her faithful astrologer hints at why she became a professional poet:

 “… a nobleman that is ded hath loved her well & kept her and did maintain her longe but her husband hath delte hardly with her and spent and consumed her goods and she is nowe…in debt” 

At the age of 42, Lanierpublished her volume of poetry. The main thrust, sometimes known as “Eve’s Apology”,  is a strange satire of Christ’s life from the point of view of the loyal  women who surrounded him, not least Pilate’s wife who tried to persuade him not to wash his hands. She points out that everyone who betrayed Christ was male. Bassano also argues that Adam should shoulder most Original Sin because he was stronger than Eve, and therefore should have been able to resist temptation better than her. Pretty cool stuff for 1611, don’t you think?

Sadly poetry rarely brings riches and when her husband died she had to set up a school to support herself. I don’t know where it was – perhaps she was still in Greenwich – but she got arrested twice for not paying her rent and the school failed. Still – she lived to a ripe old age – 76. She’s buried in Clerkenwell.

But what about all this Dark Lady business? Well, it would seem that her skin – given her Venetian/Moroccan roots – was quite dark, and that she would have rubbed shoulders with Shakespeare. She was also quite striking to look at and her musical background is a clue too. A descendant of hers, Peter Bassano is utterly convinced of the link and it is very attractive to think that England’s first declared female poet inspired England’s greatest poet. For me, the jury’s out. Even pointing out that there’s an Emilia in Othello and a Bassan(i)o in The Merchant of Venice feels a bit like clutching at straws. But if there was indeed a  real Dark Lady, I can’t see why on earth she shouldn’t be One of Our Own.

BTW no one knows what she looked like, but some people reckon the miniature above by Nicholas Hilliard is of her…

Patrick Moore at Greenwich

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Over the years Patrick Moore, who, against stiff competition, not least from Colin Pillinger, has to be one of Britain’s most colourful characters in astronomy, has visited Greenwich a fair few times. Over the years he’s taken a bunch of photos, both academic and snapshot, on slide film, and now he’s making his collection available online via a couple of web-savvy pals, and I’ve been directed to it by Peter (who, if you recall, sent those great pictures of the inside of the power station.)

There aren’t a huge amount of pictures of ‘old’ Greenwich (as opposed to ‘new’ Greenwich at Herstmonceux) but those that are there are definitely worth a peek for some recent-past (though largely undated – a crime I’m often guilty of myself) views of a familiar sight.

Death by Hum – And Wibbley Wobbley Fun

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Dunno about you, but the first thing I think of when I think about Malcolm Hardee isn’t clothes. And yet it’s a good half way into Jody VandenBurg’s docco  The Tunnel before one of Britain’s most outrageous comics ever is seen in anything other than a full set of togs (fully-pixelated, in case you’re of a nervous disposition…)

I confess I was just too young and too scared to ever venture into the club myself – I’d heard its fearsome reputation and just going past made me nervous. Actually, it still is quite a place if you go past of a Friday night about 10.00 - and it’s somehow rather sweet that the Tunnel Club’s resident heckler who, along with Simon Munnery (who’s looking terrifyingly like Pete Beale these days), forms the main talking head-action is pleased that it’s still an ‘outside’ venue, (I was chatting to a guy of 19 who visited THAT recently and only lasted about 15 minutes before he got scared…) I told myself I was more into music anyway…

The documentary is, like Tea Time, another ‘alternative’ vision of the area covering something un-mainstream that thankfully still exists, important in that it discusses something that, by its very nature, will only ever be marginalised in history books (though I was pleased to see an entry from Mary Mills’s Greenwich and Woolwich at Work  featured in the film.) There’s no narrator, so in many ways you’re expected to know, more or less, something  of the history of Hardee, his notorious balloon act and the alternative alternative comedy circuit of the 1980s and 90s (if you don’t, try checking out this )

There’s not much point in my reinventing the wheel here – I recommend watching the video – which has been nominated for an award, so if you enjoy it, you could vote for it too. Don’t switch off when it comes to the (very long, considering the length of the movie) credits – there are more famous people interviewed during them, drawing on their own Tunnel visions, including one brave dissenting voice from Mark Lamarr, who loved Hardee but not the club itself. Presumably he, like pretty much every other performer there, died a horrible death – perhaps even the time mentioned in the movie where 350 people hummed some poor sod off the stage.

Hardee owned the Wibbley Wobbley boat in Greenland Dock up to the point of his untimely death in 2005 and I visited it the other evening to see how it’s faring.

It’s charming, complete with bunting , flowers and fairy lights, if perhaps not quite as raucous as it once was. Wider than you might expect, it really is a pub on water – plush bench seats, rope disco lights, and resident cat inside, comfy seats outside to watch the sun slip down behind the apartment blocks. When I went it was clearly a place for residents and boaty-types to enjoy a quiet drink under yellowing shipping maps pasted onto the ceiling. Sadly, French Fred no longer does food (even though it’s still advertised on a board on the Thames Path) but I still liked this place a lot. It’s a place for cool drinks on hot summer evenings, but I suspect it would be very cosy in the winter too. I just hope they start doing food again soon.

Do check out the docco. And if anyone fancies making a film about South East London’s music scene in the 19 70s, 80s and 90s, there’s a willing viewer waiting here…

Parish News

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I’ve finally got round to sorting out the Parish News section and there are some fun-looking events there – so do have a peek.

Sorry to anyone whose event I missed because I took so long to do this.

Just to reiterate, the best way to send me stuff is cut-and-paste ready copy – if you send me PDFs, or stuff that I have to edit, then I usually have to put it aside until I have a moment – and that can mean I forget all about it until it’s too late…

A New Model Bathouse For The Industrious Classes

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Those working class chaps, eh!  No one denies you need ‘em – for toiling in your factory or down the docks, but oh boy, don’t they just whiff!

The issues surrounding the lower classes’ personal hygiene had been exercising sturdy nineteenth century minds for some time. Not only did they have to live in the same vicinity as the labouring hobbledy-hoi, they had to sniff them too. By 1844 it things had got so bad that a public meeting was called at Mansion House, open to anyone whose nostrils were offended by poor people, to try to deal with the stench.

It was decided that the only thing to do was for decent middling sorts to put their hands into their pockets and raise a subscription, enough to create a wash house to show the paupers how to keep themselves clean and decent. Of course, for them, it was very much an act of charity.  “It is Christian, ” wrote one benefactor, “and it is politic in a worldly sense; it is a beginning towards the salvation of soul and body, by cleansing the boady and purifying the mind; it is an earnest in part payment of a debt due to those who labour for us.”

The Model Establishment was opened in Goulston Square in the City in 1847, and, to the delight of the committee, they even brought in a few shillings. It seemed that once the workers actually had somewhere to bathe they were quite happy to keep themselves clean.

An Act of Parliament was passed to allow boroughs to raise some cash (on the security of the rates) to build local baths and wash houses. Greenwich was an early adopter. Our bath house for the industrious classes was on the corner of Royal Hill, I think where the Borough Hall is now, and it was a huge success.

The bath and wash houses seem to have been pretty much of a muchness in design. The floors, the divisions between the zinc baths and wash tubs were made of slate, and each cubicle had a looking glass, a seat, pegs to hang up clothes, and ‘other little conveniences.’

It cost 6d for a first class warm bath with two towels. I’m not sure what else a first class bath included, since if you paid 2d you could get a second class warm bath and the only difference the book mentions is that you only got one towel.

In the laundry, there were wringing machines, drying chambers, ironing boards and a “very ingenious” glass and slate roof to create the best conditions for drying clothes.

The Victorian book I’ve been reading about it raves about the benefits for both rich and poor of the system, saying that it will “encourage the philanthropist to psursue his search for opportunities to benefit the poor withouth sacrifcing their independence, or lessening their inducements to continue with cheerfulness their  daily toil.”

It’s also boasts that other countries are following Britain’s lead  - France is just about to erect bath houses in Paris and Belgium and the United States are thinking about it.

The book (I wish I knew what it was called; I bought it as a ripped and torn fragment, in several pieces and with no cover; I’m not even sure of the date) is staggered to find that “the anxiety of poor women to use the laundry has proved to be fully equal to that of the men to use the baths,” but it also accepts that not everywhere was quite as clean as Greenwich. Takeup “in the dirtiest and poorest districts” was low, even when “the charge for its use is so low as to place it within the reach of all but paupers.” In 1849, to try to get the buggers to wash, they stopped charging altogether, and  “tubs, well supplied with hot and cold water were opened gratuitously to the poor during the whole period that the cholera was raging, and yet but few availed themselves of the advantages so offered.”

I’m not entirely sure when the Greenwich Baths disappeared; I’m assuming when the new Borough Hall was built in the late 30s.

Borders Sans Frontieres

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Stephen noticed that the railings have come down between the path and the magnificent herbaceous border near the Queen’s House. He was slightly worried that it might be something to do with the removal of some of the border to create the Sammy Ofer Wing of the NMM, but I’m inclined to be optimistic and say that it’s just breaking down barriers so we can get closer to the flowers.

Stephen and I agree that it looks better without the railings – what do you think?

Bee First Aid

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Victoria’s been very concerned about the number of expired and expiring bumblebees conking out around Greenwich. She says “They’re especially bad around Greenwich South street near St Marks church.  Every morning on the way to the DLR there are more and more, I counted at least 30 this morning.”

Now, I know nothing about bees except that some people keep them on their roofs these days. But while I was busy googling Bees in Greenwich (did you know there’s an Beekeeping supplies shopon Blackheath Hill? No – nor did I…)  Victoria  managed to find this useful First Aid Advice for grounded bees. It looks a bit fiddly to me, all sugar solutions and pipettes, but at least there’s no mouth-to-mouth involved.

I’ve been wondering if there are any local beekeepers around here? There are a couple in Catford and Brockley but there must surely be some Greenwich Honey around?

I know – the pictures seem pretty random, but I didn’t have any lovely pictures of Greenwich bees, dead or alive, and I did have lovely pictures of Greenwich Park flowers that Stevie took the other day. And bees like flowers don’t they, so it’s sort of connected…