Archive for August, 2010


Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Oh, that Dubois of Lewisham still existed. I’m sure that the Outfitters to Gentlemen and the Sons of Gentlemen would have been only too happy to help Ruth with a small alteration issue.  She says:

I am looking for someone to alter a rather expensive coat. I don’t want to take it to just any tailor I find in the yellow pages, so I’m looking for a recommendation.

Sadly, now that the wonderful Valerie Dressmakerhas ceased trading I’m a bit stumped for truly marvellous alteration tailors. The guy who sits in the window of the excellent dry cleaners on Woolwich Road opposite Heartless East Greenwich always seems to be busy at his sewing machine, but although he once sewed up the frayed pocket of a suit jacket for me, I have no idea whether anything more complicated would flummox him or not.

Has he altered anything more specialised for you, or can anyone suggest another tailor?

Yet More Building Works

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

It must be grim being a tourist coming to Greenwich just now. Nelson Road is under plastic. St Alfege’s  is under plastic. The NMM is under plastic. Greenwich Pier is under plastic. The Cutty Sark’s been under plastic for years. The Old Royal Naval College is under scaffolding. One of the only bits that hasn’t been under plastic (so far) has been the Five Foot Walk.

Sadly not for long. The few square metres of green surrounding Bellot’s obelisk have proved just too tempting for the developers.

Now – this is ‘only temporary’ (if you count ‘a couple of years’ as temporary) as they create a hard-standing for people waiting for the ferry. The workman who spoke to Stephen (who took these pics) told him that the ticket office was to be moved to the grounds of the ORNC, which appears to be used more and more as a handy overspill for anything no one else wants.

I have to say that I can sort of understand in this particular case. I am assuming that this is the council creating their new-look Cutty Sark Gardens that they consulted about a few months ago, and, Lord knows, if there’s one area of Greenwich that does need a spruce up, it’s that. So for once I’m okay with this (though – two years? I don’t remember anything that radical in the proposals…)

What does bother me, though is that this is just the dovetail. If it’s going to take two years, that takes us to 2012. We will theoretically have a few months of clarity before the ORNC’s grounds are co-opted for something that really does bother me.

I have spent many Phantom-inches worrying about the ghastly market redevelopment proposals Greenwich Hospital are determined to impose upon us, and which have  been soundly turned down by the council. But in a few days time they will be attempting to take the whole thing over our heads and go to appeal (the link with the ORNC is that they intend to relocate the market to the grounds while it’s being done).

No one has made it easy to object to the appeal, though I know quite a few of us did manage to circumnavigate the red tape when it was first announced, and I’m not sure if it is too late now to send a letter to the inspectorate in Bristol (they couldn’t get anyone local to agree to such a horrid thing) but I include the address just in case:

Alan Ridley
Planning Inspectorate
Room 4/02, Temple
Bristol BS1 6PN

Sorry – a grim one today. I promise that September will be full of light and lovely stuff.

Greenwich Weather Station

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I am, apparently, not the only afficionado of the lovely Maplin in Charlton, which always has that weird little battery that no one else sells (and helpful assistants that tell you the cheapest way to buy said battery is to get the mini torch on special offer and use the batteries out of that) a roll-up keyboard, peculiar burglar alarm spares and disco lights.  I mean – no household is complete without a fog machine.

Julian agrees. He’d always wanted a wireless weather station – and who wouldn’t – and when he saw that Maplin are doing them half price, he snapped one up. Add a spot of free webspace and Trinity Grove Weather was born. It’s simple stuff, but rather fascinating…

The photo, by the way, is by Kathy, when she got up to find out what last week’s cable ship was called…

Ile de Brehat Cable Ship

Friday, August 27th, 2010

On Wednesday at 3.00am, Kathy was woken up by a humming made by a strange-looking ship. I have to say that this photo reminds me of the opening sequence from The Usual Suspects.I’m glad to say that there was no giant explosion but Kathy’s curiosity got the better of her and she got up again at 6.00am to find out what the ship was.

It’s Alcatel’s cable ship Ile de Batz, somewhat further up the river from where Alcatel’s submarine works live on the peninusla. I don’t know what it’s doing on Greenwich Reach pier; Kathy’s not seen a cable ship there before. I guess it could be – well – laying cable.

Wanna know how they do it? Check this out. I particularly enjoyed the dramatic music.

Sorry – this post should have appeared yesterday; I had some technical problems.

Under London

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Alan Brooke, David Brandon, Pitkin 2010, £4.99

Pitkin aren’t known for their in-depth analyses of any subject, but that’s not what you buy ‘em for.  They’re cheap and cheerful introductions to a place you visit on a day trip, with just enough info to entertain the casual visitor and pique the curiosity of the relatively few who decide to go further.

Having said that I have a Pitkin Guide to the Cutty Sark from the 1960s positively crammed with information – far too much for the MTV generation of today (admittedly including me)  brought up on soundbites and sidebars. Grainy black and white photographs and large blocks of text don’t look particularly inviting, but they’re certainly substantial, and if memory of my parents grumbling serves, they were comparitively pricey back then.

I’m not aware that I have ever noticed Pitkin for years – certainly I haven’t bought anything (new, obviously – obscure second-hand volumes about weird things still make my spectral fingers itch) but my eye was drawn by Under London in Waterstones the other day.

Pitkin has hipped-up. Admittedly the subject matter was the thing that grabbed me about Under London but when I flicked through I was seduced by the glossy pages, the full colour illustrations – and yes, okay, by the fact that I needed something to read in the coffee shop and I could do this one cover to cover in the time it took to slurp a cappuccino. Oh – and the price. £4.99. You can’t really knock that…

What is it about things that are either very high up or buried beneath your feet? I guess it’s the lure of the unknown but it always seems to be the towers or the tunnels that sell out on Open City (this year on the weekend of the 18th/19th September – put it in your diaries now if you haven’t already…)

London seems to have as much underneath her as on top, and that’s where a guide of this size starts to run out of puff. It’s a really good looking book – lots of shiny photographs (I love George Formby singing about his little stick of Blackpool rock to sheltering Blitz Londoners) and quirky snippets, loosely gathered into themes – cemeteries, underground stations, murder, ghosts, plumbing and sewers – and there are things obscure enough to entertain an Underground London fan, but at 48 pages, this can only ever be a brief overview.

Greenwich, sadly, hardly comes into the picture at all – a fleeting mention of the Foot Tunnel, but nothing about the Swiss cheese that the town becomes further up the hill. I guess that’s forgivable since it’s a London-wide book, and it necessarily has to concentrate on the centre.

So. A handsome paperback, well-priced and with fun, funky facts and a breezy style. It’s not going to replace Antony Clayton’s Subterranean City(which itself could do with a bit of an update) and there is still a big yawning gap for a specifically Underground Greenwich book, but as a shiny intro to the delights under your feet in the City and beyond, it’s an entertaining light read.

Heartless East Greenwich

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Jon asks:

On the page here Greenwich Council states that construction of the “Greenwich Centre” is due to start in December 2010.
I’d heard of the plans to build the Centre but I don’t recall seeing that date before.
Do you know whether this is part of the Heart of East Greenwich development? If so, has that date been announced officially? Are there now committed plans to do something with that site?

Andrew’s been worrying about this since May:

Whilst walking past the “New Heart for East Greenwich” today – something struck me as I walked past the blue boarded up former hospital site – if the E.Greenwich site were really in need of a new heart – it would be dead by now!

Perhaps the site is on an NHS waiting list ?  I think it needs the kiss of life!

I truly have no idea what’s going on there. The Greenwich Centre  is the one-stop shop for council services intended to go in the large empty space where the hospital was cleared, but any ideas about actual delivery are at best twinkles in eyes as far as I know.

In her latest newsletter Mary Mills says that at the June meeting of the East Greenwich Management Committee (not sure who this comprises of)  it was decided there was “ clarification needed” for the New Heart of East Greenwich (God, I hate typing that name, it just sucks)  but it “is understood a newsletter will soon be available for a developer.”

In June, apparently, this mythical ‘newsletter’ was ‘in the process of being produced. No sign of it yet, which doesn’t bode well for a December starting date.

One of the major problems appears to be that it’s not actually down to Greenwich Council what goes on on the site. It’s managed by (or at least it was last time I looked, but these government quangos seem to change with the wind) the Homes and Communities Agency (HACA) who recently lost their commercial partner, First Base. They now appear to have gone to the HACADPP (Homes and Communities Agency Development Partner Panel for those of you who don’t live in a Douglas Adams-esque world of bureaucracy) to try to find new development partners, which are pretty thin on the ground just now.

For the past – what – five, six years, there’s been a big hole in East Greenwich where the only thing that’s happened is that from time to time a new set of expensively-produced signs have gone up as the quango in charge has changed. My favourite was the jolly yellow set where small children talked about their dreams for the space – “fountains everywhere” said one young chap, who is probably in his twenties now (though unless they were going to reproduce the Tivoli Gardens – now there’s a thought – fountains ‘everywhere’ might be a tad impractical…)

Frankly I think it’s pretty unlikely that anything’s going to happen soon. In the meanwhile, East Greenwich library reels from the loss of the Meridian Music Centre, the Arches get just that little bit tattier and Woolwich Road continues to languish. I understand that the HACA are refusing access to anyone who might want to use the land for temporary purposes – as a sculpture park, for example, or temporary allotments. I’m assuming because they worry they’d have problems evicting people if they did.

All Change on the Western Shopping Front

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

There’s a Mitchell and Webb sketch about Richard Dawkins looking for a subject for his new book,  the next thing (after God)  that doesn’t exist.  The question “Do Wimpy’s still exist?” gets the response “There’s still one in Greenwich. ”

Sadly that’s not true, though it wasone of the last old-style Wimpys to go and top marks for local knowledge on the part of M&W (the only working Wimpy I know of is on Margate seafront). Of course the dear old Wimpy beloved of a certain generation of schoolchildren, will live on forever (twice, actually) in the charming Bridge of Tiles but for now, at least, it’s yet another faceless all-purpose takeaway fried chicken place.

A number of people have been noticing strange things happening in that scruffy little shopping ‘arcade’ opposite the end of Royal Hill, though. There was the booze bunfight last year when Bottoms Up closed where yummy mummies kicked toddlers out of pushchairs to fill their buggies up with cut-price Champagne,  and now there’s a presumably slightly-less-attractive-to-parents-of-under-fours closing-down sale of J&S Accessories (that’s the motorbike shop on the other side of the parade.)

Scott tells me the sign in the shop window of J&S says that Sainsburys have applied for a liqour license morning to midnight which sort of implies a mini market.

That must delight the Co-Op, still battling valiantly on in between the two…

And Richard has just directed me to the planning application for the old Bottoms Up – apparently it’s to be the expansion of a tour operator and a new School of English, which sounds inoffensive, if a little dull to me.

Weather Vanes (3) John Roan School

Friday, August 20th, 2010

We haven’t had a weather vane for aaaages, so here’s one I snapped the other day whilst walking past John Roan School up by the park. After some uncertainty it looks as though the school will now remain where it is rather than moving to the Peninsula. I guess there are equal quantities of people pleased and fed up about that.

The architects were the fabulously-monikered Percy Boothroyd-Dannatt and Sir Bannister Flight Fletcher, author of the seminal A History of Architecture, now in its millionth imprint, and costing a packet (though earlier editions are cheaper and well worth owning. I wish I did…) – and it was built by Bovis in 1926-8. Presumably it’s the Bannister Fletcher connection that makes it Grade II listed.

The listing doesn’t mention the weather vane, which is a shame, but it’s not hard to work out that the stag is a simplified version of the Roan coat of arms  (three stags rampant topped by a stag’s head holding an acorn in its mouth and the motto, “Honore et Labore”)

I don’t have a fantastic zoom on my camera, so here’s as close as I can get.

Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Air Raid Shelter

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

June asks:

I was born in Greenwich and grew up in Circus Street. I now live down on the coast near Dungeness. I remember my Dad telling me about a tunnel that went from somewhere near the swing park up to Blackheath. It was supposedly used during the war. I have searched on the net but can find nothing about it. Do you know of it at all?

Jack asks:

I have tried everywhere for info about the Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich Park     During the war it was used as an air raid shelter by the local residents my wife being one of those.    Can you help  me please?

I think it’s time to discuss the role of Greenwich Park in the war again… Happily I had a good chat with Dominic of the exemplary Subterranean Greenwich And Kent some time ago about this very subject, and, as luck would have it, Stephen of Blitzwalkers (next Greenwich at Warwalk Sat 18th September, btw) and I were going against Basil Fawlty’s advice and talking about the war just yesterday.

As we discussed a few months ago, Greenwich Park saw its fair share of action during WWII – and not all of it of the blast variety – the lower part near the Queen’s House was actually rather lovely, turned into allotments. But there were also several buildings in there – could they be used for air-raid shelters?

I guess we have to know a little about the underground geography around the west end of the Park, and even though Dominic has carefully explained it all, I’m still not sure I totally have it. The issue is that there are only so many words for ‘reservoir’ and ‘conduit’ and there appear to be several candidates for their use on the west side of the park (and not a few on the east…)

Dominic and his partner in cavery, Per, have inspected a highly detailed 1700-ish plan of the Standard Reservoir house,  and the underground reservoir immediately behind it. Now I think that that’s what I’ve always thought was the Conduit House, the dour little Hawksmoor building halfway up the hill. This one (as photographed by Stephen):

Dominic says “the building itself is empty and featureless, though under the floor is a reservoir fed by a lead pipe.

A few yards uphill from the building is a very large underground reservoir, which heads across towards the observatory for about 20 yards – it was opened during the war for assessment as a possible air raid shelter (I’ve seen a photo that proves that unequivocally).” I think Dominic means the big round reservoir, which, thinking about its underground nature probably would have been ideal. Apparently the Park’s a bit of a Swiss Cheese at that point, with plenty of tunnels and even another (now lost) conduit building.

It seems, though, that the wartime authorities actually decided on the Hawksmoor building, reinforcing it for use as Public Air Raid Shelter No. 4,  and though Stephens’s not sure where the other three were, (certainly from the Subterranean Greenwich guys’ account of visiting the “hobbit hole” near the children’s playground, that one would have been far too teeny – not to mention wet - to get panicky people inside) he tells me “There were also Trench Shelters over near the Park Vista entrance but given the reputation of these – one in Kennington Park collapsed after a near miss early in the Blitz with over 50 being killed – I shouldn’t think these were used much. As far as I know these were daytime-only shelters – i.e. for use of the public when the park was open – local residents in Crooms Hill for example would all have had Anderson shelters in their gardens.”

So, I’m pretty convinced that the air raid shelter that Jack’s wife and June’s dad remember is the Hawksmoor building – it even has ‘Greenwich Hospital’ carved on the outside. Happily, it never got a direct hit, though it had a very near miss on the night of 21st October 1940 when a bomb fell 25 yards from the entrance…

The picture at the top, by the way, is a total cheat. It’s a Faded Greenwich photo sent to me by Frank, of a fabulous Air Raid Shelter signpost – but it’s nowhere near Greenwich Park, or even Greenwich, though I’m sure we had them all over the place at the time. This splendid example is actually in Deptford High Street.

Greenwich Grottoes

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Gavin asks:

“Do you happen to know anything about the ‘subterranean grotto’ in the grounds of Woodlands/Mycenae House, mentioned in the newish Westcombe Park conservation area appraisal in ” The Westcombe Park Conservation Area Apprasial?” (page 23, if you’re looking – though I’ll understand if you get waylaid, it’s a fascinating document – TGP)

Greenwich is, frankly, poorly served for grottoes. It wasn’t always so – according to the fabulous John Bold (if you don’t have his architectural history of Greenwich, then get saving those pennies now – he’s pricey but so worth it) 17th Century Greenwich boasted a grotto (by Salomen de Caus, a major Mannerist gardener) to rival Tivoli in the grounds of the seminal Queen’s House (though the comedy fountain wasn’t quite as grand…)

A 1640 visitor described this confection as one of the prettiest he’d ever seen; inside a little house with an iron grille at the front. The walls shimmered with mother of pearl and little sea shells interspersed with grass and moss, so artfully done that it looked like some magical creation. I can’t quite picture the ‘woman representing a centaur, made of shells, bringing forth a great quantity of water, just like the other two figures to either side of her,’ but I’m sure it was charming.

 John Bold discusses (then dismisses, boo…) the possibility of the Queen’s House basement being originally intended as a grotto (apparently de Caus had built one in the basement of the Banqueting House at Whitehall, now long-gone, though there is one still at Woburn Abbey.)

There’s pretty much nothing left of the magnificent gardens at Greenwich – whatever’s still in the Dwarf Orchard is pretty much our lot these days as far as I know.  Sadly while the rest of Europe was enjoying a grotto-building extravaganza, Greenwich Palace was busily being turned into biscuit factory by Oliver Cromwell, and even later, when Charles II promised new heights of extravagance, and there were hints of a new grotto in the air, to be constructed at the top of the Giant Steps, the king ran out of cash while the splendid, multi-storey, temple-esque folly was still a twinkle in John Webb’s eye.

During the grand rococo second-flush of grotto-creation in the 18th Century, Greenwich’s fortunes had already taken a turn for the worse. The court had long moved west, and with it the money courtiers were prepared to spend on fripperies. The fabulous new hospital was grand but salty old sea-dogs had no use for the kind of nymphs found in shell-houses. If the grand houses around the park boasted any, I don’t know of them (though I can’t help thinking Princess Caroline would have loved one) and if there are any left in back gardens in West Greenwich I don’t know of them, either, though I would looooooove to (hint, hint…)

There may have been one in Sir John Vanbrugh’s back garden ( I certainly wouldn’t put it beyond him) and I do vaguely remember someone telling me that there’s still a folly at Vanbrugh Castle which, when the person who told me last saw it, was being used as a shed.

So in our paucity of rustic folly, we have to turn to those other great grotto-lovers.


No, really. There’s nothing, it seems, that  nuns love building more than little shrines and grottoes in the grounds of their convents. I know of two in Greenwich, though I guess there could be more.

Firstly, the one in the Ursuline, part of Our Lady Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill. I’ve never seen it, of course, it’s behind the high walls, but I was chatting to a woman I met at a function a few months ago who had gone to school there and distinctly remembered the grotto in the bushes as a good place for the ‘naughty girls’ to have a quiet fag.

The other, and I finally get on to Gavin’s question now, was in the grounds of  Woodlands/Mycenae House and built by the Little Sisters of the Assumption. As I understand it it was based on the famous shrine at Lourdes, which must have been quite an eyeful (although my own abiding memories of Lourdes are the wall-to-wall souvenir shops selling plastic water bottles in the shape of the Virgin Mary, glow-in-the-dark Maddonas and miniature icons made out of fairy lights to sit on car dashboards) but I’m not aware that it was subterranean.

I was quite excited by the little note in the Apprasial, as I was under the distinct impression that the grotto had been wantonly demolished a few years ago, but if it’s in an official document, it does raise the tantalising possiblity that what I have heard about the loss of the grotto is wrong and that it lies there still, “now concealed beneath undergrowth” at the bottom of the gardens.

Or maybe it’s a totally different grotto to the ones the nuns built.  Certainly there’s quite an implication that the subterranean grotto belongs to Woodlands rather than Mycenae and, therefore, possibly something left over from John Julius Angerstein’s time. It’s frustratingly brief.

Back in April, when Gavin first asked the question, I wrote to Senior Conservation Officer, Rebecca Duncan, who wrote the report, to confirm that the subterranean grotto does actually exist.  So far I have had no reply. I remain optimistic, but can’t help feeling that more digging, both literal and metaphorical, needs to be done.

Does anyone know of any modern grottoes/follies in Greenwich?