Archive for November, 2010

Short Break

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Folks, things at Phantom Towers have whipped themselves up to quite a crazy point and I’m going to have to take a break for a few days.

I’ll be back soon, promise, but for now I’ll just quickly mention a last-minute public meeting organised by people in West Greenwich who are opposed to the proposed pedestrianisation/traffic gyrations of Greenwich tonight at the (now) Prince of Greenwich pub on Royal Hill.  Attending will be:

John Comber, Director, Regeneration Enterprise & Skills (i.e. boss of the dept that includes Highways)

Mike Freestone, Senior Officer, Highways (in charge of pedestrianisation proposals – he’s the boss of the Officers & Consultants who were available at the Pedestrianisation Consultations)

Maureen O’Mara (Councillor West Greewnich)

Matthew Pennycook (Councillor West Greenwich)

Fort Greenwich

Friday, November 12th, 2010

So what’s all this about, then? It looks a bit like a wild west stockade, over in the eastern part of Greenwich Park. Scared of Chives sent me this, wondering if I knew anything about it. Of course I don’t – I am not party to anything that goes on in the park – but I can guess it’s Olympic-related. Here it is from another angle:


I have no idea – lookout for injuns over Vanbrugh Castle? Ideas and suggestions please.


Thursday, November 11th, 2010

I’m sure there will be a lot of pictures of poppies today, but I wanted to share with you something I saw a month or so ago. There is no note, no inkling as to who created this, or for whom it is for.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Rafters

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

A pal of mine, who knows the way to a Phantom’s heart, gave me a rather odd little book for my birthday, a 1964 ‘guide’ to the pubs and taverns of the Thames, carefully selected, as far as I can see, by whether or not the establishments had paid to be in it. For all that, though, it’s full of some really quirky little entries, padded out with odd facts (or, possibly, factoids) about some of our classic hostelries.

Greenwich appears several times – with mentions of The Yacht (Manns) The Cutty Sark (Free House) The Trafalgar Tavern (Manns) – and the one I want to talk about today, The Pilot (Whitbread.)

Of course the Pilot is a Fullers House now, and, I have to say from the photos on its website, it looks like it might be a place to recommend to people who are looking for somewhere to stay on a visit to the O2. It’s certainly less corporate than the Holiday Inn, closer than the central Greenwich venues, and the rooms look pretty decent.

But I’m not really going to talk about the pub today in this post as my eye was drawn to something else in the entry in Riverside Taverns and Inns. It says that the original building dates back to the 1660s (that must be the bit in the middle) which explains why it survived the wholesale demolition on the peninsula – it’s automatically listed - “All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840″ - English Heritage.  Even if Mary Mill’s reference to it actually having been built in the very early 19th century (in her sadly out-of-print Greenwich Marsh – the Three Hundred Years Before the Dome) is right, it’s still probably listed.

But back in 1964, they had just done some renovating and the book has this tantalising line:

“during recent renovations several gold coins were found lying amongst the old mahogany timbers.”

Now, I have to say I was mildly surprised to think that an inn would have been build from mahogany – but then this was dockland, and all sorts of materials ‘accidentally’ found their way into unexpected places off the ships. Bugsby’s Marsh would have been wild land where anything went. Perhaps the Pilot’s rafters are made from finest mahogany. But gold coins? Cor! That’s straight out of the Famous Five!

And it gets better.

“This discovery helps to substantiate the theory that smugglers used the house and probably hid their spoil in the loft before carrying it through the tunnels which lead from the cellar to the nearby river.”

When I read that I started dancing around with excitement. Of course, when I stopped for breath, I started asking questions – why would smugglers hide their booty in the rafters if they were only going to bring it all down again to lug it through secret underground tunnels?  And, um, surely this was Bugsby’s marsh? Underground tunnels? Why bother? The place was deserted, and the land so low anyway it would be flooded all the time.

But the romantic in me says ‘phooey’. I have written to the current landlords, asking them if they know anything about secret underground tunnels, and if they do, I’ll be packing off the guys at Subterranean Greenwichto do a reccy for me. I’ve also asked the guvnors they know anything about ancient gold coins – and what happened to them if they ever existed.

In the meanwhile. I had a quick chat with Mary, who didn’t seem as sceptical as I thought she might be. She even thinks it’s possible. Certainly she knows a guy who was brought up in a cafe in River Way. He told her there was a passageway under the shop going towards the river. And, she says, “East Lodge, which was the big house on  the riverside, is said to have old stone cellars underneath it ‘like those at the college’.” It is a bit of mystery when East Lodge actually was. In photos, Mary tells me,  it looks 1840ish but most likely dates, like the pilot, from 1802 and there are no buldings shown before that on detailed maps. But there is an account of a burglary in a riverside house earlier than that. 

Hopeful of finding a secret tunnel, Mary pushed for an archaeological dig between the Pilot and the river but despite MOLAS saying yes, it never happened and now, sadly, it appears to have been built on. However, she says there IS something in the cellars of the pub, though she told me to ask the landlord exactly what - which of course I have. I’ll let you know if I ever hear from him/her as to whether it’s a secret tunnel, a crock of gold or the Fearsome Beast of Bugsbys Marsh, entombed for the past eleven years ever since it was captured by Richard Rogers on an early hunting expedition before the birth of the Dome.

I’ll let you know if and when I do, folks. Fingers crossed all this talk of secret tunnels and gold wasn’t just a bit of blarney made up in the offices of The Constitutional Press Ltd to entrance Phantoms and sell a few more copies of Riverside Taverns and Inns

Phantom Pamphlets (2)

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Following on from last week’s Phantom Pamphlet is a later leaflet, also from St Alfege’s Church, but this time from the 1970s. It was in a giant bundle of memorabilia I bought on Ebay from, if memory serves, somebody in the north of England. Every leaflet, pamphlet, flyer, info sheet, had the name ‘Beverley A Battersby,’ and the date on it. 

Bill tells me that Miss Battersby was a Greenwich resident who was a friend of Lambeth Palace Library and who donated items to St Andrews University Museum,  funds towards the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall and supported a tree in Hyde Park (see page 9 of the linked document). She died around 2006. How her effects ended up north I have no idea, but they now form the core of the Phantom Collection. It’s often entertaining reading as she makes her own notes in the margins (though not on this document.) I like to think she’d approve of my putting as many of them as I can online…

It’s handy that she dated this particular leaflet because there’s no date (nor attribution) on it – just the price, 3p, which makes it post 1971.

Miss B bought her copy on 16/06/74. It’s a useful addition to the earlier pamphlet as it describes some of the work done immediately following the 1951 publication. I’m rather hoping a new booklet will be created to coincide with the anniversary of t Alfege’s martyrdom in 2012.

Sorry about the tape marks – Miss B must have kept Sellotape in business, but it’s a godsend for me. She was particularly fond of taping little flyers and leaflets inside guidebooks, which meant that I got a bumper selection of really brilliant stuff when I came to open the pages.

More to come another day, but for now,here is Pamphlet Number Two…

Moseley Row

Monday, November 8th, 2010

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the name ‘Moseley?’

Yup, me too. Which is why I’ve always felt a little iffy walking through Moseley Row on the Peninsula, even though the spelling’s wrong. It’s clearly a modern road, so someone named this knowing full well the connotations the name carries. It’s been eating me up for some time, and I finally got round to tackling the issue the other day.

I made a cursory foray into various history books, to see if there was a famous Greenwichian Moseley, preferably nothing to do with Blackshirts or F1, but the most I could find was a mention of an Anne Moseley, spinster, in the Charlton church parish register. I’m sure Anne was a very nice Charlton spinster, but she didn’t sound the sort of person that late 20th Century road-namers would immediately choose.

It was Mary Mills who put me out of my misery and told me that the little road is named for her predecessor, Marian Moseley, who was Peninsula Ward councillor until her untimely death from a stroke, just before Christmas 1999.

Mary tells me Marian was a popular figure, who who worked in the local co-op bakery and lived on the Catelock estate with her sister Margaret.  With the shock of her passing, there was much local call for some kind of memorial to her life and work.

It was decided that one of the new Peninsula roads should be named after her, and everyone expected it to be ‘Marian Moseley Row.’ When it came to the grand unveiling, however, the sign revealed carried the shorter – and ever-so-slightly-disturbing ‘Moseley Row’. Perhaps Greenwich council place-naming office  misunderstood; perhaps they were trying to save on road-sign metal, who knows.

There was outrage, since despite the difference in spelling, frankly the lovely Marian wasn’t – and still isn’t – the first person who springs to mind on seeing that particular road sign but Mary and Co. were told it was too late to change it. Once a road sign is chosen, that’s it, apparently.

Be careful what you wish for, folks…

Trying Again

Friday, November 5th, 2010

East Greenwich Farmers Market is having another go, this time a few metres away from the Pleasaunce, in Halstow Road School playground. Personally I think it’s a great idea – still close enough to the pleasaunce for the cafe, but on hard ground, with space to expand, but not too hugely

Give it a try, folks:

A Plashy Place

Friday, November 5th, 2010

We’ve all heard this one. Queen Elizabeth’s pacing up and down, waiting for news of the war. The Spanish have landed in Ireland, taken Smerwick Fort and are now inciting the Irish to evil Popish ways. Things are looking very dodgy indeed. The poor queen can take the pressure no longer, and she takes herself off for a nice bracing walk, losing herself in the scent of woodland flowers in Greenwich Park.

Back at the palace the clatter of hooves announces the arrival of a messenger. Square-jawed and handsome, nearly a head taller than the officer of the guard, the swaggering swain’s black beard, blue eyes and gallant bearing have the soldiers staring - and the ladies swooning.

Young Walter Raleigh  has the good news Her Majesty has been waiting for – the crisis is over, Smerwick Fort is retaken, the Spanish have surrendered unconditionally. He knows this because - and the ladies sigh once more – he himself led the final attack. And now he has come to Greenwich to inform the queen of his derring-do.

Her Majesty, arriving back from her walk, hears a commotion, but knows she must cross the public road to get back to the palace - a narrow, fetid little lane, ‘foul as the Slough of Despond.’ She reels back in horror at the ‘plashy place’ but suddenly, from among the crowd of admiring subjects, Our Handsome Hero steps forward, flings his cloak from his shoulders, and kneels as Her Majesty tramples it into the mud.

And so the story goes. Raleigh’s first introduction to the Queen (who was remarkably fond of handsome young men performing madcap acts of chivalry), the dry-cleaning bill easily made up for with a knighthood and being made Captain of the Guard.

Now. There are miserable sods who will tell you this incident never happened. To which I say ‘phooey.’ Of course it did. Sir Geoffrey Callender says it did and that’s good enough for me.  I blow a giant raspberry to trivialibrarydotcom et al who claim it is fiction just because there is no actual proof it happened. I say to these gloom-mongers and naysayers - prove it didn’t happen. Why else would he include a cloak in his coat of arms? Hah! I rest my case.

Raleigh became a firm favourite – and he set his sights quite high - even having a gentle pop at wooing the queen at one point, scratching the speculative “Fair would I climb, yet fear to fall” in a window with a diamond. Frankly, flowers and chocolates would have done just as well, and maybe got a better response. Elizabeth, never one for entertaining men who couldn’t be direct, completed the verse with her own diamond the next day “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.”

I could go on about Raleigh’s life, and how it all ended in tears, but I really want to concentrate on the plashy place today. I mean – if the incident happened – and of course it did, where exactly was this plashy place, then?

Well, according to Sir Geoffrey Callender, whose Short History of the Queen’s House is still something of a triumph, it’s pretty much where the Queen’s House is now. The simple gatehouse where Raleigh met Elizabeth, “with its overhanging eaves, the haunt of Gloriana’s ladies with their starched ruffs and silken farthingales” inspired James I so much with its romantic story that he demolished it.

He announced a new palace, fit for a queen, that would straddle the road, enabling its occupants to move between garden and park without getting their shoes wet. Effectively, the new Queen’s House was to be the architectural equivalent of Raleighs’ cloak.

Inigo Jones, of course, rose triumphantly to the challenge, though I can’t help thinking it must have been very noisy to live over a busy, muddy road. So – the plashy place? Hard to tell, really, but I reckon it was around about here:

Another picture, by Stephen, that shows some rather splendid arches over the  road:

The Youngest County

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

 A Description of London as a County and its Public Services


Did you know that by 1951 250,000 people per year were paying a penny to use Greenwich Pier as “a promenade and balcony from which they may watch the busy life of the river?”

I guess it was before the days of the Thames Path, and, short of the five-foot walk, the chances of promenading around Greenwich were fewer than today (but not as many as recently, ahem), but I’m still impressed that people actually paid to get onto the pier. I don’t believe it was any bigger than it is now, though it must have been better looking.

But in 1951 it was the downstream terminus of the River Bus service, as well as being used by all sorts of other vessels, from watermen’s skiffs to pleasure steamers. 600,000 passengers landed or embarked from there. (I can’t find a current passenger figure for Greenwich pier itself, but I did discover in a TfL document that 2008-9 saw 3.9 million people using its total number of piers.)

This is just one of the juicy facts I found in this slightly surreal propaganda book created sixty-odd years ago by London County Council to showcase all the marvellous things it was doing now the war was over.

It covers all aspects of London Life, from the emergency services to sewer maintenance, from traffic management to the thorny problem of what to do with vagrants and tramps, school dinners to a new breed of council house:

The ‘Citizens’ moved in only a few weeks ago. It is still a novelty to take a plate from the fitted dresser cupboard, to wash up in a sink with two draining boards and a shelf above. Hot water in plenty comes from the boiler at the back of the living room fire and the fire itself lights by gas; no more bother with wood and paper.

Before tea is ready Mrs Citizen remembers her son will want a bath and change after his game. She goes to turn on the panel heater in the bathroom, and looks into the tiled bathroom to see that his towel is ready. On the way back to her table-laying she takes a broom from the handy hall cupboard to give a quick tidy up to the living room where they will be spending the evening listening to the radio.

The Youngest County is, by its nature, pretty general, but it carries with it an air of ‘It’s for your own good’ that I don’t think any government publication would dare employ now. So whether it’s giving you a useful graph of how much the fire brigade costs, showing how terrible the traffic congestion around Piccadilly Circus is, a matron reading to blind people who are all gainfully employed or informing the working man how the council will ensure that his pint actually is a pint, there’s a feeling of civic confidence that is strangely comforting. I know it’s a puff piece, and yet I feel I can sleep just that little bit more safely in my bed knowing my council house was designed by a splendid fellow with a pipe:

go to work on a fabulous steam ferry at Woolwich (the upper deck is reserved for vehicles – presumably the rest was freight?)

…and have my lunch served by a good solid dinner lady with a proper tea pot.

It’s also a relief to know that the fire brigade have all the latest equipment. If you look at the chap just right of centre with his back to us in the picture below, you can see he is fitted with an ultra-modern ’walkie-talkie’ set…

Even knowing that this is an idealised vision of how London County Council wanted people to think the capital was run in 1951, it’s still an absolutely fascinating peek at a world that had changed – and has changed once again - in virtually every respect.

It’s relatively easy to find – I got my copy in a secondhand bookshop in Bath (proving once again that the best place to get local books is to shop anywhere but local) and there were two copies in that shop alone. Prices start at 50p on Amazon. Take my tip - spend 50p.

Phantom Pamphlets (1) St Alfeges Church

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Today, folks, I’m delighted to bring you the first of what I’m hoping to make a regular occasional thing  and perhaps even a clickable feature on the site – PDFs of rare leaflets/pamphlets and other delights that are hard to find elsewhere.

Sometimes you just have to have the original article in your sweaty paw – and if that’s the case, then these pamphlets/leaflets/flyers will all be available if you look hard enough for them. Second hand shops, Abebooks and ebay are good bets.  But much of the time you just need to know the information – and a print-out will do just fine.

The idea with this is that if the originals are in my posession (or if someone generous sends me something lovely) and if they’re out of copyright, I’ll PDF-ise and make them available here for anyone who wants to read them.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time, and though they’ll be slow coming, (reaaaaaalllly slow – sorry) I hope they;ll be useful. They will always be in their entireity as I often find the best bits are in the notes, appendices and inside covers…

Of course I’m already breaking my own rules here, as this one theoretically isn’t out of copyright yet. So I’ve been chatting to the lovely folks at St Alfeges and we’ve come to an arrangement that I hope will make it available to even more people.

This pamphlet was created in 1951 as, I believe, a fundraiser to supplement the money promised by the War Damage Commission to help restore the church to its glory after being devastated in the war. It gives a history of the church, but it also discusses the damage that happened during WWII (though not, sadly, the details of the actual incidents. I’m guessing that was all just a little bit too close to home.) Don’t forget to read the foreward as it really gives the context for the rest.

Greenwich Parish Church is, frankly, cheaply produced. The early 50s were still a time of rationing, and the paper’s thin and shiny, the black and white photos grainy, but I feel this is all part of the pamphlet’s charm. You’ll note the price, though, doesn’t reflect this cheapness. Two shillings was a lot of money – which also adds to the history of it – this was a charity project, made to swell the coffers.

One of the problems I had was that there is no author named, so it’s impossible to be sure of any copyright issues. So, I made the suggestion to St Alfeges that we both use the PDF I make of it - so you’ll also find it available on their website too, along with a lot of other information. Don’t miss their section on the war damage, including a composite image of then and now. I’d like to thank everyone at St Alfeges for that, especially Rachel and Andrew, the churchwarden.

But I’ve gone on long enough - without further ado, find Phantom Pamphlet Number One here