Our Man on Old Woolwich Road
There is a ‘feel’ about Old Woolwich Road. It’s a backstreet that was once a front-street, carries buildings of all kinds and styles, is at once residential and industrial, historical and modern, and it bridges Greenwich, going from the end of the Old Royal Naval College through to Christ Church in the east. It’s one of my favourite streets in Greenwich for its very variety.
I mean – just look at it. From the car park that lives under the threat of development (every street seems to have one these days) through the estate that I am convinced would have once had the wartime stretcher railings we can see elsewhere in South London, the funky Meridian School which is doing very nicely for itself, thank you, these days, the street just keeps on giving. There’s the new bit of Trinity Hospital – I know people moaned about it before it was built but I think it looks really good – they’ve clearly made effort to create something that will provide interest for the future.
There’s the Star and Garter, whose history I’d love to know more about – the building’s really, really interesting, but having had just the one drink there I can’t really talk about the pub itself, then there’s the curious little estate – I’m guessing turn of the 20th Century – which manages to be both quaint and mysterious.
Of course that mystery could be that by that point the street gets really dark, being in the shadow of the power station, something I’ve written about again and again and again and again and again and probably more times, except even I can’t find my way around the Phantom archives.
Out the other side, and the road becomes briefly industrial with the garage, the stone shop and the highly enjoyable auction,not to mention the interestingly redeveloped Marlborough Hall before turning back into classic East Greenwich nineteenth houses, including that wonderful double-bow-fronted place that used to have about fifteen landrovers parked outside it. Right at the end, there is a little series of stucco-fronted, arch-doored terraces, ending with the three-bobbled tower of Christ Church and Greenwich’s answer to the Flat Iron Building.
Right, so – there you have a basic lie-of-the-land. Hmm. Didn’t mean to get carried away there, this was supposed to be a brief introduction for a story from Scared of Chives, but hey, I’ll let it lie now I’ve written it. Just imagine that I’ve done a short, succinct intro to the subject I actually wanted to write about, the power station, okay?
So where was I? Oh yes. SoC was wandering along Old Woolwich Road, an exercise I can recommend for the reasons outlined above. It’s not as cute as the Thames Path or as quick as Trafalgar Road, which both go between roughly the same places, but there’s stuff to see everywhere, if you’re prepared to look.
SoC stopped outside the new Trinity Hospital building to check out the sundials, which are indeed, worth a look. He was just examining them, presumably as baffled by them as I am, when a chap popped out from nowhere.
He seemed happy to chat, and SoC, who is a man after my own heart, steered the conversation to everybody’s favourite mystery – what the hell goes on inside the power station. He learned all kinds of groovy snippets, which I now pass onto you.
We’ve talked about the kestrels who nest in the chimneys; workers have spotted two nesting pairs, who apparently bring back squirrels from Greenwich Park to feed the chicks with. But I had no idea that there’s a bat colony (of about 30) in the east section of the building. I don’t know what sort they are, but wildlife experts have made a hole so they can get in and out at night. I think that’s brilliant – just adds to the whole ‘gothic’ thing the place carries.
Talking of gothic – that south-east turret. I know, I know, I bang on about it like nobody’s business, but it is just damn weird. And, I now understand, it always has been. It used to have a water tank in it (because of the low pressure) and the windows were regularly opened to cool the water. But the builder who put the small windows in at the top didn’t get paid on time so he carefully put the latches on the outside, so people would have to lean out to open each window. I have no reason not to enjoy this story as true – here’s one of the offending latches:
SoC tells me there are noises it will be pulled down. This will be over my cold, dead tricorn. That building is the best bit of the whole station – without it Greenwich will be the poorer.
There is improvement stuff going on in the main building, though, I understand. ’They’ are currently trying to re-fit the east part to add more turbines but are having problems shifting the old stuff. This may lead to using explosives, so if you hear something don’t necessarily think the worst, though the powers-that-be, aren’t blind to the possiblity that the power station could be under threat from terrorists, so it doesn’t feature on certain maps. I’m not sure which maps they’d be, given that it’s plain to see on the Streetmap ref. I gave you at the top…
SoC also tells me “MI5 say there was/is an increased threat from, for example, the IRA and that’s why 15 cameras have been installed around the place. There’s also a net/fence thing around the fuel tanks on the northern side to stop a – say, ruck-sack with incendiary device being thrown onto them.”
The guy told SoC a couple more tidbits that day. The apple trees on the road/pavement outside are apparently a mistake by the council, who don’t normally plant fruit trees, and the single-storey, long building in the stone-yard opposite used to house a workshop fixing TVs – called, SoC thinks, Trafalgar TV – or similar.
Scared of Chives thanked the chap and went on his way. As he turned towards Christchurch Road, he turned, to wave a last cheery farewell. The man had disappeared. He has never been seen since.*
*Okay, I made that bit up. Didn’t know how to finish the post…
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