The Westcombe News #1

A delicious bunch of Greenwich pamphlets, leaflets, maps, plans, magazines,reports etc. has just fallen into my grateful paws. Some of them are quite a wade-through and I’ve only skimmed the surface - Riot Training in Greenwich, anyone? (created, without any sense of irony, in 1984…), a few have some a somewhat prescient nature, given recent events, yet others are not what they seem to be at all.

I’m particularly happy to have this new resource, not least because it often seems that the more recent the history, the less easy it is to access it. Much of this is stuff most people would throw away; someone didn’t. 

It’s going to take months to digest it all, and, because of the age of the documents, (mainly 60s through to early 2000s) unless I can get permission, I won’t be able to reproduce them here (don’t worry, I’ll try to get it – I’d like you to see these too…) so I’ve decided to go down the easy route and read the thin ones first. And one of the thinnest of the bunch is the very first edition of the Westcombe News….

Local area societies were being founded thick and fast in the early 70s. I need to get a proper handle on the exact dates and sequence of events that caused this before I make an idiot of myself and write about it, but much of it seems to circle around a character who, in many ways, was the Dr Beeching of roads – while Beeching was busy closing down railways this guy was desperate to concrete-over much of Britain to make roads. I’m busy reading up about that just now, but since I wasn’t of an age to either know or care about it at the time, it’s a bit of a slog.

The Westcombe Society was founded in 1973. Beryl Platts also wrote her seminal A History of Greenwich in that year. I don’t know when the Greenwich Society came into being but I’d be willing to bet at much the same time. Bear that in mind for a future post about 1974…

According to the single-sheet, typed first edition of the Westcombe News, the committee was elected at the first meeting, at Kidbrooke House in Mycenae Road, on May 8th 1973 (renamed Mycenae House in 1994.) There’s a helpful family tree of the officers, from the Chairman (Tom Crowe) through Vice, Treasurer and Secretary through to Councillors, and organisers responsible for Conservation, Entertainment, Press and the Newsletter (the editor of the WN himself, John Petty, who worked for the Telegraph as a day-job, modestly fails to mention himself.)

On the first of the two pages, there’s a special ‘spotlight on…’ and this month it’s the Street Warden Organisers. It’s explained that Street Wardens, co-ordinated by these guys,  donated a specified amount of time each week to activity along their street (a nively vague term, which can cover lots of things.) I confess I don’t know who Grace Morris, who was in charge of the Housewives Register, was, or, indeed, Eric Wills, who set up a visiting rota for OAPs, but I certainly recognise Alan Mills, late husband of our very own Mary Mills. His job was to set up a register of car owners – not a task I’d fancy today, but clearly do-able in 1973.

I guess that’s what I love about things like this – just from a little note in this news sheet, I’m reminded that cars were in no way universal, but important enough to be considered worth noting down individually (and, rather more sinister, becoming important enough for some people to call for the destruction of Greenwich town centre in the name of traffic flow…)

It gets even more interesting overleaf. Top story is that Vanbrugh ward is the first in the borough of Greenwich to sell land at £100,000 an acre. The vicarage on Langton Way, complete with 1.05 acres, was sold for £115,000. The Westcombe News notes that it was going to be demolished for multi-use flats, and doesn’t seem at all bothered about that (sadly the Victorian Society, formed in 1958, wasn’t carrying much clout yet). 

Of course, traffic considerations come in – a planning application to close the road between Westcombe Park Station and Westcombe Hill, and a moan about lorries thundering through back streets. Plus ça change

They are also planning a detailed survey of basic amenities in houses – i.e. who has sinks, baths and loos. Yes, this is 1973, and it’s still not a given that folks will have an indoor loo.

There are a few ads – local property maintenance, decorators and heating engineers, and a call to arms for people for whom, presumably, the Westcombe News has just plopped onto their doormat and are wondering what the hell it’s all about. If they’re interested, they could attend a trendy Wine and Cheese party in June or enjoy some open-air market-dancing (whatever that is) on the lawn of Kidbrooke House as it’s transformed into a glorious Victorian Village Green for Greenwich Festival, 1973.

I’ve talked to the current Westcombe News guys, and we’ve agreed that, much as I did with the St Alfege’s leaflets, we’ll carry the PDF both here and in their archives for maximum coverage. Thanks, chaps!

Find this highly interesting triumph of Letraset from 1973 here


13 Comments to “The Westcombe News #1”

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks for mentioning Alan.

    Eric Wills was a wonderful old man who had one leg, a funny shoulder and used to ride around on his motor scooter with no crash helmet doing good deeds all day. He died in the 1970s. He lived in the top floor of 1 Humber Road with his son Jim who was a fireman and who was building an aeroplane in the front bedroom -leaving Eric with just one room to live in. Jim was living there with his wife until five or so years ago.

  2. Amazing stuff – did the aeroplane ever get off the ground?

    What has happened to Greenwich’s Characters?

  3. Mary says:

    Yes – he flew it at Biggin Hill for a bit

  4. Cool – so all that living in one room was worth it. All the same, it must have been a big house.

  5. methers says:

    1 Humber Road is quite a big house, and there’s a garage and workshop attached too. Jim showed us round when they put the house up for sale, although we ended up round the corner on Dinsdale Road.

    It would be nice if the old editions of the Westcombe News ended up on the website with the current editions:

    http://old.gold.ac.uk/world/westnews.html

  6. scared of chives says:

    Mary

    Was Jim the ‘carpet cleaning’ man?

  7. Benedict says:

    “They are also planning a detailed survey of basic amenities in houses – i.e. who has sinks, baths and loos.”
    My old house in Straightsmouth still had as its only WC , the one outside and the old boy that lived there still used a Tin Bath up until he was re-housed in 2004……!

  8. Ebspig says:

    The Greenwich Society was founded about ten years before the Westcombe Society. It, and Beryl Platts’s A History of Greenwich, came into being partly to counter the plan to build a motorway down the western side of the park ending up in a nineteen lane interchange just by St Alfege. Now that would have sorted the traffic problems, wouldn’t it?

    Although the publication date of A H of G was 1973, the book was written some years before and followed articles and actions to try to bring some national attention to Greenwich, which was still suffering from wartime damage, never mind “period” housing stock not blessed with inside loos, or baths, and stuff.

    The people who set up the Westcombe Society were such an interesting and diverse gang – may it long flourish!

  9. Mary says:

    - scared of chives – yes, Jim was the carpet cleaning man

    - other things – first chair, Tom Crowe was an academic in the computer department at what was then Thames Poly. He left Greenwich some time ago but two years ago he turned up at a Greenwich Labour Party fund raiser as someone’s guest = he seemed fine. I know at least one of his daughters is living locally – and – er – might be reading this!

  10. EnglishRose says:

    I think that the Housewives’ Register was a national association a bit like the WI, but focussed more on discussion/debate than crafts and homemaking. If I remember correctly, my mother belonged to it in the early 1980s (not in Greenwich) and attended meetings on a regular basis for a couple of years. I have a feeling that it eventually changed its name to the Women’s Register on the grounds that more and more women were going out to work instead of staying home like good little housewives. No idea whether it’s still going or not – perhaps there is still a secret group lurking somewhere in Westcombe Park???

  11. John says:

    Hehe, it’s dodgy typesetting and should read ‘Open air market; Dancing on the green; Stalls…etc’. Or did you know that and I just completely missed the sarcasm? Oh well!

  12. John says:

    Ooh, and my mum was in the National Women’s Register (NWR) which looks to be going stong- http://www.nwr.org.uk/

  13. John says:

    *strong