Archive for April, 2011

Gates to Greenwich Park (1)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I’m bumping this to the top because Stephen was good enough to send me pics of the other side of this secluded little door, which means we can cover all angles.

If you recall, the whole point of the weird shape of the Queen’s House was so Her Majesty to have her cake and eat it – she wanted to be able to get easy access to the river for travel, but she wanted to have a good tramp about in the park too. The pesky plebs trudging past her palace along the main road to Woolwich was a big issue, so Inigo Jones built his ‘ingenious device’  as a giant bridge so she never had to get her feet muddy.

Early pictures have the house opening out directly onto the park (which, of course, hadn’t been landscaped by leNotre at the time) but it wasn’t long before the bit just outside was turned into fabulous gardens, none of which survive (the Dwarf Orchard is about as close as we get; looking forward to seeing what they’ve got in there. Anyone know when that’s opening?)

To be honest, I don’t really know how old the wall with its formal border and cute little door actually is. I’m guessing it’s the same age as the Hospital, but A.D. Webster is silent on the subject and I can’t find anything in John Bold either. So I have no idea whether any Royals have ever actually walked through the gate. The odd thing is that although it’s got a pair of cyprus sentinels marking it, you could go past and never know it was there. It also entertains me that both sides have steps down to the door in the wall, instead of just walking straight across.

Of course, it’s a ha-ha, which means there would have been a wall so the Royal deer couldn’t get into the house and eat everything, but they could also do away with pesky fences. There’s another one on (unsurprisingly) Ha Ha Road in Charlton.

So – the other side. 

I just love the way this has been made into a beautifully symmetrical feature in its own right. From a distance it almost looks as though it’s going to step down into a little pool, and even though you can see what’s behind it, that door is still magically mysterious.

And, just to complete the picture, Stephen has furnished me with pics of the steps the other side. Thank you Stephen.

Rear Window (16)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Thank you to everyone who’s been sending in pictures from their back windows to resurrect this series – I never fail to be fascinated by those private little vistas that other people enjoy.

Today’s is from Patrick who’s over at the Greenwich Millennium Village, including one of those weird skies we’ve been having recently thanks (according to Peter Cockroft, who knows everything) to a large amount of Arabian dust in the atmosphere, no doubt kicked up bay the various revolutions that have been going on in the Middle East.

GMV is remarkable for its quietness. It doesn’t matter what day of the week, what season of the year or what time of the day it is, you’ll never see anyone around – though the place is fully inhabited. Because of this it always has a slightly etherial feel for me, a cross between fairyland and a small town in the Netherlands. It’s a fascinating place to wander around; I get the feeling that even when the other consortia have built whatever they’re going to build it will still be as quiet as ever.

Which reminds me. Darryl over at 853 has some Good News (not of the biblical variety) for Thames Path lovers. The builders, Bellway Homes, who deserve a mention for having stuck to their word, have re-opened the bit along the east side of the peninsula, which, along with the re-opened bit where Amylum was, means that the only section still closed to the public is Lovells Wharf where evil London and Regional Properties have not stuck to any kind of word, have destroyed the path, re-routed what’s left of it to their sales office and show no signs whatsoever of actually doing any building work.

Darryl points out that this is a disgrace, and I wholeheartedly agree. If they are not going to be building for months (or perhaps years) they should be forced to re-open the path until they do. And if that involves their having to rebuild what they destroyed, so be it. I have written to Thames Path National Trail Office to see on whom we need to put pressure to put pressure on LRP to get our path back. They won’t be able to do anything about it themselves, but maybe they will know who can. In the meanwhile,  the bit outside Lovells Wharf won’t be getting a shiny new glass plaque like this:

as it’s being deliberately left out of the Jubilee Greenway. I’m hoping the creators of the Greenway are just being pragmatic, knowing that it’s just not going to be open in time for the 2012 Jubilee – but is there something more sinister afoot? I think we should be told.

Update: Very nice lady from National Trails has directed me to Walk London, though it could be a local authority issue too.

Full English

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Jane asks:

Any suggestions as to where to grab a good old English breakfast in Greenwich and / or Blackheath?

Want to impress some Spanish friends and their 11-year old son, whose one reason for coming to London was for a dose of bangers, beans, eggs et al for breakfast.

The Phantom replies:

The caff that first comes to mind is GMT down Woolwich Road, in the same row as the Labour party shop (have you seen that scary new picture of Nick Raynsford? I think I preferred the last one where he at least looked bashful…) and opposite the new Turkish supermarket with all the fruit and veg outside – used to be Shiva’s).

I like this place because it’s not in any way tried to be anything it isn’t. It has bare brick walls with faded pictures of nothing in particular, decidedly nasty yellow and green moulded seating and a hand-painted cut-out chef outside. The food is what you’d expect and yes, the full English is very full. Sandwiches consist of half a loaf with your ingredient of choice inside, beverages are tea and (if I recall) instant coffee.

The Trafalgar Cafe down Trafalgar Road near Hardy’s Pub recently had a refurb, which seems mainly have been to turn the space upstairs into a flat and has resulted in a smaller, slightly more awkward eating space, but it still does traditional food, is still always full and still bustling. I seem to remember the sign saying it’s been around for about 50 years, but I’ll need to check that.

My next choice – and probably the one I’d actually take visitors to – is up at Blackheath Standard, Gambardellas. This has changed little since the 1960s except to expand next door. So the decor is classic 1960s mod one side and stuck in the 80s the other. Again, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. And if you Spanish friends have ever heard of Squeeze, they may be impressed to know it all started here.

Over in Blackheath Village itself, the cafes tend to be somewhat more upmarket, so you’re not really going to get that full greasy-spoon experience, but that might not particularly distress your friends, who might be rather grateful for the sort of food Hand Made Food or Patisserie Jade dole out…

There are dozens of traditional, unreconstituted caffs in Greenwich, and they get more traditional as they get further out of the centre –  I’m sure everyone has their favourite – so expect a lot of other recommendations.

The Song of a Sailor Lad

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

There are more Union flags than you can shake a stick at just now, Mr Blackadder. And they reminded me of a jolly patriotic Greenwich song that we should all be singing today, of all days, stirring our blood and saving our souls.

I don’t know whether The Song of a Sailor Lad was the official school song of Greenwich’s Royal Naval School but the first verse shows it had aspirations to be. When the sheet was given to me, I was told it was from around World War 1 era, but it refers to the little sailor boy’s ‘queen’ which makes me think it’s more likely to be pre-1901 (no gags, now, okay…)

The lyrics, which are remarkable in their piety, patriotism and, frankly, optimism (“I have promised to abstain from strong drink, and will remain now a sober British sailor all my life”) were written by Henry Fuller Morriss, ‘of St Winifreds, London,’ who, according to a rather cryptic geocahching site, was a scrap merchant turned Mayor of Bermondsey (he’s mentioned in the geocache as having founded Woldingham Garden Village which was variously home to the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and a convalescent home, which had entertainment, doubtless of the solid variety we have here.) He was quite a prolific writer, mostly about the Great War.

The tune is older, a Music Hall song, that he’s borrowed. There’s a sheet copy of it here if anyone fancies dressing up as a sailor boy and recording it for me (go on – you know you want to…) but for now, here’s Harry Champion singing Work, Boys, Work…for you.

All together now…


Scrape, Rattle and Roll

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

We’ve talked about Greenwich Fair before several times – not least including a traditional Greenwich pastime that was, like the fair itself, banned by the Victorians but I still think should be reintroduced as an Olympic sport.

I was chatting with the extraordinary Julian Watson recently, though, and he told me something that made me think.

I confess that I always assumed that the fair, which took place every Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday was in the park itself. Every engraving/painting/illustration I’ve ever seen of it shows drunken revellers whooping it up amongst the greenery.

Most concentrate on the tumbling, of course, so that they can include scantily-clad ladies revealing their bloomers (though I doubt many Greenwich maidens actually wore them at all…) but some show general merriment and dancing, or even peg-legged pensioners hiring out telescopes near the Observatory, the instruments being trained not on the stars but the decaying remains of corpses flapping in the wind over at Execution Dock.

One item I’m very sad there seems to be no illustration of is the comedy Greenwich scraper that used to be sold at the booths, presumably for pence.  I’ll bet if one exists now no one will know what it is.

Basically, the wag who bought one would creep up behind someone and roll it quickly down their back. It produced a terrible ripping sound, and the victim would panic and think their dress/coat/jacket had been shredded. They’d whip round in fury only to have the scraper waved in their face, fingers pointed and hilarity poured upon them.

I have no idea what one of these contraptions would have looked like. I am wondering whether it might have been a bit like a pastry wheel:

but in truth I really don’t know. I wonder if one survives somewhere, in a museum, perhaps, labelled ‘kitchen gadget’ or ‘torture instrument.’

But I’ve digressed again. The one thing that all the pictures I’ve ever seen of Greenwich Fair have in common is that they’re all in the park, which always slightly puzzled me as to why the Victorians hated it so much. I mean, I know that after the railway opened the fair often attracted over two hundred thousand revellers – but if they up in the park, was it so much of an issue?

When we were talking about the lost St Peter’s recently, I was puzzled that it seemed the church was built on the site of Greenwich Fair – to prevent it coming back. But this was in Creek Street, which is nowhere near the park.

Happily Julian came to my rescue. He confirms that Greenwich Fair spread out all over town and that it

was held in Bridge Street, now Creek Road. The main booths etc. were there to catch the visitors as they arrived at Garden Stairs (off the steamers – TGP) The frolickers then spread out from the fair site through the town and then to the park where they frolicked to the full having walked or crawled via many, many pubs and beerhouses.

Garden Stairs had the Peter Boat public house on the east side and the Salutation on the west – a good start to the day. In short, the Fair was in the town with the park as an added pleasure or pain depending on whether you were the tormentor or the victim. Up to 250,000 visitors on a fair weekend with only parish constables to keep order.

Which brings me to the rattle part of the title. I visited the City of London Police Museum a few weeks ago (tiny, but well worth a visit. I was with a group but you can just get a tour by yourself if you wish) which had a collection of early police rattles – the precursor to whistles for attracting attention (also handy for clonking your perp if the truncheon’s not enough). This rattle’s actually from The People’s Collection of Wales as the City’s museum’s too small to have a proper website. Don’t let that put you off – it’s fascinating.


Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Can you believe it? You can’t leave anything on the streets these days without it being half-inched. Not even the streets.

Apparently this morning a gang of rogue ‘ council workmen’ in hi-viz jackets (though in the message I got they were described as ‘rouge’ which commands a slightly less desperate image of a bunch of bashful burglars in blusher…) nabbed approximately 50 square metres of York stone paving slabs from Greenwich Park Street.

In a scene straight out of Hollywood (well, sort-of) a real council workman spotted the getaway vehicle and followed it until it got to the Blackwall Tunnel. Huzzah for him.

The police have been informed and the council lives in hope that the stone will be recovered and is therefore just putting barriers around the area and putting down temporary tarmac until the red-faced rogues are caught trying to offload some quality patio-ware down the local boozer. I hope the fuzz make a bit more effort than when my mate’s bike was stolen recently or that tarmac may be around for years to come.

Looking at where it was done, it’s not actually outside anyone’s house – the thieves were careful to do it just outside the blind wall of the BP garage and there’s a short gap where a housey bit might see. But it is very nice, well-worn stone – certainly a couple of patios-worth.

For those of you lucky enough to live in streets that actually have York stone paving, be warned. If there are ‘council workmen’ digging up your slabs, they might well be blushing…

Hole Opens in Crooms Hill

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Folks I’ll update this as I hear more – this is being tweeted by Robert Gray and I’m stuck in work, so it will all be very piecemeal for a while.

Apparently a hole has appeared halfway up Crooms Hill by the park. There is a network of tunnels, of course, running between the park and Hyde Vale, so I’m guessing it could be something like that. It’s just about 10″ wide at the moment but on past experience holes on Blackheath and Trinity Grove have ended up horse – and car – sized.

As I can’t get there just now, I don’t know exactly where it is, but I’ll place money on it being here:

which is where the Hyde Vale Conduit crosses the road on its way to the park. Just for bearings, Our Lady Star of the Sea is just above the arrow.

If I were King Phantom I would be using this as an excuse to look into opening these medieval/ 18th century tunnels up as a tourist attraction but my major worry now is that the Olympic guys will panic and fill-in the passageways rather than change their plans. That would be cultural vandalism on a large  scale indeed.

Sadly by the time Ian got to it it had all been filled in. Interestingly it also looks like it might just be a natural hole (Greenwich is a veritable Swiss cheese of a place) as it’s just outside the church rather than further up it, which is where the map would have put it:


Thanks Ian.


The other pictures are from Stephen, thanks very much indeed. Stephen tells me the workmen told him it was about a metre deep and two metres square, which sounds even less like a tunnel.

More news as I hear it…

…though Stephen was unimpressed. He said that it was “Making a Blackheath out of a Crooms Hill. And he may have a point. Sounded exciting while it was happening though.



St Alfege’s Feast Day

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Old China has just reminded me that it’s local-saint-for-local-people St Alfege’s feast day today. Exactly 999 years ago today marauding vikings pelted the unfortunate Archbishop of Canterbury (who they’d kidnapped, failed to get a ransom for because he wouldn’t let anyone pay it, escaped and been recaptured) with ox bones at their own feast, until, according to which story you believe, a particularly evil viking finished him off with a cleaver or a kindly viking who had converted to Christianity put him out of his misery with a cleaver.

Of course the major shindig will be next year to celebrated the Saint’s millennium, which is one of the reasons the church is having a major spruce-up. Expect large scale commemorations then, but this year things are a bit lower-key. I’m guessing the one thing that’s off the menu both years will be ox…

Look Mum, No Wire

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Not sure what’s caused the change of heart, but I’m delighted to note that the entrance to Greenwich Beach at the east end of the Five Foot Walk is now open again. I had feared that the Health & Safety guys had put that wire contraption up for good in case drunk people from the Trafalgar found their way onto the steps and slipped or something, but happily it’s gone and the entrance is once again open to all.

Of course it was never impossible to get onto Greenwich Beach; there was always the King’s Steps and the ‘secret’ entrance up by the power station, but it’s actually quite a walk between those two, not a great prospect if the tide’s coming in and you need to get onto high ground smartish. The middle set of steps is a welcome sight at tide-turn, I can tell you from experience.

I can’t remember who it was was asking the other day about tide tables for Greenwich – apologies – but you can find them all at the Port of London Authority.

I’m always surprised at how empty the beach is – even in weather like this – and no, the tides aren’t SO scary you wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon there. You just don’t see the sort of hoards you used to get in the early to mid 20th Century (there’s a good pic here. ) It’s fantastic for beachcombing centuries of London’s detritus, of course, and you see the odd person wandering up and down with a carrier bag of loot (though I’ve only ever found bits of pot and Greenwich Pensioners’ pipes) but no one ever seems to take a stripy deckchair, a flask and a hanky to knot on their head down there any more.

Perhaps we need to do a flash Phantom Deck Chair/Rolled up Trousers and Hanky-On-The-Head Beach-In…

Rear Window (15)

Monday, April 18th, 2011

It’s been over 18 months since the last ‘Rear Window’ shot and, to be honest I’d forgotten the occasional series until Michael sent me this.

For people who have been around for less than 18 months, Rear window is photos taken by lovely people of Greenwich from the back window of their house/flat/mansion – that secret view that only they can see. Sometimes it’s just a tom cat and a couple of bins, sometimes it’s Greenwich Park – it’s the luck of the draw, but all is fascinating to me as curious views of the town that the rest of us never get to see, building up a collection of images that just don’t appear in the guidebooks, or even history books.

I always enjoy trying to work out where they were taken from, and I’m guessing that this is some way up around Maze Hill, since the power station seems a long way away, and it’s got that arched-roofed block of flats in Traf Road in front of it, but not that far up as there’s no  station. I’m glad he took the pic before the leaves came out on the trees.

Thanks Michael. Maybe we’ll get a new collection of Rear Windows now I’ve actually remembered we used to do them…