Archive for June, 2011


Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

So – this is the book that I’ve spent so long reading. I finished it a week or so ago, but then I went back and read a whole lot of bits again, then I read the appendicies, then I went back and read some more. I suspect it took our very own Paul (perhaps better known around here for his heroic work on the market proposals) less time to write it than it took me to read it.

This is in no way because it’s a duff read – precisely the opposite – it’s so detailed, so fascinating, so full of information I just couldn’t take it all in at once. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bowie himself keeps a copy by his bedside to remind himself what he was up to during some of those lost years…

When I was a junior Phantom a friend of the family gave me a whole bunch of posters, memorabilia and general promotional material. I suppose he thought I’d be impressed (and eternally grateful) that he worked for a major record label and could get hold of giant posters for their latest album just like that. Of course, being a snotty kid, I took one look at them, decided they were gross, got out my felt-tip pens and used the back of what is now probably extremely valuable Aladdin Sane ephemera for drawing paper. I distinctly remember removing the gloopy bit in Bowie’s collarbone with my round-ended scissors because it freaked me out.

I grew up with Bowie around me; I believed the stories in the hand-me-down copies of Music Star about him being a nice clean-cut chap who had weird eyes since birth (yup, they peddled that one to their teenybopper readers and I bought it…) He has just always been around, but he wasn’t from ‘my time’. The only single of his I actually bought ‘at the time’ was Ashes to Ashes, a musical millennium after Ziggy. It has taken me many years to appreciate his music.

Of course Paul is a local writer, but I don’t usually talk about books by local writers unless they have a local theme. I always knew David Bowie was a Sarf London boy, but I was utterly delighted when Paul gave me further proof of my theory that everyone who is anyone will eventually fetch up in Greenwich. Yup, folks, Ziggy Stardust, one of Bowie’s most famous creations, was born under Gee-Pharm in South Street.

This is something Paul’s found out for himself during what must have been exhausting, let alone exhaustive, research.  He says

“Jon Newey, who played drums with Peter Perrett, of The Only Ones – told me about Underhill, a cellar in Greenwich where he’d rehearsed next door to David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy and the Stooges – Jon remembered their monstrous guitar riffs spreading through the building like the rumbling of a subterranean earthquake.”

At the time, Paul didn’t realise just how important this Underhill Studio was, he just thought it was bands practicing. But a couple of years later into his research, things began to fall into place.

“Early in 1971 Bowie was regarded as washed-up, a one-hit wonder. That summer he worked up Hunky Dory, which was a critics’ fave but initially made no impact on the charts. Then around September 1971 he started work on the album that would make his name: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. And Ziggy, the ultimate rock-’n'roll creation, was hatched at Underhill.

Hunky Dory had been put together in the recording studio, without any preparation. Ziggy was the one time when Bowie worked as a proper band, with guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey, taking time to work out the songs beforehand. “It was a bit more rock and roll and we were a rock band,” says Bolder. “So doing that album was more like Oh yeah, we know what to do with this. We rehearsed it, we went in and we played. At Underhill Studios in Greenwich. “

Of course, for a true Greenwichian like Paul, this was red-rag to the proverbial. He HAD to know where these studios were.

‘Jon Newey’s description had suggested it was at the bottom of Stockwell Street,’ he says. ‘I’d gone around old Greenwich residents to see if they knew where the studio was, but with no success. Trevor Bolder told me it was on the main road from Lewisham – South street? Finally I tracked down the man who had actually built the studio: Will Palin. And it was Will who told me that the birthplace of Ziggy is now the home of Gee-pharm, at 2 Blackheath Road, on the corner of South Street. “A friend called Joe Copeland had a car spares business and called me in, he said, You know about the music business, do you know how to sound-proof? Because I’ve just taken over the lease on this building.”

Barrie Wentzell


Palin sound-proofed the building with polystyrene, “we got it cheap from a cold storage place that was closing down.” There was a car parts store on the ground floor, an escort agency on the 1st floor, and always “a band in the basement”. The partners got the call from a management company in September 1971 to say they wanted to book the studio – which turned out to be handy for Bowie, then living in Beckenham, as it was on the way to the West End. Bowie, Ronson and band worked out each song at Underhill, one by one – and Ziggy was pretty much there within a fortnight, a fully developed album that he’d record at Trident Studios in Soho, that November.

There was more work to come; in January 1972, Bowie commissioned the Ziggy outfit, quilted jumpsuit and wrestling boots, and had his hair cropped short. Later that month he gave his “I’m gay, and I always have been” interview that caused a sensation. In the spring he brought over his new protégés Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, both of whom rehearsed at Underhill. Finally, in July, his appearance on Top Of The Pops, arm camply draped around Mick Ronson’s shoulder, launched Ziggy Stardust to the nation, and the world.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gee-Pharm’s current owners, Lalit and Sali Gupta, are pretty excited with their rock & roll connection. “Someone mentioned Bowie’s connection with the building when we bought it, but we were never quite sure. There are signs there was some sort of studio – but there wasn’t a zebra crossing, like you have at Abbey Road, to authenticate it!” They’d be well up for a blue plaque. Personally, I suspect the link would be a bit on the tenuous side for EH (and you have to be dead or over 100 to get a Blue Plaque anyway) but I could imagine that the PRS might be interested in a plaque similar to the one for Squeeze on the Borough Hall.

Paul finishes the story for us

“By September, 1972, Bowie and the Spiders were off for their first US tour – Will Palin was recruited as a roadie, and left Underhill behind. We don’t know how long Underhill continued as a rehearsal studio, or what happened to the escort agency (today the 1st floor belongs to a solicitors – how times have changed – TGP). In July 1973, Bowie “retired” from live shows, killed off Ziggy, and sacked The Spiders, with much rancour. So those early days, cooking up Ziggy at the Gee-pharm building – “when we were becoming a band”, as Bolder puts it – mark the happiest period of Bowie’s rise to fame. And of course, represent one more vital contribution Greenwich has made to modern culture. “

Indeed. If you want an absorbing, dense-in-the-best-possible-way read, Paul’s book Starman – David Bowie, the Definitive Biography is available now at £20 from all the usual good bookshops, Amazon etc. A fine read.

Parish News

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I’ve finally updated the Parish News – apologies to things that have been and gone while I’ve got around to doing it. Apologies too, for the dodgy formatting – I just cannot make the thing behave with WYSIWYG and I’m not skilled enough in HTML to do it manually. I mean – why is the first bit in a weird font with italics, and oddly indented? The italic button is not pressed, the font key hasn’t changed. When I look at the HTML, nothing seems amiss. This technology thing is just nuts…

My usual plea for future items – no stupid fonts, please, and no dancing gifs. Easily cut, pasteable and editable stuff is very good indeed and gets a Phantom Smiley Face :-) . Sometimes I even get pre-HTML formatted stuff, these people are my very favourites in all the world. I am still getting event listings sent as jpegs or old-style PDFs from which I have to copy it all out manually. In that case either mistakes are likely or, if I’m in a grumpy mood the delete button is utilised.


Exterior Decorators

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Lizzie asks:

Have trawled your site for help – but cannot find any decorators under services or trusted tradespeople.
Our front door, window frames, sills, guttering and soffits (sic?) badly in need of attention; never mind the downpipes, oo err. Anyone you know who’ll do a proper job (sanding it all right back etc.)? Will probably require scaffolding too….

Hurrah for Lizzie actually using the tabs at the top (someone the other day had even read the FAQs, too.) Sorry there’s no one in there yet for that particular service; I’m very picky about who goes in there and I’d rather have a gap than someone I’m not convinced about. I do have some tradespeople to add to the TT section, but they’re not external painters, ‘fraid.

So, folks – any suggestions?

Parliamentary Buns

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Donovan and I have been enjoying this little flyer from Grosvenor Prints in Covent Garden, a place well worth nosing around if you’re ever down Shelton Street (for about a year they had a marvellous, huge, original print of the plans for Greenwich Hospital in the front window; sadly when I went in to purchase it the surprisingly low price tag of £200 turned out to have had an extra zero hidden behind the window frame).  That one’s now gone, but they do carry a selection of Greenwich prints under the counter (no, not that sort of print.)

But back to the Parliamentary Buns.  The print is labelled as being from around 1800. Donovan reckons that’s far too early; he goes for around 1850. I looked it up in Williams Street Directory of 1849 and while I couldn’t find Cocks or even its former name Culfs, I did find ‘Kibbles,’ which is mentioned at the bottom of the flyer along with its ‘Boro’ Clock’ as being four doors down. It’s listed as  ’Goldsmith, 4, London street,’ but I’m not sure what the Boro’ Clock bit’s all about.

Donovan thought it might have had Greenwich’s official Timepiece outside it or something, which would mean folk didn’t have to either wait for the one o’clock timeball or trudge up to the Observatory and ask. This was, of course, five years before the birth of the Greenwich Time Lady, though her father John Henry Belville had been collecting the time and selling to all comers since 1836.

I guess if you were one of Belville’s customers, then having a clock in your window that told the correct time would be quite a draw for your own potential trade (especially anyone who wanted to catch one of those new-fangled trains) so why wouldn’t the Old Parliament and Bun House want to cash in on Kibble’s fame?*

But on. Why Old Parliament? Well, presumably it refers to the times when the court was based (at certain times of the year, anyway) at Greenwich, though given Mr Cock may well have been into cashing in on other people’s fame, he might well have half an eye on the parliamentary Whitebait Dinners that were held at the Trafalgar Tavern and the Ship Hotel, which would have been a cough and a spit from the bun house (London Street is now Greenwich High Road.)

We then got on to discussing the concept of buns, never an unpleasant subject in my humble opinion. Donovan wondered whether they might sell Chelsea buns, shipped down for Greenwich Fair. He said

“According to Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Greenwich Fair was the principle time for sales of Chelsea buns outside Good Friday, so perhaps the bun house is connected with that…? You couldn’t hoik fresh buns all the way from Chelsea after all”.

True, but whoever said that they sold fresh buns at Greenwich Fair? They were probably last week’s Chelsea buns sent by second class penny post to be hawked to already ‘well-refreshed’ punters who wouldn’t know a fresh bun if it bit them.

And of course stale buns, Donovan points out, are better for a bun fight after all.

I can’t help thinking we need a new Greenwich Bun. We shouldn’t be importing cakes from Chelsea, we should have our own, South East London version. What unique ingredient would you put in a Greenwich Bun? I can only think of whitebait which somehow just doesn’t appeal. Perhaps some Tate & Lyle sugar? And what shape would it take (don’t go for cheap laughs now…) Perhaps the shape of the Millennium Dome, complete with nuts inside, angled sparklers round the rim and a nice icing Skywalk?

Nikki – here’s a challenge for you – you’re a local food writer – invent us a Phantom recipe for Greenwich Buns. Then we can be as famous as Chelsea, Bath, Eccles and, er The Widow’s Son.


* Nick has found a link to Kibble the clockmaker on a poster sold by the Science and Society Picture Library . He believes both posters date to the 1850 – 1860 period.

Sweet Memories (2)

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Oh, the shame. There’s nothing like pronouncing upon a particular sweet shop, devoting a whole post to it, and then finding you’ve been talking about the wrong one. So, today a blushing Phantom is holding up two spectral hands and admitting that fascinating though the tuck shop on Traflagar Road I went on about on Monday may be, it’s the wrong bloomin’ one.

Huzzah for Neil Rhind who not only gently put me right, but sent me photographic evidence to rub it in. This is far more likely to have been the newsagent/tobacconist that Karen was asking about:

“When my Great Grandfather retired from the Navy, the family moved from Woolwich to Park Row, where they bought a supposedly ‘thriving’ sweet shop on the corner of what is now the car park on Park Row.”

I’d stupidly assumed all shops were on the Traf Road side of the car park, never thinking the shop was actually IN Park Row – when of course in proper olden times, genuine corner shops still sold things instead of having their windows opaqued and being turned into accommodation.

So. In order to get your bearings (it took me a moment) imagine you’re standing just outside the East Gate of the ORNC, about half way between Traf/Romney Road and the Trafalgar Quarters. you’re looking at what is now the municipal car park, up towards the crossroads. The turreted building at the end of the row is Park Row Police Station the other side of the crossroads where the flats are now. Hang on, I’ll get you a map.

Neil tells me that the shop was at Number 24 and between 1937-1940 the proprietor was a Mrs A Pyle. I am hoping this is Karen’s great grandmother? The photo, BTW, was taken by A A R Martin (1901-1974) (I’m always pleased to be able to put a name to a picture) and Neil says there is a copy in the Heritage Centre.

It’s looking at pics like this that reminds me just how damn cute Greenwich used to be (well, it’s quite cute now, but there’s less of the cute bits these days…) Of course the houses that remain on the other end of Park Row up by the park are similar, but…ah, look at those lamp posts.* Those splendid step-up entrances. Those porticos. That car…

Anyway, sorry Karen, Sorry guys. I’ll be the one in the sackcloth cloak and charming ashes tifter then…


Graham, of the fabulous Greenwich Meridian site has sent me this picture from an original postcard published by Henry Richardson (Harriet, sit up straight at the back there!) which shows a very marvellous view of pre-power station Greenwich, including Park Row from around the turn of the century. Enjoy, folks.

Sadly the sweet shop is hidden behind a chimney pot on the old Royal Naval School, but there is much else to enjoy.  Trinity Almshouse’s little tower actually stands out instead of being dwarfed by the power station.  The Isle of Dogs is a mass of factories, as is the peninsula. East Greenwich is pretty much uniform in height. And I’m most intrigued by the cylinders on the roof of the Royal Naval School in the foreground. Yet another pic I’ve never seen before – thanks to both Neil and Graham for cheering up a dull Friday.



*Silly question, completely off-topic, to general Londonistas – I was up in Charlotte Street the other day and outside the newish Charlotte St Hotel is the most incredible pair of ancient street lamps. They’re so fancy they don’t even look English, more like something you’d see in Paris. I don’t remember them from before – anyone know whether they’re original to the street or if they’ve been discovered in a salvage yard?

Haunts of Charles II

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

I haven’t talked about any books for ages. This isn’t because I’m not reading; I just have a massive backlog and one particular volume that I’m enjoying a lot, but is incredibly dense and it’s just taking me forever.

So while I plough through that in my slow, steady way, I thought I’d mention another little gem I found in the excellent Greenwich Tourist Information Centre and which is a good, quick read.

It’s another cheapie (£2.50) and not from the largest publisher in the world, which immediately endears me to it. Some of my favourite books ever have been published by the tiniest presses around.

It’s a simple premise – James Dowsing looks at the life of Charles II and talks about it from the point of view of the places the merry monarch frequented in and around London. Greenwich and Deptford are covered, of course, and if in not any great depth, in a fresh and personable way.  Some haunts are more Chas-worthy than others – for example the Queen’s House has a copper-bottomed reason to be in there, as has the Observatory; the Yacht pub is a little more tenuous. The king is, ‘in his lighter moments’ (did he have any other kind?) believed to have enjoyed a glass or two there, though it’s been rebuilt in unexciting fashion since the last war (why, oh why, do the windows onto the Thames not open?) and it’s only the site you’d be visiting.

Dowsing even mentions Robert Hook’s delightful little summer house halfway up Crooms Hill (we’ve talked about it many times but my useless archives mean I can’t find a single instance at the moment) although he admits it’s more as an interesting relic of the Stuart era rather than somewhere Charles might actually have visited.

I confess I didn’t learn anything about Greenwich that I didn’t already know, but what I did get from this book was a better understanding of Charles’s movements in London and the South East. I read it cover to cover in an hour or so and found it utterly fascinating. The trivia-level is high, including a little box about the prince taking a detour, whilst on the run from the roundheads, to visit Stonehenge, and another covering the history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the change in its muzzle-shape down the centuries. I kid you not.

The creepy picture of a rather sweaty-looking Chas on the front is, by the way, from the bizarre collection of waxworks of sundry monarchs and others in the basement museum at Westminster Abbey.  They were originally made as funeral effigies and are really quite repulsive even today, restored and behind glass, but I have it on good authority that they’re looking the best they have done in years – many of my old London guide books from the 1930s  describe them as being moth-eaten, mouldy, dusty and falling to pieces in a most gruesome fashion. Charles is one of the least disgusting, but he still looks quite nasty. I love that they chose that image for the front cover; it sort of reflects the wit with which the book is written.

Sunrise Press  is listed as being at 34, Churton Street, London, but the only Sunrise Press I can find is in Devon and doesn’t mention any of Dowsing’s work, being mainly the producer of books about old broadcasting equipment, notably Radio! Radio! and its companion volume Audio! Audio! though, slightly randomly, it also carries a feature about A Psychedelic Trip Around London so it’s not all crystal sets.

Of James Dowsing, I can find little. He seems to have written several guides to West London – Westminster, Belgravia, Pimlico, Regents Park etc. and the seminal The London Cat, it’s Life and Times. He also wrote An Australian’s Britain, so I’m going to make a wild guess and suggest he could be Antipodean.

The Duchess

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

So – the Ship and Billet is to be reinvented once again. I just walked past and workmen are going nineteen to the dozen fitting it out as a pub/winebar/food place. Poking my head round the door it looks quite ‘traditional’ in feel with a classic bar in the middle, and it looks pretty smart, though I don’t know how far along the bar between old-fashioned boozer and gastropub it’s going to be.

I have no idea why they’re changing the name yet again (unless its the folks from the Duke in Deptford expanding, I guess) but while I’m not wild about the name (or the exterior colour-scheme – 1970s maroon and brown) all I have to do is remember the Frog and Radiator and my blood pressure calms down.

Anyone else know anything about this? All I can say is that if it’s going to help to bring Traf Road/Woolwich Rd back to life again then I’m all for it. I just hope it sets the bar nice and high. Sorry – no pics – I didn’t have my camera with me.

Rear Window (21)

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Today’s Rear Window shot is from Dennis – a wonderfully private view, but with one of the most public places in Greenwich peeping over it in the background.

There’s something about ventilation ducts and drain pipes on Victorian buildings, nearly all retro-fitted and yet somehow so ubiquitous that we don’t ‘see’ them.  Here we have a fabulous forest of 20th (and perhaps the odd 21st) Century shafts stuck on, Brazil-like, to some cute terraces. It shouldn’t work, but it sort of does and although St Alf’s gloriously restored tower almost glows in its newness above them, I confess to finding the arrangement of those pipes a really interesting combination.

As to where it is, though, um, I truly can’t get an angle on it in my mind. I’m sure someone will, though…

Sweet Memories

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I should preface today’s post with the warning that it is a family history question and as regular readers will know I generally avoid anything to do with genealogy, whether my own or anyone else’s.  This one intrigued me because it is about a specific piece of Greenwich history that is gone now, so please bear with me – I promise I’m not opening any floodgates…

But onto the question. Karen says:

When my Great Grandfather retired from the Navy, the family moved from Woolwich to Park Row, where they bought a supposedly ‘thriving’ sweet shop on the corner of what is now the car park on Park Row. The sweet shop turned out to be a very un-thriving business and G-Grandfather really had to work very hard to scrape a living, chopping wood for the Trafalgar and such.

Anyhow, during the war we believe the sweet shop suffered some bomb damage and we think G-Grandfather died during a fall from the sweet shop, possibly whilst mending the roof or similar. The story continues a few years later when the Naval College ‘forced’ residents of this street to sell up as they had plans to extend the college (what plans i don’t know?), the buildings were bought cheaply and then demolished to make way for the plans. I often heard my Grandma complaining about the very low value of the forced sales, I’m assuming it was impossible at the time to refuse, especially with G-Grandma now a widow. Obviously the plans changed and quite an insult to lose your home for what is now a car-park! What a shame the road was demolished.

Anyway, I was very interested to find out if you had any information on when the houses were demolished on Park Row, or anything related.  I would be absolutely delighted to know if you had any photos of the road, there must be one somewhere with the sweet shop in it.

This sounds as though it was pretty much opposite the old Park Row Police Station which stood where the Bernard Angell flats are now – there’s a pic of it here and perhaps the same strike that killed that did for Karen’s Great Granddad’s sweet shop.

I confess that my first move, being a lazy Phantom, was to pick the brains of Greenwich’s own WWII expert and regular Phantophile Stephen from Blitzwalkers. I swear there isn’t a crater, a UXB or an ex-shelter that he doesn’t know about. He pointed me to this fabulous photo from Greenwich Heritage Centre of the bombed row.

It’s pretty easy to pinpoint exactly where this is if you look at the angle of the power station behind it. This must have been taken some time after the hit as the rubble’s been cleared up, fencing has been erected and there are chaps on the roof who look like they’re demolishing the row.

I’m not sure which one the dead pub is – it could be the Victory, but I thought that was further up towards the ORNC. It would seem that pubs were once as common as kebab shops and pizza takeaways are now.

It’s quite a good little row of shops though – a chemist, a post office (with an Edison Bell sign in the window, so perhaps there was a public telephone there too?) and in between them, possibly, a sweet shop. The Liptons ads could mean a general store, but I’m putting my money on the main Frys signs in the window. I am assuming it’s an ad for Chocolate Creams. They still sell ‘em today but I haven’t had one since I was a kiddie. Hmm. Maybe I need to test them out again – just to check they still taste the same, you understand…

Stephen sent me another pic he found in the Heritage Centre’s amazing collection – of the back of Trafalgar Road during the cleanup. It’s nigh-on impossible to work out where it is (I was a bit put off by the ghostly ‘Canary Wharf’ in the background on the left) but if you look at the detritus, it can’t have been far away from the first image – could it be one of Hardys Cottages that the wheelbarrow tracks lead to? And that Lipton’s Tea sign looks rather familiar…

For those who fancy learning more about Greenwich’s WWII history, Stephen’s next Blitz walk is a bit different – similar to his usual, but held during the evening to mark Midsummer’s Day, Friday 24th June. Meet for 6.15pm outside All Saints Church, Blackheath. The walk lasts for about 2.5 hours, finishes in Royal Hill near The Tolly  and costs £8 per head.

RIP Greenwich Farmers Market

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

So, there I was, eco bags in spectral paw, standing puzzled outside some very locked gates this morning. No signs, no notice, no discreet email – if not to me to someone, would have been useful.

I guess it was inevitable, really. A market needs two things and they need each other. One, enough stalls and produce to tempt hordes of people to visit, and two, enough people to tempt hordes of stalls to decamp there in the first place.

Greenwich farmers market at its very outset didn’t really have enough stalls to make it work, and many of them were ‘specialist’ – I mean a Phantom only has use for so many logs impregnated with fungal spores, and probably won’t need more than one cupcake stall per trip.

People did turn up that first morning, but the size of that day’s market probably meant punters decided then and there they’d only prefer this one to Blackheath if they actually lived in East Greenwich or West Charlton – it just wasn’t exciting enough to bring visitors from further afield. From then on, it seemed to go on a downward spiral and though much of the produce was good (I’ll mourn the Kentish cheddar, personally) there just wasn’t enough choice to make people travel any kind of distance to visit specially, and unlike Blackheath, which is surrounded by the village and shops, you had to make a special trip to Halstow School, with only the cafe in the park as a companion-destination.

And of course the stallholders travel miles too (which has always bothered me – surely the idea of local produce is that your tomatoes come from down the road, not the Isle of Wight…) One of the meat guys travelled god-knows-how-many food miles from Up North to be there – and to not sell enough sausages/joints/pies to cover his petrol can’t have endeared him to the project, much as his bacon sandwiches will be missed.

I’ve heard that stall hire on farmers markets in general is too much for other, smaller traders to take an initial punt and perhaps this also contributed to this one’s demise. Perhaps Saturdays are already popular with other, more established markets and stallholders already had pitches elsewhere. Perhaps once a week was too often.  Perhaps it was too far East and should have been somewhere just off Traf Road – Meridian School, for example.  Or there is that other ‘perhaps’ – perhaps East Greenwich just plain isn’t posh enough to support non-supermarket shopping.

I once asked the cheese lady how it was going and inadvertently launched a tirade of fury which seemed to be aimed at me personally for not forcibly dragging my neighbours along every week. And she might have a point.

They built it. We didn’t come.