Archive for August, 2011

The Blue Lamp Extinguished

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Valley Girl saw this curious ad in the commercial property section of the News Shopper this week. I had no idea that Westcombe Park Police station was ‘former’ – last time I was round there there were still cars parked round the back – though I can see why it would be attractive to a developer for, presumably, the traditional apartment-building route.

The ad points out that it’s a period development (if memory serves, it’s about a hundred years old, the same age as the Park Row Police Station, trashed by the Luftwaffe in 1944) and that any development hinges on planning permission  but that, on the bright side, the building is neither nationally nor locally listed so frankly, boys, it’s fair game.

In some respects I can understand this being made into flats. I mean it’s not like it’s been a ‘proper’ police station for years – it’s not somewhere the public could pop in to report a missing cat or a lost wallet to the local bobby. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen that front door open. And it’s in pretty poor nick. If someone was to take it on as what it is – a lovely building – and create it into decent, liveable flats, that’s progress.

I would be v. keen to keep the ‘police” trappings such as the carved name above the door, the phone box, the delightful flowering cherry (not partcularly police, but fab all the same) and the wonderful blue lamp (though I guess the blue ‘police’ bit would have to go – let’s hope they would replace it with some other coloured glass, preferably not red…) but remember – the sales pitch is very much ‘this is not listed, you can do what you like with it as long as you can get planning permission,’ which, of course means that the council refuses, it goes to appeal and Bristol pisses all over the council –  Big Society in action – not that I’m bitter over the market or anything.

I can’t imagine that ‘extensive’ car park remaining as such. Why keep a facility when there’s profit to be made? There’s always the street. That’s nice and empty…

I guess that just how many flats they can shoehorn onto the car park footprint will be down to whether they’re allowed to build above the roofline or not.

I know. Let’s have a sweepstake to guess how many ‘luxury’ flats end up being built over the car park area. I’m going to be conservative and say twenty. Winner gets to be very smug indeed and say ‘I told you so.’

Greenwich Wildlife (11)

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

There I was, early-morning cuppa in hand, sitting outside in the one square minute of sunshine we got over the bank holiday, when a cat hurtled by, not at all interested in me or the cuppa but with that dazed skyward look that only cats get when they’re concentrating on chasing something really good.

Of course the dragonfly was far too high and far too skittish for a mere pussycat to  dream of catching, but that didn’t stop said feline from hunkering down under the bush the fly ended up in and preparing for what turned out to be a long wait.

The dragonfly (which was enormous as such things go, a good seven or eight centimetres) settled on a leaf and just hung there. Long enough for me to put the tea down, nip inside, find the camera (not always an easy feat) take several photos ( quite close-up, I could have easily picked it up if its boggle-eyes hadn’t made me feel slightly queasy) drink the rest of my tea, go indoors, go out for the day. For all I know she’s still there though the cat must have lost interest by now.

Now I have to say that I am surprised at this. I have never seen a dragonfly round these parts and certainly not chez Phantom as I am not a pond-owner. Guess there must be some kind of water feature big enough to support dragonflies in a neighbour’s garden.

I looked it up on the utterly fascinating British Dragonflies site and I think it is a female Golden-Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) as it has parallel sides and a very long ovipositer, a pub-quiz-worthy word whose meaning I guessed at but in trying to look it up  caused me to discover the similarities between dragonflies, Alien and something H.P. Lovecraft would have been proud to invent (scroll down the link’s page if you haven’t already had breakfast this morning.)

I’ve been checking in A.D. Webster’s 1902 gem Greenwich Park, Its History and Associations, which  lists the flora and fauna of the park a hundred-odd years ago, but despite several pages on trees, birds, animals and flowers, and a good couple of pages of three columns of listed butterflies and moths, he doesn’t mention dragonflies at all. In London’s Natural History, written just post-war, they are spoken of only fleetingly.

In fact they seem to be a bit also-ran in many ways – the poor relation of butterflies and moths in the public imagination – which makes me all the more grateful for the British Dragonfly Society. Thank God not everyone finds them as shuddery (but in a very strange way exceptionally beautiful too) as me. After all, who isn’t enchanted when they catch a fleeting glimpse of one darting over a stream in the countryside of a summer’s day?  It’s just when they settle in a bush inches away from my head and just hang there, that I start to twitch…

Anyone else seen any dragonflies round here?

Salutes For All

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Not quite Greenwich – but Stephen’s snap of these splendid chaps and the fact that, apparently, “Every visitor on boarding receives a salute” was enough for me to want to include these pics of Columbia’s naval flagship ship A.R.C. Gloria, currently sashaying for tourists, Columbian ex-pats and bigwigs alike over at South Quay West India Docks and forgive them for not actually stopping at Greenwich.

From the BBC News Story yesterday, the Columbian population of London are crazy to see their ship in London (I particularly liked the bit where the crew stand on the rigging in yellow, red and blue jerseys) and it’s quite an eyeful for the rest of us too.

Sadly she’s only in town ’til Friday.

Beaconsfield Terrace (1)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Christine asks:
Can anyone name all the shops from the sweet shop at the top of the steps – the first shop as you cross over from top of Halstow road where it crosses Humber Road? Then there was a super chemist, called Green’s; a greengrocers; some other shops  that I cannot recall; then, as the road turned down towards the station approach and down the steps, there was a food store that sold everything. Over the other side of station approach was the post office.  Does anyone have the history of all the shops around the Westcombe Park station area from Victorian times?

The Phantom replies:

Well, of course much of it is down to when in their history you want to know about them – in late Victorian times,  in the 20s/30s/ 40s/ 50s etc. Recently they have changed both purpose and owners far more regularly than they would have done years ago, but before the age of the supermarket, I guess the local greengrocer /chemist /sweetmonger would have stayed in the same generation for years.

I have always been rather fond of this little arcade. It doesn’t manage the same yumminess (or range) as the Royal Hill Lovelies, but then the demographic isn’t the same – and it’s closer to both the big sheds over on the Peninsula and the Blackheath Standard. But it still gets a fair bit of footfall, being so close to the station and some of the shops have been there for years.

I particularly like that it’s retained, somehow, some of the more ephemeral parts of its decoration – the post office may have gone but the pillar box is still there and if you look under your feet outside the mini mart, there are still the diamond-pattern tiles and, further up, the original York stone slab-paving.

I can’t name the shops recently, as they’ve changed quite a bit (and continue to change – I notice the old Animation Studio is being turned into a rather upmarket-looking florist; good news since that place has been inactive for years) but, thanks to the superb (and disgracefully out of print) definitive volume about the area by Neil Rhind, Blackheath Village and Environs II (the first one, about Blackheath Village itself, is back in print, but the equally-exhaustive second book, which takes in our side of the heath as well as the Cator estate and the more Kidbrooke-y side (wanna know who lived in your house? Chances are that if you’re in his catchment area Mr Rhind will tell you in this book) has never been reprinted.

I can’t think why – there must be more people in the wide area covered by book two who are potential customers – but there is usually a copy in the library (if it hasn’t been closed…) and occasionally they bowl up second-hand (talking of which, I was pleased to see a new secondhand bookshop in the centre of Greenwich – a dedicated Oxfam bookshop on College Approach. It’s pricey but these days second hand books tend to fall into two categories – expensive, and can’t-give-it-away.)

Rhind tells me that ‘Beaconsfield Terrace, ‘ built around the 1890s (it’s at the bottom of Beaconsfield road in case you’re wondering) is, along with the shops on Westcombe Hill, were the only commercial premises allowed on the Westcombe Park Estate. And when you come to think of it, yes, it does seem a bit odd – not a corner shop, not a pub, or at least until you get to the Royal Standard. Presumably it was some sort of temperance-thing.

Neil Rhind accepts that the shops changed a lot over the years, but reckons there’s a strong pattern. At Number 103, your sweet shop, Christine, was, in the 1920s, E. Hartley and Co. but between 1909 and the late 1920s is was Luffman & Peacock (a fabulous name for a confectioners.) If memory serves it’s a private house these days.

105 was a butchers, which is kind of chilling given that it’s now the local vetinery surgery and 107, now flats, a grocer and branch post office.  Its original owner was the equally-delightfully-named Edward Pogson Barker, but in the 1920s it became your chemist, Christine, run by John Codnor Wilson.

Number 109 started out as a greengrocers, became a milliner’s (we just don’t get hat shops round these parts any more…) and from the first year of the Great War until the middle of WWII was Jarvis the bootmaker. Am I right in thinking that the sports therapy place is there now?

Neil Rhind tells me that number 111 has been a lot of things – a stationer’s, tailor, printer and grocers, and in the 1930s was Humber Radio (presumably selling wirelesses rather than broadcasting…) 113 was a dairy – first owned by Griffith Robert Hughes, becoming a branch of Edward and Sons and finally being subsumed into United Dairies. It’s now a hairdressers.

What I can’t find is any reference to the shops that turn the corner into Westcombe Crescent going down towards the station. Am I missing something, Neil?


Greenwich Inc Staying Put

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Folks – I am afraid I was a bit previous with the news that Greenwich Inc was considering selling up. As we all know there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip and the deal has fallen through.

Sorry to have given you wrong info.

Don’t Stand and Stare at the Sky…

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

David says:

I live in Maze Hill (specifically around Tuskar/Frobisher Street). Every now and then I get woken at 7am in the week by what I can only describe as a WW2 air raid siren.

Ive gone through the possibilities in my head….Maybe a novelty alarm clock in the flat above; maybe post traumatic stress disorder passed down through 2 generations to me, and my clear favourite; that someone actually has a WW2 air raid siren in their back garden….

Could it be a factory alarm or something? I need to know if anyone else hears it….I need to know what it is…. You may be able to tell it’s driving me a little bit mad!!!

The Phantom replies:

You’re not going mad, David, I’ve heard it too, though until you mentioned it I thought I was going doolally as no one else admitted to hearing it. I have no idea what it is, but it does sound exactly like a WWII warning siren. Here it is for anyone who doesn’t know what I mean:

Now I know I’m not imagining things and it must be real I can’t help feeling it must give a few local pensioners a bit of a scare. There’s never an all-clear…

Anyone know what this siren is? Blitzwalker Stephen, perhaps? (whose latest walk is Bank Holiday Monday, btw – see Parish News for details…)

In the meanwhile, you know the drill. Do not rush, take cover quietly then others will do the same.


Clippies and Clippers

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I was reminded yesterday by IanVisits Boris bikes parked in front of various Parisian landmarks of the front cover of this – the London Transport employee magazine from this month in 1957. I have the feeblest of excuses for writing about it today, since the bulk of the mag is nothing to do with Greenwich but this was one month after the arrival of the great tea clipper and besides, I reckon that anything that includes a picture as fab as this on the front cover is fair game…

The mag is about all the marvellous things LT does, both for its passengers and its staff. Its main article is about how the London Transport Gardening Section (!) is transforming parts of the Metropolitan Line with landscaping to both combat chalk falls on the tracks and – well, to just look nice, really. 100,000 plants raised at Acton, a sub-heading notes proudly.

This piece will have been popular with readers since it would seem, from the mag at least, that every LT employee was a mad gardener, including their pinup of the month, ‘Father of the Fleet’ Henry Cruse, who, despite his 77 years was still working on the  trolley buses, a ‘sprightly’  chap whose ‘blue eyes twinkle as he talks, while his waxed moustache bears witness to the fashion of an age that has gone.’ He was, of course, a bush-rose obsessive.

Of course not all the staff’s hobbies were that sedate. “One slip and she would have been crushed to death,” screamed the headline about LT’s own Elephant Girl, plucky Juliet Foster, who worked in the chief electrical engineer’s testing section at Wood Lane. Born to a carney family, she ran away from the circus to a daily routine of office work which she found ‘very enjoyable,’ after a life of sequined bikinis and ‘unreliable’ zebras…

Obviously there’s a whole bunch of information about how LT helps its workers – ‘the busman who lost all his carpets’ was helped by the benevolent fund, as was a widow who needed an invalid chair. I confess an article about how LT make ticket rolls didn’t grip me as much as the Railwayman’s Jublilee Sports Day or the month’s news from Plumstead bus garage (beat Bromley by ten runs, popular trips to the theatre, ‘Fur and Feather shows’ need new entrants, R. Partemheimer caught a six-foot,twenty-pound conger eel and celebrated by growing a beard.)

In fact, after the excitement of R. Partemheimer and his conger beard, the article about Greenwich is a bit of a let down, really.  A Mile of Magic takes up the coveted centre pages, but it’s basically just an ad for the bus services using the excuse that the Cutty Sark had just arrived the month before, though there is a lovely reference to the Son et Lumiere that was held that summer and for which I have a programme somewhere and can’t find.

I guess that however familiar we are with the basic history that the article gives us, it’s hard to argue with the last paragraph:

To look around these splendid buildings at Greenwich does not call for the spending of any pocket money ; and if it is a fine day there is nothing pleasanter than a picnic in the spacious park. Thus, for the young people of London on holiday a wonderful adventure need cost no more than a bus or river fare.



Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Blimey – I feel just like a proper tabloid Phantom. Ace pap Stephen’s just seen none other than Sir Michael Gambon outside the Nevada St Cafe (sorry Heap’s sausages…) having a chinwag with…could it be Alan Yentob?

V. close to Greenwich Theatre, of course. Is there something James Haddrell & Co aren’t telling us yet? Or maybe he’s going to do his jazz set down at Oliver’s…

Aha – @GreenwichTheatre has just tweeted:

Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay were interviewed onstage at GT today. For a BBC documentary on Alan Ayckbourn.”

Who knows – perhaps he can be persuaded to tread the Greenwich Theatre boards next season…

Doug Mullins

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked about this plaque, found on a modest little plinth in the small garden on the corner of Burney Street and Royal Hill.

So I finally decided to find out. Jayne, Dave,  Alan, OldCodger and anyone else who ever asked this and I promised to look it up (one day) this is for you.

Doug was the son of Bill Mullins, one of the ‘old school’ of dairymen. He had started out in Hampshire but moved up to Greenwich in 1926. His dairy was on the spot that the garden now occupies, and he and his red and white handcart was a familiar sight around Greenwich streets for fifty four years.

Bill was joined by his son Doug, who eventually took over the business. Although he finally caved in to modern technology and got himself one of those little electric milk floats that were all the rage, it remained red and white and he remained true to the old dairy traditions.

Bill collapsed outside his shop in 1980, and died shortly afterwards. Greenwich went into mourning. At his funeral the streets were lined with customers, neighbours and friends, little knowing that just eleven years later his son ‘Dougie’ would be found outside the shop after collapsing himself, finally passing away in Greenwich District Hospital on November 29, 1991 at the age of just 59. His funeral was every bit as well-attended as his father’s. The Mercury even carried a photo of a milk bottle-shaped wreath.

Doug, it seems, was the last of London’s ‘true dairymen,’ and it’s clear he was much missed. His widow, Ellen, told the Mercury at the time “People have so many memories,” going on to talk about life-long customers who remembered Dougie as a boy, up to his elbows in suds, washing milk bottles, or his getting his first delivery cart aged around 14.

All this makes it even sadder that now this is one of my most frequently-asked of all frequently asked questions. It’s only twenty years this year since Greenwich lost one of its true characters, but Doug Mullins is getting lost. I believe that this post is all there is on the internet about a man that was so loved his friends gave him a memorial plaque and even this paltry bit of information is incomplete and took some hefty tracking down.

I’d love to add to this post. Does anyone out there remember Doug? Anyone got a photo of the old dairy? Or even him?

Phantom Pamphlets (4) The Dwarf Orchard

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Further to the post yesterday, a document I’ve wanted to share for some time that further proves proper, good archeology is taking place in Greenwich these days.

Lara sent me a copy of the Dwarf Orchard’s archeological report a good couple of months ago, which makes fascinating reading. I wanted to share it with you, but it’s taken a while to get permissions. I have to thank all the (several) relevant people who actually kept my request bobbing along – from Mary Mills to EH to Keevill Heritage Consultancy (the guys who did the work) through to Royal Parks via, possibly, a bunch of other people I’m not aware of. But finally, I’ve managed to sort it out.

Of course I had hoped to find evidence of  the comedy fountain but knew in my heart that delightful nonsense like that or the secret aviary would be totally lost by now, even if they had been sited in the Dwarf orchard (which they probably weren’t.) Though subsequent plantings have virtually eradicated most of the original fancy design (and the lovely old mulberry appears to be growing in a very inconvenient spot) archeaology doesn’t always mean digging in the ground. I am particularly enamoured of the maps and the photos,  but the whole report is well written and intriguing – not always from what they found, but what they didn’t find.

For example, the well (which I’m disappointed no one wanted to climb down; I suspect the Underground Greenwich guys would have been down there like ninepence, however unsafe it is. Sometimes you just need nutty ninjas to do crazy things…) appears NOT to have been part of the Swiss-cheese network of conduits that run through Greenwich, however close it might be to the conduit house at the vicarage.

But what am I doing, waffling on as ever. The document can be found here.