Archive for March, 2013

Health & Safety Gone Maaaaad

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Paul says:

According to The Greenwich Society newsletter The Cutty Sark Tavern are seeking planning permission for a safety rail for their famous and fabulous wall where people like to sit dangling their legs over the river, while supping pints and watching the world go by.

Surely this is one of the worst mistakes a Greenwich pub could ever make? Isn’t the point of this pub that you can sit on that wall?

Other changes in the pub have been positive, well refurbished, with a good new menu, and feature evenings (even though we miss the uncomfortable barrel chairs!).

The Phantom agrees. Whatever happened to the concept of personal responsibility? If you’re old enough to hold a pint in your hand, you’re old enough to take care. If you’re responsible enough to have a small child with you it’s up to YOU to make sure said small child doesn’t fall in the water. It’s not someone else’s problem. Sea and river walls have been around for centuries – yes, they can be hazardous but it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of humans to just use a bit of common sense and not take stupid risks.

I guess the pub doesn’t want to be sued if some idiot falls in. But if I recall there’s already a notice whereby they take no responsibility for stolen items etc. I don’t see it’s their problem if someone across the road from them does something stupid. I guess they could put up another ‘at your own risk…’ type notice though I seem to remember there’s also already a ‘danger’ sign. Stating the bloomin’ obvious, of course, but frankly enough as far as I’m concerned.

IMHO a safety rail is totally unnecessary. We shouldn’t be whinging to others the second we do something silly and Bad Stuff happens. It ISN’T always someone else’s fault. This wall isn’t intrinsically dangerous if it’s treated with respect. We shouldn’t be turning our riverfront into a fortress.

If you agree, do email the new managers Andy and Monse at and let them know what you think. If you don’t, tell me here ;-)

Slip-Slidin’ Away

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Serena asks:

We are in the process of purchasing a 1900 Victorian terraced house in the Westcombe park station area and was just told that the house was previously underpinned due to subsidence (a cracked sewage pipe beneath the house).

Is subsidence in a common issue in East Greenwich area or Greenwich as a whole?

The Phantom replies:

I get asked this so often I should probably put it in the FAQs – but the very fact that I do probably answers your question, Serena.

Yes, subsidence is very common in Greenwich, East Greenwich and Charlton. Basically the Victorian builders hadn’t read their bibles properly – they built their houses on what’s known as Thanet Sand. It’s generally fine – it settles after building and then stays where it is, as the hundreds of 100 years-and-counting houses still in remarkably good nick testify – but if something untoward happens – a burst water main, for example, or in your case a cracked pipe, the sands start shifting again.

Generally underpinning isn’t required. Once the cause of the issue is fixed, the sand settles again (we’re not talking fine, golden, desert-island stuff, we’re talking gritty, as-sand-goes-stable gravel that WANTS to stay pretty still), the building’s cracks are filled and the whole thing is good for another 100 years.

Perhaps your house’s previous owners went for the belt-and braces approach – if it’s underpinned it definitely won’t happen again.

The other good news is that you won’t suffer from the other subsidence-causing problem –  tree roots. This usually happens in clay soils where the roots expand the clay, the clay sets, then when the roots die, the clay collapses. There is some clay in Greenwich but it’s in pockets.

There’s a fun little booklet for kids and Phantoms that describes the geology of Greenwich’s soil, called Holiday Geology Greenwich.’.I got my copy years ago from the tourist centre and highly recommend it if you want to know about the Greenwich Fault Line (no, really), which fossils can be found in the stone at the Old Royal Naval College and the days when dinosaurs roamed the Peninsula.

Black Vanilla

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Here’s a little gem. For months I assumed that the bar-space down the side of the chillers in Black Vanilla’s excellent gelaterie was the only place on the premises you could consume ice cream/ tea/coffee/ pastries etc. That and the teeny garden space a the back of course.

But then a pal told me to try upstairs. Lo and behold – a proper little tea lounge complete with comfy chairs, chandelier and fireplace. Tastefully decorated, quiet and delightfully free of pushchairs (I have no problem with small people, but sometimes it is nice to have a proper, adult space…) it’s a little haven for secret tete-a-tetes and a good old gossip. The coffee’s good, the service friendly and the ambience is just right for meeting pals.

Just don’t meet them at the moment while the weather’s like this. It’s bloomin’ freezing up there. Part of it is the large, single-glazed windows (which will be glorious in the summer – there’s a fantastic feel to the place) but mostly they leave the front door downstairs wide open. My friend and I sat there in our hats, coats and gloves and were still so cold we moved on after the first cup, when we had initially intended to stay there all afternoon getting quietly lost in a caffeine haze.

Don’t get me wrong – this is rapidly turning into one of my favourite places for coffee in Greenwich. But I’m not venturing back there until the weather warms up just a tad – or that fireplace gets lit…

Reasons to Sit on the Top Floor of a Bus (1)

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

First in a new occasional series today – things you can see from the top of a bus that you might miss from another angle. I usually sit on the top of the 180 in order to peer at the new developments going up behind those high hoardings but I wanted to at least start with something cheery – a host of tiny purple crocuses around a tree trunk in the grounds of Devonport House.

This has to be the longest, coldest, dreariest winter ever (it certainly has been for me). I tiny drop of sunshine and a few blooms lift a heavy heart just a tiny bit…

Will be very interested to know what you see from the top of your local ominbus…

Kirkland Place

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Never heard of it? No, nor had I – and if you were to go by any histories or old maps of Greenwich you wouldn’t be any the wiser either. I haven’t found a single map that actually shows Kirkland Place as such. Some have the road marked, none seem to name it. And yet at least one Phantophile not only knew it but lived there for many years as a child.

I was puzzled when John contacted me about Kirkland Place where his dad had a shop in the 1940s and 50s, though it all became a little easier to pinpoint when he sent me this photo, courtesy of Morden College Archives (Morden College, of course, owned – and still own – large swathes of Greenwich; you will be pleased to know they have archived their considerable  history. Even better, Hilary Peters who, if you remember, was responsible for the fabulous little corner garden and Foot & Mouth Memorial at Ballast Quay, tells me that it is open to all for research (by appointment) – last time she tried, admittedly many years ago, it wasn’t open to women…)

But I digress. Because of a sign on the side of the shop, we can at least pinpoint where Kirkland Place was – 300 yards from the Seawitch Pub. The Seawitch was on Seawitch Lane, now Morden Wharf Lane and we know where that is:

The pub sounds a sweet little place. Mary Mills says in her (sadly out of print) Greenwich Marsh – The 300 Years before the Dome that it was slightly set back from the riverside path, with a little garden set aside from the roadway. I can’t really tell from this picture where that would have been, but I do like the jolly jack tar enjoying a pint on the left (not sure where this picture’s from – I’m suspecting Greenwich Heritage Centre)

The hostelry was built by one Charles Holcombe, a wealthy industrialist who’d taken a lease out on a large swathe of land, roughly where the old, dead Amylum site is now.

Don’t know if you know the delightful Valentines Park in Ilford – for many years it was closed up and used as council offices, but has been restored and is now probably one of the few reasons to visit Ilford. The gardens are particularly impressive – if you walk around them you can see garden history from Henry VIII’s time through all the major phases of horticultural fashion right up to the 1950s – but the reason I’m talking about it today is that it was Charles Holcombe’s gaff back in the 1840s when Ilford was a hell of a lot posher than Greenwich. In fact it was very smart indeed. It might have just lost the gigantic Wanstead House* a couple of miles away (a great story of the ultimate Regency Rake, a misused heiress and an embarrassed Duke of Wellington…) but in the Victorian age we’re looking at Blackheath-level poshness.

But hey – I have no other reaason to mention Redbridge other than the fact that Holcombe lived there.

Anyway, Holcombe built the Sea Witch, presumably for workers (Mary Mills reckons it was probably named for a famous American tea clipper; others ‘on the internet’ assume that it’s got folklore traditions; I just think they thought it was a cool name…) and I have no reason not to think he was also responsible for Kirkland Place as somewhere for employees on his ‘brass foundry, tar and asfelt works’ to live.

By the time John was born in 1947, the Sea Witch had been dead for seven years, bombed in an air raid. He remembers peddling his little red car, from the shop, which was on the corner of Tunnel Avenue and Morden Wharf Lane, opposite where the old Dreadnought School (where he attended) still is now,  up to the bombsite and back,  trying to keep up with the Blue Circle cement lorries,  reach the Mechanic’s Arms, do a 3 point turn and peddle down the lane. It took many years to redevelop the area, but the glucose works labs, until very recently, sat roughly where the pub used to be.

When he was five years old John had to have an appendix op at St Alphages Hospital.  His family came to visit  just before he went down for the operation, then returned to the shop. As John’s 15 year-old brother Tony was coming round the corner of Tunnel Avenue on that night (around the time John was having the operation) he saw a shadowy figure on the flat roof of 10 Kirkland Place.  He ran up the stairs to the second floor,  lifted the roof door and walked out but saw nobody there. He’s never been able to explain what or who he saw. Could it have been young John, having an out-of-body experience? Who knows…

Thinking back to the Seawitch – don’t you think with all that development that we were promised wouldn’t happen and now is, that a proper, historic Thameside pub on the west side of the peninsula would be a lovely thing? Enderby House is empty…


*razed to the ground for building materials to pay off massive gambling debts, though much of the park and features – including the grotto, inside which, in truly Gothick fashion, said rake once locked said heiress. There are also two classical temple-style follies, but they’re on private property and you can’t see them. Not something you expect to find in a back garden in Ilford…

Seriously, though, Valentines is worth a visit.

Street Photography

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Jack asks:

“My family have lived in greenwich for over 150 years, and I have been doing my family tree. On the 1881 census, my great x3 grandmother Eliza Moody ran a greengrocers and fruit shop at 121 Trafalgar road.
I was wondering if you had any pictures of this place from books or if you knew anyone that would possibly have a picture or anything. I have no name of the shop, just 121 Trafalgar road.”

The Phantom replies:

This is SUCH a common question. I confess that without trawling through every single book I don’t know if there is one that takes in that particular shop and sadly Real Life is utterly crazy at the moment; I just don’t have the time.

But it’s easy enough to do for yourself what I would have to do – nip over to the Heritage centre at Woolwich Arsenal and ask to see the photographs they keep that are labelled by street. There might also be other collections that will have them in so have a chat with the curators. It really helps to know where No. 121 is now (if it exists) so you can see where it is in the street and identify it by other things around it rather than just hoping there is something labelled as such. There could be pictures of trams or other things with that shop in the background.

There are other places to look, of course. The Heritage Centre holds many more books than I do for starters – a happy afternoon with a bunch of them might yield results. I’ve been having a chat with a chap who’s found a picture of his family shop in the Morden College Archives (more about that another day…) – could be worth seeing what they have, especially since they own a lot of the land north of (and including) Traf Road – if you look at the top of the building Tesco is in you’ll see the coat of arms.

For photos of streets now, Mike Curry has asked me to remind you that he has an exhibition of his travels around town  at The Greenwich Gallery, which is at Linear House, just behind Greenwich Borough Hall on Royal Hill. It’s on until the end of the month and if you go at weekends you can have a chat with the man himself…

Removal Firms

Monday, March 11th, 2013

A quickie today – Laura asks:

“Can you recommend a local removal company?”

The Phantom replies:

My very first removal, many years ago, was conducted using a shopping trolley; there’s something to be said for being less materialistic. I promise I didn’t leave it in Shopping Cart Valhalla. I then moved to various car boots, then to a self-hire Luton, and have only ever used a proper ‘firm the once.

Because it was my first, I made the mistake of hiring ‘a major national firm’- who, on being told there was only one thing I cared about, a very delicate lamp – made a special wooden box for it,  dropped the box and were then very recalcitrant about getting my precious antique repaired. They were also very unexcited about taking care of much else…

So, maybe local is best. My being unable to recommend the ‘major national firm’ – suggestions please.

Five Foot Formalities

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Here are the two Joans, Joan Trathen and Joanie Valentine, civil servants from the Royal Naval College snapped in 1982. It’s pretty clear where they’re walking – but what do we call it?

The fabulously-monikered Townly Cooke is currently putting together a collection of his photographs of Greenwich from 1970 to 1212 but he finds himself with niggling questions about some of the locations.

For example, the Five Foot Walk. It’s clear where it runs – it’s five-foot wide and it’s a walk (save for the silly cyclists who insist on barging through when the best cycle lane in Greenwich is mere feet away from them the other side of the railings…) But what happens to it when it reaches either end and widens out? Do we still call it the Five Foot Walk, wonders Townly?

I guess so, though frankly if I was talking about one end I’d probably be talking about Bellot’s obelisk and the other the Trafalgar Tavern and not need to mention the walk. Anyone have a clue as to what to call it?

Townly also wonders if we “know the reason for the steps and ramp that feature in the photo and why they were demolished ? A friend said it may be to do with anti-flooding?”

I think your friend might be right, Townly – it’s not much cop as a wheelchair ramp as it appears to come to a sudden end with steps on it. Maybe it was just an awkwardly levelled piece of ground that needed a bit of brute force in the design? That bit of pier has been designed and redesigned many times over the years (the delightful little Victorian waiting room would still have been in use in 1982), perhaps the levels had started to reach silly proportions?

I assume they were demolished in the recent redesign as part of Progress.

Alphabet of Greenwich (N)

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

I’d totally forgotten this series – so it’s about time we had another letter. N for…

… well quite a lot of things, when you come to think about it.

So – you know the drill

anything Greenwich beginning with the letter ‘N’

Rear Window (27)

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Hardly a ‘guess where this is, folks…’ post – more an update, this time from the other side of the Old Hospital site development from Number 26 – Vanbrugh Hill side, courtesy of Louiss from the Plaza.

Of course even this is out of date now – the rounded shell in the picture here has been joined already by others to the east and the distinctive (worryingly shallow) footprint of the swimming pool to be.

It’s being called Greenwich Square now – not sure when that was decided but I guess it’s okay. Bland but serviceable. I have to say the blocks are higher than I was expecting, I don’t know why I should be surprised by that. Still, at least stuff is happening now – and at quite a lick.

The other buildings that are going up at quite a speed – and which are also higher and denser than I’d expected – are those at the old Stockwell market, the new School of Architecture.

I’m expecting to see some demolition at the market too, in Church Street – Bullfrogs and that posh furniture store were both kicked out ‘due to demolition’ – I’m guessing that the 1950s buildings that look like wartime infill are to be removed and replaced with pastiche Georgian ones to keep the look of the row. I read in a Standard puff-piece about all the sundry new Greenwich developments last week (anyone else find the town quite hard to recognise from the description?) that Greenwich Hospital are planning on encouraging independent stores to fill the market shops, which is contrary to what the independent traders have been telling me.

I truly hope Greenwich Hospital have had a change of heart and they’re not just saying that to sell apartments. Those indies are what keeps the place uinque. I can only hope.

PS – don’t you just love the creepy Phantom Car in the photo?