Archive for August, 2013

Paying the Piper (or the Hornblower)

Friday, August 30th, 2013

There’s no doubt they look impressive – and I see from Mike Purdy’s shots here that my suggestion of going to the opposite side of the river and seeing the fireworks from Island gardens with the ORNC in the background rewards with something special.

I’m a sucker for fireworks especially with a backdrop like that, and with tall ships gliding past and honking their horns at the end of the show. But I was rather shocked by something Franklin discovered yesterday.

I assumed that the private company operating the tall ships were paying for this as part of the package to entertain their well-heeled passengers and corporate customers, who are coughing up a fair sum for the experience and getting the ringside seats for the shindig.

But no – this, apparently, is being paid for by Greenwich Council:

“Fireworks funded as part of the Royal Greenwich festival, a wide prog of events organised by Royal Borough.”

Just in case you are new to the area or have been asleep for the past three (or is it four…?) years, this is the same council who reneged on an agreeement with Lewisham council to stump up a few thousand to pay for the hugely popular Blackheath fireworks. Claiming poverty, they left Lewisham holding the baby, having to pay for the whole thing and making everyone in this borough look really shabby.

Lewisham survived by rattling buckets at the event and the embarrassed burghers of Greenwich chucked in a fiver or two – but it should not have happened. The next year and, I assume this year too, Greenwich once again refused to share the fireworks display after years of co-operation. I believe Lewisham have again bravely picked up the baton (or sparkler…) and all power to their twinkling elbows.

So – Greenwich council won’t join with their neighbour to provide entertainment for hundreds of thousands at a cost of, if I recall, about thirty grand, but WILL pay for FIVE NIGHTS of fireworks in Greenwich and Woolwich for a private hire company. I only hope the kickbacks are worth it…

In the meanwhile, what to do? Well, apart from giving Greenwich merry hell about not honouring a long-term agreement with Lewisham, personally I’m going to be pragmatic.

I’m going to watch ‘em. I told you – I’m a sucker for fireworks.

And I’ve paid for them.

Another Panorama

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Following on from the panoramas of East Greenwich, I came across another one this morning, of Central Greenwich. It’s credited to OJ Morris, who collected the Rev Spurgeon’s incredible photographs of Victorian Greenwich (what I can find about his story is here and at first I assumed it was another Spurgeon image.

That was until I actually looked at the photo and realised there are trucks and cars in it, not to mention the Cutty Sark, which didn’t arrive in Greenwich until 1954 – and that judging from the angle, it was probably taken from the now-forbidden observation tower at Borough Hall.

Owen Morris was crazy for railways, so he might well have been trying to get the railway line in right at the bottom, but whatever his reasons, this is a lovely shot of Straighstmouth, St Alfege and a what is now rapidly disappearing town centre.

On a closer inspection it’s interesting to note just how much DOES remain these days. I would LOVE to see a photo taken from the Observation Tower now, to compare, but longterm Phantophiles will know that the Phantom campaign to get the tower opened for Open House Day has spluttered and failed on many occasions (as has the sister campaign to get the power station to open its doors…gnash, gnash.) It’s not for the want of trying, believe me, folks.

But even without the comparison image, it’s clear we still have much there. The Mitre Pub is almost exactly the same – though re-furbed and I have to say, looking lovely these days – the flowers outside are always fabulous.

Straightsmouth and Roan Street look remarkably intact (nice to see the lovely stink pipe taking pride of place by the Bridge of Tiles), though of course there’s an ugly office block in front of it now along Church Street/High Street (never quite sure where one stops and the other begins…)

The estate over by Wood Wharf is pretty much exactly the same. The area around Creek Road is most changed, mainly from the building around the DLR station and of course we have the nasty pier buildings these days.

I’m sure that if any Phantom reader actually had access to that observation tower, I’d know all about it but – well, I’ll send my wish list out into the ether anyway. I would SO love to share today’s view from the crow’s nest with everyone – if you ever get a chance to go up there PLEASE take pics and show me.

Of course you’d need to be fit – I’m told it’s a LOT of steps…


Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I haven’t done Parish News for ages – sorry. Much of it is to do with getting a pile of indecipherable press releases (artistic endeavours are worst for this – I get three pages of gush, but have no idea what the project actually is…) or things that need lots of processing, but most of it is just time – I don’t have it any more.

But I do need to tell you about the fireworks that will be tonight and tomorrow, and then in Woolwich on Saturday and Sunday.

They’re for the tall ships that are giving trips to well-heeled visitors at the moment, last for about 10 minutes and if they’re anything like last night’s offering – didn’t have my camera, so I have no pics – will be very sparkly indeed.

They’re launched from a barge in the middle of the river, just outside the Kings Steps at the Old Royal Naval College at 9.15, but I don’t think that standing at the ORNC is the best place. I’d recommnend nipping through the foot tunnel and standing by the edge of Island Gardens so you get the ORNC in the background along with the eerie sight of tall ships passing through wafts of firework smoke. I have to admit I was thinking of the sails with all those stray sparks around, but I’m sure they’ve thought of that. Haven’t they…

Word to the wise with small people – for some reason last night was very loud – seemingly louder than usual, There were a lot of terrified children who cried, screamed and grizzled throughout and not with pleasure.

Yet More Objectional Planning

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

This time it’s the other side of the river, and we’ve talked about it before, but once again the goalposts are being moved once planning permissions’s gone through. This one is basically at the very edge of Island Gardens park, and is being sneaked in under the guise of a ‘community centre’ that I understand the community – or at least many – don’t want.

There’s already a single-storey building there, but Telford Homes (yeah, them again…) have ‘kindly’ offered to rebuild it – with three storeys of apartments on top. They want to knock down the boundary wall to the Grade II listed park to make a nice back garden for residents.

If you want a wry smirk, click on the picture above and see how the City Cruise boat has been badly photoshopped onto the embarrassing bit of the picture for Telford where the river wall shows how intrusive the development would be – they haven’t even bothered photoshopping the whole boat – that back end’s cut off.

Oh, and the apartments that were going to be for social housing have now, oddly, disappeared; now the whole lot will be ‘luxury’.

Of course if you’ve got people living on top of a community centre, it’s going to be a very limited community who can use it – basket weavers and stamp collectors should be okay but anyone who might want to make a bit of a noise is soon going to be shut up and as for the traditional fundraiser for community centres, functions, forget it.

And for us over the other side, imagine a four-storey building sticking out of the end of the park to the left of the foot tunnel:

and here you can see what it will actually look like, handsome devil that it is:

There’s a Facebook Group, and a petition but apparently letters carry more weight so if you want to write to the council, send thoughts to and cc Cllr Thienel: Apparently if everyone in a household signs it, each person is logged separately.

Oh boy am I getting weary of all this under-the-radar goalpost movery by developers. Now that we are told we’re coming out of recession (personally I’d like a bit of evidence that actually affects me to prove this claim…) the developers are crawling like cockroaches out of the wainscotting, pleading poverty to change designs that once including things that might be nice for the community at large and looking to make the traditional killing while we’re all still just relieved that some building, any building, is going on again.

Peninsula Fountain Result: C+

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Continuing the Greenwich fountain focus, I guess we have at least made some progress on the peninsula fountain. There’s water in it.

And when I went past this weekend, the water was actually moving. There are spouts and jets and everything – a little murky on Saturday when the heavens opened, which was understandable, but actually rather nice on Sunday.

But those railings do nothing for it. I know why they’re there – parents allow their kiddies to paddle in the water which breaks the jets, which is why it’s been broken so long – but if you’re going to have a beautiful fountain, which is there for no reasons other than ornamental, then sticking a walloping great chainlink fence around it seems a bit silly.

Let’s hope that it’s temporary and they’ll come up with something else – a fancy wrought iron job, perhaps, or a glass surround (a bit of a pig to clean, though…)

Still – even getting water moving in it is a move to the positive, and I was glad to see it half-way there. Perhaps some of the developers who are suddenly bursting to life on the peninsula might be arm-wrenched into forking out some cash towards it.

I did have to smile at the hoardings outside the one down by the yacht club:

I love that they’re talking about acres of green space and parkland – I’m assuming they’re talking about the little eco park and the slightly-dull-but-at-least-green ‘central park’ up by North Greenwich – not really a ‘parkland setting’ so much as ‘a short walk to a park’ – rather than mentioning the aggregates yard, retail park, industrial area and industrial dump next door.

Still, I guess until the next development goes up there is a bit of a view of some green out front on the next plot.

Fountains (3)

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Stephen's photo of, er, something not there...

After the dreary fountains that have been (not) springing up in Greenwich recently I wasn’t really surprised when Stephen pointed out that the fountain at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, at the crossroads, had disappeared.

I’m not talking about the fancy marble affair that’s in the back of Stephen’s shot, by the way, I’m talking about the much more functional, but rather less pretty one that used to be in the forefront of the shot.

It really wasn’t a looker – I never took a photo of it – though you’ll find one about half way down the page here. A rather ugly brick wall with a couple of primary-school style handbasins. Still, it had been a facility and now it wasn’t.

But now, it’s got a replacement. Hurrah – and I’m not sure anyone other than Stephen has noticed.

Much more elegant and it’s nice to see it back. I guess it might have been easier to fill a dog bowl or soak a runner’s towel with the old basins but this is essentially an ornamental park and I really like this.

It’s nice to be able to report a Greenwich fountain that a) looks good and b) actually works.


Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Nathan’s just told me:

Just popped into Zaibatsu on Trafalgar Road on the way home from the Picture House tonight to find out from the owner that it is currently ranked as the No.2 restaurant in London on Tripavisor!! Brilliant! He said he’s getting phone calls from all over the world booking tables months in advance. Made my evening to hear they are doing so well.

Now, I confess that I haven’t actually been to Zaibatsu since it was Zin. I’m not a huge fan of Japanese food and haven’t, for various reasons, been eating out at all recently. So I’m asking you guys – is this really as good as the reviewers on Tripadvisor say?

‘Cause if it is, that’s amazing. I know there are ways to skew sites like this, but this just doesn’t look like the sort of place that would put that much effort into an interenet campaign. I do note a fair few of the reviewers have only posted one review on Tripadvisor, which makes the Phantom radar twitch a little, but that could be down to them having had one good experience and wanting to share it.

It certainly shows the might of Tripadvisor – though of course Tripadvisor can give and Tripadvisor can take away. Sounds like the owners of Zaibatsu have got a good thing going and if they’re wise, they’ll keep that recipe – and the quality – as it is – a hidden jewel.

No one’s going to give it any prizes for its looks (sorry I have photos somewhere but I’m darned if I can find them this morning) but maybe that’s its charm – the excellent food comes as a surprise. Some of the most exciting places I’ve eaten in the world have been, frankly, scruffy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it made the other places on Traf Road pull up their culinary socks?

Captain Handyman

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Greenwich’s own superhero. Okay, he may not do the flying bit or the tights thing (or at least not on council time…) but in many ways the small things are what saves a community. Alan is Greenwich Council’s handyperson around town – going around the centre doing small jobs that make a difference, often without us really noticing.

He asked Phantophiles a few months ago if they had could think of any little bits and bobs they’d like to see done. I didn’t know his brief extended to Traf Road, but as these pictures show, he’s been out cheering up shopfronts, which I can only see is a Good Thing.

He’s currently working on Peter de Wits – so if you’re passing, say hello. And if you can think of any small jobs that would improve life in the centre of town, let him know, he’ll be glad to hear from you

Greenwich Park, Its History and Associations

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I realised the other day when I was writing about the little Greenwich Park entrance tokens that I’ve not actually ever talked specifically about the seminal Greenwich Park book (I could have sworn I did but then my brain’s not all there just now and there are nearly 2600 posts in the archives to wade through, gulp…)

AD Webster was the superindentent of the park in Late Victorian/early Edwardian times/ and part of a doughty group of antiquarians very active in investigating Greenwich’s past – I note in the foreward that he thanks a Mr. H. Richardson – I assume that he is this Henry Richardson who wrote another Greenwich history nearly seventy years beforehand and who would have been 91 by this point. The book is published by Richardson’s Greenwich press.

The splendidly bearded chap in the picture is probably Webster – he and a lady friend are inspecting the Roman excavations in the park in the very year his book was published.

Like several of the publications from that period, the book grew out of a talk he gave to the Blackheath Natural History Society and, for my money, it’s still the best (though not the prettiest – that honour has to go to Anthony Quiney‘s photographic record of a year in Greenwich Park.)

It covers everything from history to archaeology, tittle-tattle to flora and fauna, folklore to underground passages. The latter are slightly better described than in John Stone’s pamphlet from a few years later, though still not as well as I’d like.

Our problem is that in the early years of the last century, the underground passages were, if not officially open to all (though some of them seem to have been) not closed. So the writers of the time assumed their readers had already explored underground and didn’t describe them as exhaustively as I’d have liked.

Now, I only know of two people who have explored underground Greenwich to any great extent in very recent times so most of us either rely on Dominic and Per – or go to 100 year-old sources such as Webster and Stone, who at least seem to have a new nugget of something every time I re-read – this time I noticed a reference to a passage that opened with ‘wide stone steps’ at Queen Elizabeth’s Oak. I knew about a load of underground tunnels in the park but hadn’t registered that one. Neat.

And that’s why I think it’s worth seeking this book out. It’s not actually that hard to find because although at one point it became quite rare, it was reprinted in 1971 which watered down the market and made it accessible again. You’ll not have too much trouble finding it at Amazon Marketplace, ebay, Abebooks etc.

They’re both good editions and although it’s always nice to have an original, there’s no great reason to buy the older book over the new – you won’t justify your cash. They’re both hardback, good quality and have the same number of illustrations – both photos and drawings. The only difference I can see is that the map inside the cover of the original has the park coloured in in green, the 1971 version’s completely black & white.

If you’re building a library of Greenwich books, I’d recommend this as one of the must-haves. Look to pay around £20 for an original and around a tenner for the reprint. I’d go for the reprint. If you’re not feeling flush just now, it is available as a PDF courtesy of Toronto University.

How Low is Under the Radar?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Okay, so this bit of ground along Creek Road has been hotly contested for, like, ever. You only need to look at the sign on David Herbert’s gaff to see how long he’s been fighting.

And in many ways it’s a losing battle. The trees are mainly gone, and planning permission exists for development. That’s development in addition to the thousands of new apartments already being thrown up around there. That little patch of green around 258 is all that’s left, but don’t get too attached to it.

The planning permission isn’t brilliant – but it is mixed use and, at the moment, includes some respite from the relentless, soulless living accommodation that, unbroken, creates dormitories not communities.

It’s not easy to find any planning permission on Greenwich Council website (though at least they now admit it’s nigh-on impossible to make comments just and invite you to email directly. No idea when the form will be back…) but if you go to this address and type 13/0364/F into the box you should get there.

Thing is, the developers want to move the goalposts – now the Olympics are over they’re not so keen on the hotel idea any more and want to shove up yet more flats (to be technical, it’s actually not the original developers – Telford sold-on the planning permission to a company who really do seem to care about nothing but profit) and it would seem that to some at least this isn’t important enough a change to tell anyone about it.

A handful of very local Creekside residents got a letter about this. No one else did. Not the people who’d have to look at the new buildings across the road, not other local residents, not no one else.

The residents who were told were given ten days to submit any thoughts about this. That means there’s probably about five now.

It’s yet another example of developers getting the upper hand by sneaking in as under the radar as possible, of a council who if they’re not actively colluding with the developers are certainly giving the impression they are, and of another little bit of Green Greenwich about to be gobbled up under glass and steel.

If you’d like to see what, unless you’ve been picked out for special treatment, you won’t have seen go to the address above and put in this reference 13/1832/PN . Look at the drawing, the microscopic people in it and worry. If you want to let your feelings known you can, in this instance, click on the box that says ‘make a public comment.’ Any problems email: But remember – you don’t have long.

For my part, the bit that depresses me the most is that this major change to the original planning permission is not only being slipped in through the back door, it seems almost conspiratorial in its stealth.