Archive for September, 2013

Greenwich Reach in the 1960s

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Following on from the discussion about re-naming reaches, another one of those lovely moments when Gerald Dodd says ‘don’t think you’ve seen these yet…’

I’m guessing he was standing on Greenwich pier to take these – given he was a porter at Dreadnought Hospital that would make sense – lunchtime, Gerald? This one must be one of the tourist boats – a bit smaller than the ones we have now, but still the same principal. The Isle of Dogs is just a tiny bit different too…

Island Gardens is much the same, of course, though it could be changing soon if the developers have their way.The pier itself has only just changed, of course. For a working river the Thames looks very still, perhaps this was early morning?

And Wood Wharf. The power station, just in case you’re wondering, is not Greenwich Power Station but Deptford, we’re looking West here.

Strange to see these pictures. It was that long ago and yet it looks like another world…

What’s in a Name?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

That which we call Bugsby’s Reach
By any other name would smell as slightly seaweedy when the tide goes out…

…but why would we bother? What real benefit is there in changing the name, however curious, to the somewhat prosaic Watermans Reach? To me it sounds like one of those fake ‘ancient’ names they give to new-build housing estates to try to give them some character.

But Bugsby’s already has character – and although I’m not going to man the barricades over the PLA’s alleged plan to change the stretch of water’s name to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Watermen, I confess that changing something old, mysterious and Greenwich to something that although alluding to something else old and mysterious is, frankly a bit bland.

No one’s imagination is going to be sparked by seeing that name on a map – we all know what a waterman is.

Nobody knows who Bugsby was. I like to think he (or even she, wouldn’t that be cool…) was a smuggler who brought good old fashioned contraband like French brandy, jewels and silks through the underground passages of Greenwich Peninsula to the Pilot Inn ready to stash in the rafters there.

Poor old Pilot. I have a horrid feeling those historic rafters aren’t going to exist much longer – they may even have already gone in what I suspect might not be a totally sympathetic bunch of building work going on there just now. I don’t know what they’re doing but my phantom gut is telling me big and inappropriate. Yick. There’s an interesting (and depressing) article here on why this ancient pub isn’t listed (the last paragraph gives yet another reason as to why Mary Mills rocks) and why Fullers essentially can do what they like to it.

They’d be fools, of course. People go to the Pilot for its historic nature and the whole Thames Pubness of it. Lose that and you have another average pub. Naturally it may turn out okay and they might be doing something that won’t make it hideous, but I’m definitely keeping a wary eye on it (no pic as I’m always on the bus when I go by, trying to crane my neck to see what’s going on – sorry…)

But I’ve gone back to bad habits and am digressing yet again. I was on the shadowy figure of Bugsby. When I suggested to Mary my fantasy about the Mysterious B as a smuggler she said

there is some story of a pirate hiding in the bushes but I went right though the (very difficult to read) Wallscot minutes and there was nothing – although they seem to be able to record every bramble bush on the peninsula from 1620 onwards.

If you run the name Bugsby through the web it is a commoner name in the West Indies and America than here. Remember that bit of the peninsula is opposite what was the East India Co. depot and there would have been lots of big ships anchored there – so its possible Bugsby was someone a bit exotic. The first mention of the name is – I think – 1715ish – before that it was Podds Elms or Cockshutt Reach.

So Bugsby’s isn’t the first name for this stretch of water.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve got anything against Watermen. Far from it. I love ‘em. These are the guys who wear brilliant hats, have a great (original) livery hall and bring you Doggetts Coat and Badge Wager every year. And I am only too happy to let them have a stretch of water all of their very own.

And since I don’t want to be a Phantom NIMBY my suggestion is the other side of the Peninsula. ‘Greenwich Reach’ is a ‘nothing name.’ We know who we are, we don’t need to be reminded. Greenwich Reach doesn’t spark any romantic fantasies – it’s merely geographical.

In the Phantom Book, the Watermen would be only too welcome to change Greenwich Reach to Watermans Reach – actually, I think that would be an excellent idea. Just leave poor Bugsby, whoever he/she was alone…

Some Interesting Stuff about Greenwich Park’s Tunnels

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I can’t for the life of me remember where this image came from, I found it while I was looking for a photo of the various entrances to the Greenwich Park tunnels near the Conduit House in the west of the park, which of course I can’t find, but hey, it’s probably more interesting anyway.

Michael was digging around old Freedom of Information requests and found a couple of fascinating reports that he’s sent me.

The first is a general overview of the tunnels in the park which gives good basic information. I don’t think it’s got anything we haven’t talked about many times before but it’s always good to read new documents about things such as this.

The second I found much more interesting, as it’s a 2009 report by a Nottinghamshire-based company (why they didn’t use local experts I don’t know…) who went down to check out the tunnels – presumably as part of the Olympic preparations to check they weren’t going to cave in. I guess it would have been useful and quelled a bit of hysteria if they’d made the fact they were doing it public at the time but hey, it’s an interesting enough read now.

I’m assuming that the photographic reproduction in the original report is a bit better quality than the copy but even with the horrid, grainy pixellated images we have it’s a fascinating read. I love the skeleton of an abandoned wheelbarrow that lies propped up in a corner.

I’ll not reinvent the wheel(barrow) here – you can read it for yourselves – but it seems to be a pretty thorough report, with a view to wildlife too (no bats, sadly…) and a fascinating read. I love the stuff about the Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Air Raid Shelter.

Something the report does throw up is that the tunnels are pretty sound, which puts me in mind of something that keeps coming to me as a possible money-making wheeze for Royal Parks. Why not do ‘potholing’ expeditions of the tunnels for small groups, led by cavers? I know I’d be straight down there – and I’m sure lots of other people would sign up for a guided tour of the tunnels. After all, the generations before us all clambered about down there. I feel left out.

I guess there are a gazillion H&S forms to fill out and risk assessment stuff a-gogo but hell – so must there be for the sky walk thing over the O2 and that’s going great guns, They must be coining it. I know which I’d rather do.

Michael has put in an FOI request of his own, to see the rest of the report and I’m going to reproduce the request here as I think it’s a great example of how one should be done. Officials must get so many aggressive ‘You’ve clearly got something to hide, you’re a bad person, show me all the documents that prove that my suggestion isn’t true’ requests that a polite, specific ask must be a blessed relief. I know that if I were a weary public servant and got Michael’s request I’d be more inclined to push it to the top of the pile.

I’ll let you know when he gets that speedy reply…

Alphabet of Greenwich (S)

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Stephen points out that we haven’t had an Alphabet of Greenwich since the May Bank Holiday so it’s about time we had another.

I guess all the ‘Saints’ churches count – or do they? How about all the ‘Schools of…’ and various Societies?

I don’t have photos of Sabo the newsagent, Squeeze or Straightsmouth But who needs that when you have a picture of the Straightsmouth Stink Pipe?

But over to you.

‘S’ should be a pretty easy one, shouldn’t it?

The floor is open…

Charlton Park in the 1960s

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The gems from Dreadnought Hospital porter Gerald Dodd’s photo album just keep on coming. Every so often I get a little email that says ‘not sure you’ve seen these yet’ which brightens up my entire day. I even have a backlog and at some stage I need to go through and see which ones you’ve not seen yet either. I would link to older posts but there are just so many of them. I’m pretty sure I’ve tagged them with his name, but you can always use the little ‘search within this site’ google box if you want to see more.

The pictures today don’t have people in them, but Gerald lived in Charlton Park Lane, so being the proud owner of a camera (a relatively unusual thing in the 60s) he took it out on occasion to get to know it. I love these images – it was obviously a glorious day but there’s something slightly faded and melancholy about the park and almost ghostly about the house, which reminds me of the very odd, flawed but curious Halloween theatrical experience I had there a few years ago.

Something that would appeal to anyone who would like this photo is an exhibition at Charlton House at the moment, run by the indominatble Carol Kenna and the Charlton Reminiscence Project. I’ll let them tell you about it as I haven’t been yet:

A View from the Ledge

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

I just love this image. It is, of course, another in Gerald Dodd’s collection, which, if you are new around here, was a series of pictures taken by Gerald in the 1960s when he was a porter at Dreadnought Hospital, showing the back corridors, wards, roofs and back-spaces of the place – perhaps rather an odd thing to do then, but utterly fascinating to us now.

I love the moodiness of the Gatehouse with the room in shadow and King William Way daylit outside.

It’s the little things that I like – the ashtray on the desk, the paper carrier bag, the mug. I like the vertical lines and miniature frames created by the window.

I can’t tell whether the chap in the picture is our old favourite Harry ‘Glassblower’ or not, but I’m sort of hoping it is – a man who can make me smile forty years on when I never even met him. Here he is on the floor, draped in a Union flag surrounded by beer cans for no reason other than fun:

This is what the inside of the Gatehouse looked like:

George Budge the gatekeeper…

Gerald says “George  was a bit of a wheeler / dealer, (small time ), the carrier bag on the table would have been George`s with his latest wares. It was a bit of this and that,  nothing to expensive or big. I remember I got a nice half-sovereign and gold chain for a few bob for Pam ( now my wife). I liked working with him just to see what he brought in – a silver pocket watch one time, cheap but a non-runner (still have it ) and another time a second hand cine camera.”

I’m guessing the little films Gerald sent were made with that camera…

And here’s Gerald himself:

And in case you were wondering which of the many Greenwich photography shops Gerald patronised, he’s found an old packet of negs:

More fun with Gerald and his pals another day…

Another One Bites The Dust

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Jeremy tells me that the Greenwich Shoppe is to close. He says ‘it’s been there for a long time and I think it’s a shame.’

I certainly think its a shame that so many independent Greenwich shops are going. If it hadn’t been absolutely bogging with rain when I passed, I’d have taken a pic of the train-wreck that is the end of Creek Road – we’ve lost the Emporium, the many and varied shops that went into that funny little triangular store next to it and the lovely Thai restaurant Kum Luang, leaving us with an entire row of boarded-up gloom.

Does anyone know if someone’s hoovered up the lot in order to turn it into something inappropriate for a historic town centre or is it just coincidence that all these shops are dying at once?

We’re told the recession is on the turn. Both personally and for Greenwich I am yet to see any let-up.

In the meanwhile the funny little newsagents which supplied the world with emergency lighters, plastic policemen’s helmets and Princess Di postcards is to close, creating a win for chainstores and pedants and a fail for the rest of us.


Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

I don’t know how many of you joined me in leaving Nationwide when it left us a couple of years ago. I figured that if they couldn’t be bothered to have a branch anywhere near me I couldn’t be bothered to give them my custom. Of course they won’t have missed my tuppence ha’penny worth of business but it was the principle.

Of course they swore when they golluped up the Portman Building Society that neither bank would leave Greenwich. Both did, and when the second one went, I walked.

So – Lloyds TSB have been forced to split up their business and Greenwich’s version is to be a TSB. Will the same thing happen?

I can’t tell, but when the Portman was subsumed the livery was quietly changed overnight in a ‘nothing to see here…’ kind of way, but as Mike’s picture shows, Lloyds have at least taken a different approach – with balloons and an opening by the Mayor  (except for twice a year I tend to forget we have a mayor – once with the annual swanky dinner debacle, the other when the Mayor’s rolled out to switch on the Christmas lights. For your information she’s Councillor Angela Cornforth…)

So maybe this one will stay and Greenwich won’t lose any more services. Fingers crossed.

Dem Dry Bones

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Vicky asks:

Any idea why there might be so many burnt animal bones on the Greenwich foreshore – on the beach by the river in front of the Greenwich University / Trinity buildings?

There are literally thousands of them … and some of them are quite big – we suspect that some of them are sheep bones, but we are not sure of the rest. Or how they might have got there.

The Phantom replies:

The river fetches up some weird stuff on Greenwich Beach, not least because we’re on a bend that catches all kinds of detritus in the tides. Sometimes it’s china sherds, sometimes bits of ancient London.

Occasionally it’s treasure (of the archeaological variety, very rarely actual gold and silver)  though not very often on the surface – you need to dig for that and you need a license, though try telling those scary gangs excavating on an almost industrial level (or so I’m told)  up and down the river, not that I’ve ever seen any at Greenwich.

Thinking about it, there’s something quite Dickensian about gangs of mudlarks operating on the Thames by dead of night, searching for London’s buried treasures. I hope they have suitably ghoulish names. Suggestions here,chaps…

Still, beachcoming is usually quite fun and can turn up nice stuff. Mind you, the best thing I’ve ever found was a slightly gruesome Victorian syringe. Yerk.

There are nearly always bits of clay pipe. There are so many of them I’ve even seen weird jewellery made from pipe sherds on the market.

And at the moment it’s bones.

I’d say these are almost certainly nothing to do with any kind of strange libations from weird cults on the foreshore, but have been brought downriver over the hours – perhaps days, weeks or even years.

Bones, especially burnt ones, are very light, so presumably they wash together and congregate when the tide goes out, but where they come from is harder to say. An abbatoir further up river? Though one that tips out directly into the Thames is an unpalatable thought.

Any ideas, folks?

Innocent Childhood Pastimes, Greenwich Stylee…

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by accounts of 19thC Greenwich Pensioners going up Greenwich Hill with telescopes and charging tourists a penny to look at the criminals hanging from gibbets at Execution Dock.

It seemed a bit of a feat of physics to me, since Execution Dock is at Wapping and the river bends at least twice before you get there, so… how…? Ah, well, I let it go…

Then last night I was reading the reminiscences of one G.B. Richardson (yes, Harriet, probably one of your ancestors, though he talks about Richardson’s press as though it was that of a stranger, so I can’t be sure…) writing some time in the 1880s about grand days out when he was a boy, walking up into Greenwich Marshes (the Peninsula to you and me…) with bright eye and rosy cheek –  ”there were no factories then; it was a walk with bright green fields on one side and a beautiful tidal river on the other, not, as now, the colour of pea soup”  and the penny dropped.

By the time GB was writing he was an august Victorian gent of some standing – representative of the Greenwich District Board of Works and a member of the London School Board – which makes it all the more remarkable what he was about to ‘fess up to.

He and his grisly little chums had gone to see dead bodies swing from gallows on the other side of the river. It was, it would seem, a big treat for Greenwich kids. “There was no expectation creating more interest than that of ‘seeing the men hanging’.”

The creepy corpses were at “what is now the Blackwall railway station”. I looked up Blackwall railway station – obviously nothing of it exists any more but it was, apparently here which makes far more sense for those pensioners with their telescopes. The station was built in the 1830s, opened 1840, so we must be talking Georgian times for the swinging pirates.

Mr GB reckons there were six men hanging in iron gibbets “as a warning to all mariners passing up and down the river against the sin of mutiny, piracy and murder.”

It was, apparently, a game for the local kids to swim out to the iron cages – two corpses to a gibbet. There were six dead bodies dangling when GB was a boy.

“My delight was to reach their feet by any stick that I might get hold of, or other means, and make them swing backwards and forwards and make the chains rattle”.

Ah, those were the days…

Sadly the jolly  japes didn’t last. GB regrets that ‘one by one they dropped, and then the remainder were removed, and the gibbets also” and bang went all the joy out of life for Greenwich’s youth.

Fun hasn’t been the same since.