Archive for October, 2013

The Kairos Project Garden

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

I know nothing more about the Kairos Project than its poster on the side of one of the beds tells us – that it’s part of a collaboration with the pain management department of the Vanbrugh health centre next door – but I love the joyful little garden the group have created and have been watching it as it’s gone through the seasons this year.

Even now, when most places are beginning to look a bit on the sad side, there are bright cosmos, cabbages, carrots, nasturtiums and bamboos. I love it and recommend a little trip up Vanbrugh Hill to enjoy it while you still can.

While I’m talking about enjoying things while you can, take a look at the building too. I am possibly alone in loving this 1976 Aztec Gem. Certainly Pevsner is very sniffy about it: “an ugly A-Frame with forceful raking struts.” But I’ve grown to love the Vanbrugh Health Centre. If it was just given a little TLC it could really shine as something unusual and special. As it is, it is to go, and I’m sad about that.

Here We Go Again…

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Something to remember about commercial developers/ big chains. THEY NEVER GIVE UP. They get their planning permission refused, they ignore it. They’ll get ordered to take down the offending article, they’ll try again. And again. And again.

So here we are, congratulating ourselves on victory over stopping the shocking Lovell’s Wharf contravention of rules, trying to almost double the capacity of planning permission under the guise of minor alteration and, while our backs are turned, an old sore futher into town begins to fester again.

Thank goodness Malcolm is more eagle-eyed than me. I actively looked at Greenwich Time’s applications this week and missed this – at the bottom of P23 (it only has 24 pages…)

Yet again, Frankie and Bennys are trying to plaster their ghastly illuminated signs (and non-illuminated) all over their hideous restaurant building, turning the classic Greenwich waterfront into the Blackpool illuminations.

These guys never stop. They figure that we will run out of heart to object before they run out of cash to keep reapplying.

IKEA on the Peninsula?

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

So this kicked off yesterday – the proposal by IKEA to move to the site Sainsburys is vacating /Comet has already vacated on the Peninsula. And it brings on much to think about.

To be honest I am really going to miss the fact that I can walk to Sainsburys at the moment. I understand commercially why Sainsburys are adamant that they’re not going to let a food retailer into their old spot, but it’s definitely less convenient for a very small bunch of people into which I fall, so hey, I’m not wild about it. At least their removal to Charlton will mean that I visit the indie shops more than I confess I do at the moment. I don’t want a twenty minute trudge each way just to get a few groceries and a Phantom cannot live by meatballs and strange Nordic preserves alone.

I’m not a huge fan of IKEA furniture – I’d always rather go down the secondhand route and get something that doesn’t look exactly the same as everyone else’s – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a couple of Billys knocking around Phantom Towers.

But in classic NIMBY mode, do I really want one that close to me? I very very rarely visit IKEA – am trying without luck to remember last time I did. I’d rather have local shops that I might use more than once in a blue moon than the local roads clogged by people coming to a notorious traffic blackspot, but I realise that I’m just one Phantom and many people do like to go there.

And that could be an issue. The roads leading up to the Blackwall tunnel are already scarily busy and often jammed, especially around the flyover/roundabout. The idea of Saturday/Sunday traffic being even more full of angry people who have come for a nice day out at IKEA (I have only seen more ding-dongs in the local ASDA – how can so many angry people be in one place?) really worries me.

I’m not totally against one gigantic retailer taking the spot over any other one. It’s a commercial retail park, there will be commercial retailers in it. But I will be going to the open day hour and a half on Saturday the 9th November between 10 and 11.30am at the Forum and I will be asking the following questions. I would like you to ask some of your own.

  • Is the site actually big enough for an IKEA – and if not do they intend to make it two or even three storeys high? At the moment it’s low-rise – especially the Sainsburys, which did its best to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’d like to avoid a retail Manhattan if at all possible.
  • Is the car park big enough? It’s already a pig to get in and out of.
  • Can the roads around it, especially the roundabout under the flyover, cope? I have a horrid feeling not.
  • I assume the tellytubby Sainsburys will go. I seem to remember it only got planning permission because it was all eco (could be wrong there). Is there any sign at all that the IKEA store will be a) reusing materials they harvest from demolition and b) making any attempt to be eco themselves?
  • What will happen to the baby eco park at the back of Sainsburys? If you’re not sure what it is see here . I would like to see this little haven for wildlife, which was created as a Section 106, preserved.


But much to discuss here. What are your thoughts?

Angerstein Railway

Monday, October 28th, 2013

On this blusteriest of days for some time, let this photo be a little reminder that it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.

Back in 2010, after a not-entirely-ill blast, the fence had blown down up by the Angerstein Railway and Julian Watson (whose name appears in the credits of practically every Greenwich book written in the last 20-odd years, and sometimes on the title page) decided to have a peek at what’s usually pretty hard to get to. This is literally the end of the line.

I always think it’s rather wonderful that Greenwich has its own little branch line entirley dedicated to freight. There are very, very few left; most have closed and even fewer actually directly serve the Thames (you can see iron track lines in several places round the Thames Path where other bably lines used to run.)

Over the years people have mentioned they think this one’s closed too but you only have to stand a little while in any one of several places, my favourite being the roundabout just past Sainsburys on the Peninsula, before you see the slightly surreal image of a diesel engine creeping over the bridge towards the aggregates yard at Angerstein Wharf (built by the son of John Julius Angerstein, of Monster Hunter fame…)

There’s an excellent history of the railway here so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by repeating it here.

If you want to get a look at it, you never know, today could be a good day. On the occasions I’ve tried to get a closer peek (by taking the little offshoot on the right hand side of the footbridge over the 102(M) that leads from Westcombe Park to Charlton, the extremely severe cattlegrids served their purpose, keeping both hooved animals and Phantoms off the tracks. But after all this wind you never know, there might be a fence panel down…

The Man From U.N.C.L.E

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Mike Purdy

Just in case you’re wondering… Mike tells me it’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Apparently they’re waiting for the last students to leave the ORNC so they can film a car chase. Frankly, since it’s a Friday night, I’d just hang around Greenwich Town Centre for a while…

Maritime Greenwich

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Emma asks:

currently doing a design project at my university and want to know more about the maritime history of greenwich. love reading your blog posts so was wondering whether you could do an interesting one on the maritime aspect of greenwich? also interested if theres any old lighthouses around and how the sea man found their way before light houses?

The Phantom replies

Greenwich IS maritime history, really, and there’s far too much for a single blog post. It’s really a case of just getting out and doing a bit of reading, and a bit of looking. The Maritime Museum is a good place to start; their Caird Library will be invaluable, as will Greenwich Heritage Centre.

But hey, I’ll do a short potted history of Greenwich’s watery history (from memory, so do check, eh…)

Basically, Greenwich is important because of its place in the Thames – it’s nestled in a bend there, which gives shelter for shipping and relatively safe waters. It’s a little way outside London proper, which gives it a good strategic position – a defensive one at the peninsula and almost a ‘gateway’ a little further up.

The Romans came up there and there is some evidence of a temple in the park, which would have been about half way between the river and the old Watling Street.

The Vikings also came up the river and parked their longboats on the shallow beach at Greenwich. St Alfege was murdered here by the Danes in 1012, pretty much where the church is now.

Greenwich was generally a fishing village, and before the five foot walk was built it had a much longer foreshore.

Because royalty chose to build their palaces in Greenwich, the two main dockyards were either side, in Deptford and Woolwich, but there was much pagentry and pomp on the water at Greenwich. The river was used for the main transport as the roads were so bad, so kings, queens, gentry and the general populace all used the Thames – whether by their own private barges or using the services of lightermen.

Greenwich was big for two things – royalty and sailors – and when the royalty left, the sailors took over. Current sailors, using the town for carousery and old sailors, Greenwich Pensioners from Greenwich Hospital, using the town for – well, much the same, really.

Greenwich’s finest maritime moment was in 1806 when Admiral Lord Nelson’s body, which had lain in state after the Battle of Trafalgar, was taken up to St Pauls Cathedral along the river in a great ceremonial procession.

During the 19th Century the docks grew enormous. The river was being used for cargo, transport, military and less salubrious purposes and got massively busy but pretty disgusting. Two foot tunnels were built to allow workers to get to work in the docks, which kissed goodbye to the lightermen.

As the docks subsided in the late 20th Century the river became quiet – but it is currently the cleanest it’s been in centuries.

We’re currently home to the Cutty Sark of course, though we lost the Gipsy Moth IV because we couldn’t be bothered to look after her.

We’re looking at a new age of shipping though, with that giagantic new cruise liner terminal. It will be interesting to see.

Lighthouses. Frankly lighthouses have been with us since ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians so it’s been a long time since seamen have had to be without them, but generally in areas without them it’s always been down to the skill of the individual sea captain. It doesn’t always work, as the case of the Costa Concordia proves…

There’s just the one around these parts, at Trinity Buoy Wharf, across the river from the Dome. It’s a testing lighthouse – used to test out new lamps etc, so not really used ‘in anger.’ You can get in there on high days and holidays (the whole of Trinity Buoy Wharf is worth a visit) and inside there’s a strange sound installation called Long Player by Jem Finer, which will be tingin and bonging to itself for the next 1000 years. There are also two lightships at the wharf. If you look down from the cable car you should be able to see them.

Lovells Wharf Base Camp

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Photo: Richard Proctor

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, as some personal stuff’s been getting in the way (again…) but just in case there’s anyone in Greenwich who doesn’t know (and for everyone who just wants a reason to crack open a small bottle on a Friday evening) that ghastly amendment to the Lovells Wharf development whereby we were going to get the Empire State Building in apartment-form but without the elegance has been unanimously rejected by the planning board.

Of course, we’ve been here before, many times. There will now be numerous appeals by the developers who figure that every time they appeal fewer people will actually bother to object but hey – small steps…

Oh – and the Phantom is blushing, after entirely failing to credit Richard Proctor for his amazing photography. I am now doing a nice line in sackclocth tricorns…

Pigsty Alley

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

How fab is this? The newest sign in Greenwich is a revival of an 18th Century name for what remains of a ancient thoroughfare. David, who sent me the photo, tells me that the alley, which runs between Maidenstone Hill and Winforton Street, originally ran much further north but post-war clearances severed it.

I’ve been looking on various old maps for the alley but without luck – maybe someone has one?

David says “ironically there is no evidence as far as I can see for there being sties in the area, although the keeping of pigs and chickens in back yards would not have been uncommon in days gone by.”

Indeed – I know of at least one garden with very fancy chickens up there now…

Hooray for the council allowing themselves to be persuaded to use old names, however unflattering. I wish they had taken such an attitude when assigning titles to the tedious new streets in the ‘Heart’ of East Greenwich…

The Case of the Missing Paintings

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Folks, I’m back. Not sure how long for, but hey, I’ll do my best while I’m around. I’m starting today with an odd request from an Australian sports historian, James Brear:

James asks

This is a long shot, but you never know. Can you help? I’m looking for three paintings, a portrait of Captain George Brunswick Smyth, Smyth with his horses and dogs, and a painting of his yacht. The works in question were left to Lady Rose Emily Maryon Wilson by her aunt Constantia Smyth, the widow of the captain. They were sent from Australia to Charlton House in 1900. I have tried many avenues but so far to no avail. Anything at all would be greatly appreciated.

Captain George Brunswick Smyth, I have learned, was an officer in charge of Port Philip military police in 1839 (which now means I know two things about Port Phillip – that it had a policeman called George Brunswick Smith and that it’s home to a colony of penguins…) and it is alleged that the area of Brunswick was named for him, though another theory is that it was named for splendid scarlet woman and jolly Greenwich resident Caroline of Brunswick.

Now, I’m assuming that James’s ‘many avenues’ have included Charlton House itself and various Charlton luminaries such as Carol Kenna of Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project and the Charlton Champion. Greenwich Council took over the house in 1925 but I assume the family kept the furniture and other fittings, especially things that have a personal (if distant) link like paintings.

I don’t know what became of the Maryon Wilsons – the baronetcy died out in the 1970s, if memory serves, but I think there are still family members around. I am sure someone will know. If I had the hours in the day it might be worth looking through the papers for 1925, the year of the sale and seeing if there was an auction, I guess.

George SMyth is not a household name in Britain, so frankly these paintings could be anywhere and possibly not even named. ‘Fraid Phantom Towers doesn’t have any pictures of 19th Century policemen, dogs, horses or yachts, but I’ll keep an eye out next time I’m at Greenwich Auctions…

It’s an odd one. I don’t know why James needs to find these paintings but I know there are Phantophiles out there who enjoy a treasure hunt, so I’m passing it on.


Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

I’m taking a holiday at the moment but Samantha tells me this is urgent so I’ll pop this one out quickly. She says:

I’ve just moved into the area, and have a grade II listed (property) that needs much attention. Firstly I need to replace all the windows and I wondered if you could recommend someone. I have spoken with Peter Denney as suggested on the site but need comparisons as this is a big job with all taken out and new with boxes put in. I heard about Pembroke and Nash and wondered if you or any of your readers had used them or could make suggestions?

The Phantom replies:

I’ve never had to replace windows, so this is not an area of expertese (and this is why the two following suggestions are not in the trusted tradespeople section) but I do have a couple of suggestions.

Firstly I have heard that a chap called Malcolm Tierney is worth contacting. His number is 077 7565 7371.

I don’t normally take much notice of leaflets that come through the door (especially since at least half of the ones I get is the same cowboy-company masquerading as specialists in various trades, all of which they are appalling at…) but one local guy who only does sash windows intrigued me with his idiosyncratic flyer. David Howe lists actual addresses (well over 100 of them, with house-numbers included) where people can view his work on one side of his folded sheet of A4, the other side is a dense, paragraphless block of text with his mission statement. I repeat, I know nothing about this guy’s work, but he’s passionate at least…

020 8859 2844
07939 497 538

I am sure other people can suggest some names.