Archive for January, 2015

Two saved projects, one pending…

Friday, January 30th, 2015

There’s been a lot of bad stuff gone on while I’ve had my eye off the Greenwich Time Ball, but it’s not all horrors. Two projects especially, that we discussed at length over the years, have come to fruition.

I am utterly delighted that against the odds Severndroog Castle not only survived being a vandalised – and vandalisable  - ruin earmarked for private offices to become a fabulous observation tower for all. I love visiting, and the views, especially in winter, are fabulous.

Then there’s the swing bridge across Capital Quay. It was on, it was off, it was a high-rise affair, it was shelved. The money was ear-marked, the money was already spent. But now we have it and no longer do we have to trudge round Creek Road risking life, limb and lungs to get from one part of the Thames Path to the next.

But the success of these two projects for me only highlights how much else needs to be done to keep Greenwich as vibrant and individual as it can be given the blandification of the steel and glass dreariness springing up around us. I worry for the safety of the Thames Path further down, one of the few remaining bits where you can feel you’re in somewhere that is both industrial and wild, is under serious threat of steel and glass.

Then, just to keep me awake on the nights I don’t worry about that, the University of Greenwich have announced they intend to sell their Avery Hill campus, complete with the glorious Winter Gardens.

This fabulous glass fantasy is currently open to all, if a little crumbling around the edges. If it is sold, there is no guarantee that it will be even retained, let alone for public use.

The Friends of Avery Hill Park are organising a Facebook campaign – being an old and crusty Phantom I can’t find my way around Facebook so you’ll have to find it for yourselves, but I don’t see why a similar campaign that fought and won Severndroog couldn’t be arranged here – there was already applications for lottery funding to help restore the gardens. I, for one, will be happy to get behind any such project.

It has a slight advantage over Severndroog too, commercially.

While Severndroog is beautiful, it can’t take vast numbers of people so it’s not great for weddings or parties – Avery Hill could, with a little rejiggery, be perfect – though of course for me part of its joy is the quiet seclusion you can find just walking in any day…

So – a pat on the back for projects complete, a call to arms for projects to come…

Subterranean Greenwich Gone Underground

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Hawksmoor's Conduit House in Greenwich Park, just one entrance to the network


Several people have been asking me what happened to the Subterranean Greenwich Blog, which looked at all matters underground in the area – and let’s face it, there seems to be as much going on under our feet in Greenwich one way or another as there is at ground level. The site appears to have gone, er, underground.

I started to look into it but found my work had already been done by one of my favourite bloggers, Transpontine in a post from – gulp – 2012 – which shows you just how long I’ve had my eye off the time-ball.

His tale of cyber attack and disappearing blogs was unnerving to say the least, but there was hope in the comments where Per and Dom reassured us there was a new domain and all would be well. But it’s gone again – I’ve tried all the domains the blog ever had and all the email addresses I’ve ever had for the derring-duo, with no luck.

Dom – Per – if you’re out there, let us know – sundry Phantophiles and my own spectral self are wondering where you and your marvellously comprehensive blog of all things Down Under have gone.

If the site has gone for good, we have lost the best resource there is for Underground Greenwich, or at least the best public resource – they may be documents locked in some gabinetto segreto somewhere, scratched in Name of the Rose-style poisonous ink to ward off would-be nosey-parkers but I don’t know of it.

There are many things of an underground nature I never touched on myself because I’m not one for reinventing wheels, but now I sort of wish I had. It’s certainly something authorities are not keen to explore on an official basis.

But I don’t like to leave today’s post on such a grim note, so here’s my early Easter Egg, a little missive I received a short while ago.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve talked about Vanbrugh Castle – there’s no point in my even giving you links – just google ‘Vanbrugh Castle tunnels’ or ‘underground’ within the blog and you’ll find dozens of things people have told me or that I’ve winkled out myself about this creepy, fascinating, nutty – and subterranean – oddity (btw WordPress has an odd way of hiding the next-page tabs so you can’t see them and think there’s just the one.)

So much has been written about the tunnels alleged to be underneath this strange building – do they or don’t they exist etc. – that I was particularly grateful to hear from Gary who attended Vanbrugh Castle when it was a school in the 1970s. He tells me:

I went to Vanburgh Castle School between 1971 and 1973. There are indeed tunnels. Just off the five-a-side concrete football pitch was a wooded area known as the Dell, which was out of bounds. The fence there was damaged and a small boy could crawl under it.

Once under the fence there was what appeared to be a tunnel/ drain? which was barred, but one bar was bent allowing access. This tunnel lead back up towards the school grounds. After a fair bit of crawling it opened into a large room type area – I believe now this was an old air raid shelter. A few of us boys would creep out of bed at night and venture off to the tunnel and spent a few hours most nights in this shelter, by torch light. God only knows what might have happened to us if there had been any flooding/collapse!! We would never have been found. Frightens the life out of me now!

Thank you Gary. Was this just an air raid shelter or do we need to link it to an older room, perhaps the tunnel between Vanbrugh Castle and Vanbrugh House or even something else – a conduit, perhaps that might have stretched across the road into the park to join up with the labyrinth underneath.

I confess I don’t know anyone who lives there now who could verify if they still exist. Maybe someone else does…

The Man in the Moon Murder

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Man in the Moon by Stephen Craven

Many moons ago we were discussing the Man in the Moon, a former pub on Old Woolwich Road now converted into flats.

Someone mentioned that there had been a murder there, but given I had no idea whether this was in Victorian times or more recently it was difficult to check it out. Not least that it’s pretty taboo – I mean – developers really don’t like to advertise unpleasant things that happened in a property’s previous existence when they’re trying to flog apartments. I confess that, like many things on this site, I let it go, and, frankly forgot about it, only remembering when I walked past.

Then I got an email from someone who moved into the nearby Ernest Dence Estate in the late 1970s. My emailer confirmed there was a murder there, albeit accidental. After the Man in the Moon stopped being a pub, it became a sweet shop.

“One evening the lady that owned the shop was robbed on the premises by a lad off the estate and he pushed her down the stairs which in turn killed her. He spent about 30 years in prison for his actions.”

So – there you have it. At some point when I get time I’ll go through all the microfiche newspapers for the period and find the whole story but for now I want to reflect on what seems to be a very hazardous profession – sweet shop proprietor on corners of the Old Woolwich Road.

While I was pondering this post, I remembered another query from years ago, where Karen tells the sad story of her great-grandparents, who also owned a sweet shop there. The business was, apparently, a disaster (not least, I imagine, because it was during the war when sugar was rationed) and tragedy struck, the family believes, when Karen’s great-grandfather fell and died trying to mend the roof after bomb damage.

To add insult to injury, the Naval College forced all the residents to sell their properties to them at ridiculously low prices so they could build something grand but the plans fell through and that particular sweet shop is now somewhere under the car park at the end of Eastbury Street.

So all you would-be entrepreneurs – whatever you do, if someone offers you the East Greenwich franchise of Mr Humbug on a suspiciously empty corner of Old Woolwich Road you have been warned. Do not touch it with even the longest stick of barley sugar…

The Phantom Returns…not with a bang but with a whisper

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Something I've missed - Greenwich's fine tradition of water features

Folks, I realise it’s been a long, long time since I posted properly. Life has taken its toll, and continues to do so, but I have missed you all, and missed posting about my beloved Greenwich.

It’s odd to think that when I started, back in 2006, I was posting seven days a week – what on earth possessed me? Some kind of demon, I suppose. I managed five days a week for a good six years, but after issues that I won’t go into – this blog isn’t about me, it’s about Greenwich – it dwindled down until I had to stop altogether.

In the meanwhile, some great blogs, newsletters and even video stations have sprung up, and some fine publications – Greenwich Visitor, especially, is a publication after my own heart. But kind people have been telling me to start again and, at the risk of crowding the market, I’m going to attempt a little part-time phantasmagorical haunting.

It’s never going to be five days a week again – my circumstances have changed completely – but I’m figuring once a week is better than none, so let’s start with that. I won’t be updating the Parish News just yet, but do keep me in touch with what’s going on – I’m horribly out of the loop.

I’ve been collecting interesting snippets; I think we can do this. Expect the first post tomorrow…

Oh – and happy new year, all!