Archive for the ‘Charlton’ Category

Charlton Prefabs

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Carol over at Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project has a problem. She says:

We know that at one time there were prefabs built in Charlton Park along Canberra Road. I am now chasing this up, spurred on by a previous resident who lived in the prefabs as a boy, who has asked if we have any photographs of these buildings.

During the project we couldn’t track any down, can you or your readers help please? We would also like to add a photo, if any can be found, to the website as this was a frequently recollection by many participating in the project.

I guess the issue is that there aren’t too many people who take pictures of prefabs. In retrospect, yes; at the time, when film was expensive and not many people had cameras anyway, less likely.

But maybe someone here has something?

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:

Hornfair Water Feature

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Okay folks, I have a request to make.

Not for me (for once) but for Matt, who works for (Royal) Greenwich Council and who has been tasked with installing a new water feature at Hornfair Park, at the rose garden above.

He’d really like to re-create the original feature. Normal budget restrictions do apply so he confesses this could be a tall order but what makes it an even taller order is that he has no idea what it actually looked like. Despite searching Heritage archives and park management files he says he’s had no joy in finding a picture that includes the old fountain.

So now he’s asking us if anyone has any photos, or even memories, of what this feature looked like. It was still around in the 80s or 90s, so maybe, just maybe someone has a picture of themselves as a kid playing there with the fountain in the background or can remember being dunked in it or something. I get the feeling Matt would be grateful for any pointers at all as to what he should be putting there and short of looking at other parks of Hornfair’s age, he’s a bit stuck…

Charlton Bomb Map

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Chris has just asked where I got the Charlton Bomb Map from. To be brutally honest I can’t remember; it was in my image-folder unmarked (I’m very bad at putting sources for stuff on my notes) but I’ll put money on it having been something the very fine Stephen from Blitzwalkers who knows more about Greenwich’s war history than anyone else I can think of would have sent me.

I’m sure he can tell you some more, but in the meanwhile his last Greenwich Blitz Walk of this year will be 232rd October – more details can be found on his website.

Among My Souvenirs

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

In the virtual mail this morning I learned a little more about Greenwich Mural Workshop’s latest project – not made from paint or mosaic this time, but of memories. The Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project has been going for some months now, and since it’s about half-way through, they’re holding a special open day to share what they’ve found out so far.

They’re especially keen to talk with people who have lived in the area for many years and they’ve already unearthed some great stories, maps, history – and ‘new’ old photos of the area, including the opening of Maryon Park in 1909. This is clearly not it (you’ll have to go to the open day to see that) but who can resist country dancing?

There’s still lots of time to get involved, whether you’re interested in training as a volunteer archivist/interviewer/recorder/editor, helping to create an interactive website or just telling people about some of the things that happened in Charlton to you. Perhaps you’re one of the kiddies in this picture of the doughty Mrs Etherington, her tubby chum and the Exmoor ponies…

…or you remember a time when Charlton Lido was actually open.

Whichever, the open day looks like a fascinating experience. It’s on Saturday, 1st October, in the old library at Charlton House itself, between 1-4pm.

While you’re there, make sure you pick up a copy of what I received in the real post this morning, sent by Steve (thanks, Steve – and a doff of the tricorn to the Phantom Webmaster for forwarding it…), a handy little colour booklet, The Gardens at Charlton House which, had I had a copy back in July, I wouldn’t have publicly made an ass of myself by not knowing that the strange Mystery Obelisk in Charlton House’s back yard is actually a real ancient Roman stone, the sole survivor of a whole garden full of ornaments, presumably also looted from Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson’s Grand Tour, and somewhat arcanely decorated with a lizard, scorpion, two snakes, a crab and an urn. D’oh… Why didn’t I get it? The laurel tree next to it should have a clue.

Ah, well. I no longer need to be a Charlton ignoramus. I can go to the Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project’s Open Day, pore over maps, listen to interviews and see newly-discovered photos –  and pick up a spare copy of The Gardens at Charlton House. Both, I understand are free.

Mystery Obelisk

Monday, August 8th, 2011

So – I’m back – again – the blog’s been a bit interrupted recently, for which I apologise – sometimes Real Life just gets in the way. I’ve been computer-free for the last week – liberating in many ways, scary in others. I have discovered the internet is a bit like alcohol – it’s very, very easy to become addicted without even noticing.

But enough of my own personal whinging and back onto the massive backlog of correspondence I’m ashamed to have accrued.

Carol is curious to know” the origin and importance of this obelisk in Charton Park.  Was it once one of a pair,” she asks, or is it possibly Masonic?

Just in case you’re not sure where this is here’s another pic, taken from further back. It’s round the back to the north side, not far from Inigo Jones’s Loo and the splendid old mulberry bush.

Now of course I’m no architectural historian, so this is down to guesses. My usual recourses and guide books are strangely silent on the matter of curious garden furniture in what must have once been a rather splendid garden at Charlton House but I referred this to someone I know who is a Masonic historian and we’re both pretty sure it’s nothing to do with Freemasonry. He’s promised to ask someone he knows who is a Masonic garden historian (yes, there’s a specialist for everything) so I’ll update this if he comes up with anything good.

So in the absence of anything even remotely resembling an expert, I’m guessing 17th or 18th Century – it has the flamboyance of those incredible Italian baroque gardens – but could be utterly wrong. As obelisks go it’s pretty squat. There’s probably some funky name for the style, but I don’t know it. If it was just viewed from the end it might be a fancy tomb, but it’s square, so that seems unlikely.

Although it reminds me of Italian garden statuary, there’s something very robustly English about it. Perhaps it’s the fancy acorn on top. In Italy the acorn is often used as a symbol to imply the penis. I suspect there are more ‘ sturdy British Oak’ intentions about this one, though it is very large and, um, manly.

The other symbols are harder to work out as they’re eroded. The one nearest appears to have some kind of rope or knot and I can’t work out whether the rest is an anchor (which would mean ‘hope’ in Christian symbolism) or a newt which would mean an ancestor of Ken Livingstone was once head gardener.

The other appears to have a torch and a caduceus – both Greek symbols – the torch ‘life and truth’, the caduceus a symbol of medicine (though I’m not sure how far that goes back as a symbol; before that the alchemists were rather fond of it.)

Oh, hell, I’ve got no idea. Anyone else got any clues to this odd little survivor of the old Charlton House garden?


Aha – thanks to Steve and to Julian Watson who has confirmed that it is

“is an authentic Roman chest brought to Charlton house in the first half of the 19th cent. It is a fascinating and very ancient item. John Smith in his ‘Charlton, a Compilation of the Parish and its People.’ Vol. 1, 1970, states that Thomas Maryon Wilson brought it, and other items, from Italy in 1822. The eroded Latin inscription commissioned by TMW says: ‘These remnants of the Art of the Ancients were brought personally from Rome, and erected on his family estate by Sir Thomas M. Wilson 1 September 1822.’


Thanks guys. I ask and I receive…

Room With A Flue

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Linda is part of the estimable Ladies Who Bus, picking up where Time Out left off when the sad cancellation of  my favourite section, Big Smoke, meant the loss of several interesting long-running features, including the one where they travelled every bus route (but inexplicably keeping the tired old Lies to Tell Tourists which stopped being funny about three years ago).

But I digress. The Ladies Who Bus have reached our parts and have been enjoying riding the 177 and 180 routes.  Linda asks:

“Today we passed along the Woolwich Road twice, where London’s heritage river turns into something more workmanlike, and we noticed – see the attached photo – a chimney up for sale or rent via Hindwoods, though their site did not help. I would guess this was once part of some kind of working mill and wonder if you might have a better history for this bit of industrial heritage. Also, do you have any idea what one is meant to do with a rented chimney?”

The Phantom replies

Ah, Linda.  Long did I wonder that myself, and fantasise about what I’d do with a very odd shaped, windowless office with a million stairs. Not, of course, as much as I used to slobber over the prospect of the  Observation Tower of the old Greenwich Borough Hall, which was also ‘to let’ for many years.

Sadly, as so often turns out to be the case, the answer is much more prosaic  - it’s sundry buildings on the industrial estate that are for rent, not the actual chimney itself, much as the Observation Tower still languishes empty and unloved despite the fact that Benedict and I would have fought over it for office space (and would have opened it up on Open House day, instead of getting sent away with a flea in our ears for even suggesting it…)

To be honest I’m not sure what that particular set of industrial buildings would have been (my Charlton knowledge is shaky to say the least) though I daresay Greenwich Industrial History Society know all about it. There are quite a few chimneys left around this area, as reminders that Greenwich used to actually make stuff, and I’m really not sure which this one is, though I suspect it wasn’t anything as romantic as a mill.

While we’re on it, the estate itself has several useful little companies on it – I’ve had several grottily-painted wooden items I picked up at the auction cold-stripped by the chap just behind the chimney, and there’s a good paint shop, Brewers, there too, which a lovely Phantomite told me about when I discovered the paint store in Woolwich Road (now closed down, and I’m not surprised) sold watered-down, basic emulsion whatever you actually paid for…

So yeah, sadly the chimney itself isn’t actually for rent, but I’m sure the notice has fired many an imagination for people staring idly out of the top floor of the 177…

Dastardly-Do By The Charlton Cad

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Odd, isn’t it, what you end up reading when you’re sick. As I started to get better, I found myself reading a history of Hampstead, mainly because I didn’t have to move off the poorly-sofa to pick up the book. I discovered that the North-South divide of London is nothing new.

Mention the name Maryon Wilson to someone from Charlton and they’ll probably smile as they think of a nice piece of open parkland, available to all to wander and play. Say the same name to anyone from Hampstead and a dastardly villain of the twirling moustache variety pops into their head…

Actually, once I started reading further about London’s first great preservationist war, I began to realise that the good burghers of Charlton didn’t have much to thank the Maryon Wilsons for either, until well after the sandpits there had been exhausted and the family had no further need for the land they so generously gave to the people.

They inherited Charlton House in 1767 through the Maryon side – and the fact that they chose South East London over their other giant chunk of land – er, Hampstead – is somehow satisfying – inexplicably so, of course, given their less than charming nature. They owned all of Hanging Wood (some of which is now Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks) and much of the surrounding land; what they didn’t own they took anyway.

The family, headed by the darkest individual of them all, the eighth baronet Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson (boo, hiss) enclosed the ancient village green in front of their gaff and called it their front garden. The centuries-old Horn Fair was booted out to a field near Fairfield Grove until they finally got rid of it altogether in 1874.

But if the fairgoers of Charlton thought themselves hard done-by, the Hampstead people were spitting tacks. Hampstead Heath, just part of the enormous North London estate he owned as absentee Lord of the Manor, was, in Thomas Maryon Wilson’s avaricious eyes, just another bit of land upon which he could build a whole slew of new housing.

All he needed to do was get himself an Act of Parliament – a mere formality at the time – landowners everywhere were getting Acts granted willy-nilly in the early to mid 19thC.

Where Maryon Wilson went wrong though, was in not doing his homework and working out that several MPs lived within spitting distance of the Heath. They might not have cared about the grazing rights of the peasants but they certainly didn’t want a sink estate on their doorstep. The Heath Protection Committee was formed, and over the years, every single one of Maryon Wilson’s applications was rejected.

The eighth baronet wasn’t going to take that lying down. He decided to go underground (pretty much literally) and use guerilla tactics. He started digging, and selling off ‘Heath Sand’ to anyone who would buy, deliberately undermining its beauty (though now they’ve healed over, the pits make rather pretty ‘dells.’) He tore up all the native gorse bushes and planted ornamental trees ready to line, eventually, his streets of houses (ever wondered where ‘Willow Tree Road’ comes from..?)

A protest meeting was held in 1856, one of the fiercest, apparently, ever. I keep reading that the curses hurled at Maryon Wilson were ‘bloodcurdling’ at the meeting but I can’t find any examples, which is a shame. I’d have enjoyed them hugely. I daresay the words ‘bounder’ and ‘cad’ were two of them but maybe you folks can supply me with some more splendid Victorian insults to savour.

I guess the lesson learned is never to try to take posh people on their own ground. Maryon Wilson perpetually failed in his applications and in 1870, when he died, his son gave in and sold the heath to the Metropolitan Board of works – at full face value, of course.

Of course the board was too mean to rectify the damage done to the heath, their only concession to regeneration was to give the groundsmen gorse seed to scatter as they walked around. The willows are rather loved these days.

His brother, Sir John Maryon Wilson, btw, didn’t have to rely on Acts of Parliament to build on his bit of the estate, which is why Finchley Road looks like it does today.

But back to Charlton.

It seems that later generations of Maryon Wilsons were pretty fed up with the whole landowning business and once one piece of land (the sandpits) was given to the people in 1891, it was only a few decades later that they sold Charlton House itself to the council and gave the rest of Hanging Wood to public parkland.

I have no idea what became of the family. I can find virtually nothing about them anywhere, and certainly no pictures, though just-for-random, here is a rather ugly settee, and here a slightly less ugly table that they once owned.

The really odd thing I discovered about the panto-villainous Sir Thomas is that he is, apparently, the subject of the first poem in English by an Icelander living in Iceland.

The Dream, by one Larus Sigurdsson, is a 170-line, cod-medieval-Gothic fantasy praising, alongside Sir Joseph Banks, the rather less-likely hero-figure of Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson – who, presumably, made some sort of trip to Iceland and impressed the poet with his grandeur.

“The living love him and the dead esteem
Poverty blesses him in every clime
To aid the poor, ’tis business of his mind
That always is to God and virtue join’d
Thus has the nature (to uncertain aim)
But good and noble grace’d with Wilson’s name.

Andrew Wawn, the author of The Vikings and the Victorians, tells us that, at that moment “the narrator wakes from his dream and, perhaps not a moment too soon, the poem comes to an end.”

And so should this post. Nurse, my medication, please…

Charlton Lido

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Toby asks:

“I wondered whether you knew what was happening to Charlton Lido. We spent a lovely day there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in 2007 (perhaps 2006) and have been keen to return. Last year, I discovered that it was closed but the Greenwich Council website reported that it was being developed as a Diving Centre.

Looking again to see whether it had re-opened, I discover that, 1984-style, it seems to have been excised from history. The relevant pages on both Greenwich Council and Greenwich Leisure’s website lead nowhere. There are some oblique references in Council minutes in 2008 – including a spirited defence by the Council for not running a public consultation on its future – but otherwise it seems to have disappeared. It all makes me rather suspicious.”

The Phantom replies:

You’re right, Toby, in that it’s hard to find out information about the chequered fortunes of the 1939 lido – the council page is broken – but, happily, wrong that the place is dead. It took a bit of snaffling out, but a lease has been signed between the council and a private company, Open Waters (who don’t seem to have a website, which seems a bit odd in this day and age.)

There is an article about it here but the gist is that

“when complete, the four-storey dive centre will have a 22m-deep, 25m-dive pool, a gym, treatment rooms, exercise studios and a crèche. It will also include a restaurant, bar, conference facilities, and a sports retail area with a dive shop that will link with the lido. The lido will be refurbished and will retain all its current facilities.”

My one thought, looking at that list, then looking at the picture, is – how on earth will they fit all that into that area? But hey – I’m sure the council have it all in hand and they won’t be encroaching on the park…
It looks as though it will be open all year, so get larded-up for those chilly Christmas Morning swims – Serpentine eat your heart out…
Slightly worried that the article was written last year, and that when I went there to check the place was locked up with some scary-looking modern razor-wire stuff all round it (apparently the vandalism around there is punishing) I sent out some emails.

I understand from someone who doesn’t want to be named that the lease has been signed, an understanding has been reached and that they will be on site soon. Because it will be a bit late in the season, they’ve decided not to open it this year.

So – cautiously optimistic, and not entirely mothballing my stripey one-piece, armbands and rubber ring, I’ll be keeping an eye on this…