Archive for the ‘Free Greenwich’ Category

Sands Cinema Club

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Okay, so this one definitely counts as ‘not quite Greenwich’ but hey – it’s a secret little gem that even people who live in Rotherhithe don’t tend to know about. And given that it’s so close to Canada Water and Rotherhithe stations, and that it’s  on the 188 bus route, there’s really no excuse not to check it out if you are of the obscure-cinema persuasion…

The Sands are the cutest film studios in the world. Housed in a fabulous old warehouse full of low timber beams and quirky corners, everything is done with love. If anyone remembers Polka Children’s Theatre in the late 1980s before its ‘makeover’, it reminds me of that. It has teeny-tiny sound stages good for intimate scenes. The producers of films like The Tales of Beatrix Potter, Pride & Prejudice, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Young Victoria and Bright Star have all beaten a path to these exquisite facilities, not least for their other USP, their extraordinary costumes.

Most theatrical costumes are made up of junk when you look at them closely – bits of silver spray-painted spaghetti or ring-pulls off coke cans have been ‘jewels’ on royal gowns, rich ‘embroidery’ on Regency waistcoats painted on with an airbrush.

None of that nonsense at the Sands. Here, the costumes are as gorgeous close up as they are from a distance. You can usually catch a sneaky of whatever’s being created by their specialist embroiderer, or even see them at work if you visit yet another of their lovely facilities, the extensive Rotherhithe Picture and Research Library, which is on the ground floor, and which is free to visit on weekdays between 10.00am and 4.00pm. The collection covers all sorts of things from Victorian boots to ancient bridges. There’s an excellent selection of local history archives.

But onto the subject of today’s post. The Sands Cinema Club, run by Olivier Stockman, and clearly his baby. You join a mailing list and then every week, Olivier tells you which film he’ll be showing then next Tuesday night.

Now these films are Obscure (note the use of the upper case here.) The films Stockman chooses are usually themed – a series of world films from 1927, for example, or, starting next week, Italian movies from 1970. It’s often the only chance you’ll get to see these films. Hell – it’s usually the only time I’ve even heard of them.

If you decide to go to a screening, you drop Olivier an email (you really do have to do this – he has 900 people on the list and the place seats 30 at most ) and then just turn up.

When you get there, you often get offered a mug of tea in the cheerfully gingham kitchen before  being ushered upstairs to the screening room.

Now, I’m sure you have an image of a screening room in your mind. Some chrome and plush contemporary ‘space’ just off Wardour Street where meedja types discuss the latest rushes of films that, inexplicably green-lit, will never see the darkness of an actual release short of the bargain bin in Blockbuster. You need to lose that image.

Think more of your Auntie Joan’s living room. A fabulous, low-lit, cosy venue, stuffed full with old sofas, mis-matched armchairs and a rather splendid 1950s cabinet. I have an image of a chintz table lamp in my mind, but that may just be fantasy.

Snuggle down into your own personal sofa, and listen to Olivier introduce the film. This is a man with passion in his heart and he has personally chosen these movies because he wants to see them – he’s just invited a few friends round to share them with him – and he’s keen to tell you exactly why he’s picked them.

After the film Olivier also likes to chat about what you’ve just seen, so don’t expect a quick get away – but then that’s all part of the Sands cinema experience. It’s a rounded evening, and Stockman’s enthusiastic intros and outros are part of the enjoyment.

The best part about all of this is that it’s free. Of course it would be churlish not to leave a little something in the film cannister outside afterwards as a contribution towards the hire of the next cinematic delight. People generally leave, as far as I can tell, between two or three quid and a tenner.

This is what being a Londoner is all about. Stuff like this exists all over and we just don’t know about it. The joy of living here is the discovery of gems like the Sands Cinema Club.

Park Vista Plaques

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008


For a short street, Park Row manages to pack in a lot of history. Probably because it skirts the park (natch) it still has curious buildings – from the fab Plume of Feathers to the very very curious jumble of periods and styles that house what I believe to be the oldest building in Greenwich and the vicarage.

With ancient buildings come strange decorations, and Park Row has its fair share of them – not all of which are particularly old.

Take the splendid fellow above, for example – when Benedict sent him to me, I had never actually spotted him before, my head always turning away from the – what – 1980s? – flats and towards the more intriguing, dark and mysterious Dwarf Orchard. There’s something very deco-y about it – but I have no idea what on earth inspired a plaque with an Ancient Greek warrior in Park Row. Any clues?

Talking of that mysterious orchard, our Ancient Greek soldier has a sort of mythological friend opposite him, albeit ‘Roman.’ Or is he Celtic? My money would be on the Roman god Neptune, as he looks to date from the same sort of time as the Royal Naval College – mid-late Victorian? (I don’t actually know, of course…) but I guess the whole park/foresty/conduity thing might imply a Green Man.

I’ve seen pictures of this guy (or someone who looks very much like him) peddled on the net as being the one down in Jack Cades Cavern – it’s said there is a carving of a head down there – though given the place hasn’t been opened for about 60 years, I’m doubtful the photo’s actually of this chap’s twin. Surely any pictures taken from the cavern would be somehow more ‘official?’ I’m guessing that this head is the one in the pictures.

Moving on, we come to the extraordinary collection of buildings and periods that is the vicarage (is it all the vicarage? I’m sure someone can tell me…) Sorry about the rubbish pics from now on, btw – anyone who knows me will tell you my photography ain’t gonna win any prizes…


There are two curious items on here. The first is truly glorious, and, according to my New Best Friend, the Rev. L’Estrange, dates back to Henry VII (whose chapel was uncovered a couple of years back, looked at by a few archaeologists before being turned into a car park; I’m still smarting from that one…) It’s a fabulous coat of arms, clearly from A Long Time AgoTM.

The good reverend doesn’t know who lived in this little Tudor house – and nor, frankly, do I, though we both have different theories. He suggests that it was either the house of the Master of the Horse, because it’s so close to the old tiltyard, or that it was the cook’s gaff.

I’ve heard (and, annoyingly, I can’t remember where) that this was a conduit house that received the water from all the pipes in the park. A much less romantic notion, of course, so let’s go with the Master-of-the-Horse suggestion. History is not always about reality…

The Reverend L’E. seems to think this plaque would have originally have been over the main gate to the palace. Apparently when he was writing his history of Greenwich in 1886, the carving had only just been revealed – the current vicar (the Rev. Brooke Lambert) cut that rather fetching curve in the outer wall so people could see it. What a kind chap.


There’s one other little decoration which is also fun. The carved floral wreath on the wall to the right as you look at the building. It was discovered in one of the cellars of the vicarage and (presumably by the same vicar who cut a hole in the wall) displayed for all to enjoy. My NBF tells me it’s Elizabethan.

Cultural Olympiad

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Funny – since I decided to write about how rubbish the NMM are about letting us know about stuff going on, I’ve received this from three different people. None of whom are actually from the museum, of course.

This Saturday and Sunday as part of the Cultural Olympiad (about which I’m not sure how I feel, but that’s a discussion for another day) the NMM will host a couple of days of free arts events and workshops. I’d normally put this on the Parish News but since it’s a bit late, it’s here.

Saturday is Behind the Scenes at the Observatory.

Sunday is the vaguely-titled “Greenwich Lives.”

Find out more about it here

Speakers Anonymous

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Once again I have to apologise for the delay in replying to the post bag – it is, as always, wonderful to hear from you – but I’m getting a bit behind in replying. Sorry.

Matt has been telling me about Meridian Speakers – a local group I like the look of. They’re a bunch of people who get together every other week to try to get better at public speaking.

He tells me:

“We’ve got a pretty diverse membership which includes people who are downright scared of speaking in public and are trying to boost their confidence, through to quite accomplished speakers (often people start off as the former and become the latter!)”

They meet upstairs at the Spanish Galleon pub and they look like they’re fun. I guess you could just learn to give better presentations at work (yawn) but they look like they’re something a bit more than that. I suspect some of them might end up as after-dinner speakers or even don the white tie and red jacket ensemble and become toastmasters.

They welcome guests, and tomorrow night, 23rd September, they’re having their annual “Humorous Speaking Competition” between 6.45pm and 9.00pm. No need to book, you can just turn up, though I don’t know whether it’s all-comers for the competition. Probably need to book yourself in or something. Whatever – check them out here. Oh – and did I mention it’s yet another fab FREE thing to do in Greenwich…

Anchors Aweigh!

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Here’s a little bit of the Maritime Museum you’d miss if you blinked. Way out in the far north-eastern corner of the grounds, almost like an afterthought, lies the Anchor Graveyard.* I guess it’s the most sensible place for it – I mean it hardly matters if they get rained on, does it – and who’s going to pinch some old piece of rusting iron that weighs several tons?

Nevertheless, it’s a quaint – and important – part of of maritime history. Being able to sail along merrily is only half the problem – being able to stop is pretty important too. What I like about this quiet little corner is that even on the most crowded day, you’re more than likely going to have this exhibit to yourself A place where you can enter a world of crowns, arms, flukes, shanks, bills, stocks and “flush stowage…”

And it’s not at all bad, either, for a spot of dreaming of life on the High Seas (is there such a thing as low seas, BTW?) These anchors come from ships often long gone – and the little plaques by each one not only tells you which ships they’re from, but where they were found. There’s even one from 1805 – the year of Trafalgar; the year of Nelson’s death. Take a moment, good burghers of Greenwich, to think upon the jolly jack tars who wielded these iron monuments to Britain’s greatness, and, in many cases followed them down to the sea bed and Davey Jones’s Locker.

They’re by no means all the classic Yo-ho-ho, Captain Pugwash, anchor-shaped anchors either (that’s ‘Admiralty-Pattern,’ apparently, according to the label.) The oddest (and one, I confess, that I find it hard to romance about – I get strange, surreal images of some kind of combination of The Terminator, The Matrix and The Poseidon Adventure rather than Master and Commander ) is a strange orange hedgehog of a beast:

and another looks like some kind of hammerhead shark, but it’s all jolly interesting – and, I suspect, something not seen by 99% of visitors. There’s handy gate next to them. Next time you’re passing, nip in and take a peek…

*Not its real name, I’ll wager…

Phantom Favourite Front Gardens (8)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Alderburgh St, SE10

Right down the bottom of the Peninsula, tucked away between the various industrial estates and the A102 M flyover, two dainty little streets quietly exist in that strange place that is neither Greenwich nor Charlton, but something all of its own. Fearon St and Aldeburgh St could just be tatty little nothings tacked onto an unexciting business area – but they’re not. The residents keep them neat and tidy and there are lots of little touches in them that makes me realise that this is a community that likes being where it is, and has a little unique flavour to it.

There are some sweet window boxes and filled tubs, early-days hedges and tidy flowerpots, but my favourite is an unassuming Victorian terraced house on Aldeburgh St with topiary grandeur punching above its weight.

Two great boxes of box, stepped like Aztec pyramids, a pair of square ‘braziers’ burst with an unfettered ‘flame’ of tufty growth on top from a simple brick wall. There is nothing else to muddy the view – no extra flowers, ornaments, hanging baskets, gnomes, wishing wells or birdbaths – and that’s what makes this statement so bold.

A gardener of taste lives here.

Free Guided Walks

Monday, July 30th, 2007

David passed this onto me – a series of free blue badge guide walks this week – worth a gander, don’t you think?

http://www.eastlondonguides.com/

Rathmore Benches Revisited

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

I’ve had a fascinating email from Carol of Greenwich Mural Workshop and thought it was so interesting that I would post it in its entirety.
Carol writes:
Rathmore murals were painted in 1979 called ” Charlton, Past, Present andFuture”. The benches were constructed in 1980.

They were commissioned by Irena McFarland, then senior Youth Worker at thecentre. Paul Stephens( not Paul Simmons), also involved in the Centre,worked with us on the benches.
The theme for the murals and benches were agreed with local residents andyouth centre workers and users, and yes in response to a point you made Ithink, they were deliberately socio-political to reflect the aspirations ofthe local residents, also because that was the genre of GMW.

Each section of the walls reflected the theme of the benches. So from westto east – the first section showed portraits of local people debating /accosting national politicians, the second, people printing leaflets andposters, above the benches of faces; the next above the flames showed imagesof people welding and repairing parts of barges / boats, reflecting localinterest in re-establishing a working economy linked to the river Thames;the fourth section showed people growing food using wind, solar and waterenergy – way before the current interest in climate change etc.

This was linked to a wish to establish allotments on the corner of Rathmore Road andCharlton Church Lane, then a derelict site which was subsequently developedby the GLC for housing.
The doorway had a Mexican image of life – an eagleholding a snake in its beak, an artistic reference to Los Tres Grandes -Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco – all muralists in the 1930′s working on anational programme of mural painting within an education programme teachinga mainly illiterate indigenous population their history and education, andartistic mentors for GMW muralists. The pillars boasted images of the Rowantree – also a symbol of life.
The water bench was to remind us that Charlton lay on the river Thames andhistorically relied heavily upon it for work. The gable – the centralsection showed modern day Charlton-supermarket shopping, moderntransport-buses, motorcycles, computers, skateboarders. Either side werehistorical references including the Bottle Kiln once sited at the end ofRathmore Road – I believe, but certainly locally, market sellers, chairrepairers, the first train, Woolwich ferry, horse-drawn trams etc.
Throughout portraits of local people figured as characters in the mural andduring the painting of the mural we had a “portrait chair” where peoplepassing by were invited to sit and had their portrait drawn and subsequentlytransferred to the wall.
Sounds a bit worthy, visually I don’t think it was and it was certainly wellreceived then. So it is particularly uplifting to find that people still think the benches are worth comment.
The benches were repaired about ten, possibly longer ago, but then no money has been forthcoming to do it a second time, plus it is a lengthy anddifficult job. However your site and people’s comments have inspired us tolook into finding funds to repair them again.
For us it was an interesting project as we had to pioneer thebench construction and eventually took advice from a boat-builder, using theconstruction method adapted from making the hulls of concrete boats.
The Phantom adds:
Just a thought – but how easy would it be when you get a new commission, to add in a ‘trust fund’ contingency for upkeep? Presumably the amount wouldn’t need to be huge and could be ring-fenced, the interest earned keeping it in line with inflation. I am always saddened by things that were once ‘projects’ loved by the locals, opened with great pomp by dignitaries and then abandoned to vandals, weeds and Time.
The first time I saw Rathmore Benches was at night, lit by sodium streetlamps and it was an almost magical sight. By day, they are still lovely but would be even more wondrous with a bit of a spruce-up…
No matter. They continue to delight passers-by such as myself 27 years on from their construction and I for one thank you, GMW…

Favourite Phantom Front Gardens (2)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007


Maze Hill, SE10

This is about half way down Maze Hill (I couldn’t see a number for all the greenery…)

Whoever lives here must spend half their life out the front – the garden is tiny – a few square feet at best -but this hasn’t prevented the owners from treating it like some kind of stately home.

On the adjoining side of the semi, well-managed trees create a frame – I’m sure there’s a eucalyptus in there, but it’s kept under tight control and adds a wispy curtain in front of a maple(?) that’s also been heavily-clipped. A date palm and cyprus give it a lush depth which only a serious plantsman would know how to create. At the centre, topiary pom-poms shoot up like a sort of mad green fountain and by the drive there are more well-clipped shrubs. The whole thing is softened by a cascade of annuals and a background of climbing roses and I love it.

It’s worth walking past this house for no other reason than its sheer exuberance. These people have not let the fact that they only have a garden the size of a (ladies) handkerchief in which to express themselves get in the way of putting on a display for passers-by that puts the owners of far bigger places to shame. Not a blade of grass is left to chance, not a leaf is out of place, not a rose left un-deadheaded. The colours are restrained, but exquisite and the whole is a country house garden in miniature. It’s a complete opposite to the fabulous cottage garden up at St Johns, Favourite Front Gardens (1) but nevertheless a brilliant gem to stumble upon.

I can only guess what the back garden is like, but in the meanwhile, how generous of the owners to give the rest of us a free show…

HMS Ark Royal

Saturday, June 16th, 2007


Moored at Greenwich as part of the Falklands War Commemorations. Whatever you think, it’s worth a look…