Archive for the ‘Greenwich People’ Category
Here’s an odd one…
A couple of years ago Roger asked about a strange-sounding house on Shooters Hill Road that had a load of old cars and a steam traction engine mouldering in the front yard. He wanted to know if anyone remembered a sort of “Fred Dibnah type character.”
I guess it’s all to do with property prices being so high, but you just don’t see Steptoe & Son in people’s front gardens any more. Nowadays the best you’ll get is a tedious caravan under a bit of grey tarp, and even that’s never of the old-fashioned Gypsy variety. This curious magpiedom, which amounted, almost, to Outsider Art in some cases, has all just quietly gone away, and no one saw it go. I’m guessing it was around the time when Greenwich lost the vast majority of her junk antique shops too.
Roger was particularly keen to know if anyone had any old photos.
Caroline did remember a chap called Val who “was a family friend. He was a lecturer in fine art at St. Martin’s School of Art and his hobbies were collecting steam traction engines and old Alvis cars which he kept in working order, if not ‘spruced up’ in his front garden. He used to drive the traction engine to steam rallies and had another one or two of them he kept in Wales.
Val was a batchelor and let students share his large house, including the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band which comprised former students. The cars and traction engine were presumably sold when he died as the house was sold at that time. Val was a shy, kind and interesting person and a ‘true gentleman’ if a little eccentric, and was greatly missed on his demise, in the late 70′s/early 80′s.”
Of course, no one had any photos. And that was it – until Roger emailed me last week. He’d been clearing out some old pictures and guess who had pictures of the very thing he’d been asking about…?
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:
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…
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.
Greenwich’s own superhero. Okay, he may not do the flying bit or the tights thing (or at least not on council time…) but in many ways the small things are what saves a community. Alan is Greenwich Council’s handyperson around town – going around the centre doing small jobs that make a difference, often without us really noticing.
He asked Phantophiles a few months ago if they had could think of any little bits and bobs they’d like to see done. I didn’t know his brief extended to Traf Road, but as these pictures show, he’s been out cheering up shopfronts, which I can only see is a Good Thing.
He’s currently working on Peter de Wits – so if you’re passing, say hello. And if you can think of any small jobs that would improve life in the centre of town, let him know, he’ll be glad to hear from you
A worrying little moment a short while back when the bench in the Rose Garden that the elderly homeless lady Maria Bennett, also affectionately known as Rose, used to spend sunny days was suddenly removed along with all but one of the tributes left after her tragic death. Stephen and I were a little concerned, but it would seem that the bench is back, and still has a little memorial wreath to her.
The original collection of memorials included a copy of a painting by, I presume, a local artist. It was utterly charming; Stephen and I can’t help wondering whether there might be some way of returning it, perhaps during the summer months, or finding another way to link that little area of the park with this gentle Greenwich character.
December 1874. A freezing winter night of gas-lit alleyways, stone stairs, swirling smog and the distant sound of ships’ horns on the river.
Quietly slipping out of Greenwich Theatre stage door, young Polly Richards is in a pickle. As she heads home to her digs in Ashburnham Grove she knows she’s not going to be able to work again for a good few months. There aren’t too many roles for heavily pregnant ingenues on the Victorian stage, especially when the father happens to be the playboy son of the theatre manager – who’s engaged to someone else…
She’s not told anyone. Not the father, not his mother, certainly no one in the cast. This is her problem and she’s going to deal with it. She’ll hole up in Greenwich for the confinement, and with a bit of luck she’ll be able to rejoin the company, wherever they are, when it’s all over.
She’s been to Norway Court down at Wood Wharf to find a potential foster mother – she seems alright – a fish-porter’s wife – poor, respectable. She might have ten children in a four-roomed cottage, but there’s a fringed cloth on the table and plants in the parlour. Yes, she’ll do.
It’s not going to be like last time. Lord knows she tried – after touring the provinces in a ballet skirt with roses in her hair she did try to get respectable. Captain Richards, he was, a skipper on a merchant ship. Married her and everything. How could it be her fault that he died of some obscure malady at sea, leaving her penniless – and pregnant.
As soon as her daughter was born she’d gone back to the only work she knew – on the stage. She’s not daft She knows she’s no looker, neither tall nor slim – not even wildly talented, but she’s cheery and personable and she’s changed her name from dreary Mary Jane Blair to dashing Marie Richards, even though no one will call her that. To them she’ll always be happy, sweet ‘Polly’. It’s her sunny nature attracted the celebrated impressario Alice Marriott to her when they lodged next door to each other in Liverpool.
Alice had taken on Polly as a dresser and she gradually became in complete charge of the famous tragedienne’s entire wardrobe, an eye-popping collection of costumes that ranged from glamorous gowns as Lady Macbeth to the full doublet-and-hose for when Miss Marriott gave her notorious female Hamlet.
The critics were divided on that one. H. CHace Newton made ‘no hesitation in saying that this brilliant actress’s presentation of the part gradulally came out as one one of the very best I have ever seen”. Others were less charitable: “It would be untrue to assert that the Hamlet of Miss Marriott carried much sense of illusion,” wrote one critic, “but her rich, rolling voice and beautiful elocution almost compensated for the spectacle of a well-developed Dane in a black cloak and trunks.” To be honest the Victorian gents probably just came for a gawk at her legs, but it was a crowd pleaser and Alice would have made quite a nest-egg if her husband hadn’t been so keen on property speculation. He was good at the buying up the property bit; bad at selling it at any kind of profit.
They were good days. Polly got on instantly with Miss Marriott’s daughters, Grace and Adeline, and the three became inseperable. Less happily she also got on instantly with Alice Marriott’s son Richard – good-looking, charming and utterly irresponsible.
Richard was engaged to a pretty young actress from Dundee, but it didn’t stop him dallying with young Polly’s affections and, just as Alice was giving public blessing to Richard and pretty young Jenny from Dundee, Polly was sneaking out of the back door, pregnant and heart-broken, to work at Greenwich for as long as she could until she just got too big. Why would she ruin Jenny’s big day? It was hardly her fault…
Polly’s not even told her daughter, Joey, though she feels terrible about it. She’s already abandoned her once, to an orphanage, where she had to wear a sailor suit and eat gruel. One of the first things Miss Marriott did for Polly was bring Joey back. Now she’s had to leave her again – but what else was she to do? She’s got nothing, no one. Joey’s better off with with the theatre folk.
So here she is, in cheap lodgings in the Ashburnham Triangle. She’s been playing a few rep shows which seem to have been chosen for their painfully ironic titles – Let Us Never Despair, Sunshine Through the Clouds and The Double Marriage – but now, a few days before Christmas, she’s as big as the turkey.
She’s got it all worked out. She’ll take the child to a Catholic priest for baptism, and enter a name into the Parish registry that no one will be able to trace. She can’t resist, if it’s a boy, giving him his father’s name – Richard Horation EDGAR but she’ll make up a surname. The father will be ‘Walter WALLACE, comedian.’
The next day little Millie Freeman, the fish-porter’s girl will be sent to number 7, Ashburnham Grove, where Polly will have wrapped young Edgar in a white shawl and a basket cradle. Millie will carry him back to the little courtyard behind Bridge Street and Polly? Polly will pack her bags and go to join the rest of the company in Huddersfield. She won’t see her son for thirty years, and when she does he’ll disown her.
Don’t know if you’ll remember the terribly sad story a couple of years ago when London’s Saddest Statue was stolen by metal thieves. The theft was at Rotherhithe, where Dr Alfred Salter lived and worked – but he was actually born in Greenwich in 1873 – there’s a red plaque to him in South Street.
Darryl tells me there is now a campaign up and running to raise funds for a replacement for ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’, which will also include a statue of his wife Ada, who was a well-loved local deed-doer in her own right (their little daughter Joyce and her pet cat’s statues were apparently unnoticed by the ignoramuses who pinched the sculpture – if the the selfish tea-leaves had done even a tiny bit of research they could have increased their haul…)
It doesn’t say on the website whether they’re hoping to replace like with like or whether they’re planning something made of some kind of cheapo base metal made to look like bronze, but they need £100,000 so I’m guessing the bronze. Hope they’re also planning on sending 50,000 volts through it to deter any future light-fingered ‘admirers’.
I’m told the campaign has been doing pretty well in the three months it’s been going and Southwark Council have promised to match any fund raised. Not really sure where Southwark Council will find fifty grand in these cash-strapped times but hey…if you’d like to watch Bermondsey councillors fishing down the back of the town hall sofa in the name of a Greenwich Boy you can donate to the campaign here. It will be moving to see this saddest of statues back…
Don’t know if you remember John Townsend – actor, radical, auctioneer, MP? We talked about him back in 2010 – a real Greenwich character.
We talked about him again later that year when a Canadian descendent of his, Bonnie Buxton, got in touch. She now tells me that she’s met another Canadian, a TV technician also seeking his family history (through the blog – how odd is that…) and that he’s been doing some research about what happened to Townsend after he’d emigrated to the land of Maples and Mooses.
He found some fabulous cuttings from papers of the day – including a call-out of the local fire brigade after the ‘fire effect’ proved to be a bit too realistic.
Scott presented Bonnie with a file of information gleaned about our Greenwich actor – including evidence that Sarah, his wife was locked up in Hamilton Insane Asylum in 1889 – probably for the heinous crime of suffering from Altzheimer’s. Townsend himself probably died a pauper.
Bonnie’s now met dozens of distant relatives and is all fired up to come to Britain to see John and Sarah Townsend’s old haunts. She says:
My husband and I are going to England in late May, and I would like to spend a few days soaking up the historic atmosphere of Greenwich.How do I get there from London? Where’s a good place to stay? What would have been there in 1850 when Old John had to resign from his seat? I know he was popular because he got the dock workers a raise. What can I see there now?
First things first. It’s pretty easy to get to Greenwich from the centre of town – from ancient to modern. The Docklands Light Railway runs from Bank or Tower Gateway to Greenwich Cutty Sark or mainline station (which Townsend would have known – it’s not changed much). John may have taken the train on his trips up to Westminster (trains from Cannon Street, London Bridge or Charing Cross; sometimes you have to change at London Bridge) but my wager is that he took the boat all the way there.
You still can – and unless the weather is a total mare, the boat is probably my favourite. Don’t get the tourist barges, get the Thames Clipper – a comfortable and clean trip and if it’s a nice day you can stand outside at the back. It’s probably the priciest option but you can at least use your Oyster card (most of the time they make you buy a ticket before you board, even with the Oyster, which seems ridiculous to me…) It will let you off at Greenwich Pier, pug-ugly but at least pretty much exactly where John Townsend would have trod.
The pretty little Victorian waiting room went a few years ago – you’ll have to go to St Kitts if you want to see it now. Deemed past it by Greenwich, the Caribbean island seems to have disagreed. Not sure if it’s out yet – would love to see a picture of it in use.
In fact there’s less around from John Townsend’s day than you might think. We have the very old stuff – the Observatory and the Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and St Alfege Church, but early to mid Victorian buildings are a bit rarer. The Market would have been familiar to John – built in 1831/2 by Joseph kay, it would have been comparatively new.
There’s very little left of the original Greenwich Theatre of 1871 – it’s on the same site, but has been pretty much gutted and rebuilt after falling into disrepair, though if you go down Nevada street there is still something of what it might have looked like.
Townsend would have known Crooms Hill, Hyde Vale and the surrounding areas, such as Royal Hill, though the Royal Hill Lecture Hall, where he gave his swansong performance, is long gone. The art deco Borough Hall is now in its place if memory serves.
If you go up Greenwich High Road, you’ll come to the old Lovibonds brewery, now Davey’s wine bar. It still has the sloping floors so they could literally roll out the barrels. The Mitre pub, next door to St Alfege church, would also have been known to Townsend.
And there I begin to run out. So, folks. Early to mid Victorian buildings still extant in Greenwich, please…