Archive for the ‘Mostly-Accurate History’ Category

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 Fox and Hounds Union…

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Photo: Alex Brooks

This post started with a question from Alex, who passed the Greenwich Union as it was having a refurb, revealing the Charrington’s sign below. It made him wonder how long ago that was, and what the pub was before it was the Union.

I confess I’m a lazy Phantom. Why bother reinventing the wheel when there’s a Phantophile on brew-tap who knows all about these things? I did what any self-respecting idle Phantom would do – I contacted Phantom brewmaster Rod. And since there was such a fine reaction to Raymond’s glorious Wood Wharf memories, I decided to be even lazier and give this to you straight from the Rod’s mouth…

My recollection of the Union (and precursors) dates back only to the late 70′s, when I first came to Greenwich.

Earlier history is hard to find, but this link gives a little bit

When I first darkened the doors, the pub was called the Fox and Hounds, and still had some Charringtons’ signage, although I’m fairly sure it was a free house by then. It was run by an Irish couple, as a proper local pub – good atmosphere, proper Sunday roasts, days out at the races, etc etc. There was folk music from time to time. All seemed well.

However, one day the pub stayed locked and remained that way for a long time. The Royal Hill rumour was that the Irish couple had, literally, done a moonlight flit. Dark stories of huge gambling debts circulated…

After, I don’t know exactly, a year or so, serious work began on the old Fox. Lots of skips full of wood and rubble got filled and taken away. Work would be erratic – activity stopping and starting seemingly at random (although money presumably had something to do with it, as ever…..).

Eventually, after being closed for, I would think, at least 18 months, it re-opened as the Observatory. On the opening launch night, le tout de Greenwich was there to see what it was like.
Unfortunately that was the busiest night the Observatory ever had, as most of the people who came to have a look didn’t much like what they saw…

Some of what had been done was good – the current conservatory replaced the never-very-pristine Gents bog. Fine, but some of the other improvements were less successful. The stone floor, which still remains was (arguably) better that the previous patterned carpet.

The building is (still) an inherently cold one, and painting the walls a frigid dove/oyster grey exacerbated this badly. The heavy, carved teak furniture would perhaps have looked better in a Thai restaurant. The 18th Century engraving of the Thames, which bizarrely didn’t feature any of the Greenwich riverfront, didn’t really go with anything else. Certainly not the furniture.

One beautiful Summer Saturday afternoon, when the Richard I was chocker, my wife and I had an admittedly very nice lunch in the Observatory. We had the place entirely to ourselves, and ate to the strains of a James Last-type orchestral recording of arrangements of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Greatest Hits. Not cool.

The Observatory closed within a year, if memory serves and Meantime snapped it up. It re-opened about a week later, and I walked in the first day, to find *no* big brand beers at all – just Meantime. Some proper German-styles, a Wheat beer, a Raspberry beer etc etc.

I liked it so much I joined the company.


So  there you have it, Alex. All the news on the Fox & Hounds that’s fit to print. Rather less exciting news, however, for its next door neighbour. I understand the Tolly’s having a ‘refurb’ and from what I’ve been hearing it’s of the most ghastly kind imaginable.

Honestly – don’t the owners get why people go to the Richard I? It’s precisely for all the things they’re about to obliterate. Sigh.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive…

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Yesterday Conal asked about a skating tragedy from the 1840s where two small boys’ fall through the ice was ascribed to their committing the heinous crime of playing on the Sabbath. The gravestone in St Mary’s Church, Woolwich has gone and it was feared that no one had recorded its hard-hitting inscription.

And indeed they haven’t. Well, not entirely.

I am delighted to say, however, that the extraordinary Julian Watson (is there anything that guy doesn’t know about Greenwich?) has yet again come up with the goods. He tells me:

This is p.776 of ‘Records of the Woolwich District’ by William Thomas Vincent. WTV was the founder of the Woolwich Antiquarian Society and Editor of the Kentish Independent. This standard work on Woolwich history was published in parts in 1890 (if I remember right). As well as a great historical source it is rich in journalistic anecdotes like this one. Mulgrave Pond is still there tucked away behind Artillery Place. Vincent’s work was unsurpassed until the publication of Peter Guillery’s recent magnificent book on Woolwich published as part of the Survey of London.

So – here’s the gen. We were looking a good ten years too late for the article, it appears there were five casulaties not two and that the pond was not on Blackheath, which makes it all the more impressive that Julian knew where to look…

As always, click on the image to enlarge it.

Wow, on so many levels. Wow that Julian knew exactly where to find this extraordinary anecdote. Wow that those 19th Century patricians were so hard-hearted. Wow that Bell and Moseley’s big idea to check whether it was okay for them to skate was by getting a bunch of small children scrabbling around on the ice for a ha’penny. Wow that the jurors from the inquest put their hands in their pockets to pay for such a headstone, which can’t have been cheap given the amount of carving on it, but which needed to be done to warn other youngsters of the dangers of playing on the Lord’s Day. And Wowww that someone actually removed – presumably destroyed – this extraordinary memorial without even recording it properly.

Tell you what, though. I ‘ve got to see this book. The next article about the ill-winged bullet sounds just as fascinating as this one. Race you to the Heritage Centre…

The Phantom Waif Gets a Slap Up Boxing Day Breakfast

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

I’s only a littl’un, Sir. I been in the workhouse yonder since I was a wee nipper but it ain’t that bad at that.

I gets to sweep the crossin’ down by the Spread Eagle most Wednesday afternoons – me an’ Hobb’lin’ Herbert an’ Peg-leg Tom and Consumptive Charlie – you know, the other Phantom Waifs, Sir, we  shares the priv-lige and occasional-like a real Greenwich gent gives us a tanner which I slips back to me dear old Mam back in the Union.

1884′s going to be a good Christmas this year though and no mistake, Sir. That Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, you know, the vicar that wrote them poems in the Fireside News way back before I was born, Sir. No, I ain’t read ‘em, Sir, but they stirred up a right old hollerin’ among the toffs who like to do a bit of good this time of year.

They say he got one of them new-fangled ‘Christmas cards’, with a cock robin on it, all red-breast and chirpy-cheep, wishin’ him a Merry One, Sir. He wrote these verses, and I’m tellin’ yer, Mister, they must have been right pretty because next thing you know they’re startin’ these ‘Robin Dinners’ for the likes of me an’ Herbert and Tom and Charlie.

We gets a right slap up nosh, Sir and no mistake. They gives us tickets an’ we can eat and drink as much as we can. ‘Course, there’s a downside – we ‘ave to do prayers and sing hymns and listen to the vicar preachin’ on about the Baby Jesus, but fair’s fair – that’s what the people in big houses like.

Indeed, Sir. All over, they are. Up and down the country. Like wildfire it is, all that doin’ good at Christmas malarky. But last year the toffs up the hill in the big houses in West Greenwich, they had a bright idea – you know – to go one better – be a bit different, like. They come up with a new thing that no one else in the whole country come up with – Robin Breakfasts!

Last year there was about 600 of us waifs, Sir. This year old Toothless Albert reckons  there’s going to be eighteen hundred!

We gets to go in a big room all decorated by the ladies and gentlemen, with long tables and plates and cups and garlands made of paper and ribbons. And they’re all dressed up too and the ladies are cooing and saying how sweet we look which I reckon’s rich, given they sees us most days on the crossing and don’t take no notice at all.

A buttered roll at every place, Sir! Imagine that! An’ there’s dishes of oranges an’ buns an’ cakes an’ mugs of coffee – with milk! As much as we can drink, Sir! And there’s soup, though you don’t want to get there after Scabby Bob’s been up there with his dish. But then you don’t want to be many places at all when Scabby Bob’s been around.

‘Course ‘Robin’ himself can’t come – you know, the Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, but he sends another gent, ‘Robin’s Friend’ to give us a sermon about how lucky we are and then we gets entertainment. Last year we had Professor Bentley Green who showed us ‘sleight of hand’ tricks, though I reckons he could learn a thing or two from Swift-Hand George who swiped the Prof’s pocket handkerchief out of his tail coat as he was pretending to take a coin out of George’s partner Harry One-Eye’s ear.

Then it’s back to the speeches again, Sir, which we tolerates well enough, given we’ve just eaten our fill and when it comes to the end we all hollers “Three cheers for the Robin Committee and Her Majesty” at the tops of our lungs.  Well, all of us except little TB Tim, the Weakest Waif in the Workhouse, who can’t holler on account of his not having much in the way of lungs.

As we all files out, we all gets given a little bag, all decorated by the ladies and pretty as a picture they are too. Fetch a good price if you’re quick enough. Last year mine had an orange, a bun, some sweets and a book. I ate the orange and the sweets and the bun but I took the bag down to the Uncle on Turnpin Lane on account of the fact as I can’t read.

Trouble was, I got waylaid by Percy Rickets and Nit-Noggin Wilf wanting my slot on the crossing which meant by the time I got to the brokers he told me to sling me hook  on account of his already having 247 identical little books that morning and he’d kick the next snot-nosed kid who tried to sell him any more I-won’t-say-the-word-he-used, Sir, “religious books”.

If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, why do you ask all these questions? The Daily Chronicle Sir? Yes, I know it. Scurfy Sam sells it down on Stockwell Street. So – am I going to be famous then, Sir?

borrowed from Worcestershire Archives




Maze Hill’s Lost Sidings

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Thought I’d share a picture that our resident ex-hospital porter Gerald Dodd just sent me, of Maze Hill station before it lost its status.

Some things are the same – I’ve been using the little bridge over the tracks as a way of viewing it – the photographer is basically standing at the south west corner – where the main road sweeps down to the southern side. I’m always surprised by the hilly-ness of that little walk – don’t know why, really, but this shows it really well.

Maze Hill was, at one point, quite a major place for sidings to house ‘spare trains’. If memory serves the sidings went to the north side, too, where the tennis courts were until recently and those little boxy houses are now.

The nurse’s home is still there, though I doubt that if you stand now where the photographer stood that you’d be able to see it, because Seren Park (no actual park there, of course)  gets in the way. You can just see the edge of Woodlands, which  still exists, not least because it’s pretty safe from developers as there’s no access and a bloomin’ great gorge cuts through the middle of it (phew…)

The buildings are all gone – the new station stands there now, though the old one’s twin still stands north of the tracks, and houses Maze Hill Pottery.

Just thought you’d like to see it…


Any Old Iron (2)

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

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 Miracle Cure

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

I’ve been reading about medieval medicine because there’s nothing like knowing what other people had to take to make you feel better about today’s privations.

What I’m not really managing to get my head round how people then decided what was a genuinely useful medicine and what was quackery.

For example, in 1382, Roger Clerk of Wandsworth was put in the pillory for pretending to be a physician. He was dragged before the Mayor and aldermen by one Roger atte Hache and accused of trying to cure Roger’s wife Johanna of ‘bodily infirmities’ by making her wear a piece of old book parchment wrapped up in a piece of cloth of gold.

Strangely this had no effect on her condition whatsoever, Clerk was dragged before the beak and led through the streets of London bareback on some old nag to the sound of pipes and trumpets, wearing said parchment and a whetstone (representing his lies) for all to see.

Fair dos. Clearly the guy had no idea. But when John de Gaddesden made a ‘plaster’ of dung, headless crickets and beetles, to be rubbed over sundry sick parts, someone not only actually did it but after three days claimed the pain had disappeared.

Frankly I’m not sure I’d have lasted three days before I decided that the pain was better than the cure, but nevertheless the plaster was deemed a success. Maybe Roger Clerk just wasn’t bold enough in the yuck-factor…

Trouble is that suddenly plasters became all the rage. Everyone got in on the act – there was even a book of recipes by Henry VIII and his physicians with a top ten unguents including’ a black plastre devised by the Kinges Highness,’ ‘ a cataplasme made ungtment-lyke of the Kinge’s Majesties device’ and, top of the bill, ‘ a plastre devised by the Kinges Majestie at Grenewich and made at Westminstre, to take away inflammacions and cease payne and heale exorations, which is my excuse for writing about it today.

Henry may have spent time writing poety and love songs at Greenwich but in those later, gout-ridden years, he also found time to write a book on medicine. Amazingly he was never accused of quackery…

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:

Innocent Childhood Pastimes, Greenwich Stylee…

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

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 Cablevision – It Moves! It Breathes!

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

We’ve talked about Greenwich Cablevision many, many times before – the first ever independent community TV station.

Sadly many of the posts were on the old site where I wasn’t able to keep any of the comments when I moved (which is why some of my older posts make me look like I’m Phantom-no-mates, it also accounts for some of the clunky formatting, I’m afraid).

It was a grave loss as there were loads of people who remembered or worked on the Plumstead-based TV station who’d written their memories. I have saved them, along with the best of the other comments and one of these days when I actually have some time I’ll collate them so they can be shared.

But I’d never actually seen any footage before. That is, until yesterday, when some fetched up on the BBC Magazine, where they’re showing a little docco clip from a 1974 Horizon, two years after the station opened.

It’s fascinating, showing behind-the-scenes footage, along with a clip of Greenwich Cablevision News, but the best bit is definitely at the end, when local gem Molly Monckton, from Blackheath, reads her poem about Greenwich Fair.

Everything about her piece is brilliant – from the set, which includes a vase of daffs, a teddy bear and what I can only describe as a floral tribute in the background to Molly herself, a fabulous character with horn-rimmed glasses, lurex dress, silk corsage, bouffant hair and a true TV personality. Jackanory missed a trick there.

Sadly the BBC don’t seem to allow people to embed content any more, so you’ll just have to visit the site which is here.