Archive for the ‘Not Quite Greenwich’ Category

Severndroog Castle Open Again at Last

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Photo: The Phantom Webmaster

After a catastrophic loss of photos from my computer (I don’t want to talk about it, it’s too depressing…), sadly this is the best shot I currently have of Severndroog Castle but I’m rather proud of it. It’s a screenshot of the displays at the top of the Shard which I named – there was a competition to nab free tickets to the opening day by coming up with the best thing you can see from the Shard that isn’t a big-hitter tourist attraction and I won.

But there’s a chance now that Severndroog is just about to become a big-hitter tourist attraction itself. Well, okay, maybe not as big as the Shard (in any capacity, save soul), but it is going to reopen and you will be able to go up it, there will be stunning views from it and (and this is the best bit) it costs just £2.50 as opposed to the £30+ you’re looking at for the Shard.

The Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust was formed some years ago to try to save the crumbling tower up in Oxleas Wood from death-by-grafitti. They received a bit of a blow at first when they failed to win that ghastly X-Factor style competition to ‘win’ the money to restore historic buildings but local voluteers decided it was worth doing anyway and they’ve been quietly beavering away at it ever since. I ‘bought a brick’ and it seems a lot of other people did too, as they’re re-opening on 20th July.

That day there will be guided tours and tea between 10.30am and 4.30pm. I am very excited to see it, but to be honest, I am prepared to wait just a tiny bit longer as I have a horrid feeling that that day is going to be horrendously crowded. In future throughout the summer they will be open Thursday, Friday and Sundays 12.30pm – 4.30pm for tours and every day except Monday the tearooms will be open between 9.00am and 5.00pm.

I did actually see up there a few years ago when it opened for one day only on Open House day. The queues were dreadful and you were allowed 5 short minutes view-time once you’d climbed all the way up there but it was enough to know I really, really wanted to go back. This one is going to be special, folks – and it will be open all summer between those times.

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…?

Severndroog Castle

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Okay so this is a screenshot, taken by The Phantom Webmaster on the day the Shard opened. I had managed to win tickets by suggesting a landmark that could be seen from said Shard, but that the general public might not have heard of, for inclusion on the groovy virtual telescope, which is what you can see here.

What you can also see is a bit of a fib.

This was back in February and the blurb says ‘a local community group restored the castle to its former glory.

Now, while the intention was there, in February the tower was very much not restored. We’d all been ‘sponsoring bricks’ and donating money (or at least trying to – a ‘well-known national newspaper’ who I shall not name asked me to write an article for them. I agreed in return for a donation to the restoration fund as I don’t agree with writing articles for national newspapers for nowt, they agreed and then welched on the deal, not that I’m bitter or anything…) but at that point it still wasn’t happening.

But I am delighted to say it’s begun. Michael tipped me off that there’s now scaffolding all over the shop (well, okay, the castle…) and when I looked it up on website it confirms that work began on 10th June and is expected to be complete in mid-December.

I am very excited. I went up once on Open House Day and the view is superb. It will be great to get up there for more than the paltry 5 minutes we were allowed, and with a bit of luck the tearoom on the first floor, with all that glorious rococo plasterwork, will be open again, perhaps even in time for Christmas.

I daresay I shall be able to see the Shard from it, though I’m rather hoping it doesn’t cost upwards of £30 a pop to go up it…

A Secret Path

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

I’ve been trying for a week to think what I could usefully add to the hours of TV, yards of newspaper comment and terrabites of bloggery/tweeting about the terrible events in Woolwich a week ago today and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing I can add that doesn’t reiterate what has already been said. That wouldn’t just deepen the pain of a family, a town and a country in mourning.

So instead I thought I’d share with you a little path I found at the weekend when visiting a pal who’s just moved into a new flat at the Woolwich Academy (next time I visit I’ll take some pics for you, there are some really interesting old buildings – and some very dull new ones…) Perhaps it can bring a little joy in sad times.

Basically, if you take your bus of choice to Queen Elizabeth Hospital then walk a little further along away from Woolwich, past the car park, you’ll find a little wooded entrance, leading to a path heading east. You can follow the path through the woods right up into open common, knee-high in cow parsley and feeling for all the world somewhere that could be in the middle of the countryside.

Nobody seems to use it. My friend and I had the whole common to ourselves – there wasn’t a kid playing with a kite, a bloke walking a dog, a teenager sniffing glue, nothing. Just us. And it was wonderful.

If you follow the path across it comes out just by the Academy, but there are other paths that criss-cross, so you can choose your own adventure.

There’s a rather alarming headline on this week’s New’s Shopper about the state of Woolwich Common after its moment in the spotlight last year at the Olympics.

I’m not for a moment pretending that LOCOG – or whoever their clean-up guys are – have not seriously neglected this area of the common. I guess it just goes to show that the major fuss individuals, groups and the council made about insisting Greenwich Park was put back properly was justified. With only the MOD to look after Woolwich Common there are parts of it that still look like ploughed fields.

I went over to take a look and while, frankly, the News Shopper is slighty exaggerating, it’s still much more of a mess than it should be.

But with all the awful stuff that has been going on in Woolwich I wanted to show that not everything is grim in the place. There is sweetness and peace to be found.

BTW if you click on the long thin image at the top you’ll see what a marvellous view there is to be had..

Splinter Woods

Monday, April 29th, 2013

We’re used to seeing murals round here – mainly created by Greenwich Mural Workshop and dating back at most to the 1980s. This one isn’t by GMW and it’s much older. The other awkward thing is that it isn’t actually in Greenwich. It’s not actually even in England. But it does give me one more reason why I want to visit the Orkney Islands.

It’s by a chap called Albert Ryecraft ‘Splinter’ Woods, born in Gravesend in 1877, died in Deptford in 1950 and for much of his life – and both World Wars – Piermaster at Tower Pier, for the PLA.

So what the hell was he doing painting a mural in the mess hall of a WWII gun battery in Orkney? That’s the question Andrew, who leads tours round the extraordinary-looking Ness Battery at Stromness, would like to know.

A job like Woods’s wouldn’t have seen him being called up but he was a part-time Territorial in WWI, manning machine guns on a roof in Deptford Market. In his fifties by the time WWII broke out, he became a Sergeant in the Home Guard, but always working on the Thames. Here’s a picture of him and his dog Peter:

In 1942 Woods wrote a book about his experiences in both wars – I Guarded the Waterfront – and was a minor celebrity at the time, even broadcasting on the wireless – but ask anyone round here now about him and you’ll get blank looks. In Orkney, though, he’s an intriguing man of mystery that many know about and have been searching for.

Andrew tells me the book makes no mention of his time in Orkney, and there is no record of his ever having been there other than his signature on the mural itself, which is one of the highlights of a visit to this most odd of 20th Century monuments (How odd? Well wouldn’t YOU want to visit a place that looked like this?)

Andrew wonders if Woods came to Orkney with equipment requisitioned for use by the Navy, such as floating cranes, barges and the like, which we know came from the PLA – in fact, the remnants of one of the floating cranes is still being scrapped as we speak. His experience in the Merchant Navy and as a small boat-man on the Thames may have made him a useful volunteer to escort those small craft up here. Speculative, but possible…

Research has come to a bit of a grinding halt though. The PLA lost a lot of records in the war and know little beyond the fact that Woods retired in 1947. The house where he died at Amersham Vale in New Cross has long gone for a health centre. Woods had children but Andrew can’t find any living descendents who might be able to shed light on why he went to Orkney and how long he spent there (must have been some time – that mural’s pretty big…)

So he’s trying a long shot and asking whether there are any Phantophiles out there who might have anything on this intriguing gentleman and his acrobatic dog.

I guess it’s worth an ask. Stephen? Mary? Anyone?

Stubnitz and Lancaster

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Sounds like an old music hall act, doesn’t it. But it’s actually two ships at Canary Wharf this weekend. This chap is arriving for a fancy dress party on MS Stubnitz on Saturday, when Mike snapped him (at least I hope it was fancy dress, I know the embarrassment of turning up in a stupid outfit only to find it’s just a straight party…)

While he was there, Mike noticed that HMS Lancaster, moored opposite Stubnitz, was going to be open yesterday – so he went to have a look:

The Queen is supposed to be visiting tomorrow. I’m guessing she’ll be taking a raincheck given where she is today…

Cheers Mike.


Monday, February 4th, 2013

Wanna save yourself thirty quid? Watch Mike’s video, taken a couple of hours after I was up the Shard, when there was actual sun and actual view beyond a mile or so.

He videoed the whole experience – from the queue (it will be interesting to see if people are still queueing in a couple of months – certainly they do for the Empire State building – but is the Shard our Empire State? I suspect not…) through the annoying compulsory photo (just walk straight through if you don’t want yours taken, don’t let them bully you. Do they really charge £50 for a print?) to the lifts, to the view, to the top floor…

The Shard

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Today possibly wasn’t the very best day to experience London’s newest tourist attraction, but it was the first one (official, anyway, apparently there were a bunch of the usual rent-a-crowd celebrities up there last night) and The Phantom Webmaster and myself managed to be some of the first proper punters to see it.

Actually, that’s not quite true, for we were there because I’d won a competition* – a very, very rare occurrence for me. It was a challenge to suggest a place that you can see from the Shard but most people would miss. The ten winners have had their suggestions included in the groovy digital telescope things at the top, and here’s my (winning, tee hee) entry, already programmed into the viewfinder:

Not that you could see even the vague area in which Severndroog Castle might be spotted today – the rain was lashing down and the black clouds seemed to completely surround Shooters Hill. You couldn’t even see Greenwich, though I’m told that you can at least see the Old Royal Naval College, Observatory and Power Station on a good day.

It’s a fun experience, and on that mythical ‘good day’ I am sure you can see far into the distance. As it was I still had fun, staring down and spotting fun stuff like the little shelter from the old London Bridge that sits in Guys Hospital, and the Globe Pub which, you can see from above, really was built around to create the new lines out of London Bridge station.

But it does have to be that ‘good day’ if you want to do anything beyond enjoying St Paul’s Cathedral and a charmingly model-like Tower of London.

It costs £24.95 for an adult (though at the tills they all said £29.95; I don’t know where they get that figure from,) or £100 if you want to go up there and then so to get your money’s worth, it will be worth waiting for better weather (they tell me it’s pretty much fully booked anyway until April) and then watch the weather forecast and book accordingly.

I can see this becoming one of those ‘things you have to do’ when you come to London, but those prices are squeakingly high for everyday folk, and that’s before you even hit the gift shop where they must be thanking the marketing gods for ‘Romeo,’ the fox who lived up the Shard for two weeks while it was being built and thus giving them a cute animal as the tower’s first resident to rurn into cuddly toys (not literally, of course…) to go with the rest of what I have to admit are generally pretty un-tacky souvenirs.

So – the Phantom likes – but make sure you get the weather right…

*if you’re wondering how I managed to get in without being spotted, I have to thank Will, the guy who organised the completely anonymous tickets – cheers Will – I was the short, fat, tall, skinny one in the red/green/black/blue cloak and tricorn…

Charlton Park Reminiscence Project

Monday, January 14th, 2013

We’ve talked about the Charlton Park Reminsicence Project a few times now – an ongoing project begun by Carol Kenna and Greenwich Mural Workshop (if you recall, Carol & Co. were responsible for many of the giant, rather-faded-by-now murals and mosaics around here, including the extraordinary Rathmore Benches) – often when they’ve been holding one of their periodic open days and exhibitions where they actively searched out new memories to add to the archive.

The project, as it might sound, mainly focuses on things within living memory – everything from people remembering playing in the park as a child, visiting the animals in the zoo and watching the jobsworth parkie refusing permission for David Hemmings to bring his Rolls Royce into Maryon Park during the filming of Blow Up to more recent sporting events and protests at the proposed closure of the petting zoo.

The project continues, but they have reached a bit of a milestone – a booklet of memories, photos and information – which will be available free from libraries, Greenwich Heritage Centre and Charlton House from the end of this month.

That doesn’t mean they’re not looking to add to the labyrinthine archives (don’t miss the photos and if you have some good memories of Charlton, they would still love to hear from you. There’s a form you can fill in on the website, or you can just find it here.

Brixton Murals

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Okay – I have the slimmest of reasons to feature this – it features Jane Gifford who painted the mural on Creek Road (the one opposite Greenwich Book Place in St Peter’s school yard, if memory serves). But it’s an utterly charming docco about the people who make London murals and the people who preserve them. Makes me wonder if it’s about time we applied for some Heritage Lottery cash for the (surviving) Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich murals and mosaics…