Archive for the ‘Open Spaces’ Category

Parklets Hiding in Plain Sight (4)

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Haven’t had one of these for ages, so I thought I’d go with a parklet that looks much smaller than it actually is today.

It’s in the area just north of Maze Hill station, around Tyler Street/ Walnut Tree Road (which is bisected by it) and Columb Street and manages to encompass open grassland, mature trees and a kiddies playground in an area that in my memory at least is always teeny.

It’s clearly the result of bomb damage and what has always amazed me is that there is a park there at all; that the whole of it wasn’t just subsumed into new builds. I am sure it would be now.

I was curious to know just which bombs it might have been, so I enlisted the help of resident Phantom Blitz Expert, Stepen Hunnisett, who gave me a rundown of just how flattened the area had got by the end of World War II:

  • 8/9/1940 (no time given) – Tyler Street/Trafalgar Row – High Explosive /Incendiary Bombs – Fire at Francis Campion’s premises
  • 17/10/40 @ 16:58 – 16-18 Tyler Street – High Explosive Bomb – no casualties
  • 10/01/41 @ 00:15 – Tyler Street – numerous Incendiary Bombs – no casualties
  • 8/9/40 no time given – Maze Hill Station – Incendiary Bombs on line
  • 9/9/40 no time given – 99 Maze Hill – Incendiary Bomb – fire in house
  • 9/9/40 @ 23:11 – 111 Maze Hill – Incendiary Bomb – fire in house
  • 9/9/40 @ 23:15 – Maze Hill Station – Incendiary Bomb on down line
  • 17/10/40 @ 17:20 – 75 Maze Hill – High Explosive – no casualties
  • 18/10/40 @ 23:59 – 139 Maze Hill – High Explosive – 1 walking casualty
  • 18/10/40 @ 09:19 – Maze Hill Station – 2 Delayed Action Bombs discovered in Goods Yard
  • 18/10/40 @ 10:12 – 37 Maze Hill – UXAA Shell
  • 20/10/40 @ 22:50 – 139 Maze Hill (again) – High Explosive Bomb

Blimey – after that little lot it’s hardly surprising there’s so much post-war new-build. Of course they were aiming for (among other things) the railway line – and sometimes actually hit it – but it’s clear living round Maze Hill in 1940 was a dangerous occupation.

The area is still pretty darn cute (I’ve always loved Walnut Tree Road) but it must have been even cuter before 1940. Still – respect to whoever decided not to cover every single inch with what must have been much-needed housing and instead pay attention to the social needs of the people who were going to live in the new homes.

If you’d like to know more about wartime Greenwich and Blackheath, Stephen has two of his occasional Blitzwalks coming up. The first is this Sunday, May 19th,  at 11.00am, the second, unusually, on a Friday 28th June at 6.30 p.m.

Both walks meet outside All Saints Church, Blackheath Village, cost £9 per head and last 2 hours 45 minutes. You can pay on the day but pre-booking is strongly advised as they’re always popular, via the website.


Trees on Blackheath

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Michael asks:

Not sure whether you’ve seen but a number of Silver Birch trees/saplings have recently been planted on the Vanbrugh Park/St John’s Park part of the Heath.

I was under the impression (possibly wrong) that the Heath should essentially remain treeless and what trees there are were either self seeded of planted at a time when it was less regulated.

I spoke to the Greenwich Council gardeners at the time and they said that the council had been asked by “the friends” to plant the saplings as a result of fire damage of the summer although no trees were damaged in the summer.

Personally I would rather see the natural bracken be given a chance to thrive. Any thoughts?

The Phantom replies:

Sadly I haven’t got up to the heath for weeks so no, I haven’t seen them. But I’m not personally too worried. I’m not sure which ‘friends’ asked for the trees (Westcombe Society? Blackheath Preservation Trust? No idea…) but if you’re going to have trees up there, silver birch are, I believe, quite appropriate for heathland.

Of course  the heath looks very different to how it was even 60 or so years ago. It’s only been the smooth green billiard table it is now since it was pretty much ‘filled in’ with rubble from bombed buildings after World War II – before that it was the classic romantic wilderness you generally associate with the word ‘heath,’ complete with dips and hollows, like the dips that still remain at the top of Maze Hill, gorse, bracken, mines, caverns, the odd windmill and, of course, the traditional dandy highwaymen. It was a dangerous place to travel through, let alone walk, but really rather wonderful.

If you want to read more, Neil Rhind’s book The Heath is definitive – and has many pictures, several of which include trees that look suspiciously like silver birches. Obviously the heath would never have been a forest of them, but small clumps would not be topographically ‘wrong,’ I believe. Perhaps a proper plant historian can put me right? Mr Bowes?

We’ll never get back what the heath used to be – and so many people use it as it is now, smooth (and, IMHO slightly boring in the middle) that it’s not even something most would desire, but introducing a few examples of native species around the edges seems like quite a good idea to me, and wouldn’t preclude allowing the bracken to grow.  And it will help to screen the houses up there from the incessant A2 traffic.

But what does everyone else think?

Rear Window (23)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Isn’t this a fascinating photo? For all of us who can’t see behind the various hoardings, an aerial shot of – what I calculate to be five separate building jobs – though I may have miscalculated – it could be more, could be fewer.

It’s a shot taken for the forthcoming book Greenwich Then and Now by Barbara Ludlow and Julian Watson, taken by Julian from the window of a kindly upstairs resident of Coltman House and I love it because it’s not a static shot, it’s work in progress.

In the foreground we have the ‘gardens’ themselves – and, from what I have seen of the plans, they are much greener than the area’s been for years, much to the chagrin of English Heritage for whom I usually have a lot of respect but whose desire for an urban dockfront feel at this bleak spot would be as specious as greenery and a hell of a lot less enjoyable when the icy Thames winds blow for the three-quarters of the year that don’t have the sunshine you always get in architects’ plans.

Next to the gardens, on the left, is the interminable Foot Tunnel project which has, frankly, been a bit of a disgrace. I have lost count of the number of cyclists I’ve seen going up to the door, realising the whole bloomin’ thing is shut and, knowing that there’s nothing down at Woolwich either, turning round wearily to peddle their way up to Rotherhithe. This is a public highway – which is why, up to this particular works, it was left open 24 hours a day and if it did close, for filming, for example, (i.e. when someone else had to foot the bill)  it had to have proper provision made. The excuse of the DLR is fine for pedestrians happy to shell out for the ticket but cyclists can whistle. It is, apparently, due to be opened ‘in the new year,’ whatever that means – my bet is ‘in time for the Olympics’ which seems to be the mantra for everything these days.

Behind that, we can just see the entrance to the new pier and, separately but together, the strange skellingtons that will make up the ticket office and the cafe. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours about what’s going to be there – a Zizzi’s, Nandos, Byron (no indies, natch) but in case you can’t read Steve’s photo

it looks as though it’s actually going to be that retail-park blandity Frankie and Benny’s. Sigh.

Steve’s been trying to get the signage sorted out around that area for some time – after ORNC hours it’s quite hard to get through from West to East Greenwich in that part as random paths have been shut off and the ORNC security guys are not to be argued with. He’s discovered that this mess will stay until the whole area opens properly but has been at least promised some signage. Go, Steve.  Let’s hope it’s not like this splendid example of Greenwich Council signage, wrong on so many levels and spotted by Dan:

Which leaves us with the Cuty Sark herself. I don’t want to know what’s gone on with the engineering, what kind of stress those timbers are under or what corners were cut. We were left out of the loop when it mattered and all we’re likely to get now is platitudes if, indeed, they ever decide to actually talk to locals at all. But I have to say she’s looking good. Every time I walk past she seems to have a bit more fluffy frou, a little extra gold, a shininess more of paint. At last she looks like a ship again. Who knows – she might actually be ready for that all-important date.

And all this encapsulated in one photo. I can’t wait for Barbara and Julian’s book (one of several very exciting volumes to be published soon, and not Julian’s only outing.) It’s due at the publishers at the end of the month so we should see it – actually I don’t know how long books take to come out once they’re written so let’s just say ‘soon.’

Street Furniture (2) Sad Benches

Friday, December 19th, 2008

At such a happy time of year, please spare a thought for this lonseome pair, West Greenwich’s answer to the spookily empty Glenister Green. Benedict, who took this shot of the ‘leisure area’ near the fire station in Royal Hill, has never seen anyone actually using these benches, and nor have I.
Perhaps it’s because it just looks such a bleak place that no one uses it – though you’d have thought that after schlepping shopping up that hill someone would be grateful of a sit-down. The ‘no ball games’ sign puts the kibosh on kiddies using it as a play area and Benedict reckons he’s never even seen any local winos congregating there.
So what gives? Are we both just going past at the wrong time and missing the roaring party that goes on there every night? Or did those town planners in the 1970s(?) completely succeed in making a social area so antisocial that noboday wants to use it?
There are several places like this in Greenwich. Little corners that should be welcome retreats, but that just make an area look even more desolate than it really is. That one on the corner of Vanbrugh Hill and Dinsdale Road, for example. What to do about them? In this financial climate, I don’t know…

The Herb Garden, Greenwich Park

Thursday, January 10th, 2008


If you’re ScaredofChives, or of a similarly delicate constitution, look away now. We are about to enter Herb County…

Tucked away in the North-west corner of Greenwich Park lies a little garden. Behind low, dainty railings, and separated by parterres of box, a modern Tudor-knot contains herbs for every sense, billowing out their frond-y, frothy abundance in a heady green-and-yellow haze, a gentle breeze rustling the ferny leaves in a soft murmur.

Well. Ok. maybe not just at the moment. It’s more like a bunch of dark green boxes full of dead brown-and-black stalks and grizzled old earth, scoured by a howling gale. But in these dark January days a Phantom needs a few memories of long, hot summers and long, fragrance-filled evenings to light the way through to Spring.

Memories, for example, of that little fountain in the middle – I think it’s supposed to be a thistle – but it could be a tulip or even a pineapple. No matter. The tinkle from that tiny pond twinkles in my mind and I can feel the warmth of the sun on my back, even if it’s actually just my cardi, an extra blanket and a fan heater.

It’s not that old (the herb garden, of course, not the fan heater, which is antediluvian.) There’s precious little written about it anywhere – naturally – I’m beginning to get used to a total blank-er-oo whenever I try to find anything out about stuff in Greenwich. It’s as though just putting something lovely somewhere is enough – when surely part of charm of a thing, whether a statue, sculpture, street furniture – or a garden – is in its history?

The new Greenwich Park walks leaflet (which I will be reviewing as soon as I’ve had the chance to try out one or two of the suggested route-marches) comes to the rescue – a bit. The garden was first planted in 1969 but tarted up in 1993, with 30 herbs. That fountain, designed by (and yea! – we have a sculptor) Kate Malone, was added in 2000.

The Phantom is in reflective mood today, swaddled in blankets and thick socks, leaving you with a lovely photo to remind you that Spring’s not that far away now. Honest.

Glenister Green Revisited (well – sort of…)

Monday, August 6th, 2007

A few months ago I was convinced that Glenister Green – the dull bit of land in between the old folks homes and Mister Fast Fry on Woolwich Road – was actually a cheap holographic image created to cover the tracks of an alien space ship, and that any unsuspecting fool who set foot within those sinister gates would be swallowed up and experimented on (see “Open Spaces”)in horrifc fashion.

There is still something very sinister about this scrap of land, especially at night, when although completely visible from the road, the lonely pools of light and the paths that lead round and round lend it an otherworldly atmosphere. I won’t go on about all that again – but I have, in the past couple of weeks, noticed that it’s not quite as horrid as it has been.

Leaves on the trees have made a big difference, of course, but some man-made improvements have helped too. The mural that used to be outside the hospital has been spruced up (though the tiles are still too far apart, making it look like it used to be somewhere else…) and it now has a plaque (not that I’ve actually looked at it of course – I’m still not actually setting foot in there. The aliens still loom large in my imagination.) The grass (well, weeds, but it’s all green, isn’t it) gets the occasional cut and some of the low shrubs that were planted when the place got its ‘redesign’ have bushed out a bit. It’s not enhanced by the giant monstrosity that is the extension of Mister Fast Fry – easily the same size again as the original building and the most uninspired design imaginable, but that’s a Planning thing, not Parks.

The biggest difference is that I have actually seen people in there. Granted it’s nearly always slack-jawed teenagers loitering round the bins, who have kindly added some enhancements of their own in the form of art-free grafitti but it is Life. And that encourages me. Unless, of course, the aliens have invented a cunning patch for their hologram program that populates their creepy dimensional timeshift gate thingy…

The Greenwich Park Bowl?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Fin writes:

I was walking in Greenwich Park today and came across a circular fenced-off area in the south-west corner, just north of the tennis courts. It had a rusty iron fence around it and a locked gate with signs that said ‘Hazard – Keep Out’. Naturally curiosity got the better of me and i climbed in, to find a large raised area of grass like an inverted bowl. Steps ran up one side and joined an overgrown row of paving slabs running along the centre of the bowl, with some sort of metal grill right in the centre. This ‘path’ was also lined with what looked like those hook-shaped ventilation pipes you get on ships. I didn’t venture far in case the ground gave way or something, but I am most intrigued. Can you or your readers enlighten me as to what this area is, or was? Unfortunately i didn’t have a camera on me otherwise I’d send you a picture.

The Phantom replies:

What is this – Greenwich Enigma Day or something? This seems almost as much of a mystery as Miss Mott.

There is so much to be discovered in that seemingly tiny patch we call Greenwich Park that it doesn’t surprise me that there’s something new and hitherto undiscovered somewhere off the beaten track. I vaguely know where you’re talking about, I think. I wonder – is it in line with the red brick building that’s part of the underground water system? It could be part of the notorious tunnels in Greenwich Park which date back several hundred years (see The Greenwich Phantom: Tunnels in Greenwich Park ) but it sounds too recent to really be connected with it. Given the way that the land seems to cave in at a moment’s notice round here you were probably wise not to tread any further. It does sound like a reservoir. Something banging at the back of my brain tells me that Greenwich University did some low-level experiments in the park way back, but I thought it was all cleared away. Actually, I may be completely wrong; thinking about it, it could have been the Peninsula. Or somewhere else entirely.

Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t know. I’m hoping that someone from the Friends of Greenwich Park will read this and be able to tell you. In the meanwhile, I’ll do a spot of digging (not literal.) Watch this space.

When is someone going to write a really in-depth topographical study of Greenwich Park? Or is there already one that I don’t know about?

Incidentally, folks, I’m sure Fin wouldn’t mind my telling you about his own website that he ‘accidentally’ left the address of on the bottom of his mail. He’s a local playwright and poet and you can find him here

Prior Street – and Allotments

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Prior St, SE10
Continuing my look at Greenwich Streets I’ve turned out of Circus St into Prior St – a short, sweet little road which climbs gently up to meet Royal Hill before theoretically turning into Point Hill.

The houses in this pretty little street are mainly terraced and flat-fronted, with little canopies over the doors, which makes me think, in my untutored way, that they are Georgian rather than Victorian. Some single, some double-fronted, most also have basements. Some have loft conversions, but these look like historic rather than modern affairs. Every so often there are the occasional interesting-looking garage-like doors to what looks like back-entrances built into the terraces.

Once again I don’t know anyone in this road – so if you live here or know someone who does, I’d welcome additions and comments about it. Is it a good road to live in? Are the natives friendly?
At the top are some of what must be the poshest allotments in Greenwich. When I was looking for an allotment myself, I came across the Prior St gardens and salivated. They are run by a separate group to the council, but (now) come under its protection. It wasn’t always that way.

They’re an odd shape because, apparently, they are the site of the old railway line that joined Nunhead to Greenwich which only lasted between 1871 and 1917. I assume it was derelict for a while before becoming briefly a lorry park and a garden centre.

Over the years the allotments have had threats to their existence – not least from when the council wanted to close the allotments to build 23 houses. A splendid campaign was fought and mostly won (the council just took enough land to build two houses in the end.) Huzzah for the people -it proves it can be done occasionally. The other plots are now protected under the Allotment Act, though I doubt I will ever land one of them.

Judging from the number of them (18) and the size of some of the gardens round here (tiny) I should have put my name down at birth for one here and I’d have probably still been waiting even then. The person at the top of the 100-strong waiting list went on in 1998, so that’s only nine years so far. So some time to go yet…
Still when allotments are as beautifully kept and enjoyed as these clearly are, it’s hard to be anything other than delighted by this place. It even has its own website – with some pretty pictures and info about them.

Micro Eco Park on the Peninsula

Monday, May 14th, 2007

No – not the “official” one – which I’ll come to another day. This tiny little eco park is about a tenth of the size of the ‘proper’ one and I confess I’ve walked past it on several occasions without realising what it was or even, if I’m honest, that it was there at all.

It’s round the back of the Teletubby Sainsburys – presumably some kind of Section 106 set-aside, and it takes approximately 1 minute to walk round, but it’s nevertheless a delight to stumble upon, and once the sundry consortia who have carved up the Peninsula have covered what is green and lovely now with coloured concrete boxes, it will be an even more welcome haven for animals, insects, birds and even the odd walker.

It’s basically a couple of wetland-pond-ish-marshy dips, filled with reeds, rushes and, at the moment, some beautiful yellow irises. There are saplings of what look like some sort of willow (?) dotted around and a little fenced area with some young apple trees – I have no idea of the variety, but I’m hoping they’re either native or at least heritage breeds.

A little (pretty-accessible) path winds its way around the site – it takes a couple of minutes to march around it, slightly longer to wander. There are no signs, plaques or even gates – but it’s such a welcome corner, tucked behind a shopping centre and surrounded by a hedge of mixed British plants – even the back of Sainsburys itself doesn’t ‘loom’ over the area (and presumably provides a nice place for employees to enjoy a quiet fag) that it’s worth seeking out as a five minute excursion of peace from the madness that is that sodding Peninsula car park.

Winter Gardens

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Avery Hill Park, Eltham

Ok – so it’s not actually Greenwich – so shoot me – it’s in the borough and everyone needs to get out occasionally…

The Winter Gardens at Eltham are one of those surprising little places which make being a tourist in your own borough worthwhile. Clearly with a name like that, I waited until deepest January to visit, picking a bright, clear and bloomin’ freezing afternoon to pack up a flask and buns and head off towards the Eltham Campus of Greenwich University.

It’s not a generally exciting building complex, Greenwich University’s Eltham Campus now occupying what’s left of self-made millionaire ‘Colonel’ John Thomas North’s mansion – which is why when you do discover the hothouse it’s all the more delightful.

It was built during the 1830s but not an awful lot happened to it until the colourful ‘Colonel’ bought it in 1888.

North had started out, it is said, as a gun runner in South America where he’d gone to build railways (it’s amazing how one can get sidetracked, isn’t it…) but eventually found his fortune in seagull guano, wich any fule no makes great fertiliser.

But being a shit importer has never guaranteed success on the social ladder, and though North had made a pile Oop North on the where-there’s-muck-there’s-brass ticket, and though he had heaped largesse on the good folk of Leeds he still just didn’t seem to get invited to the right parties.

He decided to buy Avery Hill and do it up so that he could have a swanky London pad. He had the main road moved to Bexley so that he wouldn’t actually have to come in contact with the South London riffraff and spent over £ 200,000 on the interior design alone. He commissioned TW Cutler to remodel it in the popular Italianate style, but Cutler went overbudget even for the likes of North and was sacked; his assitant promoted in his place.

North was responsible for the fabulous hothouse, which he presumably fertilised with his own imports, but at the time it wasn’t the hothouse which was the star of the show. Instead an outrageous three-roomed Turkish bath took pride of place – with tiled walls, marble floors and silver fittings, it outshone the other big Turkish baths at the time and the architectural critics were agog.

His home complete, North was made an honourary Colonel in Tower Hamlets but what he really wanted was a knighthood.

He invited the Prince of Wales to tea, but it would seem that Bertie wasn’t overawed by the experience. North never did get his knighthood. He lived only another five years in his creation before his death in 1896.

His family, unimpressed with the extravagance, immediately put Avery Hill on the market. It took two years to sell, and even then it went for considerably less than North paid for it. The new owner never moved in.

It’s been in the hands of the council since 1902 – they bought it and the park for £ 25,000 – a bit of a bargain even then. What’s left of the house is now part of the uni but the hothouses and park are open to the public – and a splendid job they have done too, maintaining it – it can’t be a cheap thing to do.

If you’re driving, you enter through the grounds of the uni, you can park in what must have once been a walled kitchen garden (well, I did, anyway…) and walk around to the astonishingly large palm house, heated even in the darkest, dankest of winter months to house the exotic plants so fashionable amongst wealthy Victorians and Edwardians.

In the centre, a giant Norfolk Pine dominates the view, and to either side of the red-brick glasshouses are smaller, delicate little rooms. The one to the left provides a great place to sit and contemplate on a late winter afternoon as it makes the most of what watery sun there is, the only interruption the odd university group using it as a film location or for a botany lesson. The one to the right has a replica of a beautiful marble fountain (the original was half-inched) playing over cyclamen and fernery.

The greenery of the park tumbles away down the hill towards football pitches and dull suburban housing, but here is a little corner which will be forever Victorian splendour. Enjoy…

BTW. Sadly, the Turkish baths were bombed to buggery in WWII, but there is a fantastic account of them by Victorian Turkish Bath specialist Malcolm Shifrin at