Archive for the ‘Places of Interest’ Category

Angerstein Railway

Monday, October 28th, 2013

On this blusteriest of days for some time, let this photo be a little reminder that it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.

Back in 2010, after a not-entirely-ill blast, the fence had blown down up by the Angerstein Railway and Julian Watson (whose name appears in the credits of practically every Greenwich book written in the last 20-odd years, and sometimes on the title page) decided to have a peek at what’s usually pretty hard to get to. This is literally the end of the line.

I always think it’s rather wonderful that Greenwich has its own little branch line entirley dedicated to freight. There are very, very few left; most have closed and even fewer actually directly serve the Thames (you can see iron track lines in several places round the Thames Path where other bably lines used to run.)

Over the years people have mentioned they think this one’s closed too but you only have to stand a little while in any one of several places, my favourite being the roundabout just past Sainsburys on the Peninsula, before you see the slightly surreal image of a diesel engine creeping over the bridge towards the aggregates yard at Angerstein Wharf (built by the son of John Julius Angerstein, of Monster Hunter fame…)

There’s an excellent history of the railway here so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by repeating it here.

If you want to get a look at it, you never know, today could be a good day. On the occasions I’ve tried to get a closer peek (by taking the little offshoot on the right hand side of the footbridge over the 102(M) that leads from Westcombe Park to Charlton, the extremely severe cattlegrids served their purpose, keeping both hooved animals and Phantoms off the tracks. But after all this wind you never know, there might be a fence panel down…

Another Panorama

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Following on from the panoramas of East Greenwich, I came across another one this morning, of Central Greenwich. It’s credited to OJ Morris, who collected the Rev Spurgeon’s incredible photographs of Victorian Greenwich (what I can find about his story is here and at first I assumed it was another Spurgeon image.

That was until I actually looked at the photo and realised there are trucks and cars in it, not to mention the Cutty Sark, which didn’t arrive in Greenwich until 1954 – and that judging from the angle, it was probably taken from the now-forbidden observation tower at Borough Hall.

Owen Morris was crazy for railways, so he might well have been trying to get the railway line in right at the bottom, but whatever his reasons, this is a lovely shot of Straighstmouth, St Alfege and a what is now rapidly disappearing town centre.

On a closer inspection it’s interesting to note just how much DOES remain these days. I would LOVE to see a photo taken from the Observation Tower now, to compare, but longterm Phantophiles will know that the Phantom campaign to get the tower opened for Open House Day has spluttered and failed on many occasions (as has the sister campaign to get the power station to open its doors…gnash, gnash.) It’s not for the want of trying, believe me, folks.

But even without the comparison image, it’s clear we still have much there. The Mitre Pub is almost exactly the same – though re-furbed and I have to say, looking lovely these days – the flowers outside are always fabulous.

Straightsmouth and Roan Street look remarkably intact (nice to see the lovely stink pipe taking pride of place by the Bridge of Tiles), though of course there’s an ugly office block in front of it now along Church Street/High Street (never quite sure where one stops and the other begins…)

The estate over by Wood Wharf is pretty much exactly the same. The area around Creek Road is most changed, mainly from the building around the DLR station and of course we have the nasty pier buildings these days.

I’m sure that if any Phantom reader actually had access to that observation tower, I’d know all about it but – well, I’ll send my wish list out into the ether anyway. I would SO love to share today’s view from the crow’s nest with everyone – if you ever get a chance to go up there PLEASE take pics and show me.

Of course you’d need to be fit – I’m told it’s a LOT of steps…

Devonport Pathological Laboratory

Friday, August 31st, 2012

AKA The Cooper Building AKA Greenwich University Students Union

Yes, young freshers, your friendly students’ union block used to be (cue creepy organ music) the old mortuary and path lab for Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital and comes complete, according to Shaun, with sinister basement and a Phantom of its own.

Annoyingly for me, I can’t find any references to said Phantom in any of my local ghost/occult books but apparently they had to cart 1247 skulls and 58 boxes of bones down to East Greenwich to build the lab and Devonport House next door, so take your pick. Whether it’s Peg-Leg Pete or Captain Birdseye, I’m sure we all have a pet dead sailor we imagine when we think of the corpses buried in the Pleasaunce. (Ah. Just me, then…) One of them apparently, forgot to take his ectoplasm with him.

But I digress. The Pathalogical and Bacteriological Department was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1923. He also drew up plans for the nurses’ home next door, which couldn’t be named after him as his mate Lord Devonport, who got him both jobs, called dibs. It was bang up to date, including a small museum (oh, for the days when you built a museum in a path lab) a library and even a special motor garage for visiting doctors’ cars, but the project had to be put on hold until 1925 while sundry seamen’s bones were disinterred.

There’s a good architectural description of the building in John Bold’s giant book, Greenwich, An Architectural History of the Royal Hospital for Seamen and the Queen’s House so I won’t reinvent the wheel here, but he does say that it was designed to complement the church next door; a shame since St Mary’s was demolished seven years after Cooper’s path lab was finished.

Not being a student, and not being able to pass for one either, I’ve never been inside, but Shaun tells me it’s rather beautiful,  with a marble hall, an elegant staircase echoing that of the nurses’ home next door, and a tiled crucifix in the floor under some rather unlovely carpet tiles. He also tells me that the old cellar still contains cupboards with case numbers for body parts on them.

Actually, John Bold says the mortuary was in the side bits and the cellar contained the disturbing-sounding ‘heating chamber’ but perhaps that’s what they want us to think… Even Bold puts the words ‘heating chamber’ in inverted commas. Obviously was really where they burned the bodies. Just look at that chimney. Mwahahaha…

Thing is, I’ve never seen inside so I’ll never know, unless there are any students reading this (unlikely, I know) or someone who doesn’t mind pretending to be one, snakebite in one hand, camera in the other. I’d love some shots of the interior.

Then and Now (6) – Part One

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Dear Mother and Dad

Settling in well at the hospital, though still missing you and George. This is the nurses’ home, just up the hill from work. It’s quite a walk home after a late shift! The other nurses are all very friendly, and there is a cinema just down the hill. Joan and I go when the vampires aren’t too restless. We’re getting through a lot of stakes, I can tell you!  Hope you are all well, kiss Fluffy for me, love Ethel.

It’s nice to find unusual postcards of Greenwich, but they’re often unwritten, so I’m forced to invent correspondence that might have been written and it sometimes gets surreal.

The real downside to postcards being unsent is that I have no way of knowing how old this one is. I’m guessing maybe 1930s -50s, mainly from the quality of the photo and the paper. The old nurses’ home up Vanbrugh Hill (now Woodland Heights) was built just after 1927 when Woodlands, a large Victorian mansion was demolished – its lodge still stands, next door.

The nurses’ home wasn’t built on the site of the house itself, but its gardens; there’s a tiny bit of woodland left just behind Maze Hill station (over which many a battle has been fought over the years.) It’s been private flats for some time now but as you will see from my photo (it was impossible to get the exact shot as there’s been so much building since) the exterior hasn’t changed a huge amount. I had assumed the top level was a modern addition, but it’s not.

Since I never went inside either before or after the conversion I can’t tell you how much it’s changed, but I bet there’s one hell of a view…

Talking of views, tune in tomorrow folks, for Part Two…

Pier Appearing

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Today, a little photographic wander around the pier area that Jeremy took with his camera-phone. It’s not going to look like this for much longer as there’s a race on to get it all finished; I’m guessing for the Marathon, which will be the first of a number of high-profile centre-stages this area’s going to take this year. I still don’t know whether or not runners will actually be going round the Cutty Sark (I wish them luck if it’s raining – anyone else foundthat new paving a bit on the slippy side in rain?) but even if they’re not it will be hard to keep the cameras away if it’s not finished.

So it’s go, go, go. Looks like the signs that have been refused permission are still there – imagine this lit up:

Someone said on the blog yesterday that they’re still illuminating it.

The one at Byron is a little smaller, but even if we didn’t like it, it’s inside – nothing can be done about that.

What bothers me more, actually, isn’t actually going to be lit up at all – it’s all that tacky red signage going round the emerging Nandos:


Moving on, the ticket booths are at least a little more discreet:

I find little to moan about with those. In fact I quite like them. Much as I’m pleased to see some actual plants going in Cutty Sark Gardens:

Most are going to be a bit locked away behind rather corporate-looking railings, but plants is plants. The Cutty Sark’s coming on – still finding it hard to imagine they’ll be done for their launch in a few weeks’ time, but it’s looking good.

It’s also hard to imagine just how in/obtrusive that access tower will be too. Looking at the scaffolding, it’s rather alarming, but this seems to imply it’s not quite as bad as it looks just now:

A month after we became Royal, a reminder of the Council’s old logo – almost completely obliterated already in main spaces:

Finally – it’s taken a bloomin’ age – but doesn’t the foot tunnel entrance, slowly emerging from its plastic chrysalis, look fantastic?

Steve agrees and sent me this view almost simultaneously with Jeremy. I love this, even if it does remind me of the missed opportunity with the pier buildings:

Montague House and the Pagoda

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for ages. The Pagoda is one of the most fascinating, secret buildings around, but up ’til now there’s been precious little written about it. Most people (if they know about it at all) assume it’s a Victorian pastiche of a Chinese pagoda. In fact it’s much older – though of course, it’s still a pastiche – or perhaps we should say ‘ homage…’

In case there’s anyone who doesn’t know what or where it is (unlikely on this blog…) it’s just across the heath more or less in line with Ranger’s House, down a little residential road called these days, unsurprisingly, Pagoda Gardens. It’s a private house, so you can’t see much of it, but even from the road is quite a curious sight. My favourite picture of it ever is by Benedict and I make no apology for using it again – not least because around this time of year it actually looks like this:

There’s rather less left of Montague House. In fact, the only thing you can actually see of Princess Caroline of Brunswick’s old gaff is her bath up in the South West corner of Greenwich Park. But these two relics of a right royal ding-dong are inextricably linked, and historian Neil Rhind, together with the current incumbent of the Pagoda, architect Philip Cooper have created a history of them both.

With the colourful Caroline as a previous occupant, it’s natural that a good part of the book is devoted to her, but what pleases me more is that Rhind and Cooper have realised that that’s the bit that, if we know anything at all about these two places, we already know and have chosen to focus on the other residents – right up to present day – who have shaped one of the most fascinating buildings in the area. After all, Caroline neither built the place nor lived in it that long in the grand scheme of things.

Anyone who’s familiar with Neil Rhind’s other works – Blackheath & Environs I & II and The Heath being the two most people know, though there are others – will have an inkling of how this book’s going to be – though thanks to modern printing and layout techniques it’s more colourful and illustrated than any of his other volumes.

It’s the usual meticulous, heavily-researched and detailed history in chronological order (something I find myself incapable of being) and, whether or not it’s actually true, you get the feeling that absolutely every detail of merit has been included – that this is definitive.

A whole bunch of the usual Greenwich suspects are involved in the houses’ early days – the dastardly John Snape, the wealthy Earl of Montague, the mysterious ‘Mrs Elizabeth Lawson’ (which sent me off on a wild goose chase through the Phantom archives for what turned out to be another Elizabeth Lawson but then Greenwich names reoccur over and over again…)

Maps, both ancient and modern, plus CAD reconstructions of layouts, are joined by a short account of the way the 18th Century craze for Chinoiserie led to a small sporting lodge being built in the Chinese style for Montague House, across the heath. It looks as though the Pagoda was used as a place for the Society of Toxopholites (no, I didn’t know, either – it’s archers, apparently) to have tea after twanging on the Heath. Neil Rhind has even fetched up a fabulous quote about  ’the elegant and beauteous assemblage of Lady Archers‘, who called themselves the British Amazons. Cool.

I don’t even want to think how long it took to work out a timeline for the Pagoda – it’s been changed so many times and gradually changed from being an entertaining  folly to a family home. In some ways at least Montague House has a distinct ‘end’ – it was demolished in 1815, the assumption being it was on the grounds of a queenie fit on the part of the Prince of Wales who, by that time, had irrevocably fallen out with his wife.

Therefore the second part of the book deals with how the Pagoda changed physically from the 19th Century onwards and, my favourite bit, the people who lived in it, including some from the time when it was taken over by the local authority as a children’s home, housing association accommodation and refuge for Tamil families. The picture here, by Stephen, gives you a closer-up view (the other one, of the roof, is also by Stephen – thanks!)

If I could have asked for any more, it would have been an expansion to this section – I would have liked to know more of their experiences. Not least the Tamils – I can’t begin to think what they thought of it. I could have also taken a little more about the recent restoration and how the house is now,  though I guess that might be a bit invasive on the family. But these are tiny thoughts – this book is not really about that and is complete without such ornaments.

If you’re at all into local history, this book is a bit of a must. It’s a slim volume, but dense (thankfully not visually) and I highly recommend it. In Greenwich, find it in Warwick Leadlay or Waterstones; in Blackheath the Bookshop on the Heath will sell you a copy at around the £10 mark.

Oh – BTW – the Chinese characters mean ‘the Pagoda’  or the equivalent of ‘House of Family Love,’ taken from
the style of the dynasty that was in power in China in 1767. Just in case you were wondering.

Rothbury Hall

Monday, March 5th, 2012

A glorious fantasy of a building, Rothbury Mission Hall somehow seems a bit lost and forgotten, lodged between Blackwall Lane, Mauritius and Azof Roads and a car mechanics -  an area which has never been either glorious or fantastical, even when this exuberant confection of turrets, steeples and stained glass was built.

Darryl Spurgeon describes it as “An extraordinary building of 1893 with a quite fantastic roofline of cupola, thin spirelets and dormers,” and I guess that just about sums it up.

Pevsner has nothing to say about the place, but the fabulous Julian Watson tells me that “according to LAJ Baker in his ‘Churches in the Hundred of Blackheath’ it was built as a Baptist church and was bought by the Congregationalists in the 1890’s.”

According to a short piece in Greenwich Industrial History Society’s site it was built by W T Hollands with the cash stumped up by a splendid chap with the enviable name of Josiah Vavasseur. Vavasseur (can’t you just think of a million nicknames for that…) had a nice little company making recoil-components for naval armaments until he was bought out by another, much bigger manufacturer, William Armstrong, for a very tidy sum indeed. Apparently Vavasseur was rather amused at the source of his sudden wealth and named his architectural contribution to the spiritual welfare of Greenwich’s paupers after Armstrong’s house in Northumberland.

By the time Life and Labour of the People of London 1890-1900 was written, the final volume of which I found in the “everything £1″ box of a secondhand bookshop (you do always check those, don’t you…) it had already become that Congregational mission.

Charles Booth wasn’t impressed. He describes it  as having “a pauperising influence and not effective from the religious standpoint; the Sunday school the principal piece of work, eight hundred children in average attendance; a good deal of money spent on social work.”

It’s been the home of Emergency Exit Arts for some years, a festival-making organisation about which I don’t know enough and would like to know more, not least because the homepage of its website has giant meerkat puppets on it. The building is Grade II listed, but not in a great state.

Whilst digging around the net for this post, I discovered a group called Heritage of London, a pan-London building preservation trust I had never heard of but who seem like A Good Thing. According to HoL’s site, Greenwich Council has offered to sell the building to the Trust, which they will restore, whilst keeping the arts group in residence, which sounds like a win to me.

Thing is, there are no dates on the website, short of the 2012 at the bottom, which could just be an automatically-updated thing. It looks a new site, but the prices – both purchase and restoration – look a bit low to me. It also ‘hopes the building will be workable for the Olympics’, which feels a bit late in the day, frankly, unless work’s been going on and I’ve been hyper-unobservant.

Does anyone know anything more about this? Has work been going on that I’ve missed or was this an optimistic piece of puff from before the recession?

The Clarence Music Hall

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Yup folks, I’m still enjoying the Greenwich Theatre Book – an incredibly slim volume that punches above its weight and provides a really excellent base for further digging. It’s made all the more mysterious by the fact that I can hardly open the thing for fear of it falling apart (it’s not mine or I would be far less careful…), so I can only dip in occasionally.

Today’s post isn’t really about Greenwich Theatre – or not the building, at least. But a brief mention in the book made me look again at another Greenwich venue. Over the years there have been a fair few places of entertainment, ranging from the highbrow (not many of them, ‘fraid) to the rather less salubrious establishments (plenty to see there…) From trestle-stages to purpose-built palaces, serious legit-stuff to – well, a few things the Lord Chamberlain would have got a bit hot under the ermine collar about. But by far the most popular of all were the music halls of Victorian Greenwich.

I’ll come to a big one that only died about forty years ago another day, because today, I want to concentrate on one that survives – in fact I understand it’s the oldest surviving purpose-built music hall there is – though it’s a mere shadow of its former self.

Where is it? Well – it’s here:

Still can’t see it? Look up – at the rooms spanning the bridge between the Admiral Hardy and – well, the other side. The Clarence Music Hall was incorporated into the original design of Greenwich Market by Joseph Kay when Greenwich was being gentrified in the 1830s, presumably as a sop to the working classes whose houses were being bulldozed to make way for it.

Admittedly the market had got a bit out of hand, with pushcarts and market stalls all over the place – up alleyways, blocking roads, stuffing every courtyard with stinking vegetables, animals being slaughtered any-old-where and generally annoying the toffs.

Joseph Kay was put in charge of making the new market pretty – and, from what’s left of it, he did a good job. There was a designated slaughterhouse area, room for stables for the stallholders’ horses and, of course a good, large central bit for the stalls themsleves.

The Admiral Hardy was one of the first pubs up and running in the complex and they decided to use the upstairs room spanning the market’s trendy new entrance as a music hall. The Royal Clarence Theatre opened in 1839. I’m assuming it was named for William IV (the erstwhile Duke of Clarence) who was popular in Greenwich, ostensibly because of his life as a sailor before becoming king, but probably as much, if not more so, because of his saucy former life and his openly living with a mistress. Greenwich has always liked characters.

The entrance was at Number 7a and you had to climb the stairs to get to it, adding to the back-room salaciousness of it all. If it had started out as trying to be a legitimate theatre (which I can’t see that it ever did) it definitely wasn’t after 1845, when it gave up even trying to sound posh and just called itself the Clarence Music Hall.

It was run by the Mitchell family, who also owned the pub, until 1860, but it carried on after they gave it up, until it was forcibly closed by the authorities for being too popular. It used to cram 250 people in to a 46ft x 24ft room and even the Victorians, not known for being particularly obsessed with safety, thought that might be a few too many.

However the room still existed, and continues to exist, despite two remodellings of the market – 1908 and 1958.

Each time, whatever happened to the inside of the market, Joseph Kay’s exterior stayed, and, thanks to its being part of the very fabric of the outside, the music hall has stayed too, an airy, high-roofed affair with windows both sides, onto the street and the market below. Its raison d’etre now gone, it became a bit of everything, as such places tend to be, including an engineering workshop. In 1964 it was converted to a TV/Film studio. I don’t know for whom. It’s far too early for Greenwich Cablevision.

A 1991 book by Darrell Spurgeon says it was, at the time he was writing, mooted to be a museum, but it would seem that that money started talking. It became the Time Bar and then of course, INC with those Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen designs and the erotic wallpaper. At least I assume the erotic wallpaper’s still there – haven’t been in ages, since it’s now not open except as ‘Clarence Hall,’ a space for hire. At least it’s kept the name…

There’ s much more music hall to be had around these parts, but for now, if you fancy finding out at least a flavour of what the old halls would have been like, I note there’s going to be an evening of music hall at Greenwich Theatre on 11th March.

Greenwich Then and Now (7)

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Isn’t this glorious?

It’s a (very rare) postcard of the interior of the Pavillion Cafe in Greenwich Park, up by the Observatory – this one, in case your memory needs jogging:

And what a picture. I just love the chandelier – they really knew how to take afternoon tea in Edwardian times. The splendid clock on the wall, the chintz curtains, the grand cabinet of sugary goodies at the back courtesy of Mr J. Hendry (presumably the proprietor) the groovy gas lamps, the floral arrangements, the carved wooden/marble counter, the windsor chairs and the marble tables – it’s all just so – well, civillised.

John Bold tells me it was built between 1906-7 by Sir Henry Tanner of the Board of Works and cost a memorable £1066. It was originally open around the outside at the bottom, with a veranda, which would have looked much daintier – the colonnaded balcony was covered-in in 1967.

Here’s pretty much the same scene now:

It’s okayl – in fact, apart from their frankly steep prices for what you get – the fare is unexciting but does a job, but I still think it’s far too expensive even given its situation – I quite like the cafe now, with its double-decker mezzanine and bright lighting, along with the extra bit around the outside, where they filled in the balcony.

But I can’t help rather wishing I could step into my time machine, don my Edwardian tweed cloak and tricorn and enjoy afternoon tea from the pavillion’s true heyday…

King Charles Pediment (1)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Many of the places you might expect to have elaborate classical sculptures in the Old Royal Naval College tend to be rather forlorn – though when you do get a carved pediment, it’s usually a real humdinger.

Apart from the obvious, the other three buildings of the ORNC are plain but King Charles Building actually has several carved pediments. Thing is, I can find virtually nothing about them. Even the usually-highly-detailed John Bold doesn’t seem to mention the building of the King’s House very much at all, and I certainly haven’t found any explanation of these figures. Here’s the pediment on the east front of the building:

Okay. So the coat of arms doesn’t take much working out. It’s Charles II’s badge, including the garter, but with a couple of cornucopias instead of the Lion and the Unicorn.

I’m even cool with the guy on the right. I’m assuming, given the whole beardy-bloke-with-sea-monster deal, it’s Neptune – all very maritime.

But who’s the woman? And what the hell is she holding? A spike? Some kind of navigational instrument? An obelisk? Something Masonic?

Answers on a virtual postcard, please…