Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

London Archaeologist

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

London Archaeologist is one of those subscription-only magazines that’s almost impossible to buy individually, and few general libraries carry (I’m guessing Greenwich Heritage Centre gets it, but wouldn’t swear to it.) I’ve been subscribing for several years now for that very reason – you can’t pick and choose, but if you like London and you like archaeology, even if it’s not ‘your’ area, it’s still something to read cover to cover and enjoy.

Obviously there’s always loads about the City (yes, even this edition has a feature), not least because there’s always some building being demolished and redeveloped as something with seventy storeys, but I love reading about the City, and they do cover all kinds of stuff too – anything within the M25 area.

Greenwich has been pretty poorly served in the past year or so, but the Winter 2012/13 (Vol 13, No.7) edition is making up for that in spades (well, okay, trowels.)

It’s a special issue about archaeology on the Thames and there are three articles that include digs I’d call ‘local’ – though they’re not necessarily very recent.

The main excitement for me was a six-page, in-depth article about the dig at Anchor Iron Wharf. If you’re a bit hazy about where that is, think the modern develoment of flats with the Cutty Sark Pub on one side and the power station on the other – basically the bit where there’s apartments over a never-used riverside restaurant. The dig took place between 2001-2003, so we’re not looking at hot news here, but I guess that’s the speed that general archaeology goes at (as opposed to big-hitters like the Staffordshire Hoarde and Richard III’s maybe/maybe-not bones…)

It’s a fascinating account, not just of the history of Old Court from non-prehistoric evidence, through more exciting, possibly Royal, Tudor buildings to the site’s acquisition by Morden College, who, given that they own pretty much everything around those parts, probably still hold it, but also of the dig itself, and the issues created by ‘considerable ground contamination,’ not least more than 100 shells left over from WWII.

Further downstream, in an article called Ship to Shore, there is a small piece about the warship remains that still lie on the shore in Charlton just outside the Anchor and Hope, the wonderful Great Eastern launchsite, plus the remains of four wooden craft at Tripcockness, east of Woolwich (and a place of which I had never heard…)

I always enjoy London Archeaology, though it’s usually of rather academic interest for a Greenwich Phantom. This edition, though, really is worth trying to get hold of. The rest of it’s interesting, too. I utterly love the medieval shoes on the front cover, part of a haul of 417 of them (there’s always an odd one, isn’t there…) found at the site of Baynard’s Castle in Westminster, and the story of Thomas Gresham’s shipwreck is also well worth a read.

Pun-Free Jubilee Headline

Friday, June 1st, 2012

I’ve had a lot of questions about the Jubilee celebrations in Greenwich and, not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I’ve been directing people to the council websites’s Jubilee Page and it’s worth reading to the bottom to find out the answer to Pat’s question:

I read that the Bank Holiday celebrations in RNC will end with the opportunity to see the flotilla on the Thames which sounds very exciting!

BUT on the official flotilla website it would appear that the ships/boats will not be coming down as far as Greenwich terminating at Tower Bridge, I think.

Any idea what we might hope to see down here in dear old Greenwich?

Pat’s right – the official flotilla will terminate at Tower Bridge, but some of the ships will continue down to Greenwich, including that nutty floating belfry:

“The elements of the flotilla reaching Greenwich will be led by the belfry barge and will be made up by the Gloriana rowed barge, 10 rowing boats on their way to London Yard, 55 sea cadet boats going to Greenwich Yacht Club, 250 historic, recreational and working squadrons, 8 herald music boats, 10 Thames Clippers going to Greenwich Pier.”

So if you don’t want to brave temperatures of 11° and twenty-deep crowds in town, it could well be worth going to Greenwich around 5.00pm for an hour’s worth of ships going by (thought don’t bother going to the official pageant website for more information as the council site suggests; there’s nothing there at all) on their way home – I’m assuming a fair few of them will have left their kit at the various rowing/boating/yachting clubs around here.

Happy Jubilee-ing!


Greenwich and the London River

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Hard to believe now, with the veritable tsunami of volumes that have been released in the past couple of years, that I started this blog, coming up for six years ago, largely because of the paucity of books about Greenwich, and in particular books like this, covering not just the pomp and history of the town but its people and day-to-day life.

Any book written by Paul Tempest, whose knowledge I trust, photographed by Stephen Tempest, whose images of the old St Andrews church on the peninsula still haunt me and, more than anything, illustrated by Peter Kent, a personal hero of mine, whose work I can stand in front of for hours, is going to get a general thumbs up from me – hell they could write about the sewage problem and I’d be interested (oh, hang on, they do…)

And this is a book you can pick up, read through, put down, then pick up again and find a whole lot new to fascinate and enjoy. It’s just about the most up to date it can be, with photographs and information that can only have been added a few scant weeks ago and it covers huge amounts, with clear lists, good bullet points and excellent articles. I love that the events photographed I was often at, that the people in the photos are people I actually see around town, for some reason it feels all the closer to know that these people walk the same streets I do, and love the same things.

The information is clear, concise enough to be digested quickly, but with enough detail to give a feeling of depth and, well, the illustrations are by Peter Kent. Did I say that already?

I’m a little less enthusiastic about the book’s production values. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic-looking volume and the content is so engrossing it’s not a big deal, but for me the layout process isn’t as invisible as it could have been. One or two of the pages feel a bit like a local authority brochure and I found myself a little frustrated at the double-page spreads where the bit I was most interested in was positioned in the binding.

Of course this is unavoidable with the style of book this is, and I appreciate the choice the publishers have made – the book has been properly bound with saddle-stitch so I CAN open the book completely to see the drawings without the whole thing falling to pieces.

Furthermore I realise that the price you pay for digital printing and full colour throughout is a slightly ‘muddy’ feel to the photos (somehow drawings tend to have an easier ride) and I’m totally cool with that. On balance I’d far rather have very slightly darker, marginally fuzzier colour photos throughout than a couple of plates in the middle of a book. But there are points here where instead of enjoying a photo for its own sake, I found myself thinking ‘they’ve photoshopped that’ – perhaps a picture has been stretched to fit the space for it  and all the people are long and thin, or an old photograph  has an odd, cross-hatched effect across it – something that occasionally happens to me when I scan things for the blog; I think it’s when I try to scan it at too low a resolution.

Overall, though, that’s carping about tiny stuff that the vast majority of readers won’t even notice. This book is the sort of thing I wish I’d written. It’s wide-ranging, doesn’t concentrate on the Royal history, glitter and pomp at the expense of the people that make Greenwich so vibrant today, takes wonderful little digressions about small but important issues, photos that make me smile, make me remember and make me proud and illustrations by Peter Kent, I don’t think I mentioned that earlier.

I think this will sell beautifully to tourists, but I don’t think it’s actually aimed at them. This isn’t a guide book for a day trip. This is a guidebook for locals – or for someone who is thinking of  becoming one. Probably because it’s written by long-term residents and lovers of Greenwich (not always a given, there is at least one ‘definitive’ book out there that I am convinced was written by someone who doesn’t actually like the place) I think the book sums the town up perfectly (and  makes forays into other places along the river, though I still don’t think that justifies Boris Johnson’s typically-random, unconnected-with-Greenwich-in-any-way introduction – has the guy ever actually been here?) and if you’re starting a Greenwich bookshelf, I’d suggest this as an early buy.

An Alphabet of London

Monday, February 27th, 2012

It’s hard to work out quite what I’d describe Christopher Brown’s Alphabet of London as. Memoir? Puzzle? Art? Design manual? Commentary? Reportage? It’s a bit of all of those things, and although it will probably just be filed under ‘London’ in bookshops it could easily be described as any of the above.

Artist Christopher Brown works with linocut – the sort of thing most of us do in primary school then forget exists. He must have got through entire kitchens’ worth of lino over the years but, as he tells us in a sort of ‘how-to’ at the end, he’s brought the medium up to date by combining Photoshop and Pantone colours with the more traditional gouging tools and tracing paper.

He’s exhibited all over the place, from the RA to the V&A, but An Alphabet of London is clearly a labour of love. He has poured his life and personal experiences into its creation, juxtaposing obvious things with stuff you need to spend a little time to work out and  although the cover (and the title) make it look like a hip kids’ book, but it takes an adult to get all the references.

It starts out as a charming little memoir – Brown lived much of his early life in Putney and gradually learned to explore and love the rest of the city. But just as you get into the swing of the memoir format, the alphabet-proper begins.

Each letter gets a double-page spread, with one landmark and an array of things beginning with that letter which sum up London to Brown. I turned immediately to ‘G’ of course:

but although the Gherkin, Great Fire and Gilbert and George were there, I needed to turn to ‘O’ for ‘Observatory’, ‘Q’ for Queens House and ‘R’ for Royal Naval College to find Greenwich. It takes a while to work out what some of the entries stand for, which makes it a charming book to read snuggled up by the fire with someone else, perhaps a child, perhaps a lover.

An Alphabet of London is not the sort of book you buy for yourself – well, not the sort of thing I can usually buy for myself. It’s not a ‘must-have’ reference volume. It’s the sort of book you want to have; the sort of thing you purchase as a gift and hope someone buys for you in return.

Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids

Monday, October 17th, 2011

A Journey Through the English Ritual Year. Sara Hannant

I can’t imagine that there’s anyone who’d be interested in buying this book who wouldn’t, on seeing the title. think of another volume probably already sitting on their shelves.

Steve Roud’s The English Year is, IMHO, the definitive work on the history and practice of English rites and rituals – covering, in eye-popping detail, pretty much every egg-rolling, face-pulling, pig-tossing, whip-willowing event the villagers of every county in the land have invented (or to be more accurate, usually reinvented in the late 20th Century) since antiquity and although he does fail to mention Greenwich’s very own nutty event, tumbling, I’ll forgive him that one as it was outlawed in 1857 and no one’s bothered to revive it (yet.)

I have to say that, as the proud owner of a fabulously pastel-tinted-hardcover copy of  The English Year it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need another month-by-month coverage of events, but I do have to give Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids points for winning over Roud’s masterpiece in two ways. Firstly, Roud spectacularly fails to alliterate his title (though the subtitle does include  ’from May Day to Mischief Night,’ which proves that the letter M is very important in English folklore.)

But, seriously, folks, the one thing that, now I think about it, Roud doesn’t really include in The English Year is illustrations. He has a few, but the emphasis is very much on the text and including lots of information. And it’s quite hard, if you haven’t actually had to get out of the way very fast of the path of a flaming tar barrel dragged by a couple of scary chaps in stripy jumpers or, indeed, if you’ve been too hungover to get up for the annual ivy-covered-man’s shindig at the Globe Theatre (ahem) to know what it looks like.

Sara Hannant, being a photographer, has taken the visual route through the English year, trudging around the country seeing people getting as close as they can to their roots. She’s a relative newcomer to English rites and rituals, having been fascinated by Deptford’s annual Jack in the Green May Day celebrations in 2006 and must have spent a considerable amount of time with people in very odd costumes/makeup/leaves ever since – at least one one the events, the Lewes Fireworks, must have been last year, since, along with the usual pope and local ‘enemies of the bonfire’, the ‘guy’ ( always a topical figure stuffed with fireworks who’s paraded around the streets then set fire to) was an alarmingly realistic David Cameron with Nick Clegg as a puppet.

Hannant has taken a good selection of happenings, from the social events that would have brought villages together to the spiritual, though of course many will have had a spiritual base when they were begun. The only thing that seems to link them all are the sundry unlikely items which almost always turn out to be ‘symbols of fertility.’

I found it an oddly moving book. The pictures are thoughtful – from wide angle shots through to single faces and odd objects and something that really struck me that there’s no faux ‘mistiness’ or attempt to look olde worlde, which I’ve seen in other books on ritual. Much of our traditional eventing seems to take place at night, but given how dark a good two thirds of our nights are, that’s understandable.

I like too, that Hannant realises that these events are not just for the participants. Something I’ve always been impressed with locally is the way the Blackheath Morris Men will often get up before dawn to go and dance on the heath to mark a solstice or an equinox, and they feel no necessity to have any kind of spectators. They do it for themselves. But other events have more watchers than doers and I can never work out whether this is welcome or not.

I was particularly taken, not by the image of the actual Druids at Stonehenge (I’m sorry, I know its a failing, but I just can’t take Druids seriously…) but the photo on the next page of the hundreds of spectators, nearly all of whom are holding up cameras, mobile phones, cam-corders etc.

From a local point of view, there’s a splendid few pages devoted to Hannant’s inspiration, the Deptford Jack in the Green, and Fowler’s Troop. I like the scantily-clad lady throwing offerings to the Thames next to a couple of fertility-bathtubs, but my favourite shot is the fabulously incongruous image of a bloke entirely covered in leaves looking as though he’s just about to hop on the tube at Monument.

There are good, pithy captions with each set of photographs giving enough information to understand the context of the events, but the emphasis is on the images.

There are very, very few events in this volume that don’t appear to have been revived in the late 20th Century. That doesn’t  matter. This is not a history book. If you’re looking for that, get Roud. This is more a (literal) snapshot of what is going on within English folklore now, in the early 21st Century when, more and more, people are looking to their past to make sense of the present.

I said I found it an oddly moving book. There’s an exhibition of photographs from the book at the Horniman Museum running until next September. I should imagine seeing them even larger will make them even more haunting.


The Port of London Murders

Monday, June 27th, 2011

When I hear that an interesting person lived in Greenwich (and let’s face it, most of ‘em come here eventually, and if they spend more than an afternoon round these parts I claim ‘em for our very own…) then I just have to find out more about them. Writers and artists seemed to have found the place fascinating and though these days property prices are beginning to send them down the road to Deptford we still have a few.

Josephine Bell was one of the earlier of the modern authors (contemporary with another, more famous writer with whom she must have been neighbours, I’ll come onto him another day)  and she’s particularly fascinating because, like so many writers even today, she juggled two jobs. I confess that I haven’t read any of her prolific crime series, but I was drawn to the one-off  Port of London Murders because, although it is never named, I’ll put money on Greenwich being the deeply seedy, run-down world of slums and squalor the action turns around. I’ll even wager that this is one of the more personal books for her; it’s certainly one of her earliest.

Doris Bell Collier wasn’t actually from Greenwich. She was born in Manchester, and studied to become a medical doctor at Cambridge and University College Hospital. But somewhere along the way and slightly confusingly, Bell married a chap called Ball and between 1927 and 1935 they practiced medicine in Greenwich. Now, I can’t actually find out where she practiced – whether she was a GP or perhaps a hospital doctor, but as I read the Port of London Murders I found my mind drawn to the Royal Kent Dispensary, which I’ll talk about another day, as it’s worth a post on its own (not least in that the Miller Hospital, which it was part of, was the first place to have circular wards to stop dirty corners) as the story is based around a pre-NHS world where poverty meant that people went for years without medicine, ignored chronic illnesses and relied on charity handouts.

Apparently many of Bell’s crime novels are medically-based, but the reason I think that she was talking from experience here is the humour factor.

This story has been written by someone who has not only seen the misery and suffering of London’s underclass, but has seen the other side of the system too – the fakers, the hypochondriacs, the skivers – and the keepers-up-with-the-Joneses. The two main families, living next door to each other in condemned housing by the river (which if they are not the slums just behind Wood Wharf that Ronald Richards and Derek Bayliss describe in their wonderful Victorian Wood Wharf and Greenwich Riverside I’ll eat my tricorn) compete with each other for ailments – and the doctor’s attention. The doctor in question practices from what I’ll swear is somewhere along Greenwich High Road and is constantly beleaguered with cases both tragically real and comically fake.

I’ve just realised how hard it is to review a crime novel without spoilers, so I’ll stick to what I am convinced is the  Greenwich stuff. According to Richards and Bayliss (whose mention made me go out and find her), Bell, her husband and four children lived locally and clearly knew the Thames Street/Wood Wharf area intimately. She talks about (perhaps from her own doctorial visits) the same cottages that Richards and Bayliss describe in detail; the truly condemned – literally falling apart around their occupants’ ears.

They are grim, despised places, and the residents are under pressure to move out so they can be demolished by the great and good (the book takes place just as the demolition is beginning) but Bell is careful to show the attachment the people feel to them – and the fear of what will happen to them if they go (think the Kidbrooke saga – plus ça change…)

Actually Greenwich itself (okay, okay, the unnamed Thames-side town) is pretty grim. The Thames is at the same time a source of income, a highway, a playground and a deadly foe. People survive however they can. Children play among the daily wreckage  - of ships and cargo and human flotsam.

All this could have made for a rather worthy study of poverty and a shock exposé of working (and middle) class crime, both petty and larger scale, and for, frankly, a grim read. But Josephine Bell has managed to create real people here –  people who don’t let daily desperation rule their lives. They even surprise themselves on occasion with unexpected acts of heroism,  random generosity and the odd moment of honesty.

I don’t think I’ll be revealing too much to say that the murderer is flagged up reasonably early for a crime novel, and that part of the story is watching everything disintegrate. And it’s only mildly depressing that at the end, despite the ‘optimistic’ beginning of demolition to build the Meridian unnamed new estate, the last image we are left with is another tide’s worth of flotsam and jetsum.

If you’re going to read this book (and I recommend you do, it’s pretty cheap in secondhand book stores and it’s an interesting crime story) I suggest you read it alongside Richards and Bayliss’s Victorian  Wood Wharf and Greenwich Riverside, available in the Tourist Office, where you can entertain yourself with photos of what may well be the pub the old geezers all meet in, diagrams of the stoves inside the cottages and anecdotal snippets of the world Josephine Bell describes.

London’s Lost Rivers

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Long-term Phantophiles may remember the slightly-depressing-but-hugely-important Derelict London, a labour of love by photographer Paul Talling. Arising out of a superb website it was Talling’s love letter to the deserted, unloved parts of London.

The website for Talling’s latest project is the opposite –  a site arising from a book. Although it has a sample chapter and suggestions for walks, it is very much a promotion for the book, rather than an entity with its own life.

That’s not to say this isn’t a very enjoyable book. I know relatively little about the rivers that used to flow freely into the Thames from all around London and now are forced to find their way through underground conduits, sewers and canals. I know more now than I did even a couple of years ago, as there has been quite a preponderance of volumes on the subject – from serious, heavyweight stuff by guys like Iain Sinclair through to a new wave of London-centric novelists such as Greenwich’s Own Christopher Fowler (the superb Water Room is easily the best of his Bryant & May series) and, more recently, Ben Aaronovitch, the plod’s  answer to J K Rowling, but I am no potamologist .

Where this particular book succeeds is when it works in tandem with other volumes. Paul Talling has set himself the task of finding out exactly where these rivers run, and, perhaps more interestingly, where they finally break free. The photographs, whether of graveyards boiling with mouldering headstones, completely dry streets whose geography reveals  the bed of a former tributary or what looks like a slightly dull water feature in the basement of Grays Antiques but turns out to be the Tyburn, are fabulous, and work extremely well with the largely-print works that others have come up with.

That I don’t feel the same passion coming from the pages I did with ‘Derelict London’ is, perhaps, explained in his intro where he says that after his first book he ‘began looking around for a new obsession.’ In my experience you don’t look for obsessions, they find you. But that doesn’t negate what the book does, which is record an ephemeral and (occasionally bleakly) beautiful vision of London, with great photos and pithy extras.

Of course Greenwich town doesn’t actually have its own river – the Ravensbourne just clips our Western edge (and isn’t particularly ‘lost’, anyway.) Perhaps this is because we have dozens of little springs that, pre-medieval times and the network of conduits, found their own way down to the Thames without a particular need to join up. But Talling, arguably ‘cheating,’  (they’re not rivers) but also, just as arguably, ‘justified’ (they are wet – and largely ‘lost’)  includes the old Docklands both North and South of the river, with Woolwich Dockyard just about squeaking in at the very last entry.

In my experience people who are interested in Greenwich don’t restrict themselves to the town’s history (the only reason I mainly do so here is because I need to stay on-topic; in real life I am just as interested in London in general…) And as a collector of all things London, I love this book. Being pocket-sized and paperback, it’s small enough to arm myself with on a jaunt to discover these places, yet also works as a reference work and, much like Talling’s earlier masterpiece, is a valuable record of things that will not last forever.


A Wander Through Wartime London

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Pen & Sword, £12.99

The first thing to note about this book is that, for sundry technical reasaons, although the authors are listed as Clive Harris and Neil Bright, much of the  reasearch for this book of walks. or at least for the Greenwich and Blackheath one, was done by none other than our very own Stephen of Blitzwalkers, who knows our area and its bombed-out years better than pretty much anyone. 

The book’s made up of five walks, three of which are south of the river, which shows how transpontine levels of devastation were just as bad, if not worse than some of the dreadful scenes in the East End that are usually wheeled out when the Blitz is mentioned. Actually, this book avoids the East End entirely; but there have already been so many of those walks documented that it’s worth treading a bit of new ground.

Marylebone, Bermondsey, Southwark, Bloomsbury/Holborn and Blackheath/Greenwich are covered and though I had a glimpse through the others, I homed in on the latter for obvious reasons.

Anyone who’s been on one of Stephen’s walks will probably be familiar with much of the material in this book. It starts in Blackheath, and wends its way over to Greenwich town centre via the Paragon and the heath itself, but it’s a nice companion to have if you’ve already done the walk, and carries clear instructions if you haven’t.

I like that it includes little snippets about things you’re passing that don’t really have much to do with the war, they’re just interesting, as well as the nitty gritty stuff about sites of bombs, bunkers, volunteer centres, first-aid posts, gun-slits and anti-missile defences, plus a whole bunch of facts and figures you’d never remember if you were just walking round. 

I particularly like the little anecdotes about incidents that may seem small enough now, but which would have been deadly serious then – like the ‘bomb’ in someone’s front room that turned out to be the nose cone of an anti-aircraft shell – alarming but not actually deadly. Not all the stories have as happy an ending as that one. 

The detail comes thick and fast when it reaches Greenwich; I personally would have liked a few more paragraphs, or even numbers so that I wouldn’t lose my place when walking, though maybe that would be dumbing down a little too much. Similarly, though perfect-bound makes a very handsome volume, perhaps a spiral binding would have made it more practical for walkers (I’m not sure how practical books like this are meant to be, though – are they indended to be taken out by hikers, or enjoyed by the fireside?) 

I cannot fault the sheer amount of detail and the way the style hovers squarely between ‘academic’ and ‘popular’ – it flows well, is a real pleasure to read and it has all manner of little snippets in it I didn’t know. For a second edition, my spectral tongue hangs out to know where all the incredible photos that stud the text were sourced – there are several that are absolutely jaw-dropping, such as the devastation on Weymyss Road and Burney Street, and I was absolutely delighted to see a photo of one of the famous stretcher railings actually in use as a stretcher during the war (John was telling me the other day that as well as the ones in Greenwich High Road, there was also a set of stretcher fences around the local authority flats in Eastney Street that, as a guide he used to point out to visitors – until the council replaced them with boring bog-standard versions, chiz.) I can make a guess as to where these incredible pictures can be found, but it would be good to be sure – perhaps a list at the end of the book would do it. 

All in all, a nice addition to the bookshelf. Hell – I might even try one of the walks outside Greenwich for a bit of a change. Now that’s Phantom approval…

If you’re all fired up for a nice wartime walk, Stephen himself will be conducting the first of this year’s batch on Sunday 6th March. As usual, the meet is outside All Saints Church, Blackheath at 11 a.m. and finishes in Royal Hill near the pubs! They’re holding our prices at last year’s prices, so 2 3/4 hours walk will cost you £7. Details can be found on the Blitzwalkers website above.

Royal Greenwich Through Time

Friday, September 17th, 2010

David Ramzan, Amberley, £14.99

I’m writing today’s post with a hangover and it’s all this book’s fault.  Well, actually, no,  it’s The Phantom Webmaster’s fault. Oh, okay, it’s a bit my fault.

Let me explain. There is a Phantom Post Office Box to which lovely items are sometimes sent to me, and very exciting it is too when that happens. TPW very kindly collects said  items and passes them onto me. Trouble is, that whenever we meet alcohol inevitably happens, I end up doing something embarrassing and writing the next morning’s post with a headache. And on a schoolday too. Ouch.

Thing is, when the item turns out to be a new book by David Ramzan, full of jubbly pictures and entertaining captions, a pint of Berocca gets downed in one, the vast amounts of parcel tape get ripped off (and I mean vast – I know the Phantom P.O. box is several postcodes away, but it is still in this dimension…) and I sit, extra-strong coffee in spectral paw, ready to hoover up enjoyment.

And it is enjoyment. Ostensibly a ‘then and now’ book (which reminds me – I must do a few more of those) it consists of two pictures on each page, one an old photo/postcard/engraving, the other a photo of what’s there today. It’s divided into three sections – a sort of overview of the famous historic stuff, which I suspect will appeal mainly to visitors, a middle part which is about people in the community, something Ramzan knows all about, and a final chapter dealing with the river – for work and pleasure.

Each page has a thoughtful (and often diplomatic) caption of, I’d say, about a hundred words, which I assume has been scientifically worked out to be the number of words people will actually read rather than just flick through looking at the pictures.

The pictures that work best are the ones where Ramzan has managed to capture the image from exactly the same angle as the original, for example the splendid photo of the Greenwich Park Conduit on p.15 (the one that is also in John Bold’s Greenwich) which shows how someone shamefully filled in the entrance and the sweet little pond, no doubt for Health and Safety reasons but IMHO a loss to the park as a whole.  I also liked the pic on p.29, showing College Approach during the war, complete with scaffolding – white-painted at the bottom for blackouts.  The pictures that are inexplicably taken from a different angle (when it wouldn’t have been impossible to get exact shots) are nice, but don’t feel as well ‘tied-in’ with the originals. What I do like though, is the way Ramzan has been imaginative with pictures that don’t naturally fit – for example the cadet sailors at the old naval school are juxtaposed with school children on a day trip to the Maritime Museum; the scary frozen Thames in 1895 balanced with a picture of Ballast Quay last winter.

I missed dates of most of the original pictures. Of course some will not be dated, but the few places where approximations have been made enrich the scene – for example what is probably my favourite page in the book, 33, of some sturdy drinking companions in the 1950s (I particularly enjoyed the fellow on the left in the Christmas jumper and bobble hat), twinned with a snap of Ramzan’s own drinking pals now (as always, Ramzan’s text is best when it takes a personal note – see the ‘then and now’ wedding pics on P.54/55.)

Several pictures tug at the heartstrings of an architecture lover. The splendid dome that used to sit atop Greenwich Town Hall (now Greenwich West Community Centre), lost to a flying bomb in 1939. The Green Man on Blackheath, lost to a horrid block of flats. The splendid Munyard’s Grocery Stores on London Street (Greenwich High Road), lost to the ghastly un-named shopping complex where Somerfield is. The Good Duke Humphrey pub on Trafalgar Road, lost to a car park.

And Crane Street. Oh, Crane Street. Ramzan’s old and new pictures are terrifying – with just a fraction of the lovely old stuff remaining. I would have loved to have wandered down past the old weatherboarded buildings, stopped at the Crown and Sceptre to ‘admire the view’ before hiring one of Corbett’s boats for a little jaunt on the river.

Though perhaps not this morning. For me, another Berocca awaits as I curse myself for that last bottle of wine…

East Greenwich History Map

Monday, July 5th, 2010

It’s not often a new map of Greenwich comes along. In fact the guys over at  Londonist were so desperate for a hand-drawn map of Greenwich that they asked me (don’t hold your breath – I’ve got as far as buying a big bit of paper and a couple of felt-tipped pens…) The last ’officially art’ map, by a real artist,  that I know of is the sort-of-fun-but-utterly-baffling Emotion Map  which I dutifully bought, only to find out that apparently where I live is ‘low-to-medium arousal.’ Pah.

So I was rather excited to see that Rich Sylvester’s project to create a map of East Greenwich and the peninsula, charting historical stuff that went on there at various times has finally been published.

I like the way that old layouts are overlaid with modern versions, and the way that what could be a jumble of periods is dealt with clearly and concisely. It’s well-signed with symbols that tell you why each bit is interesting – from where V1 and V2 rockets fell, through curious people who have lived/still live there to present and previous buildings and wildlife to look out for.

For me, it opens up a whole new series of questions – on the back there are some basic facts about the things mentioned – but this is much more a stimulus than a destination. Names, both evocative and intriguingly mundane, act as catalysts to get out the history books, nip to the library or even pay a visit to the Heritage Centre. There’s a great timeline down the side, too, that follows East Greenwich’s noble history for just over a millennium.

This is a fantastic addition to local history – an absolute must for every Phantom Reader – and the best bit of all is that it’s free, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. But be quick – if memory serves there were only 2,000 printed so they’ll be at a premium (and are probably offered for sale on ebay already, from greedy, bad people.) Perhaps there will be a second edition if they ‘sell’ out – but don’t count on it; get your copy now.

Pick up a copy at:

  • Greenwich Heritage Centre, Building 41, Royal  Arsenal, SE18 6SP
  • Blackheath Library, Old Dover Rd, SE3 (closed Weds,)
  • East Greenwich Library (closed Weds, Mon/Fri a.m.)
  • West Greenwich Library (closed Weds, Mon/Fri a.m.)
  • Greenwich Communications Centre 164 Trafalgar Road, SE10
  • Warwick Leadlay Gallery, Nelson Arcade , Greenwich Market
  • Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, Thames Path, John Harrison Way SE10 0QZ  (NOTE: Closed Mon/Tues)
  • Greenwich Peninsula Business Centre

I should probably also mention that there are two related History Walks, led by Rich Sylvester, whose baby the project is.The first one is on 23rd July at 7.30pm (Peninsula); the second, 25 July at 10.30am (East Greenwich). Booking is essential.