Archive for the ‘Secret Greenwich’ Category

Two saved projects, one pending…

Friday, January 30th, 2015

There’s been a lot of bad stuff gone on while I’ve had my eye off the Greenwich Time Ball, but it’s not all horrors. Two projects especially, that we discussed at length over the years, have come to fruition.

I am utterly delighted that against the odds Severndroog Castle not only survived being a vandalised – and vandalisable  - ruin earmarked for private offices to become a fabulous observation tower for all. I love visiting, and the views, especially in winter, are fabulous.

Then there’s the swing bridge across Capital Quay. It was on, it was off, it was a high-rise affair, it was shelved. The money was ear-marked, the money was already spent. But now we have it and no longer do we have to trudge round Creek Road risking life, limb and lungs to get from one part of the Thames Path to the next.

But the success of these two projects for me only highlights how much else needs to be done to keep Greenwich as vibrant and individual as it can be given the blandification of the steel and glass dreariness springing up around us. I worry for the safety of the Thames Path further down, one of the few remaining bits where you can feel you’re in somewhere that is both industrial and wild, is under serious threat of steel and glass.

Then, just to keep me awake on the nights I don’t worry about that, the University of Greenwich have announced they intend to sell their Avery Hill campus, complete with the glorious Winter Gardens.

This fabulous glass fantasy is currently open to all, if a little crumbling around the edges. If it is sold, there is no guarantee that it will be even retained, let alone for public use.

The Friends of Avery Hill Park are organising a Facebook campaign – being an old and crusty Phantom I can’t find my way around Facebook so you’ll have to find it for yourselves, but I don’t see why a similar campaign that fought and won Severndroog couldn’t be arranged here – there was already applications for lottery funding to help restore the gardens. I, for one, will be happy to get behind any such project.

It has a slight advantage over Severndroog too, commercially.

While Severndroog is beautiful, it can’t take vast numbers of people so it’s not great for weddings or parties – Avery Hill could, with a little rejiggery, be perfect – though of course for me part of its joy is the quiet seclusion you can find just walking in any day…

So – a pat on the back for projects complete, a call to arms for projects to come…

The Man in the Moon Murder

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Man in the Moon by Stephen Craven

Many moons ago we were discussing the Man in the Moon, a former pub on Old Woolwich Road now converted into flats.

Someone mentioned that there had been a murder there, but given I had no idea whether this was in Victorian times or more recently it was difficult to check it out. Not least that it’s pretty taboo – I mean – developers really don’t like to advertise unpleasant things that happened in a property’s previous existence when they’re trying to flog apartments. I confess that, like many things on this site, I let it go, and, frankly forgot about it, only remembering when I walked past.

Then I got an email from someone who moved into the nearby Ernest Dence Estate in the late 1970s. My emailer confirmed there was a murder there, albeit accidental. After the Man in the Moon stopped being a pub, it became a sweet shop.

“One evening the lady that owned the shop was robbed on the premises by a lad off the estate and he pushed her down the stairs which in turn killed her. He spent about 30 years in prison for his actions.”

So – there you have it. At some point when I get time I’ll go through all the microfiche newspapers for the period and find the whole story but for now I want to reflect on what seems to be a very hazardous profession – sweet shop proprietor on corners of the Old Woolwich Road.

While I was pondering this post, I remembered another query from years ago, where Karen tells the sad story of her great-grandparents, who also owned a sweet shop there. The business was, apparently, a disaster (not least, I imagine, because it was during the war when sugar was rationed) and tragedy struck, the family believes, when Karen’s great-grandfather fell and died trying to mend the roof after bomb damage.

To add insult to injury, the Naval College forced all the residents to sell their properties to them at ridiculously low prices so they could build something grand but the plans fell through and that particular sweet shop is now somewhere under the car park at the end of Eastbury Street.

So all you would-be entrepreneurs – whatever you do, if someone offers you the East Greenwich franchise of Mr Humbug on a suspiciously empty corner of Old Woolwich Road you have been warned. Do not touch it with even the longest stick of barley sugar…

Greenwich’s Heritage Wall

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

This, folks, is a Heritage Wall. No, I don’t know what makes a heritage wall either, but whatever they are, this is one. Mark and I have been wondering if this means it might enjoy some level of protection, given all the controversy in this little part of town, but I’m not counting on it.

It’s an oddity – on the beer garden side (i.e. the pub side) it has blocked up doors and windows and on the green side, it’s clearly had the rest of it removed save for some white tiles – perhaps it’s what’s left of bomb damage?

But these ‘memorials’ fascinate me. They say who erected them but fail to say what or who they remember.

I’m assuming they’re left over from the churchyard – but maybe not?

So – a bunch of unanswered questions today.

A) What actually is a Heritage Wall – and does that give it any protection whatsoever?

B) What used to be here – Shops? Houses? St Peters?

C) Who do these memorials remember?

Answers on a postcard, please…

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…?

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…

Pigsty Alley

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

How fab is this? The newest sign in Greenwich is a revival of an 18th Century name for what remains of a ancient thoroughfare. David, who sent me the photo, tells me that the alley, which runs between Maidenstone Hill and Winforton Street, originally ran much further north but post-war clearances severed it.

I’ve been looking on various old maps for the alley but without luck – maybe someone has one?

David says “ironically there is no evidence as far as I can see for there being sties in the area, although the keeping of pigs and chickens in back yards would not have been uncommon in days gone by.”

Indeed – I know of at least one garden with very fancy chickens up there now…

Hooray for the council allowing themselves to be persuaded to use old names, however unflattering. I wish they had taken such an attitude when assigning titles to the tedious new streets in the ‘Heart’ of East Greenwich…

The Case of the Missing Paintings

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Folks, I’m back. Not sure how long for, but hey, I’ll do my best while I’m around. I’m starting today with an odd request from an Australian sports historian, James Brear:

James asks

This is a long shot, but you never know. Can you help? I’m looking for three paintings, a portrait of Captain George Brunswick Smyth, Smyth with his horses and dogs, and a painting of his yacht. The works in question were left to Lady Rose Emily Maryon Wilson by her aunt Constantia Smyth, the widow of the captain. They were sent from Australia to Charlton House in 1900. I have tried many avenues but so far to no avail. Anything at all would be greatly appreciated.

Captain George Brunswick Smyth, I have learned, was an officer in charge of Port Philip military police in 1839 (which now means I know two things about Port Phillip – that it had a policeman called George Brunswick Smith and that it’s home to a colony of penguins…) and it is alleged that the area of Brunswick was named for him, though another theory is that it was named for splendid scarlet woman and jolly Greenwich resident Caroline of Brunswick.

Now, I’m assuming that James’s ‘many avenues’ have included Charlton House itself and various Charlton luminaries such as Carol Kenna of Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project and the Charlton Champion. Greenwich Council took over the house in 1925 but I assume the family kept the furniture and other fittings, especially things that have a personal (if distant) link like paintings.

I don’t know what became of the Maryon Wilsons – the baronetcy died out in the 1970s, if memory serves, but I think there are still family members around. I am sure someone will know. If I had the hours in the day it might be worth looking through the papers for 1925, the year of the sale and seeing if there was an auction, I guess.

George SMyth is not a household name in Britain, so frankly these paintings could be anywhere and possibly not even named. ‘Fraid Phantom Towers doesn’t have any pictures of 19th Century policemen, dogs, horses or yachts, but I’ll keep an eye out next time I’m at Greenwich Auctions…

It’s an odd one. I don’t know why James needs to find these paintings but I know there are Phantophiles out there who enjoy a treasure hunt, so I’m passing it on.

Then and Now (9)

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Haven’t had one of these for ages. This is the rustic fountain near the top of Lovers Walk in Greenwich park. I don’t know exactly when the photo was taken but this cars was sent on February 12th, 1909 as a birthday card to Violet from ‘Aunt’.

I tend to forget this funny little confection exists, tucked away as it is in a little dingly dell, and it does look like it’s been there forever.

Certainly if you read Chapter Four of the extraordinary Goddesses, Guardians and Groves, by Jack Gale, a book I thoroughly recommend for its utterly unique take on Greenwich’s spiritual history, you’d learn that, according to psychics, the stones that were used to create it in the 1860s (as a possible replacement for the Keepers Cottage nearby, which had served refreshments but was being demolished) had been moved to Greenwich Park long before that.

Gale calls it the Motherstone Fountain and tells us that psychic Carole Young, when tuning into the stones in 1988 had an acute awareness of the Bluebell Hill area of Kent, where you’ll find several magaliths, including Kit Coty’s House (well worth a trip BTW). She also felt that the site had ‘a powerful influence on its surroundings, sensing a brooding , serious and powerful atmosphere.” Indeed, she felt ‘a sense of Albion’s destiny; a place important to Britain itself; also the curious awareness of a prince returning to his consort.’

On top of that she sensed Greenwich Fair, subtle earth energies and a mysterious ‘Man in Black’ (we’ll deal with him another day, eh…)

Blimey. I recommend you read the book for more extraordinary insights into Greenwich’s spiritual side; today, I want to look at the postcard itself.

I was keen to get a shot from the same angle, but when I got there, I found I couldn’t. There was a walloping great nettle patch in my way and although my friend told me it wasn’t stinging season, I wasn’t taking any chances.

At first I thought the negative had been printed in reverse, but no – there was the path of Lovers Walk, and the trees, though slightly larger around the girth (aren’t we all…) were still there.

Perhaps there was an official path back in Edwardian times, or maybe the little unofficial trackway was a bit wide then. I guess the picture could have been taken at a different time of year when the nettles weren’t waist high.

Whatever – this is the closest I got to the exact angle:

It’s still a charming, quiet, slightly mysterious part of the park, near an even more charming, quiet and slightly mysterious dell.  In fact I actually think it looks better now than it did a hundred years ago – the greenery and slightly overgrown-ness suits it well.

Even if you don’t buy Jack Gale’s pagan interpretations of the stones, it’s worth a visit. Not that I recommend the water these days…

Enderby Steps

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Look like they’ve been here forever, don’t they? In fact the first thing I thought of when I saw the steps at Enderby Wharf on the west side of the Thames Path was the crazy coastal rock carvings by the Abbé Fouré on the northern French coast.

In fact they’re not that old and they’re not even stone but that doesn’t stop the Enderby Steps being one of my favorite secret things about Greenwich. And like so many secret things – and I sigh to say this – they are in danger.

It will be no surprise to regular Phantophiles that they were initiated by prolific local artist Carol Kenna, of the Greenwich Mural Workshop responsible for so much amazing public art around here.

The initiative to re-established Enderby Steps was supposed to be  for the leadup to the Millennium, but time ran out so Carol, impressively un-putoffable, suggested it to be part of the Groundwork Thames Gateway project, which put the seating there and – somewhat pointlessly in the event – sugested improvements to Enderby House and a revitalisation of Enderby Wharf.

Oh, yes, there were big ideas. All manner of environmental improvements and art projects along the waterfront between Lovells Wharf and Bay Wharf. If you’re wondering what the large metal circle in the ground between the Dome and the aggregates site is, it’s the site of a proposed sculpture.

A steering group was formed – including unlikely bedfellows Alcatel, Amylum Refineries, Greenwich Council – and Greenwich Mural Workshop (mainly because the year before GMW had held a conference of their own, called When Land Meets Water, but also because I think that even that short while ago, there was a different attitude to the arts. Sadly money – or the lack of it – has eclipsed any idea of corporate involvement in making the envrionment beautiful. Just look at the fate of two of the delegates mentioned above…)

The steps were actually carved by sculptor Richard Lawrence. They were based on the original steps that formed part of a landing stage that ferried workers between Alcatel and the ships moored in the deep water that received the cables produced in the factory onland. There is still some of the winding gear on Enderby Pier that guided the cables onto the ships, where they were stored in giant conical piles on ship. If you’d like to know more, there’s a website about it all here.

Carol and Richard researched the industrial history side with the help of Mary Mills and the Alcatel archives (no one seems to know what happened to them when Alcatel was literally reduced to rubble).

I had thought the carvings on the steps were random abstract designs but they actually show the industrial history of the Peninsula from rush makers to high tech cable production.

They’re are made from a special hard wood that will stand decades of water washing over them and Alcatel undertook to keep them clean of algae before they sold the site. I certainly (somewhere) have a relatively recent photo of them clear of green goo – but ever since the company went, nature has moved in.

Of course, knowing Greenwich, nature is the least of the worries regarding history and art.

I’m not really sure how I missed this on the Cruise liner terminal planning permission that was granted on March 30th 2012 – but there you go. I guess I was looking at the buildings – and the way Enderby House would be treated within the landscape ( I still think it would make a great pub or tea rooms, though less charming in the middle of all that tedious glass and steel – when IS that fashion going to have run its course?) If memory serves I was also keen to look at what would happen with the Aluna project – more about that another day.

The artists impression doesn’t include the steps, which would be between the two piers (sorry about the horrid quality):

The permission reserves agreement for hard and soft landscaping under Condition 9 which has to be approved prior to development beginning. Carol’s spoken to the Greenwich Society and they have no minutes amongst planning applications that refer to the steps and also are not aware of Condition 9 being activated.

As far as I can see though, there’s no reason why the steps can’t be kept. If we were to get traditional ‘coast’ instead of corporate grass leading down to the river, which would be much more in keeping with the site and easier to upkeep, then the steps could be saved, along with the rocky beach, the wild flowers and, of course, the tidal aspect, which would make grass look a bit daft anyway.

Carol’s going to talk with a man who may be able to put this matter into the right hands (for all I know he might BE the right hands) but I wanted to mention it to you guys, as I think if she felt she wasn’t alone, that she had backup from local people, it would be easier to argue her our case.

Carol says

If they and all the piers were to be removed I think this would be a sad indictment of how little our history is appreciated or the worth of a mixed visual landscape along our waterfront. Greenwich is one of a few London boroughs which still possess some waterfront industry to our benefit both economically and historically.

I agree with every word.

Dwarfs for Queens

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

At last it’s open. Yet another secret garden of Greenwich is revealed. I took these photos just a couple of weeks ago on the first official day of opening for what we must now call The Queen’s Orchard (formerly the Dwarf Orchard, which was, frankly comical) in the north-east corner of Greenwich Park, but anyone would have thought I took them a couple of months ago, so fit-to-burst were all the trees and flowers – this was probably the first day of ‘nice’ and since then it’s all gone mad, even if the weather’s still a bit iffy.

We’ve been watching – or rather not watching this project for years now. The tiny, secret sliver of land that even people who knew it was there forgot it was there. High walls, dense greenery and a quiet part of the park, lurking behind the kiddies’ playground, meant that we were intrigued, but left almost completely in the dark, save for a few grainy pics sent to me by kindly phantophiles living in Park Vista…

What we’re seeing here is the bare bones of what will be a stunning garden. Still pleasingly wild in parts, it’s like seeing a beautiful princess in her knickers, just before she puts on the gown to be the belle of the ball. Volunteers and park gardeners have cleared the ghastly sycamore weed-trees and thick undergrowth to reveal what was left of the little formal garden.

Sadly that’s very little – any landscaping is pretty much long-gone, though there is a fabulous (and very elderly) mulberry tree which, come to think of it, I didn’t see when I went a couple of weeks ago. I can’t believe it’s not there; I must have been too busy looking at everything else.

They have done a lovely job with the old well that was unearthed. Personally I preferred the first wrought iron well cover that artist Heather Burrell came up with but this one is very fine indeed and when it mellows in and stops looking quite so ‘new’ it’s going to be lovely.

In fact you could say that about pretty much all of the new park – it’s just very ‘new.’ The delightful rounded pond with its high, brick raised beds, the pristine ogee-shaped arches, still naked, the fabulous wooden railway-sleeper style raised veg beds – it all looks a bit clean and fresh – which is hardly a surprise given that it is.

Ditto the lovely wild bit with the re-planted dwarf fruit trees that gave the orchard its former name – they’re young, cute, local and with ancient ancestry but a bit on the stark side. Give it all a couple of years though and this is going to be one of my favourite corners of the park. In the meanwhile it’s a delight to be able to watch it develop.

The park is currently open between 1.00pm and 3.00pm on Sundays – though I found that to be a generous estimate – no one seemed to be in a hurry to chuck anyone out. The gardener I talked with told me that they’re planning to stretch the opening hours gradually throughout the coming months.

I need to go back now there are actual leaves on actual trees.