Archive for the ‘Streets’ Category

Colomb St

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Pauline and John ask:

Any idea how Colomb Street came by its name?, I lived there for 26 years and never did find out.

The Phantom replies:

I don’t know for sure, no. The little ‘What’s in a Name’ book only covers streets named after local councillors, not weird-named older roads.

But I do have a couple of theories. Not a very good theories, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.

Sir John Charles Ready Colomb is my first thought. He was a naval strategist, born in 1838, died 1909, and he went to the Royal Naval College, but apart from that I can’t see any connection he has with Greenwich. And he seems a little ‘young’ for the name – I don’t know the street’s age but I’ll wager it’s older than any reason people might have for naming it after him.

His older brother, Vice-Admiral Philip Howard Colomb, (1831-1899) is another contender, also being a naval man. Their father, Major General George Thomas Colomb was an amateur artist and member of the Royal Academy, but I’m not sure I buy him for the street name either.

Actually, at the end of that lot, I still don’t have a clue.

Over to you chaps.

Postboxes of Greenwich (2)

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Just to get the ball well and truly on the road, two Greenwich postboxes in one week. Whoaaa! Steady there, Phantom…

The second in our ‘collect ‘em all’ quest for historic (and otherwise) postboxes is on the wall at MacCartney House in Crooms Hill and would have been Gen. Wolfe’s PO Box of choice for letters to his lovely Lizzie – had the Post Office actually existed when he was around. Stephen remembered it instantly when we started the series on Monday, and it means we now have at least one VR example – though given the responses, there are more to come.

Hold onto your hats, chaps.

Box Ticking

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Okay – first in a new occasional series today, folks. Hold onto your seats – this will really blow your socks…

Yes, it’s Postboxes of Greenwich. Nothing too small or insignificant for the Phantom. Seriously, though, sometimes the least-significant things turn out to have a fascinating side to them, as when we started spotting phone boxes and now I can’t pass one without noticing which model it is…

So this is Frank’s picture of the one set into the wall in Park Vista. It’s Edwardian (ER – Edward Rex – on the front) and Frank’s wondering if we can find any older ones (VR – Victoria Regina). I seem to remember there’s one in Blackheath but I don’t know of any in Greenwich. Please prove me wrong – or – and I can’t decide if this makes me curious or just plain tragic – I’d like to see any other interesting letterboxes of Greenwich. Let’s see if we can collect the full set. It’s unlikely, of course, given the sheer variety but trying will provide a wealth of moderate fun…

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…

Wartime Whitworth Street

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Meet Geoff, aged four. It’s 1944 and he lives in Whitworth Street. His parents had the unfortunate luck of moving in just as war broke out in 1939, but nevertheless the family will stay at Number 12 until 2002.

I always love it when people send me memories of Greenwich, whether from wartime, the 50s or more recently, like the marvellous photos from the camera of Gerald Dodd (more coming up there at some point when I’ve worked out which ones I haven’t shared with you yet…) and I was delighted to hear from Geoff, and see the marvellous shelter in the back garden at Number 12.

Geoff says “My father dug out a pit and erected an Anderson Shelter, then covered it with earth, four wooden bunks, quite smelly & damp, but safer. After the war he dismantled it to make a shed.”

This one has been buoyed up with bricks and wood – here’s another shot with Geoff and his mum and brother, that (just) shows the famous corrugated iron arch:

Of course there are still Anderson shelters to be found in the back of some Greenwich gardens. I know of at least two, which have been made into garden sheds – now that people have started relocating again I sincerely hope that anyone moving into a house that has one doesn’t just turf it out, not knowing what it is…

The whole area round Pelton Road was (and continues to be) close-knit – his brother was mates with Raymond Gallagher and his gran lived next door to him in Christchurch Way. All the kids played together in the streets, throughout the war, no matter now dangerous it became. Definitely different times. It’s hard to imagine parents letting their children roam and play with all those H&S hazards around these days, yet Geoff remembers

“We played in the derelict buildings for years, dangerous but fun. The scrap metal merchant’s yards by the river were full of rats and machine gun belts, some live ammunition, if you had sharp eyes.”

Air raids were mere temporary interruptions to play, and sometimes not even that. Geoff’s brother was left, tied to a lamp post throughout one raid, having been ‘captured’ during a game of Cowboys and Indians.

Geoff has more reason to remember the air raids than most as both his parents were deaf, and relied on Geoff and his brother to tell them when the sirens went.

At first they evacuated to Tunbridge Wells, but it didn’t work out (there seems to have been a high failure rate – my own mum came sloping home after a couple of weeks) and until the Anderson shelter was built they hid under the stairs went the alarms sounded. Geoff doesn’t remember being scared at that point, and I get the impression that he found it rather exciting when his gran took him to the big shelters in Greenwich Park, protected by enormous barrage balloons.

The bombs continued. And Life continued. I find it weird to try to imagine a time when you just lived with the idea that at any moment you could be forced to go and sit in a tin hut and when you came out your house might have disappeared.

The family adapted their lives to survive in a wartime situation. Geoff’s father, a shoemaker, brought Army boots home to repair over the weekend, his mother made clothes from scraps, and everyone kept rabbits in the back garden, though they got a neighbour to actually kill them when they wanted a stew. In another ‘weird to think…’ Geoff was entirely unsentimental about this – I can’t imagine many four year olds being cool with eating their pets these days.

The whole family was involved in Wartime Greenwich. Geoff’s Grandma cooked supper and served cocoa for the firefighters at Rangers ‘Lodge’ (now ‘House’) and his Granddad, who had survived the trenches of the Great War:

worked loading coal for the new Power Station on the river – a prime target for Bombers.

Unsurprisingly, Geoff’s most indelible memory of those years was the Blackwall Lane mine that blew the back of their house in and the V2 that took out the front door and destroyed several shops in Traf Road.

I’ve been trying to work out which one that would have been – but judging from this map there were so many, I’d have to guess. The indstrial area, all along the river, was heavily bombed for strategic reasons. All I know is that as they watched the V2 Geoff’s brother said ‘No problem until the engine stops’. Unfortunately it stopped almost immediately overhead.

Sounds as though they didn’t make the shelter in time. There is still a photo extant of Geoff’s mother with her head bandaged from the flying glass wounds (no, I’m not sharing that…)

It’s easy to see why the parties at the end of the war were so reckless and excited, attended by absolutely everyone. Geoff’s VE Day Party had a bonfire made from the fence around Christchurch School, (local bobby unhappy) which burned an effigy of Hitler (local bobby less unhappy) and banjo playing to the early hours (everyone unhappy*)

Happier times were ahead.

*just joshing, banjo players of Greenwich, all…

Maze Hill 1906

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

I had planned to do something else today – but after the discussion about street by street history in Greenwich the other day, when Jim was asking about Woodlands Grove, Neil Rhind has sent me the most extraordinary picture which I just had to share with you.

It’s from 1906 and given the angle and height, I’m guessing it was taken from the scaffolding around the chimneys on the power station which was being built at the time.

It shows the area around Trafalgar Road, Maze Hill station and, in the background, Vanbrugh Hill. I had to reduce the quality to make it fit online but if you click on it you should still get a decent sized image.

What surprises me is how much I just don’t recognise. I guess two world wars and the 1960s have been and gone but even so I’d have expected more landmarks from somewhere that I hadn’t thought of of as having had that much development.

The best way to orient yourself is to find the railway track and Maze Hill sation which, of course, was a much bigger deal back then. From there you can shift down the image to the area north of that towards Trafalgar Road (the pub no longer exists of course, and it looks as though Hardy’s used to be the Bricklayer’s Arms) or allow your eye to travel left along the track past the not-there-yet nurses’ home to find Vanbrugh Hill, with Dinsdale and Humber Roads clear to view.

The Westcombe Woodlands is quite clear in this picture, though you can’t see Vanbrugh Castle. I particularly like the Indian teepee in the back garden of the house down the bottom right, presmumably not being played in by the little girls dotted around the roads in spotless white dresses.

I have no idea whether this image actually belongs to anyone else but I owe Neil a huge ‘thank you.’ It’s one of the most fascinating photographs I’ve ever seen of the area.

Street by Street History

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Jim asks:

I’m moving to Woodland Grove in a few months. I’ve been looking online I can find almost zero historical information on this street.

Are you aware of any street by street resources that I might be able to follow up to learn a little bit more about this place?

The Phantom replies:

What a shame you’re not just a few streets over, Jim. If you lived in SE3 rather than SE10 then the answer to this would have been ‘yes.’ Neil Rhind has written the definitive history of Blackheath, street by street, over the last years, and the final volume in the Blackheath and Environs trilogy is due to be released soon. Westcombe Park, although it is ‘our’ side of the heath, counts as Blackheath, and is covered in the (rather rare) Volume II.

Sadly for you, Jim, Maze Hill and its surroundings are very definitely ‘Greenwich’, and much as I’ve been trying to persuade Neil to venture out from SE3, I’ve had no joy yet.

But that doesn’t stop the area being interesting. Woodland Grove as a street I know very little about but it would have been very close to Sir John Vanbrugh’s back garden. Or is it front garden? I can never work out which way his wild collection of five splendid follies faced. I’ve just been looking in the sprawling Phantom archives (even I get lost in ‘em…) and I can’t find the post I could have sworn I wrote about Vanbrugh’s ‘extra guest accomodation’ so I’ll try to put together one for you. In the meanwhile if you google within the site you should find a whole bunch of stuff on Vanbrugh Castle itself…

Given that a lot of the buildings in Woodland Grove are quite modern I did have a look at Londonist’s rather interesting map that Michael sent me the other day showing the sites of V2 rockets during the war (that’s one of the main reasons for modern buildings in the middle of largely Victorian houses round here) but the only one that’s showing near you is right up at Maze Hill Station, which we know about already (though I guess there could have been some other kind of incendiary device deployed…)

Other than that, a trip to Greenwich Heritage Centre should pay dividends. They have large cardboard boxes of photos, street by street (not always accurately labelled, I discovered…) and many other resources that the Phantom library can only dream of.

Something you might like to get involved with is the group that are looking after Woodlands. Don’t know what Woodlands is? It’s that tiny little sliver of – well – woodland, actually, tucked in behind Maze Hill station. It’s pretty much all that’s left of Vanbrugh Castle’s extensive grounds and the only reason it hasn’t been turned into yet more luxury apartments is that it is locked-in behind houses one way and a ravine the other (yes, you did read that right, a ravine, albeit a baby one. It’s the remains of an old quarry…)

It’s not open to the general public much – not least because you have to get into it via someone’s back garden, but a small group of dedicated volunteers, the Friends of Westcombe Woodlands, try to keep the jungle under control and look after it without regimenting it too much and they do occasionally open it up for nosy neighbours and inquisitive Phantoms. Interestingly they don’t mention Vanbrugh Castle on their site; perhaps it didn’t stretch that far after all. I’ll try to find out just how far those grounds stretched. In the meanwhile if anyone fancies telling me more about Vanbrugh’s follies I’d love to hear from you. Otherwise I’ll just do some legwork. It’s about time I did…

As usual, I’ve digressed from the original question. The answer is ‘no’, there isn’t a street-by street guide to SE10 as a whole (though if you are lucky enough to live in the Ashburnham triangle, there is one by Diana Rimmell – you can find it in the Visitor centre) Anyone who wants to write one will be trumpeted to the rooftops of Phantom Towers.




Wendy has forwarded this information for Jim, about her family who lived in Woodland Grove:

 My Grandmother’s family lived at 11 Woodland Grove from before 1871 (can’t find them on the 1861, they were at Marsh Lane in 1851) until at least 1937 (see electoral roll on Ancestry).  My Grandmother Ellen Mabel Lewis (nee Plowman) and her father Lewis William Plowman were born there.  Her Grandfather Thomas Plowman committed suicide there in 1886 (but Jim probably would rather not know that!) when the poor law  officers refused to increase the allowance he and his wife lived on – they were getting 6/- per week (he was blind).  I have a picture of my Gt Grandfather, Lewis William Plowman when he was working on the building of the Greenwich Power Station, I believe he also worked for the General Steam Navigation Company as my Gran said he was a ‘Navvie’ and that is what their workers called themselves. My Grandmother had five brothers all born at 11 Woodland Grove and they all served in the first World War in France, Belgium and Palestine . Two of them Henry and Freddie, did not come home.  

Then and Now (8)

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

I owe the entirety of this post to Stephen, who first shared this extraordinary postcard out of his family album – then went out and got its modern equivalent too…

What I love about this particular postcard is that it’s not just a scene of what is now Ashburnham Place (Stephen tells me it was Ashburnham Road, as the postcard says, at least until 1938 – he also has a map with it on) but that someone chose to make a postcard on the very day the road was being resurfaced. At first sight I thought the chap at the left was a chimney sweep – but there’s the roller further down the road and several workers.

I wonder if underneath it’s cobbles and this was recording the first tarmac in the street? Or whether, much like Google Streetview today, that was the day the publisher’s photographer visited the street and that was what they got. After all there were thousands of postcards made – they were the equivalent of email today and they were constantly needing new subjects.

But this postcard is fascinating for so many things – not least the strange pillar in the bottom right hand corner that still exists today

Everything’s so neat – matching fences and gates, matching privet hedges and an empty road (for obvious reasons, though I assume it wouldn’t have been rammed with cars as it is today.) And just get that cute lamp post…

Compare that with the same view, taken yesterday by Stephen:

My first thought is that other than the cars and wheelie bins, this scene hasn’t really changed much. There’s still a lamp post in the same place, though it’s not nearly as pretty. The walls on the left are still there, if cut down a little and the houses are generally still as they were – though their window-surrounds are painted now.

I’d say that the biggest change is actually just the sheer amount of clutter. Cars, bins, street furniture, rubbish in the front gardens (something the folk in the first picture wouldn’t have understood at all…) and greenery. But in general Ashburnham Place has come off pretty well if these two pictures are anything to go by…

Kirkland Place

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Never heard of it? No, nor had I – and if you were to go by any histories or old maps of Greenwich you wouldn’t be any the wiser either. I haven’t found a single map that actually shows Kirkland Place as such. Some have the road marked, none seem to name it. And yet at least one Phantophile not only knew it but lived there for many years as a child.

I was puzzled when John contacted me about Kirkland Place where his dad had a shop in the 1940s and 50s, though it all became a little easier to pinpoint when he sent me this photo, courtesy of Morden College Archives (Morden College, of course, owned – and still own – large swathes of Greenwich; you will be pleased to know they have archived their considerable  history. Even better, Hilary Peters who, if you remember, was responsible for the fabulous little corner garden and Foot & Mouth Memorial at Ballast Quay, tells me that it is open to all for research (by appointment) – last time she tried, admittedly many years ago, it wasn’t open to women…)

But I digress. Because of a sign on the side of the shop, we can at least pinpoint where Kirkland Place was – 300 yards from the Seawitch Pub. The Seawitch was on Seawitch Lane, now Morden Wharf Lane and we know where that is:

The pub sounds a sweet little place. Mary Mills says in her (sadly out of print) Greenwich Marsh – The 300 Years before the Dome that it was slightly set back from the riverside path, with a little garden set aside from the roadway. I can’t really tell from this picture where that would have been, but I do like the jolly jack tar enjoying a pint on the left (not sure where this picture’s from – I’m suspecting Greenwich Heritage Centre)

The hostelry was built by one Charles Holcombe, a wealthy industrialist who’d taken a lease out on a large swathe of land, roughly where the old, dead Amylum site is now.

Don’t know if you know the delightful Valentines Park in Ilford – for many years it was closed up and used as council offices, but has been restored and is now probably one of the few reasons to visit Ilford. The gardens are particularly impressive – if you walk around them you can see garden history from Henry VIII’s time through all the major phases of horticultural fashion right up to the 1950s – but the reason I’m talking about it today is that it was Charles Holcombe’s gaff back in the 1840s when Ilford was a hell of a lot posher than Greenwich. In fact it was very smart indeed. It might have just lost the gigantic Wanstead House* a couple of miles away (a great story of the ultimate Regency Rake, a misused heiress and an embarrassed Duke of Wellington…) but in the Victorian age we’re looking at Blackheath-level poshness.

But hey – I have no other reaason to mention Redbridge other than the fact that Holcombe lived there.

Anyway, Holcombe built the Sea Witch, presumably for workers (Mary Mills reckons it was probably named for a famous American tea clipper; others ‘on the internet’ assume that it’s got folklore traditions; I just think they thought it was a cool name…) and I have no reason not to think he was also responsible for Kirkland Place as somewhere for employees on his ‘brass foundry, tar and asfelt works’ to live.

By the time John was born in 1947, the Sea Witch had been dead for seven years, bombed in an air raid. He remembers peddling his little red car, from the shop, which was on the corner of Tunnel Avenue and Morden Wharf Lane, opposite where the old Dreadnought School (where he attended) still is now,  up to the bombsite and back,  trying to keep up with the Blue Circle cement lorries,  reach the Mechanic’s Arms, do a 3 point turn and peddle down the lane. It took many years to redevelop the area, but the glucose works labs, until very recently, sat roughly where the pub used to be.

When he was five years old John had to have an appendix op at St Alphages Hospital.  His family came to visit  just before he went down for the operation, then returned to the shop. As John’s 15 year-old brother Tony was coming round the corner of Tunnel Avenue on that night (around the time John was having the operation) he saw a shadowy figure on the flat roof of 10 Kirkland Place.  He ran up the stairs to the second floor,  lifted the roof door and walked out but saw nobody there. He’s never been able to explain what or who he saw. Could it have been young John, having an out-of-body experience? Who knows…

Thinking back to the Seawitch – don’t you think with all that development that we were promised wouldn’t happen and now is, that a proper, historic Thameside pub on the west side of the peninsula would be a lovely thing? Enderby House is empty…


*razed to the ground for building materials to pay off massive gambling debts, though much of the park and features – including the grotto, inside which, in truly Gothick fashion, said rake once locked said heiress. There are also two classical temple-style follies, but they’re on private property and you can’t see them. Not something you expect to find in a back garden in Ilford…

Seriously, though, Valentines is worth a visit.

Street Photography

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Jack asks:

“My family have lived in greenwich for over 150 years, and I have been doing my family tree. On the 1881 census, my great x3 grandmother Eliza Moody ran a greengrocers and fruit shop at 121 Trafalgar road.
I was wondering if you had any pictures of this place from books or if you knew anyone that would possibly have a picture or anything. I have no name of the shop, just 121 Trafalgar road.”

The Phantom replies:

This is SUCH a common question. I confess that without trawling through every single book I don’t know if there is one that takes in that particular shop and sadly Real Life is utterly crazy at the moment; I just don’t have the time.

But it’s easy enough to do for yourself what I would have to do – nip over to the Heritage centre at Woolwich Arsenal and ask to see the photographs they keep that are labelled by street. There might also be other collections that will have them in so have a chat with the curators. It really helps to know where No. 121 is now (if it exists) so you can see where it is in the street and identify it by other things around it rather than just hoping there is something labelled as such. There could be pictures of trams or other things with that shop in the background.

There are other places to look, of course. The Heritage Centre holds many more books than I do for starters – a happy afternoon with a bunch of them might yield results. I’ve been having a chat with a chap who’s found a picture of his family shop in the Morden College Archives (more about that another day…) – could be worth seeing what they have, especially since they own a lot of the land north of (and including) Traf Road – if you look at the top of the building Tesco is in you’ll see the coat of arms.

For photos of streets now, Mike Curry has asked me to remind you that he has an exhibition of his travels around town  at The Greenwich Gallery, which is at Linear House, just behind Greenwich Borough Hall on Royal Hill. It’s on until the end of the month and if you go at weekends you can have a chat with the man himself…