Archive for the ‘Things to do’ Category

Severndroog Castle Open Again at Last

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Photo: The Phantom Webmaster

After a catastrophic loss of photos from my computer (I don’t want to talk about it, it’s too depressing…), sadly this is the best shot I currently have of Severndroog Castle but I’m rather proud of it. It’s a screenshot of the displays at the top of the Shard which I named – there was a competition to nab free tickets to the opening day by coming up with the best thing you can see from the Shard that isn’t a big-hitter tourist attraction and I won.

But there’s a chance now that Severndroog is just about to become a big-hitter tourist attraction itself. Well, okay, maybe not as big as the Shard (in any capacity, save soul), but it is going to reopen and you will be able to go up it, there will be stunning views from it and (and this is the best bit) it costs just £2.50 as opposed to the £30+ you’re looking at for the Shard.

The Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust was formed some years ago to try to save the crumbling tower up in Oxleas Wood from death-by-grafitti. They received a bit of a blow at first when they failed to win that ghastly X-Factor style competition to ‘win’ the money to restore historic buildings but local voluteers decided it was worth doing anyway and they’ve been quietly beavering away at it ever since. I ‘bought a brick’ and it seems a lot of other people did too, as they’re re-opening on 20th July.

That day there will be guided tours and tea between 10.30am and 4.30pm. I am very excited to see it, but to be honest, I am prepared to wait just a tiny bit longer as I have a horrid feeling that that day is going to be horrendously crowded. In future throughout the summer they will be open Thursday, Friday and Sundays 12.30pm – 4.30pm for tours and every day except Monday the tearooms will be open between 9.00am and 5.00pm.

I did actually see up there a few years ago when it opened for one day only on Open House day. The queues were dreadful and you were allowed 5 short minutes view-time once you’d climbed all the way up there but it was enough to know I really, really wanted to go back. This one is going to be special, folks – and it will be open all summer between those times.

HMS Bulwark

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

HMS Bulwark captured by John last time around...

A quick one today folks – but a good one. Roger tells me that HMS Bulwark, the flagship of the Royal Navy, is coming to Greenwich and (providing you can prove you live in a very, very small catchment area – SE8, SE10 SE13 – sorry, Charlton, Eltham, Isle of Dogs etc. etc…) you can get free tickets to see around it on 31 May and 1st June.

Visit Eventbrite for tickets.

Running Gags

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Okay – I’ve had two emails this week, both looking for local groups. They are not connected in any way other than this post…

Firstly, Anne asks:

Do you know of a comedy writing group in the East Greenwich area? My mid-life crisis (okay, it’s a little later than “mid”) is taking me in that direction but I can’t find anything nearby. If I can’t find one I think I will start one.

Then Solange asks:

Do you know of a friendly running group (free) in Greenwich please?

So – suggestions, please. I do like the idea of a new comedy writing group if Anne starts one (think there was a course at the Tramshed, but it doesn’t appear to be on now). If we don’t come up with any existing groups, but you’d like to join Anne, do email me and I’ll pass you on. You never know we might end up with a Phantom Comedy Group as successful as the Phantom Book Group!

Unrelated Stuff

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Warning. This post will not flow at all well.

I have no reason for putting in Ruth’s picture of cranes over the red dawn this morning other than I like it and it somehow shows the way things are going – season-wise and Greenwich-wise. I just wish the myriad developments shooting up just now were a bit better quality and a bit nicer to look at. I went past the junction at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill/Blackwall Lane last night and was once again shocked at the sheer size of the developments there. Virtually every view there was in East Greenwich is dominated by it and its even less exciting friend across the road.

But actually this post isn’t about development. I’m not even going to mention the very scary building work going on at the Pilot at the end of which I suspect the once-lovely garden (one of the principle reasons to go to the pilot) will just be a skinny strip for smokers.

Ah. I just did. Hey…

No actually, this is a very, very late notice for something on Saturday which I’ve known about for about a week and haven’t had the time to mention.

I’m sorry, BTW, about the state of the Parish News. I know it hasn’t been updated for months. I just don’t have the time just now, even for the press releases that actually make sense or are a sensible length. I will get round to it, I just don’t know when.

But onto the thing that caught my eye:

This Saturday (5th Oct) there’s a free day of lectures by the University of Greenwich (whose own monster development continues apace in the centre of town, I notice).

It’s called Greenwich Past: Pensioners, Paupers and Pageants and it looks a corker.

Organised by University of Greenwich historians, the day begins with Harvey Sheldon’s presentation: The Excavation of a Roman Temple in Greenwich Park. He is followed by Laura Allan: Interpreting History – Severndroog Castle; and Andy Brockman: Zeppelins, Andersons and Ack Ack – Conflict Archaeology in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

After lunch Martin Wilcox presents: The “Poor Decayed Seamen” of Greenwich Hospital, 1705-1763. Sandra Dunster follows with: ‘A Heavy and Increasing burden’ – The Royal Naval Hospital and the parish of Greenwich.

In the day’s final session Chris Ware presents Gin, tea and tobacco: the Royal yachts at Greenwich, 1690-1745. Emma Hanna rounds the day off with Patriotism and Pageantry: the Greenwich Night Pageant, 1933.

There are limited places available for a tour of the Old Royal Naval College during the break for lunch at midday. The day runs from 9.30am until 4pm in King William Court, Room 002, Old Royal Naval College, Park Row, London SE10 9LS. To book a place please email:

Sadly I’m not in a position to go anywhere at the moment but it looks absolutely brilliant, especially the Greenwich Night Pageant one. This was a bonkers event in, if memory serves, 1933, organised by Greenwich’s very own Nazi and I spent a week ‘going to it’ a few years ago (annoyingly the posts are in reverse order – scroll to the bottom and read upwards – like the pageant itself, utterly mad…)

Here’s hoping there are still some places left for you – do let me know what it’s like. This is one I’ll be sad to miss…

Getting To Know You…

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

The Phantom by Stephen

Brinley asks:

I fell in love with Greenwich a while ago and am now in the process of trying to buy a place in Charlton (a few mins from Westcombe Park). I’ve read your site with interest and wonder if you would mind giving me some tips on how to get to know the area better. I was planning to stop off at Little Nan’s cocktail tea party tomorrow and criss-cross the area on foot , but would appreciate any suggestions that you think might help someone who’s already inclined to like the area start appreciating it even more.

The Phantom replies:

Every Phantophile will have their own suggestions here, so I suggest you read any comments as well as mine, but in my view you have the right idea. Burning shoe leather is the only way to really get to know Greenwich – indeed, in many places it’s the only way to get to them as bikes/trains/cars/buses just don’t go.

Don’t expect to do it all at once – there’s a lot of Greenwich and it’s all very different. It divides up into discrete areas and it’s worth getting to know them all, then exploring the bits you like best in greater depth.

I’d start with the vistas. There are two main high-up viewpoints, the overcrowded but splendid lookout by Gen. Wolfe up at the Observatory and the much-less known Point at the top of Point Hill, looking out towards London, a bit of a faff to find but worth seeking out. My favourite way of getting there is to fiddle up through the blocks of new-build housing – there are steep steps – from Royal Hill then take the ‘country lane’ to the bottom of the jutty-out bit, before taking even steeper steps up to the top, though many just approach from Blackheath.

Then there’s the classic ‘Canaletto’ view from Island Gardens by the foot tunnel, I am rather fond of the one from Enderby Wharf on the Thames Path (we’ll get to that) and there’s an excellent bench on the ridge at the west end of Greenwich Park that bears a lazy afternoon’s sit.

I would then suggest you take the Thames Path all the way round from, say the Cutty Sark through to the ferry at Woolwich. You can go even futher both ways of course, and soon, when the famous swing bridge at the Creek is built (anyone have any updates on that one?) it will be easier to go west than ever. You should see the Peninsula while you can – it is changing at an alarming rate and will soon be all dreary apartments in glass and steel – enjoy what’s left sooner rather than later. Don’t be tempted to cut-off the very tip of the peninsula and nip straight across to where the Pilot Inn is, you’ll miss good stuff.

I personally adore the cable car, though it is not universally loved (it’s not terribly useful at the moment – I prefer to look at it as infrastructure for the future that Phantoms can play on now) I have one of those ten-trip tickets that makes it easy to just nip across, have a coffee at the Crystal (the weird looking glass building the other side) and then come back.

I’m assuming you’ve done the tourist stuff – the Maritime Museum, Observatory, ORNC etc, but once you’ve done the vanilla versions, they all repay regular visits and there’s always stuff on. Smaller gems like the Fan Museum are also wonderful.

Continuing with ‘areas’ of Greenwich, you should explore the areas around Hyde Vale, Crooms Hill and Diamond Terrace – just wander around (there’s an excellent vista from Diamond Terrace, too) then enjoy the pubs in Royal Hill, especially the Richard I (the Tolly) and Greenwich Meantime’s own Union.

The area around the Ashburnham Triangle, just to the west of there, is also worth a walk – there’s an excellent booklet on it, available at the visitor centre, by Diana Rimmell. Don’t forget to visit the Discover Greenwich Centre BTW, it’s a fabulous intro to the area.

You’ll need to walk up Maze Hill, see John Vanbrugh’s castle at the top of it and admire the view – perhaps before taking a LOOOOOONG walk around the park. Don’t miss the perimeters – and make sure you see the deer at the back. Keep an eye out for open days at Westcombe Park Woodlands, just behind it – or better still volunteer as a friend.

I am a big personal fan of East Greenwich. It’s a little harder to love, but for me it has a gritty reality that the west is just too shiny for. And you should check out Blackheath Standard as it’s closer to you in Charlton.

Which brings me to your new stamping ground. You will not be there long before you feel the need to at least see inside Charlton House, peek around St Lukes Church and wish that Inigo Jones’s loo was still open.

But to get to really love the place you need to go to a Charlton match – the place has to be one of the family-friendliest grounds in London.

Wandering around the backstreets of Charlton itself will reap rewards if you keep an eye out

and, the other side, over at Woolwich there is also much to enjoy, though perhaps that’s for another post.

But for me, to really get to love Greenwich is to get involved. Join stuff, go to the theatre (the pantos are superb) look out for events, join the Picturehouse, rootle round the market, drink the beer, try the pubs (I’m a big fan of the Pelton Arms and Vanbrugh Tavern, both in East Greenwich) listen to the choir at St Alfeges, visit the Advent Windows, go to the Heritage Centre at Woolwich and above all, keep your eyes open for weird stuff, which is everywhere if you only care to look.

And if you see something particularly splendid, tell me, eh…

Brassed On

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Gosh was it really two years ago that Stephen was so fed up at the cuts which stopped paying for (mainly brass) bands’ expenses that he wrote to Royal Parks to protest? At the time RP called it a ‘non-core’expense and the glorious Colebrookedale Bandstand lay fallow throughout the summers of 2011 and 2012.

But now thanks to sponsorship from The Friends of Greenwich Park I’ll be able to once more don the Phantom Boater, sit in a stripy deckchair, lick a 99 and listen to live music of a Sunday afternoon – perfect for this weather.

I am delighted to see this gentle pursuit return. I always thought it a very petty saving on the part of Royal Parks – it wasn’t as though the bands were being paid – they just got exes, and the money saved, in the grand scheme of things, can’t have been enough to do much else. I guess they’ll never cough up now the Friends have dug their hands in their pockets but hey – a Phantom round of applause to the Friends for actually doing so.

The next one is a Jazz band on the 28th July at 2.00pm and Greenwich Concert band will be performing on the 25th of August.

Stone Roses, Marigolds, Poppies…

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

If you’ve walked along Old Woolwich Road, opposite the garage and auction rooms, you will prabably have ‘zoned out’ the ghastly little strip of nothing that runs along the outside of Stone interiors’ yard. It’s been like it for years (though I do vaguely remember mosaic made from broken stone a few years ago – maybe ten? I could be mistaken…)

In the spirit of Guerilla gardening, though perhaps a tad more official, a few E.Greenwich residents have decided to do something about this dreary little strip of rubbish, dog-poo and fly-tippery, and make it into a micro-garden. Stone Interiors will be donating some stone to make it all nice…

Ian, who told me about the project, has got some local big-hitters to contribute – Greenwich Parks, the garden design course at the University and, of course, our own Mary Mills, and they’ve got to the initial design stage (personally I’d just build a raised bed and stick some flowers and a few veg in – but what do I know…)

If you’d like to be involved, the design workshop will be on the 22nd June, at the stone yard. The room they’ll be in only fits a limited number of people so if you fancy joining, let Ian know – either by emailing him on or calling 077125 86923.

I have been noticing teeny-tiny gardens turning up all over the place in East Greenwich. My favourite is at Westcombe Park Station where, at the moment, there is a profusion of wild strawberry flowers, but later on will turn into what is essentially a herbaceous border. I don’t know who does it, but I tip my tricorn to the Ooompa-Loompas that come out in the dead of night and make little corners of Greenwich a little bit more beautiful.

Clear Your Diary…

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Okay – I know that sounds a bit dramatic, especially when I tell you that what I’m telling you to clear your diary for is a set of open gardens, but stay with me. I have my reasons. This is for all Greenwich lovers, gardeners or not.

St Alfege’s parishioners ran this project a couple of years ago, to raise funds for the ever-burgeoning restoration costs of a 300 year-old church. Over a couple of Sundays around a dozen gardens in West Greenwich were open to the public in exchange for cash (and not a lot of cash at that.)

As a fan of beautiful gardens and as even more of a fan of nosing around other people’s back gardens (why else do you think I run the Rear Window section?) I was in there like the proverbial Flynn – it was in Parish News – hopefully a few of you managed to make it too.

If you did you will know what I am speaking about. Each of the gardens is exquisite in its own way – and June is a wonderful time to see them. They range from the lavishly formal – a particular favourite is the Manor House at the top of Crooms Hill (see above) – and the exquisitely bijou (see the delightfully narrow, be-mirrored jewel at 27 Maidstone Hill, which comes complete with the fanciest chickens I’ve ever seen…) through to marvellous, unexpected jungles. I am deeply intrigued by one that opening this year described as “Dangerously steep and thorny terraced garden, entered at the visitor’s own risk”.

There is even genuine woodland – Westcombe Woodlands at Maze Hill will enjoy a rare opening – worth seeing for so many reasons – not least to nose around what all the fuss was over a few years ago. It’s also a real pleasure to enter as you have to go through someone’s garden, a secret, quietly-landscaped series of nooks, on several levels and a joy in itself.

There are so many brilliant gardens open I don’t have time to describe them all, but I promised something for all Greenwich lovers, gardeners or not. There is one house you MUST see.

Number 14 Crooms Hill is a gem in every single respect. As nutty as it is historic, as exuberant as it is lavish, as eccentric as it is joyful, as mysterious as it is ever so slightly creepy, this deceptively large confection leads out to a deceptively larger and delightfully unkempt back garden. I won’t even begin to try to describe Ann Broadbent’s extraordinary home – I will just say that if you don’t go on one of her tours of the house you will sincerely regret it later. This is an example of Greenwich at its secretive best. Go. Just go.

Sold yet? Then scrawl Sundays 2 and 9th June, 2-5pm in your diaries. You’ll need both dates as different places are open on each day.

Break open your piggy banks to get the money required – a whopping £3 per garden or £10 for the lot on a single day. Just pay the tenner. I’m telling you now, you’ll need to see them all – pay at the first garden you visit. It’s worth bringing a bit more money too, as there’s tea and cake to be had at some venues.

I have forgotten how to attach PDFs (well, okay, I wrote down the instructions wrong) so I’m going to copy the details here for you, with the descriptions by the owners in italics.

Seriously – you need to go to this one…

Sunday 2nd June:

1. Tim and Patricia Barnes, The White House, Crooms Hill, SE10 8HH TEAS

A walled garden laid out when the house belonged to the Astronomer Royal. Lots of climbers, good-sized lawn and flowers planted in a rather haphazard but hopefully cottagey way. And a mulberry tree as old as the house.

2. Ian and Susan Pawlby, 22 West Grove Lane, SE10 8QP WINE

Come and explore a hidden garden in a hidden lane.

3. Jane Custance Baker and Peter Gingold, 51 Hyde Vale, SE10 8QQ

Dangerously steep and thorny terraced garden entered at the visitor’s own risk. Designed to be viewed from the house, the owner and inept gardener will do house tours to show the exceptionally varied and challenging site from different (and safe) vantage points.

4. Ann Broadbent, 14 Crooms Hill, SE10 8ER

A very large and peaceful garden, it contains nothing much except wonderful mature trees including a plane as big as the ones in Berkeley Square. Tours of the house, which is much more interesting, are also on offer.

5. Susan and Jimmy Gaston, 119 Maze Hill, SE10 8XQ TEAS

North-east facing garden lying under Vanbrugh Castle; raised beds with shrubs, a pergola covered in Albertine and Brides Veil roses, and a beautiful dovecote as the centre piece.

6. Alan Bartlett and Simon Gallie, 27 Maidenstone Hill, SE10 8SY TEAS

This narrow hillside garden forms part of Point Hill and features some of Alan’s RHS medal-winning garden items as well as his chickens. There are many unusual plants in the garden. Due to the many steps, slopes and limited accessibility of this garden, it may not be suitable for people requiring walking assistance.

7. Westcombe Woodlands, Lasseter Place (off Vanbrugh Hill), SE3 7UX

A contrast to other gardens, this is mature woodland, hidden away from the public eye, but recently improved to be a better wildlife habitat. There are wild bulbs and newly-planted fruit trees, but today there is simply access to a small clearing and a winding path with nest and bat boxes – and views towards Canary Wharf.

Sunday 9th June:

1. Clare and Mark Hatcher, 41 Gloucester Circus, SE10 8RY PIMMS

A walled garden in a late Georgian terrace, the garden comprises formal elements with herbaceous borders, a beech hedge and a woodland garden under a horse chestnut tree.

2. Penny and David Matheson, 30 Hyde Vale, SE10 8QH PIMMS

The garden of an 1830s tea-caddy house with a lawn in front and, behind, two shallow flower-filled terrace beds backed by rose-covered arches through which one sees a round lawn surrounded by a stone path and banks of shrubs, ivy and large trees.

3. Teresa and Jonathan Sumption, The Manor House, Crooms Hill, SE10 8HG

A large garden standing on the edge of the hill comprising two small formal gardens, a flower garden surrounded by trellis and pleached apple trees divided by a parterre of lavender, and a sunken garden with a geometrical box parterre planted with herbs.

4. Caroline and Richard Newton Price, 3 Hyde Vale, SE10 8QQ TEAS

New garden, old garden, tea and cake.

5. Geoff and Paula Nuttall, 124 King George Street, SE10 8PX

A small, south-facing walled garden that can be entered by a side gate.

6. John and Helene Mitchell, 4 Orchard Drive, SE3 0QP

Views from the house (wisteria and jasmine) and rear terrace (camellias) lead, via the croquet lawn and yew hedge, to the orchard (apples, pears, plums and quince) and a wild area (silver birch, oak and walnut).

Open Day at Ballast Quay

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Moving on from the dreariness of yesterday’s post about what’s happening to Lovell’s Wharf now, something a little cheerier. This fabulous photograph was sent to me my Hilary Peters, who long-term Phantophiles will know was the one-woman driving force behind saving the stunning buildings along Ballast Quay (where the Harbourmaster’s Office is, next to the Cutty Sark) and the creation of the cutest garden in Greenwich.

She has been writing a history of Ballast Quay, which I am dying to read, and I won’t have long to wait, as she’ll be selling copies on a special open garden day in June.

Put the 8th and 9th June in your diaries, folks – and get the chance to walk through that usually-locked gate (and meet the wonderful Hilary…)

The Shard

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Today possibly wasn’t the very best day to experience London’s newest tourist attraction, but it was the first one (official, anyway, apparently there were a bunch of the usual rent-a-crowd celebrities up there last night) and The Phantom Webmaster and myself managed to be some of the first proper punters to see it.

Actually, that’s not quite true, for we were there because I’d won a competition* – a very, very rare occurrence for me. It was a challenge to suggest a place that you can see from the Shard but most people would miss. The ten winners have had their suggestions included in the groovy digital telescope things at the top, and here’s my (winning, tee hee) entry, already programmed into the viewfinder:

Not that you could see even the vague area in which Severndroog Castle might be spotted today – the rain was lashing down and the black clouds seemed to completely surround Shooters Hill. You couldn’t even see Greenwich, though I’m told that you can at least see the Old Royal Naval College, Observatory and Power Station on a good day.

It’s a fun experience, and on that mythical ‘good day’ I am sure you can see far into the distance. As it was I still had fun, staring down and spotting fun stuff like the little shelter from the old London Bridge that sits in Guys Hospital, and the Globe Pub which, you can see from above, really was built around to create the new lines out of London Bridge station.

But it does have to be that ‘good day’ if you want to do anything beyond enjoying St Paul’s Cathedral and a charmingly model-like Tower of London.

It costs £24.95 for an adult (though at the tills they all said £29.95; I don’t know where they get that figure from,) or £100 if you want to go up there and then so to get your money’s worth, it will be worth waiting for better weather (they tell me it’s pretty much fully booked anyway until April) and then watch the weather forecast and book accordingly.

I can see this becoming one of those ‘things you have to do’ when you come to London, but those prices are squeakingly high for everyday folk, and that’s before you even hit the gift shop where they must be thanking the marketing gods for ‘Romeo,’ the fox who lived up the Shard for two weeks while it was being built and thus giving them a cute animal as the tower’s first resident to rurn into cuddly toys (not literally, of course…) to go with the rest of what I have to admit are generally pretty un-tacky souvenirs.

So – the Phantom likes – but make sure you get the weather right…

*if you’re wondering how I managed to get in without being spotted, I have to thank Will, the guy who organised the completely anonymous tickets – cheers Will – I was the short, fat, tall, skinny one in the red/green/black/blue cloak and tricorn…