Archive for the ‘Westcombe Park’ Category

A Quiet Corner

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

I know I bang on about gardens a lot, but let’s face it, if you can’t bang on about gardens in the sunshine in June when can you?

This lovely little corner has been created from a nasty mess left by the removal of a telephone box – if you remember The Call Box of Shame. Presumably so few people used it BT just got rid of it.

It’s still a bit of an eyesore – that paint on the wall’s a bit nasty:

but the guerilla gardener(s) of Dinsdale Road/Vanbrugh Hill have done their darnedest and it’s charming.

Thank you, whoever you are.

Whiskey Papa

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Paul has been promising to visit the Metropolitan Police Historical Society for ages and find out the full gen on the recently deceased Westcombe Park nick. He’s sent me a bunch of stuff that he’s found and I’ve Phantomised, not least because much of it comes from a book on local policing that Paul can’t remember the name of, I don’t know the other sources and while I want to share this with you I don’t want to be a Bad Phantom and end up in my nearest nick which is probably somewhat further away than Westcombe Park.

As you can see from the picture above, Paul ploughed through dusty files in the archives to find the photos – cheers, Paul, I owe you. The images appear to be from May 1908, a time when  the whole of that area would have been brand new and buzzing – a time when new houses meant a new library, new fire station, new school, new pub and new police headquarters – now that’s what I call infrastructure.

But that’s not where the story begins, according to my anonymous source. For that, we need to go back nearly 100 years earlier, to 1812, when presumably the local rowdies, highwaymen and tea-leaves were getting too much for the good burghers of Charlton.

Anyone whose income exceeded ten pounds a year, was expected to cough up for the newly-formed Charlton Guard. These sterling heavies were given a lantern, rattle and firearm each, paid 4 shillings a night and charged to keep watch over the area between 8.00pm and 5.00a.m.

Trouble was, no one was watching the watchers and the watchers knew. They simply stopped watching.

In 1827 the residents tried again, this time paying the watch only 2/6d but from the sound of things, giving them a smaller remit – Charlonites seem to have been much more worried about their dead relations than being murdered in their beds – the watch was instructed to keep guard over the churchyard and deter resurrectionists. I’m quite surprised that resurrectionists were pyling their trade that far out from London – the bodies would have been especially mouldy by the time they got to the medical schools. Perhaps there was some jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery; they would have been practising amputations etc, yerk…) going on in Greenwich Hospital infirmary, though more likely it was the fear of crime that really spooked residents.

By 1885 Greenwich had been bulging left, right and centre and the much more professional Victorian police force needed  somewhere in between Blackheath Road and East Greenwich (which I presume is the one that used to be at Park Row but it might actually have been the Charlton one. The term East Greenwich is one hell of a moveable feast.)

Land was bought from Mr John Pound for £950 and the new police station, called Westcombe Park to avoid confusion with East Greenwich in December 1983.

I recommend clicking on the next image to get it big enough to read – some of the crossed out bits of the ledger Paul’s taken a picture of for me are fascinating.

George Hocking was in charge – well, by 1891, anyway. He lived, with his family, just round the corner at 2 Farmdale Road – of course in those days there wasn’t a whopping great motorway to cross to get to work.

I particularly like the view above as it shows signs of the now-half-lost Westerdale Road, which I can’t go down without thinking of the splendid writer Christopher Fowler, whose memoir, Paperboy, talks of his days growing up in the road and failing to return library books…

During the first world war Westcombe Park Special Constables took it in turns to stand at the top of Severndroog Castle at the top of Shooters Hill with a pair of binoculars then pass any zepplin (and other) sightings to the many interested parties via the new-fangled telephone on top of the Central Observation Station at Spring Gardens.

It also appears that paranoid Charlton residents became convinced that some of their less patriotic neighbours were passing on information to the enemy in Belgium of Germany. I have no idea why they suddenly thought this – perhaps they spoke with ‘foriegn accents’ or something but nevertheless, on the 4th September 1914 constables were instructed to visit every pigeon loft in the area and release the birds to see which direction they flew off in…

During the Second World War (and presumably before the advent of the Mr Hodges of this world) it was up to the police to enforce the blackout regulations, which made them pretty unpopular. The entirety of Charlton Athletic Football Club became War Reservists, though they were based at an emergency Police Station in the basement of Charlton House during the really bad air raids. Apparently it was all a bit of a mess to start with – Harold White, the sergeant, turned up on his first day to find the basement still full of coal.

Westcombe Park Police Station might have managed to stay whole during the raids, but officers were used to returning from shift to find that not everyone had come back. They’d stay behind to find their friends – sometimes trapped, sometimes injured and, occasionally, sometimes kiled in the raids. Fourteen ‘R’ Division Officers died during air raids; a further twenty-three whilst serving in the RAF or Royal Navy.

I am not sure whether Westcombe Park had anything to do with the strange ‘riot training’ spat with Greenwich Council in the 1980s, but as far as I know it continued to live a quiet little life until near the end of the millennium

Station Office counter facilities were withdrawn from Westcombe Park in June 1999, and for me, that’s when it really ‘died.’ The place felt ‘closed’, even if there were squad cars out the back and sundry lights on upstairs. In November, the Millennium Policing Team moved into the Station to oversee the celebrations at the Dome and Greenwich Peninsula.

It died properly last year, with boarded up windows and a POA asking-price that I’m guessing is a bit more than £950.

Perhaps the ghost of a prisoner that hanged himself who supposedly haunts the cellar will come and give the developers a hard time, but frankly I’ll be grateful if they just keep the building. I can’t see the car park at the back staying like that. I miss the old lamp too, and wish they could have found a way to keep it -perhaps with clear glass or something. Sigh.

But Whiskey Papa?

Westcombe Park’s police call sign, of course.

The Dell

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

So I finally know a little more about the little parklet we were wondering about a few weeks ago, starting with its name – yes, I didn’t even know that.

It’s called The Dell and in case you don’t know where it is, here’s a map. It’s just at the bottom of the gardens at Mycenae House and Woodlands, but isn’t connected to either – any more. I love it because, apart from, perhaps, the odd grass-cut,  it doesn’t appear to be ‘managed’ – the gates are just left ajar for anyone who wants a little peace and quiet.

I guess the fact that I didn’t know the name of the baby parklet contributed to my not finding it in Neil Rhind’s Blackheath Village and Environs II, so thanks are due to local fountain of knowledge Julian Watson who was able to pinpoint it for me.

And yes, of course the land used to be part of John Julius Angerstein’s Woodlands and remained so fairly late – it wasn’t until the mid-1920s that the Little Sisters of the Assumption, who’d taken over Woodlands sold it off, something for which I can only forgive them because they built a grotto in the bit of back garden they kept. I’ve always found it somewhat harder to forgive Greenwich Council for knocking said folly down.  Aw, c’mon – demolishing a grotto is the architectural equivalent of kicking a puppy.

As an aside – it’s very easy to digress when you’re reading Blackheath Village and Environs – I note that around the turn of the 20th Century a chap called Felix Bell tried to build a hotel on the junction of Beaconsfield, Mycenae and Humber Roads. A petition was drafted, which 515 out of the 538 residents signed. The hotel was eventually not built because someone pointed out that Westcombe Park is a dry estate – not an alcoholic drink to be got anywhere (shhh – don’t tell the two Indian restaurants…) and that if Mr Bell built his hotel his guests wouldn’t be able to enjoy a drink.

But back to the Dell. That particular bit of Woodlands was used for the garden of Fairfax House, on Beaconsfield Road (where the flats are now.) It was a large Tudor-style building, built in the 1880s, that enjoyed a succession of curious owners, including a Mayor of Greenwich, Ernest Dence, who evidently snapped up the land the cash-strapped Little Sisters were flogging to fund their novitiate house.

Dence installed a boating lake and throughout the 20s and 30s used the garden for charity garden parties, ‘private theatricals’ and a craze that swept Greenwich during that time, pageants where everyone wore fancy dress (one was Tudor themed to reflect the no-doubt accurate architecture of the house.) It appears to have been compulsory for at least one wag to fall in the lake at every event.

For anyone knowing the history of the area, it’s not going to be too difficult to guess what happened next. Fairfax House was, as is traditional round here, bombed to buggery and in 1952 the flats that are there now were begun.

The Dell, perhaps surprisingly, escaped development, and became what it is today – sans boating lake, sans fundraising toffs and, save for small children on October 31, sans fancy dress. According to Neil Rhind, nothing actually remains that was planted that time – all the trees, save one, the old oak, are younger – and the oak itself is probably older even than the house. But I’m happy for it to stay as a little secret garden that everyone can enjoy, look for the marks where the lake was, and dream a little of nutty 1920s pageants…


Rear Window 24

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

This Rear Window view (haven’t had one for ages; good to kickstart the series again…) relates directly to the post a couple of weeks ago about Woodland Heights and its view back in the 1920s and now.

Jim says “Keri and I live in the top middle flat you see in the postcard view, so we have the pleasure of the view through that round window (everyone’s favourite when watching Playschool, surely).”

It’s an absolutely incredible view, and the reason why I particularly like this shot is the view of the old district hospital site in the middle-ground – with the gallons of rain we’ve been getting it looks like the council decided to give up with the rubbish swimming pool plans and just turn the whole site into a lido – or perhaps some natural wetlands.

Jim was impressed with some information about the houses in Dinsdale Road and Vanbrugh Hill that Methers had supplied on the preivious post, and asked me about it. I am pretty sure that data as detailed as that about Westcombe Park can only have come from one secondary source (unless I’m maligning you, Methers and you’ve been slogging it out in Greenwich Heritage Centre ;-) ) which is the sadly out-of-print Blackheath and Environs II by Neil Rhind.

The first book in this superb series of everything you could possibly want to know about Blackheath, about the village itself, has been reprinted and I am eagerly awaiting Volume III later this year, but II is pretty rare. You may find it on Abe Books or Amazon Marketplace or alternatively all the local libraries carry it (if you can find one open…)

Jim’s also asked about other pictures of the old Greenwich & Deptford Hospital /St Alfege’s Workhouse and I found this fascinating account. Apart from a couple of nice pictures, I am especially impressed with the sheer variety of the fare served at the workhouse. These paupers got to taste EIGHT different types of food in a week. Luxury! Of course it was the same eight foods every week. It’s a really interesting, if frankly dismal read; despite the workhouse’s huge size it was seriously overcrowded and the woefully inadequate rations given to poor boys even at the time shocked one of the teachers there.

Of course now I want to know more about the accommodation for ‘bad women’…

Beaconsfield Terrace (1)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Christine asks:
Can anyone name all the shops from the sweet shop at the top of the steps – the first shop as you cross over from top of Halstow road where it crosses Humber Road? Then there was a super chemist, called Green’s; a greengrocers; some other shops  that I cannot recall; then, as the road turned down towards the station approach and down the steps, there was a food store that sold everything. Over the other side of station approach was the post office.  Does anyone have the history of all the shops around the Westcombe Park station area from Victorian times?

The Phantom replies:

Well, of course much of it is down to when in their history you want to know about them – in late Victorian times,  in the 20s/30s/ 40s/ 50s etc. Recently they have changed both purpose and owners far more regularly than they would have done years ago, but before the age of the supermarket, I guess the local greengrocer /chemist /sweetmonger would have stayed in the same generation for years.

I have always been rather fond of this little arcade. It doesn’t manage the same yumminess (or range) as the Royal Hill Lovelies, but then the demographic isn’t the same – and it’s closer to both the big sheds over on the Peninsula and the Blackheath Standard. But it still gets a fair bit of footfall, being so close to the station and some of the shops have been there for years.

I particularly like that it’s retained, somehow, some of the more ephemeral parts of its decoration – the post office may have gone but the pillar box is still there and if you look under your feet outside the mini mart, there are still the diamond-pattern tiles and, further up, the original York stone slab-paving.

I can’t name the shops recently, as they’ve changed quite a bit (and continue to change – I notice the old Animation Studio is being turned into a rather upmarket-looking florist; good news since that place has been inactive for years) but, thanks to the superb (and disgracefully out of print) definitive volume about the area by Neil Rhind, Blackheath Village and Environs II (the first one, about Blackheath Village itself, is back in print, but the equally-exhaustive second book, which takes in our side of the heath as well as the Cator estate and the more Kidbrooke-y side (wanna know who lived in your house? Chances are that if you’re in his catchment area Mr Rhind will tell you in this book) has never been reprinted.

I can’t think why – there must be more people in the wide area covered by book two who are potential customers – but there is usually a copy in the library (if it hasn’t been closed…) and occasionally they bowl up second-hand (talking of which, I was pleased to see a new secondhand bookshop in the centre of Greenwich – a dedicated Oxfam bookshop on College Approach. It’s pricey but these days second hand books tend to fall into two categories – expensive, and can’t-give-it-away.)

Rhind tells me that ‘Beaconsfield Terrace, ‘ built around the 1890s (it’s at the bottom of Beaconsfield road in case you’re wondering) is, along with the shops on Westcombe Hill, were the only commercial premises allowed on the Westcombe Park Estate. And when you come to think of it, yes, it does seem a bit odd – not a corner shop, not a pub, or at least until you get to the Royal Standard. Presumably it was some sort of temperance-thing.

Neil Rhind accepts that the shops changed a lot over the years, but reckons there’s a strong pattern. At Number 103, your sweet shop, Christine, was, in the 1920s, E. Hartley and Co. but between 1909 and the late 1920s is was Luffman & Peacock (a fabulous name for a confectioners.) If memory serves it’s a private house these days.

105 was a butchers, which is kind of chilling given that it’s now the local vetinery surgery and 107, now flats, a grocer and branch post office.  Its original owner was the equally-delightfully-named Edward Pogson Barker, but in the 1920s it became your chemist, Christine, run by John Codnor Wilson.

Number 109 started out as a greengrocers, became a milliner’s (we just don’t get hat shops round these parts any more…) and from the first year of the Great War until the middle of WWII was Jarvis the bootmaker. Am I right in thinking that the sports therapy place is there now?

Neil Rhind tells me that number 111 has been a lot of things – a stationer’s, tailor, printer and grocers, and in the 1930s was Humber Radio (presumably selling wirelesses rather than broadcasting…) 113 was a dairy – first owned by Griffith Robert Hughes, becoming a branch of Edward and Sons and finally being subsumed into United Dairies. It’s now a hairdressers.

What I can’t find is any reference to the shops that turn the corner into Westcombe Crescent going down towards the station. Am I missing something, Neil?



Thursday, December 4th, 2008

About a year ago, I was amazed – and deeply touched – when a regular reader sent me a photocopy (in its entirety) of Combe Farm, Greenwich, a book by Barbara Ludlow and Sally Jenkinson so rare I have never seen it anywhere else (I guess there’s probably a copy in the Heritage Centre.)

It tells the story of what is effectively lower-Westcombe Park and parts of East Greenwich and Charlton now, about which, let’s face it, there’s bugger-all else. Written before the advent of computers and DTP, it’s type-written, with little hand-drawings and a few photos, as well as a couple of maps and diagrams.

Sadly I can’t reproduce it here – copyright issues would arise (I wouldn’t do it anyway, but this blog gets archived by the British Library and they’re hot on that sort of thing) – such a shame as it would PDF very well – but I’ll give you a bit of a potted paraphrase, which will have to do for now.

“Combe” is Anglo-Saxon for ‘valley’ – and it was only in the 1970s that the very last bit of ‘the combe’ was finally covered in flats. For the record, it was the bit of ground between Coleraine and Foyle Roads – I make that Webb Road. Locals were most upset at losing it, and it’s just possible that the laws governing ‘village greens’ that have been evoked successfully in some areas recently (sadly not in the case of Mycenae House) could have been used to keep that last bit of combe, if it was open to all at all times.

But I’m off on one again. Back to the book…

Combe’s not in the Domesday Book because it was all part of the Bishop of Ghent’s land (however much I read, I still have difficulties wrapping my head round that one – just why did most of Greenwich end up as owned by a bloke in Belgium? More research is necessary, I see…)

In fact there’s a lot that’s not known about Combe. For starters, that Tudor mansion that was also somewhere around Coleraine and Foyle Roads, but no one’s exactly sure quite where. If any of you who live in those roads ever fancies a little Time-Teamery in your back gardens, I’d like to hear about the results…

After the Norman Conquest, the Bishop of Ghent had his land ‘redistributed,’ which basically meant he lost a whole bunch of places. Combe was broken up into East and West Combes. Combe Farm would have been directly in the middle of the two, which makes me think that it’s possibly somewhere under the A102.

Barbara Ludlow reckons that there’s not much mention of Combe in medieval times. Presumably the scribes of the day were more interested in glamorous Greenwich down the road. All that really survives are records of murderers, thieves and grumpy peasants complaining about taxes. I’m not surprised that when Duke Humphrey appropriated Greenwich Park he built himself a nice big wall between himself and the dodgy burghers of Combe.

Things started to look up in Tudor times. Henry VIII wanted to install his new squeeze, Anne Boleyn, somewhere near the palace at Greenwich, but a little bit away from wagging tongues, so he bought Combe Farm for her. When he got bored and did away with her, he pragmatically just gave the place to whichever queen was in vogue at the time.

I find it quite exciting – and just a little sad that this building, according to Barabra Ludlow, would have been somewhat more than a mere farmhouse. If it was good enough for the resident queen-of-the-month. It would have been quite a special Tudor mansion. Get digging, guys…

It doesn’t sound like the bulk of Combe got much more salubrious though. Sam Pepys didn’t care for the place at all. Whenever he had to go through there (which he really didn’t look forward to and spent considerable time trying to find excuses not to do) there always seemed to be “doggs,” “rogues,” “beggars” or dead bodies knocking around. I guess it doesn’t help that this was during plague time, and that, even by 17th Century standards, Combe Farm’s cleanliness wasn’t much cop.

In the 18th Century, the top bit was bought and turned into Woodlands – a can of worms I’m not going into today. The rest was mainly used for arable farming up until the 19th Century, which forms the second part of the book. But Victorian Combe Farm and the Roberts family is for another day too. This post is long enough already…

Westcombe Park Car Park

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

What the hell is going on at Westcombe Park Station? The whole of the north side is more or less closed off – just a tiny little alley to get you down to Westcombe Hill – the other cut-through’s closed off.

Last time I walked through there, a few weeks ago, the trees had all been (most inexpertly) cut down to about chest height, the bits and branches all left all over the area between the houses and the path, as a perfectly place for rodents large and small to make their homes. There was a miserable-looking householder there, just standing, staring at the mess, his house now on full display to the world.

But from what I can see it’s going to get worse. I’m beginning to feel quite guilty for pointing out that sweet little patch of green between the railway lines and the houses on the north side. For heaven’s sake – I thought it would make nice allotments – not a sodding car park, which is what appears to be happening from what I could see last night.

The little road has been used as an unofficial car park for years now – where the old station office used to be and over those rather cute little cobbles – one 4×4 which never seemed to move, even managed to make its way over that hump of old flytipped mattresses that got covered with weeds and ended up looking more like an Anglo-Saxon burial mound (maybe we could have pretended it WAS an Anglo Saxon burial mound and claimed an amnesty for the mattress-pile…) I don’t have much of a problem with making it official, if they really must.

But now it would seem that the fence has been broken down and there are track-marks into that little welcome patch of greenery.

Are they really going to tarmac it over? Surely not? It’s tiny, for heaven’s sake. It could only accommodate half a dozen cars at best – I wouldn’t have thought the revenue would be worth it. And it would create a serious security risk for the houses there. If I lived there I’d be furious.

But maybe I’m jumping the gun here. There was no one at the station to ask whether or not this really will be turned into a car park. But I wouldn’t put it beyond South Eastern Trains. Does anyone know? Are we just about to lose yet another little patch of green to the dreaded concrete?