Archive for the ‘Woolwich’ Category

Ask and Ye Shall Receive…

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Yesterday Conal asked about a skating tragedy from the 1840s where two small boys’ fall through the ice was ascribed to their committing the heinous crime of playing on the Sabbath. The gravestone in St Mary’s Church, Woolwich has gone and it was feared that no one had recorded its hard-hitting inscription.

And indeed they haven’t. Well, not entirely.

I am delighted to say, however, that the extraordinary Julian Watson (is there anything that guy doesn’t know about Greenwich?) has yet again come up with the goods. He tells me:

This is p.776 of ‘Records of the Woolwich District’ by William Thomas Vincent. WTV was the founder of the Woolwich Antiquarian Society and Editor of the Kentish Independent. This standard work on Woolwich history was published in parts in 1890 (if I remember right). As well as a great historical source it is rich in journalistic anecdotes like this one. Mulgrave Pond is still there tucked away behind Artillery Place. Vincent’s work was unsurpassed until the publication of Peter Guillery’s recent magnificent book on Woolwich published as part of the Survey of London.

So – here’s the gen. We were looking a good ten years too late for the article, it appears there were five casulaties not two and that the pond was not on Blackheath, which makes it all the more impressive that Julian knew where to look…

As always, click on the image to enlarge it.

Wow, on so many levels. Wow that Julian knew exactly where to find this extraordinary anecdote. Wow that those 19th Century patricians were so hard-hearted. Wow that Bell and Moseley’s big idea to check whether it was okay for them to skate was by getting a bunch of small children scrabbling around on the ice for a ha’penny. Wow that the jurors from the inquest put their hands in their pockets to pay for such a headstone, which can’t have been cheap given the amount of carving on it, but which needed to be done to warn other youngsters of the dangers of playing on the Lord’s Day. And Wowww that someone actually removed – presumably destroyed – this extraordinary memorial without even recording it properly.

Tell you what, though. I ‘ve got to see this book. The next article about the ill-winged bullet sounds just as fascinating as this one. Race you to the Heritage Centre…

Historic Wrath of God

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Conal from Australia asks an odd question:

In St. Mary’s Churchyard (Woolwich) used to be a headstone telling of the death by drowning of 2 (?) young boys who had taken their new skates to a frozen pond on Blackheath (I don’t know which one). It draws the moral that this was divine retribution for skating on a holy day. I was taken to St Mary’s on occasion by my father, I remember it well, not least for his appalled reaction to such a homily. It has been removed, cleared, and unlike the earlier clearance in the 19th century, the headstones were not recorded.

Do you know anything of this, or where I might check it out further?

I confess I’ve never heard of this incident. Normally I’d suggest Conal check out Greenwich Heritage Centre, but they, apparently, have no record of either the accident or the headstone.

My next thought was, of course, Neil Rhind’s history of the Heath, which is pretty much definitive. But apart from my nicking this rather wonderful picture of skating on Prince of Wales pond in 1904 (which is from Greenwich Heritage centre – sorry chaps…) – from a good sixty-odd years after Conal’s two little boys killed by the wrath of God – there is little about skating in my version of The Heath other than noting that skating rarely happens these days as the winters aren’t so severe.

Of course I only have the first edition, something I always mean to rectify then forget about until the next time someone asks something like this, so apologies to Neil if the incident is mentioned in there.

I can’t imagine that the newly-renamed Kentish Mercury (The Greenwich, Woolwich and Deptford Gazette, and West Kent Advertiser were turned into the Kentish Mercury in 1838) would have missed a juicy story like this though. If there isn’t a copy in the Heritage Centre it will probably be in the National Newspaper Archive. I confess a cursory online search of the millions of pages they’ve scanned for online search so far didn’t bring much up for me and I don’t have the hours in the day for a trudge up to Boston Spa (though actually, the Phantom Webmaster points out that the current transfer of all the Newspaper archives from Colindale to Yorkshire has a five-month embargo on research via their services anyway).

Has anyone else anything on this? Do you remember the headstone? Anything more on it?

A Secret Path

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

I’ve been trying for a week to think what I could usefully add to the hours of TV, yards of newspaper comment and terrabites of bloggery/tweeting about the terrible events in Woolwich a week ago today and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing I can add that doesn’t reiterate what has already been said. That wouldn’t just deepen the pain of a family, a town and a country in mourning.

So instead I thought I’d share with you a little path I found at the weekend when visiting a pal who’s just moved into a new flat at the Woolwich Academy (next time I visit I’ll take some pics for you, there are some really interesting old buildings – and some very dull new ones…) Perhaps it can bring a little joy in sad times.

Basically, if you take your bus of choice to Queen Elizabeth Hospital then walk a little further along away from Woolwich, past the car park, you’ll find a little wooded entrance, leading to a path heading east. You can follow the path through the woods right up into open common, knee-high in cow parsley and feeling for all the world somewhere that could be in the middle of the countryside.

Nobody seems to use it. My friend and I had the whole common to ourselves – there wasn’t a kid playing with a kite, a bloke walking a dog, a teenager sniffing glue, nothing. Just us. And it was wonderful.

If you follow the path across it comes out just by the Academy, but there are other paths that criss-cross, so you can choose your own adventure.

There’s a rather alarming headline on this week’s New’s Shopper about the state of Woolwich Common after its moment in the spotlight last year at the Olympics.

I’m not for a moment pretending that LOCOG – or whoever their clean-up guys are – have not seriously neglected this area of the common. I guess it just goes to show that the major fuss individuals, groups and the council made about insisting Greenwich Park was put back properly was justified. With only the MOD to look after Woolwich Common there are parts of it that still look like ploughed fields.

I went over to take a look and while, frankly, the News Shopper is slighty exaggerating, it’s still much more of a mess than it should be.

But with all the awful stuff that has been going on in Woolwich I wanted to show that not everything is grim in the place. There is sweetness and peace to be found.

BTW if you click on the long thin image at the top you’ll see what a marvellous view there is to be had..

Rotunda Still In Peril

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

After last week’s little frisson of excitement that in the reworking of the army barracks at Woolwich for the soon-to-be-arriving King’s Troop Royal Artillery the beautiful but sadly falling -apart Georgian Rotunda would be renovated and loved again I’m afraid that I have some rather sad news for you.

After our discussion last week, Paul actually wrote to the architects, Scott Brownrigg, to see whether this extraordinary Georgian confection was included in their designs or just a pretty backdrop for them (well done Paul – thanks…). He pointed out that it was an asset that would make everything not only look better, but was desirable to keep in at least reasonable shape.

He received a reply from them a day or so ago:

“Dear Sir
Thanks for your email, I am afraid that your assumption is correct the Rotunda is not part of the King’s troop relocation scheme.

All we know is that the building is still under military ownership.”

Well, at least we know where it all stands. I know that money is tight just now, but this is a sublime, unique building by a famous architect. Surely it deserves a better fate than this?

I still feel that it would make a good events venue that, once it was brought back to a reasonable state, would pay for itself in hire fees, much as the Cutty Sark is hoping to do next year.

Its one crime is that it’s not in a posh area. If this was Godalming or Henley, the Rotunda would never have suffered a fate like this. It would have been lovingly restored, dressed in white ribbons and pink roses every weekend for fluffy brides and squiffy bridesmaides, been the setting for several international smash-hit Richard Curtis rom-coms and occasionally been the backdrop for well-heeled amateur theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s comedies. As it is, it’s gated off, surrounded by the detritus of military hardware and falling to bits.

There is an unpalatable but radical idea that I don’t actually condone but this morning I feel like paying devil’s advocate. Hang on, I’m going to don my tin helmet and dig myself a trench…

The Rotunda wasn’t always here. It started out in King George’s back garden in the centre of town.

I would hate to see it moved from its present position, but I would hate more to see it crumble and collapse completely. Would moving it to save it be such a terrible idea?

Right.  I’m just going to take cover before the firing begins.

Hope for the Rotunda?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Paul’s just reminded me about a discussion we had back in 2009 (well, part of it’s there, anyway – the usual problem – all the comments pre-2010 are sadly lost…) about how the Rotunda at Woolwich could be saved.

The basics are thus:  a bizarre, tent-like structure by the Prince Regent’s favourite architect, John Nash, was originally built as a tent in George’s back garden at Carlton House for a grand ball to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon (now that’s what I call style…)  but it was so loved by all and sundry that Nash built a brick wall round it and covered the canvas roof with lead – today’s equivalent would be to put a big aluminum lid over the Dome. It was a bit in the way in George’s back garden though, so it was moved to Woolwich, where for many years it was a museum. Then Firepower came along and the place was abandoned.

I once met the major in charge of looking after it – a decent chap saddled with excellent listed historical buildings, no budget to look after them – and a growing collection of  ’important’ military regalia that people kept ‘donating’ to the museum because they didn’t want to give it all house-room. He told me it cost sixty-odd grand just to stop the Rotunda collapsing into dust – that was in 2009 – and he just didn’t have the cash.

I started to really fear for the building – but a link Paul’s sent me to some very sketchy (literally – the pictures, one of which I’ve pinched for the top of this post, are lovely) page on the website of  Scott Brownrigg, the architects in charge of creating the new home for the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who are moving from St John’s Wood to Woolwich (no prizes for guessing why) has cheered me up a little.

Here’s a PDF of the proposals which recognise the importance of the Rotunda, and include a ‘forming up area and ménage’ adjacent to it. Not being of a horsey-bent, I’m assuming that’s some kind of parade-ground-y-type thing where splendidly-uniformed chevaliers swagger around on horseback – presumably quite an eyeful if we’re allowed to see it. It also implies that it’s this area English Heritage have asked to be kept open (I think they mean ‘clear’ rather than necessarily open to the public)  - which means the rather welcome demolition of  ’particularly low merit’ buildings surrounding it.

All this sounds pretty okay to me. I can’t say I’m wild about the new buildings – the stables remind me of chicken sheds and the rest of the constructions smack of a visitors centre in a national park – but they’re not offensive and I’m intrigued that the whole shebang runs on pellets made from horse manure, a fuel of which they’ll have such a ready supply they’ll be able to sell it off to anyone who wants to run their gaff on dung. Given the recent hikes in gas and electricity charges recently that sounds almost attractive.

The only thing I can’t find in the proposals is any ring-fenced cash for renovation and upkeep of the Rotunda itself. I truly hope that’s been thought of. It would be reassuring to know that the major’s been allocated some money to spend on this Grade II* listed Georgian gem.

Quiet Shame

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Back in September, during Open House weekend, I went to visit the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich – a curious building with a curious history. But I’m not talking about that today, I’m more concerned with something I learned that morning which has been troubling me ever since.

Our group was shown round the barracks by the man in charge – always good to get the head honcho – and I took the opportunity to ask about the fate of the Rotunda.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this very, very odd building, tucked away behind a screen of trees and a fence of barbed wire (the photos here are the best I could do back in the summer – there’s just no way of really seeing it any more…), it’s a weird tent-like structure, which started out as exactly that – a tent.

John Nash built it in 1814, in the grounds around Carlton House Gardens. It was the centrepiece of six tents created to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon (so what if it was all a bit previous…)

Everyone liked the tent so much that Nash decided that it was too good just to take down again, so he hit upon the idea of surrounding the tent walls with brick, and covering the canvas roof with a rather splendid, sweeping lead version to protect the original. I guess the equivalent would be if someone put a giant metal dome over the top of the O2.

The whole thing was moved to Woolwich in 1820, to become the Museum of Artillery – which it was for about 180 years. It even got a revamp in 1975.

When the Woolwich Arsenal was turned into what it is now, it was decided to create Firepower, and all the stuff was moved from the Rotunda to the new museum. They’re still moving the last cannons, I understand. Here’s one:

What one makes of Firepower is an individual matter. But the question of what happens to the Rotunda next is one that I’d never fully got to the bottom of.

It’s completely closed, with high fences and the aforementioned trees, though it would have once had fantastic views – for miles around. I knew that the place had reverted to the MOD so I took the opportunity of asking our guide what would be happening.

Frankly, after he told me (he was completely, and typically militarily up-front about it) the rest of the weekend was a bit of a downer for me and I’ve been trying to get my head around it ever since.

When the final cannons go (and they may have gone by now, though I doubt it – they’re big buggers) the place will ‘have the lights turned off.’ That, to you and me, means it will just be left, to moulder away. No access, no views, just a quiet rotting into the earth.

It’s economics, of course, that dictate this. The guy told me it takes sixty-odd grand a year just to stop the place collapsing (it faces special architectural problems due to its ‘unusual’ construction) and he has other drains on his finances – not least huge amounts of military memorabilia that finds its way into his hands which he’s supposed to lovingly curate.

I expressed my distress at this news, trying hard to lower my voice from the strangulated squeak it had become. He said that he would be interested in talking to anyone that could make a financial go of leasing it – after all – it’s a liability – sixty grand a year before you do anything to it (and I’m not sure if they’re even going to spend that when they finally go…)

I would SO love to see something happen to this – but what – and with what kind of cash? The place is listed (of course) but there’s no real stick to beat the MOD with if they just let it moulder. It’s out of the way – I can’t even see what it could be used for – but hell – this is a John Nash building that is at the very least ‘exotic.’ Surely there’s something…

Livin’ Up The Arsenal

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Tiffany asks:

“Wondering if any of your devoted readers could help out on deciding whether or not to move to Royal Arsenal. My family is currently in GMV but we’d like more space. Royal Arsenal is lovely, but as we don’t know anyone there, we don’t know what it’s really like to live in Woolwich, or how the schools are, etc. Would definitely like some help!”

The Phantom replies:

I suggested the Arsenal to a friend of mine who was moving into the area recently. He ignored me, but I still think it’s not a bad choice if you’re scared off by like-for-like prices in Greenwich.

It’s a bit on the quiet side – but no more than the GMV, and there’s the throbbing (not always in a good way) hub of Woolwich town centre on your doorstep. You get great transport links – what you lose in the Jubilee line at the GMV you make up for with the DLR, fast trains into London (they don’t all stop at all the stations) and the lovely boats (though I don’t know how many actually go that far, come to think of it.)

It’s clean and fresh, with good views and the Thames Path for get-out-ness but do check that wherever you’re looking at Berkley Homes doesn’t have any plans for in-filling the gap in front of you – I vaguely remember reading somewhere that to claw back cash they lost, they’re building more blocks of houses than originally agreed and you may find your lovely river view compromised (can’t swear to that – it was back in the days when I used to get local papers – long, long ago…)

Downsides – well – it is Woolwich – though given what Greenwich town centre can be like of a weekend night, maybe it’s not so bad. You’ll miss the Sainsburys at the peninsula – if memory serves the best you’ll do until the Giant Tesco of Doom arrives is a Lidl – and, of course the market, which isn’t too bad, but is more interested in selling you a mobile phone cover than a cabbage. You mention “family” which sort of implies kiddies to me – I have no idea what the schools are like.

On the other hand, you’ll never want for pound shops or burger bars and there are some fab bargains to be had down the high street, which has a sort of provincial-town atmosphere to it. The M&S is an outlet (sadly the BHS one next door has gone the way of all undies…) and the Clarks factory store’s great – Phantom tip – take a friend – they often do two for one or three for two deals.

Don’t miss the Favourite Inn, round the back of the DLR station – a great family-run Chinese restraurant. I take a train to eat there on a regular basis.

Personally, I like Woolwich. It’s scruffy, yes, and a bit of a building site just now (isn’t everywhere..?) But you get more for your cash there and it’s on the river, which is never a bad thing.

Funny Ha Ha

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Ha Ha Road SE18

You know it never occurred to me that there would actually be a ha-ha in Ha Ha Road. I always assumed that it was a leftover from the grounds of Charlton House and it would be long gone.

Nevertheless I was walking along it the other day (hands up – it was first time I had ever walked along there, normally I’m driving) and was absolutely amazed to see that the ha-ha not only exists but is in damn fine condition.

It appears to be nothing to do with Charlton House; everything to do with Woolwich’s military presence.

I confess I’m surprised – I tend to associate ha-has (holding-walls with a ditch or sharp drop one side, usually erected as invisible barriers between formal gardens and the rest of the landscape, preventing animals from chomping the flowers, but without nasty fences – hugely popular in Capability Brown’s day) with grand old country piles, rather than army security. I guess it must just come from less hisk-risk times.

It flanks the Barrack Field of Woolwich Garrison, and the brick gateposts of what must have been a rather splendid entrance are still there, as are some curved stone curbs. I can’t tell whether the ditch that leads into Charlton Park Lane is a continuation of the ha ha that’s not been so well looked after, but I am absolutely delighted to see that the bit along Ha Ha Road is in such good nick.

There’s a story that goes round that ha has are called that because when unsuspecting people failed to look where they were going and fell down the ditch everyone else found it hilarious. A nagging doubt about this is going through my mind – I have a feeling there’s a much duller reason for the name – a corruption of the French word for it or something equally prosaic. Maybe Capability Bowes can help me out here?

Favourite Inn

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Today, Folks, I bring you something a little out of town – but a secret that if you don’t know it already, you will thank me for sharing with you…

We were talking recently about the lack of decent Chinese eateries, but when Henrietta asked me the other day about places to live, I was reminded of one that really deserves a mention.

Round the back of Woolwich Arsenal train (and soon to be DLR) station, lies the intriguingly-named, somewhat tatty Spray Street. And in the middle of Spray Street, about two minutes’ dawdle from the station, lies The Favourite Inn. Brightly-lit, which makes it especially welcoming on a dark rainy night, you really can’t miss it.

Don’t expect anything glamorous – simple decor, with the ubiquitous plain-walls-bar-and-strange-fairy-lights combo – but what it lacks for in ambiance is more than made up for by the welcome – solicitous and attentive – and the food.

I have never eaten a bad meal at this place. I’ve had things I preferred to others – the King Prawns with Cashew Nuts were a hit where I wouldn’t particularly order the Scallops with Ginger and Spring Onion again (nothing awful about it, just nothing exciting) – but it’s always been well-cooked and nicely flavoured.

But the real ace in the hole for those with vegetarians in the group (as we often have) is the Crispy Aromatic Duck. It’s wonderful – and for once the veggies don’t have to sit around watching the carnivores with their tongues hanging out. I have no idea what is actually in the Crispy Aromatic “Monk’s Duck” – but it’s totally vegetarian and just as tasty as the real thing, so everyone can sit around together with piles of wafer-thin pancakes, dishes of hoi sin sauce and shredded spring onion, fighting over the last shreds of crispy seaweed.

Give it a try. This is an honest, simple place that has always come up with the goods when I’ve been there. I don’t know what will happen to it when the whole area gets regenerated, but it’s survived so far…