Category Archives: Greenwich History

A View From The Point

Time series of images make for interesting viewing – it is a technique that many have used, such as the Chilean-born photographer Camilo José Vergara who recorded changes in particular buildings over 40 years and fellow blogger Bobby Seal who recorded the same view at the same time of day over a year and created a video.

On Twitter, the Barnsley Bard, Ian McMillan, creates 140 character poetic ‘images’ of his (very) ‘Early Stroll’ of around 40 minutes, that includes a visit to the paper shop – it is one of the joys of twitter .

The Point is perhaps my favourite view of London, it was the starting point for my first post on Running Past  – there is an uninterrupted vista over the city in an arc from around Battersea in the south west to glimpses of Orbit in the Olympic Park to the north east.

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Oddly, it isn’t a well-known panorama, often I am the only one admiring; it doesn’t have the impressive Inigo Jones foreground of the view a little further around the escarpment in front of the Observatory which draws in the tourists.

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It is a place of solitude, despite the proximity of the often pollution laden A2, frequently the only sounds are the birds in the quite dense shrubbery that flanks the viewpoint along with the more distant rumble of the DLR.

In places, the horizon is truncated by the hilly landmasses of north London – Hampstead Heath and Highgate along with their relatively near neighbour which Alexandra Palace sits atop.  All the tall London landmarks are visible – St Pauls, Telecom Tower, the ‘Cheese Grater’, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’, the ‘Shard’, the ‘Eye’, and the tops of the Canary Wharf towers – the number of stories depending on the level of pruning.

On a clear day the Wembley arch is visible in a way that the Towers never were – it sometimes glints in the sun – it is about 10 miles away as the crow flies; on a really clear day there are views beyond to what appear to be the tiny undulations of to what must be the Chilterns to the south and Harrow on the Hill to the north of it.

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I first discovered the view from The Point on a run in the mid-1990s and have been frequently drawn back, although only started taking photographs a couple of years ago.   The camera can never pick the level of detail of an eye scanning the horizon – the clarity of the view on a frosty autumn morning or after a summer afternoon downpour are hard to replicate, particularly with a smart phone camera with no optical zoom.

Some of the changes would need a much longer time series of photographs to become apparent – most of the larger landmarks of the cities of London and Westminster have appeared in the time that I have been viewing – it is a gradual evolution of the view, almost imperceptible from visit to visit.  Over longer time periods the view has changed more – I bought a 1940s photograph of the view (taken slightly lower down the hill), while fascinating, its slightly blurry image is almost unrecognisable compared with those 70 years later, with considerable bomb damage around Deptford Creek.  Only St Pauls Deptford seems constant – its steeple particularly clear.

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The middle distance has evolved considerably – the Pepys Estate and other ‘regeneration’ schemes that have brought high specification private housing, but little genuinely affordable social housing, to the riverside and in the process have driven traditional Thames-side activities away from the waterfront.  Deptford Creek, the mouth of the Ravensbourne, around a mile away, is much altered – it is no longer visible but now seems lined with glass and steel, including the  impressive Laban Centre.  The changes are even greater to the north – when I first ‘discovered’ the view, 1 Canada Square was there but little else on the Isle of Dogs, the Barkantine Estate towers on the east of the ’Island’ were still fairly dominant, they are now dwarfed by everything around them.

There are lots of other changes too, which it is easy to forget.   Helpfully the viewpoint has a guide to the view provided by the old Greater London Council, which predated many of the now landmark buildings that dominate the skyline, less helpfully , most of the time those in charge of the grounds maintenance have allowed shrubs to block the view it described although an early January pruning has restored the view.

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Other changes are more obvious – seasons, weather, cloud cover, pollution levels, times of day and foliage growth.  The seasons make a surprising difference – the winter sun with its much lower angle casts a very different light to its midsummer counterpart – the former is clearer, brighter and crisper but the contrast is greater. My visits are often on a Sunday morning, more recently I have frequently laced up my running shoes in the afternoon. In the summer, I sometimes eschew the Wednesday evening ‘club run’ for a run nearer home – decisions that are often based around the timing of the sunset or the weather.

I only tend to visit in daylight, it is uneven under foot and ill lit at night, although there are exceptions, and rarely when it rains, although where there is a choice I would tend to avoid running in the rain and the phone stays firmly in the pocket.

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But perhaps that is the key point, I am one of the variables, perhaps the single biggest influence on the series of pictures – it depends on me being there to be captured – it isn’t just the wet days, I may ‘skip’ the loop to The Point if I know the visibility is poor – the clarity of the view towards the spire of Our Ladye Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill from my emergence onto the Heath– is often the bellwether of adjustments to my run.  I also decide on the angle of the photograph, the amount of zoom, while my eye is drawn more towards the horizon, the lens is drawn west-north-west towards the City, towards the glimpses of the River.

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It Isn’t Far from Lee to Gommecourt ….

The route to the southern edges of Picardy from south-east London is a straightforward one these days; the town of Albert can be reached in around four hours via the Channel Tunnel from Lee or Hither Green.  A variant of the journey was taken by numerous young men just over a century ago

This week sees the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 and many of those that made that short journey never returned, killed in the initial onslaughts and buried in a foreign field.  The story of the first day has been told numerous times before both factually (such as here) and fictionally, although few more eloquently or poignantly than by Sebastian Faulks who described a scene a day or two before the offensive began:

As they rounded the corner, he saw two dozen men, naked to the waist, digging a hole thirty yards square at the side of the path. For a moment he was baffled. It seemed to have no agricultural purpose; there was no more planting or ploughing to be done. Then he realized what it was. They were digging a mass grave. He thought of shouting an order to about turn or at least to avert their eyes, but they were almost on it, and some of them had already seen their burial place. The songs died on their lips and the air was reclaimed by the birds.

Sebastian Faulks (1994) Birdsong (London, Vintage), p215

The sheer enormity of the scale of human loss becomes obvious when looking at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website – there are almost 18,000 names of deaths on first day of the battle.

This post focuses on the role of a local regiment – the 56th Division, 1st/5th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), they were a ‘City’ Regiment but many of their soldiers were from south east London. Their role that day was essentially a diversionary one to try to divert German troops away from a more significant push further south on the Somme, the secondary aim was to help secure the northern flank around Gommecourt thus pushing the German’s back to positions that would be less easy to defend.

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Map Source Wikimedia Commons

Initially the London Regiment met with success and took the first and second German lines, but there was much more resistance from the third line and the British suffered considerable causalities and were driven back to their original lines.  Of the 826 from the regiment at the start of the day 275 were listed as dead by the end of the day on the CWG site.  Just 89 came through the day alive and unwounded.

There were are least a dozen local men who died that day at Gommecourt with the London Rifles.  It is worth reflecting on some of those young south London lives cut short on the first catastrophic day of battle where the worth of the human life seemed to count for so little. They will have climbed out of their trenches at around 7:30, none seen again alive and with most their remains were never identified.

James Frederick Wingfield – 36 Burnt Ash Road

James was a 30 year old Rifleman of the 1st/5th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade)  He was the oldest of 8 children (in the 1911 census) of son of James Peter and Elizabeth, the former was Company Secretary for a wine merchant.  The family originated in East London, where James had been born in South Hackney and by 1911 were living at 9 Effingham Road; in Civvy street, James was an Accounts Clerk.

In the intervening five years Frederick had married Ada Gertrude Glanville and had moved just around the corner to 32 Burnt Ash Road – her parent’s home – probably close to the postcard depiction below of around that time (source e bay February 2015).

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There is no known grave for James Wingfield and he is remembered along with 72,194 others at The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme to missing British and South African men, who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918.  It is just a couple of miles down the road from Gommecourt.  James and another local man who died the same day, 20 year old Arthur Webber from 69 Eltham Road, are also commemorated on the War Memorial at the former St Peter’s Church site.

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© Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Cecil Ravenscroft – 94 Mount Pleasant Road

Cecil was a 19 year-old rifleman born in Chicester in East Sussex in 1896, to Byfleet Charles Ravenscroft who hailed from Worcestershire and Catherine from Swansea.  They seem to have been a family that moved around a lot this oldest brother was born in Lewisham in 1890, but in the following year’s census they were in Ifield in West Susseex (now part of Crawley).  In the 1901 census they were back in Lewisham, although only visiting someone in Brockley Park.  Cecil’s younger brother, Charles was born in Lewisham in 1895.

Cecil’s father died in 1911, before the census was conducted on 2 April.  The family was living at 49 Albacore Crescent and the 14 year old Cecil was working as a clerk, perhaps in the ‘City.’

By the time of Cecil’s death, the remaining members of the family were living at 94 Mount Pleasant Road. He was buried at Hébuterne Military Cemetery, about a kilometre south of Gommecourt.

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Picture from CWGC Website which allows reproduction of images and material elsewhere

Frank Dension Chandler – 23 Vanbrugh Park

Corporal Frank Chandler was born in Camberwell in 1893, his parents were Gibbs William and Lizzie Chandler who were from Camberwell and Isle of Dogs respectively – they were living at Liford Road, Camberwell in the 1891 census.  In 1901 the family was still at Lilford Road, Frank was the fourth oldest of the six children of the family, but his mother Lizzie had died in 1898.

some chandlerBy 1911 they had moved to East Dulwich Grove, his father having married Alice from Hamstead in Kent in 1907; by 1916 the family was living at 23 Vanbrugh Park. In Civvy Street Frank (pictured – source here) worked for Lloyds broker’s Nelson Donkin & Company

Like James Wingfield, there is no grave for Frank and he is remembered at Thriepval.

 

Richard Hopf – 9 Davenport Road

Rifleman Richard Hopf had been born in Catford in 1888, his parents Emilie and Paul were from Germany.  Paul  seems to have died sometime between the 1886 and the 1891 census.  The family was not recorded in the 1901 census but in 1911 Richard was living was his mother and four siblings in Westdown Road in Catford – he is listed as a Counting House Clerk.

In the early stages of the war there were a lot of attacks on German nationals, something that the blog covered in relation to Deptford a couple of years ago, many were deported.  With an English born family, who presumably would have had to stay behind, Emilie remained in Catford.  Several of the family subsequently Anglicised their name to ‘Hope’, including Richard’s older brother, Paul.

Richard Hopf is listed as dead on the CWGC website and was ‘buried’ at the now peaceful looking Gommecourt 2 Cemetery.

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Returning to the Somme, the initial push on that first terrible day foreshadowed what was to come – there was to be little success at Gommecourt – the OS Trench maps from around the end of the ‘battle’ six months later, show almost no progress from the initial lines.  Gommecourt was still under German control.


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I will leave the final words about that the catastrophic losses from those initial assaults to someone who has written extensively about the Somme and particularly about Gommecourt, Alan McDonald

The men of the 56th and 46th Divisions had been sacrificed to no end. It was predictable, it was unnecessary, it was criminal.

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Lee’s Accidental Airship Record  – Willows II

When thinking about locations for aeronautical records in south London, the most obvious places to consider are, perhaps, Biggin Hill or the old Croydon Aerodrome (covered in passing in relation to ‘Lady Icarus’);  a  long way down the list would be Lee. But Lee has been home to two  records – the first known parachute fatality at Burnt Ash Farm, which was covered in the blog in 2015, and, for a short period in the early 20th century, it was the accidental location for the end of the longest airship flight  when Willows II landed somewhere around Winns Road on what was known as Woodman’s Farm.

Like the sad tale of Robert Cocking, Lee’s claim to fame was a purely accidental one.  The pilot was aiming for Crystal Palace but due to poor visibility and some technical problems had somewhat overshot his destination.

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From postcard in author’s ‘collection’

The pilot was Captain Ernest Thompson Willows, he was the son of a wealthy Cardiff dentist and born in 1886.  He had been inspired by the Wright Brothers and built his first airship, Willows I, two years after their flight at Kitty Hawk when Willows was just 19. It was powered by a motorcycle engine and was reasonably successful, its maiden flight outside Cardiff lasted for 85 minutes, the first of half a dozen flights.

The follow up, the imaginatively named Willows II, was another four years in the making and was slightly bigger than the first one and launched in 1909.  He extended the length of the flights – flying from Cheltenham to Cardiff in four hours in July 1910.

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Picture from ‘Flight’ 13 August 1910

The flight to Lee was the following month.  He left his ‘shed’ in the moors above Cardiff around 8 pm on an August Saturday evening, guided initially by the lights of his father’s car.  The car lights failed soon after England had been reached and Willows was left to steer by a combination of stars, lights from towns and occasional forays down to almost ground level to check where he was via megaphone (1)  His flight took him over Chippenham, Colne, Reading and Chertsey before heading towards Crystal Palace (2).

Coming to a stop was fairly rudimentary and involved throwing a grappling iron out and hoping someone would be able to get hold of it and secure the airship.  On the approach to Crystal Palace, the grappling iron got stuck in a tree and the rope broke.  He drifted on to between Lee and Mottingham, where a watchman with some help from others was able to catch the rope and secure Willows II (3).

There was some damage to the skin with a consequent loss of hydrogen, which needed to be replaced.  So it wasn’t until the following Monday evening that he was able to complete the trip to Crystal Palace – his flight took him over Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lower Sydenham before reaching Sydenham Hill 18 minutes later – the journey was watched by thousands on the ground.  The final destination was in cloud and he lost those on the ground who he was following, so like the flight to Lee, the final descent was a bit haphazard.

Once at Crystal Palace he did regular demonstrations, which adverts were taken out for in the local and national press – such as this one in The Times (4).

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Willows continued with building airships – Willows II was re-built and re-named as the City of Cardiff in an unsuccessful attempt to win a £2000 prize for the first flight between Paris and London.  While he was able to sell Willows IV to the Admiralty for just over £1000, it seems to have been the only significant money he made from his passion for flight.  A period in the Royal Flying Corps in World War 1 was bookended by offering sight-seeing flights – it was on one of these near Bedford in August 1926 where the basket became detached from the airship and Ernest Willows and his five passengers hurtled to the ground – one of the passengers survived but all the others, including Willows, perished.

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As for Woodman’s Farm in Lee, it seems to have been a relatively short lived farm, its location is highlighted on the map above.  It may well have originally been part of Horn Park Farm which the blog covered a while ago.  The unplanned landing of the airship seems to be its first mention.  It was also known as Melrose Farm – which it was referred to in the 1914 Kelly’s Directory (5).

The farm was a market gardening operation supplying the army during WW1 and selling produce at Greenwich market (6).  It was run by the Woodman family seemingly until the 1930s, when, like Horn Park Farm, it was lost to developers (7).  The farm house remains on Ashdale Road, helpfully called ‘The Old Farm House’ to make identification easy and was used by the builders of streets around there, Wates, as a site office during the construction (8).

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Notes

  1. Flight 13 August 1910
  2.  Ibid
  3.  Ibid
  4.  The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Aug 23, 1910; pg. 1; Issue 39358
  5.  Josephine Birchenough and John King (1981) ‘Some Farms and Fields in Lee’, p14
  6.  Ibid
  7.  Ibid
  8.  ibid

Well Hall Stream – A Tributary of the Quaggy, Part 1

Unlike some of the other tributaries of the Quaggy, the early stages of Well Hall Stream are obvious; there seem to be at least three sources relatively high up on Shooters Hill.  There are a couple of small streams tumbling down through Jackwood on the southern side of Shooters Hill – just to the east of Sevendroog Castle.  One of these has a clear valley and is big enough to have a bridge crossing it on the path through the woods and has a clear flow in wet weather.

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There is also a rather soggy area just below the café on the western side of Oxleas Meadow – this would seem to be a spring and there a clear signs of fluvial erosion there both on the ground and the tell-tell upward pointing notches of contours on Ordnance Survey maps.

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All three of these sources were constrained by concrete when leaving the meadow or woodland to enter culverts under Crookston Road when the houses were built in the 1930s.  Whether the water is piped down its previous course or enters the road drainage system is unclear.

In the very soggy winter of 2013/14 the culvert to the east either became blocked or couldn’t cope with the flows – oddly these seem to be the responsibility of residents to maintain.  Flooding resulted and residents dug a small drainage channel just inside the meadow to divert the flow away from the houses and onto Rochester Way. It was still visible two winters on.

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Top photo source

While there is no evidence of water on the hillside outside the woods, the former course of streams route away from Jackwood are clear to the fluvial flâneur – there is a small switchback with two little eroded notches in Dairsie Road that the developers didn’t fill.

The streams would probably have crossed what is now Rochester Way before coalescing into a a single flow somewhere around Dumbreck Road. There is a gentle downward fall towards the source of the stream’s name – Well Hall – the former route is obvious from the curvature of the thin brown sepia lines of the Ordnance Survey map but much less so on the ground.

I had hoped to hear the sound of submerged water from beneath manhole covers, but the only audible flows on a quiet Sunday afternoon were those of traffic streaming along the nearby, and also partially submerged A2.

The route became clear again with gentle depressions on both Glenesk and Westmount Roads.  There is a rather attractive Methodist chapel, built in 1906 on the northern ‘bank’ of the stream at the junction of Earlshall and Westmount Roads.  It replaced a ‘tin church’ on the same site and was opened as Walford Green Memorial Church. Walford Green was an important local figure in Methodism rather a predecessor of a fictional E20 square.

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Even on the oldest Ordnance Survey maps the stream isn’t always visible here, presumably having suffered from minor diversions to allow the cultivation of the farms that emerged after the break-up of the Royal Parks at Eltham Palace – something covered before in the blog in relation to Horn Park Farm.  The farm here was Park Farm.  It was also home to a 1000 yard rifle range on the first OS survey in the 1860s.

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The stream continues down Earlshall Road which starts to have a look of the Catford – Hither Green border; this is not surprising, it is another ‘Corbett Estate’ of a similar vintage – it is ‘carbon-dated’ via the impressive and imposing looking early Edwardian school – Gordon Primary School, which has retained temporary classrooms from WW1 when the area upstream was home to temporary housing for Woolwich munitions workers and their families.

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Not long after, and again with a slight depression in the road, the stream ’emerges’ into Well Hall Road and then into the eponymous Pleasaunce.

The journey  of Well Hall Stream to the Quaggy in what is now Sutcliffe Park will be concluded next week.

E Nesbit, The Railway Children and Lewisham

It was a simple street name sign in Grove Park that this post had its origins in …

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Between 1894 and 1899 Edith Nesbit lived at Three Gables in Baring Road – roughly between the Ringway Centre and Stratfield House flats. Grove Park was then a popular middle-class residential area and still with a number of small farms. The home backed onto the railway and there are suggestions that it may have inspired the Railway Children. Three Gables has long gone, although part of its garden is now Grove Park Nature Reserve, but Nesbit’s time there is remembered with a path which forms part of the Green Chain Walk.

There have been suggestions that the character of Albert Perks, played by Bernard Cribbens in the 1970 film version, was modelled on Southern Railway employee, William Thomson, who worked at Grove Park station and lived in Chinbrook Road.

She had moved to Well Hall by the time she wrote ‘The Railway Children’ though, a four-storey house next to the ‘Tudor Barn’, Well Hall House – shown in ‘engraving’ on the information board in, what is now known as, Well Hall Pleasaunce.  Her name is also remebered in an unattractive cul-de-sac between the Pleasaunce and the elevated A2 dual-carriageway leading to a bowling club.

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The backdrop to the children’s novel was a thinly disguised version of the Dreyfus Affair, whilst Nesbit was writing ‘The Railway Children’ Dreyfus had been pardoned, with the acquittal almost coinciding with the publication in early 1906.

I must admit to not having read ‘The Railway Children’ since school and my recollections of it are more shaped by the 1970 Lionel Jeffries film than the book and the current theatre production at the specially built Kings Cross Theatre. The film and play at least, evoke an almost idealised Edwardian rural middle class lifestyle.

The Railway Children Books About Town bench - Greewnwich 2014

The Railway Children Books About Town bench – Greewnwich 2014

Nesbit’s own adult life was very far removed from this; she was one of the co-founders of one of the Labour Party’s forerunners, the Fabian Society and had brief links with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, although found it a little too radical for her. Another author with Lewisham connections, David Lodge, covered the period at Well Hall in passing in his biographical novel of H G Wells, ‘A Man of Parts.’ She effectively lived in a ménage-a trois with her husband, Hubert Bland, and his mistress. Nesbit too had numerous affairs, including one with a young George Bernard Shaw.

As for her other Lewisham links, Edith Nesbit lived in several locations in Blackheath, Lewisham and Lee before her stay at Three Gables. The first seems to have been 16 Dartmouth Row, Blackheath (top left photo, below) where she moved in 1879 prior to her marriage to Herbert Bland. They moved to 28 Elswick Road, off Loampit Vale in Lewisham in 1882 (top right) which was recognised as part of Lewisham’s maroon plaque scheme.

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She seems to have spent several years around Lee; the 1891 Kelly’s directory has her husband living at 2 Birch Grove, just off what is now the South Circular. There is also a small park and children’s playground at the corner of Osberton and Leland Roads which bears her name, reflecting the time the she lived in the nearby Dorville Road

Whilst at Three Gables she wrote a couple of children’s books with local connections ‘The Treasure Seekers’ (1898) where the Bastables children’s ‘ancestral home’ was ‘a semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one’ at 150 Lewisham Road, before moving to The Red House in Blackheath in ‘The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers’ (1899)’

A quick skim read through on-line finds mentions of The Quaggy and the Lewisham Workhouse (now Hospital) in the ‘New Treasure Seekers’ (1904) concerning attempts to get rid of a Christmas Pudding with an unintentionally soapy taste paid for by subscription by the wealthy folks of Blackheath Park and Granville Park.

Nesbit was important in children’s literature with her biographer, Julia Briggs, suggesting that she was ‘the first modern writer for children’, and credited her with having invented the children’s adventure story – paving the way for the likes for Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ after World War 1 and Enid Blyton (whose life in Shortlands was touched upon in the blog last year) ‘Famous Five’ around 40 years later.

Low Tide on the Thames 2 – Thamesmead and Erith

A couple of weeks ago I ran upstream from the Thames Barrier to Greenwich along the river at low tide, stopping at several old wharfs along the way.  A consultation of tide tables this week suggested that I would find similar conditions this week.

Rather than repeating the route, I headed in the opposite direction, starting my run at the eastern edge of Woolwich Arsenal and heading downstream – my original aim was to run to the River Darenth, the boundary between London and Kent, but the twists and turns of the Thames Path meant that the edge of Erith was my limit before retracing my steps.

The early morning light over one of the abandoned jetties saw Canary Wharf bathed in bright sun. A heron waited patiently at margins of the glutenous mud and the shallow water for the movement of fish.  A little further downstream the blue of a kingfisher darted out of one of the many drainage channels bringing water away from the former marshes of Thamesmead, its task, as it glinted and glided over the surface, the same as that of the heron.

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The ‘light’ at Tripcock Ness (so named as vessels were not allowed to carry their anchor ‘cock-billed’) was ‘lit’ in the early morning sun, and a wall from the former Arsenal provided a pleasant foreground for a small area of remaining marshland on the north bank – apart from the pylons, little will have changed in the view in a century.

imageAfter passing a driving range abandoned by golfers, but taken over by horses,  the odour changed a little – first was Joseph Bazelgette’s ‘Cathedral on the Marsh’ – Crossness, a former steam driven sewage pumping  station.  Next door is its modern counterpart – with warnings of explosions – and a little further downstream Thames Water’s sludge power generator which uses sewage flakes as its fuel. Oddly, the ‘flakes’ come from Slough rather than next door.

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On the north bank, opposite Crossness, is Ford’s Dagenham plant, once home to the Cortina, the Sierra and the Fiesta but now just an engine plant.  On the south bank jetties and industry start to re-appear – a mixture of abandoned and working  – and the river bank is used for light industry, how it used to be upstream, before the housing took over.

My target mileage for the run was 11 miles, and the ‘out and back’ route along the river made distance easy to judge – the turning point was the on edge of Erith, with the sun glinting off the river and the heavy traffic heading southwards on the QE2 bridge in the distance.

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Housing ‘Poor Men’ in Greenwich

Trinity Hospital claims to be the oldest building in Greenwich; built in 1613, it pre-dates Inigo Jones Queen’s House by three years.  The benefactor was Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton and the Hospital, which is an almshouse, was built to provide shelter for 20 ‘Poor Men’ plus a warden.

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The Hospital has a slightly monastic feel with a small cloistered courtyard, the original rooms were little more than cells but the 21 rooms were converted into one bedroom flats following a refurbishment in 2008.

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The building itself had a makeover in 1812 with changes to the clock tower and the front stuccoed and capped with a castellated parapet.  Apparently the original south facing elevation was retained – this wasn’t accessible when I visited, although the pleasant garden which it looks out onto was – it is crossed by the meridian.

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The building is somewhat dwarfed by the adjacent Greenwich Power station, although a little less so than when the latter was built in the early 1900s, as following objections from the Observatory the chimneys were lowered by around 20 metres.

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Of the original 20 ‘Poor Men’ (plus a warden) 8 came from Shotesham in Norfolk, where the Earl of Northampton was born, and 12 from Greenwich.

The hospital was not open to everyone, there were strict guidelines about the suitability of ‘Poor Men’ to live there, including being at least 56 years old, not being a beggar, drunkard or ‘whore hunter’ and an ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer unaided.

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While the environment is now a little more relaxed, the original ‘Poor Men’ lived a very regimented lifestyle,

6 am (8 am in winter): rise, dress and say prayers.

9 am: service in the chapel (or St Alfege Church, presumably the medieval one rather than that designed by Hawksmoor, on Wednesday and Friday).

Until 11 am: Free time (although they were expected to do gardening and housework)

11 am: Lunch in the hall

3 pm: Church or chapel service, followed by ‘free time’ (‘weekly correction’ on Saturday).

6 pm: Supper in the hall.

9 pm: Retire to bed

There were also a series of ‘orders’ about acceptable behaviour issued by the Warden many of which were displayed in the cloisters when I visited – ranging in subject from forbidding the ‘Poor Men’ from going to ale houses and the like, wiping feet and when gates should be closed.

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Interestingly, the ‘Poor Men’ had a voice in key changes at the Hospital – 10 of them (along with two Senior Wardens from the Mercers Company) needed to agree to any decision involving use of the seal in relation to ‘any lease, grant or other writing whatsoever concerning the estate of the hospital.’

Trinity Hospital is only open once a year, as part of London Open House, and for the last few years just on the Saturday, it is well worth a visit though.