Hedley Vicars Butchers shop

Hedley Vicars Butchers shop

The news this week was gloomy: austerity at 1930s levels, food poverty and accusations that the working class could no longer cook.  A trip to Borough Market didn’t lift my spirits as I found out that a lamb’s kidney cost £6. When did this reversal of fortune occur; a staple of the working class now only found on the menus of top end restaurants and in the shopping bags of the well off.

1951 celebrations Powis St Woolwich

Culinary differences between the different social classes have existed for a long time.  During the 2nd World War the government equalized the food supply through subsidies on items consumed by the poor and the working class.  Cheap cuts of meat such as offal, breast of lamb, ox tail and cheek were available at the local butchers shop.

Earlier in the week I had come across this photograph of Hedley Vicars butchers on Powis Street in Woolwich. The year was 1951, Britain was beginning the recovery from war, some rationing had ended but it would continue for another three years on meat. Hedley Vicars were celebrating 100 years of service on the high street. In keeping with the optimism of postwar Britain the shop came up with a new slogan:

“In all ages Hedley Vicars are at your service”.

Shops such as a butcher, a greengrocer, a fishmonger and a bakery were standard on any high street and had been so for decades. No wonder Hedley Vicars thought they would continue to provide a service to the people of Woolwich for another century.

Early C20th Powis Street

Early C20th Powis Street

Powis St Woolwich

Then in the 1960s supermarkets appeared changing shopping habits. Mass food production techniques meant that the less well off no longer needed to depend on cheap cuts and they disappeared from the supermarket shelves.  There was a corresponding  decline of small independent shops.  These vintage photographs of Powis Street show a vibrant high street with an extensive range of shops. There is no longer a butchers shop on Powis Street although fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available at the daily market.

Market Hill 1925 Mr Thomas The Pawnbrokers

Market Hill 1925 Mr Thomas The Pawnbrokers

Now the supermarkets are in trouble undercut by the German no frills chains and changing shopping habits. As we brace ourselves for a few more years of austerity what changes will we see next in our high streets, our eating habits and how will our culinary skills develop?  Well who can say but  one thing I would be willing to bet on is that the increase in pawn shops will continue.

Stamford Lincolnshire

The curious visitor to Stamford may wonder how this town avoided the sprawl and squalor of the industrial period. Preserved in aspic it’s the perfect location for a Jane Austin drama.

View from The George

View from The George

Situated close to the Great North Road the town was a natural stopping point for coaches traveling between London and York. Today you can still see the great coaching inns like the George with its iconic sign which crosses the street and the Crown in Red Lion Square. Each have repurposed their old stable blocks to meet very different client groups. Football fans who like a fag can enjoy the large outdoor screen at The Crown whilst shoppers with an eye for luxury goods can visit the boutique shops at the back of The George.

The Welland centre of Stamford

The Welland centre of Stamford

 

The town dates back to the C5th, situated on a hill above meadows rising from the River Welland. The river remains an unspoilt focal point with dramatic views at dusk. The town’s development was restricted by the open field system.  What held development back more than anything was the Lammas Pasture rights – the right of the burgess to graze their cattle and sheep over the open fields after the  harvest had been taken in. The fields could be in private ownership but the burgess still had the right of Lammas over any man’s land. Towns in the midlands were particularly affected by the system.  By C19th the population and risen and the town needed to expand. It was a problem and one that the local aristocracy, down the road in Burghley House, wasn’t going to lend a hand in solving.

Stamford

The town returned two MPs and only householders had the franchise. The Cecils owned 200 houses in the town so had a huge influence which they weren’t going to relinquish by allowing open fields to be enclosed and possibly developed. Fearful of Chartists they also ensured that the town didn’t get caught up in industrialisation.  In 1846 there was a good chance that the London to York railway could pass through.

Stamford Lincolnshire

People of Stamford were anxious to get the trade because of the decline in the coaching trade. Lord Exeter (one of the Cecils) successfully prevented the railway coming and it went through Peterborough instead. Stamford’s  development was choked off and it fossilised into the stunning Georgian town we see today.  Good for today’s tourists but not for those living there at the time as from 1850 the population started to decline.

The Market

The Market

Today the town is still overshadowed by Burghley House and the public school situated in the heart of the town.  Market day on Friday is a lively affair with vendors chanting to sell their fresh produce. The townsfolks’ spiritual and social needs are well catered for as there are several churches and numerous public houses.  Sadly, not many of the pubs have survived as traditional boozers but have been modernised into restaurants or late night drinking holes with bouncers.

 

I know this has little to do with the Thames but it’s good for a visit.

Thames Barrier gates rising

Britain could be bracing itself for either one of the coldest or wettest winters in 100 years depending on which forecast you read. Since the 2007 prediction of a “barbecue summer”, which ended in a washout, the Met Office stopped publishing public seasonal forecasts. They may return now that the Met have purchased a super computer. Personally I’m hoping for the cold rather than the misery of floods.

Last 5th December when most of the world was mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela the Thames Barrier was coping with the largest sea surge since 1953. In that surge 1800 people in the Netherlands and 326 people in the UK were killed. Inevitably tragedies like this have prompted proposals for better river defences.

The Thames last flooded central London in 1928 when 14 people were killed some trapped in the basements which were used as habitable rooms. Tragically the Harding sisters lost their lives: Florence 18, Lillian 16, Rose 6 and Doris 2. This event set in motion plans for a flood barrier across the Thames. In January 1935 the Port of London Authority considered two schemes. The first was a dam at Woolwich which carried a £2m price tag or £3m if it also had a road spanning the river. The impact of this scheme would have been dramatic as it would cut off tides west of Woolwich creating a pool of still water. The second scheme was a dam across the river at London Bridge. Hard to imagine now but in the 1930s the area along the Thames and London Bridge was docks and industrial land.

The Queen officially opens The Thames Barrier May 1984

The Queen officially opens The Thames Barrier May 1984

After the 1953 floods the Government appointed a Committee chaired by Lord Waverley (John Anderson) better known for giving his name to the air raid shelter. The Greater London Council was formed in 1965 and they were responsible for the design and construction of the barrier. A huge civil engineering project for its time and beset with the difficulties of the 70s. The 1972 estimate of £49m rose to a whacking £450m by 1976 reasons cited for the increase (Financial Times 1976) were; rising oil prices, inflation and the effects of the three day week. Yes, the three day week when cities were plunged into darkness, schools and factories closed, people wore blankets and woolly hats and there were record sales of jigsaw puzzles.

Area of flooding if Thames Barrier not raised Dec 2013

Area of flooding if Thames Barrier not raised Dec 2013

The 70s may have set in motion events that led to the de-industrialisation of Britain and the privatisation of many public services yet the Thames Barrier is a powerful reminder of the way a large strategic public body can bring together a scheme of such magnitude that 30 years on it is still protecting London.

Cliffe Marshes

Cliffe Marshes

Walking in Cliffe Marshes with low winter sun it’s difficult to imagine that Stanley Kubrick used this landscape to shoot the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. He did import palm trees and tropical plants to make it look like the paddy fields of Vietnam. Quite a transformation but now there is evidence of much subtler changes in the landscape.

Saxon Shore Path

Saxon Shore Path

The high sea walls define the river’s edge but in the channels man’s attempts to hold back nature are slowly slipping into the mud-banks. A couple of centuries ago ships heading for London had to navigate their way through these dangerous channels making frequent stops in the dense mud but sometimes to unload contraband to waiting small boats.

Hans Ergede Wreck

Hans Ergede Wreck

At low tide the wreck of the Hans Egede is visible from the Saxon Shore pathway ( itself falling into the river in places). You could be forgiven for thinking this is an old cargo ship or a prison hulk but it was only sunk in the 1950s. A Norwegian vessel built in 1922 it sprung a leak and sank in Egypt Bay. It was towed to Higham Creek to prevent it becoming a hazard for shipping. The rusty iron girders and thick slabs of concrete next to the wreck are reportedly the remains of a Maunsell Fort which was towed here and blown up by Royal Engineers after the 2nd World War.

Cliffe Castle

Cliffe Castle

The wreck is close of Cliffe Fort which is slowly sinking into the mud. In private ownership it is fenced off but visible from the path. The outer walls now overgrown and thick with moss and lichen are accessible from the public pathway. The thick stone walls are being consumed by vegetation and rising water levels. It was a Royal Commission fort built in the 1860s as part of the defenses against a French Invasion. Once the proud home of the first guided missile, The Brennan Torpedo, it’s future looks bleak.

This area once crucial for the defence of the nation and littered with the architecture of war is slowly reverting and whilst doing so supporting a fine range of coastal birds and small mammals. The highlight of my walk was the sight of a magnificent Peregrine Falcon.

26th Battalion of Home Guards

26th Battalion of Home Guards

The two million people who still watch the 1960s/70s hit Dad’s Army must be waiting with trepidation for the new film. The remake will need to be really good to live up to expectations, forty years on and there is still an Appreciation Society. What worked well in the original series was that we all knew the outcome of the war and the futility of Captain Mainwaring’s preparations. Back in 1940 the prospect of invasion was a real and present danger. Shooters Hill was one of the main arterial routes into London from the south coast and the 26th Battalion of the Home Guard had a crucial role in preparing for the defence of the city.

London’s preparations comprised of concentric rings of anti-tank defences and pillboxes in and around the city known as Stop Lines. Shooters Hill was in the middle Stop Line. From the top of Shooters Hill an invading army would have clear views of their prize and more importantly it would be within range of their heavy artillery. Remains of these defensive structures can still be found in the local area. In Oxleas woods strange concrete plinths and boxes are still visible which were part of the Stop Line defences.

Stop Lines Shooters Hill
Close to the former Police Station on Eltham Common, deep within overgrown brambles, is the remains of a spigot mortar, an anti-tank gun, used by the Home Guard. From this vantage point they would have a clear firing line on any invaders coming down the hill.

Spigot Mortar

Spigot Mortar

The proximity of the Royal Arsenal made this area vulnerable to aerial attacks and the Air Ministry bought land in the Kidbrooke area for the manufacture of barrage balloons. The balloons defended London against low flying aeroplanes.

Barrage Balloons in Kidbrooke

Barrage Balloons in Kidbrooke

Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, Air Minister, visited Kidbooke in 1939 as part of the recruitment drive for 5,000 men, aged over 35, to join the Balloon Service. The Home Guard was made up of the young, elderly and those in reserved occupations.

Sir Howard Kingsley Wood

Sir Howard Kingsley Wood

Hitler did have a plan, Operation Sea Lion for the invasion of Britain which included 6 divisions landing on the Kent coast around Ramsgate, Bexhill and Folkestone. If this had proceeded I think we can be confident that the local Home Guard were well prepared and wouldn’t be shouting “Don’t Panic”.

Memorial Hospital Shooters Hill

Memorial Hospital Shooters Hill

The beginning of 1927 saw 1000 people a week die from an influenza epidemic. A terrifying experience when there was no universal health system. More locally the Mayor of Woolwich, Councillor William Barefoot, nominated the Boot and Shoe fund as is charity which provided shoes for local children who without this help would be like their benefactor, barefoot. Unemployment was high as the demand for ammunitions from The Royal Arsenal dwindled after the First World War.

Duke of York

Duke of York

People’s generosity was remarkable that during this period of hardship a local subscription scheme saw the opening of The Memorial Hospital on 2nd November by The Duke and Duchess of York.

Plan of Memorial Hospital

Plan of Memorial Hospital


The decision to build the hospital was made in 1917. It was to be a lasting benefit for the community and a memorial to the local people killed: 6113 in battle; 100 in accidents at the Royal Arsenal and 14 in air raids.

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall

It would be the first Post War General Hospital to be built in London. In a period when the majority of people did not have access to health services building a hospital with access through a local subscription scheme was enlightened. Even workers who benefited from Lloyd George’s insurance service were not entitled to hospital treatment unless suffering from tuberculosis. It is no wonder that the Duke of York referred to is as a Temple of Healing.

The total cost of building was £210,000 which included the purchase of 13.5 acres of land. The construction of roads, foundations and drains were done as part of an unemployment relief scheme.

Workers from unemployment relief scheme

Workers from unemployment relief scheme

Not all went to plan as the amount raised by subscription was £179,000 leaving a funding gap of £30,000. This caused local anxiety as it was always the ambition that the hospital open free of debt.

Mayor and local councillors

Mayor of Woolwich opening Memorial Hospital

Woolwich Borough came to the rescue and at a special meeting of the Council agreed a grant to cover the shortfall. Councillor Halse put forward the recommendation stating that he didn’t want to see the hospital opening with “ a loadstone round its neck”. Oh dear what would our forefathers think of PFIs. They may well have raised an eyebrow at the fact we still have hungry children in London.

Church of St Helen

Church of St Helen

Kent marshes are a desolate, liminal place described by Dickens as a “dark, flat, wilderness….intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it.” Much the same as it is today although there are signs that the developers are moving in.

Kent Marshes Cliffe

This remote village is in transition. The Church of St Helen dates back to 774 AD but over the centuries vicars assigned to this marshy land were reluctant to take up their office. For this place was left to a desperate population who had no option but to live on this fertile but fatal land. On both sides of the estuary the marshes were a treacherous place to live.

Cliffe

Marsh Fever or argue introduced a defining silhouette on the estuary landscape. The last outbreak of indigenous malaria on the Isle of Grain was in 1918. In the Church grounds stand the charnal house which received the bodies awaiting burial. In some parishes burials far exceeded baptisms. Now people requiring executive homes are moving in. A gated community is being built and marketed as within easy reach of Ebbsfleet International and a short journey to Central London.

Remains of the ammunitions factory

Remains of the explosives factory

North of the village are the marshes and despite the advancement of developers remain a remote and strange landscape. A sheep farm occupies the site of a former explosives factory which at one time employed hundreds of people. The Curtis and Harvey factory founded in 1901 thrived during the First World war and was eventually closed in 1922. The remnants of old buildings are scattered across the landscape. An isolated metal barn is the only sign of human life in this wilderness.

Eastern Marker of Thames Watermen and Lightermen

Eastern Marker of Thames Watermen and Lightermen

The tall cranes of the Thames Gateway port on the northern bank of the river towers over the landscape.
North Kent Marshes

Strangely still; perhaps because its rival Felixstowe still offers a cheaper gateway into the UK. The lichen encrusted river wall keeps the river at bay but is obviously no defense against the perilous river surges experienced so frequently last winter. Along the wall’s edge stands a marker to the eastern boundary of the jurisdiction of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames erected 1861: London’s influence ever present.

Powis Street in the 1970s

Powis Street in the 1970s

Forty years ago eating out was a rare event for most families. It was a period when most families cooked meals from scratch; girls still learnt domestic science, boys did if they went to a progressive school but more usually did woodwork. The Kentish Independent, which covered the Woolwich area, had pages of job advertisements mainly skilled ones at that. Fitters, capstan setters, skilled machinists, junior reporters and photographers all needed in the local area. In the days before “out-sourcing” cleaners and semi-skilled workers could start a career in the local Civil Service. Skilled workers could earn £56 for a 40 hour week, unskilled workers £31.73. Then on the 19th September 1974 the advertisment for staff for the shortly to be opening McDonalds appeared. No experience required and pay was 65p per hour plus free meals. A weekly wage of £26 was considerably lower than most other local jobs.

Paul Preston Manager

Paul Preston Manager

In the same newspaper, which had converted from broadsheet to tabloid three weeks earlier, was an article, “What is left of the Old Town?” lamenting the demolition of lovely old pubs like The Ship in Half Moon Lane, The Anchor and The Crown and Cushion to make way for concrete skyscrapers. Yes, modernity was coming to Woolwich.

DJ Ed Stewart (Stewpot) and Mayor Len Squirrel

DJ Ed Stewart (Stewpot) and Mayor Len Squirrel

On 12th October 1974 McDonalds opened their first restaurant in the UK in Powis Street Woolwich. The grand opening was attended by the Mayor, Len Squirrel and DJ Ed Stewart better known as “Stewpot”. Top of the menu was the All Star Meal consisting of hamburger, French fires, and a triple thick shake at a cost of 48p. Relatively expensive by today’s standards. Paul Preston, from Ohio, became the first manager of the launchpad store. The Woolwich store was so influential, a month later, boxer Henry Cooper launched his autobiography from there.

Henry Cooper book launch

Henry Cooper book launch

Fast forward forty years. Well the store is still there but the footfall in Powis Street has fallen. Locals still lament the loss of the old town and the development of even more ugly high buildings. Skilled jobs in manufacturing have long gone. Fast food chains have flourished with commensurate low paid jobs. Paul Preston is now President and Chief Executive Officer of McDonald’s UK. The UK has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe and over in the US world figures Bill Clinton and Bill Gates are advocating for the reintroduction of domestic science into the school curriculum.

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness Pumping Station

Stroll along the river and into Woolwich and there is much to remind you of the social mutualism of the C19th which led to the introduction of clean water and sewerage systems. In the mid C19th Woolwich was more typical of some of the northern industrial towns because of its lack of sewers. In the 1830s an outbreak of cholera in the town resulted in 40 deaths. The Royal Commission on The Health of Towns 1843 commissioned a specific report on the sanitary state of Woolwich. Two years later The Woolwich Town Commissioners started the process of installing sewers.

Crossness Pumping Station

Just outside the town is Crossness Pumping Station which was part of Joseph Bazalgette’s radical sewerage system for London. As well as improving the city’s health it had the beneficial effect of improving the smell. The Big Stink of 1858 brought London to a standstill because of the stench coming from the human excrement in the Thames.

31

The presence of the military in Woolwich helped to improve the water supply with the formation of reservoirs. Long Pond dates back to mid C18th and was located west of The Rotunda. Mulgrave Pond also dates back to mid C18th but was brought into public ownership when purchased by the Board of Ordnance 1805. A national system of water supply in public ownership lasted until 1989 when it was privatised by the Thatcher Government.

St Thomas More Church

St Thomas More Church

About a mile from Woolwich’s waterfront is St Thomas More Church on the Progress Estate. Built in the 1940s it is unusual in that it is sited in an incline. Up until the last few years this did not present a problem but now it is subject to frequent pluvial flooding. The sewers within the church ground swell, the metal lids lift and effluence floods into the grounds and at times into the church itself. Father Richard Plunkett has been advising his congregation that he should be renamed Noah. He has had no help from Thames Water in resolving the problem. If he wanted to take his complaint further and speak to the owners he would need to travel to China, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Canada and Holland. British Telecom pension fund is the only owner based in the UK. Macquaire is the principal owner, with 25% ownership, with twelve others. Thatcher’s vision of the expansion of small shareholders lasted momentarily and now only those who can deal in billions of dollars can own British utility companies. Did the privatisation of water lead to greater choice, competition and savings for the consumer? The answer is straightforward; no. It is a monopoly and Londoners pay more for their water than they should. Payment is going to remote unaccountable bodies over whom we have no control. More concerned with their shareholders than helping their consumers. So, where does this leave ordinary folk like Father Richard? Local MP, Clive Efford, has now got involved and with his intervention Thames Water have promised a visit to assess the problem.

Woolwich Ferry

You may well scratch your head to think what New York,Brisbane and Woolwich have in common? Well they all have a free ferry service. Statton Island Ferry is listed as one of the top ten things to do in New York and millions of tourists each year make the 25 minute journey from Manhatten. With great views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island it’s easy to see why it’s a favourite with tourists. The bargain basement fare of one nickel was dropped altogether in 1997. 21 million passengers, commuters and tourists, use this ferry annually.

Brisbane’s Free City Hopper allows tourists to travel along the Brisbane River with the option of “hopping on and off” to explore the riverside and city sights. The historic ferries were made free in 2012 as part of a strategy to encourage tourists to use the river. As the river is used more for leisure is there anything to learn from these overseas models?

Woolwich Ferry 1961

The Woolwich Free Ferry may not be of the same scale or fame as The Statton Island Ferry but it is of historic importance and provides a service for 2.5 million foot passengers and 1 million vehicles annually. In the C19th the people of Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton campaigned for over ten years for a free ferry as a necessity for this part of East London. The crossings from Lambeth, Waterloo and upstream as far as Staines were all free.

Woolwich Ferry 1960s

The people in East London were taxed heavily in order to subsidise the western gentry who crossed the bridges, from the city upstream, untolled. The Woolwich Free Ferry opened 23rd March 1889 to much celebration in the town. As these photographs of the 1960s demonstrate it has been used for leisure as well as a means of crossing the Thames.

Street Parades at opening of Woolwich Ferry

Street Parades at opening of Woolwich Ferry

Thanks to the hard fought campaigning of our ancestors a Free Ferry Service is required to be provided by statute at Woolwich now all this may change. TFL are consulting on new River Crossings which sets out four options:

A new ferry at Woolwich
A ferry Service at Gallions Reach
A bridge at Gallions Reach
A bridge at Belvedere

If the ferry is replaced or moved it will become tolled so back to the pre 1889 situation in East London.

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