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Woolwich Market has a charter going back to 1618. It wasn’t until 1887 that the space at Beresford Square became the official site of the market. It had previously been located on Market Hill and Market Street. At the New Road entrance is a metal portal with a notice informing of the town’s Saxon past.
The open space outside of the Royal Arsenal Gates, Beresford Square, became an important meeting and social place in the early 19th century. There where no market tolls here so traders moved into the space to keep down their costs. Despite being evicted several times they always drifted back. By 1866 the unofficial market had become so successful that the shops close by objected to further removals as it would damage their trade. So it got its official designation. Being located so close to the Royal Arsenal it had an enormous “footfall” of workers on their way to and from work. The new residents of the Arsenal now pass on their way to the station. But is there sufficient to tempt them to buy?
The market still opens daily (except Sunday) and whilst the official information says there are 100 stalls I couldn’t see that many. The stalls sell fruit and veg, clothes, bags, cases and shoes. There must be quite a demand for suitcases as there are several stalls that sell them. It is lively and interestingly doesn’t seem to have been affected by the Tesco monolith. I spoke to one of the fruit and veg traders who explained that because people are “feeling the pinch” they are shopping more frequently and thinking twice about the one stop shop. This pattern seems to lend itself more to market trading.
The covered market in Plumstead Road was opened in 1936. Outside is a steel sculpture The Woolwich Ship by Tom Grimsey. A commentator on this blog suggested I visit the indoor market to raise awareness of it. The indoor market is in a sorry state of repair although some stalls are still trading. The fact that so many are closed makes it an uninviting trading area. I did venture inside and thought that the industrial light shades would be of interest to a salvage dealer. There is little else to entice you in. It is inconceivable that it remains as it is being located across the road from the new Crossrail station. This is the second year of the Love Your Local Market campaign and Woolwich market could do with getting involved and developing this space into something far more fitting to the rich heritage of the town. The winner of the best Council run market this year was Oswerty and their website gives you a taste of what is possible.
I can really understand why the Crossness Pumping Station is sometimes called the cathedral on the marshes. The Open Day on the 23rd June provided the opportunity to explore the inside and it didn’t disappoint. Crossness was part of Joseph Bazalgette’s radical sewerage system for London, which improved the city’s health. It also 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.
Equipped with a hard hat I spent most of my visit exploring the engine hall. If you find industrial archeology interesting you will find the engine room breathtaking. It is from inside this space that you truly get the reference to the cathedral. The intricate carved stonework around the door arches would be at home in any sacred building. There is an ironwork octagon structure in the centre of the hall and it was designed to let as much light in as possible. You cannot fail to be impressed by the effects of the light.
There are four beam engines in the hall named – Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra. Prince Consort has been fully restored and was in operation. The ambition of the Trust and its volunteers is staggering. I spoke to Harry one of the volunteer engineers who told me that it had taken 17 years to restore Prince Consort. The volunteers were plentiful at the Open Day and were informative and helpful.
Walking between the buildings I could see the intricacy of the external brickworks. You certainly wouldn’t get this quality of work on an industrial building today. The Prince of Wales opened the pumping station in 1865 and there was a celebration meal held in the fitting shop. The reservoir is still in use but the buildings were abandoned sometime in the 1950s. Thankfully, restoration began in 1985. It is a real testimony to the greatness of Victorian building, engineering and also the dedicated volunteers bringing it back to life.
The next open day is 28th July
A colleague recently suggested that I do a post on Cutty Sark Gardens. He had very strong views about the recent development – all quite negative. We then engaged in a long discussion about where exactly the gardens are. Admittedly we had drank a fair bit of wine by this point. I was having real difficulty trying to think where the gardens are. Having checked the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s website I now know that the gardens are within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site. They are the setting for the Cutty Sark Ship and are next to the Old Royal Naval College and the Discover Greenwich Visitor centre. I still think calling this area a garden takes a lot of poetic licence.
The plans for the “make-over’ of the gardens were approved back in 2010 and were completed last year in time for the Olympics. There are five beds of different shapes and sizes. The planting scheme is very curious. Within each bed the different plants are sown in rows. Reminiscent of a domestic vegetable plot rather than a much loved historic riverside. The choice of plants is equally curious with some grass and perennial plants but little to reflect the Thames marshland. Just to make things worse there are areas that are just covered with weeds. Now, I realise that there is an ongoing debate in the horticultural world about what constitutes a weed. However, I am in no doubt that Joe Public will say that these are weeds.
The challenge for development within a World Heritage site is to find the right balance between preserving the past and presenting the future. The design of the garden does little to achieve this. If you face northwards you are confronted with a relatively large space of grey stone with little to capture interest and draw you further into the garden. The edges of the beds do provide a welcome rest and place to sit for the numerous visitors to the site.
From the Bata Factory you take the Princess Margaret Road to Coalhouse Fort. I love the name of the road as it adds to the 1950s feel of the place. Coalhouse Fort is at the end of the road, set in parklands on the bank of the Thames.
Waiting for a new purpose. That’s what struck me when I saw it. Built 1861-74 partly under the direction of General Gordon it is on the site of an older fort. It became England’s first line of defence against the French ironclads. The French launched the first steam propelled ironclad war ship the Gloire in 1859. The fort was to counter the threat of invasion and remained occupied until after the Second World War. It was sold to Thurrock Council in 1962.
On the day I visited the fort was closed but you can walk around the perimeter and through the parkland. The fort has limited opening days and you can find details on the Coalhouse Fort Project. It is physically more imposing than its neighbour Tilbury Fort but in much worse state of repair. In the grounds there are remnants of the Second World war including an elaborate Pill Box and an old radar tower designed to look like a water tower to fool the enemy.
The parkland offers a combination of saltmarsh and grassland. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The paths are well laid out and will take you to the edge of the river. Notices by Ranger Ray Reeves warn you not to stray from the paths. It is one of those places that allows a big sky vista. There are good views over to Thames Gateway.
It’s got a lot to offer. Striking parkland, river views, interesting wildlife, children’s play area and historic interest – it’s just a pity it isn’t open more frequently. Perhaps a new purpose would assist this.
In today’s corporate environment you wouldn’t get a mission statement like “Living Separately – working together” but that was the slogan of Bata shoes. Tomas Bata a Czech began with a cobbler’s shop in Zlin but developed it into one of the big multinational retailers. In 1932 he opened a shoe factory in a remote part of the Thames. He followed in the tradition of social reforming industrialists, such as, Titus Salt who built Saltaire on the Aire in Bradford, William Hesketh Lever who built Port Sunlight on the Mersey. They wanted to improve the living conditions for their workers with good housing plus a range of social and educational facilities. East Tilbury was built by Bata in the international modernist movement style. It had everything you would expect to see in a town: shops, cinema, sports facilities, garage, post office, newspaper the thing that made it different was that it was all owned by Bata. The factory began to decline in the 1980s and was closed in 2005.
Walking around the town now it still has a distinctive and different feel than most towns. There is the factory complex consisting of 13 large buildings in different states of repair. The three largest buildings on the factory site are the leather factory (1936) the rubber factory (1938) and the central office and administration block (1933), which is a listed building. The administration block is newly painted and well maintained. In one of the empty blocks house martins have made their nests along the roof line. You get the distinct feeling that if there isn’t more intervention this will revert to nature. Some of the other blocks are now used by other industries but mainly as archives and storage. This area is now called the Thames Industrial Estate.
A few metres outside the factory gate there is a statue to the founder Tomas Bata. It is surrounded by lawn and the path leading up to the statue as rows of roses along the border. Across the road is Memorial Park and in the centre is the War Memorial. This is a distinctive design quite unlike other memorials and the inscription is to “ Those of British Bata Shoes Co Ltd who lost lives in World War ll”. At some point the names of the fallen heroes would have been on two plaques on the sides of the memorial but, sadly, these have been removed. The sound of children playing in the close by infant school reminds you that the estate is still alive and has a future generation.
The social facilities were located in the Community House which has since been renamed Stanford House. Built in a similar design to the factory this was a link between the factory site and the housing estate. There are still shops in this block and I had lunch in Nancy’s cafe which is a run of the mill greasy spoon. An unexpected rush of customers, eight in total, resulted in the owner dashing next door to buy bacon and tea bags.
What is fascinating is the order and hierarchy built into the design of this utopian estate. Migrant and single people were housed in Community House which was known as Bata Hotel. Families were provided with rented houses. The oldest houses are in Bata Avenue. There are larger properties with integral garages and these were for the Bata managers. Throughout my visit I kept thinking about Workers Playtime and the concluding words of the programme “Good luck, all workers!”
Guest Post by BK
St Clement’s Church, Leysdown in The Isle Of Sheppey was demolished in the 1980s. All that is left is the graveyard. In the graveyard is a three-ton piece of Kentish ragstone bearing a bronze plaque. The stone, which was not erected until 1995, overlooks Warden Point the scene of one of the most emotional tragedies of The Edwardian Era.
The Scout Movement was founded in 1908; although the first camp, on Brownsea Island, had already been help in 1907. A summer holiday for working-class boys away from the inner-city slums was a wonderful opportunity and the movement spread rapidly.
In 1912 the boys of the 2nd Walworth Troop were given the chance of a holiday under canvas at the Scout Camp in Leysdown. In addition, there was the adventure of sailing down The Thames from Waterloo Bridge to the camp in their training ship, The Arethusa.
The summer of 1912 was cold and wet. In August there were no sunny days and only 9 days had no measureable rain. The Arethusa set sail on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd August with a complement of 5 adults and 24 scouts and arrived at Erith at 9:00 where they anchored for the night in a cold drizzle. They then rose at 4:00 on the Sunday to sail down to Leysdown. A strong wind was blowing from the Kent coast but the boat was protected by keeping close to the North Sheppey shore. However to get to Leysdown the boat had to turn down the East cost at Warden Point. At this moment, about 2:00 P.M. a heavy squall hit them and the boat overturned; throwing the crew and boys into the stormy sea.
Luckily, the Leysdown coastguard had been expecting The Arethusa and witnessed the sinking; so they were able to launch their lifeboat; with a crew of 2 coastguard and 2 volunteers, immediately and set off on the 2 mile trek, only powered by oars, to rescue the crew.
The heroic bravery of the coastguards and the adult scouts who went back into the sea time after time to try and rescue the boys resulted in 15 of the boys being saved and the tragic loss of 9 of the boys.
The tragedy deeply affected the nation and Sir Winston Churchill, then First Lord Of The Admiralty, sent a navel destroyer to carry the boy’s bodies back to Walworth. The bodies were taken to St John’s Church, Larcom Road where more than 100,000 people passed through to pay their respects.
The funeral was held on 10 August 1912, on yet another thundery, rain-soaked day. More than one million people are estimated to have lined the procession from St John’s to Nunhead Cemetery where the boys are buried. The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express both printed special editions.
The Daily Express organised a collection for a fitting memorial for the boys and in 1914 a life-size bronze model of a Scout designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and sculpted by Miss Lillie Read was erected by the graves. Unfortunately, in the 1960s, Nunhead cemetery fell into a state of neglect and disrepair and, in 1969, the statue was sawn off at the ankles and taken away and has never been seen again. Presumably it has been melted down for scrap.
Nunhard Cemetry has been much improved over the past thirty years thanks to the activities of The Friends Of Nunhead Cemetry. A new, much smaller, memorial was erected in 1992. At the base of the inscription is carved a circle of pebbles with a single stone in the centre. The Scouts symbol for ‘Gone Home’.
The tragedy was largely forgotten after World War I. There has recently been a revived interest. Some because of the centenary but mainly because of the three Beckham brothers. One, William, perished but two, Ted & John survived. Ted was to become the Great Grandfather of David Robert Joseph Beckham.
The advertisement for the Estuary Exhibition at Museum of Docklands caught my eye in the underground. The exhibition brings together the work of 12 artists to explore as curator Francis Marshall states “this largely overlooked landscape” and spans 28 years from 1985-2013. We are also reminded that this area has been the inspiration for artists and writers such as Turner, Constable, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and TS Eliot.
The featured works include paintings, photography and film. Traditional paintings are provided by Michael Andrews and Jock Mc Faddon. The two paintings by Michael Andrews: The Estuary and Study for the Estuary were inspired by trips to Canvey Island and 19th Century photographs of the river. They capture the spirit of the river well.
There is work by four photographers, Peter Marshall, Gayle Chong Kwan, Christiane Baumgartner and Simon Roberts. Nearly half of the exhibition is given over to film or digital film. There are films of the The Bow Gamelan Ensemble and other works by Andrew Kotting, William Raban, Stephen Turner, John Smith and Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen. Portrait of a River by Larsen is just under an hour long. Some stamina is required to watch this in gallery conditions. The preponderance of this media means that the exhibition is in a dark enclosed room. Whilst this adds to the themes of decay and desolation I don’t think it presents a balanced representation of the estuary today. Much of the area around the river has reverted to marshland and has seen a return of wildlife, there are few, if any, images of this.
The Tolly had always been a basic working-class boozer.. the pub has many evocative photos of old charabanc trips hanging on the walls. However, with the CAMRA revolution and the transformation of West Greenwich’s Victorian terraces into highly desirable bijou residences, it rapidly became transformed into a heaving, standing-room only mass of students, academics, media-types and others generally classified as Guardian readers. Many came for the real-ale; but others, such as myself, preferred the
large bottles of Holsten lager that were sold; well before the general availability of strong continental lagers like Stella. Soon the only trace of the old working class was the old bloke in the cloth cap who collected the Christmas Club money every Monday and the pickled-eggs which remained the only food available. The trendiness probably reached its peak when we were treated to melodies from Jules Holland on the old piano in the back on the way to the outside toilet.
When I started the landlord was a genial old Cockney geezer called ’Arry who we all thought was married to a very large lady called Hilda who spent all her time perched on a stool by the bar. ‘Arry’s assistant was a bloke called John Ling who was distinguished by his dislike of the way the pub was going and his hatred of the new clientele. His particular dislike was anybody who tried to create a group of 5 by moving a chair from one group of 4 round a table to another. ‘Don’t move the chairs’; he would scream across the room.
When ‘Arry died in 1976 John took over the licence and we thought that he had married Hilda. But census records show that 52-54 was occupied by Henry C and Rose French from 1969 to 1976. Presumably Henry was ‘Arry; but I am sure I never saw Rose. And from 1964 to 1967 52-54 was occupied not only by the Roses but also by Fredrick and Joan Lambert. The only time it has been under multi-occupation. So I’m not really sure what ws going on there.
In the late-1970s, a drivers’ strike at the brewery affected supplies to The Tolly, and Tolly Cobbold indicated to John Ling that it was not worth keeping their remote outpost in SE10 open. However, Young’s Brewery stepped in and took over the lease. A friend assures me that this happened because he was so upset at the prospect of losing his favourite pub that he wrote a personal letter to Sir John Young pointing out that The Tolly would make a great asset in the Young’s estate and this had spurred Youngs into the takeover. Whether this is true or not, we will never know.
Traditionalists were delighted that a brewer like Youngs had taken over the Tolly. However, one of things that they did was to give the place a complete refit. Obviously,the first thing to go was the Tolly sign and its replacement with a large Richard I sign together with a much more distinct sign on the street column. The off-licence was converted into what is now the public bar and the back was extended to provide the luxury of indoor toilets. A nice beer garden was also built.
The Tolly has been a Young’s house for the past 30-odd years and it has always had more of a corporate feel than the pub under ‘Arry and John. Managers have come and gone without any really establishing a personality for themselves; and the bar staff tend to be the usual crowd of itinerant antipodeans and, more lately, east Europeans. Youngs corporate food and wine is available and the usual pub gimmicks ; quiz night (Sunday nights, can be entertaining), curry nights; burger nights; poker nights come and go.
A couple of years ago we had another renovation; ubiquitous innovations like distressed sofas were introduced; and, to the horror of traditionalists, they even put down a carpet in the lounge bar. The furniture in the public bar can make the place look like a giant’s living room.
At one time I thought The Tolly was the best pub in the world; now I’m not even sure that it’s the best pub in 52-56 Royal Hill..
So much for the trip down Memory Hill. The Richard I seems to be the only establishment on Royal Hill which kept the same identity since its foundation in 1830. Ironic, since for at least 40 years it has been generally known by a completely different name.
Thanks to the staff at Greenwich Heritage Centre for their assistance.
Guest Post by BK