London Open House Coming Soon

Inside City Hall
Inside City Hall

I’ve been a huge fan of Open House London for many years – what’s not to love about the opportunity to look round the inside of some of London’s iconic buildings, both ancient and modern, famous and comparatively unknown and all for free! However the weekend has become so popular that patience and a willingness to queue have become essential qualities for anyone participating, and many of the most desirable architectural opportunities, those which have to be booked in advance,  have not been accessible.

This year Open House is the weekend of 22nd/23rd September, and the web site opened for bookings last week …. and promptly crashed, presumably due to the number of people trying to book. As a result of irresolvable “technical difficulties” the organisers have changed their method of allocating places at the bookable events from first-come-first-served to a ballot system, whereby there will be a random draw from the names of everyone who has registered their interest before the end of Wednesday 29th August. We can register our interest on the Open House London 2012 web site.

The bookable buildings and events include some amazing opportunities; for example the Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) Engineering East London boat tour described here last year, and the ICE Tour of the Emirates Airline Cable Car (more usually known as the Arabfly Dangleway). The booking web site describes these:

Engineering East London: ICE Boat tour to the Hoo Peninsula – max 2 per application only for this event. Ballot that opened for this last week still stands
Sun 11am North Greenwich Pier (the O2), Peninsula Square SE10 0PE
Duration 5 hours. On board bar with light refreshments and sandwiches. Max 80 on tour. D R T E
Discover how engineers are shaping east London on a Thames Clipper river tour from the 02 to the Hoo Peninsula and back again, with live commentary from London’s leading engineers and regeneration experts discussing landmarks including the Thames Barrier, London Gateway and the proposed Thames Estuary Airport.
Tube: North Greenwich; 129,161,188,422,472,486

ICE tour of Emirates Air Line cable car
Sat 10am, 11am, 12noon. Meet: outside North Greenwich tube station, 5 Millennium Way, SE10 0PH. Part of tour will be outside, bring rainwear. Max 18 per tour. Duration 1 hour. D E
The tour will explore the civil engineering achievements of the construction of the cable car and the regeneration of the Royal Docks. Led by the Emirates Air Line project director and ICE regeneration and sustainability expert. Organised by ICE. 2012.
Tube: North Greenwich

Other bookable tours include the Arsenal Emirates Stadium, the Canary Wharf Crossrail Station Construction Site, the Heron Tower in the City of London and the Shri Sanatan Hindu Mandir in Wembley. Something for everyone, so get booking now!

Royal Artillery Barracks
Royal Artillery Barracks

Most of the Open House buildings and events don’t have to be booked in advance.  All of them, and there are more than 750, are  listed in the Open House London 2012 Guide, which is available at the moment free from Woolwich Library, while stocks last, or for £6.50 from the Open House web shop, and they can be searched for online.  Amongst the local buildings open are the Royal Artillery Barracks, the ruins of the Garrison Church of St George and its Marvellous Mosaics, the Tudor Barn and Woolwich Town Hall, though some are open on the Saturday only. Severndroog Castle won’t be open, but there will be talks on the hour between 10am and 3pm about the history of the building and progress on the restoration plans.

Slightly further afield, one of my favourites from a previous Open House Weekend is the Crossness Engine House with its stunning brightly coloured iron work and working beam engine. There was quite a long queue to get in – but it was well worth the wait. In central London there are far too many favourites to list them all, but I’ll never forget the imposing imperial murals and marble work  of the Foreign Office and India Office, the living history of Westminster Hall and the money-perfumed Bank of England.  However I still haven’t made it into the Gherkin – the queues have always been just too long.

I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the all the Open London architecture so far, with luck there’s years more exploring to do.

Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

Woodlands Wildlife

Woodlands Farm Wildlife Surveys Poster

Lorraine, the Wildlife Officer at Woodlands Farm sent me an e-mail with details of their forthcoming wildlife surveys and walks, part of their Heritage Lottery Funded Farm Conservation project. Lorraine wrote:

Please find attached information about upcoming Wildlife Surveys and Bat Walks at Woodlands Farm, including the following surveys and walks:

Butterfly survey – 24th August at 11am
Reptiles surveying – 3rd September at 2pm
Bat walk – 6th September at 7pm
Dormouse nut hunt – 10th Sept, drop by 2-4pm
Bat walk – 25th September at 6.45pm

We will also be setting out kit across the farm for Reptile Surveys on Monday 20th August, starting at 2pm.

If you would like to join us for one of the wildlife surveys or bat walks, or to help with the reptile work, please get in touch (contact details below).

Best wishes


Lorraine Parish
Wildlife Officer

The Woodlands Farm Trust
331 Shooters Hill
Welling, Kent
DA16 3RP

Tel: 020 8319 8900
Charity Number: 1051680

There are some more new farm animals to see at Woodlands: as well as the rare Irish Moiled cattle, there is a new British White calf. Clover gave birth on the day before the Olympics opening ceremony, and her calf has been named Olympus.

Olympus, newly born British White calf
Olympus, newly born British White calf
Clover, the British White, and her new calf Olympus
Clover, the British White, and her new calf Olympus
Irish Moiled cow
Irish Moiled cow

Eaglesfield Pond Tidy-up on 26th August

Eaglesfield Pond Tidy Poster

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park are holding the second of their monthly meetings at the Lilly Pond on Sunday 26th August from 11.00am to 1.00pm. They are looking for help with the maintenance of the pond and its surrounding wild flower meadow, and there is an opportunity to do some pond dipping. Madeleine from the Friends e-mailed me the details:

Responding to enthusiastic suggestions by members of the local community attending the opening of the restored pond, we have begun meeting regularly on the last Sunday of the month between 11.00 am and 1.00pm and would like to invite anyone to join us to help with weeding, planting, litter clearing and pond dipping activities.
Our first “Tidy up/Pond Dipping Session” was on 29th July but sadly only 4 FOEP committee members arrived. Although the sun did make an appearance, the weather was very unsettled and we finally abandoned our efforts due to heavy rain. However, before the rain, we were delighted to welcome a family with young children who enjoyed the opportunity to try out pond dipping. They were very successful, including 8 newts and various other “things” yet to be identified. We are all beginners as far as pond dipping is concerned and pictures and charts are not always very helpful! If anyone has any experience or knowledge of identifying pond creatures, we would be very pleased to have the benefit of their expertise!
The wildflower meadow has certainly changed since it was seeded in March. With so much rain everything has really grown fast, and we need to make sure the unwanted weeds and brambles are removed. In early autumn the meadow will then be cut down and raked off to allow the wildflowers to develop for next year. Unfortunately about a third of the meadow was not seeded in Spring due to the volume of rain we received making the ground unworkable. We hope to complete the seed planting in early autumn and again the area will need good preparation (digging, weeding, raking, etc).
Keeping to our commitment to meet up on the last Sunday of the month, we have planned another “Tidy Up/Pond Dipping Session” on Sunday 26th August – 11.00 am – 1.00 pm (weather permitting). Even if you are unable to help with gardening, why not come and have a go at pond dipping – it’s great fun for all the family – we have the fishing nets! Come and see us – even if you are just walking your dog! We would very much like to hear your suggestions regarding the future development of the park and how we can best ensure the unique environment of the park and the newly restored pond and meadow area continue to flourish and provide a haven for wildlife and a space for contemplation and tranquility for local residents and visitors.
We really do need your help though! Without the very basic management, the pond and meadow could soon, once again, become overgrown, unattractive and unable to sustain the variety of flora and fauna we are aiming to establish. Please join us. Whatever time you can spare will be appreciated. If you have any comments or suggestions regarding Eaglesfield Park, we would like to hear from you – email:

Eaglesfield Park must have the juiciest blackberries around at the moment, and lots of them in the lower part of the park, so it’s well worth a forage. You can also see the first Lilly flower on the recently refurbished Lilly Pond!

First Lilly flower on Eaglesfield Park Lilly Pond
First Lilly flower on Eaglesfield Park Lilly Pond
The Lilly Pond August 2012
The Lilly Pond August 2012

Barrow Quest

Shrewsbury Tumulus at junction of Mayplace Lane, Plum Lane and Brinklow Crescent
Shrewsbury Tumulus

The sign describing the tumulus on Shrewsbury Lane is, I think, disappointingly lacking in detail. When was the barrow built? The sign identifies it as “Bronze Age, approximately 2600-700 BC” –  a range of 1900 years, how approximate can you get?  It also mentions that the mound has been opened “at some stage” but that “if anything had been found in side it is not recorded”. There must be more information somewhere, I thought….

A web search quickly found the Wessex Archaeology report on Shooters Hill. This mentions the barrow and said that it  “suggests that there may have been a Bronze Age occupation or ritual centre in the area of Eaglesfield Park”, but focusses more on the second world war archaeology that fed into Digging Dad’s Army and the Time Team programme Blitzkreig on Shooters Hill. The barrow is mentioned on various websites, such as the Megalithic Portal, the Modern Antiquarian and Archeology Data Service, but with no additional information. Unexpectedly a document submitted as part of the planning application for the Equestrian Centre included a Cultural Heritage Gazeteer which listed a possible 6 barrows in a barrow cemetery, with only one still remaining, but no more details.

So it seemed a trip to the library was needed, and as usual Colonel A.H. Bagnold didn’t let me down, providing a description of all the tumuli:

No. 1 Mound, about 75ft in diameter, formerly in Tower House garden, now in the angle between Plum Lane and  Mayplace Lane. Opened recently; contents unknown.

No. 2 Mound, about 36ft in diameter on a site formerly in the grounds of Shrewsbury House, now on the west side of Ashridge Crescent. Destroyed 1934-35.

No. 3 Mound, about 60ft in diameter on a site on the north side of Ashridge Cresent. Destroyed 1934-35.

No. 4.  A similar mound on the same side of Ashridge Crescent. Destroyed 1934-35.

No. 5. A very low mound was on a line between two conspicuous trees – a cedar and a Spanish chestnut – which have been allowed to remain in Ashridge Crescent. Destroyed 1934-35.

No. 6. Shrewsbury Park L.C.C. Recreation Ground. Under the trees a few yards west of the drinking fountain is a symmetrical mound 45ft – 50ft in diameter and about 2ft high. It has not been opened.

No. 7. Plumstead Common. On the eastern part (Winn’s Common) is a mound about 60ft in diameter and much worn down. It has obviously been opened, but when and by whom cannot be ascertained, nor is anything known about the fate of any relics this tumulus may have contained.

It is a most regretable fact that six mounds which, perhaps, all contained interesting remains of the people who lived long ago in this district have all been destroyed or plundered and their contents hopelessly lost. The single barrow which has not been opened (No. 6) is fortunately safe from unauthorised relic-hunters. Some day perhaps and with the consent of the London County Council a proper examination of this site may be made.

I think the Colonel’s “most regretable” is a considerable understatement – what a shame that there was no archaeological examination before the barrows were destroyed. Where are the remains of the barrows? Well there is still an old Chestnut tree in Ashridge Crescent, old enough I’d say to have been around in Bagnold’s day so it could be the one used to locate barrow number 5, but the only possible Cedar looks far too small to be the one he recorded. Barrows number 2 to 5, though, are likely to be underneath the houses and gardens in the crescent.

Old Chestnut Tree in Ashridge Cresecent
Old Chestnut Tree in Ashridge Cresecent
Cedar Tree in Ashridge Crescent
Cedar Tree in Ashridge Crescent




















What of barrow number 6, in Shrewsbury Park to the west of the drinking fountain, which the Colonel thought was safe for future archaeological examination? There isn’t a drinking fountain in the park now, and the only one I’ve heard of was near the gate leading to the car park. The Cultural Heritage Gazeteer says of barrow number 6 that there is “Now no trace – under car park?”

Only slightly deterred I headed for the Heritage Centre, where the helpful librarian found me a wonderful box of Shooters Hill Ephemera, containing lots of fascinating old historical  documents, such as those relating to the sale of land on which the houses around Herbert Road were built to the British Land Company,  and others about the purchase of the land for Eaglesfield Park at a cost of £4541 3s 4d.  In this box I found a computer print-out of an article by Andrew Bullivant and Susan Parker – it looked like a fuller version of their article From Tower House to Brinklow Crescent in Aspects of Shooters Hill Number 2. They described their correspondence with former Labour cabinet minister Douglas Jay, later Baron Jay, who lived at Tower House as a child and remembered playing on  the tumulus in their garden. They also mentioned a 1936 booklet by a local geologist, Arthur L. Leach, entitled The Ground Beneath Us, which described the Shooters Hill tumuli. Sounds like it could be useful, I thought, but although the Heritage Center had two boxes of papers by Arthur L. Leach including several about the geology of Shooters Hill, they didn’t have the one about the barrows.

Where could I get a copy of Leach’s booklet? I headed to the British Library, repository of everything published in Britain I believed. It was a good reason to get a reader’s ticket too, something I’d always wanted to do. Formalities completed, including two proofs of identity, I searched their catalogue. No sign of The Ground Beneath Us, but there were many other shiny treasures to grab my attention. As well as books on Bronze Age Barrows in Britain, I found in the map department on the top floor a beautiful, heavy volume of Victorian sales literature for great houses, including Shrewsbury House and Mayfield – Lord Penzance’s mansion which was later renamed Jackwood House. The two houses and their surrounding estates were described in great detail, right down to the number of servants’ closets, and illustrated by pastel coloured lithographs. Next time I go to the British Library I’ll take a pencil (pens strictly not permitted) to make some notes for a future post about these great houses.

My final stop on the quest for information about the Shrewsbury Tumulus was at the Museum of London to check if any artefacts from the barrow had been deposited there – but though there were many elegant bronze articles from across London, nothing from near here.

So my quest to know more about the Shrewsbury Tumulus has failed, for now. However I did learn something about the Beaker Culture in Britain which coincided with the start of the Bronze Age in around 2500 BC.   The use of round barrows for funerals was one of the characteristics of the Beaker Folk, often found clustered in family groups. Ritual seems to have been important to them; many of the beautiful bronze swords and spearheads from this time in the Museum of London were found in the River Thames where they had been deposited as part of some kind of ceremony, and they were responsible for one of the major phases in the development of Stonehenge. They seem to have had a strong distinction between the land that they farmed – the land of the living, and the land of the ancestors where their burials took place, so perhaps the summit of Shooters Hill was a sacred place for them.

And as a bonus I found some new and interesting documents about Shooters Hill!

Shrewsbury Tumulus
Shrewsbury Tumulus

Hay harvesters urgently needed at Woodlands Farm

British White Cows at Woodlands Farm
British White Cows at Woodlands Farm

Woodlands Farm desperately need help tomorrow to get their hay harvest in while the sunny weather lasts. Dr Barry Gray e-mailed me this afternoon saying:

We desperately need members of the local community to help us to get our hay harvest in before the weather breaks. The hay is now cut and dried, and we expect to start baling from midday on Saturday, (tomorrow). We need to shift about 4000 bales of hay from the fields into the barns. You will need to be in reasonable health with no allergies to hay! If you can spare a few hours, your help will be most appreciated. Please either ring the Farm on 0208 319 8900, or come direct to the farmyard at 331 Shooters Hill from 11am tomorrow. Please bring garden gloves if you can although we do have a supply of gloves at the farm. We also have face masks.
Please try to help out and make this a true community event. Even if you are confined to making tea, all abilities needed!
Barry Gray
Chair, Woodlands Farm Trust)

So if you can spare an hour or two head down to the farm.