It was a cold dry morning during the week when a group of children from Timbercroft School headed over to Shrewsbury Park to help Royal Borough of Greenwich Tree Officers put some new bird boxes up in the trees there. The boxes were built by Friends of Shrewsbury Park, several of whom also came along. A total of 13 boxes were fixed up on trees in the park, and should be just in time for this years’ nest building and breeding season.
The bird boxes are the first step in a number of improvements that the Friends will be making to the park over the coming months. Work has already started on fabricating the wheelchair-friendly gates that will be erected at the park entrance near the Garland Road end of Dothill, and a sculptor is creating a carved noticeboard to stand at this entrance. Once the weather improves part of the Dothill path which is susceptible to flooding will have a new drainage system and will be resurfaced. There are also plans to plant wild flowers alongside the path: the Friends will be looking for volunteers to help with this.
The improvement work is mainly being funded by a grant of over £11,000 from the The Veolia Environmental Trust, with the council also providing some support.
Preparations have started for the Friends’ Summer Festival which will be held on Saturday 6th June. Previous summer festivals have been great fun. The Friends are looking for assistance with the festival, in particular: donations of books and bric a brac; leafleting local roads over the weekend of 18th and 19th May; setting up and running the bric a brac or books stall; and providing music. You can contact them on email@example.com.
They will also be leading a bat walk around the park again this year, on Friday 17th May. It will follow a similar route to last year’s successful night-time stroll, when lots of pipistrelles were detected with the bat detectors and seen swooping just above head-height, hunting midges and other food using their high frequency echolocation system. This year the walk will take the opportunity to check the bat boxes that were put up last year for signs of bat inhabitants.
I recently got hold of a copy of Mike Ashley‘s fascinating in-depth biography of Algernon Blackwood, Starlight Man The Extraordinary Life of Algernon Blackwood, which is now sitting on top of my bed-side Jenga pile of books to read. It looks an interesting read: Blackwood led a very varied life. Wikipedia records that his career included “working as a milk farmer in Canada, operating a hotel, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for the New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher”. He was also a prolific author of supernatural and ghost stories, a TV broadcaster and an occultist – a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
My interest in Blackwood is partly because he was born in Shooters Hill, in Wood Lodge – one of the grand houses on the hill which have since been demolished. The old OS maps of the area show that Wood Lodge was situated roughly where the Oxleas Cafe is now. Starlight Man includes the photo above, the only one I’ve come across of Wood Lodge, and the following description of Blackwood’s first home:
Blackwood was born at Wood Lodge, Shooter’s Hill in north-west Kent, not far from the suburbs of London. Administratively it fell within the parish of Eltham, but it was closer to Blackheath. Wood Lodge was a significant property. Built shortly before 1800 it had been extended and developed until a surveyor’s report, in the early 1800s, called it ’a situation superior to any within this Manor’. It stood in over thirty acres of land with rights over a further twenty-three acres of adjoining woodland. Originally the house was called Nightingale Hall, and the song of the nightingale was still heard there many years later. Wildlife abounded in the adjacent woods. The house had at least three sitting rooms, seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, a brew house and stabling for six horses, and this was before it was enlarged by another tenant in 1860. Arthur Blackwood and his growing family moved there in January 1868. The 1871 census reveals that they had eight servants and a governess.
Wood Lodge is no longer standing. The property reverted to the Crown in 1916 when it was used by the War Department as an antiaircraft unit. It remained unused for the next fifteen years, became dilapidated, and was pulled down in 1932.
It is just possible that Blackwood’s earliest memory dates from those days. In his radio talk ‘Minor Memories’ he recalled that when he was just old enough to ‘grip the lower bar of the nursery window’ he saw the face of God. His parents spoke much of God but he had no idea what he looked like. The vision turned out to be a balloon sailing over Kent from Crystal Palace but it remained an indelible memory.
Increased demands on Blackwood’s father, with a greater number of evening engagements, meant that he often returned home late, and Wood Lodge was not conveniently situated near the railway station. In June 1871 the family moved to the Manor House, Crayford. This was the home that remained fixed in Algernon’s memory. He lived there from the age of two till June 1880, when he was eleven. It was the home of his childhood, the home of the ‘Starlight Express’, and the house that appears in many of his stories.
The Starlight Express mentioned is not the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but a 1915 children’s play by Violet Pearn with songs and incidental music written by Sir Edward Elgar which was based on based on Blackwood’s novel A Prisoner in Fairyland.
Wood Lodge was mentioned by Charles Booth, the Victorian philanthropist and social researcher known for his poverty maps of London, in volume B371 of his notebooks recording his perambulations around London streets. Digitized copies of these notebooks are available through the Charles Booth Online Archive, and Volume B371 covers Districts 46 and 48 – Greenwich, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Woolwich. On page 209 he writes:
Bicycle ride through the streets of Woolwich between 10pm and 12.30pm and a visit to the Woolwich Music Hall while staying with H.F. Donaldson at Wood Lodge Shooters Hill,
Page 209 also gives Booth’s description of Saturday night in the Market Place, Woolwich. Later pages have descriptions of people’s clothes, prices at the market (fair sirloin 6d a pound, meat (not joints but not scraps) 3d a pound), Woolwich streets such as the Dust Hole and the Music Hall in Beresford Street. It would be only too easy to waste a lot of time browsing through these notebooks deciphering Booth’s descriptions of local streets and the social status of their inhabitants in May 1900.
Charles Booth was staying at Wood Lodge with Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson KCB, who at that time was Chief Mechanical Engineer at the Royal Ordnance Factories, Woolwich – the Royal Arsenal. I believe nearby Donaldson Road was named after Sir Frederick, who went on to become Chief Superintendent of the Royal Arsenal and was praised by Lloyd George for his “skilled, prudent, tactful, and resourceful administration”. He stepped down from his Chief Superintendent position when he was appointed Chief Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Munitions in September 1915
Sir Frederick was one of the advisers selected to go with Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, on a mission to Russia which ended in disaster. The firstworldwar.com web site gives the details:
On the afternoon of 5th June 1916 HMS Hampshire set sail for Archangel, Russia with Field Marshal Earl Kitchener aboard.
He was bound for Petrograd at the invitation of Tsar Nicholas of Russia who wanted talks with the War Minister about the war on the eastern front. Three hours into the voyage, the cruiser struck a mine off Marwick Head, Orkney and sank almost immediately. Kitchener and his Staff perished, along with the officers and nearly all the men of the ship. Just 12 survivors from a crew of 655 managed to find their way ashore.
A tragic end for Donaldson, who was praised in his obituary in Nature as “an engineer of distinction” who “was associated with, and largely responsible for, the great improvements in the power and mechanism of naval and land artillery”.
We look forward to welcoming you back in 2013 for another summer of nostalgia, riding behind our steam and electric locomotives. The dates and timings have now been confirmed.
The railway and clubhouse will be open from 2:00-5:00pm. Train rides will be available for children and adults(!), with the last ticket issued at 4:30pm. Refreshments are available in the clubhouse.
Sunday April 21st
Sunday May 5th 19th
Sunday June 2nd 16th 30th
Sunday July 14th 28th
Sunday August 11th 25th
Sunday September 8th 22nd
Sunday October 6th (last running)
I’ll add the dates to the e-shootershill events calendar on the right.
I wasn’t aware that there were plans for a Horticultural Skills Centre on Shooters Hill, as well as the Equestrian Skills Centre, until I saw ?Stewart Christie’s (@5tewartChristie) tweet yesterday about Greenwich Council’s decision to give a grant of up to £495,000 to Hadlow College for the development of such a centre. Hadlow, who also run the Equestrian Centre just down the hill, will put £73,000 towards the cost and will be responsible for any overspend and ongoing running costs.
It is proposed that the new centre will be built at the Parks and Open Spaces depot opposite Eaglesfield Road, which is going to be empty from April. The site already has buildings on it and from the preliminary plans it looks like the new centre will have a similar layout and footprint as the existing development, even keeping the little roundabout at the entrance. It will “encompass a teaching, administration and a facilities block, alongside polytunnels and raised beds for planting and growing”. They still need to get planning permission for any work, so we will have a chance to comment on the plans. They are working to a tight timetable: they reckon the work will take 3 to 4 months, but want to be able to open the new centre by the end of summer in time for the start of the autumn term.
As well as the grant the council will let Hadlow College have a 15 year lease on the site for a peppercorn rent. The Equestrian Centre also has just a 15 year lease.
The aim of the new centre, according to the council report is:
This element of the Skills Centre is designed to exploit the potential for horticultural jobs both in the Royal Borough, including the Borough’s Council’s own parks and open spaces, and in surrounding areas. The Service Level Agreement will set out the scope of the skills training to be delivered, which will include pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training at levels 1 and 2, adult and community learning, NPTC short courses in areas (e.g. pesticide spraying), embedded literacy, numeracy and IT skills, with the aim of equipping students with a range of transferable skills that will increase individuals’ employability, and provide potential access to a range of jobs and careers.
On the 1894 and 1914 OS maps of Shooters Hill the area where the Parks and Open Spaces depot is now was occupied by a mansion called Summer Court about which I know very little, though it was occupied in 1900 by a bankrupt named William Carter. From the old maps it’s possible that an old coach house on the site, pictured below, may be a remnant of the Summer Court buildings; I’m glad that the preliminary plans show that it will be retained within the Horticultural Skills Centre.
At the bottom of Shooters Hill the Hadlow College Equestrian Centre is now occupied and has its first students, though it won’t be fully running until the start of the 2013/14 academic year in the autumn. One of the conditions of their planning approval was that they had to submit a community use scheme, allowing for a minimum of 82 hours of community access each week, to the council planning authority and get it approved. The Greenwich Council planning pages show that Hadlow have submitted a scheme, but the document itself is not included and comments are not being accepted. Its status is “Pending Decision”. When I dropped in to the Equestrian Centre earlier today I was told that they planned to provide riding lessons for local residents in the evenings and at weekends starting at the end of the summer.
The Horticultural Skills Centre sounds like a good idea to me, and an enhancement to the area, but like the Equestrian Centre it seems that Greenwich Council are going about it in a slightly odd way.
More than a year after the Woolwich fireworks celebrating Greenwich becoming a Royal Borough, Shooters Hill has its first street signs with the Royal Borough of Greenwich logo and crest. The signs are on roads in the Shrewsbury Park Estate, which has also had some maintenance to its trademark verges recently. These are given particular mention in the estate’s conservation area appraisal:
The relationship of public and private spaces on the Laing Shrewsbury Park Estate is one of its special features. The well-developed verges originally laid out with posts and chains throughout, enlarged at the entrances, complement the spacious front gardens to create a verdant and sylvan setting, which softens and warms the houses.
Over the last few months the verges have been enhanced by filling gaps with new shrubs and succession tree planting: Parrotia persica, Olea europaea, Sophora japonica and Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ have all been added to the kerb-side beds. For the non-horticultural that means Persian Ironwood, Olive, Japanese pagoda and Black Cherry Plum trees have been planted. The trees will provide colour at different times of the year and I’m looking forward to seeing them mature to their full glory, especially the “stunning autumn colour” of the Persian Ironwood.
Have you seen our new website? You still have to go into it via www.shrewsburyhouse.info but this will soon be changed to .org. The House over the past few months has had something of a facelift, with new lights in the old library and room 3 now housing our books all donated by residents which can be taken out free of charge. It has also had a facelift with newly polished floors in a number of rooms. New curtains have been hung in room 3. A majority of our other rooms have also had an upgrade and the House is something to be proud of. If you have not been in there recently or if not at all, it is worth spending five minutes of your time, especially if you are thinking of holding a party or wedding.
They will be holding a table sale, which I think is a kind of indoor car-boot sale, in aid of the house on Sunday 12th May: I’ve included the flyer below.
The pregnant ewes have been gathered into the barn in preparation for the arrival of their lambs, and the lambing volunteers are signing up for the shifts on the lambing rota. Lambing season has started at Woodlands Farm. There will be a chance to see the new-born lambs at the farm’s Lambing Day on Sunday 7th April. Maureen at the farm e-mailed the details:
?All are welcome at the Woodlands Farm Trust Lambing Day. Come and see our new-born lambs, and enjoy the chance to buy quality local produce at reasonable prices, including home-made preserves, cakes and honey. Relax in our café, enjoy the treasure hunt or get involved in craft activities.
Entry is £1 for adults and 50p for children, and all proceeds go towards caring for our animals. A great family day out!?
What’s it like to be a lambing volunteer? For a graphic description of a ewe giving birth read Suzanna Fitpatrick’s brilliant poem “Lamb 001” which is reproduced at the end of the recent post about Shooters Hill Poets.
I also heard from Lorraine, the Wildlife Officer at the farm, that they will be holding a Spring Wildlife Walk at the Farm on Easter Monday, 1st April:
Winter is behind us so put a spring in your step and enjoy a community countryside and wildlife walk around Woodlands Farm. Led by members of the Woodlands Farm Trust. Please wear appropriate clothing including sensible footwear. The walk will probably be a bit challenging for buggies but supervised children are very welcome.
£1 per person (under 18’s free)
Free for farm volunteers and members
Meet at the Education Centre
The Woodlands Farm Trust
331 Shooters Hill, Welling, Kent DA16 3RP
Tel: 020 8319 8900
The farm is host to many wildlife species that are of high conservation importance, including bats, common toad, hedgehog, song thrush, house sparrows, and stag beetles. There are also frogs, toads and newts at the farm ponds. It’ll be interesting to see how many creatures are out and about already.
Another new local web site has just been launched – phase 1 of the Christ Church Primary School web site is now live. New material is still being added to the site, but it already includes a wealth of information about the school and has links to external sites with data about the school such as the Ofsted sites. The school is also on twitter @ccshprimary.
Christ Church are still in their temporary accommodation at the Shooters Hill Post 16 Campus while the old school buildings are extended into their old playground and a new playing area and MUGA court created on Eltham Common. I hear the year long building programme is running slightly late, and it may be the end of this academic year before they move back to their home further up the hill.
I’ll add the new School web site to the local links list on the right.
The latest issue of Ramblers‘ South East Walker newspaper suggested that the dispute was continuing in the same vein as before. There is an article by Des Garahan, Campaigns Officer for Inner London Ramblers, thanking readers for responding in support of the campaign to reopen the path, and asking for further evidence of use of the path before 1992 to help get it established as a public right of way. However the paper also printed a letter from a Rambler suggesting a more flexible approach, and saying that she “would gladly walk an alternative route if it meant that the farm were to be preserved as it is now”.
I had also heard from the farm that they had attended the Inner London Ramblers AGM with the intention of putting their case, but they “experienced hostility and rudeness, and were, for the most part, prevented from saying anything to the meeting.” Well, as least they tried to have an open discussion about the issues. Later the farm e-mailed me stating their position:
We are writing to you to update the position with regard to the Green Chain route across Woodlands Farm. As you know, the present claimed path across the farm is neither a right of way nor a permissive path, legally it has no status. We fully accept that it is the widely advertised route of the South East London Green Chain Section 3 and Woodlands Farm has always been extremely anxious to resolve this problem as soon as possible. We feel that if we accept the current claimed route across Woodlands Farm it will result in serious damage to the character of the farm, a severe curtailment of our actives and threaten the viability of the whole project.
Since 1996 many hundreds of volunteers at Woodlands Farm have worked tirelessly a derelict urban wasteland into a very popular and successful city farm of high wildlife and biodiversity value. We are naturally saddened and very anxious that the current campaign by Inner London Ramblers and the Green Chain Working Party to establish a public right of way across Woodlands Farm with 24/7 access could kill the Woodlands Farm project stone dead. The reasons for saying this are set out in the attached documents and these have appeared in our newsletter.
Put briefly, if a right of way were established along the route of the present claimed Green Chain, two of our largest hay meadows would be open to all and sundry with no restriction. In the past, as you know, this has resulted in arson, burglary and attacks on our livestock and threats to our staff and volunteers. We’ve been able to reduce this anti-social behaviour by locking the gates at Dryden Road and Bellegrove Road. The Woodlands Farm Trust has a perfect legal right to do this.
In order to facilitate the Green Chain Walk we have offered a perfectly feasible and enjoyable diversion, along an existing public footpath at Hillview. The WFT would then provide a permissive footpath across a short section of the farm to the Dryden Road gate, which could then be unlocked and left open. See attached map. This strategy of a diverted footpath meets with the approval of Blackheath Ramblers and North West Kent Ramblers.
As you reported previously, the 2012 AGM of the Woodlands Farm Trust voted unanimously for the Board to resist the efforts of Inner London Ramblers and the Green Chain Working Party to impose a new footpath across our fields. If there is no settlement this can only result in prolonged and costly litigation and to what end? Our proposed diversion is only 100 yards east of the current claimed footpath. Woodlands Farm Trust will resist any attempt to impose a new footpath on us and for the reasons we have stated, we feel we are now fighting for our lives.
Dr Barry Gray (Chair)
Maggie Jones (Vice Chair)
Things seemed to be escalating yesterday (Saturday) morning when I saw this tweet:
Oh dear, I thought, that doesn’t sound like it will lead to an agreement between Ramblers and the Farm that will get the path reopened. However later in the day I received this update from Maggie Jones, Vice Chair at the farm:
A few farm Board members and volunteers met the 4 people from Ramblers this lunchtime at the Oxleas Café. After much discussion and explanation of the Farm’s position they agreed not to leaflet today and to take consideration of the Farm’s position.
And there was also this update on twitter:
Shooters Hill leafletting postponed following lengthy impromptu ultimately constructive open air meeting with woodlands farm representatives — walking class hero (@walkngclasshero) March 9, 2013
So some positive developments, and cautious optimism that the dispute can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but still a little way to go before the gate is reopened permanently, I guess.
I heard that the other footpath closure in the area, the MoD’s closure of the path between Shooters Hill and Academy Place is looking less optimistic. An attempt to ascertain whether the footpath was a right of way by contacting Greenwich Council, yielded this response:
As a Metropolitan Borough Council, Royal Greenwich is not required by law to hold definitive records or information pertaining to ‘Public Rights of Way, By ways, or Bridlepaths. However I can confirm to the best of my knowledge that the footpath you are referring to is private and is not a public right of way.
According to Ramblers’ Put London on the Map campaign there is an oddity in the law which means that footpaths in London do not have the same legal protection as footpaths in other parts of the country. London Boroughs do not have to maintain definitive maps of rights of way, and so nearly all of them don’t do so. This makes it difficult to find out if a path is a right of way. Justin Cooke, Senior Policy Officer at Ramblers told me in an e-mail:
But if it turns out it is MOD land and use of the path has always been by permission, i.e. they allowed it but never granted anyone a right to use the path in doing so, then they would have the right to close it as they have done.
I should stress that Ramblers haven’t given up on the issue and it has been passed on to their local volunteer for the area for further action.
There’s one other avenue to follow up: local MP Clive Efford is a keen supporter of Ramblers, as he said in an e-mail about the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass which included the photo below. I’m looking forward to his response to a request for support in getting the path reopened ….
Theatre comes to Shrewsbury House next month when Shooters Hill based Front Room Theatre present their play Lie Back and Think of America. The one-woman, multi-role drama performed by local actor Natalie Penn and directed by Naomi Jones starts a UK tour at Shrewsbury House on 15th and 16th April. It will also play at Mycenae House in Blackheath on 26th April.
Lie Back and Think of America has been performed at various venues, including the Edinburgh Fringe. The Edinburgh Fringe listing described the play as:
1940’s London. Sarah wishes dad could meet GI Joseph. Evacuee-with-attitude, little sister Lucy descends on Wales. Can Sarah find the courage to tell them the truth? Engaging multi-role one-woman show. ‘Compelling … well written’ (Soho Theatre). ‘Amazing … kept us all enthralled throughout … a show good for both young and old’, ‘We both thoroughly enjoyed it and thought that Natalie was brilliant’ (audience comments).
Tickets for the Shrewsbury House performances are available from Natalie on 07786 980 781 and cost £8.00 (concessions £6.50).
She was also in the video for Deptford band Athlete‘s Black Swan Song which was released to raise money for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Day Appeal. The song, described as “powerful and moving” is about the death of the grandfather of Athlete’s lead singer and guitarist, Joel Pott. The video is certainly powerfuul and moving: I’ve included it below as a taster for what you might experience on April 15th and 16th.
The Shooters Hill Scout Group, the 10th Royal Eltham, or XRE, have a new web site which went live this week. The site covers all you need to know about the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorer Scouts, details of how to join the group and a really interesting Group History page which tells their story from 1938 (and even a bit before).
This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the group, who meet at Christ Church on Shooters Hill. They were registered on 17th May 1938, under registration number 19445. They are marking the anniversary with their 75th year group camp at Hope Hill Scout Camp, Meopham where they hope to take all their 90 members along. They are also celebrating the anniversary with a BBQ on the 13th June at their hut on Shooters Hill.