Hannah, the Education Officer at Woodlands Farm, sent details of their February half term events for children:
Wednesday 19th February — Wildlife Explorers’ Trail 10am-2pm FREE
Winter is a great time to spot signs of animals as the mud means tracks are more visible and the bare trees allow us to see the birds more clearly. Come to Woodlands Farm to take part in our free trail to spot signs of animals that spend their winter here.
Thursday 20th February – Print yourself a picture 1-3pm £1
Come along for our afternoon of printing. Come up with your own pattern or design and then using special paint and rollers you can print this picture onto paper to take home with you. Just drop in to make your own print.
Friday 21st February — Get Wild in the Woods 11am-1pm £2
Come and join us in the woods as we learn how to survive in the wild. Have a go at shelter building, wild cooking over a fire and learn what animals need to survive.
Age 7+ Booking essential, to book call 020 8319 8900
For more information on these events or to book please contact the Farm on 020 8319 8900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Parking is limited so please use public transport where possible.
If you’re on twitter there’s now another way of keeping in touch with what’s happening at Woodlands farm – follow them at @woodlandsft
We look forward to welcoming you back in 2014 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 13th 27th
Sunday May 11th 25th
Sunday June 8th
Sunday July 6th 20th
Sunday August 3rd 17th 31st
Sunday September 14th 28th
Sunday October 12th (last running)
I’ll be leading a walk on the Green Chain from Charlton to Plumstead via Maryon Park, Charlton House, Woolwich Common, Severndroog Castle, and Shooters Hill etc. All are welcome, no need to book, and it’s free of charge. We’ll have lunch at Charlton House. Meet 11.30 at Charlton railway station. Finish 17.00 at Plumstead railway station, seven miles long. A packed lunch and waterproof footwear are essential.
There are some slightly glorifying, but not too embellished details here. http://www.walk4life.info/events/the-best-landscape-and-views-london-charlton-plumstead-shooters-hill-green-chain-walk
I’ve spent a great deal of time on Shooters Hill in the past few weeks. As lovely as ever, but isn’t it muddy? I suppose that’s what comes from a hill made of Clay!
Date: 26th January 2014
Start Time: 11:00am at Woolwich Arsenal Station
Duration: 3 hours
Length of Walk: 5.8 miles
Cost: Free of charge
Booking advice: No booking required
Start your walk along this part of the Capital Ring with a ferry across the Thames to the Royal Docks and a walk through Beckton parks, the Greenway and the Lower Lea Valley to the largest remaining C18th tidal mill at Three Mills.
The walk takes in the Greenway, Bazelgette’s famous raised sewer that combated the “Great Stink” and cholera outbreaks.
Walkers are advised to bring a packed lunch.
I’ve often walked past Victoria House, the grand looking building on the corner of Shooters Hill Road and Academy Road, and wondered about its history. Recently I got the opportunity to get closer and have a look inside, courtesy of one of the (Interim) co-Heads of Greenwich Free School. While my main motivation for visiting the Free School was nosiness about the building, I found what I learned about the school fascinating and in itself worth the walk down the hill. My opinion of free schools, admittedly mainly influenced by newspaper headlines, was slightly negative: many free schools seemed to be motivated by ideology or faith, and I was appalled by the thought that creationism could be taught as though it were science. However I was very impressed by my visit to the Greenwich Free School.
The school opened in 2012 and will be based in Adair House once work on converting the building and constructing new facilities is complete. In the meantime they are using portakabins on the Adair House site, and have been granted planning permission to use Victoria House as temporary accommodation until September 2015. Whatever their provenance, the school is very much teacher led: their self-confessed geek teachers – enthusiasts for their subjects – are using the autonomy allowed by the free school system to pursue innovative approaches that avoid the target-driven micromanagement that blights many professionals’ working lives. In particular, I was told, they don’t focus on the C-D boundary as some do, which means not trying to improve the figures for the number of pupils passing 5 GCSEs at grades A to C by concentrating on those pupils expected to get a grade D. They are also determinedly Comprehensive, allocating places to equal numbers of children in each of the five ability bands decided by primary school tests.
The Greenwich Free School has proven popular with parents, and it is the most oversubscribed school in Greenwich with over 700 applications for its 100 places. This is despite, or maybe because of, its reputation for strict discipline and its extended working day. Pupils attend school between 8.30am and 5.30pm, a third longer than most children, though they aren’t set homework in year seven, and some of the additional time is spent on extra-curricular, enrichment activity.
I was guided on a tour of the school by one of the pupils. They have quite a few visitors, so every class has a “learning champion” who comes over to describe what the class is learning. One class was learning the basics of the Python programming language. They study computer science rather than ICT, and have some Rasperry Pi computers lined up for the class later on. In another classroom pupils were quietly reading, but rather than being seated at desks, as we always were when I was at school, they were all in their most comfortable reading position, whether that be seated, lying on the floor or otherwise draped over the furniture. That’s definitely the best way to read! At the end of my tour I talked about Shooters Hill local history to a pupil who was doing a project on the subject, and we had an interesting discussion about the history exhibited by the fabric of Victoria House.
Medical Officers Mess (opposite the Herbert Hospital)
Built in 1909, graceful 2-storey building in the Classical style in two types of red brick; yellow terracotta detailing. Slated roof with Dutch gables to ends of building and centre dormer with semi-circular pediments extending into roof on either side of main entrance. Round headed windows to ground floor.
It was clearly once a grand entrance hall for the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is a well-proportioned room, with some elegant iron work on the balcony. On the floor, in mosaic tiles, is the cap badge of the RAMC which, as wikipedia says, depicts “the Rod of Asclepius, surmounted by a crown, enclosed within a laurel wreath, with the regimental motto In Arduis Fidelis, translated as “Faithful in Adversity” in a scroll beneath”.
Another sign of the building’s origin as posh lodgings and a mess for officers of the RAMC can be seen in the room to the right of the entrance lobby. At each end there is a handsome wood framed fireplace, the top panels of which are carved with the initials of the then reigning monarch, King Edward VII. This is also repeated in stone over the entrance, together with the date 1909.
Finding out more about the history of the Officers Mess has been quite difficult. The date over the door would seem to indicate that the Mess was built in 1909, but according to the Woolwich Common Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 1909 was the year the “estimates passed”, but it was built later, though there is no supporting evidence for that statement, or an actual date. Who was the architect for the building? I don’t really know: the closest I’ve got so far is an entry in the catalogue at the National Archives:
Woolwich Barracks: Royal Medical Hospital. Royal Army Medical Corps Officers’ mess and quarters. Foundation plan and ground plan. Record plans. Scale: 1 inch to 8 feet. Signed by Harry B Measures, FRIBA, Director of Barrack Construction, War Office, 80 Pall Mall, London
Harry Bell Measures was an architect who, amongst others, designed many of the buildings for London Underground’s Central Line. However in 1909 he was also the Director of Barrack Construction at the War Office and it was probably in this capacity that he signed the plans rather than as the architect. Seems like yet another good reason for a trip over to the archives at Kew to see if there are any clues there about who the architect was.
Another possible source of information about the RAMC Officers Mess was the the library at the Wellcome Collection, which includes the “Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection”. It’s another place where time can slip away very quickly, absorbed in the collection of old documents and photographs. I found quite a few about the Royal Herbert Hospital, including pictures and photographs of Royal visits by Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret, but nothing about the RAMC Officers Mess. I’ve still got a few leads to follow up, but if I find anything it will be the subject of a future post.
More recently, after it ceased to be the Officers Mess, Victoria House has hosted a number of different organisations, including a doctors’ surgery, a pre-school and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help charity. In 2007 planning permission was granted, on appeal, to convert the building into a 75 bed care home. The conversion would have retained the front facade but the rest of the building would have been demolished. This was still the plan in January 2013 when the planning approval was renewed. However the Land Registry records that in June 2013 the building was bought by “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government” for £4,800,000 plus £960,000 VAT. The plan now for the former Officers Mess is that it will become a primary school, and the Greenwich Free School Group has submitted a proposal to the Department for Education to set up this new primary school. It would adopt the same ethos and educational approach as the existing Greenwich Free School.
I hope they don’t lose the historical reminders of the Officers Mess in the process of creating the new primary school. The Heritage Statement submitted with the planning application only talks about the impact on the heritage represented by the nearby former Royal Herbert Hospital and Woolwich Common, not on Victoria House itself, but perhaps this is just an oversight.
Last July was the 20th anniversary of People Against the River Crossing‘s victory in its campaign to save Oxleas Wood from a six lane motorway, yet it still seems that the woods are not safe. The statement by badger-bashing Environment Secretary Owen Paterson that “clearing ancient woodland for houses and roads could be allowed as long as developers promise to plant 100 new trees for each ancient one felled” exacerbated my insecurity because the “Disneyland absurdity” of trying to recreate an ancient woodland was one of the key arguments PARC used to defend Oxleas.
Fungible is one of my favourite words. It means interchangeable or freely exchangeable. For example a pound coin is fungible. If you lend someone a pound coin you would be happy to get any pound coin in return. People, obviously, are not fungible, though sometimes corporate bean-counting spreadsheet bashers behave as if they were.
Are trees fungible? I don’t think so. At a simple level a 500 year old Oak tree is clearly not equivalent to a new sapling, and when you take into account the land where the tree is growing, its ecology and history, it is even more clear. When one side of the equation is a hazel or chestnut tree whose shape has developed through centuries of coppicing, that is part of an 8000 year old woodland and that stands in a historic landscape that provided the raw materials for the construction of the Royal Navy’s great wooden ships, there should be no dispute. And what about rare trees like the Wild Service Tree that are found in few places in the UK, that are difficult to grow from seeds, reproducing through suckers from existing trees, and that are indicators of an ancient woodland ecology. Irreplaceable.
This was the heart of the argument that the Oxleas Nine and PARC made to oppose the compulsory purchase orders for the roads to feed the East London River Crossing. The route through Oxleas Wood, Woodlands Farm and Plumstead was slightly to the east of Ringway 2, shown on the snippet above taken from cbrd.co.uk web site’s superb UK roads database. The orders were for:
A total of 101,713 square metres of land within the Eltham Park, Oxleas Wood and Falconwood Field area comprising:
(a) 9,223 square metres of land in Eltham Park, on both sides of the railway line between Eltham and Falconwood British Rail stations; the main part extending east from the swimming pool on the south side of the railway and a small piece lying opposite the swimming pool to the north of the railway (Plot 1);
(b) 29,777 square metres of land in Oxleas Wood, between Rochester Way in the north and the railway to the south; (Plot 2);
(c) 9,393 square metres of land at Falconwood Field east of the junction between Rochester Way and Welling Way (Plot 3); and
(d) 53,320 square metres of land in Oxleas Wood, extending in a wide strip northwards from Welling Way to Shooters Hill/Bellegrove Road (Plot 4),
As David Black explains in “The Campaign to Save Oxleas Wood”, because the order included “land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment” there had to be land given in exchange that was equal in area and “equally advantageous to the public”. However the land proposed to be given in exchange was part of Woodlands Farm, which already provided some amenity to the public, and it would be fenced off for ten years to allow trees to grow and even then would not have the ecosystem and history accumulated over thousands of years of the woodlands it was to be exchanged for. The objectors argued that this was not equally advantageous to the public.
The Environment Secretary seems to be saying that this is no longer a valid objection and that the only thing that matters is the number of trees planted.
This is important because there are still proposals to construct a river crossing – ferry, bridge or tunnel – at the same place as the East London River Crossing. The reports from previous consultations admit that the road network south of the Thames is inadequate to support such a crossing, but doesn’t suggest how this can be rectified, other than a throwaway suggestion of “a tunnel south to the A2”. This is not a convincing suggestion. Elsewhere the report dismisses the option of a tunnel replacing the South Circular to Woolwich in part because it would be “the longest road tunnel in the UK by some margin”; a tunnel under Plumstead and Oxleas to the A2 would be far longer. Also the proposal for a tunnel under Oxleas Wood as part of the East London River Crossing scheme was dismissed on cost grounds, unless it were a cut-and-cover tunnel, which would destroy the ancient woodland anyway.
The conclusion from the consultation about the replacement for the Woolwich Free Ferry and the development of a new Silvertown Tunnel was that further work would be done and that for the Free Ferry options which include a new crossing at Gallions Reach a further consultation would be held at the end of last year. Presumably this has been delayed. TfL said:
In the coming months we will undertake further work to determine the traffic, environmental and regeneration impacts and benefits of the possible new river crossings, building on the initial assessments we have undertaken to date. We anticipate a further consultation later this year on options for replacing the Woolwich Ferry, including the options recently consulted on, allowing stakeholders and members of the public to consider the findings of our impact assessment work and enabling a decision to be taken on a way forward in the summer 2014.
TfL’s work on the traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach crossing will not, in my opinion, be complete unless they include a convincing, costed proposal for solving the inadequacies of the transport network south of the Thames that politicians commit to. Otherwise the additional traffic generated by the new crossing will overload local residential roads leading to pressure for new roads and a renewed threat to our heritage ancient woodland. It’ll be interesting to see whether TfL provide this as input to their promised new consultation.
The pictures below show some of the flora of Oxleas Wood that we saw on Barry Gray’s Bluebell Walk last year. There are more photographs in a Flickr set, including Butchers Broom, Ladies Smock, Wood Sorrel, Wild Garlic and, of course, Bluebells.
“The Friends of the “Old Blue Cross” Cemetery are holding their first AGM on Tuesday the 21st January at 7.30pm at Minnie Bennett House, 164 Shooters Hill Road, London SE3 8RW. Our membership is growing slowly and we would welcome any interested members of the community to come along and learn about this “Secret Gem”, what has been achieved so far and the plans for the future.
The agenda includes: an introduction to the former Blue Cross Cemetery, and its history; the achievements of the FoPC so far, and their future plans; Finances; Gardening Activities; and the election of the Committee. The meeting is followed by refreshments, a raffle and a quiz.
The Pet Cemetery is a calm, secluded area tucked away near Hornfair Park, studded with poignant memorials to pets from the 1930s and 40s. Its entrance is near the pedestrian footbridge over Shooters Hill Road next to the Fox Under the Hill pub.
While walking along Herbert Road photographing buildings of local interest, I walked right past some of the most interesting – the group of 5 wooden-framed houses at the top of Llanover Road. These houses were built by the people who lived in them as part of a cooperative self-build group, following a design by the architect Walter Segal. Some of the builders still live there, and I was lucky to be able to talk to a couple of self-builders, Gordon and Dee, about how they did it. They generously lent me their album of photos recording the build – some of them are included below.
Walter Segal was a German-born architect who moved to London in 1936. In 1963 he pioneered his eponymous building method when he constructed a “temporary” wood-framed building in a back garden in Highgate to house his extended family while their main home was being extended. That building is still standing today, the first of many constructed using the Segal method. Quite a few Segal houses have been built in south-east London, and those in Lewisham are particularly well known. The architect himself provided guidance and encouragement to the Lewisham builders. After he died in 1985 two of the roads where his houses stand were named after him: Walters Way in Honor Oak and Segal Close near Blyth Hill. Two of the houses in Walters Way were open to the public in last year’s London Open House, whose brochure described them as:
Each house is unique, many extended and built using a method developed by Walter Segal, who led the project in the 1980s. Both houses have benefitted from extensions and renovations. Sustainable features include solar electric. water and space heating. Walter Segal 1987.
Walter Segal’s method was designed to be simple, suitable for people with no previous building experience, and to avoid what he called the “tyranny of wet trades”; that is, there is no need for brick laying or plastering. The building plan is based on a set of timber frames, constructed from standard, readily available materials using basic carpentry skills, which sit on pad foundations. This means that there is less need for levelling a site and disrupting existing trees and vegetation, and it allows houses to be erected on sloping sites which are problematic for traditional methods: Walters Way, for example, is a steeply sloping site. The roof is attached after the frames have been erected, allowing the builders to work under cover on the rest of the building. Within the grid defined by the wooden frames builders can chose the layout of the rooms in the house and, as the walls are not load bearing, can even rearrange the internal lay-out after the build is complete.
In the borough of Greenwich a number of Segal self build developments were overseen by Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL). Gordon and Dee were part of the first of these: the Greenwich Self Build co-operative project at Llanover Road, which officially started on 16th March 1993. The site had been occupied by a row of three Victorian houses, numbers 220 to 224 Herbert Road, according to the 1914 OS map, though they had been demolished and the site littered by fly-tipping by the time the project started. The first of Gordon and Dee’s photos below show the site as it was when they started. The fly-tipping and rubbish had been cleared away by the council – the only physical help the council contributed to the build! The self-builders had all been selected by the council, and were working on a “Self Build For Rent” model. They committed to putting in 20 hours a week each on the build. In return for their labour in building the houses they would be able to live in them on a reduced rent. Before starting they attended a training course, though it mainly seems to have covered how to use power tools safely.
The official start was attended by local MP Nick Raynsford, seen on the left in the photo below. The architects were probably Architype, led by Jon Broome, who also worked on the other projects undertaken by the Greenwich Self Build co-operative at Parish Wharf near Woolwich Dockyard, and Birchdene and Silver Birch in Thamesmead.
The first stage of the build was to dig the holes for the concrete bases for the pad foundations. The little digger in the photograph was the only “large” piece of machinery used in the whole build, and was passed on the next Greenwich project at Parish Wharf when the Llanover Road builders had finished with it.
Unlike brick built houses, the foundations of Segal houses don’t run underneath the entire area of the house. Instead they have pad foundations – the upright posts of the wooden frames stand on a paving slab which is sitting on top of a point block of concrete, about 600 x 600 wide, the depth depending on local soil conditions. The ends of the wooden beams are sealed with a lead sheet which seals them very effectively against moisture. The weight of the house holds it in place. For the Llanover Road houses the flat felt roof is topped with some two and a half tons of gravel, so there is quite a weight to keep the house in place. The only connection to the ground is through services pipes and cables. In Gordon and Dee’s experience there has never been any problem with stability, even in the recent strong storms which damaged more traditionally built properties. They did say that the house sometimes sways a little though.
In the early parts of the work at Llanover Road all of the self builders worked together – preparing the foundation bases and constructing and erecting the frames and main structure. After that they tended to concentrate on their own properties. It was a lot of work, especially while holding down a job and bringing up a family
The roof in the standard Segal design is flat, though with some critical differences to other flat roofs to avoid some of their problems. The waterproof membrane is not fixed down but laid loose on the roof deck, with a generous amount of overhang, like a table cloth. This allows the membrane to accommodate any movements in the building frame and to expand and contract with temperature, so it doesn’t crack or tear like fixed membranes. On top of the membrane is a 40mm layer of 20mm diameter shingle, which weighs it down and shields the membrane from direct sunlight. The Llanover Road houses had the standard Segal design flat roof, though the other Greenwich properties had pitched roofs. For the Llanover self builders the only way to get the shingle up on to the roof was to use a rope and pulley and a builders’ bucket. Shifting two and a half tons of shingle in this way was a significant undertaking!
The internal timbers all had to have six coats of a special varnish. The walls and partitions were constructed with cavities, which were filled with insulation made from recycled copies of Yellow Pages using a blowing machine – one of the reasons the Segal homes are more energy efficient than other houses. The trickiest carpentry inside the house was needed to construct the stairs, especially the different shapes required for the treads when the stairs turned a corner.
It took two years and nine months to complete the Llanover Road self build, and the material costs for a house were £13,500. The development was the first Segal housing project to be completed since the original ones in Lewisham. The opening ceremony was again attended by local MP Nick Raynsford, who was also the Labour Party Housing Spokesman. Inside, the completed Segal house feels surprisingly spacious. If the beams are left exposed it has an Elizabethan feel, though many self-builders paint the insides a uniform colour, making it feel like any other house.
The Greenwich Self Build co-operative went on to further Segal projects in Woolwich and Thamesmead, with the members of the original group maintaining their involvement for later developments. The Parish Wharf development is described in English Heritage’s Survey of London volume about Woolwich as follows:
Parish Wharf, off Woodhill, is of the same period, but it is something different. The self-build method espoused by Walter Segal was followed here in 1992–5 to produce eight free-standing four-bedroom houses. Using modular, dry-jointed and cheap post-and-beam timber frames, on stilts to avoid the cost of foundations, these chalet-like houses were built for themselves by members of Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL). Their architects were Architype, then led by Jon Broome, Segal’s leading disciple, with Bob Hayes as the job architect. The name, which seems puzzling here on the landward side of the railway, reprises that of a municipal depot that lay east of the former dockyard.
As well as the Llanover Road, Parish Wharf, Birchdene and Silver Birch projects the Greenwich Self Build co-operative put in a proposal for a further Segal project in Abbey Wood, but it didn’t get the go-ahead. The co-operative was formally dissolved just a couple of years ago, in September 2011. Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL) is responsible for about 250 homes in south-east London, Colchester and Brighton, of which about a third are self-build, energy efficient Walter Segal properties that were constructed by the tenants who mostly still live in them.
Gordon and Dee still live in the house they built themselves, 20 years ago. As the name they gave their house attests, they don’t have any burning desire to build another house.