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  • hilly 9:49 pm on September 24, 2014
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    Green Chain Mega-amble this weekend 

    Green Chain Megawalkers gather at Crystal Palace Station

    Green Chain Megawalkers gather at Crystal Palace Station

    Walk London‘s series of free guided walks this weekend – their Autumn Ambles – includes one of the longest but most rewarding “ambles” in London: the Green Chain Megawalk. The 22 mile amble actually moves along at a steady average walking speed, and will be led once again by Ian Bull, our favourite leader of walks in South-East London and a bit of an expert on the Green Chain, not to mention a part-time restorer of steam locomotives. The walk starts at Crystal Palace railway station at 9.15am on Saturday, 27th September and finishes more than 9 hours later down at the Thames near Erith railway station. The Walk London web site has the details:

    The Green Chain Megawalk is by a considerable margin the longest established long-distance guided walk in London and many hundreds have participated. Some thought they wouldn’t complete such a distance, yet the camaraderie and expert guidance have seen all but a handful achieve an on-time finish. Every one of the participants has taken wonderful memories from the day. Here’s your chance to join the institution!
    We’ll gently climb to some of the highest points in the city, suburbia giving way to outstanding views and miles of London’s best woodland, some established for 8,000 years. For lengthy sections you won’t know you are in a town, let alone the Metropolis as well over half the route is off-road. Despite travelling around an entire quartile of London we’ll cross just 40 surfaced thoroughfares.
    The route is steep in its latter parts, a packed lunch is essential, and of course you must be reasonably fit. You must also be able to sustain three miles per hour for most of a day and if you think you can, this particularly friendly event is the one Walk London walk that you should do. There is no need to book, just turn up and go, a remarkable day awaits you.

    One of the good things about the walk is that if 22 miles proves too much then it is possible to drop out along the way and get a bus or train home, and for those living in Shooters Hill the late lunchtime stop at the Oxleas Café can be an early finishing point if the legs are ready to give up after 16 miles.

    There’s an interactive map of the route of the Green Chain Walk on the Green Chain web site here. For further information about the walk contact Ian by phone,  020 7223 3572 or  email – ianbull at btinternet dot com.

    The Green Chain Megawalk is by far the longest of the Autumn Ambles; most of them are just a couple of miles, and there are walks taking in Soho, St. Paul’s and the City of London. Looks like a good weekend for a walk.

    Ian Bull leads Green Chain walkers cross Eaglesfield Park

    Ian Bull leads Green Chain walkers cross Eaglesfield Park


  • hilly 9:20 pm on September 11, 2014
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    Pet Cemetery Presentation 

    Headstone in the pet cemetery, Hornfair Park

    Headstone in the pet cemetery, Hornfair Park

    Liz, who chairs the  Friends of the Pet Cemetery, wrote to let me know about a presentation she is giving about the cemetery’s history at Charlton House on Saturday. The Friends’ latest newsletter has the details:

    If you would like to hear more about the history of the former Blue Cross Cemetery, our Chair, Liz McDermott, will be giving a PowerPoint presentation for the Charlton History Society, Charlton House, Saturday 13th September, commencing at 2.30pm.  All welcome.

    I hear the presentation includes some great old archive photos.

    The Pet Cemetery originated in the Blue Cross Quarantine Kennels which started at the end of the First World War and particularly looked after service men and women’s pets. They provided accommodation for 123 dogs along with cats and other pets including guinea pigs. It later fell into disrepair, and the Friends were set up in 2012  with the aim of  refreshing the memorial stones, replanting the garden beds, improving the seating, installing bird and bat boxes and creating a wildlife-friendly environment.

    They’ve made some great progress on these objectives: old, untidy shrubs have been removed and hedges trimmed (revealing more memorial stones); the bird and bat boxes are up, and at least one of the bird boxes has had occupants;  and some of the stones have been cleaned up, with help from stonework professionals. There’s a “before” and “after” pair of photographs of one of the cleaned memorials below.

    The Friends meet at the cemetery on the second Sunday of each month to continue their maintenance and restoration work, and they welcome visitors and helpers. Their future plans include a full survey of the cemetery, educational visits, more planting and possibly a pet “memorial wall”.

    Pet cemetery Headstone - before

    Pet cemetery Headstone – before

    Pet cemetery Headstone - after

    Pet cemetery Headstone – after
















  • hilly 10:25 am on September 4, 2014
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    Midnight Megawalk on Friday 

    Ian Bull's photograph of sunrise on the Green Chain Midnight Megawalk

    Ian Bull’s photograph of sunrise on the Green Chain Midnight Megawalk

    There’s another opportunity for an overnight ramble along the 22 miles of the Green Chain Walk from Crystal Palace to Erith on Friday, 5th September. As before the walk will be led by Ian Bull, who regularly leads walks near Shooters Hill, such as the Best Landscape and Views in London,  the Thames Path Super Walk and London’s best woodland and views – without doubt. He e-mailed to say:


    At last… There’s finally a strong chance of clear skies on Friday/Saturday 5th/6th September. No rain is forecast and it’s going to be nice and warm as well. There hasn’t been a clear Friday/Saturday  since late May – not one!
    This is your chance to experience a very pleasant walk in remarkable  conditions. There are miles of dense woodland on our route and in them it will be jet-black. Barely a photon will disturb us when we stand still for a moment and listen to the nocturnal wildlife quietly scurrying through the undergrowth. As first light begins to show at  about 04.00 the sky will gently become turquoise from the North  leaving black to the South and from our best vantage points, London’s  streetlights gleaming gold beneath us. The views are glorious, the darkness delicious, and the landscape is London’s best.

    There’s no need to book and no charge, just turn up, but feel very  free to ask me in advance for further information.

    What we’re going to do…
    * We meet outside Crystal Palace railway station at 23.30 on Friday 5th September.
    * The pace will be leisurely, we don’t even have to make average  walking speed.
    * The aim is to see the Sun rising over East Anglia and the Lower Thames from Shooters Hill, very nearly London’s highest point, at 06.21 and we will achieve this.
    * The overall distance is 21.5 miles but a 1.5 mile diversion through excellent woodland will be offered to see the Gothicky (spooky?) Severndroog Castle. There are benches for a nap for those who don’t want to do this.
    * After sunrise we’ll traverse Bostall Woods and Lesnes Abbey Woods.  About four miles of these, and the latter has been there for 8,000  years, London’s finest ancient woodland.
    * Finish at Erith about 08.30 for a train home. No engineering works – 33 minutes to London Bridge.
    * Some participants traditionally have a breakfast together in a Café near London Bridge after the event.

    Ian can be contacted by e-mail on  ianbull at btinternet dot com

    If you prefer to walk the Green Chain in the light of day Ian is also planning to hold a day-time megawalk on Saturday 27th September.

    Ian Bull and day-time Green Chain walkers admire the view in Shrewsbury Park

    Ian Bull and day-time Green Chain walkers admire the view in Shrewsbury Park

  • hilly 6:30 pm on August 29, 2014
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    Shrewsbury Park Bat Walk 

    Shrewsbury Park bat walk poster 2014

    Bats have become very popular, perhaps surprisingly given their past unfortunate associations with blood-sucking vampires. Bat walks are consistently fully booked up: both Woodlands Farm and Hall Place had no spare spaces on nightime strolls with bat detectors  in the last couple of weeks. And in July the Bat Conservation Trust’s  Bat Fest weekend at the Natural History Museum had its busiest year yet with nearly 3000 visitors.

    The Friends of Shrewsbury Park‘s bat walks have always been very well attended. This year’s will be held next Friday, 5th September. An e-mail from the Friends gave the details:

    We will be providing a bat walk on Friday 5th September.  If you would like to attend, please meet in the car park at 7.30pm for an introduction to bats by Kris and Les, and a demonstration on how to use the bat detectors.  The walk will last about an hour and a half.
    – please wear sturdy shoes and appropriate clothing
    – children must be accompanied by an adult
    – dogs must be kept on a lead
    – please bring a torch.
    If you have mobility issues, please contact us so we can help you to participate.  The trail is a mixture of paved path, gravel and grass.
    If it rains, neither the bats nor us will be coming out!!

    Biggles the giant Pipistrelle at Bat Fest at the Natural History Museum

    Biggles the giant Pipistrelle at Bat Fest at the Natural History Museum

    Bats’ popularity isn’t confined to the UK. This Saturday is the 18th International Bat Night, an event which started in 1997 and is marked by batty events in more than 30 countries all over the world. The Bat Conservation Trust in the UK is holding a Creative Competition for International Bat Night:

    To enter the competition all you have to do is create something original and inspiring that represents how you celebrated International Bat Night. Your entry could be a drawing or painting of a bat you saw whilst on a bat walk, a picture of bat shaped cookies you baked, or a poem or short story inspired by your activities.

    The closing date for entries is next Friday 5th September.

    Why the increased interest in bats and bat walks? Part of the reason, I think, is that bat detectors have become less expensive, and they are also available for loan for bat walks from the BCT, London Bat Group and park groups so it’s easier to find bats. Also, though, they are such fascinating creatures. They can detect and then capture insects such as midges on the wing using their echolocation – they shout continually as they fly around and use the echoes from tiny insects to “see” where their prey is. They have wonderful wings, constructed from layers of skins over elongated finger bones, hence the name of their order, chiroptera, meaning “hand-wing”.  This gives them great agility and control in flight, as you can see in the amazing film footage included below.


  • hilly 6:00 pm on August 1, 2014
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    Picture of the Falconwood Hotel from Greenwich Heritage Centre

    The Falconwood Hotel (photograph from Greenwich Heritage Centre)

    It’s hard to believe now that the little track running into Oxleas Wood from Shooters Hill was once the drive way to the Portland-stone Palladian mansion shown in the photograph above from Greenwich Heritage Centre. It was the home of Lords and Barons, painted by society artists and also once a hotel with 20 bedrooms. It was as grand inside as out, as shown in the set of photographs in the London Metropolitan Archive. These were taken in 1955 not that long before its demolition, and depict its elegant drawing rooms and a magnificent double-branched curved staircase as well as the boarded up exterior.

    The site of Falconwood is today a butterfly-filled meadow surrounded by Oxleas Woods.

    When the mansion was built in 1864-67 by the 2nd Lord Truro, Charles Robert Wilde,  it was called Falconhurst. Lord Truro was related to Sir James Plaisted Wilde, who became Lord Penzance, and lived nearby at Jackwood. In the London Metropolitan Archive there is a typed sheet of reminiscences by Major C.E.S Phillips of Castle House about Falconwood. He has this to say about Lord Truro:

    Falconwood was built by Lord Truro, reputed an illegitimate son of George IV. It is on Crown Land and was granted to him free of ground rent. Lord Truro had lived much in Italy and built Falconwood in purely Italian style. When his wife died (about 1880) she was buried under the lawn at mid-night by Lord Truro and his gardener Mr. Hart. The grave was surrounded by some beautiful wrought iron work, but after Lord Truro’s death in Italy this was removed and nobody knows now exactly where the grave is.

    Lord Truro left the place and a strip of freehold land on the other side of the road to a very beautiful lady of limited virtue. They were a magnificent pair on horseback, both perfect riders. The legacy proved a nightmare for the legatee, for as soon as the Earl died, the Crown Office afixed a ground rent of £400 per annum on the property and she had no means of paying it. It was put up to auction but the first time there was not a bid for it. On the second auction it was bought by Sir Clarence Smith for I think £5000. It has cost £50,000.

    I am indebted to our old Mr. Hart for the matter of the 1st part of this, it was he who helped bury Lady Truro, for all the rest I have relied on my memory only as I was familiar with all the facts at the time.

    David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped In History” gives more details of the story: it reprints an article from the Daily Telegraph from 17th October 1879 which says that Lord Truro used a light coffin so as to “not arrest the process of natural decay”, and that the burial spot was chosen by Lady Truro. It also says that they understood that the Lady’s remains were later removed by her relatives. The burial in non-consecrated ground shocked the neighbourhood, and one resident said they could smell the emanation of sulphurous gases.

    The caricature of Lord Truro below is from the National Portrait gallery and is reproduced under the creative commons licence, as is the image of Baroness d’Erlanger further down.

    Charles Robert Claude Wilde, 2nd Baron Truro by Carlo Pellegrini watercolour, published in Vanity Fair 1 January 1887 12 1/4 in. x 7 1/8 in. (311 mm x 181 mm) Purchased, 1970 Primary Collection NPG 4749 © National Portrait Gallery, London

    Charles Robert Claude Wilde, 2nd Baron Truro by Carlo Pellegrini
    watercolour, published in Vanity Fair 1 January 1887 12 1/4 in. x 7 1/8 in. (311 mm x 181 mm)
    Purchased, 1970 Primary Collection NPG 4749
    © National Portrait Gallery, London

    “Steeped In History” details the subsequent occupancy of the mansion. After Hull MP Clarence Smith moved out in 1908 he was unable to find a purchaser and the lease reverted to the crown. It was then let to Catherine (Kate) Rose Marie Antoinette d’Erlanger (née de Robert d’ Aqueria de Rochegude), wife of Baron Emile Beaumont d’Erlanger.  Baroness d’Erlanger was known as “the Flame”  because of the colour of her hair, and was renowned for her lavish entertaining. She was very well connected, as Philip Mershon says:

    Catherine cultivated the most astonishingly irreverent continental society of bohemians, artists and aristocrats at salons in her homes.  She was pals with Ravel, Debussy, Nijinsky and Proust.  She was also financial patroness to Diaghilev, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Cecil Beaton.

    The Erlanger’s main home in London was 139 Piccadilly, but for weekends the Baroness “considered it wildly amusing for guests to drive eastwards down the Old Kent Road to Shooters Hill”. A glimpse of the interior of Falconwood in its heyday can be seen in Sir John Lavery‘s “The Drawing Room, Falconwood. This painting may include the Baroness’s daughter Liliane, usually called Baba, who  later became Princess de Faucigny Lucinge. Baba was also painted by Augustus John in his “Portrait of Baronne Baba d’Erlanger (1901-1945) and Miss Paula Gellibrand (1898-1964)“, and was photographed by Cecil Beaton.

    Catherine herself was photographed by Cecil Beaton, and also by Lafayette Ltd in the picture below from the National Portrait Gallery. It shows her in a “tableau vivant”, which was part of an entertainment called The Masque of War and Peace held in aid of the Widows and Orphans of the Household Troops during the Boer War.

    © National Portrait Gallery, London Baroness (Marie Rose Antoinette) Catherine D'Erlanger (née de Robert d'Aqueria) by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd) sepia-toned bromide print, 1900 12 in. x 7 5/8 in. (305 mm x 193 mm) image size NPG Ax134833

    Baroness (Marie Rose Antoinette) Catherine D’Erlanger (née de Robert d’Aqueria) by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd)
    sepia-toned bromide print, 1900
    12 in. x 7 5/8 in. (305 mm x 193 mm) image size
    NPG Ax134833 © National Portrait Gallery, London

    The house next door to Falconwood was Warren Wood, home of our favourite Shooters Hill historian Colonel Bagnold, and his more famous daughter Enid Bagnold. Enid, author of National Velvet and one of Samantha Cameron’s great-grandmothers, went to visit the Baroness; an event described in a biography of Enid by Anne Sebba:

    Enid, turning her ‘ardent snobbish eyes, mad with interest’ on the beau monde, soon wandered through a hole in the hedge. Announcing her credentials boldly, she told the Baroness she was a journalist poised to write books. She knew that her inadequate clothes and schoolgirl fresh face were not enough. ‘Whatever I have looked like, and what my face has not carried, I have always had a sort of vitality that did instead’. She managed to put herself over. But the d’Erlangers were installing a hard tennis court and Enid’s immediate entry ticket was her facility with a tennis racket. She quickly became a daughter of the household.

    The d’Erlangers left Falconwood at the time of the First World War. In June 1924 the Baroness applied to the London County Council for a licence to hold music and dancing entertainments in the drawing room on Falconwood’s ground floor. The licence committee notes in the London Metropolitan Archive say that it was proposed  to use Falconwood as a private hotel. In 1932 the Baroness surrendered the lease and later moved to Hollywood.

    Falconwood continued as a hotel under new management. In the archives there are Music and Dancing licence applications from Walter Frank Mills in 1933, Frederick Henry Clark in 1934 and F. Hugh Gough in 1936. The hotel seems to have continued in operation until after the war, but eventually failed. According to E.F.E. Jefferson’s “The Woolwich Story” Falconwood was acquired by Woolwich Borough Council in 1936  and was “laid out” in the 1950s and incorporated into Oxleas Wood. The house itself was demolished in 1959.

    What is the connection between this Falconwood, near the top of Shooters Hill, and Falconwood the place down the hill?  A.D. Mills’ Dictionary of London Place names says:

    Falconwood Bexley. This district was developed in the 1930s as Falconwood Park on the site of a large wood called West Wood on the Ordinance Survey maps of 1805 and 1876 (earlier Westwood 1551). It is said to have been given this name to attract new residents.

    So West Wood – the wood at the west end of the Manor of Bexley – was the name of the district, and of the farm there,  until Ideal Homesteads built Falconwood Park in the 1930’s, Maybe the company was inspired by the history up the hill when  naming its new estate.

    As for the site of the mansion it is now a peaceful butterfly-filled meadow only occasionally enlivened by walkers and dogs.

    Site of the former Falconwood Hotel

    Site of the former Falconwood Hotel

    Common Blue butterfly at site of former Falconwood Hotel

    Common Blue butterfly at site of former Falconwood Hotel

    Meadow Brown butterfly at site of former Falconwood Hotel

    Meadow Brown butterfly at site of former Falconwood Hotel

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