New Friends of Oxleas Woodlands group

Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadow during 2012 Olympics
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadow during 2012 Olympics

A new group, the Friends of Oxleas Woodlands has been set up to help look after our precious local woodlands. Tom wrote to tell me about the group:

The group is evolving out of and alongside the Shooters Hill Woods Working Party, and is a response to what we see as the growing threat to the woodlands from a wide range of sources, and to the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees initiative. We are working with the Council’s Parks and Open Spaces Dept. and are in the process of recruiting members.

The friends are actively looking for members and have been out in the woods and at the Oxleas Cafe encouraging people who use the woods to join. It is also possible to join through the contact page on their website.

Bluebells in Oxleas Wood
Bluebells in Oxleas Wood
Wood Anemones in Oxleas Wood
Wood Anemones in Oxleas Wood

The web site also lists the group’s objectives:

a) To assist with the general management of the woodlands
b) Undertake conservation and practical maintenance (through the Shooters Hill Woodlands Working Party)
c) Undertake activities to support the use and enjoyment of the woodlands, focussing on both adult and children’s engagement with the woodlands
d) Provide a focus for local (and wider) support for the woodlands and to build links with local residents, schools, businesses and other organisations
e) Undertake cultural activities to encourage knowledge, appreciation and personal investment in the history, flora and fauna and general environment of the woodlands
f) Fundraising

The Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees  initiative “was launched in Lincoln Castle on 6 November 2017; the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.”  This Charter signed in 1217 by Henry III protected common people’s rights such as ‘pannage’ (grazing for pigs), ‘estover’ (collecting firewood), ‘agistment’ (grazing) and ‘turbary’ (cutting of turf for fuel). The new one aims to celebrate the importance and value of woodlands to people today and to protect trees and woods from the threats of development, disease and climate change.

There have been some major threats to Oxleas Woods over the years, not least from proposed new motorways: it’s good to have a group focussed on defending them in future.

Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadow during 2012 Olympics
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadow during 2012 Olympics
Horse riders on Eltham Common
Horse riders on Eltham Common

River Crossing consultation closes on Friday

Evening rush-hour traffic on Plumstead Common Road
Evening rush-hour traffic on Plumstead Common Road

There are just a few days left to tell TfL our opinions about their proposed new river crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere: the consultation closes this Friday, 12th February. We can respond through an online survey with just 5 questions at:

https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings/east-of-silvertown/consultation/subpage.2015-09-03.3976631085/view

We can also tell TfL what we think by email to rivercrossings@tfl.gov.uk or by  writing to FREEPOST TfL CONSULTATIONS’.

It’s an opportunity to tell Transport for London of our concerns about the increased traffic congestion in our area that their own traffic models predict will come as a result of the new crossings: congestion that will lead to even more dangerous air pollution and the health problems that it causes. The excellent Bexley Against Road Crossings web site has many more suggestions about what to say to TfL.

The threat of traffic related air pollution is not hypothetical. The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign undertook an extensive citizen science project to measure Nitrogen Dioxide levels across Greenwich in 2014. A snippet of the results, which was also published on the No to Gallions campaign web site, is shown below.

No to Silvertown Tunnel pollution study results from 2014
No to Silvertown Tunnel pollution study results from 2014

The NO2 results map shows that the UK Air Quality Strategy and EU legislation  40 µg m³ limit for NO2 was exceeded at most measurement locations in Shooters Hill and Plumstead: at two sites along Plumstead Common Road and all sites along Shooters Hill and Shooters Hill Road. The cross roads at Shooters Hill Road and Academy Road, close to the Greenwich Free School and just down the hill from Christchurch Primary School  had an NO2 level 162.5% of the limit. A similar level was detected down in Woolwich at the junction of John Wilson Street and Wellington Street, close to Mulgrave Primary School. The level near Greenslade Primary was only just below the limit. Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of NO2 from traffic pollution.

Upside Down Tube Map - with North/South reversal from not Geofftech.co.uk
Upside Down Tube Map – with North/South reversal from not Geofftech.co.uk

I’ve never really understood TfL’s argument justifying new crossings by the fact that there are many more road crossings to the west of tower bridge than to the east. It seems obvious to me that you would have fewer bridges closer to the sea because the river gets wider at it nears its estuary. A better comparison might be the difference in public transport, such as the tube, between north-west and south-east London. This is illustrated by the tube map variation from Geofftech, shown above, which reflects the tube map across to the south-east. If we were as well served as the other side of London we would have tube stations at the Rotunda, Woolwich Common, Shrewsbury Park and Plumstead Gardens, and the tube network would stretch as far as Tunbridge Wells.

TfL would have far more chance of reducing traffic congestion and pollution by improving our current very unreliable and overcrowded public transport and creating new public transport links than by building more roads which will attract more traffic. It’s well worth reading former Greenwich councillor Alex Grant’s very informative post: The supporters of new roads across the Thames are stuck in the past. Without rail links they’d be a disaster for east London for more on the history of east London river crossings, how other modern European cities have tackled the problem of congestion and the recurrent fears that a motorway will be built through Plumstead, Woodlands Farm and Oxleas Wood.

Transport for London seem determined to push ahead with their planned crossings: a recent e-mail from them said:

Last week Transport for London’s Board gave approval for us to submit a Development Consent Order to the Secretary of State for Transport for powers to implement the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.  Our application will include a Consultation Report, which will set out our response to all of the issues raised in our recent consultation.  We received more than 4,000 responses to the consultation and these are continuing to help inform our final plans.
We plan to submit an application for powers to implement the Silvertown Tunnel scheme in the spring 2016, and we will contact you again at this time once we are in a position to publish our Consultation Report.
If our application is accepted by the Secretary of State, there will be a public examination on the scheme managed by the Planning Inspectorate. In that case, you will have an opportunity to make written representations and take part in hearings as part of the examination. We will explain how you can take part in the examination when we write again, later this spring.

If you’re concerned about how these new crossings will affect traffic congestion and pollution in south-east London then you might like to attend the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign’s annual general meeting which is at Mycenae House, Blackheath, on Thursday 18 February at 8pm. They ask that anyone planning to attend sign up at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/no-to-silvertown-tunnel-agm-2016-tickets-21083026901

Oh, and complete the TfL East of Silvertown consultation before Friday.

Orange fug over London at time of high air pollution
Orange fug over London at time of high air pollution

Another River Crossing Consultation

Traffic in Shrewsbury Lane
Traffic in Shrewsbury Lane

How will the proposed new East London river crossings affect traffic in Shooters Hill? This was the question I looked for answers to in the documentation accompanying Transport for London’s latest consultation on the crossings. As TfL have previously accepted that the road infrastructure south of the Thames is not adequate to serve the proposed new crossings this seems to be an essential question for them to answer.

The documentation includes a Traffic Impact Report: great, I thought, that’s where I’ll find the answer, but no, it turned out to be far more complicated to find what I was looking for.

The first complication is that the report assumes that the proposed Silvertown Tunnel has already been built. It doesn’t explicitly say so: it models the traffic effect of the new crossings compared with a Reference Case, which  “reflects the highway network in 2031”.  Reading through it quickly becomes clear that the traffic flow changes calculated are the effect of adding the Gallions and Belvedere crossings to a road system which includes the Silvertown Tunnel. Not the change from today’s traffic flows to those after the proposed crossings are developed.

No problem: there was a Silvertown Tunnel consultation recently, which included amongst its archive documents a Traffic Forecasting Report from 2014.  This should let me see the changes to traffic as a consequence of the Silvertown Tunnel, I thought, which I can combine with the latest report to see what the total impact of all the proposed new crossings will be.

But again no. The Silvertown report also assumes a reference case which is the traffic in 2021. Why? They don’t seem to say. This reference case is defined as:

Reference case (2021)
6. The reference case represents 2021, and includes growth in population and employment from the 2009 London Plan. Population is expected to increase more rapidly in east and south east London than in other sub-regions.
7.  The reference case also includes committed transport schemes. Public transport connectivity across east and southeast London improves because of planned investment including Crossrail. The Woolwich Ferry is assumed to have been enhanced with 30% additional capacity. The reference case does not include the Silvertown Tunnel.
8. From 2012 to 2021 the proportion of travel by car is expected to fall in Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets, but the growth in population and employment result in an increase in total car trips.

Why they think the Woolwich Ferry will have 30% more capacity is also unclear – a footnote in the report just says that  “by 2031 Woolwich Ferry would need to either be upgraded at its existing location or replaced with a new crossing”. This upgrade is not a “committed transport scheme” as implied by the extract above. They also assume that the Woolwich Free Ferry will be charged, as would the Blackwall, Silvertown, Gallions Reach and Belvedere Crossings. The charges would be the same as for the Dartford Tunnel at peak times and half that rate at other times. TfL assert that these charges will counteract the “induced traffic effect” where new roads generate new traffic. However their rationale for this assertion  is unconvincing and they say it “… is not modelled in the Assessed Case.”

The Silvertown Traffic Forecasting Report also considers in Appendix C the impact of the Gallions and Belvedere crossings on traffic flows. Interestingly it ends up with different results to those presented in the Gallions/Belvedere consultation Traffic Impact Report.

The reports contain a large number of tables, graphs and maps of the traffic modelling results. I’ve extracted four maps to try to give a flavour of the impact of the crossings on our local streets. All four are for the afternoon rush hour traffic:

  1. The 2021 “Reference Case” from the Silvertown Tunnel Report;
  2. The impact of the Silvertown Tunnel compared to the reference case from the Silvertown Tunnel Report;
  3. The impact of the Gallions Reach and Belvedere crossings compared to the reference case and Silvertown Tunel from the Silvertown Tunnel Report;
  4. The impact of the Gallions Reach and Belvedere crossings compared to the reference case from the Gallions/Belvedere Report.

Red on these maps indicates increased traffic flows and green reduced.

Reference case afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Reference case afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Post-Silvertown Tunnel afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Post-Silvertown Tunnel afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Post-Silvertown Tunnel and East London crossings afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Post-Silvertown Tunnel and East London crossings afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Silvertown Tunnel Traffic Impact Report
Afternoon peak traffic flow from Gallions Reach and Belvedere Traffic Impact Report
Afternoon peak traffic flow increases from Gallions Reach and Belvedere Traffic Impact Report

The scale and resolution of the maps make it difficult to work out which local roads suffer traffic increases, but it’s just about possible by zooming in and looking at the shape and orientation of the roads. The red/green bar method of showing traffic changes also tends to obscure rather than illuminate. Anyway, here’s my interpretation of what the modelling is showing.

The reference case, which just reflects population growth and an increase in Woolwich Ferry capacity, already has big increases – 100 cars per hour or more –  along Shooters Hill Road, Shrewsbury Lane, Plum Lane and slightly surprisingly Donaldson Road too. The increase along  Plumstead Common Road looks even bigger, and also along Kings Highway, Wickham Lane down towards Knee Hill.

Bringing the Silvertown Tunnel into the model there is a decrease in traffic flow along Shrewsbury Lane and Plum Lane, but an increase in Red Lion Lane which runs in a similar direction. Along Shooters Hill and Shooters Hill Road traffic flows increase again, and the route down through Charlton to the tunnel has more traffic, affecting Baker Road and  Stadium Road past the hospital then Charlton Park Lane and Cemetery Lane.

In the Silvertown Tunnel report the impact of the additional crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere is a very slight reduction of traffic along Shrewsbury Lane, but an increase along Eaglesfield Road to Plum Lane which is unexpected (and unlikely I would have thought), and an increase in Plum Lane itself. Not unexpected are the additional increases in Plumstead Common Road and the route down to the High Street via Griffin Road, nor those from Plumstead Common down Kings Highway to Wickham Lane and Basildon Road and Eynsham Drive. There is lots of red showing big increases from the A2 over towards Gallions Reach and Belvedere, affecting Upper Wickham Lane, Lodge Hill, Okehampton Crescent, Brampton Road and Knee Hill (yet again).

It also predicts that traffic going along the bottom of Herbert Road, through the shops will increase. Can you imagine even more cars trying to negotiate the hazardous route between parked vans and oncoming buses in the rush hour?

The final map, from the current consultation, is similar to the previous one but now there is an increase in traffic along both Shrewsbury Lane and Eaglesfield Road. Other flows appear to be increasing less than in the Silvertown report. In the Gallions Reach/Belvedere report TfL admit to using an earlier version of the traffic model than in the Silvertown report, but don’t really explain why.

The striking feature of all of these maps is the amount of red on them, showing cumulative increases in traffic flows as each crossing is built.

The traffic modelling doesn’t seem to take account of how the roads actually are. For example, that nice straight red line showing increased traffic from Shooters Hill along  Shrewsbury Lane and Plum Lane through to Plumstead Common Road. These are residential roads, not suitable to be used as a through route, with speed bumps, and a 20mph limit along Plum Lane.  Very often the traffic is single file due to parking on either side of the road. Plum Lane passes close by Plumcroft Primary School. And at the bottom there’s that narrow one way stretch of Plum Lane, making traffic going down the hill turn left and then right along Kirk Lane to get through to Plumstead Common Road. The very sharp turning between Plum Lane and Plumstead Common Road doesn’t exist as far as TfL are concerned.

Similar points could be made about many of the other roads showing increased congestion on TfL’s maps. There are campaigns in Plumstead and Bexley to oppose the crossings, largely because of the devastating impacts on local residential roads.

With increased traffic and increased congestion comes increased pollution, and that means increased damage to people. In 2010 9,416 Londoners died as a result of air pollution, according to research by Kings College, London. Nine thousand four hundred and sixteen people just in London. The health effects of Nitrogen Dioxide, NO2, are a particular concern:

The main effect of breathing in raised levels of nitrogen dioxide is the increased likelihood of respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, and it can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.
Increased levels of nitrogen dioxide can have significant impacts on people with asthma because it can cause more frequent and more intense attacks. Children with asthma and older people with heart disease are most at risk.

The UK Air Quality Strategy and EU legislation both set an annual average limit for NO2 of  40 µg m-³. In London in 2013 only two local authorities met the limit for NO2, and Greenwich wasn’t one of them. Kings College’s London Air web site has mapped 2010 NO2 levels across London: I’ve included a snippet showing Shooters Hill below. The 40 µg m-³ is shown in yellow on the map, with higher concentrations in deeper shades of orange and red. As well as the major roads, there are high levels along Shrewsbury Lane and down Eglinton Hill, Sandy Hill Road, Burrage Road, Plumstead Common Road and Swingate Lane.

Modelled annual mean NO2 air pollution, based on measurements made during 2010 from London Air web site
Modelled annual mean NO2 air pollution, based on measurements made during 2010 from London Air web site

We have until Friday 12th  February to respond to this latest consultation. The main themes of this consultation are whether it would be better to build a bridge or dig a tunnel at the two locations, and about how public transport might link to them. We can respond through an online survey, by email to rivercrossings@tfl.gov.uk or by  writing to FREEPOST TfL CONSULTATIONS’.

As I’ve said before in posts about a previous consultation and about Oxleas Wood  TfL need to say how they will solve the inadequacies of the transport network south of the Thames and demonstrate that new crossings will not cause congestion and pollution in residential roads. Otherwise people will think that they are cynically conspiring to cause chaos and compromise air quality in south-east London so as to be able to justify a new motorway from the A2 to the river through Oxleas Wood, Woodlands Farm and hundreds of Plumstead homes.

Traffic in Plum Lane
Traffic in Plum Lane

 

Green light for Gallions Reach Bridge, Red for the Woolwich Free Ferry

View towards Gallions Reach from Plum Lane
View towards Gallions Reach from Plum Lane

Transport for London are continuing with their plans to build a new bridge at Gallions Reach, but it’s the beginning of the end for the Woolwich Free Ferry following the results of the consultation into new river crossings east of the Blackwall Tunnel. TfL’s e-mail about the results said:

The majority of feedback supported the introduction of new fixed link crossings, rather than enhancement of existing or introduction of new ferry crossings. Having considered all of the issues raised in the consultation, we will now continue to develop the concepts of new bridges at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, and we will also consider whether tunnels would be more suitable by releasing greater land for development than would be possible with a bridge.

and:

We will put our consideration of proposals for a new ferry at Woolwich and a ferry at Gallions Reach on hold, pending the outcome of this work.

65% of respondents to the consultation “strongly supported” the Gallions Reach bridge option and a further 15% “supported” it (80% total support), as you can see in TfL’s summary of the results below. In comparison the figures for improving the Woolwich Free Ferry were 19% and 18% respectively (37% total support). Opinion has hardened in favour of a Gallions Reach bridge and against the Free Ferry since the previous consultation in 2013: a Gallions bridge or tunnel  had the support of 71% and the Free Ferry 51% in that consultation.

The Consultation Report gives all the results and presents a selection of the comments made by the public about each of the options. Strangely it manages to find no comments in favour of the Woolwich Ferry option and a page and a half against. You would almost think that TfL were trying to present a particular point of view rather than impartially report on the results.

In the image at the top the new Gallions Reach bridge would cross the river roughly in the centre of the photo, this side of the Barking Creek tidal barrier – the high structure just to the right of centre,  on the river. The bridge would be higher than the Barking barrier.

Summary of support for different options from TfL Consultation Report
Summary of support for different options from TfL Consultation Report

The proposal for a new tunnel at Silvertown was not included in this consultation, in fact it is assumed in all the supporting documents that the Silvertown Tunnel will have been built by the time any of the consultation options are constructed. Additional traffic capacity at Silvertown is the main plank of TfL’s defence against the charge that the road infrastructure south of the river is inadequate for the expected traffic going to the new crossing at Gallions Reach.

As well as the Consultation Report, TfL have published a Response to the Issues Raised document which gives TfL’s opinion on specific objections raised about the different crossing options. It has sections on concerns about increased traffic and congestion, and about the threat to Oxleas Wood.

They have two responses on traffic increase and congestion: Paraphrasing, firstly they say they warned us that there would be more traffic on some roads, but they don’t know which roads will be affected. Part of their work in the next stage will be to work out what  impact a Gallions Reach Bridge will have on traffic flow and what they can do about it. The second response is that they think most non-local traffic will use the tunnels at Blackwall and Silvertown and not the new bridge because the tunnels have better links on the other side of the river.

Doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that they’ve thought this through, and there is an implicit assumption that the crossing will go ahead and any problems will be “mitigated”: even if the future work shows that Plumstead will be gridlocked with traffic that will not stop the crossing’s construction. An almost identical response is given to concerns about the environmental impact: we’ll do some more work to understand the impact and how it can be “mitigated”.

TfL’s response on concerns about the threat to Oxleas Wood points out the differences between the current proposals and earlier schemes such as the East London River Crossing. In particular they say:

It is not the intent that the new crossings will provide a new strategic route for traffic with no local origin or destination, and it is not intended to carry traffic between the A2 and the North Circular, a journey which would remain more convenient via the Blackwall tunnel.

What does “local” mean in this context? TfL don’t say.

The response also mentions that the Gallions Reach Bridge would be one of three new crossings, with the Silvertown Tunnel and Belvedere Bridge, so the traffic load would be spread, and it asserts that tolling the crossings will allow TfL to manage how much traffic uses them.

Some of the details given about the new bridge are interesting. It will have two lanes of traffic, but one will be reserved for public transport and HGVs. There will be provision for pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge, and they are considering whether it should carry the DLR over the river to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood.

As well as traffic and environmental impact assessments, TfL’s next steps include considering “whether we might need to take additional traffic management or other mitigation steps to ensure the new crossings operate successfully and sustainably” and “how we can make best advantage of the opportunities that new river crossings would give us to improve cross-river links for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport passengers”. They don’t say when the next stage will be complete.

Whatever emerges from the next steps the future doesn’t look good for the Woolwich Free Ferry.

Woolwich Free Ferry and tall ship
Woolwich Free Ferry and tall ship

Falconwood

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

New River Crossing Consultation

Gallions Reach from Barking Creek
Gallions Reach from Barking Creek

Two thousand and twenty-eight pages in eighteen impenetrable documents have been published by Transport for London as part of their consultation on new river crossings in East London, and nowhere does it discuss the prospect of increased traffic in residential roads south of the river. A surprising omission since the poor road infrastructure south of the Thames  was one of the major issues in earlier consultations, and could be seen as the reason that the previous Thames Gateway Bridge scheme was cancelled.

Also, bizarrely, all the traffic modelling assumes that the Silvertown Tunnel is already in place! Why? Not only is it not in place, but its construction is not even part of the current consultation: there will be a separate consultation later about Silvertown. Even if the tunnel  is approved it will take longer to construct than a bridge or ferry at Gallions Reach so for several years we’ll be dealing with the impact on traffic in the absence of the tunnel, and that’s what the modelling should have shown.

This assumption that the Silvertown Tunnel has already been built pervades the Traffic Impact Report, to the extent that many of the traffic flow maps  don’t show how traffic will change compared to today, but how they will change compared to the flow after the Silvertown Tunnel has been developed. They are useless for anyone trying to work out how traffic flows will change in the future.

The consultation asks for our opinions about four possible river crossings:

1. A new modern ferry at Woolwich
2. A ferry service at Gallions Reach
3. A bridge at Gallions Reach
4. A bridge at Belvedere

We have until 18th September 2014 to respond, and can do so using an online survey. It can be completed quite quickly; there are just 15 simple questions.  Transport for London are holding some roadshows about the proposals where TfL say their staff will be able to answer any of our questions. There is one at Woolwich Library tomorrow (26th July) between 11.00am and 4.00pm and another at the Broadway Shopping centre, Bexleyheath on Saturday 30th August from 9.00am to 2.00pm.

Routing of trips using a charged Gallions Bridge from TfL's Traffic Impact Report
Routing of trips using a charged Gallions Bridge from TfL’s Traffic Impact Report

I must admit I haven’t read all 2028 pages of TfL’s technical documentation, though I did search them all for mentions of Shooters Hill, Oxleas and Plumstead: I found barely a handful that were relevant, and only one on traffic impacts. This was in a footnote to a summary table at the end of “Report F Gallions Reach Ferry and Tunnel”, which indicated that there may be critical traffic impacts on the South side:

Particularly increased traffic on tunnel approach roads in Thamesmead, Plumstead & East Wickham (on A2016, A206, A209 & A205). Highways works and traffic management will mitigate but not necessarily eliminate negative impacts

The traffic flow map above comes from the Traffic Impact Report. Compared to the map in the London Borough of Newham’s report on the Economic Impact of Gallions Reach Crossings it seems to show lower flows through residential roads in Plumstead and Bexley. This may be because it uses a different traffic modelling tool to that used by Newham. It uses a model called the London Regional Demand Model (LoRDM) which models highways using TfL’s River Crossings Highway Assignment Model (RXHAM); Newham used another TfL model called ELHAM. However TfL do add the caveat:

It should be noted that the RXHAM is strategic in nature and is used to identify broad changes in traffic patterns across the highway network, as well as the magnitude of this change. The results should not be taken as a definitive forecast of future flows, especially on minor roads or at individual junctions. Also the models do not yet assume any mitigation measures that might be introduced such as changes to junction capacities or new traffic calming measures.

The map shows some traffic increase through Plumstead and Knee Hill, but surprisingly nothing coming from the South Circular at Woolwich. I wonder where all the traffic that currently crosses the river on the Woolwich Free Ferry goes to? Later in the document in the section about the routing of trips using an enhanced Woolwich Ferry it states that “the main roads used to access the ferry south the River Thames are Beresford Street, Western Way and Eastern Way.” Again no South Circular. Is something missing from the model?

I wrote in a previous post about Oxleas Wood:

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’s still not complete, and as it stands will lead to increased traffic through residential roads that weren’t designed to take it, leading to pressure for more road building and threatening Plumstead and Oxleas Wood.  Not to mention the end of the Woolwich Free Ferry. A campaign to oppose the Gallions Bridge is being set up.

Postscript:

I asked my questions at the roadshow in Woolwich on Saturday. As far as TfL is concerned the Silvertown Tunnel is going ahead so they felt it would be wrong to not include it in the traffic models, and they expect it to be complete before any of the other crossings. Of course if there were no Silvertown Tunnel, I was told, traffic flows over the other crossings would be significantly higher. They didn’t feel it was dishonest not to include the results of modelling without Silvertown. There will be two more consultations about the Silvertown Tunnel, but they would not be about whether it was built but how.

I expressed surprise at the results of the traffic modelling: in particular the predicted reduced traffic flows from the South Circular Road through Woolwich to a proposed Gallions Reach Bridge, and that the increased flows predicted seemed to show traffic would go along the M25 as far as the approach to the Dartford Crossing, and then turn off along the Thames to Gallions Rach to cross there. The only response was “that’s what the model shows”. There are no current plans for improved road infrastructure South of the Thames, and I was advised to express my concerns in the consultation.

HOK and Arup design for proposed Thames crossing bridge
HOK and Arup design for proposed Thames crossing bridge

Traffic Tunnels under Shooters Hill

Drawing from F.C. Elliston Erwood's Road Works at Shooters Hill, Kent
Drawing from F.C. Elliston Erwood’s Road Works at Shooters Hill, Kent

Traffic tunnels seem to be in vogue at the moment, whether it be the proposed Silvertown tunnel or the Mayor of London’s proposals to put stretches of the South Circular Road underground and to dig an Inner Ring Road tunnel round central London. This despite evidence from the 2011 census that car ownership in London is dropping, and research showing that building new roads generates more traffic.

Shooters Hill hasn’t been immune to tunnel planners’ dreams. An early proposal is included as an appendix to a slim 1947 monograph “Road Works at Shooters Hill, Kent, 1816”, by F.C Elliston-Erwood in the Greenwich Heritage Centre’s search room. Frank Elliston-Erwood, who lived on Shooters Hill, was a distinguished local historian. He was at different times president of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society and twice president of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society. He was a member of the WDAS for 70 years, first joining as a teenager and continuing until his death in 1968. One of his interests was the New Cross Turnpike Trust, and it was from their minute books that he extracted the information for his paper about road works on Shooters Hill.

The paper is mainly about how the New Cross Turnpike Trust tried to create employment in the economic depression which followed Wellington’s victory at Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was “a period of commercial and industrial upheaval, coupled with misery, poverty and unemployment”. The Trust decided to allow £1000 out of their tolls at a rate of £50 per week to employ as many poor men as they could at a maximum wage of 10s (50p) a week in work such as the “the digging or quarrying of gravel or stones” and “the levelling or reducing of hills”. On Shooters Hill they moved gravel from the steeper parts and deposited it in hollows to smooth out the incline. The result can still be seen, for example on the western side of the hill on the road opposite Craigholm where the pavement rises above the road following the original slope of the hill. Similarly on the eastern slope there is an embankment on the Oxleas Wood side of the road.

The map and plan at the top concludes the paper. It shows a proposal for a road that bypasses the steep top of the hill, running parallel to Shooters Hill but on the Eltham side of Severndroog Castle. It was planned to run through a deep cutting and about 400 yards of lamp-lit tunnel. Needless to say the proposal was never implemented. The author of the plan clearly liked his pubs – the map includes the Bull, the Red Lion and the Fox and shows the bypass heading towards the Green Man in Blackheath. The Fox was the old Fox under the Hill, which subsequently was moved further down Shooters Hill Road.

A more recent proposal for a Shooters Hill tunnel was considered as one of the options for a new Thames Crossing which Transport for London consulted about last year. Option D6 in the Assessment of Options Report was for a Woolwich Tunnel joining the South Circular to the North Circular.  The proposal is complicated by the presence of other tunnels in the vicinity – the Woolwich Foot Tunnel and Cross Rail, not to mention the DLR, so it would have to be a deep tunnel underneath all the others. Also the steep slope up from Woolwich towards Shooters Hill makes it difficult to start a tunnel close to the river, leading to the proposal shown below with a tunnel entrance all the way up at Eltham Common. This means that the tunnel would be some five or six kilometres in length, the longest road tunnel in Britain.

Shooters Hill Tunnel section from TfL's Assessment of Options
Shooters Hill Tunnel section from TfL’s Assessment of Options
Shooters Hill Tunnel map from TfL's Assessment of Options
Shooters Hill Tunnel map from TfL’s Assessment of Options

The South Circular at Eltham Common where the entrance to the tunnel would be is shown below. Just imagine this green scene replaced by a huge, 4-lane tunnel portal, like the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. Fortunately the proposal was discounted. There were a number of factors leading to the decision not to take this option further. It was felt that Well Hall Road would become a bottleneck, limiting the tunnel’s capacity and reducing journey time improvements. It would be difficult to upgrade Well Hall Road because it is residential and has houses on both sides. Also it was “unlikely that the scheme could be built without negatively impacting on the housing lining the A205 through Eltham”.

The tunnel was felt to be too far away from the river to benefit residents closer to the Thames, for example in Woolwich, and would not connect to the major roads along the south side of the river, and so would not contribute to development along the river. Then there was the possible cost of up to 6km of bored tunnel, estimated at £1.5-2 billion. All things considered a Woolwich Tunnel doesn’t make sense.

South Circular at Eltham Common looking North
South Circular at Eltham Common looking North

The TfL East London River Crossings: Assessment of Options document mentions, very briefly, another tunnel under part of  Shooters Hill. Section 6.234 on page 167, which discusses the proposal for a “local” bridge at Gallions Reach, says (my emboldening):

In the longer term, any fixed link provides the potential for the highway connections to be amended or improved over time, to best suit the prevailing traffic and regeneration needs of the area. For example, the connections to the strategic network could be improved in the long term, such as through the provision of a direct link to the North Circular together with a tunnel south to the A2. This could potentially address the local concerns about traffic on residential roads in Bexley by providing an effective by-pass, while delivering large journey time benefits to the wider area by providing a more easterly strategic orbital route. In time this could replace the Blackwall corridor as the main strategic route, and deliver benefits to regeneration in the Lower Lea Valley.

So once any Gallions Reach crossing is in place any changes in traffic level – the then prevailing traffic – could lead to the building of additional roads, such as one through Oxleas Wood, to create the major easterly strategic route.

Concern about increased traffic levels on residential roads south of the river as a result of a new river crossing at Gallions Reach were heightened by a report produced for the London Borough of Newham on the Economic Impact of Gallions Reach Crossings. It presents the results of traffic modelling of different options for a Gallions Reach crossing, generated using  Transport for London’s highway model of East London known as ELHAM. Amongst the results was a map showing northbound traffic flows in 2021 assuming a bridge was built at Gallions Reach. The snippet below shows the area south of the river.

Snippet from Figure 2.6 of Newham's Gallions Reach crossings study showing traffic flows northbound if a bridge is built
Snippet from Figure 2.6 of Newham’s Gallions Reach crossings study showing traffic flows northbound if a bridge is built

It’s a difficult map to read, and it took me some time to work out what it was saying. The green blocks represent high traffic flows, and the large block in the middle of the picture is the Gallions Bridge itself. Working southwards from the bridge, the high traffic flow roads seem to be: Western Way, down to the gyratory near Plumstead Station, then up residential Griffin Road, across Plumstead Common on Warwick Terrace and then along Swingate Road, Edison Lane, Wickham Street to meet Bellegrove Road: none of these roads is designed for large traffic flows. To the west there are also high flows  in Plum Lane, and to the east large flows down narrow Knee Hill. And, as usual, the modelling doesn’t cover what would happen if one of the other Thames crossings was blocked, which seems a common occurrence at the moment, and all the traffic heading down the A2 to the Blackwall Tunnel turned off to Gallions Reach.

There is no analysis of the impact and costs of a tunnel from Gallions Reach to the A2 in the Assessment of Options document. As can be seen on the snippet from cbrd.co.uk web site’s superb UK roads database below, if the tunnel went from Gallions Reach all the way to the A2 at Falconwood it would have to be longer than a 5-6km tunnel from Eltham Common under the Thames, and well over twice the length of the UK’s longest road tunnel the 3.2 km Queensway tunnel in Merseyside. If it were a bored tunnel it would cost more than the £1.5-2 billion estimated for a Woolwich tunnel. Should a cheaper construction option be chosen then people’s homes in Plumstead and ancient Oxleas Wood would be threatened yet again.

CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2
CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2

If the “prevailing traffic” following development of a Gallions Reach bridge led to a revival of plans for a road to the A2, along the lines of Ringway 2, one of the consequences would be the massive road junction shown below – splat on top of Woodlands Farm. It has been suggested that a Transport for London document revealed by a recent freedom of information request shows that a road through Oxleas Wood is included in one of the traffic scenarios that TfL are modelling for the Mayor of London’s Roads Task Force.

Shooters Hill interchange on CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2
Shooters Hill interchange on CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2

The Infungibility of Trees

A path through Oxleas Wood
A path through Oxleas Wood

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.

CBRD (Chris's British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2
CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2

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.

Are trees in ancient woodlands fungible? If you don’t think so there is a petition on 38 Degrees asking Owen Paterson to Save Our Ancient Woodland and to “stop the proposal under ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’ to allow the destruction of our Ancient Woodlands for building.”

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.

Leaf of Wild Service Tree in Oxleas Wood
Leaf of Wild Service Tree in Oxleas Wood
Stitchwort flowers in Oxleas Wood
Stitchwort flowers in Oxleas Wood

The Lost River Wogebourne

Concrete tank in Oxleas Wood
Concrete tank in Oxleas Wood

…. but it should not be forgotten that its eastern slopes are primarily drained by a rivulet that emerges from Oxleas Wood, flows under the main road near the “We Anchor in Hope”, divides Plumstead Common from Bostall Hill and enters the Thames through the Plumstead Marshes. This rivulet is often alluded to as the Plumstead River, but researches made by the late W.H. Many, in 14th century manuscripts, have shown that its ancient name was the Wogebourne or Woghbourne. It is said to have originally been a tidal river.

Part of a map of Kent showing the Plumstead River from W.T. Vincent's Records of the Woolwich District
Part of a map of Kent showing the Plumstead River from W.T. Vincent’s Records of the Woolwich District

An aside in the first of Colonel Bagnold‘s articles about Shooters Hill set me off on a search for the course of the ancient river Wogebourne, from its Shooters Hill sources to its disappearance in Abbey Wood.

Where had the Wogebourne run? W.T. Vincent called it the Plumstead River, and also “An Obsolete River” which had disappeared. Its course is shown in the sixteenth century map from his Records of the Woolwich District, right. He said that it flowed “from the Halfway House, near Crossness Point up the Wickham Lane Valley, a short branch diverging eastward to the point where the abbey of Lessness stood (near Abbey Wood Station), and the other stretching past the eastern foot of Shooters Hill through Well-end (Welling) to Eltham.”  He also mentions that it was connected to the “Great Breache”.

Vincent’s map is interesting, but not very useful in finding where exactly the Wogebourne used to run. It took a trip to the Greenwich Heritage Centre to find a more detailed map in one of their drawers of fascinating old maps. It was a beautiful, coloured map of the 1920 edition of the Geological Survey of England and Wales. A scan of the relevant part is shown below. It doesn’t include much of Oxleas Wood, but shows branches of the river starting in Shooters Hill Golf Course and Woodlands Farm. It also shows the branch crossing Shooters Hill from Oxleas near the We Anchor in Hope pub. After flowing through the farm the river passes through Bourne Spring Wood south of Woolwich Cemetery and turns sharply to the North when it meets Bostall Hill, down the Wickham Lane valley.

Part of 1920 Geological Survey map showing course of River Wogebourne
Part of 1920 Geological Survey map showing course of River Wogebourne

Armed with my old OS Explorer Greenwich and Gravesend map, and some print outs from Nokia Maps showing water courses I headed out to see where the river flowed. Two streams are marked as flowing down the eastern hill of Oxleas Wood, though they are both dry ditches at the moment. The origin of one of them appears to be just up the hill from the concrete structure pictured at the top, which is shown as a “tank” in the grounds of the old Falconwood House on the 1914 OS map. Possibly a receptacle for spring water? The southernmost of the two branches in Shooters Hill Golf Course is pictured in my previous post about Shooters Hill Springs.

It’s quite easy to find where the Wogebourne crosses Shooters Hill, and it can be seen over the fence at the side of the petrol station. It runs as a proper stream though Woodlands Farm, albeit with very overgrown banks, and leaves the farm at Swingate Wood near the (locked) Keats/Dryden Road gate. From there a ditch runs along the edge of the Teviot Rangers JFC sports field, then behind some houses before disappearing under the Glenmore Arms pub.

Stream through Woodlands Farm
Stream through Woodlands Farm

The river must run underground across East Wickham Open Space. My Explorer map shows a streak of blue behind the houses in Bournewood Road – built where Bourne Spring Wood used to be – but it was difficult to see a ditch behind the brambles. The point where it reappears on the east side of Wickham Lane is quite clear however, just a peer over a wall, and the water is flowing strongly along a stone lined channel at this point. That  distinctive right angled turn to the north shown on the map is still there, though you have to risk a  tree-root assisted scramble down a steep clay cliff in Bostall Wood, not too far from Turpin’s Cave, to see it.

River Wogebourne flowing behind Woodbrook Road
River Wogebourne flowing behind Woodbrook Road

That view of the stream running along the edge of Bostall Woods is the last I saw of the old river, and I assume it continues underground into the drainage system for the Thames-side marshes. My Explorer map has more streaks of blue running between the back gardens of Bendmore Avenue and Woodhurst Road down to the railway line, but there is nothing to see there now. On the 1920 geological map the river disappears into Plumstead Marsh. Vincent said that it connected to the “Great Breache”, an incursion from the Thames near Crossness in 1531 which is shown in a map in ‘Piteous and Grievous sights’: The Thames Marshes at the Close of the Middle Ages by James A. Galloway. The Great Breach is now part of Crossness Nature Reserve.

It seems likely that the Wogebourne or Plumstead River is now referred to as the Wickham Valley Watercourse: that is my interpretation of the  “river from an upland area with its source in Oxleas Wood on Shooter’s Hill” mentioned in a document on the Wildpro web site listing London’s rivers and streams. The Wickham Valley Watercourse was taken into account by Cross Rail in their analysis of flood risks, which describes it as:

Wickham Valley Watercourse is a piped stormwater drain which crosses under the Crossrail route between Plumstead and Abbey Wood Stations from south to north. It runs parallel to the railway for several hundred metres before turning northwards towards its outfall in a lake, which feeds through one of the Marsh Dykes to Tripcock Pumping Station

It was also included in the long list of land and properties to be compulsorily purchased for the East Thames River Crossing in 1991.

It may seem strange, but I’m actually looking forward to some rainy weather so I can see some of the ditches and holes I’ve been peering into in action.

Shooters Hill Springs

Stream in Shooters Hill Golf Course
Stream in Shooters Hill Golf Course

Poring and peering. I’ve been poring over old maps a lot recently, and peering over walls and fences and into ditches, trying to understand the relationship between the geology of Shooters Hill and the springs and streams that drain it. My investigation took me down to the Greenwich Heritage Centre, both for their beautiful old geological maps and to read what Colonel Bagnold, David Lloyd Bathe and W.T. Vincent had to say about Shooters Hill springs and geology. The Heritage Centre also has a box of old papers from the 1930s by local geologist Arthur L. Leach which discuss the details of the geology and report his observations.

Why did I start on this? I had noticed that some locations on the hill seemed to be always wet, and small streams sprung from them after rain. Streams that couldn’t be explained by the latest Thames Water leak. For example the woods just up the hill from Christ Church School is one streamy spot, and the steep, stony stretch of Mayplace Lane just above Highview flats another.  My curiosity was piqued.

The story of the springs of Shooters Hill goes back to the late 17th century and the area was famous for its mineral wells. Hasted records in his seminal 1797 work “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent” that there was on Shooters Hill “a mineral spring, which is said constantly to overflow, and never to be frozen, in the severest winters.”  In Henry Drake’s 1866 revision this is interpreted as referring to springs in Red Lion Lane, and is expanded to say that the springs were discovered in about 1675 by John Guy and were called the “Purging Wells”. Bagnold reported that these springs were in the garden of 80 Red Lion Lane, and overflowed across the Lane and down to Nightingale Vale. It was visited by people wishing to take the waters up to the end of the nineteenth century. Diarist John Evelyn and Queen Anne were said to have used the Shooters Hill waters, and at one stage there was a grand plan to turn Shooters hill into a spa town.

The chemistry of the Shooters Hill waters was analysed by the Royal Military Academy’s James Marsh, showing that its main ingredient was Magnesium Sulphate, also known as Epsom Salts. These medicinal springs seem to have different geological origins to other springs on Shooters Hill.

W.T. Vincent's Geological Section of Shooters Hill and District
W.T. Vincent’s Geological Section of Shooters Hill and District

Shooters Hill can be thought of as comprising three geological strata. The bulk of the hill and lowest layer is London Clay. Next is a layer known as the Claygate Beds,  which itself is layers of sand and loams with thin bands of clay. On top there is a layer of gravel, known as Shooters Hill Gravel, which Wessex Archaeology describe as “well rounded flint gravel, sandy and clayey in part”. Bagnold describes it as “red, clayey gravel and sands.” It can sometimes be seen when ditches are dug, for example to put down services pipes and cables; there’s a good example at the moment in a fresh ditch by the side of the path leading to Severndroog Castle. The gravel layer is shaped a bit like an irregular doughnut sitting on top of the peak – at the very top of the hill it is very thin or even non-existent and it increases in thickness going down the hill as the Claygate Bed layer drops away more steeply. Leach shows the top surface of the London Clay sloping towards the West-South-West so the Claygate Beds and Shooters Hill Gravel are thicker in the direction of Eltham Common. The gravel is thought to cover an irregular area about a mile long by half a mile wide, as can be seen from the British Geological Survey map extract below.

(As an aside, it has been argued that the geological structure of Shooters Hill, specifically the faults shown in Vincent’s cross-section above, created London.)

The top two layers are porous, and in wet weather retain water, which cannot drain through the impermeable London Clay and so appears as springs at the edge of the upper layers where the clay becomes the surface. The spring above Christchurch school is explained by this mechanism: the BGS map shows that the Claygate Beds layer ends at exactly the point where the spring appears. Bagnold says that up until around the second half of the nineteenth century there was a dipping well at this location, and that it is believed this well was the main source of water for the Shooters Hill hamlet around the Red Lion pub until the Kent Waterworks laid on a water supply.

Other streams and water flows, where maps can be found that show them like Nokia Maps, seem to start from around the edge of the gravel/Claygate layers. For example the origin of ditches on Shooters Hill Golf Course, like the one in the photo at the top, and others in Oxleas Wood seems to lay on the boundary line.

Snippet from British Geological Survey Geology of Britain Viewer
Snippet from British Geological Survey Geology of Britain Viewer

The flow of water in Mayplace Lane is not so easily explained because the map shows that the Claygate Beds layer don’t extend that far and the western boundary of the Shooters Hill Gravel runs parallel to and quite close to Plum Lane. I’m not a trained geologist, but I wonder whether is this is accurate, for two reasons. Firstly the 1866 OS map shows that there was a gravel pit between Eglinton Hill and Mayplace Lane opposite the junction with Brent Road, so there was some gravel that far down the hill, though of course it may have been a pocket of gravel separate from the main layer.

Secondly, Alfred Leach wrote some “Further Notes on the Geology of Shooters Hill, Kent” about his observations of trenches being dug for sewers along Plum Lane from Genesta Road up to Mayplace Lane. Someone else who spent time peering into ditches! He noted that from Dallin Road upwards the trenches passed through sands and pebbles down to London Clay, apart from a few points where the gravel layer went deeper than the 8ft deep trench. That would seem to indicate that the Shooters Hill Gravel extends further north than the BGS map, though Leach thought that undisturbed gravel only extended as far as the midpoint between Furze Lodge and Dallin Road, after that it was gravel that had drifted down the slope. The southern end of Highview flats is on the same 95m contour line as the Plum Lane end of Dallin Road.

Borehole pipe on the proposed route of the East London River Crossing in the middle of Oxleas Wood
Borehole pipe in the middle of Oxleas Wood on the proposed route of the road to the East London River Crossing

It’s a pity the boreholes, shown on the BGS map, that have been used to gather geological evidence don’t cover the North-west of the hill as well as they cover the proposed route of the road to the East London River Crossing through Oxleas Woods and Plumstead.

Most of the streams and springs originating on Shooters Hill have now disappeared – diverted underground or into the drainage system. As long ago as 1890 W.T. Vincent in his Records of the Woolwich District was bemoaning the loss of streams, and mentioned a number of them. There was the Nightingale Brook which sprang from “the swampy waste behind the Royal Military Academy”, then trickled across Red Lion Lane before descending the “ravine of the once delightful Nightingale Vale”, along the eastern side of Brookhill Road down to the Woolwich Arsenal where “it filled a moat about a barbacan, and finally fell into the bosom of Father Thames.”  This stream marked the boundary between Woolwich and Plumstead. Another across Woolwich Common marked the boundary with Charlton.

Vincent also believed that Shooters Hill was the source of the River Quaggy, citing springs which rose behind the police station and crossed the Eltham Road under an arched bridge on its way to Kidbrooke. This sounds like the Lower Kid Brook described by the Kidbrooke Kite in his guide to the Kid Brooks. The Kid Brooks were tributaries to the Quaggy.

On the eastern side of the hill the Oxleas Woodland Management Plan says that Oxleas Wood and Sheperdleas Woods drain into the River Shuttle, which is a tributary to the River Cray, and Nokia Maps shows some streams heading in that direction via Rochester way and Falconwood Field. However I was intrigued by what Bagnold said about some other eastward heading streams. These fed into what Vincent calls “An Obsolete River” and the Plumstead River, and Bagnold asserts was once called the River Wogebourne or Woghbourne. I’ll talk more about my efforts to trace this lost river in my next blog post.