Moving Architecture

Post-riot General Gordon Place showing burnt-out Great Harry pub and red-brick Victorian post office
General Gordon Place, with post office on the left

The demolition work along Grand Depot Road for the new Tesco’s complex quite often makes me pause as I walk down into Woolwich. I find the machine currently pecking away at the 60’s-style office block quite mesmerizing, and I’m usually not the only one standing watching its progress. I wouldn’t mourn the office block, but it always seemed a shame that the red brick Victorian post office, on the left in the post-riot photograph above, couldn’t be retained.

However some of it is to be preserved according to a new planning application on the Greenwich Council planning pages. This is the developer’s response to condition 34 of the original planning application, which asks for details of “the methodology for the removal of the imperial seal ‘VR’ (Victoria Regina) on the flank elevation of the Post Office  and its reinstatement within the development, together with other architectural features of merit on the Post Office (which shall include detailed consideration of the terracotta decorations of the gable ends, stone door surrounds and other architectural features of merit)” to be submitted to the Council before demolition starts. It includes details of how the bricks will be individually removed and bubble wrapped for storage, including marked up photographs showing which features will be preserved.

Unfortunately “Details of their reinstatement have not been formulised at this stage” – which I think means they don’t know where they will put the preserved features – so they will be put into storage. Looking at the computer-generated images of the glass-faced monolith that is being built, it’s not clear to me where the preserved Victorian decoration could possibly fit

Incidentally, progress on the development is being recorded on a pair of web cams.

Equestrian Centre Leaps Final Fences

The controversial Equestrian Centre that is proposed for the area between Woodlands Farm and Thompsons Garden Centre on Shooters Hill Road has passed two potential barriers to its implementation. Both the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State have decided not to intervene in Greenwich Council’s decision to grant approval for the Centre.

The Mayor’s letter stated:

Having now considered a report on this case (reference PDU/2760/GK02 copy enclosed), I am content to allow Greenwich Council to determine the case itself, subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take, and therefore do not wish to direct refusal.

However I request that Natural England are fully consulted in relation to the discharge of condition 22 regarding the ecological mitigation and management plan.

And that from the Secretary of State’s representative:

The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against call-in policy, as set out in the 1999 Caborn Statement. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
The Secretary of State has carefully considered the impact of the proposal and the key policy issues, which this case raises. In his opinion, the proposals do not: involve a conflict with national policies on important matters; have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or involve the interests of national security or of Foreign Governments. Nor does he consider that there is any other sufficient reason to call the application in for his own determination.
The decision as to whether to grant planning permission will therefore remain with Greenwhich Council.

The decision does include 31 conditions, including a stipulation that there should be a minimum of 82 horse-riding hours a week access to the facilities by the local community, a prior programme of archaeological work and production of an Ecological Mitigation and Management Plan.

The report accompanying the decision reveals that 12 sites were considered as possible locations for the centre, most of them local sports grounds and playing fields, and the brief reasons why they were discounted.

It also states that the Council are seeking agreement for the Blackheath donkeys to move to a site in Woodbrook Road.

Perhaps most importantly the report mentions the “very special circumstances” that are necessary to justify development on Metropolitan Open Land. Mentions but doesn’t detail…  in the words of the Mayor’s report:

The ‘very special circumstances’ put forward to justify the harm to MOL regarding Olympic legacy, increasing participation in sport, education, community benefit, lack of alternative sites and the financial justification from connection activity on the site are now, on balance, acceptable, and the application complies with London Plan policy.

So that seems to be that. Greenwich Council is allowed to decide on the planning application that they themselves have put forward.

Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now
Plan of the area where the centre will be after the Centre is built taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area after the Centre is built

Heroes' Corner

Memorial at Heroes' Corner, Greenwich Cemetery
The memorial at Heroes' Corner, Greenwich Cemetery

The Last Post always brings  tears to my eyes, and not just because it was played by a bugler at my Dad’s funeral. Remembrance Day was an important time of year for Dad. In the photograph, framed in black slate, that looks at me as I type he is wearing a poppy in his British Legion  beret. It was taken by  a Mercury photographer to illustrate an article about him selling poppies in Lewisham a few years before he died. Another picture shows him standing proudly to attention as the standard bearer holding the Light Infantry Association standard at a remembrance parade at the Chelsea Barracks.

Heroes Corner, in Greenwich Cemetery, is the area where 263 of the 556 First World War graves in the cemetery are located. As the Commonwealth War Graves Commission describes it:

“Greenwich Cemetery contains 556 First World War burials. More than half of these graves are scattered throughout the cemetery, but 263 form a large war graves plot known as ‘Heroes’ Corner’. Here, two curved screen walls bear the names of casualties buried both in the plot and in unmarked graves in the cemetery. The Second World War plot adjoins and contains 75 graves. An additional screen wall commemorates casualties buried in this plot and ten others buried in unmarked graves elsewhere in the cemetery. In all, the cemetery contains 124 Second World War burials, 3 of which are unidentified British soldiers. Section E contains a plot of 30 Norwegian service graves from the Second World War.”

The tragedy of the First World War is compounded by the courageous futility of mass charges against artillery and machine guns. My favourite poet, Wilfred Owen, captures the gritty reality and sadness, and also seems to express some of the anger we feel today at the waste of a generation.

    Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

The close relationship between Shooters Hill and the armed forces is epitomised by the monumental architecture of the cluster of military-related buildings around Woolwich Common – now the site of the shooting stadium for the 2012 Olympics. Close to the Greenwich Cemetery there is the former Royal Herbert Hospital, then the former military academy and of course the Woolwich Barracks. Nearby stands the ruin of St George’s Garrison Church, with its Victoria Cross memorial. Further up Shooters Hill is the Memorial Hospital.

Responsibility for raising the money to build the War Memorial Hospital was the role of the Remembrance Committee at the end of the First World War. They did this largely through public subscription, for example all the staff of the Woolwich Arsenal agreed to have a shilling a month deducted from their pay to contribute to the cost. The hospital was opened on the 2nd November 1927 by HRH the Duke of York, who also planted the Lawson Cypress that still stands in front of the hospital. The heart of the hospital is the Hall of Remembrance where two books of remembrance lie open, commemorating local servicemen and civilians killed in the two world wars. A page is turned every day.  Yesterday the civilian pages included records of six deaths in Red Lion Lane on the 19th October 1940 and deaths in Eglinton Road on 15th October 1940.

Hall of Remembrance at Memorial Hospital, Shooters Hill
The Hall of Remembrance at the Memorial Hospital

And the heroism and sacrifice has continued since the second world war:  Malaya – 40 British service personnel killed; Cyprus – over 105 killed; Korea – 765 killed; Aden – 68; The Balkans – 48; Kuwait – 47;  Falklands – 255; Northern Ireland 719; Iraq – 179; Afghanistan – 382. The last post has been sounded too many times.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen”.

Approaching sunset at the memorial at Heroes' Corner, Greenwich Cemetery
The going down of the sun at Heroes' Corner

Clearing the rubbish in the woods

The Friends of Shrewsbury Park are looking for people to help clear the rubbish in the woods at the side of Dothill on Sunday 20th November. Their e-mail which was forwarded to me said:

Dear Friend of Shrewsbury Park,

we will be holding a “clearing up” session on Sunday, 20 November, at 12 noon. Please come along, with stout gloves, to help clear the rubbish in the woods at the side of Dothill.

We will meet at the Garland Road entrance to Dothill. If it is pouring with rain, please assume the event is cancelled and we will fix another day.

Help us keep the woods beautiful.

View up Dot Hill, Shrewsbury Park
View up Dot Hill, Shrewsbury Park

Park Pond Progresses

Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park October 2011
The Lilly Pond October 2011
Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park November 2011
The Lilly Pond November 2011

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park’s hard work in securing funding for the restoration of the Lily Pond has started showing some results as the work has now commenced. As the pictures show it is currently work-in-progress and a bit messy, more like the Bagnold’s Clay Pit than a pond. But it will be a great improvement when complete, and hopefully meet its original objectives of improving the park, promoting biodiversity and providing an educational resource for local schools.

I’m very disappointed though that the Mulberry Tree on the eastern side of the pond is no longer there. I’ll miss it: the piquancy of  the mulberries used to complement the sweetness of blackberries foraged from the lower part of the park. I wonder why it was removed?

I find it fascinating to track changes to a local area through old maps, such as old ordnance survey maps, and Shooters Hill is particularly interesting. There is a feature on the 1866, 1894 and 1914 maps where the pond is currently, and of about the right size and shape, though they are not explicitly marked as a pond. In the 1866 map the pond feature is set in the middle of what looks like an orchard behind what was then the Bull Inn. This Bull is in a different place to the current Bull, closer to Cleanthus Road, and considerably larger. I guess the area round the pond was the gardens known as “the Shrubbery” mentioned in the history section of the Park Management Plan: the 1866 map is certainly consistent with it being a laid-out garden. At that time much of the surrounding area was farmland, with few of the roads we now know: there’s a field boundary instead of Eaglesfield Road. By 1894 the Bull Inn is no longer there, but there is a Bull Hotel located where the current Bull is. Some of the old Bull Inn buildings are still there but the orchards round the pond feature are gone. There is still no Eaglesfield Road, but there is a drive-way leading along the same route to a large house called Lowood, now the Golf Clubhouse. By 1914 this drive-way had become Waldstock Road (later to become Eaglesfield Road) and the Eaglesfield Recreation Ground lay on either side of it. The pond feature is still there, and has a drinking fountain next to it.

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park first started thinking about restoring the Lily Pond shortly after they were formed in 2007; it’s a great tribute to their commitment and persistence that it is now in progress.

Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park October 2011
The Lilly Pond October 2011
Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park November 2011
The Lilly Pond November 2011

Marvellous Mosaics

St George - a detail of the St George and the Dragon Mosaic, Garrison Church Woolwich
St George shown in the Victoria Cross Memorial mosaic in St George's Garrison Church

I was really pleased to read in the Mercury that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded a £396000 grant to put a tensile roof (of similar material to the O2 Dome) above the ruins of St George’s Garrison Church to conserve the remains, and to preserve the stunning mosaics that still decorate the walls. And also pleased that it is planned that the site will be fully accessible to the public once the work is complete in just over 2 years time; the detail of these marvellous mosaics should be seen by many more people.

The Heritage Lottery Fund web site describes the project, and also some of the history of the church:

“St George’s Garrison Church – built between 1863-67 to serve the Woolwich Garrison community – was designed in the Lombardi style of stock brick construction with red and blue vitrified detailing, and was decorated internally with mosaics, inlaid marble, and monuments to battles and servicemen fallen in armed conflict. It became the Royal Garrison Church in 1928 after a visit by King George V, however was reduced to a roofless shell after being hit by a V2 Flying bomb in 1944. Subsequently partly demolished to leave only the lower sections of the perimeter walls, the remains of the church now enclose a walled garden that has the feeling of a ‘secret’ garden.

Today, the church remains consecrated and is used for open air services by Service personnel in the Royal Artillery Barracks, and significant decorative interior remains. Notably, this includes the Victoria Cross memorial with a mosaic depicting St George and the Dragon, flanked by marble tablets inscribed with the names of all deceased gunners who won the Victoria Cross from the Crimean War to mid World War II. Ownership, as part of this project, is due to be transferred from the Ministry of Defence to HOLT Op at the start of November.”

I visited the church on one of its rare openings, on London Open House day a few years ago, and was struck by the detailed and colourful mosaics. These include the Victoria Cross Memorials’ St. George and the Dragon, a Peacock and a Phoenix rising from the ashes. An article from Dulwich OnView gave some background on the mosaics:

“Recent research by English Heritage has revealed that the mosaics were added in 1903 by Messrs Burke & Co of Newman Street in London – they include a wonderful peacock, the symbol of the Resurrection, and a phoenix, the symbol of immortality.”

The BBC Inside Out London programme on Monday 7th November at 7.30 will feature an item about the church and the efforts to conserve it.

Phoenix rising mosaic, St Georges' Garrison Church Woolwich
Phoenix rising mosaic, St Georges' Garrison Church Woolwich
Detail of Peacock mosaic, St George's Garrison Church Woolwich
Detail of Peacock mosaic, St George's Garrison Church Woolwich

Mystery of the Missing Plaques

Dedication of Dove Tree to those who served in the Burma Campaign 1941-45
Dedication of tree to those who served in the Burma Campaign 1941-45

There has been a long association between Woolwich and the army, as Lieutenant Colonel Adam Crawley of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment said in his address at the culmination of Woolwich Back to Business Week in General Gordon Square. So it is particularly appropriate that three trees in the square were dedicated to victory in the Second World War and to the remembrance of those who served and died in it.

The trees were dedicated to the memory of those who served in the Burma Campaign, to Victory in Europe and to remember those who died in the Holocaust and Jewish servicemen who were killed in the war.

But the brass plaques describing the dedication for each tree seem to have been removed immediately after the ceremonies. The holes in the grass where they were planted are still there, but no plaques. I wonder what happened to them, and if they will return?

Postscipt: I noticed yesterday, 31st January 2012, that the plaques are now back in place – three months later.