Amnesty International Book Sale on 23rd November

Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row,
Church of the Ascension

Amnesty International Blackheath & Greenwich Group tweeted to ask me to let people know about their book sale at the Church of the Ascension in Blackheath on the 23rd November. I’m very pleased to do so, having picked up some gems there in previous sales such as a copy of Jon Snow’s “Shooting History” which  had been autographed by the author and a 119-year-old copy of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”.

Amnesty’s press release gives the details:

Quality books at knock-down prices

Amnesty International Book Sale

10am-4pm Saturday 23 November

Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row, London SE10 8BF

The Blackheath and Greenwich Group of Amnesty International is holding its annual fund-raising book sale on Saturday 23 November at the Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row, London SE10 (10 minutes walk up Lewisham Hill from Lewisham Station, DLR & Bus Station). Doors open at 10am.

The local group has collected thousands of books from a variety of sources, including publishers and book reviewers as well as individual donors. The quality of books – many of which are brand new – is exceptionally high, and there will be plenty of bargains to be found, from second-hand paperbacks to review copies of recently-published novels. Prices start at £1 for paperbacks and £3 for hardbacks.

The group’s book sales – now in their 39th year – are established as Amnesty International’s most successful local fundraising event in the UK, raising over£200,000 over the years.

Amnesty International works worldwide for the release of prisoners of conscience, fair trials for political prisoners and an end to torture, extrajudicial executions, disappearances and the death penalty. The Blackheath and Greenwich group has done a lot of campaigning work on Human Rights in China and stopping violence against women and meets at 8pm on the second Tuesday of each month at St. Margaret’s Church, Lee Terrace, Blackheath.

To find out more information about the Amnesty Blackheath and Greenwich group visit

One thing to be aware of: if you drive to the sale and park in Dartmouth Row make sure you check the time on your pay-and-display ticket – it is calculated in an unusual way. The tariff is 35 pence for 15 minutes, but you can only buy 15 minute units, and it “accepts over-payment”. This means that if you put in £2.00 you get only an hour and a quarter instead of the nearly an hour and a half you’d expect and you donate an over-payment of 25p to Lewisham Council. The traffic wardens seem to be especially vigilant around there too!

Shoppers at the Amnesty International Book Sale
Shoppers at the Amnesty International Book Sale

Survey of London 48: Woolwich – Talks and Exhibition

Greenwich Heritage Centre exhibition and event flyer

The launch of the Woolwich volume of English Heritage’s Survey of London will be marked by an exhibition at the Greenwich Heritage Centre and talks by Peter Guillery, Senior Historian at the Survey of London.

The free exhibition starts tomorrow and runs until 9th February, and there is a talk at the Heritage Centre tomorrow at 2pm – you need to book by phone (020 8854 2452) or e-mail ( – and also a Greenwich Industrial History Society talk at 7.30pm on 20th November at the Age Exchange Bakehouse.

The book isn’t out yet, according to amazon it will be released on 26th November, but the draft version on the English Heritage website shows that it will be an essential source of detailed information for anyone interested in the history and development of the area. I’ve found lots of fascinating background information there already. The draft version doesn’t include any graphics, but we’re promised that the final version  “will be a fully illustrated book, with around 100 new drawings, a similar number of new photographs, and altogether more than 400 illustrations.” My only (slight) disappointment is that  it doesn’t quite cover Shooters Hill, just the parish of Woolwich (and that it’s an expensive book – maybe Woolwich Library will get a few copies).

I’m looking forward to hearing how the historians researched the huge amount of detailed information in the Survey.

Front cover of Survey of London volume 48 Woolwich on
Front cover of Survey of London volume 48 Woolwich on

Ghosts of Shooters Hill

The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts
Elliott O'Donnell's book The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts which contains the story of the Vanished Suitor of Shooters Hill

Elliott O’Donnell, one of the most famous ghost hunters of his day, wrote a very detailed and dramatic true account of a ghost in Shooters Hill in his story “The Vanished Suitor of Shooter’s Hill”.  This took place in Veremont House, Shooters Hill on January 3rd 1911.

Like all good ghost stories, after examining the haunted house with his pet fox-terrier, he decides to lock himself in ….

“Then I locked the front door, bolted all the windows, brewed myself some coffee over a spirit-kettle, gave the dog some milk and biscuit, and meditated where I had better sit for my vigil.”

And then, shortly after 12 o’clock had struck ….

“The scratching of an insect made my heart stand still; my sight and hearing were painfully acute. Presently a familiar sickly sensation gradually crept over me, the throbbing of my heart increased and the most desperate terror laid hold of me. The dog uttered a low, savage snarl. The house was no longer empty. Something was on the landing overhead, preparing, so my senses told me, to descend.

I could not stir, nor close my eyes—I could only sit there staring at the staircase, praying that the horror would soon emerge and that my ordeal would quickly be over. Down, down, down it came, until at last I could see it — a white, evil face surmounted by a mass of black hair. The eyes were the most alarming feature — large, dark, very lurid, very sinister—and they were fixed on mine with a mocking leer.”

The ghost turned out to be Bertha Rungate, who led Elliott to an old well where she had disposed of the body of Philip Rungate who she murdered after finding he was planning to elope with her governess. No-one knows where Veremont House was, or if it is still standing on Shooters Hill today  under another name.

Other supernatural manifestations in Shooters Hill include the white lady of Shooters Hill reputed to haunt the junction of Shooters Hill Road and Well Hall Road on 24th July each year, and the  ghostly footsteps which are said to haunt the Bull pub.

The Royal Herbert Hospital has hosted a number of ghostly occurrences, including spectral victorian nurses, a tolling death bell foreshadowing deaths on Ward  G4 and more ghostly footsteps…

“At about 3 am, as I was quietly reassuring a young soldier recovering from a collapsed lung, we both heard soft footsteps approaching the ward. I promised him a cup of tea once the visit from the expected Captain was over, and left his bedside to greet her.
As I reached the ward door, I saw that it was closed, but the measured tread seemed to pass me and continue into the ward itself. I`d love to claim that I bravely followed, but I stood rooted with terror to the spot. The spell was broken by the young soldier’s strangled yelp, and I ran to his bedside (disobeying, of course, every rule about running, except in Fire or Haemorrhage!) The unfortunate young man, gasping for breath told me that “The Sister” had come to his bed, but was “now vanishing”…His distress was acute, and I feared for his condition. The noise awoke the patient in the next bed, who put his light on, and my young soldier was able to draw long, if rasping breaths.”

Even after the hospital was converted into flats and became the Royal Herbert Pavilions there has been a sighting of a ghostly nurse.

Algernon Blackwood, spiritualist, short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre
Algernon Blackwood, supernatural story writer born in Shooters Hill

No post about the supernatural in Shooters Hill would be complete without mentioning Algernon Blackwood. He was born at Wood Lodge, a large house which used to be sited at the top of Oxleas Meadows, near where the Oxleas café is currently located.

Blackwood wrote over forty books including atmospheric gothic fiction, tales of the supernatural and stories about a psychic detective, Dr John Silence.  H.P. Lovecraft wrote about Blackwood “He is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere” and Everett F. Bleiler called him “the foremost British supernaturalist of the twentieth century.”

He led an erratic and interesting life, and at different times was a farmer, a journalist and a British spy in the First World War. He also met the mystics Ouspensky and Gurdjieff.

He later appeared on Britain’s first television show, Picture Page, in 1936, and in the late 1940’s broadcast a regular Saturday Night Story programme on television in which he read a series of his supernatural tales, making  him a household name. He was awarde a CBE in 1949.

So look out for spectral nurses, supernatural footsteps and ghostly white evil faces with large, dark, very lurid eyes if you are out trick-or-treating this Halloween.

And hope that  you don’t hear the ghostly tolling of the death bell!

Grinitch and Owilige

Proof-reading and correcting issues of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I’m finding it very satisfying, and absolutely fascinating. I’m one of many volunteers contributing to the Dickens Journals Online’s project to create a complete online copy of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round which were first published between 1850 and 1870. Some of Dickens’ books, such as Great Expectations, were originally published in weekly instalments in these magazines, but they also covered many other topics, including travel writing, politics and general interest articles.

The journals have all been scanned and converted to text files using optical character recognition. The task of the volunteers is to correct any errors from the OCR and tidy up the formatting. I’ve found some journals quite easy, just correcting occasional words, though a couple of pages of my first issue had the columns of text merged into one another and took some time to disentangle. There are some 30000 pages to correct, and the target is to finish in time for the Charles Dickens’ bicentenary in February 2012. Progress has been good so far – 41% of the journals corrected – and all of them allocated to someone to correct.

One great result of the project will be that the journals become searchable, and I couldn’t resist searching for local place names. There weren’t many mentions of Shooters Hill; the most interesting was from September 1851 where Shooters Hill is seen as a haven to escape from the odours and perils of London:

HEARING and seeing all we do of London, with its Thames water, odorous, sewerage, precipitous wooden pavement; its Smithfield, its Guildhall balls to Royalty, its earnest and liberal patronage of dirt and filth, few strangers, whether provincial or continental, would dream of the existence of such places as Shooters Hill, Kew, Hendon, or Hampstead, at but a few miles of omnibus or steam-boat distance.

Nowhere near as engaging as Dickens’ marvellous, murky and muddy description of the 1775 ascent of Shooters Hill in A Tale of Two Cities.

Woolwich and Greenwich are mentioned many more times, including an interesting Eye Witness Account of work at the Woolwich Arsenal in 1859, and a multitude of whitebait dinners at Greenwich!

One that particularly caught my eye, and which resonates with 21st century discussion about the pronunciation of Greenwich, was an article entitled “Valentines Day at the Post Office” from 30th March 1850. This concludes with a section on misaddressed letters that the postmen have to decipher:

Front page of Household Worlds Volume 1, 1850
Household Worlds Volume 1, 1850

For the next specimen of spelling there is some excuse. ‘In England,’ says a French traveller, ‘what they write “Greenwich,” they pronounce “Grinitch,” and I am not quite sure that when they set down “Solomon,” they do not pronounce it “Nebuchadnezzar.” ‘ ‘I much question,’ continued one of the amateur Post-Office inspectors, ‘ if either of us had never seen the name of the place to which the following superscription applies, that we should not have spelt it nearly similarly to the correspondent of —

Peter Robertson
2 Compney 7 Batilian
Rolyl Artirian

‘Although the writer’s ear misled him grievously in the other words, he has recorded the sound into which we render Woolwich with curious correctness.’

So it’s Grinitch, fine, …. but Owilige?

As if London and its history is a dream of Shooters Hill

Some time ago this site included a post on Evey Hammond, a fictional Shooters Hill resident from the graphic novel V for Vendetta. As it turns out its author Alan Moore has a special interest in the area, and wrote a piece of ‘psychogeography’ about Shooters Hill and one of its most talented residents, comic artist Steve Moore.

The piece is entitled Unearthing, and features in the 2006 collection “London: City of Disappearances”. The essay has since gone on to become an audiobook (excerpt above), a photobook, and a live performance.

The Silver Wind


Interzone 233 cover

A new novella set in an Oxleas Woods of the future has recently been published as part of Interzone, a science fiction & fantasy magazine (issue 233, March-April 2011).

Shooter’s Hill had a rough reputation. The reforestation policy had returned the place to its original state, and the tract of woodland between Blackheath and Woolwich was now as dense and extensive as it had once been in the years and centuries before the first industrial revolution. The woods were rife with carjackers and highwaymen, and scarcely a week went by without reports of some new atrocity. The situation had become so serious that there were moves in parliament to reinstate the death penalty for highway robbery as it had already been reinstated for high treason. During the course of certain conversations I noticed that local people had taken to calling Oxleas Woods by its old name, the Hanging Wood, although no hangings had occurred there as yet. At least not officially.

Shooters Hill The Comic

The fact that various (in)famous people have been residents of Shooters Hill has not really done much for the area, and so I haven’t really gone into it. Actually the Shooters Hill Hall of Fame is already partly documented on the hill’s Wikipedia entry, which is perhaps more useful for it’s discussion on the use of the apostrophe. Incidentally this issue was also taken up by a contributing editor at current archaeology.

Anyway, one of the more controversial hill dwellers is, perhaps not surprisingly, a fictional one from a comic book (well, graphic novel to give it a ‘grown up’ description) who becomes the apprentice of a ‘morally grey’ bomber loosely based on the character of guy fawkes… no wonder the illustrator was worried about getting his phone tapped!

v for vendetta
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
v for vendetta
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Well, it seems that the choice of Shooters Hill as a location was made so that they could realise a vision of London under water…

v for vendetta
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd