Shooters Hill Archery Then and Now

Henry VIII Maying at Shooters Hill
Henry VIII Maying at Shooters Hill from W.T. Vincent’s Records of the Woolwich District

Although the widely-held belief that Shooters Hill derives its name from its medieval use as a site for archery practice is probably erroneous, it still seems appropriate that the Paralympics Archery competition was held nearby. There is a record of a medieval archery competition on Shooters Hill, in 1516 as part of Henry VIII’s May Day trip to Shooters Hill where he met Robin Hood:

The King and Queen [Henry VIII and Queen Katherine] accompanied with many lords and ladies rode to the high ground of Shooters Hill to take the open air; and as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeoman, clothed all in green with green hoods and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred. Then one of them, which called himself Robyn hood, came to the King, desiring him to see his men shoot, and the king was content. Then he whistled and all the two hundred archers shot and loosed at once, and then he whistled again, and they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and great, and much pleased the King and Queen and all the company. All of these archers were of the King’s guard and had thus appareled themselves to make solace to the King.

The archery at the paralympic stadium on Woolwich Common was, of course, very different. There are probably more than 200 archers at the paralympics,  they shot their arrows individually and in silence rather than all at once and the only strange and great noise was the audience applauding the archers who hit the gold area of the target and (especially loudly) any British competitors. I must admit that I visited the stadium as much out of curiosity about the strange structures transforming  Woolwich Commmon as out of any great interest in archery and shooting, but once there I found the competition completely compelling. It was very easy to get infected with the loud and enthusiastic audience atmosphere, whether clapping and stamping along to We Will Rock You or silently willing the British competitor’s arrow into gold.

Eric Bennet vs Oghuzan Polat in the Men's Individual Recurve
Eric Bennet vs Oghuzan Polat in the Men’s Individual Recurve –  Standing

It will be quite sad when the paralympics is over and London life returns to its usual routine, but I won’t be sad to see the stadium complex disappear from the Common – I don’t find it an attractive development – and I’m looking forward to the reinstatement of the Common back to its previous state or better. Apparently they will be replacing each tree that was cut down to make way for the stadium with one and a half new trees, which could be interesting. Some of the structures will be dismantled and taken to Glasgow, as one of the many volunteer Gamesmakers reports:

After the Games the 10/50m and 25m ranges and shot net will go to Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games; the large final hall is likely to remain in Greenwich. The dramatic temporary halls have been nick named ‘Teletubby Land’ and the site will be returned to Woolwich Common once the Games are finished.

But it’s not all gloom; a memorial of Woolwich Common’s role in the Olympics is planned by the Olympics Development Authority. They propose to place three brightly coloured teletubby window at the side of Ha-Ha Road. And no, it’s not April 1st, I checked.

Britain’s Sharon Vennard in Women’s Individual Recurve – Standing
Britain’s Sharon Vennard in Women’s Individual Recurve – Standing
Britain’s Sharon Vennard in Women’s Individual Recurve – Standing
Britain’s Sharon Vennard in Women’s Individual Recurve – Standing

St George's Garrison Church Restoration

The dragon shown in the Victoria Cross Memorial mosaic in St George's Garrison Church
The dragon shown in the Victoria Cross Memorial mosaic in St George’s Garrison Church

I see work has started on the restoration of the grade II listed St George’s Garrison Church, another “Heritage at Risk” building close to the Olympics shooting and archery venue. Hopefully this will  result in more people being able to see its marvellous mosaics. The organisation responsible for the restoration, Heritage of London Trust Operations, aims to make the church suitable for use as a small scale venue for appropriate events. It “intends to run occasional events at the chapel that will cater for fifty to a hundred people” as well as to provide access for “formal and informal educational visits”. A local friends group of volunteers will be established to help co-ordinate the running of the venue.

The first step of the work, currently underway,  is to convert two rooms near the entrance to the chapel into a kitchen and toilet, but the major change is to construct a new cover for the apse, which is where the memorial mosaics are located together with the marble tablets listing the names of Royal Artillery soldiers who were awarded the VC and the war in which they won it. APEC Architects, who prepared the planning documents, considered various options for the new canopy but the final decision was for a free-standing glulam timber-framed arch with a tensile fabric covering as envisioned in the picture below.

APEC Architects' vision of the new apse canopy
APEC Architects’ vision of the new apse canopy

Restoration work will take place in slower time than the contruction, which is not surprising as it does include specialist restoration of the mosaics themselves. Another of the planning documents contains photographs and details of the proposed internal restoration work:

Remnants of steel framed glazed roof (damaged in high winds)

Proposal: Remove the damaged roof as it is no longer required. Repairs to brickwork at the top of the walls to be carried out as required.

Victoria Cross memorial mosaic

Proposal: Mosaic to be restored by appropriate specialist

Other memorial mosaics/remnants of glazed roof structure

Proposal: Mosaics to be fully restored by appropriate specialist. Remnants of glazed roof structure to be removed and brickwork repaired as appropriate.

Memorial mosaics/damage to brickwork

Proposal: Mosaics to be fully restored by appropriate specialist. Damaged brickwork to be repaired.

Entrance gates

Proposal:All gates to be removed for X-ray inspection. Any defects are to be repaired before the gates are reinstated.

Undercroft access

Proposal:The bricked up access to the undercroft space is to be opened up to provide a space for storage. A timber plank door, within a timber frame, is to be installed within the arch. Steel reinforcement is to be in place on the inside face of the timber door for security reasons.

It doesn’t sound like it will all be done in time for the Olympics, though the initial work may be, but at least the process of  preserving the ruin and making it more accessible has started.

Vine mosaic in St George's Garrison Church
Vine mosaic in St George’s Garrison Church

Who was Major Robert John Little?

Major Robert John Little Memorial
Major Robert John Little Memorial

The restoration of parts of our urban environment prompted by the prospect of thousands of visitors is one of the positive side-effects of Greenwich being an Olympic borough. Major Robert John Little’s Memorial Obelisk was an obvious candidate for refurbishment; it is located right in front of the shooting/archery stadium on Woolwich Common, and on the recommended route from Woolwich Arsenal station to the Olympic events. Some might say that its location on the English Heritage “Buildings at Risk” list should have been reason enough to restore the memorial, but …. whatever, it has been restored.

The description of the restoration of the memorial says that the new brass plaques installed on each face of the obelisk are “inscribed with details of Robert John Little’s Life.”  However when I visited I found that apart from the front plaque they are all blank, so I thought I’d help out by finding out something about the life Major Robert John Little. Plus I was curious about who he was and why he had a memorial on the edge of Woolwich Common.

The English Heritage draft Survey of London on Woolwich gives some background on the creation of the obelisk, as part of an elaborate drinking fountain:

After the formation of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association in 1858, London was peppered with drinking fountains. This one, in the form of a grey-granite obelisk, was given by Anna Victoria Little, in memory of her late husband, Maj. Robert John Little, barrack-master at the Royal Marine Barracks and formerly a resident of Adelaide Place across the road. It was designed by a civil engineer, E. Gregory, and built by William Tongue, who, ironically, was responsible for enclosing part of Plumstead Common at this time. The obelisk survives, without its faucets, basins, twenty-one encircling cannon bollards or a trough for dogs, but restored with new bollards by Greenwich Council in 2011.

Detail of Major Little's memorial obelisk
Detail of Major Little’s memorial obelisk

However Major Little was much more than the Barrack Master at the Royal Marine Barracks. For a start he had a distinguished and heroic military career, summarised in Major H.G. Hart’s The New Army List 1849:

Capt Little served in the channel fleet and at the blockade of Ferrol and Corunna in 1803-4. Appointed to the Royal Marine Artillery on the formation of that corps in 1804, and was employed in various bomb vessels on the enemy’s coast co-operating with the land forces, or on detached service. In command of the mortars in the Vesuvius bomb at the attack of Boulogne. Defence of Cadiz in 1809; and subsequently at the blockade of Rochfort, where he commanded a storming party in a successful night attack on the coast, on which occasion he received the particular thanks of the Admiralty, and was rewarded by the Patriotic Fund:- at the commencement of this attack he was severely wounded by a musket ball shattering the wrist which rendered amputation of the right hand necessary.

The 1810 action which led to Major Little losing his right hand was part of the British blockade of the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. The story of the battle was recounted  in a number of historical books, for example The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV by William James and  the Historical Record of the Royal Marine Forces. Vol II. by Paul Harris Nicholas:

On the night of the 27th of September, the boats of the 120-gun ship Caledonia and 74-gun ship Valiant, lying at anchor in   Basque roads, were detached under lieutenant A. P. Hamilton to destroy three brigs lying under the protection of a battery at Pointe du Ché ; and as the enemy had a strong detachment of troops in the adjoining village of Angoulin, a party of 130 marines under captains Thomas Sherman and Archibald McLachlan, lieutenants John Coulter and John Couche, and lieutenant Robert John Little of the marine artillery, were added to the division of seamen from the squadron.

At about 2 h. 30 m. a. m. on the 28th the marines were landed under the Pointe du Ché, and the alarm having been given by the brigs, an ineffectual fire was opened from the enemy’s guns. Lieutenant Little, with his detachment of artillery-men, pushed forward with the bayonet to the assault, supported by captain McLachlan’s division, and by a detachment under lieutenants Coulter and Couche; and having gallantly carried the battery, spiked the guns. Lieutenant Little, in leading his men, on entering the fort received the contents of the french sentry’s musket in his right hand as he was in the act of cutting him down, and the wrist was so much shattered as to render amputation necessary. Whilst the attack was making on the fort, captain Sherman, with his division, took post on the main road by the sea side, having his front to the village, and his right protected by a launch with an eighteen-pounder carronade. A party of the enemy succeeded, under cover of the night, in bringing a field-piece to bear with some effect, but the marines instantly charged, and captured the gun. Two of the brigs were brought off, and the third destroyed ; and the marines were now re-embarked, having sustained no greater loss than lieutenant Little and one private wounded. In the defence of the battery on Pointe du Ché, the enemy had 14 men killed.

Lieutenant Little’s battle injury didn’t end his military career, and the Navy Lists indicate that  he was promoted first to Captain  and again to Major and that he was awarded the Silver Naval Medal with one clasp. He became Barrack Master on 12th September 1829 on a salary of £183 per annum.

Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851
Wikimedia Commons picture of Crystal Palace, home of the Great Exhibition of 1851

In addition to his military career Major Little also seems to have been an inventor, exhibiting his improved watercock  at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in the Great Exhibition in 1851. As the Exhibition Catalogue says:

476. LITTLE, Major ROBERT J., 4 Queen’s Terrace, Woolwich Common — Inventor.

An improved watercock, with double plug, for connecting pipes without breaking joints, with sectional drawings of the same. Designed by the exhibitor, and manufactured by Frost, Noakes, and Vincent, 195 Brick Lane, Whitechapel.

Was Major Little a one-hit-wonder with his watercock, or did he have a successful career as an inventor? I’d love to find out.

Interestingly Major Little’s 1851 home in Queen’s Terrace was, according to the draft Survey of London, next to Adelaide Place where he also lived. By my reading of the 1866 OS map both  of these addresses faced onto Woolwich Common, roughly between where Jackson Street and Engineer Close are now,  just over the road from his memorial fountain.

The citation on Major Little’s obelisk says that he “devoted himself to honour of God and to the relief of human suffering.”  One way in which he would have achieved this was through his contribution to  the Executive and Finance Committee of the Royal Patriotic Fund. The Fund was instigated by Queen Victoria’s 1854 appeal for public donations to assist the widows and orphans of military personnel who were killed in the Crimean War. The appeal was a huge success, collecting over a million pounds in its first six months, and was able to found two schools in Wandsworth as well as providing grants to military widows and orphans. The Patriotic Fund continued in one form or another until just a couple of years ago when it was merged with the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help charity.

I suspect that Major Little was also involved in other charitable work for the Royal Marines Artillery – for two reasons. Firstly the Charity Commission website mentions a charity named “Major Robert John Little“. It gives hardly any details, other than it has been amalgamated with the Royal Marines Welfare Fund. But secondly because, after his death in 1865, his widow, Mrs. Anna Victoria Little, donated the income from £100 to Royal Marine Artillery Benevolent Fund for the “distribution of bread and coals among the wives and families of corporals, gunners, and drummers in H.M. corps of Royal Marine Artillery resident at Portsmouth”. I wonder if Major Little was also associated with the Benevolent Fund. Another topic to keep an eye out for when visiting libraries!

Major Little died on 6th October 1861; The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical review for November 1861 simply reported:

Oct. 6.  At his residence, Bloomfield, Old Charlton, aged 74, Robert John Little, esq., late Major and Barrackmaster of the Royal Marines, Woolwich.”

He was buried in a family vault at St Lukes Church, Charlton. According to the Kent Archeological Society the inscription on the monument in 1908 was:

 164. LITTLE (26). Caroline, wife of Robert John LITTLE, of the Royal Marines, died January 12, 1832, aged 42 years. Richard Rosdew Little, late Captain of the Madras Horse Artillery and Commissary of Ordnance, there died August 23, 1861, aged 46 years. Robert John Little, died October 6, 1861, aged 74 years. He had served in the Corps of the Royal Marines nearly 55 years, joining the R.M.A. in early life and returning in 1837 as Major and Barrack Master of the Woolwich Division, which appointment he held for 28 years. Anna Victoria, relict of the above-named Major Little and daughter of Capt. Henry INMAN, R.N., and sometime Naval Commander at Madras, died March 5, 1866, aged 72 years.

The plan of the churchyard indicates that Major Little’s family grave was just to the left of the church entrance; was, unfortunately, because it’s no longer there, just some remains of brick foundations showing where the grave used to be. Interesting that there is a difference in dates between the monument inscription and the Naval Lists for when Major Little became Barrack Master.

St Lukes Charlton
St Lukes Charlton

So, still lots of unanswered questions about the Major, but hopefully  there is now enough to fill the remaining three brass plaques on his memorial.

Oxleas Missile Deployment Confirmed

Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows

The Ministry of Defence has decided that a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) System will be deployed in Oxleas Meadows, on Blackheath and 4 other sites across East London during this summer’s Olympics. The MoD announcement said that the Rapier missiles will be in put place in the middle of July.

The announcement was made despite opposition from people living near the missile sites, including a protest march from Oxleas Wood to Blackheath and the ongoing legal action by the residents of Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone. This is due to be heard next Monday, July 9th, at the Royal Courts of Justice.

It seems that even the power of the Corky Fruited Water Dropwort was not enough to stop the missiles.

Shooters Hill Olympics – Car Parking & Travel

Map extract showing Shooters Hill EDZ
Map extract showing Shooters Hill parking restrictions area

Plans for transport and parking changes for the Olympic Games have been finalised by Greenwich Council, TfL and LOCOG, as you may have seen by the many notices decorating lamp-posts in Shooters Hill, competing with the Jubilee bunting. As expected there will be parking restrictions in Shooters Hill during the games – we will be in an Event Day Zone, or EDZ in the Council’s acronym- laden notices – and we will need to apply for residents parking permits.

The parking restrictions will now be in place from 27th July to 9th September, covering both the Olympic and Paralympic games and the period in between, and will operate every day between 8.30am to 7.00pm. Parking will be allowed for up to 2 hours without a permit, but for over 2 hours a residents or visitors permit will be have to be displayed. Permits will only cover us for the Shooters Hill sub-zone, labelled OC in the Council’s maps, not for any other restricted parking area.

The boundaries of the EDZ look almost unchanged from the original proposal, apart from a slight change round the junction of Upton Road and Ennis Road on the eastern boundary, and a change south of Shooters Hill Road to add in the Royal Herbert Pavilions and the Broad Walk/Mayday Gardens area.

We can check whether we live in a postcode where we need a permit, and apply for the permit,  through the Greenwich 2012 Parking Permits web-site – it has separate links for residential and business checks. We have  until 14th July to register. There is also a phone number for people who are not on the internet – 0300 777 2012.  I found the system a little bit unclear: it told me that my vehicle was already on its database and that I didn’t need to apply for a permit. So I assume I will just be sent a permit within 5 days, as stated on the frequently asked questions list?    When I applied for my 2 visitor permits the site says “to activate the permit when your visitor arrives, please click on the Book a visitor button, found at the top left corner of this screen” – there is no such button on the screen. Teething problems I guess.

Ha-Ha Road closed
Ha-Ha Road closed for Olympics test event

There will be two sets of changes to roads – the closures within the events area at the Royal Artillery Barracks and the Olympic Route Network. The road closures will be the same as for the test events in May, as the Royal Borough of Greenwich web site says:

In Woolwich:

  • there will be no right turn for traffic from Woolwich New Road on to Grand Depot Road during Games time
  • there will be 38 pre-bookable parking spaces for Blue Badge users on Woolwich Common
  • Repository Road and Ha Ha Road will be closed to traffic between 7 July and 19 September. However, there will still be full access for emergency vehicles

Congestion on Shooters Hill and Shooters Hill Road increased quite a lot during the test event when Ha-Ha Road was closed; I guess it may be even worse when the games are on as there will be increased traffic and the road restrictions from the Olympic Route Network.

Local snippet from TfL Olympic Route Network map
Local snippet from TfL Olympic Route Network map
Olympic Route Network sign
Olympic Route Network sign

The Olympic Route Network doesn’t come up as far as Shooters Hill, but does effect Charlton Park Lane and Shooters Hill Road between Greenwich and Charlton Park Lane. The main changes as far as I can tell are:

?    A “Games Lane” on Shooters Hill Road from Blackheath to the Sun in the Sands roundabout, and then to Eastbrook Road. Only official games vehicles are allowed in the Games lane between 6.00am and midnight.

?    Shooters Hill Road to become a “No stopping at any time” road up to Charlton Park Lane, with some roadside parking changed to partial footpath parking.

?    Temporary removal of road humps and width restrictions on Charlton Park Lane.

?    Changes to some parking on Charlton Park Lane and no stopping at any time along the Lane.

The work needed to create the ORN, such as road markings and traffic light changes, is planned to start at the beginning of  July, which I imagine may also have an effect on traffic congestion, and the ORN will be operational between 25th July and a few days after the games end on 12th August, and then the Paralympic Route Network (PRN) will be in place from the 27th August until the Paralympics end on 9th September.

Train and bus services will also be changed during the Olympics. Because of the road closures there will be similar changes to bus routes  161, 178, 291, 386, 469, 486 as there were at the test event last month, including the temporary 561 bus route from Chiselhurst to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – full details of all the diversions and dates are in the detailed TfL document starting from page 37.

On the trains, the biggest change will be the closure of Woolwich Dockyard station from 28th July to 12th August, as shown on the snippet from the Get Ahead of the Games rail impact tool, below. In addition there will be a reduced service at Kidbrooke, Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford and it is expected that Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath, London Bridge and Waterloo will be exceptionally busy during the games –  the Get Ahead of the Games web site has details of busy times and dates. Southeastern Trains’ timetables are also changing during the Games.

Sounds like a good time to change commuting times, or even work at home if possible.

Snippet from Get Ahead of the Games interactive rail impact tool
Snippet from Get Ahead of the Games interactive rail impact tool

Fever Bell

Restored Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich
Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital

The elixir Gallery run by Verve Arts at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is one of my regular destinations when I’m near the hospital: I’ve seen some impressive photography exhibitions  there. The current one is no exception, a selection of 30 of the photographs submitted to the Green Chain Captured 2012 competition. It runs until 2nd September 2012 and is worth a look.

On my way through the hospital I noticed the restored Fever Bell from the former Brook Hospital in an outside courtyard, which, a notice informed me, was “rung to warn local people of epidemics of fever such as measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox”. Intrigued, I had to find out more … and that led me to a fascinating story about the development of health care through the nineteenth century.

Healthcare before public sanitation, clean water supply, an understanding of disease transmission, antibiotics and the NHS was pretty grim, and exacerbated by poverty and poor nutrition. The nineteenth century was blighted by regular epidemicsinfluenza, cholera, typhoid, scarlet fever, measles and more – killing tens of thousands of people.  Life expectancy for the poor and unemployed was as low as 15, and only 35 for the better-off, with as many as 66% of the children of labourers and servants in northern cities dying before the age of 5. For the old, infirm and poor the Work House was the main source of health care, and their carers were often untrained paupers who were themselves living in the Work House.

Former Brook Hospital Administration Block
Former Brook Hospital Administration Block

Following a campaign by, amongst others, Florence Nightingale, the Metropolitan Asylums Board was set up in 1867 to take over some of the responsibilities of the Work Houses for health care. The MAB  established hospitals to look after people with smallpox, fever and insanity, and opened the Brook Hospital on 31st August, 1896 as part of its response to a scarlet fever epidemic in 1892/3. The hospital was built on the pavilion principle promoted by Florence Nightingale, like the nearby Royal Herbert Hospital, and included wards dedicated to scarlet fever, enteric fever (typhoid) and diphtheria as well as isolation wards. I couldn’t find out anything about the fever bell, but as there had been public unhappiness about outbreaks of smallpox near MAB smallpox hospitals, maybe it was felt necessary to warn local people about new epidemics.

At the start of  the First World War the Brook was taken over by the military and it became the Brook War Hospital in 1915, with twice as many beds crammed in. During WW1 over 30,000 military personnel were treated at the Brook. In the second world war it became a general hospital, treating both military casualties and civilians. It was bombed a number of times during the blitz, according to  David Lloyd Bathe’s “Steeped In History”, the most serious being on the 11th November 1944 when a V2 rocket attack destroyed the top deck of a bus and the nearby ambulance station as well as damaging the hospital. An alsatian rescue dog named Thorn assisted in freeing survivors trapped in the hospital. Thorn was a direct descendant of a little puppy rescued in a WW1 trench called Rin Tin Tin and  was awarded the “animals’ VC”, the Dickin Medal, for one of his other rescue missions.

The Brook was taken over by the London County Council in 1930 when the MAB was dissolved and then it became part of the NHS in 1948. It was closed in 1995, when the Queen Elizabeth Hospital opened, and redeveloped as housing. The only buildings remaining from the hospital are the water tower, entrance lodge, administration block and steward’s house. The 130ft high  water tower, which could hold 20,000 gallons, has been converted into luxury self-catering accommodation which can sleep up to 10 people. It still seems to be available for the Olympics, though it will cost £7,500 for a week.

Water tower at the former Brook Hospital
Former Brook Hospital water tower

Fire Station Mast – New Dish Application

Shooters Hill Fire Station Mast from Eaglesfield Road
Shooters Hill Fire Station Mast from Eaglesfield Road

A new planning application for the temporary addition of an extra microwave dish to support Olympics’ security onto the Fire Station mast has been submitted on behalf of Airwave Solutions Ltd, the operators of the TETRA based system already installed on the mast. This system provides encrypted communications for the emergency services: police, fire and ambulance, and would be removed after the Olympics by 30th September 2012. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has written to 625 households informing them of the application and offering an opportunity to comment.

Previous applications to add new equipment to the mast have been strongly opposed by many local people, co-ordinated by SHAM (Shooters Hill Against Masts).

According to the application documents the new dish is needed for “a temporary period up to and during the Olympic Games … to provide a critical back up communications link which is required for security reasons.” It won’t be used for the TETRA communications themselves, but to provide a direct microwave link to another TETRA communications mast within 50km – similar to the Port of London Authority mast on Shooters Hill which has a direct link to a PLA radar station at Blackwall Stairs. As such it transmits much lower power, just 50 milliwatts according to their ICNIRP Declaration, and in a narrow beam pointed at the receiving dish rather than broadcast in all directions. The ICNRP Declaration certifies that the dish is

“designed to be in full compliance with the requirements of the radio frequency (RF) public exposure guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), as expressed in EU Council recommendation of 12th July 1999 “on limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz – 300 Ghz)”.

The location for the new dish is in the Shrewsbury Park Estate Conservation Area, where there are restrictions on residents’ installation of satellite dishes on their houses.

Any comments on the application must be received by the council within 21 days of the date of the notification letter, which was 25 May 2012. Comments can be submitted online here, or  by letter, quoting reference 12/1067/F  to:

Directorate of Regeneration, Enterprise & Skills

Woolwich Centre 5th Floor

35 Wellington Street

London SE18 6HQ

The timescales seem quite tight if they want to install the new dish and have it working before the Olympics start on 27th July.

Shooters Hill Fire Station Mast
Shooters Hill Fire Station Mast

May Be Out

Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common

Action Week, as David Hockney named it,  is here – the brief period of the year when hawthorn trees are covered with copious creamy-white blossom. Hockney describes the sudden appearance of the blossom as being “as if a thick white cream had been poured over everything” and saw it as a time to seize the opportunity to capture  the temporary transformation in art. His hawthorn pictures, whether made using water colour or iPad, were some of the highlights of his recent Royal Academy exhibition.

The display of hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common is as awesome as the sheets of bluebells that carpet nearby woods, and I think should be similarly cherished and celebrated. Academy Road and its parallel path, where I wandered yesterday, would be a good place to start, but many of the other main paths on the common are also bordered by blossom, which may be a vestige of the use of  hawthorn as a hedging plant starting from the time of the  Anglo-Saxons for whom it was the Haegthorn, hedge-thorn.

The hawthorn is magical in more than its ephemeral adornment of the Common; it seems to exceed other trees in its supernatural, superstitious  and sacred associations. One of its many names is the May Tree; it now blossoms during the month of May, but this would have been closer to the start of May before the Julian to Gregorian calendar change lopped 11 days out of the calendar on 2nd September 1752. The blossom was used for decoration and garlands in May Day celebrations, symbolising new life and fertility.

Royal Artillery Barracks Woolwich Common
Royal Artillery Barracks Woolwich Common

Woolwich Common has an interesting history, outlined well in the Woolwich Common Conservation Area Character Appraisal, which is illustrated with some superb old maps. One of these, the Hasted Map from 1748, shows Woolwich and Charlton Commons extending unbroken from Shooters Hill to Charlton Place and Hornfair Park. However the military was using the common for testing artillery by 1720, which increased through the 18th century culminating in the construction of the barracks in 1775 and enclosure of the barrack fields behind a ha-ha in the late 1790s. This encroachment on common land was opposed by local residents seeing their rights  reduced. Military ownership of the common completed in 1803, as the Conservation Area Character Appraisal says:

In 1803, prompted by the needs of the emerging Napoleonic Wars, the Barracks was doubled in width creating an immense 330m frontage – on a scale seen elsewhere only in St Petersburg. The military consolidated control over the entire Common, by means of four special Acts of Parliament to enable their purchase of almost the entire Common for artillery and training purposes. Woolwich Common as it appears today is the result of the subsequent two centuries of military encroachment and development and various opposition movements and compromise agreements trying to reconcile the public’s desire for recreational access with military needs.

The English Heritage Draft Survey of London on Woolwich mentions that the Board of Ordnance compensated  Woolwich parishioners for the loss of their rights to extract gravel from the common, but there was no explicit compensation for loss of herbage and turbary rights, which means it could be argued that we are still allowed to graze our animals on the common and cut turf for fuel. I’m not sure about our estovers (collection of wood or gorse for fuel or building), or the right to build a garish spotted olympic venue.

So now is the time to cast a clout, and for a stroll on the common to admire the May blossom. Here are some more pictures to whet your appetite:

Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common with Olympic venue in background
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common and Olympic venue
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common with Olympic venue in background
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common with Olympic venue in background
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common
Hawthorn blossom on Woolwich Common

Oxleas Meadows Missiles

Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows

A battery of Rapier surface-to-air missiles together with other components of a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) System was set up on Oxleas Meadows, just below the Oxlea Wood  Cafe this morning as part of the MoD’s exercise Olympic Guardian. The exercise to test security preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games also includes deployment of a similar GBAD System on Blackheath, the berthing of the Royal Navy’s largest ship, HMS Ocean, at Greenwich and activity by helicopters, jets and other military hardware in and over the royal borough.

The Blackheath Bugle blog has a good set of links to news items explaining how the GBAD systems on Blackheath would be used. The campaign against the missiles – No Missiles in Oxleas Wood – have a Facebook page with details of their campaign. Their letter from the MoD about the deployment says that the MoD have taken advice from Natural England over any measures they would need to take to protect the Oxleas Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest. It doesn’t specifically mention the Corky Fruited Water Dropwort, but I hope that will  be covered as I’m looking forward to some dropwort spotting later in the year.

The recently launched Oxleas Wood web site says that the deployment is part of an MoD Community Engagement Day and that local residents can express their concerns between 4.00 and 6.00pm today.

The Olympic Guardian exercise runs from 2nd to 10th May, so it’s possible the GBAD system will still be on Oxleas Meadows when the Bluebell Walk convenes on Sunday. In the meantime here’s some more photographs.

Update: I’ve just wandered over to Oxleas Wood  again and the missile battery will be open for members of the public to have a look round and ask any questions until 7.00pm this evening. The armed forces personnel were very friendly and open to answering questions, describing the different parts of the battery, explaining their manning routine if the missiles are deployed  and even letting me manouver the missiles using their fall-back manual aiming system. They mentioned that the decision on whether the GBAD system would be deployed during the Olympics was still open. The battery will be in place until Monday, so there will be an additional attraction for people on the Bluebell Walk, as well as the bluebells and Woodlands Farm.

Missile Battery and Oxleas Cafe
Missile Battery and Oxleas Cafe
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows
Rapier Missile Battery on Oxleas Meadows

Plumstead Make Merry Call for Volunteers and Stallholders

Conway School Maypole Dancers from the Plumstead Makes Merry website
Conway School Maypole Dancers from the Plumstead Makes Merry website

Plumstead make Merry are looking for volunteer event stewards and stall holders for this year’s event which will be held on Saturday 2nd June on Plumstead Common. They already have a brilliant set of acts lined up for their main stage and tea tent, with more to be announced. They are also looking for teams of no more than 10 adults to compete in their ‘Alternative Games‘ – an it’s-a-knockout style series of inflatable obstacle courses, funny and giant costumes, old-school style sports day races, and much more.

The organisers wrote:

The committee for the Plumstead Make Merry are pleased to announce that we are still taking stallholder bookings for the forthcoming Plumstead Make Merry on Saturday 2nd June from 12-6pm. We are continuing the ‘Best Dressed Stall’ award at this year’s event. Stalls will be judged on general display and promotion of yourself or organisation. We would like to encourage all stallholders to bring their own creative and artistic flair to the event. Previous events have shown a diverse representation of stalls, from community groups, local individuals and businesses, who all take part in the success of the event. You may wish to consider fundraising or promotion for your group through this medium. The lucky winner will be offered a free stall space for the 2013 event, a trophy, and the chance to be photographed for inclusion in press and publicity material. The deadline for applications is the 15th May 2012. More information and application forms can be found on our website, or call Holly on 07889 598343.

Additionally, we are currently looking for volunteers to help with the event. Being an Event Steward can be a great addition to you CV. If you would like to get involved we would love to  hear from you. Please email Wendy at or call her on 07818 236871.

About the Plumstead Make Merry
The Plumstead Make Merry is the longest running festival in the London Borough of Greenwich. From the very first recorded festival in 1978 on Plumstead Common, the festival has grown in size, amenities and diversity. This festival has continued annually, with one exception, in 2011. Due to a lack of funding from the London Borough of Greenwich as a result of  government cuts, the festival was replaced with a scaled down event called ‘Not the Plumstead Make Merry’.

The Plumstead Make Merry Association are a voluntary community  initiative that provides an annual festival of music, arts and activities for all of the local community. The festival provides a celebration of the history of Plumstead and a celebration of our diverse community. We are committed to celebrating our community.