Art Deco Co-op Saved in Draft Woolwich Masterplan

Art Deco Co-op Building on Powis Street
Art Deco Co-op Building on Powis Street

The Woolwich art deco Co-op building  will be saved and restored if the new draft Woolwich Town Centre Masterplan is approved, and the “Bathway Quarter” and Powis/Hare Street would become conservation areas. Thanks to Raven at the London Masala and Chips blog for posting that there are four new Masterplans out for consultation – Charlton Riverside, Eltham Town Centre, Greenwich Peninsula West and Woolwich Town Centre.  The consultations run until 9th March, and exhibitions have been arranged for residents to ask questions about the plans. For the Woolwich Town Centre plan these are:

Monday 20th February; 3pm-8pm (including presentations at 4pm and 6.30pm); Charlton Athletic FC, The Valley, Floyd Road; focusing on Charlton Riverside/ Woolwich Town Centre

Saturday 3rd March; 10am-2pm (including presentation at 11am); Woolwich library, Woolwich Centre; focusing on Woolwich Town Centre/Charlton Riverside

Monday 5th March; 2pm-7pm (including presentation at 3pm); Woolwich library, Woolwich Centre; focusing on Woolwich Town Centre/Charlton Riverside

On a quick read-through, the vision that the plan presents of the future of Woolwich is certainly an attractive and ambitious one. For example it says of the Co-op building:

Site 10 – Art-deco Co-op building
This important historic building should be converted to high specification residential development, with complementary, active uses on the ground floor. Smaller scale retail, cafés and restaurants are appropriate towards this end of the town centre, as the nature of the town centre gradually changes from the retail core, to what is the retail fringe, with a wider range of uses including leisure, community and culture.

Detail of the Polytechnic building in Polytechnic Street
Detail of the Polytechnic building in Polytechnic Street

And the “Bathway Quarter” around Polytechnic Street, including the Grand Theatre and the old baths, sounds stunning:

Site 7 – Bathway Quarter
This area has a rich character which should be preserved though sensitive residential-led refurbishment with active uses at ground floor to create a distinct urban quarter. This area has the potential to be a high quality, high-specification, loft-style place with bars, galleries and artists’ studios together with other uses such as a jazz club and creative industries such as architect’s studios.

The Masterplan contains 17 development initiatives, including some that are already underway such as the conversion of the older RACS building into a Travel Lodge hotel, the Love Lane Tescos development and the Woolwich Centre. It also proposes, in the 2018 to 2021 time frame, to improve Woolwich’s connection with the Thames by knocking down the Waterfront Leisure Centre and extending Hare Street to the river. A new leisure centre would be built in “a more central location in the town centre”.  In addition the Gala Bingo site would return to being a cinema or entertainment venue. A less sympathetic development, which the plan says already has planning permission, is for the DLR overstation scheme; a seven storey, 96 room hotel and a 16 storey tower containing 53 residential units will be built over the DLR station in Woolwich New Road.

As I said, an ambitious vision, Sir Humphrey would call it courageous, which would totally transform Woolwich; it will be fascinating to see if it successfully comes to pass.

Hare Street - proposed as a new Conservation Area
Hare Street - proposed as a new Conservation Area

Grand Gig Friday

Grand Poster
Grand Poster

The Woolwich Grand hosts another evening of music next Friday, 17th February. If it’s anything like the last one it will be well worth dropping in to.

Friday’s line-up is Katy Carr, Nigel of Bermondsey, Bromide and Joey Herzfeld & his so-called friends. Katy Carr, who  has been described as evoking Kate Bush and P.J. Harvey (and even Edith Piaf), has had three CDs – Screwing Lies, Passion Play and Coquette, with a fourth, Pazsport, in the pipeline. Coquette includes the track Kommandant’s Car which is about the escape of Kazimierz ‘Kazik’ Piechowsk from Auschwitz, where he was interred by the Nazis in1940  for being a boy scout. Katy later met Kazik in Poland and recorded a documentary about the meeting. As she says in this interview, she:

“…  has since then through an Arts Council grant been able to bring Kazik to England to elaborate further on his experiences. At one event in March at the Polish Embassy in London he made an official address and the film was screened, and at another at Baden Powell House he was presented with a special letter of honour from the Chief Scout, Bear Grylls.”

Nigel of Bermondsey
Nigel of Bermondsey

Nigel of Bermondseydescribes his work as:

Psycho-geographical songs and stories from Bermondsey, South London. Also songs and tales of Wapping, Rotherhithe, Walworth. Now incorporating Covent Garden and Bloomsbury. Soon to be  adding The Strand.

Nigel also has three CDs: Nigel of Bermondsey, London Dream Time and Bermondsey Folk.

One of Nigel’s psycho-geographical interests is the Cross Bones graveyard on Red Cross Way in Southwark, in the shadow of the Shard, which I used to walk past regularly on my way to work. It’s not normally accessible to the public, but the large double gates are festooned with ribbons and messages commemorating the outcasts who were buried there. Perhaps Nigel will talk on Friday about the prositutes, known as the Bishop of Winchester’s Geese whose bones are there.


is london-based, essex-born, capri-owning, cat-worshiping, singer-songwriter simon berridge and anyone he can con into playing with him.

bromide plays mid-fi acoustic/electric folk pop. people have likened his music to elvis costello, american music club, ray davies, the only ones, lloyd cole, robyn hitchcock and kevin ayers. bromide has no idea so will take their word for it.

Bromide’s CDs are iscariot heart, and ‘the trouble with.. bromide’.

Joey Herzfeld is, I think, this guy:

After 5 years writhing and screaming in cabaret/rock band Hooverville ( Mr Joey Herzfeld has strapped on an accordion to deliver his mix dark humour and psychosis on mainly acoustic instruments. Formed at the end of 2010, Joey Herzfeld and The Haunted have been gigging regularly and have already recorded most of an album. Storytelling songs of murder, lechery and insanity are interspersed with the odd instrumental – spooky waltzes, toe-tapping blue-grass, and gypsy stomps.

Though I guess that will be confirmed on Friday, and also whether his so-called friends are the Haunted.

Sounds like another great evening at the Grand.

End of the Woolwich Free Ferry?

The Woolwich Free Ferry
The Woolwich Free Ferry John Burns

The Woolwich Free Ferry could be gone by 2017 if Transport for London’s latest proposals on Thames crossings are implemented. They have just launched a public consultation on proposals which include a new Silvertown Tunnel and a new ferry at Gallions Reach which would replace the Woolwich Free Ferry.

For all ferry fans - how happy we were when it opened  on Twitpic
Woolwich Celebrates the opening of the Woolwich Free Ferry

The earliest that a ferry is recorded as running across the Thames at Woolwich is in 1308 when it was sold for £10. There was also a privately run ferry in the early 1800s, established by an act of Parliament in 1811.  Later in the 19th Century, after pressure for a ferry from Woolwich residents,  the Free Ferry was instigated by the Victorian engineer Sir Jospeph Bazalgette, better known as the builder of London’s sewage system. It has been part of Woolwich life for over 120 years. It was opened on Saturday 23rd March 1889 by Lord Roseberry – an occasion for a major celebration in Woolwich, illustrated in the picture on the right posted by Mary Mills on twitter. In 1996/7 the ferry carried over 1 million vehicles and approximately two and a half million passengers, around 2000 vehicles a day southbound and 1500 northbound.

Personally I think it would be a great shame if we lost the ferry; I use it occasionally, and usually find it quite an efficient and relaxing way to get over to the north circular and Essex – when there’s no problems and two ferries running of course. However I’ve experienced quite long delays there as well, and can sympathise with commuters who have to cross the river regularly when the service is impaired.

Sentiment aside I have a couple of concerns about the proposed new ferry at Gallions Reach. Firstly, where will the traffic for the ferry come from? Some, I assume, will come from the direction of the Woolwich Ferry – heading down the South Circular then turning right along Woolwich High Street to Thamesmead and the new ferry. How much will be tempted to take an earlier right turn and cut across through Shooters Hill or Plumstead I wonder? And what about the traffic that comes in to London on the A2 – again how much will cut across through East Wickham and Plumstead to get to the new ferry. It seems very likely that there will be an increase in traffic along streets that aren’t designed for heavy use.

The increase in traffic will lead to demands for improved roads and before we know it Oxleas Wood and Woodlands farm are under threat again – a subject of previous posts on this blog. It appears to be a re-run of the very old plans for Ringway 2. The Google Earth snippet below is taken from an overlay provided by the web site’s excellent UK roads database. It shows Ringway2 running down through Oxleas Wood and Woodlands Farm, ploughing across Plumstead to Western Way and thence to the Thames. Underneath is an extract from the TfL consultation documents showing the proposed new road to connect to the Gallions Reach ferry. Spot the difference!

CBRD (Chris's British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2
CBRD (Chris’s British Road Directory) Google Earth overlay for Ringway 2
TfL map extract showing route to new Gallions Reach ferry
TfL map extract showing route to new Gallions Reach ferry

My concern is aggravated by suggestions in a 2009 presentation by a TfL Planning Manager that the Gallions Reach ferry could be replaced by a fixed link (i.e. a bridge) “depending on local development and demand, and impact of congestion relief at Blackwall and Dartford.” Sounds like that could lead to Ringway2 by stealth.

I’m also concerned about the effect of the proposed development on people living in Thamesmead. I went for a walk up Gallions Hill yesterday to take a look at the route of  the proposed new road. I was immediately struck by the loud and frequent  aircraft noise. The area is directly under the flight path for London City Airport and aircraft are quite low here on their landing approach. I was also struck by the landscaping and rows of new, young trees that had recently been completed on the land to the North-west where the new road would run; it has been converted into a park, soon to open to the public. So residents would have a major road and ferry port to add to the aircraft noise, and potentially lose a new park!

Panoramic view from Gallions Hill looking North-west
Panoramic view from Gallions Hill looking North-west

The consultation on the new proposals is open now. It only takes 5 minutes to complete – just 17 questions including the now standard ones on age, ethnicity etc.  – and allows us to say whether we support the new Gallions Reach ferry and Silvertown Tunnel. It runs to midnight on 5 March 2012.

Rotunda Rings

A new sign on the Rotunda
A new sign on the Rotunda

A new sign has appeared on the Grade II* listed Woolwich Rotunda – “Woolwich Station Boxing Centre” – which could be good news for its future. Good news in that the building, which has been empty since its artillery museum exhibits moved to Firepower in 2001,  now has a use as a boxing gymnasium. However we can’t raise our hopes too high as there is still no definite information on whether it will be restored.

The building’s slow decay  has been a concern for some time; for example the Greenwich Phantom blog has published several posts about the Rotunda over the last few years. It is on the English Heritage “Heritage At Risk” register, which describes it as a:

24-side polygon, single storey building designed by John Nash. Concave conoid lead-covered roof; first erected in grounds of Carlton House in 1814 for (premature) celebration of Allied victory in Napoleonic wars. Housed the reserve collection of ‘Firepower’ museum but now vacant. Lead-sheet roof covering is failing.

The change of use is a result of the King’s Troop’s move to their new Woolwich barracks at Napier Lines. They have some 60 soldiers who are keen boxers and need somewhere to train. Inside the Rotunda the transformation to a Boxing Centre is well advanced – two boxing rings have been erected and gym equipment and punch bags have been installed.

Boxing ring in the Rotunda
Boxing ring in the Rotunda

The Rotunda is an amazing structure, and I recommend Jonathan C. Clarke’s fascinating paper, Cones, Not Domes: John Nash and Regency Structural Innovation which talks about its history and John Nash‘s design. Originally the building was self-supporting, it didn’t have the central “tent-pole” that was added after it was moved to its present site, and was described in 1830 as having “no equal but the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.”

The Rotunda was originally part of a complex of temporary buildings and rooms erected for the Prince Regent in 1814, taking ten weeks to build. It was the centrepiece of a fête in honour of the Duke of Wellington on 21st July 1814 to celebrate the abdication of Napoleon and his exile to Elba. Jonathan C. Clarke describes the role of the Rotunda:

The Rotunda, or ‘Polygon Room’ as it was originally called, was the showpiece of the ensemble of interconnecting temporary structures which were designed collectively to accommodate 2,500 guests, including royalty, nobility, foreign ambassadors, ministers and officers of state. The temporary buildings were laid out in an H formation to the south of Carlton House, and included refreshment rooms, promenades, giant supper rooms, a botanical arbour and a Corinthian temple to Wellington. At the centre of the whole arrangement was the Polygon Room, with three apartments to the east, west and north (Crook & Port 1973, p. 317).

Of course Napoleon escaped from Elba and was not finally defeated until the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday 18 June 1815.

It’s quite a contrast for the Rotunda  – from the magnificent focus of a major national celebration to a boxing gym in nearly 200 years – but at least it’s now back in use and there’s hope that this beautifully and elegantly engineered building will be saved.

Punch bag and gym equipment in the Rotunda
Punch bag and gym equipment in the Rotunda

Woolwich Welcomes King's Troop

Salute of the King's Troop outside Woolwich Town Hall
Salute of the King's Troop outside Woolwich Town Hall

Woolwich was packed again today as hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery to their new barracks at Napier Lines. Crocodiles of school-children in reflective jackets waving council-issue union jacks arrived early and had pride of place at the front. One clique of photographers, laden with long lenses, large tripods and a fluffy microphone were held in a well-positioned cage opposite the salute receivers, while another clique roamed restlessly seeking a good spot. Members of the Royal British Legion, medals proudly displayed, lined up to salute the newcomers with dipped banners.

The Mayor chats to some early arrivals before the King's Troop parade
The Mayor chats to some early arrivals before the King's Troop parade

The parade was very, very impressive. It seemed like all of the King’s troop’s 100 plus horses were there, some carrying officers, others in teams of six pulling the ceremonial 13 pounder cannons – perhaps the same ones that had fired the 41 gun salute yesterday in Hyde Park to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The officers wore their hussar-style dress uniforms, black with 18 carat gold thread frogging and red piping. The jackets alone cost £4800. Their busbies have a white plume and  a red flap that was designed to be filled with sand as protection against enemy sabres.

King's Troop Gun team outside Woolwich Town Hall
King's Troop Gun team outside Woolwich Town Hall

The Gunners guiding the gun trains had their hands full controlling the beautiful but sometimes skittish horses, which are capable of pulling a ton and a half of artillery piece at full gallop. They have moved from their home of 65 years at St Johns Wood where they had a close relationship with the local community, who will miss seeing and hearing  them riding off to their ceremonial duties. While they won’t be able to ride from Woolwich to Central London now, it is likely that we will see them around – even if only training in their new facility alongside Repository Road.

The King’s Troop’s old  barracks have been sold for £250 million for re-development. They move into a purpose built new barracks which will provide stabling and training facilities for 170 horses as well as space for the ceremonial gun carriages. The new building has been designed with sustainability in mind, and includes solar chimneys to ventilate the stables and a heating and hot-water system that will use horse manure as a fuel.

The first barracks for the Royal artillery were built in Woolwich in 1720, just four years after they were founded. It seems appropriate that an artillery regiment have returned.

Receiving the salute outside the new Woolwich Centre
Receiving the salute outside the new Woolwich Centre

I’ll put some more photographs on flickr.

Now We Are Royal

Equitable House lit up for Royal Greenwich
Equitable House lit up for Royal Greenwich

Fingers and feet were frozen on Friday night in General Gordon Square while waiting for the start of the Royal Borough of  Greenwich festivities. The chill was slightly eased by the mulled wine and hot chocolate that were on offer. The young and young-at-heart warmed themselves by frantically jumping up and down waving their arms about to play the interactive games on the big screen – bashing balls and bugs, encouraging rain to fall on flowers to make them grow or, best-of-all, wiping custard off the screen. Nearby, mementos of the occasion were distributed – Royal Greenwich pen, Royal Greenwich pencil, Royal Greenwich card holder and Royal Greenwich key-ring torch. Wandering minstrels desperately pleaded with adults to request a song following the children’s suggestions of Old Macdonald, Run Rabbit Run and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Wandering Minstrels in General Gordon Square
Wandering Minstrels in General Gordon Square

Historical characters wandered around, including Henry VIII, Queen Victoria with Prince Albert and a knight on a wheeled horse. The big screen changed to explain the elements of the new Royal Borough coat of arms and to show  an inspirational film about Greenwich which few people watched.

Things warmed up a bit with some excellent  gospel music from the New Wine Church choir – it was a pity their set wasn’t longer. The church will be hosting the Musicians of the Royal Artillery Band in a free concert next Friday, 10th February to further commemorate the conferment of our royal status.

There was a big cheer for Henry VIII when he welcomed us to Royal Greenwich, and a more muted one for Council Leader Chris Roberts when he did the same. Mercifully his speech was very brief before the highlight of the evening – the fireworks. And they were well worth a few freezing fingers and toes.

So now we are royal. I haven’t seen any new royal road signs in Shooters Hill yet, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for them.

Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich
Royal Borough of Greenwich Fireworks Celebration, Woolwich

More fireworks tonight to celebrate the Royal Borough at 6.00pm in Greenwich.

Grand Tour

The Woolwich Grand Arts Cafeteria is Now Open
The Woolwich Grand Arts Cafeteria is Now Open

The Woolwich Grand Theatre is open for Grand Tours tomorrow (28th January) – providing an opportunity to see the parts of the theatre that the public rarely see. As Theatre Director Adrian Green explains in his Facebook message:

The Woolwich Grand Theatre will be holding an open day on the 28th of January from 10am to 4pm for everyone to come and have a grand tour of the building, boiler room, the upper circle projector room and other areas of interest to you. Come and join us and have a lovely cup of tea. We will be charging £6 per person.

This follows the musical fund raiser last Friday and the opening of the Arts Cafeteria on Wednesday.

The music last Friday was superb. An excellent  acoustic Candythief unplugged set, including songs from the Partisan CD was followed by a rumbustious Mr Ron Jetson on a very expensive piano accompanied by violin and saxophone. The evening concluded with the amazing voice of the Falsifiers’ Liam Ings-Reeves, whose deep, gravelly, bluesy versions of the chain gang song Another Man Done Gone and the spiritual Wade in the Water contrasted with a gentler Jess Hannar solo. The whole evening well lubricated by Adrian’s jokes.

Adrian said that he will invite these musicians back to the Grand in future. I’ll be looking out for that; they’re definitely worth seeing and hearing again.

Next at the Grand is a music and poetry evening on Friday 17th February:

The next event will be Friday 17th February, we will be holding a comedy and music evening featuring warm up comedians, two bands and a poet, details to follow. After being allowed to open this will be our last free performance evening for now.

It’s great to see the Grand getting going.

Inside the Woolwich Grand Theatre
Inside the Woolwich Grand Theatre

Co-op Changes Commence

Plaque outside the RACS building in Powis Street
Each for All and All for Each -Plaque outside the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building

Some more good news, in my opinion, from Woolwich. The hoardings have gone up around the listed RACS building in Powis Street and work has started on its conversion into a 120 bed Travel Lodge hotel with new shops on the ground floor. The planning application includes a Heritage Statement that explains the conservation aspects of the development, and encouragingly states:

2.3 The exterior of the building is to remain largely unaffected, with exception to the ground floor shop fronts, which are non-traditional 1960’s replacements which do not contribute to the special interest of the building. In addition the principle front entrance is to undergo improvements, reinstating a traditional door in order to improve its appearance. The first and second floor windows are to be replaced with timber frames and slimlite double glazed units. The joinery details are to reflect the existing to maintain the appearance of the building. At roof top level it is proposed to install both P.V panels and plant units, both positioned to be visually unobtrusive. The majority of the external works to the front facade will be repairs, renovation and enhancements, preserving the architectural features and overall character of the building.

The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society was set up by workers at the Royal Arsenal in 1868, based on the principles of the Rochdale Pioneers. It initially sold basic food-stuffs. However it grew rapidly and at its height had a large network of stores, and owned farms that supplied the produce it sold. As with other Co-operative organisations it was very much involved in the local community, supporting education, establishing libraries and supporting youth clubs, a cricket club, an orchestra and two choirs. Profits were distributed to the people who shopped there in proportion to how much they spent – the divi.  I remember the light, tin divi tokens they used to give to shoppers, not that long ago (really).

Full length statue of Alexander McLeod standing in niche on front of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building.
Statue of Alexander McLeod in front of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building

The RACS building was completed in 1903. The statue outside, sculpted by Alfred Briscoe Drury, is of Alexander McLeod; the VADS web site describes the statue and provides a brief biography of McLeod:

Alexander Mcleod (1832-1902) one of the founders of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS), set up by Arsenal workers in 1868. First full-time secretary from 1882 until his death.
He was the son of Skye crofters and served an apprenticeship of five years as a mechanical engineer on the Firth of Forth. He then worked for Scottish railway companies. At the age of 27 he visited a friend at the Great Eastern railway works at Stratford and secured work at the Arsenal at Woolwich where he stayed until 1878. In 1882 he was appointed dual Secretary and Manager of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society which had been set up by a group of workers from the Arsenal in 1868, and he remained so until his death.
McLeod was held in high regard both locally and throughout the Co-operative Movement, described in fact as ‘a Prince among secretaries’ by George Jacob Holyoake, another revered figure in the Movement.  Died 17 May 1902. In his obituary in ‘Comradeship’, the RACS magazine, of June 1902, Holyoake said of him:
‘The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, standing like a pillar of cloud or of fire of old, to show to London the road to a better social system, is the monument that commemorates his life work’.

Alfred Drury also created the sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the statue of Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard of the Royal Academy and the Blackwall Tunnel Commemorative Plaque, as well as many others.

I’m hoping that the work on the RACS building is the start of a regeneration of the Northern end of the Woolwich shopping area. Planning approval has already been given for the redevelopment of the apex of the Woolwich triangle, with a “major retailer” lined up to occupy the largest of the new retail units there. The future of the art-deco RACS building on the opposite side of Powis Street still seems to be undecided, though there are suggestions that it won’t be demolished. There are indications that the art-deco Granada Cinema will be sensitively restored by the Christ Faith Tabernacle. Their Heritage Report has some fabulous pictures of the interior of the cinema in its prime. Then there is the middle of the odd-numbered side of Hare Street. I walk down there (fairly) often on my way to the gym at the Waterfront Leisure Centre. It seems such a shame that the proud old Victorian buildings have been given over to buddleia and broken windows. I look forward to news that they will also be restored and used again.

I think it’s great that so many of the changes to historic buildings in Woolwich and Shooters Hill have managed to strike a balance between architectural conservation and the requirements of modern use. As well as the current redevelopment of the RACS building, the Royal Arsenal development and the Royal Military College seem to have retained much of their historic architecture. And with all of the new housing being built maybe there’s hope for the regeneration of Woolwich’s retail area.

Artists Impression of the future RACS building from Greenwich Council Planning pages
Artists Impression of the future RACS building

Grand Opening on Friday

Vision of the Woolwich Grand Theatre

Some excellent news from the Woolwich Grand Theatre. Following a successful sound check by Greenwich Council last Wednesday evening, they will be opening this Friday (20th January) with a Music Fund Raiser Night. Here is the FaceBook invitation from the Grand’s Director, Adrian Green:

Dear friends,
As we warm up to what I hope will be our opening soon we are having another music fund raiser night on the 20th January at 7.30 Three different acts who have given their time to help are cause

Candythief: Drawing on alternative, folk, rock and indie influences, the songs are melody-driven and eclectic in style, lyrical and direct, coloured by the unusual song structures typical of Candythief arrangements. Thematically, it deals in an uplifting way with the possibility that modern culture has sold us a bit of a lemon.

The Falsifiers: Liam, Jess and Adam. Tom Waits, hill-billy edgy sweetness combining guitar, fiddle and washboard for not-so-rickety yet rickety song.

Mr Ron Jetson: A three piece version consisting of Ron as himself and this time on piano, with Luke Barlow providing saxophone and Jess Hannar on violin. Songs for all the ages strangely combining Waits with the Dan.

Please come down and support us and change Woolwich for the better.
Many thanks

Candtyhief was started by singer-songwriter Diana de Cabarrus on vocals/guitar/sandwiches, and at full strength comprises Jem Doulton on drums, Jason Dickinson on fiddle and Jason Simpson on electric & double bass.Their latest, and third album is Partisan,  embedded below. Mr Ron Jetson‘s latest album is Danger Danger.

Sounds like it will be an amazing evening of music, at  a great venue!

Shooters Hill Scientists

Picture of the Academy  from a book called “The Gentleman Cadet His Career and Adventures at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich” by R.W. Drayson
Royal Military Academy in about 1844

As a one-time chemistry researcher I was very fascinated to discover that Michael Faraday was for twenty-one years the Chemistry Professor at the Royal Military Academy – between 1830 and 1851 – and that set me searching for other scientists who worked in the local area. I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to find out  about science research in Shooters Hill and Woolwich. The picture of the Academy above is from a book called “The Gentleman Cadet His Career and Adventures at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich” by R.W. Drayson which tells the story of life as a cadet in around 1844, when Faraday would have been lecturing.
Faraday is widely regarded as one of the great scientists, especially for his work on electromagnetism, which provided the basis for the technological application of electricity, such as in the electric motor and the transformer, and the concept of the magnetic field. He is also known for the discovery of benzene and the liquefaction of chlorine as well as fundamental work on electrochemistry. It is reported that Albert Einstein had photographs of Faraday, Newton and Maxwell on his wall. In 1825 Faraday started the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, which are still going today. Farady resigned his post as Chemistry Lecturer at the Academy on the 9th February 1852, but little is known about his work while he was there.

Faraday’s successor as Chemistry Lecturer at the academy was Sir Frederick Abel FRS. Abel was born in Woolwich in 1827 and became the leading British authority on explosives, working at the Royal Arsenal as well as the Royal Military Academy. He won a patent dispute with Alfred Nobel, instigator of the Nobel Prize, who claimed that Abel’s Cordite infringed Nobel’s patent for Ballistite. Abel was responsible for the development of the Chemical Laboratory, Building 20, at the Royal Arsenal in 1864.

Building 20 at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich - the Chemistry Laboratory
Building 20 at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich - the Chemistry Laboratory

Abel’s assistant, and successor as Chemistry Professor, was Charles Loudon Bloxam. He resigned from the post in 1882 due to the lack of discipline. Perhaps he was the lecturer who suffered from the cadets’ creative coordinated clowning described in Guggisberg’s history of the RMA, “The Shop: The Story of The Royal Military Academy”:

To lecture single-handed to a class of seventy cadets on some abstruse problem in chemistry, accompanying it by some complicated practical experiments with things called retorts, and at the same time to keep order, is avery difficult task. The difficulties are further increased if you are a man of great kindness of heart, in love with your work, and not suckled on military discipline and methods.

If you are of an unsuspicious disposition, you would probably regard it as a curious coincidence that seventy cadets at one and the same moment should light seventy crackling and noisome fusees. For smoking was once allowed in the east lecture-room to drown the stinking fumes which are the peculiar properties of experimental science. You might even pass unnoticed the extraordinary fact that, five minutes later, seventy wax matches were struck in succession from the left-hand end of the front desk to the right-hand of the back row. Wrapt in the task of transferring some deep calculation from the brain to the blackboard, with your back turned to the audience, you would certainly — unless you were built differently to other people — miss seeing half-a-dozen cadets shinning up the tall pillars supporting the iron roof. But if you turn suddenly and catch them sliding down — well, it is a different matter.

Perhaps you may have occasion to bring off a slight explosion by the judicious mixture of certain acids, an explosion which reverberates through and shakes the  lecture-room in the most unusual manner. When the smoky fumes clear away you may be surprised to find that seventy cadets are stretched prone on the floor behind the desks. But when an individual, with the conscious innocence of youth on his bland and chubby face, in response to your invitation to explain matters, assures you that he  was fairly bowled over by the shock, what are you to do ? How can you possibly punish this child-like candour ?

The Academy also attracted many other scientists as professors and lecturers. They included:

  • Peter Barlow, a mathematics lecturer who invented new telescope lenses, known as Barlow Lenses, that didn’t distort colour.
  • James Marsh, who was born and died  in Woolwich and  who assisted both Faraday and Barlow.  He invented the Marsh test for detecting arsenic, following a request to test some coffee that a murder victim had been drinking shortly before he died.
  • Samuel Hunter Christie FRS who also worked with Peter Barlow and is known for his improvements to the magnetic compass.

Other Shooters Hill scientific activities during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included the experiment in telegraphy using static electricity conducted on Shooters Hill by Dr Watson, bishop of Llandaff described in an earlier post. There is also a claim, in W.T. Vincent’s “The Records of the Woolwich District”, that Shrewsbury House was the birthplace of gas lighting in the early nineteenth century. A Mr. Winsor was said to have experimented with gas before the introduction of gas lighting, and to have erected the first gasometer in the grounds of Shrewsbury House, though this claim is subject to some doubt.

Castle House in Shooters hill was the home of Major Charles Edmund Stanley Phillips who has been described as the first British Medical Physicist. Major Phillips was the son of Samuel Edmund Phillips, the co-founder of the Johnson and Phillips Cable Company who is commemorated in the shelter in Shooters Hill Road, and he also donated the Telegraph Field to provide a site for the War Memorial Hospital. Some of his experimental work on electrical discharges and X-Rays was carried out Castle House, and he also used to ride by horse from Shooters Hill to work at the Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington. As well as his scientific work Major Phillips was an artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy and a violinist who owned a Stradivarius violin.

Scientific research, especially in explosives, continued at the Royal Arsenal from the time of Sir Frederick Abel almost up until its closure. This included research starting in the 1930s on the explosive known as RDX – an explosive that is more powerful than TNT. The term RDX is believed to stand for Research Department eXplosive, and the Chemical Research and Development Department at the Royal Arsenal were one of the originators of the term. Then in 1947 a project code named Basic High Explosive Research (BHER) was initially based at the Royal Arsenal, led by William Penney who became known as the Father of the British Nuclear Programme. This was the start of the project to develop Britain’s atom bomb.

The other local centre for scientific research in the 20th Century was the Woolwich Polytechnic, later to become part of the University of Greenwich. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the Chemistry Department there had been run for 32 years by Professor Arthur I Vogel. I remember with affection Vogel’s text books on analytical chemistry which were an essential part of my scientific education, and are still used today (with updates). The most famous alumnus of Woolwich Polytechnic however must be Professor Charles K. Kao, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics for his pioneering work on fibre optics at STC in Harlow – work that has been described as being as important as that of Marconi. Professor Kao’s many awards include an honorary degree from the University of Greenwich, but it seems especially fitting in view of the scientific history of the area that his awards also include the Faraday medal of the IEE.