Wednesday 27 June 2007

Sue Godfrey Nature Park

If you happen across this little pocket-handkerchief-sized square of land while walking to the Laban Centre, or cutting through towards the river, you would be forgiven for thinking it looked like a spot that was ripe for redevelopment.
It doesn't exactly have the old sofas and other fly-tipped debris (perhaps it's under the gaze of CCTV cameras?) but nevertheless it does look as if it's just waiting to be sold off for luxury flats or something.

In fact this is the Sue Godfrey Nature Park, which according to Lewisham Council is now recognised for its wildlife value in the council's unitary development plan in 1996.

Apparently it was originally the site of the Gibbs & Canning pottery works from 1682 until 1967, after which it spent some time as a fly-tipper's mecca before being saved by local campaigners, one of whom was Sue Godfrey.

According to the blurb, some 200 different types of flora have been recorded here over the years - it's hard to believe when you stroll across the gravel path that cuts through it, it just looks like a lot of long grass and some bushes. There doesn't even seem to be much variety in habitat, although I've never stopped to study it closely. The council did some work on it about three years ago, at about the same time that I was looking at flats in the neighbouring Crossfields estate, and from what I saw of the before and after, I don't believe there was any improvement. Possibly quite the opposite.

I hope I'm wrong, and that it still is a valuable wildlife site. Even without its wildlife value, however, it is great to see little slips of land like this being retained for public access. There is precious little real green space in Deptford (I'm not talking about the strips of grass between the council estate blocks either) and it is very important that these sort of resources are safeguarded for the sanity of present and future residents.

Monday 25 June 2007

Tonight on BBC1: strong language

Don't miss the first episode of The Tower - an eight part documentary based on the Pepys estate in Deptford. If you're a regular visitor or resident of these parts, you won't have failed to notice that the once-grubby residential tower which perches next to the river, making a strident contrast to the classic beauty of the Deptford Strand buildings, has been transformed into.. go on take a wild stab in the dark.. yes, luxury apartments!

Where once there was despair, now there is security on the door and a tidy little car park. The developers who bought the block from Lewisham Council have added a few penthouses to the top of the tower and extensively refurbished the rest of the block for private sale. I don't know how much the council got from the sale, or what they did with it (perhaps it paid for the redevelopment of other parts of the estate, which they have done rather nicely) but I'm hoping to find out from this programme. Let's hope the Beeb lives up to my expectations.

Apparently strong language is forecast. No shit sherlock!

It was a steal at £11 million, according to Coopepys. This blog contends that none of the proceeds has been spent on the Pepys Estate.

Read Keith Parkins' take on the refurbishment on Indymedia UK, posted before the refurbishment. I'm not sure of the reliability of all his facts, but it paints a pretty sorry picture.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Made in Deptford: At last!

Made in Deptford festival is in two weeks' time - 7 and 8 July. The festival programme is finally up on the website - so take a look and start making plans! It's less ambitious than last years' event - only two days rather than three - but hopefully there will be better weather! Naturally the Dame will be present; she may even be making things...

Monday 18 June 2007

Twinkle Park

Hidden away at the bottom of Watergate Street - even more tucked away than the Dog & Bell, which is just up the road - is this charming little park. This part of Deptford is a strange backwater with cobbled streets that seem to meander purposelessly around the old wharves and housing estates without actually leading anywhere.

Of course the layout of the roads round here is a legacy from Deptford's shipbuilding history. Just across the street from Twinkle Park, in fact, and inaccessible behind a high wall most of the time, is the master shipwright's house, built in 1708 for Joseph Allen.

Before its redesign in 1992, Twinkle Park was reportedly a derelict and unloved area of public space. Now it houses a children's play area, which doubles as a school playground during school hours, and small but pretty little pond, full of irises and surrounded by wooden decking and flower beds.

Between the two areas is a stainless steel 'bandstand' structure, which consists of hinged seats on wheels. During school hours, the seats are intended to divide the park in two and provide security. At evenings and weekends they are rolled back and open the space for use by all the local children.

I was taken by surprise the other day when I passed Twinkle Park and saw someone sitting on one of the benches in the wildlife area. It's not often that I see anyone in this part of the park, although the play area is usually packed with kids, shouting and tearing around to their hearts' content. But the pond is usually deserted - the moorhen and her tiny chick were the only occupants the day before, picking their way between the pond weed and water lilies.

Strange as it may seem, Twinkle Park is actually in Greenwich borough. For some peculiar reason Greenwich extends across Deptford Creek and encompasses this section of what should naturally fall into Lewisham borough. Perhaps at the last carving up, Greenwich did a swap with Lewisham for a bit more river frontage (although what they might have swapped is beyond me!).

And don't be fooled by the quiet and peaceful surroundings - the area is not without its controversy. Last year there was outrage when it was revealed that Councillor Margaret O'Mara, who is the chair of the Twinkle Park Trust, had failed to declare her interest when sitting on the council's planning committee and considering the application to demolish Borthwick Wharf, directly opposite the park. The Creekside Forum, which opposed the demolition and associated proposals to build a new block of - yes, you've got it - luxury apartments, called on the council to quash the decision to approve the application. The Trust stood to benefit from payouts from the developers.

However the committee (minus Ms O'Mara) eventually approved the proposal when it was re-submitted, and Borthwick Wharf is no more. I look forward to seeing how the trust will spend its windfall - the park is looking a little shabby and could do with another injection of cash. Let's hope the new residents appreciate this tiny area of green space to its full potential.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

See it while you can

Instrument of Death or Defender of our Freedom? Whatever you think, worth a look at the Ark Royal while it's here, if only to see the scale of it. Not strictly in the Dame's domain, but only just across the Creek!

Sunday 10 June 2007

Deptford Creek; low-tide walks

From the River Thames as far upstream as Lewisham Bus Station, the River Ravensbourne is tidal. The lower part of the river, from Deptford Bridge to the Thames at Greenwich Reach, is known as Deptford Creek, and is a fascinating tidal habitat unlike any other in London.

I cross Deptford Creek several times a week - usually via Ha'penny Hatch Footbridge - and am always fascinated by the river. Every time you cross it, the tide is at a different level, presenting an ever-changing view, and governing the type of wildlife that you see.

Ever since I came to Deptford I've wanted to try one of the low-tide walks that are run by the Creekside Centre, but last year they were frustratingly rare. This year, however, I finally got my act together and last weekend I set out with a small band of other eager walkers, and our guides Nick and Jill, to explore the secrets of the creek.

First step was to get togged up with thigh-high waders and a big stick. Slightly disconcerting, but don't be put off - the guides will help you skirt the deepest mud, and most of the route is along the shallow river, or over the stoney edges. The big stick is useful for prodding the mud now and then to find out how deep it is, and for turning over stones in the river bed to see if they are hiding any wildlife.

The walk, which costs £5 for adults and £3 for children (aged ten and up), takes two hours and involves trips both up and downstream from the entry point - the purpose-built Creekside Centre which is right next to the Ha'penny Hatch.

First find was a crab cast - this one from a Chinese Mitten Crab, whose 'mittens' were still visible on the end of its claws. We saw a lot of these casts during the walk, evidence of the extent of the population here, but according to Nick this immigrant species is not a problem in the Creek in the same way as it might be in rivers with soft banks. Extensive erosion can be caused by the crabs making their burrows in sandy riverbanks.

We learned that the Creek is home to about 100 different plant species, including the deadly hemlock water-dropwort, and the edible angelica; we saw tiny stickleback and flounders darting about in the shallow water; we were shown some of the measures that the Environment Agency has put in place to try and create other types of habitat to attract kingfishers, or to provide shelter for the tiny fish. Apparently shopping trollies offer good places for baby fish to shelter, but they obviously don't look so great when the tide goes out, and the intention is to try and use piles of wood to create habitat piles for the fish instead.

The Creek is home to several houseboat communities as well as a number of derelict boats such as this one, just sitting and rotting. Development along the Creek has been slow, with the only notable construction so far being the Laban Centre. Luckily this means that the knowledge and legislation is now in place to ensure that future developments are sympathetic to the needs of the Creek habitat. Piled walls for the banks are being designed with stepped levels to provide a variety of habitats for wildlife, rather than as cheap and cheerful sheet piles.

For me, the best part of the experience was seeing the Creek close up and personal, and getting chance to explore the hidden corners that aren't really visible from land. Occasionally you might catch a glimpse of this part of the Creek from the DLR as you round the corner towards Deptford Bridge, but actually being in it was really something. Seeing all the weird and wonderful rubbish that accumulates on the river bed - from TVs to DIY tools, from a suitcase caught on the edge of one of the rotting boats (containing who knows what?) to the jawbone of a cow or horse that was fished out by a previous walker.

Times and dates of the walks vary according to the tide - check the website for details. It really is a great way to spend a couple of hours, and it's fascinating to find out the secrets of this historic river.

The Dog & Bell

The Dog & Bell is something of a Deptford/South East London CAMRA institution, so it is surprising how many people in the area have never been there, or have heard of it but don't know where it is. That being said, the pub is very well hidden. I had lived in Greenwich for about 8 years before I visited - although I'd heard many good reports and was keen to try it out. I actually stumbled on it while cycling along the Thames path one Sunday afternoon - it's tucked away on Prince Street, sandwiched between the high brick walls of Convoy's Wharf and a housing estate. You have to know where you are going in order to find it - there's no sign of it as you walk down Watergate Street, until you are almost on top of it.

Its location is probably both a blessing and a curse. For regulars it means that the pub is usually quite quiet, there are plenty of seats to choose from and it's got a real feeling of a 'local' (in the nicest possible sense!). But I'm sure it's something of a curse for the owners, I imagine they struggle to make a living, although the fact that it has survived here so long suggests it's not impossible.

When I first moved to Deptford, it became my local - not the closest pub to my house, but the closest with real ale and certainly the closest with a genial atmosphere! Since it was taken over a couple of years ago by Adam and Annamolia, little has changed. They still offer three guest beers as well as London Pride and Fullers ESB, a wide selection of bottled beers (including things like raspberry-flavoured if you are so inclined) and they still offer a range of good food.

In fact when I say little has changed, the main difference is in the menu. They used to offer pub staples (some combination of meat/fish, chips/potatoes, salad/veg) at ridiculously low prices. Now they offer a mixture of pub staples and more unusual options at reasonable prices (around £7 per main course). Favourites are the freshly-made fish and chips (the fish really does melt in the mouth); chicken curry which is served with rice, poppadom and pickles (they also do a chick pea version for vegetarians) and Flash 'Arry likes the ham, egg and chips. These are all regulars on the menu; there are occasional specials such as belly pork, fishcakes and so on.

The food is consistently high quality, but I have one MAJOR gripe. Where are the vegetables?! On average we eat here about once every three weeks - but we would come more often if there were more vegetables or salad on the menu. For instance the chana masala (chick pea curry) is just that. Chick peas in (an albeit delicious) curry sauce. Yes, I know it contains a large amount of fresh coriander, but the addition of a few vegetables could only enhance the dish - likewise for the chicken curry. And how much trouble would it be to offer peas with the fish and chips?

I'd love to see a regular salad special, or something just a teensy bit more healthy on the menu - that's what it would take for us to visit more often. As it is, I fear we may start splitting our local nights out between the D&B and the Royal Albert, which has a better range of food.

Having said all that, the Dog & Bell still can't be beaten for its real ales. In terms of variety, quality and price, I know of no other pub in London that comes close.

Friday 8 June 2007

Stephen Lawrence Centre

A recent query to the Greenwich Phantom asked what was the 'funky new building' being built at the end of Brookmill Park. I had forgotten that the new Stephen Lawrence Centre was being built so close to Deptford, and decided to go down and see how close it was to opening. When I got there, I was rather non-plussed to discover that a) it's finished as far as I can see; b) there are no information boards or any kind of publicity about its purpose, its predicted opening date, or even its designers and builders!

I already knew something of the project, being connected with the world of architectural journalism, so I set out to try and discover more.

The project is being promoted by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and according to its website, is intended to "provide young people living in poverty with information, training, advice and guidance. The centre will also act as a hub where industry, community organisations and educational institutions can exchange information on the latest skills and needs in urban design and regeneration. This will help to build a new model for vocational training and business development."

It was inspired by the fact that Stephen Lawrence's ambition was to become an architect; the centre's purpose is not only to provide help for young people with similarly ambitious dreams, but also to give support and encouragement to those without such firm future plans.

Fittingly the building features the work of two prominent black Britons - architect David Adjaye is responsible for the design of the building, and artist Chris Ofili has designed the large glass windows that adorn the main facade. Unfortunately there is precious little information on Adjaye Associates' website about the project - and I understand that the practice has put a ban on all publicity about the scheme until it is open to the public (a very short-sighted approach by the architects, assuring that it is likely to receive little or no publicity in certain sectors of the engineering press which are largely interested in writing about its construction and structural engineering aspects. *gets down off hobby horse*)

This would not be a problem if the opening had taken place as planned - originally it had been intended to open earlier this year, but I have been told by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust that this will now take place 'hopefully' in October. Apparently there will be more information on the website within the next couple of weeks, so watch this space. No reason has been given for the delay - although I have asked the question and will let you know if I get a response. I believe there were problems with racist graffiti/vandalism but that seems to have been sorted out as I didn't see any on my visit. That might explain why there are no project boards or signs, or perhaps I'm just putting two and two together and making five. The pictures show that the glass facade is still swathed in green netting, but I couldn't see any damage to the glass (although admittedly I was peering from the other side of the fence, in the rain...).

Whatever the reason, it's surely a mistake. If the centre is to become a valued part of the local community, the sooner local people feel like they are being invited to take part, the better. I don't know whether any local consultation took place before the construction started, but right now this mystery building feels and looks like it has landed here from outer space, an impression reinforced by the fact that it has no sign boards. Hopefully this will all change soon. The structure itself is an interesting one - the steel mesh cladding and glass facade give it a modern - yes, even 'funky' feel - and I'm sure it will attract praise and criticism alike when it finally makes it into the press. I'm itching to see inside and check out the interior spaces, after which I will be posting an update. Hopefully October!

UPDATE: According to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust "The delay around the opening of the building was caused by a delay around the completion of the building. This is no longer the case, and we still intend to open the building in October."

Ah. That's crystal clear then.

Friday 1 June 2007

The Royal Albert

I have been frequenting this pub, which is on New Cross Road at the bottom of Florence Road, on a fairly regular basis ever since it rose from the ashes of what used to be the Paradise Bar.

When I first moved to the area, probably 20 years ago now, I used to come and see bands at the Paradise Bar, which was essentially a rather scruffy pub with blacked out windows and a stage. Some of the bands were excellent, many were fairly good, and a few were appalling. In the last years of its existence as a music venue, it seemed to go downhill quite rapidly and I hadn't been much at all in the few years before its final demise.

But last year it was reborn as the Royal Albert, and it was quite a revelation on visiting it for the first time to realise that many of the fine old features had been there all along, they had just been obscured by the stage or the darkness.

The front windows are magnificent - large and generously curved; the bar still retains a lot of its Victorian grandeur, and the old pillars have lovely decorated capitals. The new owners (who also own the East Dulwich Tavern, among other pubs) have painted it in stately tones of olive, avocado and such like, and populated it with a jumble of auction room furniture and pictures, some amusing, some frankly awful. As a whole, however, it creates a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

In the winter it could seem quite gloomy (or you might just as well say 'cosy') but now, with the lighter nights, the area behind the bar where there is a large skylight, has really come into its own. What's more it's non-smoking (not that that will make any difference in less than a month - HURRAH!)

The range of drinks on offer is good, if rather pricey. They usually have a couple of real ales on (albeit regulars like Youngs and Landlord); they have various continental lagers, cider and strawberry-flavoured lager (don't ask me why). My only gripe would be that their rose wine offering is the rather unsophisticated Rose d'Anjou - when there are so many great roses around these days, why pick something that reminds me of being 15?

Best of all, they have just started doing food! This has been promised since well before christmas, but has finally been introduced in the last month or so. Tonight Flash 'Arry and I decided to sample the menu, as an alternative to our other local - the Dog & Bell (some other time...).

They offer a small range of sandwiches, a soup, and about 10 or 12 main courses ranging from shepherd's pie to homemade haddock & prawn fishcake, or tuna steak, as well as homemade burgers. There are a couple of unusual veggie options too - and most priced at between £7 and £9 for a main course.

Flash had the burger and I sampled the fishcake, which came on spinach, with a creamy parsley sauce. Both were huge, evidently hand-shaped, and delicious. Everything is cooked in the kitchen area at the back, which is open to view - in fact it's practically part of the pub itself. Next time I intend to leave room for pudding!

All in all, a welcome addition to the area's eating/pubbing establishments. At the moment it tends to get quite smokey in the front area, but this will not be a problem soon. Oh, and refreshingly free of Sky!!!!