Weapons in Woolwich – Stage 26

The story of human society can be told in many ways. One way is to study the role of the bullies, the violent men, the brutes who think nothing of killing. That’s what we most often study in history. Civilisation – Britain – is built on armed conflict, on invaders, soldiers and left-tenants, whose prowess comes from aggressive behaviour and superior weaponry.

There’s another story told more often these days – farms. And there are places where that might be fitting, but it’s hardly possible to step more than a few yards from Eltham en route north through Woolwich without encountering again and again reminders of weapons of war and defence.

We being this walk at Eltham Station, a tangled knot of busy highways and side streets and railways, much like our journey around the North Circular, where we get a sense from the noise, of the hustle to come. We climb into the woods – the ancient woods – although it’s hard to see their age, as they’re much like other woods, just trees – of Oxleas. And still we hear the echo of armory.

In these trees are gun mounts, of home front defence for the second world war, and a high velocity missile battery to protect the 2012 Olympic Games. In these woods a castle, a folly, named, wrongly, after the island fort which its master – Commodore William James – to his glory, destroyed.

This is Shooters Hill, most likely named for the archers who practiced here, how to bring death on a stuffed straw man. A rain of steel tipped shafts, whose clumsy forced entry could mercifully snuff out a soul, or – more likely – permit disease to penetrate and bring painful and ebbing demise. Named too for the thieves – local men – who hung out in the woods waiting to rob and to maim. We all of us experience that fear from time to time.

Across the brow of Shooters Hill, as straight as a bow, the roman road, marching without deviation from the encampments by Dover, to Westminster, the Thames and the North. The short sword was the romans’ weapon of choice – small, stiff, up close, a deadly rugby scrum. The romans brought death, and their own order.

These days the roman era is seen as an interlude. And one more civilised than what came after.

A barrier designed to contain livestock – the sheep being brought to market waiting on the Woolwich Common, with no access to the barracks land beyond.

Down into Woolwich, for centuries a military town, though now a mixed community, a warship building port and home of the royal artillery barracks until 10 years ago when globalisation meant they needed a bigger place. Here we see the garrison church of St George, once a tall, grand edifice, humbled though not fully destroyed – a metaphor – by a V1 missile, a new era of weaponry ushered in three quarters of a century ago, death by remote control, a flying bomb.

Past the site of more weapons – a car, a knife and a cleaver – the attack on Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, killed deliberately, though randomly, by Michaels Adebo-lajo and Adebo-wale, both from Woolwich. And the three CO19 specialist firearms officers who did not kill but wounded, then stemmed the blood, and made them stand trial.

Down in what was the arsenal, now converted to new homes and a heritage centre, though there’s no easy escape from the parade ground feel, the soldiers ‘at ease’, the cannons as sculpture, capable when ignited of damaging a target 16 miles away, perched oddly by luxury new builds.

Then we cross. The Thames. The London Spiral is defined by the crossings of the Thames. On the Woolwich Free Car Ferry. The river is calm, the view is wide and thin. We look back on Woolwich, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning wool port, suggests softness, a jumper slightly itchy on bare skin.

Meeting place: just outside Eltham station, (overground train from Charing Cross or London Bridge)
Date & time: Sunday October 8th 2017, 1pm
Distance: the walk is about 7 miles, with a break
End point: Gallions Reach DLR
Route Map: https://binged.it/2xvsme9
Cost: No charge, the ferry is free, however severndroog charges a small admission

terrapin long pond oxleasTerrapin basking by the Long Pond

oxleas common View south from Oxleas Common.

stairs through oxleas woodI always like Stairs leading up through a wood or mountain pass. Here in Oxleas Wood.

severndroog castleSeverndroog Castle. From its turret you can see, on a clear day, far across the city.

tim at top of severndroog tower

oak jackwoodGlorious oak tree in Jackwood, Shooters Hill.

kite between radio towersKite between the two television transmitters at Croydon and Crystal Palace. Seen from Oxleas Common.

billy davis funfair woolwich commonBilly Davis Fairground attractions on Woolwich Common.

woolwich common Woolwich Common

crows Crows in tree on Woolwich Common.

royal artillery barracks across fieldHard to see the barrier to livestock from here …

But up closer …

royal artillery barracks ha haHa-ha. The ditch and the wall keep the grass of barrack ground secure from livestock. The fence is for people.

royal artillery barracks parade groundThe Barracks of the Royal Artillery, 1776 until 2007. Still some cadets on parade.

colin at royal artillery woolwich

Across the road, St George’s

st george garrison church ruinOn the wall a golden mural of St George and the Dragon.

new build woolwich pepys courtDramatic new residential buildings in central Woolwich, carry a denser population than the terrace houses they replace.

cannons woolwichCannons made at the Arsenal.

nike statue royal arsenal woolwichStatue to Nike.

peter burke iron figures woolwich

Peter Burke naked iron navvies, waiting by the jetty.

tern view thames upstream tate lyleView from Woolwich west to London. At this scale it’s hard to see, but you’ve got another ferry boat, the Thames Barrier, Silvertown to the right and the Tate & Lyle sugar factory, Canary Wharge beyond, and the distant thread of the cable car, the previous crossing of the spiral over the river.

woolwich free car ferryWoolwich free car ferry

woolwich waterfront shooters hill behindFrom the north bank, a view back to the changing waterfront at Woolwich, with Shooters Hill in the low distance beyond. The place remains but what is there has completely changed.

view to canary wharf

map eltham-gallions reach extract (c) Google Maps

Like to join the London Spiral? Contacttim.ingram-smith@virgin.net 077932 00932


Luxury: Beckenham to Eltham Palace

Image result for images eltham palace

Let’s say you had a few million pounds spare, what would you spend it on?

That exact question came up for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, and they put their money into creating a home out of an abandoned royal palace in what was then the avant-garde design style Art Deco.

In 1933 Art Deco was à la mode, it was the future. It was slim and fresh and elegant, arboreal, feminine, it represented Nature. So the Courtaulds rebuilt the old building, and added a wing, creating a series of cool, spacious, modern interiors. They put in electricity, underfloor heating, telephones, hidden lights, hidden passageways (scurrying staff), hot running water, and glass tiles. For a while at least, theirs was quite likely a world apart.

Nowadays we’ve all stayed in hotels with fantastic foyers, visited mansions and driven in limos, that is one of the benefits of the increased wealth, health care and invention of humanity over the last 100 years. We all of us enjoy what were remarkable luxuries for the Courtalds less than a century ago. They were buoyed by aristocracy, by status, which has thankfully been eroded, so that we see with the eyes of equality the photographs of the privileged at that time.

In our lifetimes we have seen, and felt, and tasted, this advancement, happening here in our own homes and across the world. At times I’ve been taken aback by what money can bring – I remember seeing a leaf-blowing machine in the United States (the wealth leader)  in the early 1990s, and thinking it an ostentatious labor-saving device – while other advancements have just accreted without us even really noticing. But before long we’re living longer, experiencing less pain, and holidaying abroad. You see this made manifest in the work of Prof. Hans Rosling, who tracks the changes of child mortality, income per capita and longevity across the decades to redefine the way we should see the present world.

The Courtaulds rescued – or seemed to – the Palace at Eltham, but only for a short while. Their energy did not extend for long. Big buildings are fragile; houses and grounds require enormous upkeep and quickly can come undone, which is why English Heritage took it over and restored it in 1995.

So we’re walking to Eltham Palace; here’s the route: https://goo.gl/maps/mi5KKsWc8Ny.


Curves north, parallel to the stage 14 route from One Tree Hill to Greenwich, one loop of the spiral out. We’ll pick up and move on to Woolwich next month.

This walk is the very heart of south east London; from the corner of Beckenham Place Park by the Ravens-bourne, walking through Plaistow, Elmstead and Mottingham on our way to the king’s quarters. When we get to the gate, we can pay a contribution towards the maintenance, and enjoy first hand the place.

Date & time: Sunday September 10th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place: 
Ravensbourne station, the 12:16 train from London Victoria will get you to Ravensbourne station in time, train details.
Distance: 5-ish miles, allow 2 hours for the walk, and same again for the palace and grounds
End point: Eltham Palace, nice cafe
: Free for the walk. Entry to the palace is £15 for adults, less for concessions
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932


The Ravensbourne:


Ravens bourne, or stream. When we passed we saw a raven in the water, nesting material in its beak. http://www.londonslostrivers.com/river-ravensbourne.html

Self-built houses on Elstree Hill private road:




The Gate House at Kings Meadow on Burnt Ash Lane. Here’s how it looks in 2017 (left) and how it looked three years ago in Sept 2014. Preference?

gate lodge 2017 

Light at the end of the tunnel beneath Elmstead Woods:

elmstead tunnel2

Grove park railway sidings:

grove park rail siding2

Elmstead – place of the elms, but there are no elms left, this is an oak and beech wood (more). Sculptures by Will Lee ()


Naturalist Bill Welch knows a bit about the woods https://moremoth.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/green-chain.html?m=0

Mottingham ‘Village’ sign:

mottingham-village mottingham-village-sign

Ice house at ‘The Tarn’ Mottingham:


Ponies at Eltham:


ponies eltham2

Eltham fields have always been a place of free pasture, so you get a lot of horses here, and people with a mind for these animals (story).




Timber framed building:


Cafe view:


Wall of the palace moat:





Where is the Crystal Palace?

Crystal-Palace-transmitting-stationWhat’s that, asks Flavea, a fake Eiffel Tower?

Sure enough the Television Transmitter that reaches high above south London does look like that, but it makes me ask the question – Where is the Crystal Palace?

I just got back from Brussels, and after their World Fair they KEPT the Atomium, and it still looks amazing and from the future. It still represents the city, just as Le Tour Eiffel represents Paris.

But the Crystal Palace, all that remains is the name of a part of town, an echo of what was once there, like Lincolns Inn Fields, like Notting Hill Gate, like Beaver Lee Brook. A great glass building, a crystal mansion. Judging by the scale of the platforms and stairways, the great plaster sphinxes, it was pretty impressive, but it’s gone.

The walk crosses South London, following in part the Green Chain route. This is a wealthier area than we saw last time in Merton, with a fair amount of green space. The Green Chain route meanders into various parks. We start where we left off in Norbury, but climb quickly up Beulah Hill, across Norwood Green, and Westow Park, and on to Crystal Palace Park.


Date & time: Sunday August 13th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Norbury station
Distance: 6.3 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point: 
Beckenham Hill station, Lewisham
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free

Along the way there are some views of the City, from Convent Hill and Gipsy Hill.





Volleyball at the National Sports Arena


athletics track crystal palace

And dinosaurs by the lake:


A bit of recent historical context for the renovation of the dinosaurs HERE

The walk continues to Beckenham Place Park:




Here’s a map:





This is South London. Stage 23

We’re heading into unexplored territory now, Merton!

One of the reasons I was curious to take a spiral walk around London was I didn’t know so many places on the outskirts of the city – and I wanted to know them. Places like Merton, Barking, Roding, Tulse Hill. Where were these places? What were they like?

Now for some of these I’m beginning to put shape to names, mental maps, connections. Uh huh, Edmonton, grubby busy corner of the north circular, but it has the Pymmes Brook flowing in to it; oh yeah Barn Elms, a little ledge by the edge of the Thames because the flood plain behind is blocked to entry; o yeah Wanstead, a little hearth land of the ghostly forest of Epping.

So here we are in South London – any further south and we’d be in the Unofficial City of Croydon, (which is what the Croydon people should name it, and then eventually it would become official). We begin at the scruffy end of Wimbledon, looking for countryside, but finding just remnants tucked in close to the Wandle river, until we reach Morden Hall Park – thank you National Trust – across Mitcham “Common”, up Pollards Hill, and on to Norbury Hall Park. A pretty nice walk without too many suburban streets.

Reed bed board walk Morden Hall:

boardwalk morden hall

coots splash

Geese on Mitcham Common:

geese micham commonhuskywateringhole

rosebay willowherb

Date & time: Sunday July 9th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Wimbledon station, District line or South West Trains from Waterloo, meet outside “Centre Court” the shopping centre, see photo
Distance: 5.5 miles, allow around 3 hours
End point:
Norbury station
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932
: Free, but bring an Oyster card for the Tram


Stage 22 – Beverley Brook and beyond

Twice now we’ve encountered the Beverley Brook, first, briefly, at its conjunction with the Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge (see Walk 12) and it intersects our spiral route again as we pass across Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common.

Like many urban waterways Beverley Brook suffered neglect and pollution for decades, but a few years ago a number of agencies committed to clean up the river and restore its meanders, and we are able to see the first fruits of their work in our walk. There’s some great coverage of the works done on the South East Rivers Trust website and on the Royal Parks site. You get a sense of its scruffiness a few years back from this piece by Andrew Bowden and on the Lost Rivers site.

We begin at Mortlake station and quickly come south into the verdure and space of Richmond Park. Here we meet again the Beverley (translation: Beaver Lea) Brook and follow it along open woodland from Sheen Gate to Robin Hood Gate.

WP_20170722_11_31_46_Pro 1



Date & time: Sunday June 11th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Mortlake station South West Trains from Waterloo
Distance: the walk is 6 miles, with a break after 4m at Wimbledon Windmill
End point: Wimbledon station
Book by email, or phone 077932 00932
: No charge


taken from Merton guide http://www.merton.gov.uk/beverly_brook_walk.pdf


queens mere wimbledon



Stage 21 – Ealing to Kew. West London.

This is one of the shortest stages of the London Spiral, a mere 4 and a half miles – and that’s to the Pagoda. But we can’t just march through Kew village sticking to the route, without taking time in the treetops and glasshouses of the Royal Botanical Gardens. There’s no way a walk past the National Archives – whose job is to shut things away for 30 years until the sting has gone out of the story – would be as good, even taking into account the pleasure of crossing the Thames at Brentford.


No, here we must detour into the varied and remarkable expanse of Kew Gardens on a mid-May spring time visit.

Date & time: Sunday May 14th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Ealing Broadway station
Distance: the walk is an easy 3 – 4 miles
End point: Kew Gardens
Book by email, or phone 077932 00932
: No charge for the walk, but it’s £15 for a regular adult ticket to Kew


View from Kew Bridge to Brentford Ait (centre) and Brentford (right), ford at low tide

We quite liked Ealing on our last walk, and this stage takes in Walpole Park (too bad Pitzhanger house is closed for refurbishment). https://goo.gl/maps/BeJJmn8xUh62


Kew Green cricket:


Pictures from Kew Gardens in spring:


the Hive – http://londonfestivalofarchitecture.org/bees-hum-in-the-key-of-c/hivehiveinside


view from treetop walkfromthetreetops

lily pondlilypond



Stage 20 – A spiritual journey

Date & time: Sunday April 9th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place:
Wembley Central station, Bakerloo line or overground
Distance: the walk is an easy 4.9 miles
End point: Ealing Broadway station
Cost: No charge

Wembley is not intrinsically a sunny place, but the Indian community in Wembley has brought colour and celebration to the fabric shops and fruit stalls, and they’ve built on the Ealing Road, a wonderful, ornately carved, beautiful temple, or mandir.

shri wembley open doors

This is the Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir, and is my favourite of the several remarkable mandirs that have been planted in north London. The stonework was all created in India and shipped to London for assembly. The exterior structure is more impressive than the shrines inside which seem small and doll-like.

We take a detour along the Grand Union Canal, to the foot of Horsenden Hill, then past Perivale tube station. There’s almost a view of the anachronistic Hoover building from the A40, but it’s in scaffolding.


And a stop for music at St Mary’s Pitshanger by the River Brent, which surprisingly has regular Sunday concerts: http://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/events-001.shtml


Route – https://goo.gl/maps/NpTzSszULRr

This walk is the fifth western section of the spiral: the first was the tight inner growth ring between Kings Cross and Euston; the second, still close to the centre, was down through The Regent’s Park; third was Maida Vale south to Chelsea; fourth was the expanse of Wormwood Scrubs; now here we are one more spiral out heading south through Alperton and Perivale, to Ealing. Click for full spiral route.