Valley House: So, whatever did happen to the big building site next to Sainsbury’s?

Valley House in March
Valley House in March: There wasn’t a lot happening two months ago…

It’s been the most puzzling development in Charlton since the last puzzling development. What on earth happened with the big building site next to Sainsbury’s?

You know the one. The one that’s had hoardings up for years that have forced cyclists to mix it with the HGVs. Plans for a nine-storey block were turfed out in 2015, a seven-storey block was approved a few months later.

At the time, the development was largely private. Work on 73 flats – 62 private, four for shared ownership and seven for social rent – began more than three years ago. They included 22 studio flats, 3 1-bed flats, 37 2-bed flats and 11 3-bedroom flats. Progress since then has been sluggish. Commuters who use Charlton station have, however, lost the view of Canary Wharf from Delafield Road.

Peabody render
“The queue to Sainsbury’s is only back to the bus stop, shall I get some milk?”

The housing association Peabody has taken over the scheme from developer London Green. Two months ago, just before lockdown – in fact, at the last planning meeting before everything ground to a halt – Greenwich Council gave permission for the scheme to be reconfigured. The biggest change was that the scheme was now becoming 100% “affordable” – in reality, this means there will be 54 flats for shared ownership and 19 flats for social rent. The 22 studio flats would become proper 1-bed flats, although a lift would be removed, the concierge would go, and the Breeam rating (a measure of energy use and sustainability) was downgraded from “excellent” to “very good”.

Valley House, Charlton
Scaffolding has come down in recent weeks

Since then, work has been going on – at a distance, of course. And this weekend, Peabody is launching the scheme to buyers. “So much to see. So much to do. So much to come. That’s what we love about Charlton. An area experiencing regeneration but already well served by shops and transport.” Oh heavens. “In the age of Uber Eats it might be all too tempting to order in to your sleek new pad, but you don’t have to stray far if you’d rather a night out. Within a few minutes walk dependable chains like Frankie & Benny’s and Nando’s rub shoulders with local favourites such as seafood restaurant Winkles, the riverside Chef House Kitchen and tempting Thai joint Cattleya.”

Winkles, the van outside the Anchor and Hope, will no doubt be delighted it’s been upgraded to “restaurant”.

Anyhow, should you fancy somewhere “located in Greenwich” (nope) or “located close by North Greenwich station” (good luck with that), you can check it out on the Peabody website.


PLEASE SUPPORT THE CHARLTON CHAMPION

We tell the SE7 stories you won’t read elsewhere. We can’t do it without your help.
– Please tell us about your news and events
Become a monthly supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
Advertise your business with us from just £9.80/per week
Celebrate our neighbourhood and order postcards or a print

VE Day 75: Take a walk and discover Charlton’s wartime reminders

Stratheden Parade bomb damage
The damage to Stratheden Parade, opposite the Royal Standard in Blackheath

As we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, still under lockdown, there are still plenty of reminders of our wartime past in the area. Many of them are hiding in plain sight. Historian STEVE HUNNISETT takes us on a Second World War trail to show you what there is to discover in and around Charlton.

We start our walk adjacent to the Royal Standard pub. Take a look at the arcade of shops that we know as Stratheden Parade. These were rebuilt after the war, replacing those destroyed in a V-1 flying bomb incident on 21 June 1944.

Stratheden Parade
Stratheden Parade in 2019 (image: Google)

The photo at the top of this tour below shows the scene immediately afterwards. You can just see the top of the Royal Standard peering above the ruins in the right middle distance.

As we set off along Charlton Road, heading towards SE7, you can see an innocuous-looking wooden door by the bus stop.

Charlton Road air raid warden post
An innocuous-looking door on Charlton Road…

Step back slightly, and you will see a concrete slab roof. If you venture into the car park of Bernard’s Club (Combe Lodge), you will see a concrete structure that looks to be at a slightly odd height. This is due to the car park level having been built up over the years.

Charlton Road air raid warden post
…what’s behind the wall

This is the former air raid precautions (ARP) wardens’ Post “Park 20” of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. These were a standard design, as the contemporary newspaper article shows us. This post was one of a network across the borough that housed the air raid wardens who patrolled a local beat during air raids, acting as incident officers to co-ordinate the response to individual bomb incidents.

Kentish Independent clipping
“Is that a light?”

During “all clear” periods they would continue their patrols, and would be on the lookout for infringements of the blackout – no doubt telling local residents in true Dad’s Army style to “put that light out!

If you cross the road and take a brief detour into Invicta Road, it might be possible to catch a glimpse of a commemorative plaque in the school playground, fixed to one of the surviving walls of the original school building.

Invicta school plaque
The plaque was erected in 2017

The plaque tells us that the school, whose wartime pupils had been evacuated to the safety of the countryside, was in use as Station 54X of the Auxiliary Fire Service. On 13 September 1940, one of the firemen based there, Arthur Grant, had been awarded the George Medal for his bravery in removing a 50kg bomb that had fallen through the roof of the school without exploding. He had carried it into the playground and covered it with sandbags to reduce the effects of any subsequent explosion. When the bomb did eventually explode, the damage caused to the buildings was minimal.

Sadly though, on the 14 November 1940, a parachute mine exploded which devastated the school buildings and killed 12 of the firefighters based there, as well as three civilians, including the school caretaker. Arthur Grant’s George Medal had been announced two days previously and he died without having the chance to have it awarded to him.

Invicta Road School, 1940
The damage to Invicta Road School

We’ll resume our walk along Charlton Road, but pause by the entrance to the Rectory Field. If you peer through the fence of the adjacent dental surgery, you can see a concrete structure in the garden. This is the entrance to a substantial air raid shelter. The reason that the house had this in the garden, rather than the standard Anderson shelter is that the house and the one next door to it had been requisitioned by the Army to house some of the guns’ crews for the anti-aircraft guns that were on the sports fields. (The shelter is usually filled with surplus furniture from the dental surgery, so cannot be accessed at present, although I will keep trying!)

Charlton dental surgery shelter
The shelter behind Charlton Dental Surgery

As we continue our walk, we swing right into Marlborough Lane. About halfway along on the right-hand side, we can see some examples of wartime “stretcher fences”. These were originally manufactured by the hundreds of thousands and were known as ARP stretchers, for use by the Air Raid Precautions service to deal with the expected mass casualties from any enemy air attacks.

Stretcher fences
Stretcher fences in Marlborough Lane

Fortunately, casualties were far lighter than expected and the vast majority of these stretchers were never used in anger. With the coming of peace, in an early example of recycling, the stretchers were used as railings, in many cases replacing wrought iron railings that had been sacrificed for the war effort in the production of steel.

From here, continue a short distance along Marlborough Lane, turn left into Sutlej Road and right into Canberra Road, before turning left into Hornfair Road. You will soon see the magnificent Charlton House on your right. Completed in 1612 for Sir Adam Newton, it subsequently became the home of the Spencer-Maryon-Wilson family.

Charlton House, 1945
The wrecked wing of Charlton House

During the Great War of 1914-1918, it had been requisitioned for use as a military hospital and following the war, was purchased outright by the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich for use as a library and as the borough museum. During the Second World War, the basement was used as an air raid wardens’ post. On 25 January 1945, the house was “near missed” by a V-2 rocket, the blast from which demolished much of the Chapel Wing. Repairs were made after the war but shortages of materials meant that non-matching bricks of a different size and colour had to be used, which today gives us a vital clue as to which part of the building was destroyed and which is the original.

Charlton summer house
The summer house following the bomb

If we cast our eyes towards the attractive summer house, we can compare views with the building as it is now but also immediately following the V-2 blast, which left it in a state of near-collapse.

Charlton summer house shelter
The entrance to the old Charlton summer house shelter

At the bottom right of the summer house, visible behind the fence that rings off the mulberry tree, can be seen a slightly obscured entrance. This was earmarked for use as an air raid shelter in 1939 and appears in the list published in the Kentish Independent at the outbreak of war. It was allegedly capable of housing 40 people but it is unclear whether it was ever actually used as such and it was certainly out of use by the time of the V-2 attack in 1944.

Kentish Independent clipping
Shelters as published in the Kentish Independent. The Blackheath Hill shelter is still there

As we exit the park and turn right heading into The Village, we see opposite us St Luke’s Church and the War Memorial, in the shape of the Sir Reginald Blomfield-designed Cross of Sacrifice. The present St Luke’s dates from 1630 and the tower, which could be seen from the Thames, was once used as a navigational aid to ships using the river. As the church is entitled to fly the pre-1800 Naval Ensign on St Luke’s and St George’s Days.

The tower was also used for firewatching duties during the Blitz and my grandfather, William Henry Beresford (seen here in his Army days), a local air raid warden, was frequently stationed here at that time.

William Henry Beresford
William Henry Beresford, Steve’s grandfather

As you continue in to The Village, pause opposite the White Swan pub, now sadly closed since just before the lockdown began and the future of which remains uncertain. If you compare the pub in as-built form and how it appears today, you can see that it has a slightly truncated look to it. This was a result of events on the night of 17 October 1940, when a high-explosive bomb destroyed the Siemens Social Club, which once occupied the site now occupied by the more modern arcade of shops. The blast from this bomb also rendered the once-ornate top part of the pub unusable and in danger of collapse, leaving the pub with its present appearance.

The White Swan postcard
The original White Swan with ornate upper floor and Siemens Social Club next door. Meridian Sports Club in Charlton Park Lane is the successor to the Siemens club

Now turn left from The Village into Fairfield Grove and pause at the junction with Charlton Lane. Today this is the site of an unassuming apartment block named St Paul’s Close. On this site once stood St Paul’s Church, which dated from 1867 but which has the sad distinction of being the first church in London to have been destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War.

St Paul's Church, Charlton
St Paul’s Church as it was

St Paul's Close, Charlton
St Paul’s Close today

This came on 4 September 1940, before the “official” start of the Blitz when at 21:40 a single aircraft dropped a bomb at low level which hit the church, almost completely destroying it. There were no casualties but the church was deemed to be beyond repair. The following day, large crowds came to view the ruins but the novelty of such sights was soon to wear off. Some artefacts from the ruined church were salvaged and are now in St Luke’s Church, but the only remaining clue here lays in the name of the apartment block.

Pound Park School
The site of the bombed houses on Charlton Lane

Continue down Charlton Lane but before you turn left into Harvey Gardens, pause and look into the near distance on the opposite side of the road, before the junction with Pound Park Road. This area is now part of the garden for the school, but in 1940 this was the site of a row of five houses. On the night of 8 December a high-explosive bomb demolished the houses, trapping five people inside.

A rescue squad under the command of Albert Brittan soon arrived. Brittan decided to enter the ruins. Crawling through the rubble, he soon found a baby and brought it to safety. He went back in and found the baby’s mother, freed her and brought her to safety also. Going back into the ruins a third time, he rescued a third person and recovered the body of a fourth. Whilst he was doing this, the roof of one of the buildings collapsed and almost buried him. Undeterred, he carried on his work and freed another man who was pinned down. Brittan spent almost five hours in the ruined building and continued working with no regard for his own safety.

For this act of incredible bravery Brittan, who lived in Deptford and who had been a bus conductor before the war, was awarded a George Medal, as this extract from The Times of 26 April 1941 informs us.

Times extract

As you head into into Harvey Gardens, you will walk behind the Covered End of The Valley, which was hit on 16 October 1940 leaving a hole in the roof of the stand. The repairs to this were visible right up to when the stand was replaced with the present structure in the early 2000s. The photograph taken at the opposite end of the ground shows the arrangements that were in place for wartime football, with a “spotter” stationed high on the terraces; his job was to alert the referee using his large flag, in the event of enemy aircraft being seen approaching. The match would then be abandoned whilst the fans took cover in local shelters.

The Valley at wartime
This famous image of wartime football was taken at The Valley

One shelter that was nearby was located at the railway arches at Ransom Road. These were extended with a brick and concrete structure so as to be able to accommodate eighty people. However, this type of shelter was not popular with the public, for the dual reasons of safety and sanitation, or the lack thereof.

Ransom Walk
The Ransom Road shelter was built out to the right of the bridge

Continue along Floyd Road and turn right into Charlton Church Lane for our final port of call, which is outside Charlton station. Today it is an uninspiring late 1960s structure, built in the former British Railways’ “Clasp” style of construction. Older residents might remember the shambolic appearance of the station before the present buildings were constructed, which resembled a collection of wooden and corrugated iron huts.

Charlton station, July 1944
Charlton station a few weeks after the bomb

This was the legacy of a devastating V-1 flying bomb attack on 23 June 1944, when the station buildings were completely destroyed by a direct hit. Considering that the missile hit the station during the afternoon, it is perhaps surprising that only four people lost their lives in this incident, including Mrs Newick, the wife of the station master. Another 30 people were seriously injured in the incident, which left surrounding houses severely damaged by the blast.

Charlton station in 1961
Charlton station still bore its war scars until well the late 1960s – this picture was taken in 1961

Victory was hard earned but when it came, street parties erupted all across London, including in our own neighbourhood. To conclude, it seems fitting to return almost to where we began and to observe the street party held in Invicta Road on either the 8th or 9th May 1945 – I wonder if any of those small people enjoying the newly-found peace are still with us?

Invicta Road street party
VE Day party in Invicta Road, Blackheath

Steve tweets @Blitzwalker and can be found at blitzwalkers.co.uk.


PLEASE SUPPORT THE CHARLTON CHAMPION

We tell the SE7 stories you won’t read elsewhere. We can’t do it without your help.
– Please tell us about your news and events
Become a monthly supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
Advertise your business with us from just £9.80/per week
Celebrate our neighbourhood and order postcards or a print

‘I’m giving back to the community after they helped me’, Old Cottage Cafe owner says

The Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park has been delivering food to people stuck at home since the crisis began

The owner of a Charlton cafe offering free lunches to the vulnerable says he is giving back to the community following an outpouring of support after a break-in last year.

As the coronavirus outbreak turns the lives of vulnerable residents upside down, Michael Lauricourt, along with his wife Mimi and an employee from the Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park have been cooking and delivering free lunches to local people.

Elderly and isolated households in Charlton, Woolwich and Blackheath are being treated to hot meals courtesy of the cafe.

The initiative comes after thousands of pounds was raised for the much-loved cafe following a burglary in January last year.

Michael, who has run the cafe since it was opened in 2012, said: “We have always been part of the community – the community was behind us when we were broken into. When this all started the thought about how we could best help the community.

“Councillor John Fahy gave me a few names of people who couldn’t get out and about and we gave them free lunch, at first it was out of our own pocket. Since then, somebody else gave me a donation to help the work I’m doing. I’m keeping that ‘somebody’ private – but I’m very privileged to be able to do this to help the elderly.”

While he is helping the effort against the virus, Michael is mourning the death of his own father, George, who passed away on 22 March, aged 94, of circumstances not related to coronavirus.

Michael recently delivered food and tea to staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich

But Michael insists he and his wife wouldn’t be able to sit still if they had to sit at home, with their cafe closed due to government restrictions.

He said: “It has been overwhelming actually. It does feel good to give something back to the community – it’s very rewarding. When I see the people, I can see that they are so in need. Their mobility is not good. They are struggling – one person’s wife has dementia and he struggles to walk around.

“I’m sort of putting myself at risk – but I feel like I need to be out in the community and helping. In the cafe we are used to working seven days a week – if we are at home we’ll be wondering what we can do. We need to be out and about.”

At the moment a dozen households are being given free lunches – but there is scope to help more in the coming weeks.

Michael added: “We would like to stretch it out – but we can’t go too big you know. It’s only two people delivering at the moment, one is a worker, Erica, who volunteered. We need to keep it manageable. It’s only me and my wife and Erica, it’s only three of us.

“But we will look at helping more, if more people do need support. We can think about going down that road.”

On top of delivering the lunches three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Fridays) Michael and the team are going shopping for the vulnerable for their necessities and giving them vital human contact.

He said: “When we see these people we can see they are in need. Their mobility isn’t good and they are isolated. They need to have some human contact.”

The Old Cottage Cafe has also, as of this week, began donating tea, coffee and cake to NHS workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Woolwich Common. Workers were given banana cake and bread pudding along with two urns of coffee and tea.

The future remains uncertain for many small businesses – including the Old Cottage Cafe – but for the time being helping the community is the priority.

Michael said: “We don’t know how long this is going to go on for. We may have to ask for donations later down the line to keep going and delivering the food but at the moment we are managing. It’s very uncertain. I’m quite concerned about the future – we have been closed down. At first we were doing just takeaway but then we were told to shut the shop down.

“The council aren’t too sure themselves about what is going on with the rent – everyone’s situation is different. In the meantime we’ll just plod on as we are. If anyone else is needs help we can consider if we can do it – we need to be out and about.”

The Old Cottage Cafe can be reached on Twitter at @oldcoffeeshop.

TOM BULL is a freelance journalist and former BBC local democracy reporter. We have commissioned him to write about how communities and businesses are reacting to the coronavirus emergency in SE London – something we can only do because of the generosity of people who fund The Charlton Champion and its sister site 853, or bought our postcards. Thank you to all who have helped.


PLEASE SUPPORT THE CHARLTON CHAMPION

We tell the SE7 stories you won’t read elsewhere. We can’t do it without your help.
– Please tell us about your news and events
Become a monthly supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
Advertise your business with us from just £9.80/per week
Celebrate our neighbourhood and order postcards or a print