I realise I need to reel back to the barrier bit of our our afternoon.
You can see the barrier from the station platform at Pontoon Dock. There are worse views. We were a bit puzzled by the hedges which at first sight suggested a maze, then waves, and provided some children with great hide and seek opportunities. It also made it feel quite private as we walked the length of it.
It turns out the waves are to remind us of the docks, but they also provide a micro climate which encourages a variety of plants and wildlife.
Now I’ll skip back to Woolwich. Beyond the market square there’s a busy road with vehicles of all types roaring along it, and an estate agent branch of a well known swanky firm. We were about to find out why. We had reached the Arsenal, the original home of the football team, now associated with north London, but born down in se18.
The military used to be in these buildings, but now they have been, as the increasingly heard phrase goes, repurposed. I should say it was shortly after entering this repurposed area that we met Ben for the first time. Or rather Celia did. I missed the moment but turned around from studying the statue of Nike to see she was playing a game of catch with a small boy with curly dark hair, a winning smile and a very inaccurate grasp of how catch is played. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, one person throws an object, often a ball, sometimes a bean bag, in this case a small plastic toy, to another person who catches it. When the thrower throws the object in an entirely different direction from the person who is in the catching role, the game loses some of its flow. I made a lucky catch when by some miracle Ben launched the toy in my direction, returned the toy to him, and we moved on.
As with the barrier park, what was striking was the feeling of space. The buildings are low, the ground between them well tended. Military space has become residential and leisure space. Work is going on for Crossrail, the Elizabeth Line making Woolwich to central London journey times impressively quick.
Our experience of being on the edge of a regeneration zone where Berkeley Homes is involved made us a tad cynical. For all Berkeley and the other developers trumpet the mantra of creating community, their goal is to make money. The communities they want to build are not the people already living in the area, but newcomers with money.
An area’s history is sanitised and repackaged in a golden nostalgic vision of the past. I can’t say it’s not seductive. But in our local area I have seen history boards that play fast and loose with neighbourhood boundaries, and where uncomfortable parts of the history are edited out. I imagine it’s the same in Woolwich.
Still, I began to think that MasterB and I could quite happily relocate, and Celia very generously said she’d allow me to live in Woolwich.
Among the older buildings are new blocks of flats. But it was this building which inspired our first real surge of property envy.
Later we learned the service charges are £5,500 pa. I currently pay £1,000 in service charges.
The museum has closed and is to relocate. It occupied an enviably large space, no doubt now destined to become flats. This underlines one f the conflicts of regeneration, where conservation and archives collide with profit. It’s the ideal place to have a museum telling the story of the area’s past, but the economic argument wins each time because we place a higher value on money than we do on education.
I am very doubtful about giving the responsibility for telling history into the hands of people whose prime motivation is to make money from it. Inconvenient truths can be lost very quickly.
We peered through the windows into the empty spaces beyond. It reminds both of us of the naval dockyard at Chatham. Who knows if that might yet be turned into desirable homes.
Naturally there is some public art, and a fair amount of ordinance lying about, now less defensive than ornamental. Children climbed on cannons.
The river at Woolwich has not been embanked in the same way it has in central London, so it is wider, calmer, and the meanders are clearer. It was strikingingly beautiful.
Fingerposts indicate routes for exploration.
A guard room has become a restaurant and bar.
We walked beside the river, watching Thames Clippers come and go,
and after some confusion realised we were looking at the Woolwich Ferry. One of the ferries is named after Ben Woollacott, a waterman who drowned a few years ago when he was still in his twenties. The other is the Dame Vera Lynn. This, for some reason, tickled me. Celia emailed me later to tell me Dame Vera was born in East Ham.
At frequent intervals there were small structures like single seats for people to sit on and admire the view. I fancifully imagined they were there for amateur watercolourists. Celia sat on one, put her feet through the railings and leant on the top rail. But somehow we doubted this was their purpose. Maybe there ought to be lifebuoys in them.
A little while later we found the correct answer.
It’s quite something when even barbed wire looks beautiful.
It was time to retrace our steps and see what the main street had to offer.
To be continued.