Reasons To Love Woolwich: Can We Reach 150?
Okay readers, it’s time to notch this baby up a gear. My list reached the 100 Reasons mark a while ago, but Woolwich has continued on its merry path to regeneration and I’m sure I can now muster 150 Reasons, especially with some help from you lovely lot.
As was the case with the first 100, I’ve personally experienced most of the items on this list. A few ideas have come from trusted locals. Is anything missing? Please let me know!
Please note that this list is in no particular order, as that would be way too much for my feeble brain. It’s just a random list, man.
1. The Royal Woolwich Arsenal. A magnificent collection of old military buildings by the Thames, now a great place to live in or visit.
2. Favourite Inn in Spray Street. A restaurant that serves up top-notch Anglo-Chinese tucker, and where the king prawns are plump and delicious.
3. The Dial Arch pub. The original pioneer and still a firm favourite for many. Spend a warm evening with your mates, around a table out the front. Summer perfection.
4. Curry Asia. In Woolwich since 1962. Boasts a delectable range of curries, served by friendly and efficient waiters.
5. London City Airport is only two DLR stops away. Which makes it three stops from Woolwich to Madrid, Paris, Milan, and many others. See my post on where to go.
6. The Woolwich Ferry. The vessels are John, Ernest, and James and they’re from the 1960s. And it’s free. It just celebrated its 50th year.
7. The Maccas in Powis Street. It was the very first McDonald’s in the U.K. opening on Nov. 13, 1974. There’s even a plaque out the front.
8. Kailash Momo, the Tibetan restaurant on Woolwich New Road. Order a plate of momos, and relish the exquisite flavours.
9. Woolwich Market, Beresford Square. Bargains, and fresh fruit and vegetables (“tray o’bananas a pound,” says the man). Looking good after its facelift and now with some street-food vans such as Namaste (momos and noodles).
10. Woolwich Coffee Lounge. A friendly and independent cafe, facing onto General Gordon Square. A great place for people watching. Follow @CoffeeLoungeSE
11. Thamesclippers. You can start a meandering and watery and journey to central London from Woolwich pier. A delightful alternative to rail. Coffee and wine on board. Cheerful staff who can sling ropes.
12. General Gordon Square. A rejuvenated public space that fills with locals when the sun comes out.
13. Sam’s Chicken. Your friend at 1am when nearly all else is shut. A chicken wrap and a box of strips please!
14. Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum at the Arsenal. It tells the history of the Arsenal, and explains about stuff that goes bang, generally. A fascinating collection of artillery, uniforms, drawings, and so on. Soon to be relocated, so visit before it goes!
15. CrossRail is coming! It will take 52 minutes to get to Heathrow. Just two stops to Canary Wharf. Flats at the Arsenal are already priced accordingly.
16. Polytechnic Street. Beautifully preserved, stunning architecture, hardly anyone ever walks down it. A hidden gem. Could someone please open a tapas bar there?
17. Saturday night dancing in the back room at the Earl of Chatham. Five quid at the door and loads of fun. The Earl itself does a decent lunch and dinner, too. Follow @TheEarlWoolwich
18. BedNBreakfast, a catering service that delivers breakfast right to your doorstep or your desk. Also now delivering roasts! www.bednbreakfasttt.co.uk
19. The mighty and ancient Thames, which separates the Woolwich we know from the mysterious land known as North Woolwich. Vikings sailed up it, you know. Actual Vikings.
20. Viet Baguette (formerly An) now in a new location at 17 Anglesea Road. Fresh and tasty Vietnamese dishes. Healthy, delicious, and cheap and now with booze and loos!
21. Powis Street, especially on a Saturday. No cars, lots of people, decent (and improving) shops, everyone is out and about.
22. The former Granada Cinema (Gala Bingo) building on Powis Street. Built in the late 1930s, with a lavish interior, and heritage-listed in 1974.
23. It’s a five-minute bus ride to the Valley, Charlton Athletic’s home ground.
24. SE18 has its own community choir, The Woolwich Singers. The choir rehearses every Wednesday 6:30-8.00 at the Clockhouse Community Centre, Defiance Walk. Follow @WoolwichSingers
25. Community spirit. I hope people took lots of photos of the Woolwich Wall (at the Great Harry) before the council covered it up. We love Woolwich! Photos of the wall can be seen in Woolwich Coffee Lounge.
26. Great walking trails. The Green Chain and Capital Ring weave through Woolwich, taking you through green spaces to Plumstead, Eltham, Charlton and beyond. I once walked all the way to Teddington (not in one day mind).
27. Woolwich has its own cocktail (okay, I invented it). The Woolwich Bullseye. Equal parts gin, pinot grigio, Caribbean Crush, pineapple and coconut juice. A fresh raspberry for the bullseye. Lots of ice.
28. The splashy fun water feature at General Gordon Square. Kids run up and down it when the sun comes out, shoes off, and loving it!
29. Woolwich Common. A bucolic open space for all to enjoy. A walk around it is a tonic. Beautiful blackberries in the summer, and sloes for your Christmas gin.
30. Bathway. A short street that runs off Polytechnic Street and features some great old buildings. Hope someone pops a cool cafe or bar in there soon.
31. Royal Arsenal Farmers Market. Superb range of locally made goodies. Now held twice monthly on Saturdays, in the large warehouse near Taproom in winter and outside near Dial Arch in summer. Follow @RAFarmersMkt for the market dates and location news.
32. The Royal Garrison Church of St. George. Bombed during the war. It now has a canopy that preserves the stunning mosaic work and there are plans to open it some Sundays. Follow @StGeorgesSE18
33. The Red Lion, Shooters Hill, is a short walk away. Charming pub inside,with a verdant beer garden out back for catching afternoon rays.
34. The Aperture Woolwich Photographic Society, established in 1892. Meets Tuesday nights at Shrewsbury House Community Centre, Shooters Hill.
35. Mallet’s Mortar. At 36 inches across, it’s one of the largest ever built in the world, but was never used in war. You’ll find it on the corner of Repository Road and Hillreach.
36. The Tecks Tailors clock on Artillery Place. You find out a lot about Woolwich’s past by looking up!
37. The grandly proportioned Woolwich Equitable House. See my post about the interior.
38. Assembly by Peter Burke, an arrangement of cast iron figures by the river at the Arsenal. Great public art. A little unnerving to walk past in the dark.
39. The library at the new Woolwich Centre. A well-subscribed, well-designed public facility.
40. Deus Lunus, our very own late-Roman statue. It was dug up by British troops in Alexandria in 1801, thrown onto an England-bound ship and ended up at the Arsenal. It’s opposite the Dial Arch.
41. The Greenwich Heritage Centre at the Arsenal. Special exhibitions are held during the year and the free permanent display tells the story of Woolwich and the Arsenal. A wonderful resource. Follow @GreenwichHC for updates about evening events.
42. Nike. A statue designed by Pavlos Angelos Kougioumtzis and given to the Royal Borough by the town of Ancient Olympia. You can admire it just inside the front gate of the Arsenal.
43. The sunsets. Local photographers capture wonderful sunsets on the river, on the Common, and from Shooters Hill.
44. The Royal Military Academy (1806) designed by James Wyatt in the medieval Gothic style. Beautiful listed buildings that are being converted into residences.
45. The Tram Shed. A former tram shed that is now a community performing arts space. Home to GLYPT (Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre).
46. The unusually long 18th-century ha-ha, a long brick-walled trench that was built to prevent livestock grazing on Woolwich Common from wandering into the Artillery Barracks. You’ll find it on Ha-Ha Road. It’s classified as a heritage-listed building.
47. The former firestation (in Sunbury Street) is a beautiful heritage-listed building (1887). It is a rare surviving example of architect Robert Pearsall’s work.
48. The Little Free Library on Red Lion Lane. Donate a book, borrow a book. It’s a tiny wee little thing, but part of a larger movement to get people reading again. Follow @LtlFreeLibrary
49. The cricket ground at the Royal Military Academy. It dates from the 1870s and after a long hiatus is now a home ground for Blackheath CC. During the season, the 3rd and 4th XIs play on Saturday afternoons and sometimes there’s a Sunday game.
50. Second Floor Studios And Arts, a vibrant hub of artists’ studios on Harrington Way down by the river. An open weekend is held annually (next one is in mid-2016). Meet the artists. Follow @2ndfloorstudios for news about classes, exhibitions, and events.
51. Friends Café and Love Lane Café in Woolwich. I’ve been to Love Lane (check out the courtyard in summer) but not made it to Friends yet. More than a few people recommend it for its inexpensive, homemade tucker.
52. It’s a short walk to Severndroog Castle, on Shooters Hill. A charming 18th-century folly that is now open to the public. At 432 feet, Shooters Hill is the 10th highest spot in London and features in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. On a clear day you can see the Shard. Find out more at www.severndroogcastle.org.uk and follow @severndroog
53. And when you get to Severndroog Castle, you’re in Oxleas Wood, an 8,000 year old forest with plenty of open space, too. Admire the magnificent views of Eltham from here.
54. The Roman settlement beside the Thames. Soon to mostly disappear under the Riverside apartments, though. Crossrail dug up bits of an old Roman timber bridge.
55. Percy Ingle, the bakery on Powis Street. A fifth-generation family business, which started in Hackney. Great sausage rolls!
56. A place in music history. The Beatles played here, at the Granada Cinema in 1963. New Order and The Damned played at the Coronet in the 1980s. Genesis played at the Poly. Stray Cats played at the Tramshed.
57. The Coronet Cinema, an Art Deco masterpiece (now owned by the New Wine Church). Opened as The Odeon in 1937. Pity it’s not still a cinema, but it’s a stunning building that appears to have been well cared for.
58. The Great Harry. The pub was all but destroyed during the 2011 riots, but has risen phoenix-like to become, once again, one of the liveliest pubs in Woolwich. Dependable, cheap food, and decent booze prices. The dunnies are surprisingly luxe.
59. The Royal Artillery Barracks, one of the many architecturally and historically significant buildings of which all in Woolwich should be proud. Boasts the longest Georgian facade in the U.K.
60. Ray Richardson, artist. Ray grew up in Woolwich and still lives and works here. His work is collected internationally and he regularly scoots off to work in France and Belgium. Follow @RayRichardson1 and view his work at rayrichardson.co.uk
61. The Woolwich Equitable, our lovely new pub from the good people at Antic, located in what was the main banking chamber for the Woolwich Equitable building society. The WE does great pub food, and holds regular live music and quiz nights as well as specially-themed nights. Find out more at www.woolwichpub.com and follow @TheWoolwich
62. Kebab Kingdom. A chicken doner saves the day/night at 2am. The chaps who run it have been serving up kebabby goodness to the denizens of Woolwich for more than a decade. They once wrote “lady” on my order, so they’re also a fine judge of character.
63. Twitter community. It’s growing! Search for the #Woolwich hashtag.
64. Thames Path. A serene and leafy walk along the river, east of the Arsenal. You can walk all the way into Central London on this path, without crossing a main road.
65. The Reach Indoor Climbing Wall. You can climb 11 metres! (You can, I’ll wait in the cafe). Word is that it’s a great centre and loads of fun.
66. Woolwich Town Hall. Impressive from the outside. The interior is stunning. A civic showpiece.
67. Just a few stops on the train takes you to Greenwich, Woolwich’s fancy but friendly neighbour and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Greenwich Park is one of the best places in London, with incredible views.
68. The Survey of London Volume 48, a huge tome about Woolwich. A wonderful record for posterity, produced under the aegis of English Heritage. Read my interview with the author.
69. Woolwich Dockyard. There are still visible traces of a rich shipbuilding past. See the blog www.thamesfacingeast.wordpress.com for a great post about the area.
70. Blackheath Village is a short bus or train ride away. I call it the Richmond of the Southeast. Farmers’ Market on Sundays. A great choice of cafes and restaurants. Also walk up over the heath to the Scullery Café at the Blackheath Standard.
71. Tall ships at Woolwich Pier. We fell in love with them during the Olympics and they came back this summer. Here’s hoping they’re back in 2016.
72. Charlton House (early 17th century) is just a short walk from Woolwich Common on the Green Chain. Beautiful gardens, with a cafe open midweek. The Old Cottage cafe is nearby, with a lovely view of the house and grounds.
73. The Rotunda. Originally set up in St James Park to host a reception party for a victory celebration after the Napoleonic Wars, prematurely as it turned out. Now located just off Repository Road.
74. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, comprising more than 100 horses, seven officers and 164 soldiers. Often seen prancing around the streets of Woolwich, looking splendid.
75. Woolwich started the cooperative movement at the Royal Arsenal. The RACS building in Powis Street (now a Travelodge) is a reminder of its prominence. Its stunning facade has been well preserved.
76. Woolwich Foot Tunnel, opened in 1912. It’s about 500 metres long and makes the task of visiting North Woolwich a matter of a short walk. When you go, please check out the Royal Victoria Gardens. Also take a look at some of Simon’s other excellent suggestions in the comments below.
77. It’s a short walk along the Thames Path to Gallion’s Hill in Thamesmead. It’s a 20 metre high tor made from recycled excavations. The views are good and it’s a plane spotter’s paradise, being on one of London City Airport’s flight paths. They’re flying pretty darn low at that stage.
78. Meridian Radio. Operating since 1961 from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and now streaming online at www.meridianradio.co.uk. Great local news source and community vibe.
79. Queen’s Diner on Herbert Road (the Woolwich/Plumstead cusp). I can vouch for the breakfast baguette and the chicken fajitas. The place is almost always full so they must be doing something right.
80. Woolwich Babies. Check out the cute murals painted on shops’ shutters opposite General Gordon Square. A positive gesture after the 2011 riots.
81. The area is rich in fascinating historical street furniture including century-old horse troughs in Beresford Square, the 7 miles to Dartford sign on Shooters Hill, and the heritage-listed mounting block a bit further up Shooters Hill. The latter is thought to date from the 18th century.
82. Not far from the mounting block is The Bull (established 1749, rebuilt 1881). Much loved by locals, it’s a cosy retreat in which to rest and enjoy a pint after you’ve climbed Shooters Hill.
83. The magnificent London Water Tower, with commanding views over Woolwich Common and beyond. Built in 1896, it was converted a few years ago into luxury self-service accommodation. Includes 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a rooftop observatory.
84. Woodlands Farm is within easy reach. It’s an 89-acre working farm, on land that was saved from housing developments by campaigners in the 1980s-90s. A wonderful community resource, protected by the Woodlands Farm Trust.
85. Swimming pools. There are two indoor pools at the Waterfront Leisure Centre (disclaimer: the building itself has no place in this list) and you’ll find London’s second 50-metre outdoor pool at the nearby Charlton Lido. And it’s heated!
86. Cornerstone Cafe, Major Draper Street. A bright and breezy cafe on the Arsenal with an award-winning interior. It’s licensed, too, in case you fancy a glass of wine over lunch. Of course you do. Follow @CornerstoneRA
87. The Thames Barrier. One of life’s simple pleasures is gliding past these amazing structures on a Thamesclipper. The barrier was designed by Rendel Palmer and Tritton and completed in 1982.
88. The eponymous steam locomotive (1916). The Woolwich was built in Bristol for the Royal Arsenal and is now being restored in Abbey Wood by the Crossness Engines Trust. See www.therailwayproject.blogspot.co.uk.
89. The annual Bathway Theatre Festival, which features productions by third-year drama students at the University of Greenwich. Runs in May and June www.bathwaytheatre.co.uk.
90. It’s a short walk along the Thames Path to Bazalgette’s Crossness Pumping Station, opened in 1865. See www.crossness.org.uk for open days. An ornate Victorian interior and a fascinating place. There are several open days planned for 2013.
91. Mike The Very Green Grocer. Mike is a friendly chap who scours the Kent countryside, sourcing seasonal produce and locally-made gourmet goodies. He then loads his van up and heads down to the Arsenal every Saturday morning from 9am to noon to sell on to us. He’s passionate about supporting Kentish farmers who, let’s face it, are just on our doorstep. Pop down and visit him one Saturday! (tweeting as @Miketvgg)
92. Our very own brewery. On the Arsenal, HopStuff supplies discerning pubs in the area and beyond. Follow @hopstuffbrewery for regular updates on which pubs are currently stocking their brews.
93. A short saunter into Plumstead brings you to 85-91 Genesta Road. This row of terraces is the early work of Berthold Lubetkin, the Tbilisi-born pioneer of modernist design in Britain. He also designed Dudley Zoo. The Royal Institute of British Architects now awards the Lubetkin Prize for International Architecture. Lubetkin himself won the RIBA Gold Medal in 1982. See www.themodernhouse.net/sales-list/genesta-road
94. If you want to run away and join the circus, you don’t have to run far. AirCraft Circus is near the Second Floor Studios in Woolwich. It runs circus skills classes for all ages. Find out more at www.aircraftcircus.com or follow @AirCraftCircus
95. Plumstead And Abbey Wood deserve their own 100 Reasons To Love (see responses below: a good start!). Among other cool things, this area just east of Woolwich has the Lesnes Abbey ruins and woods, and lots of other beautiful green spaces. An easy bus ride from Woolwich.
96. The Shrewsbury Tumulus. It sounds like something you need to see your doctor about, but it is in fact a Bronze Age barrow (or burial mound). You can find it at the start of Brinklow Crescent, protected by a high fence.
97. City View Restaurant at Shooters Hill Post-16 campus. Advanced catering students will cook up a feast as you admire the views of Woolwich and beyond. During term time, it’s a great place for lunch. The restaurants also hold fine dining nights where the students really pull out all the stops and show what they can do. Find out more at www.shootershill.ac.uk/restaurant and check out my post.
98. Blue Nile Café. This Eritrean-Italian restaurant opened in early 2014. Check out the fabulous original 1935 butcher’s shop interior, made groovy and welcoming by the owners’ architect son. Food’s lovely too! For more see www.bluenilecafe.co.uk and follow on Twitter @bluenile73 and please read my post.
99. Koffees and Kream, a café that opened in April 2014 in Calderwood Street. A positive addition to an under-subscribed area of Woolwich. I can recommend the Mediterranean Breakfast. See my post.
100. A very short walk from Woolwich is Café Deluxe in Plumstead. The extensive menu is available in English, Romanian and Russian, and there’s a distinctive central European theme to the food. Entertainment includes karaoke and live music. Kick the weekend off with a shot of Moldovan vodka called Firestarter!
101. Taproom, for great local beer and wine (the house white is the utterly delicious Ortega by Kent-based Biddenden) in a heritage setting on the Arsenal. The pizzas are freshly made and fabulous. Follow @TaproomSe18
102. Plumstead Pantry is a short walk away or a brief ride on the 51 or 53 bus. A friendly and fabulous café that emphasises local produce and great coffee. It’s open for all-day brunch and now also for dinner. Follow @PlumPantry
103. If you fancy a beer after your Plumstead Pantry breakfast, head across the common to The Star. Recently renovated without removing its original charm, this cosy pub does great food and boasts a sunny beer garden. Also holds comedy nights. Details @ThePlumstead
104. The Guard House at the Arsenal is brand new and looks well worth a visit. It makes this list already because it’s emblematic of Woolwich’s new drawing power for quality brands (which Geronimo Pubs is). Follow @The_Guardhouse
105. Granier Bakery and Café, Powis Street. This is Spain-based Granier’s second foray into the UK market (after Wood Green) and its sells a tasty range of bread and pastries. A positive sign that Woolwich’s main street might be on the up.
106. The Roses, a group for Woolwich and Plumstead women. They’ve just started up and will greet new members warmly. A great way to meet neighbours and make friends, especially if you’re new to the area (and let’s face it, many of us are). Follow them @TheRosesWI or search under “Woolwich and Plumstead, The Roses Ladies Group” on Facebook.
107. It’s a short walk/drive to Bunker 51 in North Greenwich, for all your laser tag and paintball needs. Apparently it’s a hoot. Military-themed Bunker 51 does kids’ and adults’ parties, with food/drink offerings such as a Wartime Feast. Basic Rations include hot dogs and burgers (pretty lush for wartime; I was expecting stale bread with dripping). The Officers’ Buffet sounds even better, but then those chaps always knew how to look after themselves. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
108. Under 1 Roof, an urban oasis for kids. It’s about to open in Woolwich, with a theatre, café, soft play area, messy play area (NOW you’re talking), sensory room, and all sorts of other things that kids love. Also houses an 84-berth nursery. Not sure if “berth” is the right word, but you know what I mean. It sounds like a massive effort has gone into this facility. There’s even an emphasis on access to the best children’s literature, and for that alone they have my vote. Follow @under1roofkids for details.
109. Comedy! Get your belly-full of laughs at the Equitable, courtesy of The OddBods. Next show is February 24 and it’s nearly sold out. Hopefully this will become a regular event, follow @TheOddBods for details. Also check out comedy at The Star in Plumstead.