Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Woolwich we have lost

My sister and her husband had warned me just how much the centre of Woolwich had changed but when you don’t go there very often it is easy to forget that places can undergo a massive transformation.

So I asked them to go out armed with an old book of Woolwich plus my pictures from the blog and record just what has happened.

This they did and here is the first of a new Woolwich series, starting with Wellington Street which I featured a few months ago with a picture postcard from 1916.*

I say 1916 but the image may date back to 1907 which shouldn’t surprise us.  Once the picture had been taken the cards could have a long shelf life, so while the one in the collection has a postmark date of 1916, another source puts the moment the photographer captured the scene a full nine years earlier.**

If it was 1907 then the Town Hall which dominates the skyline was opened the year before by Will Crook the MP for Woolwich.  The Town Hall included a public hall, central library, public baths a police and municipal offices.

And as Colin’s picture shows little apart from the Town Hall on Wellington Street has survived.  The Old Woolwich Hippodrome seen next to the Town Hall had a short life of just 23 years.

It was an impressive brick building dressed in stone and ran to three stories.   An iron canopy bearing the name of the theatre covered the steps leading up to the central entrance.

Another canopy continued along the sidewall with a sign across its face reading TWICE NIGHTLY AT 6.40 & 9.10. More signage appeared above the canopy reading WMF GRANT & CO. TWICE NIGHTLY also appears at the top of the side wall.

And in our picture the signs advertise Will Evans who according to some was one of our finest comedians and Pantomime stars and was the author of many sketches and songs.

Sadly there is little on him and nothing about his appearance at the Woolwich Hippodrome.

And as for the Woolwich Hippodrome, its life as a variety hall was just 23 years but as a cinema it fared even worse, closing in 1939 when it was demolished to make way for a new cinema which with the outbreak of war was not built until 1955.

Now I am not some crusty old lover of old buildings just because they are old but I have to say those that flanked and stood opposite the Town Hall are on a human scale which cannot be said of the tall brick and concrete slabs that have pretty much turned the street into a canyon.

But perhaps I am being too harsh, it may be that Colin’s other pictures show a better and cleaner Woolwich than the one I remember.  We shall see.

And in the meantime our Elizabeth tells me that "since we took the pictures of Woolwich, the building next to the Town Hall has been demolished. Not sure what is there now. I remember going there when it was known as Flamingos, mind you that was some time ago."

*At the Woolwich Hippodrome sometime between 1907 and 1916,

**Evans, Brian, Woolwich in old photographs, 1994

Picture, Wellington Street, 1907-1916, courtesy of Mark Flynn, and Wellington Street from the collection of Colin Fitzpatrick

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