Five years ago, this website was one of the few places you could go to find updates on a planned music festival due to take place on Blackheath. I even had a chat with the organisers in a nice place in Blackheath Village.
OnBlackheath’s birth was a difficult one, though, not helped by a lack of public information – the first many had heard of it was when Lewisham Council granted it a licence. The venerable Blackheath Society blew an enormous amount of money on fighting that decision through the courts, while Greenwich Council also got its knickers in a twist, with one councillor grumbling that a cuts-ravaged Lewisham was allowing the heath to be hired out for profit. The boundary between the two boroughs runs just a few metres from the festival fence, but these two councils are miles apart in many ways and in truth, neither came out of the saga very well.
The first festival was meant to happen in 2011, then 2012, then 2013… then it finally kicked off in 2014. Updates here have been sparse since (frankly, the line-ups weren’t my bag, so I didn’t bother seeking out a ticket) but now it’s in its third year, and guess what? Greenwich Council is allowing part of its side of the heath to be fired out for profit (In The Night Garden Live doesn’t just pitch up rent-free, y’know).
Was it worth all the fuss? I remember attending a public meeting where residents seemed to be expecting Altamont on the Hare & Billet Road. But what emerged was a “food and music” festival sponsored by that well-known anarchist front, the John Lewis Partnership. It looked like the kind of event for those who eagerly anticipate the Guardian’s Family supplement each Saturday, rather than throwing it in the recycling.
But there was a decent line-up promised, so I thought I’d have a look this year. And what a difference a day makes… it was a lesson in the luck a festival needs to be a real success. Or maybe in how fickle I am.
Day one was enveloped by persistent drizzle that lasted longer than the forecasts predicted.
Under leaden skies, the jollity felt strangely forced when we strolled in at half-past six – the crowd felt a bit too freshly-scrubbed and out of central casting, there seemed to be a bit too much going on in a small space, and Hot Chip droned on like a poor man’s Erasure.
When frontman Alexis Taylor thanked John Lewis for having them there, I started to wonder what all the fuss was about.
Wandering around the deserted food area, sponsored by the aforementioned retail giant, felt eerie – celebrity chefs I’d never heard of stared out at me from huge photos, the “best chips in London” I’d spent £4 on were anything but. I saw the huge queues for the toilets and decided to skip the bar. I was expecting an underwhelming first day line up, and Primal Scream (why are they still going?) didn’t do much to change that perception. We went home and watched the Paralympics instead.
Day two was bathed in bright sunshine. And the line-up was great. So nearly every gripe faded into insignificance. I sauntered in at half-past four, smug after being able to take the bus from my front door to the front gate in 10 minutes.
The biggest problem, though, was the scheduling – the top two stages scheduled against each other rather than alternating. Edwyn Collins or Squeeze? I picked Edwyn Collins and he was great. James or St Etienne? I’ve seen St Etienne a couple of times before, so plumped for James and they were magnificent, right down to frontman Tim Booth’s dad-dancing. They also took the piss out of John Lewis, which scored extra marks in my book.
The awful toilet queues remained, so I avoided the bar again. But watching James while the sun set over south-east London, the whole thing felt like an utter triumph. And right on my doorstep. I can take or leave Belle & Sebastian, but putting the twee Scottish band on last seemed a decent answer to noise worries – they’re hardly Metallica.
Given sunshine and a decent line-up, OnBlackheath flourished. There were a handful of neighbourhood gripes on Twitter, which appeared to be from those looking to perpetuate the old trope – familiar to those of us who endured the anti-Olympics campaigns – about it being illegal to fence off part of Blackheath (it isn’t). The main stage pointed towards Greenwich Park, and there were reports of the festival being audible as far away as the Thames and deep into Charlton, a mile and a half away.
But the people sat out with blankets on Hare & Billet Road as we left on the Sunday night were a reminder that many locals were ready to embrace it. The Hare & Billet pub itself seemed to be doing a roaring trade.
There are certainly ways it could improve – as well as sorting out the toilets, getting a proper pass-out system in place (if a minnow like Leefest can afford proper wristbands, so can they) would allow people to use Blackheath Village and boost more local traders, rather than be stuck inside a relatively small festival site. Some better cycle parking would be appreciated too, considering the number of two-wheeled steeds shackled to nearby lamp posts.
But on balance, OnBlackheath is a good thing, and we’re lucky to have it on our doorsteps. It’s slowly becoming a part of our summer – last year, of the 36,000 attendees, 23% came from Greenwich borough and 14% came from Lewisham. It’s also a family event too – 10% of the tickets went to under-12s. It’s light years away from the fears expressed five years ago. Just pray for a decent line-up – and good weather.
Greenwich and Lewisham’s only bus service to east London, the 108, will be re-routed to run via the Olympic Park from October.
The current service runs through the Blackwall Tunnel to Stratford bus station, via the A12, Bow Flyover and Stratford High Street.
From 1 October, it will run via Chrisp Street in Poplar and Campbell Road in Bow, before running through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Stratford International station, with stops outside the London Aquatics Centre, Stratford station and the Westfield shopping centre. While the 108’s connection at Bromley-by-Bow tube station is lost, it gains a new one at nearby Bow Road.
But while 108 passengers will escape jams in Stratford town centre as well as on the A12 heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel, they could face new hold-ups due to traffic congestion on the East India Dock Road, which links Chrisp Street with the tunnel.
In its response to a consultation into the proposals – which sees the 108’s north-of-the-river route swapped with another service, the D8 – the agency admits that congestion could affect both routes.
TfL says: “We note this is a risk. However, in developing the scheme, regard was had to existing traffic conditions and it is considered possible for both routes to offer a good quality service to passengers. We will continue to monitor service quality on both routes to ensure a service is being provided.”
It’s also not known what will happen during West Ham home matches at the Olympic Stadium – the current D8 service is diverted during stadium events.
Larger buses, which can hold 70 people, will be used, providing some very limited relief for those caught in the 108’s notorious rush-hour overcrowding. There are no plans as yet to increase the number of buses, although details of a new contract to run the route are yet to be released.
Neither Greenwich nor Lewisham councils responded to the consultation, while Tower Hamlets objected to the changes.
This website mentioned the idea in 2013 as a partly tongue-in-cheek response to Greenwich Council’s “all out” campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel. It was followed by a surprisingly high number of responses suggesting the switch to a TfL consultation into which routes should serve the Olympic Park.
Normally, this website likes to tell you things you didn’t know. But with normal service disrupted and not much time at present to keep this going, here’s something you can tell me. What’s that new village-style fingerpost sign at Blackheath Standard all about? And is it just me that thinks it looks a little bit odd? It looks less strange since Greenwich Council attached its sign to the front of it (does this mean everywhere is getting one?) but it still looks a tad weird to me.
Maybe it’s the Charlton arm pointing into a tree, perhaps it’s the design, or maybe it’s that faux-village street furniture always seems a bit peculiar in urban London. But it always has me scratching my head whenever I pass it. How did it come about?
Update, 21 June: A bit late with this, but thanks to Thomas Turrell for this explanation…
Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham could soon have a direct bus link to the Olympic Park under plans revealed by Transport for London today.
The 108 service through the Blackwall Tunnel would have its route altered north of the river so it runs via Stratford City bus station, beside the Westfield shopping centre, to Stratford International station. The new route would see it run alongside the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with a stop at the London Aquatics Centre.
The route would gain bigger buses – though still single-deck, due to height restrictions in the Blackwall Tunnel.
It would also be rerouted away from the Blackwall Tunnel’s northern approach to serve Chrisp Street in Poplar, passing Langdon Park and Devons Road DLR stations rather than Bromley-by-Bow tube.
The change is part of a revamp of routes serving the borough of Tower Hamlets. Another change sees the 277 rerouted through the Isle of Dogs, bringing Greenwich town centre within walking distance of a 24-hour bus from Dalston and Hackney.
Bigger buses on the 108 would certainly provide some relief on what’s a chronically overcrowded route – although without an increase in frequency the route will continue to struggle with demand.
A switch to run via Stratford City would cause some problems for people changing buses in Stratford itself – in 2013, TfL said it would break 600 trips each day – although the two bus stations are only separated by a short walk via the Westfield centre. What’s not clear is if the diverted route would be affected by West Ham United moving to the Olympic Stadium this summer.
And while rerouting the 108 via Chrisp Street would mean the service avoids the A12 traffic jams, some passengers may miss the link to Bromley-by-Bow, although the new service passes close to Bow Road station.
What’s the view from north of the river? Bow’s Diamond Geezer thinks this is more about getting double-deckers on another bus…
There’s a consultation now open on the scheme – if you’re a 108 user, have your say by 20 March.
PS. You read it here first, three years ago…
If you’ve been moved in recent days by reports of refugees fleeing Syria and want to donate clothes, sleeping bags or other items to the camp in Calais, then the Age Exchange centre in Blackheath Village is accepting donations from 9am-6pm on weekdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays.
If you’re unsure about what to bring, take a look at the Lewisham for Refugees Facebook group, set up by Lewisham Central councillor Joani Reid. The priority seems to be men’s warm clothes and camping gear, but take a look at the latest lists there.
I’ve not seen any similar initiative in Greenwich borough, and nothing’s been publicised in this week’s Pravda – council leader Denise Hyland tweeted at the weekend that she expected the Government to meet any “unavoidable costs” of housing refugees.
Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock says the council is already “making preparations” to house its share of refugees. If you do know of anything, please let everyone know in the comments below (thoughts about the wider situation can go elsewhere, thank you).
Pictured above is just some of Saturday’s huge collection at non-league football club Dulwich Hamlet, which included sleeping bags, two guitars, clothes and toys.
Tuesday update: There is now an equivalent Facebook group for Greenwich borough.
Back in January, this website noted the sudden cut to bus route 53 caused by roadworks by Westminster Bridge. The service stopped running the full length of its route to Whitehall, depriving many local workers, from cleaners to civil servants, of their usual route to central London.
The diggers have moved away from Bridge Street, but initial dates for the restoration of service in March and then April have been missed. Transport for London blames new works at the Elephant & Castle for continuing to stop the service at Lambeth North. However, no other bus through the Elephant is suffering such a severe cut in service.
Local politicians have been strangely silent on the matter – at least in public – although I do know Woolwich Common’s Labour councillor David Gardner has raised the issue with Transport for London, citing the number of low-paid workers who use the bus.
More by accident than design, this website completely managed to miss the fact that the On Blackheath music festival actually finally happened at the weekend. (The line-up really wasn’t my bag and it ended up clashing with a sublime St Etienne show at the Barbican, as it happened.)
Personally speaking, it was good to see the event finally happen – particularly after years of gripes from Greenwich councillors and the Blackheath Society’s court battle over Lewisham Council’s decision to give it a licence in 2011. Here’s an interview with the organisers from way back then.
It seems to have gone down well with those who went, although there’s been some mickey-taking over the “food and music” concept…
I couldn’t hear much of Frank Turner when crossing the heath at Duke Humphrey Road at 9pm last night (not a bad thing in my book,) but I’ve seen a few noise gripes on Twitter (the Blackheath Society is asking locals to fill in this survey). If you went along, or if you live nearby, I’d love to hear your experiences of the weekend.