At the start of this year I wrote a round-up of forthcoming changes in Woolwich coming this year in part inspired by Crossrail. Among the usual new developments will be a change that will transform parts of the town centre, which are set to undergo the biggest changes for 25 years. Buildings and shop fronts will be revamped alongside public realm changes.
With that in mind, I thought it a good time to document some of the town’s somewhat overlooked buildings and public realm.
I’ve plenty of photos of the town covering many years now, but few of specific buildings and shopfronts:
Public realm project
There’s two funds covering Woolwich, with one set to alter Powis Street in particular. This render gives a glimpse of early ideas:
Public realm changes aren’t imminent and we only have a few renders to go on, I rue not capturing more of Woolwich before previous changes so there’s no harm starting now to capture more of the town as it looks in 2022 before £21 million is spent.
Powis Street has long been the bustling heart of Woolwich and seen its fair share of change and proposals over the years. Here’s a 1960s example of pedestrianisation with this view looking down towards the former co-op:
There’s were also plans for a major civic centre and shopping mall on what is now General Gordon Square. That didn’t happen.
What eventually did take place was the implementation of Powis Street as it currently appears, which is an amalgam of 1980s pedestrianisation (the red paving setts in the road remain) and later 1990s changes which removed raised planters and installed lighter-coloured paving, blue street lights and uplighting around trees which are now removed. They weren’t maintained which is a cautionary tale for any changes. Make sure they are easy to look after.
If I recall correctly the red brick planters were also a pain to maintain and an obstacle in an area of high footfall, creating some cramped areas and pinch points.
Only a couple now remain on the extremities of the town centre:
1990s changes had a bit of a blue theme, with lamp poles in that colour.
What has remained ever since is a sense of Powis Street still being a road, with street markings in place such as double yellows and bollards. Given it’s pedestrianised for most of the day this isn’t really needed, and I expect changes to remove such visible signs of vehicle usage for more subtle signs.
Barriers across the street also restrict pedestrian movement. There’s better ways to stop vehicles.
Pinch points also remain throughout including sizable raised sections around some trees:
Advertising hoardings masquerading as phone boxes also present obstacles:
Greenwich Council permit pedestrian obstacles. Advertising boards abound in the town:
From multi-nationals like McDonalds to small retailers, it goes against the grain of many town centres. In some places it’s not that much of an issue, though not all where the sheer number block pedestrians:
Their privatised town centre wardens do nothing to improve the situation for disabled pedestrians.
Some large units in the centre such as the former New Look (and Littlewoods if you remember that far back) remain empty:
As does the former Argos:
One improvement that immediately stood out when walking around on a cold winters evening is how illuminating towers on the former co-op HQ (now a Travelodge) alongside the co-op department store (now flats) would massively improve the area.
They’re fine buildings but invisible, and not only would they look spectacular when lit, it’d act a beacon to head towards the oft-forgotten west of the centre.
While Argos and New Look left, that’s not a problem specific to Woolwich and it does attract some major brands:
Much of the town centre was designated a Conservation Area in 2019 and funding is to be spent on shop fronts and possibly building frontages.
There’s glimpses of a more prosperous past in the type of materials seen on some buildings such as Robinson & Taylor on Hare Street:
While Woolwich has lost many High Street retailers, some remain such as stalwart Boots:
Hare Street has seen its fortunes improve in recent years with a number of new businesses moving in and renovations:
These range from a Romanian food shop, to a VR centre, gym and restaurants.
As covered in my post on Woolwich earlier this month, major housebuilding plans are not slowing down. One was rejected last year but will no doubt eventually be revised and approved, and it will link directly onto Powis Street via Murray’s Yard:
So while many are down on Woolwich, a huge amount of positive change and many new residents should mean a bright future for businesses:
If done well, future changes could improve Powis Street, Beresford Square and Hare Street as substantially as the General Gordon Square upgrade a decade ago, which still looks fantastic today:
Whenever I cover Woolwich a fair amount of the comments are negative about the town, which I understand (within reason). Working and visiting the area for many, many years clearly revealed its challenges and I feel authorities could do so much more, yet I remain hopeful. Forthcoming changes should do a great deal of good ,and I’ll be covering them as they’re revealed, consulted upon then implemented.
You can also view thousands of photos covering the history of the town by viewing Chris Mansfield’s extensive collection here.