The Woolwich time capsule: Half abandoned car park offers glimpse of the past

One of the youngest memories I have as a child is leaving Sainsbury’s in Woolwich holding the hand of my parents begging not to go in the grotty lift directly outside the exit.

The bloody thing terrified me. It wasn’t the stench of piss so much as the shuddering, uneasy sway it gave as the damn thing ascended or descended. It was ready to give up the ghost and break down at any moment even back then We’d be trapped forever.

Dying in a Woolwich car park. Please mum, can we take the stairs?

Sainsburys in Woolwich

I was so haunted that I never, ever went up there again even during the many times I’ve taken photographs of the changing town. I looked at those two lifts, shuddered and moved on.

Dare I?

That is, until now.

Panoramic views

Spurred on by recent trips to Lewisham shopping centre car park to document changes for posts on this site, I gained some courage and after a second and third glance leaving Sainsbury’s I thought sod it, moved towards the lift and pressed the button.

Top of Lewisham car park

This wasn’t pre-planned.

Nothing happened, and then the stench of piss hit me.

I held steady. Press it again. A red light glimmered!

I looked around. The time-warp nature of the car park hit before even venturing into the lift. Behold, the rusty chain.

Little changed in years. Rusted chain not moved in years?

The buttons in the lift go up to something silly like 13. There are not 13 floors. Maybe in a horror film based on the place.

I pressed all the numbers on upper echelons until one registered.

That was about floor 7. And then I exited.

This wasn’t the top floor. I wanted the top floor for the views over Woolwich.

No such luck.

Top floor. Window boarded up

Unlike Lewisham the top floor is completely closed to public access.

No go

Lower floors it was. They’ve certainly seen better days with various patch-up work and crumbling concrete evident.

Not in great shape

No drivers seemed confident leaving their cars here.

Spooky

What else to do then but take some snaps over the town.

Berkeley towers rising by river

New-builds by the river look rather stumpy from here.

That roundabout didn’t always exist. Buses had to swing around out of shot

From here one can look down upon Myrtle Alley linking Pows Street, Hare Street and Sainsbury’s on Calderwood Street:

A new application has been submitted to revamp this little link. I’ll stick a post up soon showing what’s planned.

It’s a real timewarp up here. See this.

And then there’s the signs from Morgan Grampian sign promoting their investment. This was, what, 30 years ago?

I love the typeface, and it brought back memories of looking at Morgan Grampians car park from the Littlewoods and Index store. It was like another world was placed on a little corner of Woolwich.

Senior staff had expensive Jags lined up – and as reminded today on Twitter – even a Rolls Royce was out front. That was eye boggling, especially as a local kid in the early 1990s and in Woolwich.

Those improvements have long since evaporated.

It’s now in poor shape across the board.

Patched up. Tiles falling off. Board above windows loose.

Morgan Grampian left long ago, with their former home converted to flats:

Vista flats now in former offices. Top floor extension is abysmal

It now looms over the town to a greater extent since a grim 2000s rebuild:

Block a blight above town centre. Note extension on top floors from early this millennium

The car park is also used for resident parking at the neighbouring block linked by aerial walkway.

I neglected to take the creaky old lifts back down, and instead sought out this staircase.

No one around

Future

Much like Lewisham shopping centre car park, the Calderwood Street site may not be long for this world.

Lewisham shopping centre owner’s have grand plans to rebuild the entire place. In Woolwich, all we have to go on is an extract from a Greenwich council document.

Future plans?

We should note the document above arrived three years later than scheduled riddled with basic mistakes. I covered errors in other plots relating to land ownership when it was two years late during consultation.

Nothing changed a year later when it was adopted.

But anyway, nothing looks imminent even if the Sainsbury’s below the car park also looks much the same it did in around 1990.

Those floor tiles

The whole car park is another fascinating little slice of Woolwich left long behind. There’s still plenty of them.

How long will they last? Who knows. The Elizabeth line is here and towers are rising all over, but these snippets of recent history live on for now.

 

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

12 thoughts on “The Woolwich time capsule: Half abandoned car park offers glimpse of the past

  • Wonderful post. Some of us are old enough to remember the Stacker built when John Cartwright was leader. Worked once and then broke down.
    Do you know if this is the site of old air raid shelter recently discovered?

    Reply
  • Amazing memories. Greenwich Council own the car park and lease floors to adjacent apartment block owner and ground floor to Sainsbury’s I believe.

    They’ve never looked after it for 40 years compared to Bromley or Bexleyheath.

    Reply
  • Thanks again John, for your excellent ‘photo journalism’ and this piece on the Calderwood Street car park (Sainsbury’s).
    I know it very well. I had a Saturday job stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s in the mid 1970’s. I also remember the dodgy lifts and the stench of pee !
    I am not quite old enough however to remember the ‘auto-stacker’ multi storey car park that was here before Sainsbury’s. Now that would have been an interesting structure ?

    Reply
  • Very interesting history and photos. What hits me is the damp and or drainage smell constantly within Sainsbury’s – I’m always amazed how busy it is as it puts me off sadly from going in. Lewisham is much more appealing for shopping.

    Reply
  • Morgan Grampian! Blimey what a different world it was not too long ago. That was when major companies would locate in areas like Woolwich as part of a policy to relocate business away from central London after World War 2. See also homes with new towns.

    It was supposed to assist with assisting alongside the draw down of staff at the arsenal site. The idea was numerous well paying companies would set up in suburban London. See also Citibank tower in Lewisham to link into the article.

    Some towns thrived under the policy in London. Woolwich and Bexleyheath didn’t, though Bexleyheath managed to establish itself as a major shopping destination with some wise planning.

    Poor old Woolwich didn’t work either way. MG left and barely any others moved to the area. The shopping area declined. Greenwich Council were like headless chickens. In many ways they still are. No real long term plan.

    They try but have always lacked skills and knowledge internally and I could never understand exactly why.

    Whether it be MG leaving decades ago, the hapless rebuild of the building, Woolwich Works or the new leisure centre they get carried away without seeming to know what they’re really doing or having any real strategy to work within.

    History repeats and in Greenwich borough (especially Woolwich) it repeats endlessly. May the failed circle finally break and the town return to it’s former glory.

    Reply
  • This week I called the council Parking Department seeking an annual permit to use the carpark long term for my classic car. I was told that long term
    parking isn’t allowed. Only day time parking is, so no overnight stays permitted. Hence why you never see many cars parked there overnight or long term. I thought what a shame because its much cheaper compared to private renting options (its £80 a month versus £200 a month in the Royal Arsenal) and sitting there empty.

    Reply
  • Those floor tiles in Sainsbury’s are now 50 years old. I started my first job after university in Sept 1973 at Morgan-Grampian, and Sainsbury’s was the ultra-chic vision of modern Woolwich. Glenda Jackson was a regular shopper, having trekked all the way from Blackheath, where she still lives.
    The car park stank of pee even then. I’m not a driver so was never a regular user, but Morgan-Grampian gave senior staff and all sales people company cars, and the car park was where they were kept during office hours. It was always a horrible place.

    Reply
  • Thank you John you revised some great memories of Woolwich.

    The care park lifts and stairwell have a real stench to them.. Thety are dirty and not maintained by the Council..

    I thought a few years back there were plans to to redevelop the site of Sainsbury’s and the car park with a larger Sainsbury’s and new homes above.
    I for one would like to see the site redeveloped in the not too distant future.

    Reply
  • David, the autostacker wasn’t on the Sainsbury’s site, it was on Beresford Street. As far as I remember, that side of Calderwood Street had houses on it similar to the few which survived further up the street.

    Reply
  • Hello Richard. Thank you for correcting me ! For my further education, I Googled ‘Woolwich Autostacker’ and discovered some interesting details about it, including a short film clip courtesy of the BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01bnyf4
    A scale working model was also constructed in Meccano. Fascinating !!

    Reply
  • I thought I was the only one to notice that! I assumed it was a one off, or a drainage issue they were working on, but three years on and it’s even worse.

    Reply
  • Hmm, my comment didn’t nest, but I was replying to Hannah re the horrific Sainsbos smell.

    Reply

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